Articles by Erik Siegrist

Erik Siegrist is an FSWA award-winning columnist who covers all four major North American sports (that means the NHL, not NASCAR) and whose beat extends back to the days when the Nationals were the Expos and the Thunder were the Sonics. He was the inaugural champion of Rotowire's Staff Keeper baseball league. His work has also appeared at Baseball Prospectus.

Looking For The Next Shoemaker

Last season saw a number of surprising pitching performances from completely unheralded hurlers that likely won a lot of fantasy leagues for the owners lucky enough to scoop them up. Guys like Collin McHugh (11 wins, 2.73 ERA, 157 K’s in 154.2 innings), Matt Shoemaker (16 wins, 3.04 ERA, 124 K’s in 136 innings) and Jacob deGrom (nine wins, 2.69 ERA, 144 K’s in 140.1 innings) not only had great seasons in 2014, they provided their fantasy owners with significantly more value than big-name prospects like Archie Bradley or Kevin Gausman. So what did all those feel-good, out-of-nowhere pitchers have in common?

Well, to be honest… the secret ingredient seems to be that they all survived pitching in high-offense Triple-A home parks the year before.

  • McHugh 2013: 3.69 ERA, 88:27 K:BB ratio in 100 innings between Las Vegas and Colorado Springs
  • Shoemaker 2013: 4.64 ERA, 160:29 K:BB ratio in 184.1 innings at Salt Lake
  • deGrom 2013: 4.52 ERA, 63:24 K:BB ratio in 75.2 innings at Las Vegas

Note that they didn’t necessarily pitch well at Triple-A. None of them put up numbers that would have caused you to give them a second glance if you were just scanning the high minors looking for positive outliers. But they held their own, and for a pitcher who was never a top prospect, who had to claw his way up the ladder one rung at a time, proving you can survive a hostile Pacific Coast League environment like those in Vegas or Salt Lake could be the last piece of the mental puzzle necessary to not just get to the majors, but thrive once you arrive.

So, if this theory is correct, who are some pitchers with uninspiring Triple-A numbers in 2014, and without big-time prospect pedigrees, who might become this season’s deGrom, McHugh or Shoemaker? Here are a few possibilities.

Carlos Frias: If I had to bet on one pitcher becoming a 2015 waiver wire stud, it would be Frias. His numbers in Albuquerque (5.01 ERA, 65:21 K:BB ratio in 91.2 innings) were pretty ugly, but in a September start against the Nationals at Chavez Ravine, he threw six shutout innings with a 4:1 K:BB ratio. Two weeks later, he got a second spot start in Denver and didn’t make it out of the first inning, fragging his final big league numbers. He’s got a mid-90s fastball, a couple of decent breaking balls, good control, and a near guarantee that Dodgers’ projected fifth starter Brett Anderson is going to get hurt at some point. That’s a pitcher worth keeping an eye on.

Juan Oramas: An overlooked side effect of the Padres’ offseason makeover was the need for them to clear roster room for all the new arrivals, and Oramas was one of the first players they jettisoned (coincidentally and possibly ironically, claimed off waivers by Toronto so his spot on the 40-man could be given to ex-Jay Brandon Morrow). He’s already checked one ‘overcoming adversity on his way up the ladder’ box after 2012 Tommy John surgery, and while the 24-year-old had an unsightly 5.61 ERA in 110.2 innings at El Paso, his 93:45 K:BB ratio could have been worse, and his Double-A performance before his promotion (1.05 ERA, 23:6 K:BB in 25.2 innings in 2014, 3.07 ERA, 64:16 K:BB ratio in 55.2 innings in 2013) was outstanding. He’s got three solid pitches, and with the Jays relying on a number of young pitchers in their rotation, the possibility of an opening or two cropping up during the season is higher than it might be with some other clubs.

