This past weekend marked the beginning of All-Star festivities, specifically, the 2012 Futures Game. Think about this. How does an outfield of Ryan Braun, Mike Trout, and Josh Hamilton sound? Would Joey Votto's bat be a nice addition to your lineup? Could Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw anchor your rotation? Those guys all have something in common - they are all Futures Game alumni. Always a highlight of my summer, it was filled with offense this year, but there were several pitchers who also made an impression. Just keep in mind, this game is not a very true measuring stick. Most of the pitchers were starters, but were used in relief, which when combined with being naturally amped, often results in overstated radar readings. They couldn't follow their typical pre-game warm up routine, and they each pitched a maximum of one inning. There were plenty of things to look for, but you do have to temper the evaluations.
So, the Notebook forum is now open for business. Always remember, knowing what a guy has done is not nearly as useful as knowing what he is likely to do going forward, and we could certainly call this a futures edition. Let's get started with this week's Notebook by taking a look at some arms from both the USA and World teams who made a strong impression. Keep in mind, many of these pitchers are still working their way up through the minor league systems, and won't be in the majors too soon, but most, if not all, will probably be there in the next couple of years:
Some Arms to Monitor as They Progress:
Jake Odorizzi (KC) - He doesn't have the huge arm of some of the others in this year's Futures Game, but he definitely has both the arsenal and the mound presence to make a positive impact. He got the start in front what will soon be his home crowd in Kansas City, and he looked sharp. He allowed a home run to Jurickson Profar, but he was otherwise just what you would hope to see. He was mixing it up and around the zone, and could see the major leagues as soon as later this season.
Yordano Ventura (KC) - Another Royals prospect, he started at Kauffman Stadium for the World squad and accomplished something most World pitchers couldn't - he retired the USA team in order. He has the big arm, albeit on a smallish frame, but he also has a jerky motion that could be both deceptive and problematic. He sat mid-upper 90s with his fastball, and touched 100 mph. There was some movement on his pitches, and overall it was a positive performance, but he probably won't be in the majors any time soon. His is a name to keep on file for a later date.
Gerrit Cole (PIT) - The number one overall pick in the 2011 draft, Cole reminded me why I am not as high on him as I am on several other young arms. He has a four seam fastball that can hit 101, a two-seamer that sits around 95, and slider that can run up there as high as 92 mph. There's a lot to like in that. However, he allowed walk, and lost some of his concentration, then allowed a two-run home run. He tends to overthrow when challenged, and is in love with the strikeout. Cole is loaded with talent, but I think he may need to demonstrate more maturity on the mound to reach his potential.
Danny Hultzen (SEA) -. Even though he allowed a couple base runners, and a run, I thought he was one of the more impressive pitchers in the game. He was sitting in the low 90s with his fastball, and showed a wicked change-up, a very impressive offering for someone at his experience level. His breaking pitches were a bit inconsistent, as he tossed a couple of sliders with really crisp action, and also left a couple of his breaking balls up in the zone. Overall, he displayed great stuff, and great demeanor. There are rumors that Seattle will keep him in the minor leagues all season, but I think there is a very good chance that they will take a look at him, perhaps in September.
Dylan Bundy (BAL) - He's gotten his pro career off to a great start, and there are even those who rank him at the top of the minor league pitching class right now. I am not quite there, although I do see him being a very solid pitcher once he makes it to the major leagues. In fact, the Orioles have not ruled out a call-up later this season. He has an excellent fastball, a cutter (that the Orioles are not letting him use very often so he can work on his other secondary pitches), a power curve that can be a little inconsistent at times. And, what might be the best news, he already has a quiet, compact motion that should be repeatable as he progresses up the ladder.
Tyler Skaggs (ARZ) - Skaggs is one of those guys who continue to move up on my young pitching prospects list, and this game only enhanced his status. He uses a nice 91-93 mph fastball to set up a wicked curve that is his swing and miss out pitch. The Diamondbacks have shown the ability to spot pitching talent, and develop it, so their system is loaded with quality arms who are pretty much all making steady progress. He was the gem they wanted from the Angels when they dealt away Dan Haren, and he is proving that he was an excellent target. Look for him in Arizona as early as late this year, and expect good things as he gains experience.
