Mound Musings: Keep on Truckin'

Mound Musings: Keep on Truckin'

This article is part of our Mound Musings series.

Okay, I'm afraid I'm going to date myself. I actually had the poster pictured below hanging in my room. It was a different time. It was a different time for baseball, too. Starting pitchers generally finished what they started. It wasn't unusual for the best to toss more than 300 innings, and I don't remember ever counting pitches. It was rare to see someone hit triple digits on a radar gun. But then, pitchers were trained (and expected) to pitch. Sure, injuries happened, but routinely missing a year or two wasn't a forgone conclusion. Maybe we need to look back and see if there is anything to learn?

My poster names three pitchers – Kyle Wright, Pablo Lopez and Joe Ryan. This trio is a collection of arms who have recently graduated to my top level of interest. I typically label a pitcher as "of interest" then "monitor closely" followed by "higher potential" then "breakout candidate" and finally "primary target" for future drafts. I would note that well over half the pitchers I watch have none of these labels attached. That means they are not currently on my radar and have failed to show me anything of real interest. It doesn't mean they won't, it just means they haven't displayed any (or very many) of the key things I look for in a pitcher likely to find success over the long term. That's a somewhat simplified rating system, but I hope you get the idea. You can also

Okay, I'm afraid I'm going to date myself. I actually had the poster pictured below hanging in my room. It was a different time. It was a different time for baseball, too. Starting pitchers generally finished what they started. It wasn't unusual for the best to toss more than 300 innings, and I don't remember ever counting pitches. It was rare to see someone hit triple digits on a radar gun. But then, pitchers were trained (and expected) to pitch. Sure, injuries happened, but routinely missing a year or two wasn't a forgone conclusion. Maybe we need to look back and see if there is anything to learn?

My poster names three pitchers – Kyle Wright, Pablo Lopez and Joe Ryan. This trio is a collection of arms who have recently graduated to my top level of interest. I typically label a pitcher as "of interest" then "monitor closely" followed by "higher potential" then "breakout candidate" and finally "primary target" for future drafts. I would note that well over half the pitchers I watch have none of these labels attached. That means they are not currently on my radar and have failed to show me anything of real interest. It doesn't mean they won't, it just means they haven't displayed any (or very many) of the key things I look for in a pitcher likely to find success over the long term. That's a somewhat simplified rating system, but I hope you get the idea. You can also assign a numerical rating similar to the scouting rating. Under 50, little or no interest, 50ish, of interest, 50 to 55, monitor closely, 55 to 60 higher potential, 60ish, breakout candidate, and above 60, primary target, but there are other non-stuff related factors added in.

So, without adieu, let's keep on truckin' and see who might be next. Just be careful, there are a lot of bad pitchers putting up unsustainable numbers these days.

These guys are close to establishing themselves at a new level:

Alek Manoah (Blue Jays) – Manoah is already the odds-on choice to be the next pitcher to add his name on the poster. He's made just 25 starts at the MLB level, but you can't argue with his impact. He made just a handful of appearances in 2019, his first year in pro ball. Then 2020 was washed out with the pandemic. They bumped him up to Triple-A to start the 2021 season, but he made just three starts, overmatching the competition, before getting the call to Toronto. He never missed a beat. He looks imposing on the mound and displays an intensity to match. His slider is plus-plus, and his fastball is close with sharp movement. He's working on his change-up, and it's coming along. He can still occasionally miss his spots, but he has the electric stuff to overcome mistakes. He looks like a workhorse with an extreme ceiling.

Eric Lauer (Brewers) – In some ways he snuck up on me. Lauer was a first-round pick a few years ago, and he showed raw skills in line with that draft slot. Like any young arm, especially a lefty, it was all a matter of when (or if) he would lock everything in and put it all together. I would check his progress every now and then, but inconsistent command was the norm. Then, last year, he began to display more consistent location on his secondary pitches. Maybe the Brewers, like a handful of other teams, are finding the secrets to unlocking the potential of young arms? Think about Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff. Both are outperforming scouts' early projections. This season, Lauer's walk rate has dropped further, and his strikeout rate is increasing rapidly. More efficient mechanics have brought an increase in fastball velocity to go with the better command. All he needs to do is show us he can stay locked in.

