Looking Back, and Looking Ahead - Part II
Last week, and for the next two weeks, I want to take a look at some young arms who have provided us with a large enough sample to get a feel for what they could provide a fantasy owner right out of the box next season – last week I covered some National League names, and this week we'll visit the American League – and then, in the third part of the series, I'll post my elite pitching prospect list, with arms that have yet to arrive, or have only given us only a brief peak at what they might offer in the future. I'll start by saying I was actually amazed at how few impact arms have hit the American League this season. I had trouble trimming down the National League list, but for the AL, I had to dig pretty deep. It's an anomaly. There are plenty of good ones coming. Let's take a look.
2013 Arms to Watch – American League
Chris Archer (Tampa Bay Rays) – The Rays organization – either via the draft or with post-acquisition development – just keeps churning out quality young pitchers, and Archer is just another name to add to the list. Last week, I broke the National League newcomers into tiers, with the top few guys I think could be staff aces. As mentioned, the list of guys to arrive and make an impact in the American League is much shorter this year, and I don't see any in that top tier. Archer has a live arm, but his offspeed stuff is still a little inconsistent, and he can be prone to leaving pitches in the middle of the plate. He looks like a potentially solid middle-of-the-rotation pitcher on a deep staff, and he has ceiling to improve if his changeup becomes more reliable. The best part of it is that Tampa Bay pitching assembly line. If any team can move him up another notch, the Rays would have to be at the top of the list.
Sonny Gray (Oakland A's) – He came out of Vanderbilt with high expectations, but it took him a while to put things together professionally. Gray only has about 50 major league innings under his belt, but I have liked his progress while on the path to Oakland. Truthfully, the small sample size is really the only thing that kept me from putting him at the top of this American League list. He's smallish at 5-foot-11 but he has plenty of arm, and he gets a lot of movement on his pitches. I really like the variety in his curveball, and his changeup is coming along. So far, his strikeout rate has been a little better than I expected, but if he can keep that up, his fantasy value will climb. Obviously pitching in Oakland is a benefit, but that's not the only factor involved here. Gray has a very competitive mound demeanor, and he has shown the ability to adjust as he works, so I like his upside a great deal. Again, with a few more solid innings, he tops this list.
Jarred Cosart (Houston Astros) – The Astros are trying to do it right, and that means building a pitching staff with talent and patience. They got Cosart from the Phillies when they dealt Hunter Pence, and they were looking at what could be far more than what was at the time. Cosart has an electric arm, sitting mid-high 90s with his fastball, and he has a nice curve to go with a decent changeup. That sounds like it would play very well now. However, he doesn't command any of those pitches particularly well, which leads to elevated pitch counts, too many walks and wildly inconsistent results. He was so erratic at times that the Astros considered a bullpen role – he could be a devastating closer – but you can't blame them for wanting to see if he can pull it all together and become a leader in their rotation. Plenty of upside, but remember the patience.
Danny Salazar (Cleveland Indians) – Salazar didn't show a whole lot when he first turned pro, then underwent Tommy John surgery, and missed all 2011, so he was still something of an unknown. In 2012, he started to come around, and as can sometimes happen, he was stronger after the surgery than before. He pitched fewer than 90 innings in 2012, and the Indians have kept him on a leash this year to avoid piling on too many innings. He's going to need to prove he can handle a full season workload, but he has a better than average changeup for his stage of development to go with a zippy fastball that can touch triple-digits, albeit probably not too often if he is going to pitch deep into games. Any time you couple good velocity with a quality changeup when discussing a young pitcher, you have to keep an eye on him.
Martin Perez (Texas Rangers) – For a long time I have hesitated to put Perez in the upper tier of pitching prospects, even though many analysts have considered him an ace in the making. I do occasionally see some flashes of very good, but they aren't often enough, and I still don't see great. Like many lefties, Perez has not been very good at developing a consistent release point. His command comes and goes with the slightest change in the breeze, and his performances can often be anywhere from excellent to disastrous. There's a good chance he will settle in enough to be a viable fantasy option despite pitching half his games in a pitcher's nightmare home park, but it might not be all that soon, and I question whether he will ever fulfill his early expectations.
