Looking into the Future
Last weekend, as it always is, was one of the highlights of my season. The Futures Game is a showcase of exceptional talent, both in the batter's box and on the mound. I mean, where else can you see so many quality young arms, on their way up, and all pitching in the same place and on the same day? Admittedly, it is a little disappointing that they can only throw one inning, and I hate the hitters going up there and swinging at the first pitch, but there are still some things to watch for. Let's take a look.
Noah Syndergaard (New York Mets)
People might be surprised that I chose to mention Syndergaard before someone like Taijuan Walker (not to worry, he is next). They are two of my top-tier prospect arms, but I actually like Syndergaard just a bit more. I love his projectability, and his mound demeanor, his fastball jumps, and I think he has a breaking ball that will continue to be very difficult to handle. His changeup is still a work in progress, but a 90:20 K:BB ratio at Double-A this season is enough to get me into his camp when you combine that with all his other attributes. It is impressive that even at his age and experience level, he puts the ball where he wants it. Check out the Arismendy Alcantara at-bat. It was pretty basic. Down. In. Up. Sit down. He's only 20, but he pitches older, and with Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler in the mix, the Mets have a lot to look forward to. I wouldn't expect to see him with the big club until September at the earliest, and I wouldn't be surprised if he spends another partial season in the minors to start 2014, but he is on his way, and he has a ceiling similar to that of Harvey and Wheeler.
Taijuan Walker (Seattle Mariners)
Most rate Walker at or near the top of the pitching prospect pool, and I will agree in principle. However, I am not quite as high on him as others seem to be. He has a fastball comparable to Syndergaard - a very good one - but I don't think he has the refined breaking pitches as yet, and like Syndergaard, his changeup is still coming along. Two things differentiate them in my mind. Walker features an effective cutter, in effect a different speed, and that is a big advantage, but the consistency of command belongs to Syndergaard, at least right now. I haven't had an opportunity to watch Walker this season, and the first thing I noticed was his size. I remembered him as kind of a wiry guy, but not so anymore. The commentators did let me breathe a sigh of relief regarding my memories of his build, saying he has probably added 20 pounds since last year. He wears it well, and he is faring so well this year, he could be in Seattle within the next few weeks. I am not completely convinced he is ready, but he's close.
Anthony Ranaudo (Boston Red Sox)
I have occasionally mentioned Ranaudo in previous articles, and I was glad to see him again even though the results weren't the best. He has had his progress slowed by injuries, but he has been reasonably healthy this year while posting impressive numbers for Double-A Portland. I like his build and his release point that brings the ball to the plate on a steep downward plane. He has all the tools and opponents are hitting less than .200 against him this season. Unfortunately, like he did in this game, while he generally throws strikes, he can sometimes miss in the middle of the plate and get hurt. He allowed a home run, when he tried to go inside, and his tailing fastball wandered out over the plate when he didn't get far enough inside. He was then all over the place and never really spotted any of his pitches. I still like him, and consistency will come with experience. He just needs to stay healthy and develop.
Andre Rienzo (Chicago White Sox)
You may have noticed, the first three pitchers were from Team USA and one wasn't Archie Bradley (more on him later). The World Team just didn't have a lot that excited me, but I did see some things I liked in Rienzo. He showed a decent fastball and a really nice cutter, and it was enough to make we want to see more. I wasn't terribly familiar with the Brazilian-born righty, other than he took a seat for 50 games early last season for testing positive for a banned substance. We only got a 10-pitch taste, so I'll add him to the list to check in on when the opportunity arises.
Rafael DePaula (New York Yankees)
Still a little bit raw, I liked his arm. He was sitting mid-90s and has been known to crank it up into the upper 90s. He's still just in High-A as he works on developing pitches to complement the heat, but he's worth watching. His motion is rather methodical at first but then picks up pace, and by the time he releases the ball, it appears to explode out of his hand. That can cause some inconsistencies in both arm angle and release point, but those are things he can smooth out as he advances. Once he can keep hitters honest with more reliable offspeed stuff, he could make people take notice. He dropped an offspeed pitch on a pretty good hitter to strike out Byron Buxton, and it was no contest. He just needs to be able to do that more often.