Jameson Taillon (PIT) - Still very young, and still very inexperienced, Taillon is right at the top of my prospects list. In fact, he remains ahead of Cole on that list even though he may not make the major leagues as quickly. He has amazingly advanced mound demeanor, and what I think impresses me most, is the natural movement he gets on almost every pitch. He actually left a couple of pitches up in the zone in this one, but he is coming along very nicely. He can run it up to the plate in the upper 90s with a fairly effortless motion, and he has a 12-to-6 curve that is overwhelming when he throws it off of that moving fastball. Barring injury, and requiring patience, he is dynasty gold.
Tajuan Walker (SEA) - He's only 19 and he's already enjoying some success in Double-A ball this season. That makes him the youngest player in the league, and tells a lot about how far he has come in a short period of time. He has a nice clean delivery and his fastball has plenty of jump at 96-98 mph. His breaking pitches still need some work, and his change-up, which registered at 91 mph might be a little harder for hitters to handle if there was a couple more miles per hour differential from that fastball. He is not as far along as Hultzen, but the idea of him joining Felix Hernandez, and Hultzen in a Mariners future rotation has to be something to look forward to for Seattle fans.
Alex Meyer (WAS) - The Nationals probably won't rush Meyer who has a lot of ceiling in a very large body. He's 6'9" and there are a lot of moving parts for him to deal with so learning to keep everything under control will be job one. He uses his height to generate considerable downward plane on his pitches, and despite throwing only six pitches in this game, it was easy to see what kind of challenges he presents to hitters. His fastball was 98-99 mph, and he used it very well to set up his breaking pitches. If the Nationals choose to bring him up in a relief role, it could hasten his arrival, perhaps as early as next year, but he has such devastating stuff, they are more likely to give him the time to develop as a starter.
Zack Wheeler (NYM) - While most of the pitchers mentioned here showed very good reasons for being in the Futures Game, like Hultzen, Skaggs, and Taillon, Wheeler was a standout. A very smooth and seemingly effortless motion generating 97-98 mph fastballs with great movement, and perhaps the best breaking pitch I saw in the game. It looked like a slider, but had curve ball break, and that is very, very difficult to deal with as a batter. He has to be close, very close. The Mets acquired him last year in a deal with San Francisco that sent Carlos Beltran to the Giants for a slice of a season. If Wheeler keeps progressing like he has, the deal could be talked about sadly in San Francisco for generations.
Bruce Rondon (DET) - I mention him mostly because chicks dig exploding fastballs - or at least that's what I'm told. The book on him has always been electric heat, with no clue where it's going. But, that may be changing. In the Futures Game, he hit 102 mph, something he does routinely, but he was also around the strike zone. In High-A and Double-A this year, he has struck out 45 in 33 innings, while recording 23 saves, and walking just 13 batters. If he can maintain the command, most organizations still prefer that overpowering arm, and he could find himself discussed in the space below.
Again, it's time to consider options in Miami. Heath Bell has been ineffective, and his tenure as closer may be in jeopardy. He will likely get another chance if he gets it together, but a former closer may loom on the horizon right now. He won't be eligible to play until later this month, but Juan Carlos Oviedo is a distinct possibility to pick up saves when he does return. A couple of other closers have already made their way to the trade rumor list - Huston Street in San Diego, and Jonathan Broxton in Kansas City are both being mentioned frequently, and both are good candidates to move. Neither team has a definitive alternative yet, but I think Aaron Crow or Kelvin Herrera could be very real possibilities for the Royals. The rumors were recently flying about Sergio Romo taking over for Santiago Casilla as the Giants closer after Casilla scuffled a bit, but apparently a blister contributed to his troubles and it looks like he is still the guy, at least for now.
Again, is there a pitcher you would like to see discussed in an upcoming Notebook? Throw the name out here and I'll see what I can do. And, as always, keep in mind this is an interactive forum, so your comments are always appreciated. I will respond to any comments or questions as soon as possible. Thanks!
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