Logan Gilbert (Mariners) – I might be premature bumping Gilbert into the target tier of pitchers, but I feel pretty good about it. He burst on the scene last year with very limited pro experience, and he enjoyed some success. Not surprisingly, there were also some bumpy stretches including his tendency to serve up home runs at inopportune times, leading to an unspectacular 4.68 ERA, but the underlying numbers suggest that was seriously inflated. It's all a learning experience when you only had about 50 innings above Low-A ball, but I have been keeping a close eye on him and continue to like what I see. He's a fly-ball pitcher, but his home park softens that, and the less lively ball (reportedly) surely helps as well. His advanced mound presence – a bad pitch isn't something he agonizes over – plus being on a young team loaded with both enthusiasm and talent gives him the makeup of a pitcher you can count on over the long haul.

MacKenzie Gore (Padres) – The best thing about authoring a column is you get to populate lists like this. I freely admit to being biased and a huge, longtime Gore fan. He probably isn't quite ready for this ranking, but if you don't buy the best early, the price only goes up. At his best, Gore has a full repertoire of above-average offerings he will throw in any count or situation. He has reworked his motion, toning down a rather exaggerated leg kick so his command is generally pretty good as he works up and down in the zone. He still misses his spot too often, but everything moves, and hitters have a very hard time squaring him up. I have recently watched a few innings of his first MLB outings, and I was happy with what I saw. If he sticks in the Padres' rotation – it's getting pretty crowded as they get healthy – I can almost promise a few bumps in the road, but he's back and close to step up ready.

Some Notable Rotation Ramblings:

  • Here's one more name that could be considered for inclusion on the next step club list. Chicago's Dylan Cease still loses his release point now and then. In his last start, he tossed seven one-hit innings with no walks and 11 strikeouts. Lines like that are coming closer and closer together all the time.
  • The Diamondbacks, led by Zac Gallen, have taken a team-wide step forward on the mound. I think a big part of that can be attributed to new pitching coach, Brent Strom. Everywhere he goes the pitching gets better, and fantasy owners should not underestimate the impact of a coaching staff change like that.
  • A couple bad outings can get a guy cut. I just added Toronto's Hyun Jin Ryu, who was cut by his owner, in one of my leagues. His first two 2022 starts were ugly (13.50 ERA), but it was revealed he was suffering from a forearm strain. He is heading out on a rehab assignment and will hopefully be back soon.
  • The long-awaited return of San Diego's Mike Clevinger finally took place earlier this week. He missed all of 2021 following Tommy John surgery, and a knee injury delayed his 2022 debut, but there were lots of positives in his first outing. There will be workload restrictions, but overall his performance was encouraging.
  • Occasionally a struggling pitcher will catch my eye and such is the case with Rangers' southpaw, Taylor Hearn. He can make a baseball dance, but he just can't consistently keep it on the dance floor. If he locks in a release point, he could be quite a handful. He's one to keep an eye on going forward.
  • I think you can cross Trevor Bauer off your wait and see list. MLB has finally announced a decision regarding his ongoing leave, now suspension. The suspension is for 324 games or two full seasons. Bauer has appealed the decision, but I believe there is little chance we see him anytime soon.

Endgame Odyssey:

One of the more popular bullpen juggling trends this past week has seen fantasy owners jumping on the bandwagon of Cardinals' fire-baller, Ryan Helsley. He picked up a two-inning save last weekend while Giovanny Gallegos watched, but then Gallegos logged a save the next day. It's likely Helsley wasn't available for that one. Helsley is a bit of a one trick pony, gas and nothing but gas, but I think the Cardinals would like Gallegos back in a more versatile role. I have been talking up Jhoan Duran as the future closer for the Twins since Taylor Rogers was dealt earlier this year. The future may be upon us, as Emilio Pagan pitched the eighth before Duran finished off a 2-1 win earlier this week. In Miami, Anthony Bender has been serving as the primary closer. He has enjoyed some success but not without a significant fear factor. Dylan Floro will likely be back soon, and I expect to see him eased into ninth-inning work. Oakland activated their primary closer, Lou Trivino, from the COVID-19 IL, but his first outing was a train wreck. It's possible they will start exploring other options for the long term.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brad Johnson
For more than 30 years, pitching guru Brad "Bogfella" Johnson has provided insightful evaluation and analysis of pitchers to a wide variety of fantasy baseball websites, webcasts and radio broadcasts. He joined RotoWire in 2011 with his popular Bogfella's Notebook.
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