And, here are some Futures Game short takes
Archie Bradley didn't make the headlines? Well, not because of his performance in this game. If he always located like he did in his one inning, he would move up on my list ... I really wanted to see Yordano Ventura again, I did get to see him - all of one pitch as he faced just one hitter ... The Rays young arms are almost always worth watching, and Enny Romero was a case in point. His arm slot was all over the place, which explains his inconsistency, but the pitch he struck out Addison Russell on was wicked. He has a big arm, and being a lefty that will always get you looks ... They are reworking the delivery of Kyle Crick, but it appears to be somewhere in between short arming and fluid. A great talent, but a work in progress ... A.J. Cole was impressive. He came into a 4-2 game with two base runners, and put out the fire. He has a very nice fastball, and a change that shows a lot of potential. Given his age, the mound demeanor was a plus.
Some Notable Rotation Happenings
Jake Peavy (CWS) - Peavy remains somewhat fragile, but he is capable of stringing together quality innings when healthy. He is scheduled to return from his latest injury and start this weekend. He's fresh so he could be a good one to ride, and there is always a chance he could be dealt into an even better situation.
Dustin McGowan (TOR) - I absolutely loved his stuff before all the injuries, but he is back and pitching pretty well, albeit in relief. The Jays still need starters, and if they think he is past the shoulder woes, there is a chance they could give him a regular turn. It would probably shorter outings, but he is someone to keep an eye on.
Matt Harvey (NYM) - Harvey is likely to keep producing during the second half, he just won't produce quite as much. He has already piled up about 130 innings, and the Mets don't want him to go much beyond 200 for the season. That will mean either shorter outings or an occasional skipped start, or perhaps a little of both.
Ross Detwiler (WAS) - Back problems have him on the shelf, but hopefully he'll put those behind him soon. OK, bad pun. I like Detwiler, and he has a lot more to offer when he gets healthy, and in synch. I am just concerned that this season is getting away from him, and we may not see his best until 2014.
Mark Appel (HOU) - He's tried rookie ball, and he tossed four shutout innings in his first start at Low-A Quad Cities. He will likely move up again soon, and if he continues to at least hold his own, he might even get a September cameo spot - if only to give the Astros faithful its own look into the future.
Tim Lincecum (SF) - A no-hitter can certainly get the attention of fantasy owners who had decided you were washed up. I have always said Lincecum still had the stuff, he just needed to locate it like he once did. He's been getting closer, and he can't be forgotten, but that was a lot of pitches (148) as he is still not completely in command.
Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez (FA) - Here's a name to watch in the near future. He defected from Cuba and has been declared eligible to sign with an MLB team. It should happen soon, as he has already thrown in front of 40-plus scouts. He may need a short stint in the minors to begin, but he has the experience and tools to flourish.
Heading into the second half, no end-game bullpen is more up for grabs than that of the Diamondbacks. Today, Brad Ziegler is a lukewarm choice, but Heath Bell is not totally out of the picture, and I don't think there is any question, J.J. Putz will be back in the closer's role as soon as he proves his is 100 percent ready. ... In Boston, Koji Uehara has done reasonably well, but they don't like to overwork him, and the Red Sox have already said they would like to see Andrew Bailey reclaim the job. ... It would have to be a major surprise to see Kevin Gregg with the Cubs past the trading deadline. Look for him to find a setup role somewhere, and the newly acquired Pedro Strop could easily pitch himself into the consideration set as his replacement, and he has somewhat better stuff than Blake Parker. ... It looks like Tom Wilhelmsen is back in as the closer in Seattle. He is still vulnerable to lefties, but will get most of the calls to finish games. Southpaw Oliver Perez, if he isn't dealt, could still pick up an occasional chance if the situation dictates it. ... Things are quiet for now as Chris Perez is again back in Cleveland, and Vinnie Pestano pitched just poorly enough while filling in to quell any uprising for Perez to be replaced. ... If Jonathan Papelbon can convince everyone he is healthy, demand would skyrocket among teams yet in contention despite end-game questions.