This Week's Scouting Tip: The Bogfella Watch List - Kids on Parade
Every year I compile a list of arms I want to monitor closely. Actually the list never really goes away, it's just renewed and refreshed on an ongoing basis. Once a pitcher has established himself as a major league player (or shows me he is unlikely to do so), they are removed, and others who have caught my eye jump on. I'll admit, it's pretty exclusive company - some highly touted prospects never find their way onto the watch list.
As the 2012 regular season concludes, several pitchers on the list have arrived in the major leagues for a trial. Others will not be up this year, but do appear to be getting close, so they need to be top-of-mind. It's a great time to evaluate new talent in the never ending quest to be one up on the competition heading into next year. Some players in keeper leagues will be able to grab these guys now in anticipation of protecting them going into next year's draft while others will just want the list handy on draft day so they can grab one or two in the late rounds.
Now for the parameters ... This is something of a mixed bag with regard to qualifications. Most are players who spent 2012 in the minor leagues or have just been recalled with the expanded rosters, some will be recent draftees, and a small number could be pitchers still attempting to establish themselves after a few short visits to the major leagues, or perhaps following a significant injury that kept them out of the spotlight for an extended period of time. In the majority of cases they will be in the consideration set to break camp with the big team next spring while a few are more likely to be called up at some point after the season begins.
Put These Guys On Your Watch List
Jameson Taillon (PIT) - This is the guy at the top of a very talented list of arms. As a measuring stick, consider that I have him ranked ahead of Gerrit Cole who was the number one pick in the draft when he came out. Taillon spent most of the year at High-A and then picked up three very solid starts at Double-A. Having watched him pitch a couple of times, I was incredibly impressed with his stuff, and even more so with his mound demeanor, considering his age and experience level. The Pirates, as the generally do, are moving him slowly, letting him get settled at each new level, but he could see the major leagues sometime next season. Taillon doesn't have the ceiling of a Stephen Strasburg, but those are extremely rare, and he needs to be on your roster before he gets too much more exposure.
Danny Hultzen (SEA) - When I was evaluating the 2011 pitching talent for the first year draft, I couldn't make up my mind whether I liked Bauer or Hultzen best. I finally decided I liked Hultzen just a bit better, but that Bauer was probably closer to the finished product. He has a nice fastball in the low to mid 90s and a sharp slider, but it's an awesome changeup with amazing command for a young southpaw that will be his ticket to the major leagues. Hultzen struggled when was moved up to Triple-A Tacoma later in the year, but the command issues will fade away as he gets his confidence. Remember, lefties sometimes take a little longer, but he should be a significant force in Seattle's rotation sooner rather than later.
Zach Lee (LAD) - Lee is another young, but very polished pitcher who just needs a little more time to develop and mature. He's very athletic, and should soon be adding his name to the long list of top tier Dodgers pitchers soon. I don't think he has the ceiling of Clayton Kershaw, but he would slot nicely right behind him in the rotation. You can learn a lot about a pitcher's ceiling by evaluating demand in trade talks, and Lee was the first name mentioned this summer when the Dodgers were looking to add pieces to a potential playoff run. He split his 2012 season between Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Chattanooga, and posted modest numbers at each stop, but if you look carefully, you will see that while his start at Double-A was rough, he quickly put it together and showed what he can do. He is still young, and the Dodgers may not call him up before late next season, if then, but be ready to pounce when he arrives.
Zack Wheeler (NYM) - When Wheeler was acquired from the Giants, there were quite a few analysts who predicted it would be one of those fabled moves that set the tone for both franchises involved for years to come. They could be right. In 2012, he started at Double-A and the finished the year at Triple-A Buffalo, and there was considerable speculation that he would debut with the Mets late this year. However, the team took the cautious approach because he was already at their prescribed innings limit for the season, and shut him down. I would guess they will start him at Buffalo next year, but if all goes smoothly, he could be in the Big Apple by mid-season. For Mets fans, the next name may already be snatched up, so make sure you get Wheeler.
