Mound Musings: Arms to Watch in the AL East

Mound Musings: Arms to Watch in the AL East

This article is part of our Mound Musings series.

Every year I like to list some of the arms I will be watching in the spring as draft day draws near. Typically they are pitchers I hope can provide some substantial value because I believe they have a very good chance of outperforming their draft-day price tags. They won't all be aces, some will be young and still developing, while some will be rebounding from injuries or off years, but the key is always the never-ending quest for value. Let's get to it with:

Seven Arms to Watch in the AL East

Kevin Gausman (BAL) - I'm going to lead off with one of my favorite young arms in the game. I really think it's not a matter of if, but rather when Gausman establishes himself as one of the most reliable starters in baseball. Gausman has an explosive fastball that routinely sits in the mid-90s and often sneaks higher, and his secondary stuff is already good and getting better. He's on the brink. When he can comfortably rely on his off-speed stuff, making that devastating fastball even more overwhelming, he will move into the top tier of starting pitchers. He won't be cheap on draft day -- he's already too well known -- but he is still likely to be somewhat undervalued for one more year. This is the time to buy. It may be your last chance to secure his services at any kind of discount, so he's a good investment in redrafts and a must have

Every year I like to list some of the arms I will be watching in the spring as draft day draws near. Typically they are pitchers I hope can provide some substantial value because I believe they have a very good chance of outperforming their draft-day price tags. They won't all be aces, some will be young and still developing, while some will be rebounding from injuries or off years, but the key is always the never-ending quest for value. Let's get to it with:

Seven Arms to Watch in the AL East

Kevin Gausman (BAL) - I'm going to lead off with one of my favorite young arms in the game. I really think it's not a matter of if, but rather when Gausman establishes himself as one of the most reliable starters in baseball. Gausman has an explosive fastball that routinely sits in the mid-90s and often sneaks higher, and his secondary stuff is already good and getting better. He's on the brink. When he can comfortably rely on his off-speed stuff, making that devastating fastball even more overwhelming, he will move into the top tier of starting pitchers. He won't be cheap on draft day -- he's already too well known -- but he is still likely to be somewhat undervalued for one more year. This is the time to buy. It may be your last chance to secure his services at any kind of discount, so he's a good investment in redrafts and a must have in keeper formats. He will be very high on my draft day rankings.

Masahiro Tanaka (NYY) -
He came off what can only be described as an incredible 2013 season in Japan where he went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP over 212 innings, and he picked up where he left off with the Yankees, going 13-5 with a 2.77 ERA. The numbers were actually much better before a couple of sub-par outings that led to him being shut down for two months with elbow issues. He opted to rehab rather than have Tommy John surgery, and he returned in September, which was certainly encouraging, but he must be listed as a health risk. Your staff makeup (and risk aversion level) will probably dictate your approach to Tanaka on draft day. That long-term injury risk will hold the price tag down to some extent, so if you can get him as a three or four, I'd jump in. However, if you are drafting him as your ace (he's capable if healthy), you have to understand that you are rolling the dice, and replacing his production if he does go down with that elbow could be almost impossible. I'll add one more thought to consider -- Didi Gregorius. Significant improvement in defense is an angle I love to use and Gregorius fits very well. I'd nudge every Yankees starter up a tick or two with Gregorius likely to be the everyday shortstop. Do ya feel lucky? Well, do ya?

Rick Porcello (BOS) -
An extreme groundball pitcher, Porcello has toiled for his entire career in front of a porous infield defense. The gloves in Boston aren't all made of gold, but they are a fairly big step up from the Detroit defense. I like Porcello anyway, and I think he still has room to improve (he's only 26 even though it seems he's been around forever), so it's pretty easy to include him here. His ratio is improving (1.23) and that led to a solid ERA (3.43); it's only the soft strikeout numbers that really hold him back. He whiffed just 129 in 204 innings last year, but he notched 142 in 177 innings in 2013, offering hope for better even if he doesn't miss too many more bats. He's never going to be a huge strikeout producer, but he'll get you wins and peripherals with enough innings to ring up at least modest strikeout numbers. Move him up another small notch.