Charles Brewer: Another player who was essentially given away in the offseason (heading from the Diamondbacks to the Indians for cash considerations), Brewer made a few bullpen appearances for Arizona in 2013, then got smacked around at Reno last season (4.99 ERA, 96:34 K:BB ratio in 126.1 innings) in his third PCL stint. Like Oramas he doesn’t have a big fastball but does have three pitches that grade out as average or slightly better, and while the Indians have a number of starters ahead of him on the depth chart, they really don’t have anyone locked into their rotation other than Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. If the Bauers and Salazars in the system falter, Brewer could get his chance.

That’s by no means an exhaustive list, of course. Plenty of guys had unimpressive campaigns on the mound in the nastier PCL parks, but still retain some reason for optimism in their future outlook. The important thing to take away from last year’s trio of surprises is that if a pitcher gets an opportunity in a major league rotation, and you just take a quick look at his Triple-A numbers without considering the context, you could miss out on a very useful player.

One more thing: if you disregard the “without a big-time prospect pedigree” criteria, there were actually two other guys who might be bumped down on some cheat sheets lower than they should be. Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard are among the Mets’ top young arms, but in a shallow league they might be dismissed as not quite ready to contribute due to their Triple-A numbers. Look again. Despite pitching in Las Vegas, Montero has managed a sub-3.50 ERA over 168.2 innings in the last two seasons, while Syndergaard kept his K/9 over 9.0 last year. That tells me that they are probably more than ready for the majors. In something like a 12-team mixed league, Syndergaard especially is worth gambling on with a later round pick.

World Junior Championships: Heading Into The Semis

If you’re a hockey prospects kind of person, this is truly the most wonderful time of the year. The IIHF World Junior Championships continues straight through into 2015, and all kinds of rosy-cheeked phenoms will get a chance to strut their stuff. As the tournament progresses, I’ll provide updates on both the kids who have already been drafted (92 players participating in the tournament have already been selected by NHL clubs, with the Winnipeg Jets leading the pack by having six of their prospects rostered) and those who are still draft-eligible.

Unfortunately the holidays made it tough for me to watch as much of the end of the round robin, or the quarter-finals, as I would have liked, much less crank out daily reports on the action. However, with the semi-finals on tap today (Sweden vs Russia in what should be a typically tough matchup between the two European powers, and Canada almost getting an effective bye to the gold medal game by facing a Slovakia team they shellacked 8-0 in their opener), it seems like a good time to get caught up on what I have seen.

World Junior Championships, Day 3

If you’re a hockey prospects kind of person, this is truly the most wonderful time of the year. The IIHF World Junior Championships continues straight through into 2015, and all kinds of rosy-cheeked phenoms will get a chance to strut their stuff. As the tournament progresses, I’ll provide updates on both the kids who have already been drafted (92 players participating in the tournament have already been selected by NHL clubs, with the Winnipeg Jets leading the pack by having six of their prospects rostered) and those who are still draft-eligible.

There were only two games on the schedule Sunday, as Russia crushed Switzerland and the US cruised to an easy win over Germany.

Russia 7, Switzerland 0

After having to scramble to beat Denmark, the Russians wasted no time in smacking down the Swiss and demonstrating why they are one of the tournament favorites. Igor Shestyorkin (NYR, 4th rd 2014) and his posts stymied every opportunity Switzerland had, while 12 different Russians found the score sheet as their attacks came in waves. This was possibly a more impressive ass-whupping than the one Canada laid on Slovakia, if only because the Swiss showed more fight and got basically the same result.

Top prospect performers:

Russia’s dynamic duo of Ivan Barbashyov (STL, 2nd rd 2014) and Pavel Buchnevich (NYR, 3rd rd 2013) kicked off the rout in style, factoring in on two first period goals. Buchnevich is a world class sniper with good size and  speed and great hands, and his flick into the top corner as he was falling down was arguably the biggest highlight reel goal of the tourney so far. Barbashyov is the perfect complement for him, a slick and skilled player who’s not afraid to do the dirty work necessary to get his teammates prime scoring chances. His drop pass on Buchnevich’s goal as he cruised through the slot and drew the defense’s attention was good, but better was his contribution to Russia’s first goal, as he camped in front of Swiss goalie Gauthier Descloux and set a perfect screen, then lifted his leg at the last possible second to let a slapshot from Rushan Rafikov (CGY, 7th rd 2013) blur into the net. Both of Russia’s killer Bs should figure heavily in their respective NHL clubs’ top six plans in a couple of years.