Matt Harvey (NYM) - This is a guy who was consistently moving up on the watch list. He has an explosive fastball that he spots well to both sides of the plate, and in 2012, he developed his change-up to a level that allows him to perform well at the major league level. In fact, he got the call from the Mets, and performed so well that he is likely either already gone in your league, or a buzz name that could be very popular on draft day next spring,. With 10 MLB starts, he was almost left off this list, and his 1.15 WHIP to go with a 2.73 ERA may make him difficult to acquire, but unlike some pretenders who hit the top tier with a splash, Harvey is the real deal, and worth pursuing. I'll be honest, given his development, it is hard for me to separate he and Wheeler now.
Jake Odorizzi (KC) - The Royals have actually had several young arms draw attention as they moved closer to the major leagues, but many have experienced injuries along the way, and in my humble opinion, Odorizzi is a bit better than the others anyway. He put up decent numbers at Triple-A Omaha (2.94 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) and just made his major league debut last week. He has good command of a solid fastball, and he is not afraid to use his change-up, and an assortment of other off-speed offerings so he can miss bats. As the centerpiece of the deal that sent Zack Greinke to Milwaukee, the Royals clearly saw a lot to like, and even though I am not sure he has the stuff to be an elite arm, he can be a solid starter on a team that is building with young talent,
Shelby Miller (STL) - I wrote the following last fall: Miller has cruised through the Cardinals system but is likely still viewed as a mid-2012 call-up unless he really impresses next spring. He has very good command of a full array of pitches and really needs maturity as much as refining of his stuff. The maturity part caught up with him this summer when he relied too much on his outstanding fastball, and the Cardinals reined him in for awhile, forcing him to use his full complement of pitches. It was a message, and it was intended to get his attention. It did, and he is perhaps back on track. He is getting a taste of the major leagues now, but his best is yet to come. Just hope he can stay focused.
Dylan Bundy (BAL) - Already a prospect buzz-kid, Bundy won't turn 20 until November, and he is already in Baltimore pitching out of the bullpen. Don't get me wrong, I like him a lot, and I fully expect some to question why he is so far down on this list, but he is an exceptional example of misleading statistics. Earlier this season, at Low-A Delmarva, he pitched 30 innings, allowing just five hits, with two walks and 40 strikeouts - amazing numbers at any level. However, always keep in mind that minor league numbers can be very deceptive. You have to see the pitcher to know what's really there. Bundy was simply overmatching his competition. Think of Justin Verlander pitching against your local high school team. That's a bit exaggerated, but you get the idea. Bundy is not ready to claim a rotation spot, and I would be surprised to see the Orioles use him out of the bullpen early next year. Expect him to get some time at Triple-A, and perhaps, if he handles the transition, make his debut as a Baltimore starter, late next year.
Kevin Gausman (BAL) - Like the Mets tandem mentioned earlier, Gausman and Bundy could be a huge force for Baltimore's opponents to reckon with in the relatively near future. Gausman, who is nearly two years older than Bundy, was my top pitching pick in this year's first year player draft, and he went with the fourth overall pick. He signed, and got a brief taste of pro ball late in the summer, but he could be closer than one might expect for someone with minimal experience. Because he was a major college pitcher (at LSU), he has already competed at roughly the Low-A or possibly High-A level, and it is possible, given his mound demeanor and repertoire, that he could begin next season at Double-A, advance quickly, and make his major league debut later next year. He hasn't been as exposed as others on this list due to his limited pro experience, but he offers a lot to like, and should be on your watch list right out of the gate.
Trevor Bauer (ARZ) - Bauer would clearly be much higher on this list if it weren't for "signability issues" fantasy style. One of the most talked about pitching prospects for nearly all of 2012, he did get a few innings in with Arizona, albeit with somewhat disappointing results due to a very high walk rate, but the price tag is still likely to be extremely high on draft day next season. Bauer still needs to learn how to pitch, using his potent arsenal to retire hitters with more than just strikeouts. He'll make the connection at some point, but there could be some rocky stretches between now and then, so he is best viewed as a stash and wait candidate. On pure stuff alone, he might be the top arm on this list, his full time arrival and eventual success will be heavily dependent on his ability to adjust to the pro game at the highest level.
