It's Time to Consider the Possibilities
As we stroll toward the end of May, there likely will be a few very intriguing arms under consideration for promotions to major league clubs. There are a variety of reasons this time of year becomes appealing to management - not the least of which is money. By June, players will be beyond the date that would trigger an earlier arbitration eligibility so teams gain an extra year of a potentially bargain salary. When you combine that with the opportunity for a pitcher to settle into a comfort zone at the minor league level before jumping into the fire, it makes good sense. However, it also makes good sense for fantasy owners to keep close tabs on high-ceiling pitchers displaying a readiness to test the big-time waters, and any developing situations in the team's major league rotation that could signal an emerging opportunity. So, for the next few weeks, I'll feature a couple of arms you should watch for as summer heats up. Let's look at a couple who are here now, or close.
Jake Odorizzi (Tampa Bay Rays)
Actually, Odorizzi was a planned inclusion in this edition of Musings before he was named to take David Price's spot in the rotation when Price went on the disabled list. Now that his first start is behind him (last Monday) we can examine what he showed, and decide what we might expect in the future.
As mentioned, a key component of young gun arrivals would be opportunity, and his came a little sooner than might have been anticipated. Interestingly, the Rays probably considered a couple of options. Chris Archer is also at Triple-A Durhamand could also be a major player in this scenario. That said, he may not be quite as ready, as defined by Rays management, for a trip to the majors. This is an organization that prides itself on developing quality young pitchers, and rarely exposes them before they are very close to a polished and finished product. Two things are the cornerstones of that philosophy. First, the ability to consistently command the strike zone with a fastball, and then, the ability to throw the changeup for strikes. Odorizzi is a bit further along that path.
So, what can we take away from his first start? The line was pretty pedestrian, as he allowed three earned runs in five innings. However, he allowed just five hits, walked only one and struck out six, with the damage being done early when he no doubt would have been amped up with the adrenaline rush of a first major league start. I very much liked his ability to change speeds - his pitches ranged from 92-93 to the mid-70s in velocity - and his breaking pitches were keeping the hitters off balance. I would have liked to see him work inside and up in the zone more, both of which he is adept at doing, and he actually did do more of it as the game wore on.
His long-term spot is not guaranteed, at least not yet, depending on how long Price will be out, but he has a reasonably bright future. His ceiling is probably a notch below ace, but he could slot in as a reliable No. 2 or 3 when he is fully seasoned and ready. The Rays do it right, which often means they have a full and functioning rotation, but there will be a full-time spot for Odorizzi before too long. Like most young arms, he will have ups and downs, but he can help a fantasy team.
Zack Wheeler (New York Mets)
The Mets don't have a lot to smile about, but you can be sure they are looking forward to continuing the Seaver/Koosman/Gooden, et al., tradition with Matt Harvey and Wheeler eventually leading their staff. And, they probably won't be waiting long. Harvey made a big splash last year, and has built on that promise so far this season. Wheeler is the same kind of talent, so when he arrives, there is plenty to be optimistic about.
He recently went on the disabled list in the minor leagues, but the clavicle pain he experienced was not considered serious, and there was no structural damage. He was activated earlier this week to continue his tune up, and he is just biding his time before coming to the Big Apple, probably in June. He has pitched well at Buffalo this season, and he continues to work on both overall command and a more consistent changeup. He already has the power fastball (mid 90s touching 98 at times) and a strong slider he has developed since joining the Mets organization. And, he still mixes in a power curve from time to time, so the arsenal is there.
At one time I had Wheeler clearly ahead of Harvey, and many analysts still feel he has the higher ceiling of the two. However, as Harvey matured in the minor leagues, I found myself constantly moving him up on my prospect list, and he and Wheeler were right next to each other on that list when Harvey was promoted last season. The bottom line is, these guys are both quality pitchers who can be at or very near the top of a major league rotation fairly soon. It would be pretty presumptuous to predict the same success for Wheeler when he does arrive - that is rare - but it would be no surprise to see them both perform very well for a long time.