Nathan Eovaldi (NYY) -
This one is a little more edgy. Eovaldi moves from South Florida to the Bronx, so there isn't a big boost brought on by pitching in a friendlier environment. A more hitter-friendly ballpark and the booming bats of the AL East will present a challenge, and to build value, he will need to further refine his repertoire. That began last season as he cut his walk rate and was more consistent with his command of the strike zone, but he'll need even better command of his secondary stuff to take the next step. Eovaldi has a Gausman-like fastball, averaging about 96 mph, but his off-speed pitches still aren't as finely tuned. Understandably, some owners will hesitate to pursue Eovaldi now that he'll be working against more potent lineups, but there were signs, especially early last year, that he is on verge of becoming a pitcher with a live arm rather than just a live arm. I'll be hoping for a steal on draft day.

Marcus Stroman (TOR) -
At 5-foot-9, Stroman is not the prototypical power pitcher, but his physical size is about the only thing that doesn't scream power arm. While he was arguably the best starter in the Jays rotation last year, he was technically a No. 3 behind vets R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, but he has top-of-the-rotation stuff and deserves more attention on fantasy draft day. He certainly has the fastball that clocks in at 92-94 mph, but the pitch to watch is a wipeout slider that misses bats all day. It's a power slider that sits in the upper 80s, and it has plenty of bite. Stroman kept it under wraps for much of 2014, but it's only a matter of time before he unleashes it, and his opponents won't enjoy the event. He struck out a modest 111 in little more than 130 innings last season, and that slider could result in a significant uptick in whiffs if he opts to use it more often. New battery mate Russell Martin has a knack for getting the most out of the young pitchers he handles, so I am inclined to move Stroman up the grid a notch or two.

Jake Odorizzi (TB) -
Odorizzi doesn't have the arm of the previously discussed pitchers, but he has shown signs of learning the finer points of pitching and has enough stuff to continue the improvement. He learned a splitter last year, which served him well as a change-of-pace offering, and he was able to keep hitters off balance with more regularity. The added diversity allowed him to pitch deeper into games, and that will be the key this year. Now that he has more tools, hitters are less likely to sit on his more pedestrian fastball as they face him for the second or third time, and if he keeps the mistakes to a minimum he should avoid the big innings that have haunted him. He doesn't have the upside of a huge arm, so I wouldn't be inclined to invest quite as much, but his middling numbers (4.13 ERA and 1.28 WHIP) from 2014 could make his 2015 price tag more attractive.

Matt Moore (TB) -
Regular readers know I am hesitant to write off a pitcher who shows tremendous upside. I thought Moore was ready to break out last year, and two starts into the season, he was done, under the knife for Tommy John surgery. He's not expected back until June, so I'm hoping he'll be forgotten on draft day. However, this is primarily for keeper leagues. He struggles with command, and the year off likely will magnify that. High pitch counts have limited his innings, and pitching behind in the count often costs him strikeouts. But, don't be put off. Like so many young southpaws, Moore is still looking to lock in his delivery, and when that happens, he has the stuff to be an elite starting pitcher. He pitches in an organization that has an excellent track record with regard to developing young pitchers, and he has some of the best stuff in the game. This may not be his season to shine, but that is coming and I want to be there when it happens. If your roster allows it, grab him cheap and stash him away.

The Endgame Odyssey

Here we'll cover some notes and observations on the closer scenarios across baseball. For the next six weeks, the focus will be on the division featured in arms to watch.

Beginning with what will be fairly common now and into the season, the Odyssey in the AL East offers many paths. Baltimore has Zach Britton, and Boston has Koji Uehara as long as he is healthy, but the other teams in the division have questions to answer. ... The Yankees said goodbye to David Robertson but likely will anoint Dellin Betances their closer before the season begins. Betances is versatile and would perhaps benefit from more innings, but he is truly dominant and he offers the added value of strikeouts in abundance. Lefty Andrew Miller might get the odd opportunity, but Betances is the one to own. ... In Tampa Bay, incumbent Jake McGee is expected to begin the season on the disabled list, at least temporarily opening the door for Brad Boxberger or the marginally forgotten Grant Balfour. This could be a fluid situation throughout the season, so McGee or Boxberger owners may want to consider a handcuff. ... And, the Blue Jays say they will stretch Aaron Sanchez out to start during spring training, but I still think he's the best bet to log saves for Toronto. If other rotation alternatives falter, forcing them to hand the ball to Sanchez every five days, Brett Cecil would be the fallback option, but he isn't a strong candidate.

Next week we'll look at Seven Arms to Watch in the NL East.

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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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