Nothing rings more true in fantasy baseball than the age-old declaration, wait until next year! The sport is designed for optimism. If you had a rough 2012, there are a lot of reasons to look forward to next spring, and September is the perfect time to accumulate some names to quietly add to your 2013 draft list. This week, I'll take a look at some guys likely to soon appear on major league mounds, and because this year has been so tough on arms, I'll even make some comments on guys who arrived early. 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:
It's been a brutal year for injuries, and many teams prefer to see where their blue chip prospects are on the developmental scale, rather than plodding along with more established veterans who have already shown they have little or no upside. Therefore, a couple of very intriguing young pitchers have already jumped into the fray. I'll start with a handful of those:
Casey Kelly (San Diego):He actually made his major league debut Monday night, and while he has been plagued by injuries as he worked his way up, when healthy there is a considerable amount of ceiling here. I was able to watch part of this start, and I liked what I saw. He mixed in a low-mid 90s fastball with a very crisp curveball early on, and did a very good job of keeping the Braves hitters off balance. Kelly's development has been slowed by the injuries, but his debut displayed clear signs that he is in a position to contribute now. Obviously, pitching in Petco Park only highlights his potential value to a fantasy team. Just hope he can stay healthy, and enjoy the ride. Expect him to stick with the Padres right now.
Tyler Skaggs (Arizona): When a team seriously covets a pitcher, it is worth taking note. The Diamondbacks wanted Skaggs on draft day in 2009, but the Angels got there first. Then, when the Angels wanted Dan Haren for their pennant run, the Diamondbacks insisted on Skaggs being part of the compensation. He's still young (just 21), but he has already displayed a lot of composure to go with his nasty stuff. It's possible he could force his way into the rotation for good as early as next spring, but Arizona really wants to see him ready to contribute in a big way when some of their other young arms are ready - guys like the next guy on the list, Trevor Bauer.
Trevor Bauer (Arizona): Bauer was one of the first high-profile pitchers to arrive in the major leagues this year, and he showed two things right away. First, he has the full package, and should be a top-of-the-rotation starter for years to come, and second, that he still needs to refine the command of his secondary stuff to be effective at the top level of the sport. He was drafted partially based on his advanced development which meant he could probably make it to the majors quickly, and he does have a lot of tools to make that happen, but he needs to mature. He is too focused on missing bats, and is not quite totally ready to be a true pitcher. He'll be back in September as his learning progresses, but expect some rough stretches until he gets into the proper mindset. Bauer is the kind of guy who "clicks" and then never looks back. Let others cool on his immediate impact, but he is worth waiting for.
Matt Harvey (New York NL):Unlike the Diamondbacks mentioned above, Harvey has spent more time in the minor leagues, and being older and more experienced, he was probably better prepared for the jump to the major leagues. So far, he has 36 innings under his belt, and he has pretty much been, as advertised. He walks a few more than you would like to see - something that happens to the vast majority of young pitchers when they first arrive - but he also fools hitters and misses bats. He is probably just a tiny notch below someone like Bauer or teammate Zack Wheeler, who will be covered a little bit later in this edition of the Notebook, but there is plenty of long term value here. Look for him to settle in and trust his stuff more consistently as we head into September, and then look for solid production going forward into 2013 and beyond. He could very easily remain a fantasy asset despite his still limited experience at the top level.
Jacob Turner (Miami):He was considered the top prospect in the Tigers system, and probably deserves that mantle just as much now that he is with Miami. The Tigers consistently rush their young arms, and they frequently struggle for quite a long time as a result. Turner certainly fit that description before the trade, but it can also be difficult to take a step backwards once a young guy has been to the show. That said, the Marlins are keeping him in the rotation this year, and he will probably get every opportunity to grab a spot again next spring, however he is still learning, and while he has solid upside, he could be up and down next season, and perhaps even beyond. He's a very good dynasty project, but his immediate contribution could be sporadic.
Tyler Thornburg (Milwaukee): Thornburg has had a couple of spot starts, and he is a viable Brewers rotation candidate for the near future along with Wily Peralta, Taylor Jungmann, and Jed Bradley. He doesn't have quite the upside of the others discussed above, but fits well within the organization's depth chart. I would rank him behind Jungmann, but on a par with Peralta (generally considered their top young arm) and Bradley (who was recently shut down for the year with arm fatigue) which certainly makes him worth watching. In his earlier exposure to top level hitters, he was sometimes prone to making mistakes out over the plate so there were some fairly ugly innings, but he will improve on that as he gains experience.
See You In September!