Some Notable Rotation Happenings
Kevin Gausman (BAL) - He was scheduled to be a featured potential call-up in next week's Musings, but it looks like the Orioles couldn't wait, and he is scheduled to start this week against the Jays. I'll be watching that start, and will report next time, but he is already high on my blue chip list, and I have high expectations.
Kyle Gibson (MIN) - He was also on the list of arms to cover as a potential call-up, and there was even speculation that he could arrive in Minnesota as early as Friday, but the Twins will wait it seems. He slipped a bit since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2011, but he offers modest potential if he can stay healthy and develop his breaking pitches.
Jaime Garcia (STL) - Garcia is going to require surgery, and Jake Westbrook just suffered a setback in his rehab, so the door of opportunity might open for someone like Michael Wacha. However, there is a chance we might see the return of Chris Carpenter to the rotation in a month or so. Be alert.
Daniel Hudson (ARZ) - Hudson is probably getting close to returning, and he certainly offers a lot of upside when he does. The problem in Arizona could be finding him a spot in the rotation. Wade Miley would be the most likely candidate to move aside, but he hasn't pitched badly so they might choose to ease Hudson back.
R.A. Dickey (TOR) - Pitching in the AL East he isn't likely to repeat his 2012 numbers, but he is clearly getting everything together after a very shaky beginning to this season. He has jumped up the velocity, and the knuckler was dancing more in his last outing so things could brighten up very quickly. Is available as a buy-low guy?
Johnny Cueto (CIN) - He returned from the disabled list and picked up a win Monday night. There was some evident rust, and his command wasn't too sharp as he needed 90 pitches to complete five innings, but he struck out eight and he'll get more consistent with more work.
Ryan Vogelsong (SF) - Vogelsong took a comebacker off his pitching hand Monday night and will miss 6-to-8 weeks. The Giants are talking about Chad Gauding stepping in, but he is unlikely to be fantasy relevant if he takes the rotation spot.
Jerome Williams (LAA) - He has been very effective for the Angels as a swing man this season, but given his success, he might keep a rotation spot when Jered Weaver returns. He's probably a better option than Joe Blanton, but I am not sure he is the long-term answer for the Angels or your fantasy rotation.
Rick Porcello (DET) - I like him more and more each time I see him this year. He still nibbles a little too much, but he is learning that his stuff is good enough to miss bats if he gets ahead in the count and denies the hitter an opportunity to sit on something out over the plate. I am close to labeling him a breakout candidate.
Stephen Strasburg (WAS) - He has been snake bitten this season with regard to wins, and he has struggled with his release point at times - for example early in his last start against the Giants - but he is still extremely nasty, and it's only a matter of time before he goes on what could be a long tear through the league.
Andrew Bailey is now back and the closer in Boston, however, the Red Sox don't want to overuse his fragile arm, so Junichi Tazawa will probably pick up an occasional save opportunity if Bailey pitched the day before. ... Out of the blue Baltimore's Jim Johnson has become very hittable. He never really has had the overpowering stuff his peripherals suggested, but this has to be disconcerting for the Orioles and his fantasy owners. He is probably not in danger of losing the gig yet, but he needs to string together a couple of solid outings. The alternatives would include Pedro Strop (better stuff) or Darren O'Day (better 2013 numbers). ... The Marlins' lefty-vulnerable Steve Cishek appears to be part of a committee now with Chad Qualls and maybe Mike Dunne or A.J. Ramos. This is a good situation to avoid if at all possible, because none of these is a good option, and what few save opportunities arise could be decided by the Marlins spinning the wheel of fortune. ... The Rockies have done pretty well with Rafael Betancourt closing things out, but Rex Brothers is reinforcing his standing as their closer of the future, and with Betancourt suffering from ongoing groin issues all season, Brothers could be a nice speculative handcuff addition to your roster. ... Jim Henderson doesn't really have the pedigree, and he can be a little erratic, but he has the stuff to close, and as long as he keeps getting the job done, the Brewers won't rock the boat. ... Ryan Madson had yet another setback this week, so Ernesto Frieri remains locked in as the Angels closer.