Brett Oberholtzer (Houston Astros) – We are now crossing into leap-of-faith territory with these next few guys. He's a new look to many opposing hitters, and he has a quality changeup, which always helps to keep those hitters off balance, at least initially. Unfortunately, his full repertoire is nothing special, and he is likely to pay a high price if he leaves too many pitches up in the zone – something he has a tendency to do. Oberholtzer will need to display pinpoint command to be a very successful starting pitcher at the major league level, and he has yet to show he can do that every five days for an extended period of time. I would say he has a back-of-the-rotation ceiling.
Liam Hendriks (Minnesota Twins) – Hendriks has had a handful of starts to prove he belongs in a big-league rotation, and his peripherals rather rudely tell another story. That said, while he generally has modest, back-of-the-rotation stuff, he has, in the minor leagues, shown the ability to pitch with that pinpoint command I just mentioned, so there is hope for a bit better future. It's not too unusual for young pitchers to be too fine with their command until they learn to trust their ability to locate, so I am willing to give him time to make that adjustment. He's not likely to ring up enough strikeouts to be a huge fantasy asset, but the Twins can give him enough innings to be a productive spot starter for fantasy owners if he develops into the pitcher he could become.
Andre Rienzo (Chicago White Sox) – He is the first player born in Brazil to play in the major leagues, and he made an appearance in this year's Futures Game. Those are nice sidelights to his debut with the White Sox, and he has shown some potential to pitch effectively. Rienzo is small, but he gets the ball up into the low-90s and can reach the mid-90s at times, and he has a useful curve, but his change-up is still a work in progress, and he will need more of that pinpoint command that is so important to the arms here at the end of the list. I'd consider him for a spot starter role on your fantasy team if he matures and continues to develop, but he too has a somewhat limited ceiling.
Rotation Short Takes
Matt Harvey (NYM) – One of the down moments of 2013 came with the announcement that Harvey was done for the year, and could perhaps require Tommy John surgery. The latest news is that he may try rehab rather than surgery. It has worked before, but it's no guarantee so surgery could still be in his future. The next couple of months will tell.
Kyle Kendrick (PHI) – He got off to a solid start in 2013, but the wheels came off in the second half. He has now been placed on the disabled list with inflammation in his shoulder. That is never a good sign, but initial reports are just normal wear and tear for a pitcher of his age and innings. He may not return this season.
Kevin Gausman (BAL) – I didn't forget him in the recap of young arms coming into the American League this season (he would have been the top guy on the list). Because he has had a diminished role in 2013, he will be covered in the elite prospect edition next week. My enthusiasm regarding his future has not faded at all.
Chris Sale (CWS) – I know there are always durability questions hovering over him, but if he can stay healthy, he would be one of my favorites to take another big step next season. It seems like every time I watch him pitch he is a little bit more dominant, and even playing for a poor team, he still has winner written all over him.
Andrew Cashner (SD) – Have you ever looked at the top teams in your fantasy leagues to see if a pitcher or two show up fairly consistently? In my leagues, Cashner is liberally sprinkled into the rotations of several teams headed to titles. Seattle's Hisashi Iwakuma is another who appears to be a factor in 2013 success. Hmmm.
Mark Buehrle (TOR) – He gets a call here because I like the guy, and I don't think I've mentioned him all year. Buehrle is often forgotten in fantasy circles because he doesn't pile up strikeouts, but this weekend, with six more innings, he will surpass 200 innings pitched for the 13th consecutive season. That's a workhorse.
The Endgame Odyssey
On Tuesday afternoon, Craig Kimbrel was all over the place and took a blown save against the Nationals in the first game of a doubleheader. Don't read too much into it, it was likely just an off day. ... Slowly but surely Jason Grilli is adding zip to his fastball and he may be getting close to taking over closing duties again for the Pirates. Then again, with playoffs looming, Mark Melancon might still be their best option. ... The Diamondbacks activated J.J. Putz, and when healthy he is a far better choice than their interim closer Brad Ziegler. They are likely to let Putz have a few chances before the season ends if he is 100 percent healthy. ... Danny Farquhar has probably done enough since stepping into the end-game gig in Seattle to wear the incumbent tag next spring. I'm not quite convinced he is the answer long term. ... Way back in April there were numerous discussions about Greg Holland being on the way out as Kansas City's closer. With the season he's had, and the Royals hoping to step into a serious contender's position, those rumblings should be a distant thing of the past. ... The Koji Uehara watch ended at 37 consecutive hitters retired. That's amazing.