Top undrafted performers:

Luca Fazzini is your typical waterbug forward, showing good speed and elusiveness plus a knack for finding open ice in the offensive zone. Most of the scoring chances Switzerland had seemed to involve him, and Shestyorkin’s best stop of the game was a toe save to deny Fazzini when he seemed to have an open net. Inconceivable! At a listed five-foot-nine he may not attract much NHL attention, but I could see Fazzini being the leading sniper for some Spengler Cup-winning HC Davos squad down the road.

United States 6, Germany 0

It’s hard not to feel for the Germans, having to start the tournament with games against their group’s two juggernauts, Canada and the US. The Americans showed them no mercy though, controlling the contest pretty much from opening whistle to final horn. Dylan Larkin (DET, 1st rd 2014) scored twice and added an assist, and he’s their third line center! He profiles more as third line glue guy than top offensive performer, but the Wings have to love the way he’s playing right now.

Top prospect performers:

Despite Larkin’s production, Sonny Milano (CLM, 1st rd 2014) was the drafted player making the most noise with his play. He has a rep for being a bit of a selfish player, which isn’t necessarily a bad trait to have in a born sniper, but can you blame him? When God reaches down and blesses you with hands that talented, it would be a crime to waste them doing anything else. (Unless he became a masseur, I suppose.) Milano had a number of scoring chances early in the game that just missed, but his goal came when he actually tried to pass it across the crease, only for the German defenseman to slap it right back to him. Milano took the hint from up above and buried the puck in the back of the net.

On the US blue line, Will Butcher (COL, 5th rd 2013) has a very nice game, smoothly quarterbacking the power play and cleaning up the occasional mess in his own end. He doesn’t have ideal size for an NHL defenseman, but his passing ability and vision will make him a two-way asset and Butcher’s not afraid to get a bit physical when necessary. The Avalanche look like they got a bit of a steal with this pick.

Top undrafted performers:

So if Jack Eichel is the number one center and Larkin slots in as the number three, who’s the team’s second line pivot? That honor belongs to 17-year-old Auston Matthews, who due to a birth date fluke won’t be eligible for the NHL draft until 2016. Matthews is a bulldog who’s currently listed at six-foot and 200 lbs, although he might yet grow a couple of inches, and his package of offensive skills is nearly comparable to Eichel’s. In the Americans’ first game Matthews appeared tentative on the big stage, but against the Germans he outplayed his more heralded teammate, looking more responsible with his defensive assignments while matching Eichel deke for deke and goal for goal (literally: Matthews opened the scoring for the US with a beautiful wraparound goal, which Eichel then had to top with his own wraparound tally in the third period.) Watching the two continue to try and one-up each other is going to be one of the true pleasures of this tournament.

World Junior Championships, Day 2

If you’re a hockey prospects kind of person, this is truly the most wonderful time of the year. The IIHF World Junior Championships continues straight through into the new year, and all kinds of rosy-cheeked phenoms will get a chance to strut their stuff. As the tournament progresses, I’ll provide updates on both the kids who have already been drafted (92 players participating in the tournament have already been selected by NHL clubs, with the Winnipeg Jets leading the pack by having six of their prospects rostered) and those who are still draft-eligible.

World Junior Championships, Day 1

If you’re a hockey prospects kind of person, this is truly the most wonderful time of the year. The IIHF World Junior Championships kicked off on Boxing Day with four games featuring all four elite hockey nations (the US, Canada, Russia and Sweden), and all kinds of rosy-cheeked phenoms will get a chance to strut their stuff. As the tournament progresses, I’ll provide updates on both the kids who have already been drafted (92 players participating in the tournament have already been selected by NHL clubs, with the Winnipeg Jets leading the pack by having six of their prospects rostered) and those who are still draft-eligible.

Day one’s action featured two near-upsets that the favorite has to salvage in a shootout, a semi-blowout by a hockey superpower and a statement game by another superpower trying to end a gold medal drought on home ice.