Tyler Skaggs (ARZ) - Skaggs would be the toast of the pitching prospects in most organizations, but he falls in just behind Bauer (and slightly ahead of Patrick Corbin) here. Its close; as he could pass Bauer if he continues to progress, or if Bauer struggles to mature, but the organization has to be excited about the future. The Diamondbacks coveted him in the 2009 draft, but the Angels beat them to him, so Arizona asked for him as the centerpiece of the Dan Haren deal. He also got a taste this season, with relatively non-descript results, so his less visible fantasy hype could lead to a more reasonable price tag. A lefty, he is developing a bit more slowly, but the progress has been consistent, and while he doesn't have the pure ability of Bauer, he has a lot of poise, and an intense competitive nature that will make him a mainstay in the Diamondbacks rotation once he gets everything together.
Gerrit Cole (PIT) - Cole came out in 2011 with both Hultzen and Bauer, so it was a very good year. The second Pirates hurler to make this list, he was selected first overall in that draft even though many felt the other two were closer to major league ready. While Bauer has the full package of nasty stuff, and Hultzen has the makings of a very talented and polished starting pitcher, Cole is all about arm. It would have been very difficult for Pittsburgh to pass up his fastball which is overwhelming to say the least. He split 2012 with High-A Bradenton and Double-A Altoona with a cameo appearance at Triple-A Indianapolis, all of which displayed his ability, if not necessarily his readiness for the big show. He still needs to refine his secondary pitches, and he will likely do that at Indianapolis next season. How fast they develop will determine how fast he makes it to Pittsburgh. He is likely to at least get a look sometime next summer, but it could be 2014 before he is ready to take a regular turn in the Pirates rotation.
Casey Kelly (SD) - He got a taste of the major leagues this season, and while he doesn't profile as a true number one - he is more of a command pitcher who's success relies on staying down in the zone, inducing groundballs rather than big strikeout numbers, it is generally wise to keep an eye on talented pitchers who will have the benefit of a positive environment, in this case, PETCO Park. His numbers so far with San Diego are not likely to drive his price higher next spring. In five starts, he has a 1.68 WHIP, and a 5.55 ERA, but that just makes him more appealing. Two of his three home starts were very encouraging, and that is where he could pay dividends for fantasy owners. He has a number two ceiling if he stays healthy and continues to develop so he is an attractive target for draft day 2013.
Chris Archer (TB) - He's been around awhile, and even though he didn't show much with the Indians, he started to come around after being dealt to the Cubs, and now toils for Tampa Bay - and that is enough to get him on the radar. When an organization that has developed guys like David Price, Matt Moore, and Jeremy Hellickson nabs a pitcher with quality skills, it's always wise to take note of his progress. A classic "changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes" case study, Archer has always had a solid fastball, and his best pitch, a devastating slider, and now his change-up is coming along too. When the change was below average, he began to look like a late innings reliever, but with an acceptable off-speed pitch, his other stuff has gotten a whole lot better. He'll miss a lot of bats with that slider, and he has the command to pitch deep into games. His 34/11 K/BB ratio in 27 innings with the Rays this season could be drawing too much attention to his capabilities, so he will be to be added to your roster sooner rather than later.
Anthony Ranaudo (BOS) - I really liked what I saw of him in college but he had some elbow problems and other injury woes that have slowed his progress. In 2012, he struggled, and then went down with yet another injury, so his path is a bit cloudy. He's big and pitches on an extreme downward plane with good command when he is healthy and has everything in synch. I'm not ready to give up on him, so I would suggest further monitoring with the hope that he can get and stay healthy in the near future. Given his history, he is obviously a flier, but he could pop up at any time and return a nice profit on what is sure to be a minimal investment.
That's my watch list. Who makes yours? There are certainly many names that could easily be added to this list, and I apologize if your guy isn't here - but I like to focus on a handful of arms I consider the most likely to have an impact, and these are the pitchers who populate the list today. Tomorrow, the list could, and probably will change.
For some of the most in-depth coverage of all things pitching in fantasy baseball for 2013, be sure to follow @bogfella on Twitter.