While quite a few young arms have been up already, there are still several more who could see time in the next month. It's not always easy to predict who will, and who won/t receive a September promotion, especially for organizations involved in playoff races, but it is still often considered report card time - a chance for the major league team management to assess the pitcher's progress. There are several who could make an impact later this year, so let's take a look at some of the most promising:
Danny Hultzen (Seattle):He gets the top spot in this section because he is probably the pitcher I am most excited about seeing. He is very close to the top of my overall top prospect list, and the most likely from the top of that list to get a September look. He simply overwhelmed Double-A hitters early this season, and has been pretty quick to adjust to Triple-A after struggling right after his promotion. A left-hander with his stuff, and mastery of that stuff so early in his career is a bit rare. The fact that he will pitch in pitcher's heaven Seatlle when he does arrive is a big bonus. If you are looking for a young guy to potentially make a big splash as early as next year, he could be it. The Mariners might play it conservative and shut him down after the minor league season ends, but I am hoping to get at least a peak in September.
Dylan Bundy (Baltimore): Bundy got a lot of ink when he ran off a string of dominant innings earlier this summer. His numbers at Low-A Delmarva were nothing short of amazing, but that is more indicative of his being well beyond that level of ability at this stage of his career. Don't get me wrong, he is a blue chipper, but it always dangerous to expect too much, too soon, from a pitcher who was obviously far above the level of his competition. Think about a major college star basketball player going back and facing high school competition - it would probably be a mismatch to say the least. The Orioles are shopping for a playoff spot, so they have wisely delayed his arrival, but there is at least a chance he could pop up sometime before the season ends. Bundy is a very good prospect, but I think the hype machine might have inflated his value, at least for the short term. He could be in the rotation at some point next year, but don't be surprised if Baltimore moves him a bit more slowly than fantasy owners would like.
Zack Wheeler (New York NL): It was quite a surprise last year when the Mets talked San Francisco out of Wheeler in a stretch run deal. It's also something the Giants are likely to regret for a very long time. He has made steady progress, starting the season at Double-A, and then handling the move to Triple-A later in the year. He is generally considered a better prospect than Harvey, but I have them ranked neck and neck. That's very good news for Mets fans! There have been rumors that they may shut him down once he hits about 150 innings for the season, and he is almost there, so he may or may not show up in the Apple this year. Regardless, he is close and should be a big part of the Mets rotation at some point next year, perhaps even out of spring training.
Shelby Miller (St. Louis): Miller has spent the entire 2012 season at Triple-A Memphis, and the results have been underwhelming for a prospect touted to be among the best in baseball. His ERA of 4.89 and WHIP of 1.40 are not "ace" numbers by any definition. However, it would be unwise to scratch him from your watch list. Occasionally a young pitcher will stumble into bad habits, like perhaps becoming over-reliant on a devastating fastball. That happened to Miller, and it became such a problem, the Cardinals put him on a "no shake" regimen where he was not allowed to shake off whatever pitch was called. They were also rumored to be offering him around in trade talks. That is a very quick way to get a young pitcher's attention. He has been much better lately, and the Cardinals could reward him with a September look. Don't give up on him.
Jake Odorizzi (Kansas City): He will be the last arm covered in this section, but that shouldn't be construed as a negative regarding his future. The Royals have had quite a few young pitchers come along in the past few years, but Odorizzi is probably at the top of the class. He elevated his game beyond the level of Double-A hitters, and has been doing reasonably well at Triple-A Omaha since being promoted. It is a sign of things to come, perhaps as early as September. If he is called up, he will likely experience an adjustment period, and it could even carry over into next spring, but he has shown the ability, and the mound presence, to rise to the challenge. It may not be happening as quickly as Kansas City fans would like, but there are good things on the horizon.
There is a long list of "could see" or "would love to see" candidates, including Zach Lee from the Dodgers, the Pirates Jameson Taillon, Tampa Bay's Chris Archer, the Red Sox newly acquired Allen Webster. Hultzen's Seattle teammate James Paxton, the Pirates Gerrit Cole, and the A's Sonny Gray, but these arms might be considered long shots to get a 2012 look. That just makes them all the more interesting for next year.
End Game Odyssey:
I thought I would focus the End Game Odyssey on a couple of relievers who could fit into the See You In September theme. At the top of the list would be Phillippe Aumont in Philadelphia. Those who have followed me for a long time probably know how much I like what I see in Aumont. He is big (6'7") and relatively inexperienced (baseball is not a big thing in Quebec), but he has awesome stuff, and could close for someone if/when he learns to control it. It's coming, and while Jonathan Papelbon's contract may be a road block with the Phillies, he is still someone to monitor. A quiet possibility to show up in a relief role, perhaps even in September although it's not likely, would be Washington's Alex Meyer. I thought he was a steal in the 2011 draft, and while he has been starting in Low-A and High-A this year, the Nationals could opt to accelerate his development by having him pitch in relief. They are flush with end gamers, and they are in the team's best groove ever right now, but he could be an arm to watch. Finally, there have been a lot of calls for Heath Hembree to get a look in San Francisco. He might have gotten a call earlier if he hadn't experienced some minor elbow issues, but he is back, and the Giants are letting him feast on High-A hitters as they ease him back into action. He has closer stuff, and could find his way into that role at some point. Key an eye on him.
I would like to remind readers to check back often as each week's Notebook will feature updates in the comments section on evolving mound situations. 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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