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Mound Musings: Kids on the Rise

Brad Johnson

For more than 25 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.

It's Time to Consider the Possibilities, Part III

As we've discussed the last two weeks, some intriguing arms who have already made their way to their major league clubs. By June, players are probably beyond the date that would trigger an earlier arbitration eligibility so the team gains an extra year of a potentially bargain salary. Therefore, it makes good sense for fantasy owners to stay focused on the horizon, and watch for high-ceiling pitchers displaying a readiness to test the big-time waters, as well as tracking any developing situations in the team's major league rotation that could signal an emerging opportunity. Throughout June, each week I'll feature a couple of arms you should be watching for as the summer heats up. Next week I'll have my assessment of the first-year draft pitchers, and then we'll be back to kids on the rise. Let's look at a couple who are here now, or close.

Danny Hultzen (Seattle Mariners)

Hultzen is yet another example of organizational "haves" as opposed to "have nots" when it comes to exceptionally high quality pitching prospects. If you watch closely, you will find that some organizations consistently collect the best arms (and highest ceilings) in the game, while others never seem to have anything of interest down on the farm. In this case, you have one blue-chipper in Hultzen, and another outstanding young arm just behind him in likely arrival dates, Taijuan Walker. Seattle is on the "haves" list.

And, before I get into Hultzen specifics, I'd like to present one more curious observation regarding those two distinct types of baseball organizations. Remember, there are obviously exceptions, but when one of those "have" organizations deals a highly touted arm to one of the "have nots" I typically temper my expectations. More often than not, the "have" organization felt there was a flaw in that big-name pitching prospect.

Hultzen was the second overall pick in his draft year, a year that saw a lot of pitching talent move up to the professional level. He doesn't have the power arm of the No. 1 pick, Gerrit Cole, but he had exceptional polish, and that was seen as a ticket to the major leagues in the express lane. He began his career by simply overwhelming the competition at the Double-A level, and then, somewhat surprisingly, stumbled a bit when he was moved up to Triple-A Tacoma. Normally very efficient, his control abandoned him and the walk rate shot up, but you could sense it was a short-term concern.

This season, the command was back, and he posted Hultzen-ish numbers in four starts, limiting the base runners and whiffing more than a batter an inning. Everything pointed to a call-up by May or June, and then the shoulder started barking. Diagnosed with a mild rotator cuff strain and some general tendinitis, the Mariners shut him down, and patiently waited for everything to calm down. It delayed his arrival, however it hasn't diminished the expectations. He's throwing again, and while Seattle is understandably being cautious with his rehab, he should see the major league mound fairly soon.

The southpaw has very good stuff, albeit not overly dominating, at least from a velocity standpoint, as his fastball is generally in the low 90s and can touch 95 at times. He has an excellent changeup, as long as he doesn't put too much on it, which reduces the differential and makes it easier for hitters to adjust, and his slider is extremely effective because, like the rest of his arsenal, he can spot it wherever he wants, and throw it whenever the catcher asks. He is willing to pitch inside, and he isn't afraid to throw a secondary pitch when the situation calls for it. Package that with a rather deceptive motion - he throws across his body - and opposing hitters have a lot to think about. His polish and mound presence are huge assets, and he is someone you'll want to see when he makes his much anticipated debut later this summer.

Jarred Cosart (Houston Astros)

Cosart is arguably the best pitching prospect (with all due respect to Lance McCullers Jr.) in the Houston system, though there is a very good chance that will change Thursday night when the Astros make the first pick in the amateur draft.

When the Astros dealt Hunter Pence to the Phillies a couple of years ago, Cosart was a big piece of the return. It's understandable, as he has an arm that is often described as electric - routinely sitting in the 94-97 mph range with his fastball and occasionally approaching triple digits - and he tosses in a nice curve and changeup that can still be a little inconsistent, but create a lots of problems for batters when he is hitting his spots.

That's the question with Cosart, can he develop the consistency to pitch deeper into games and keep hitters off balance with a variety of pitches? His fastball, even with that velocity, sinks, and he can sometimes have trouble keeping the ball in the strike zone. It has the benefit of increasing the number of groundball outs, and keeping the ball in the yard, but because his breaking pitches aren't as refined, his strikeout totals have been a little disappointing prior to now. But, that is changing too, as he has averaged more than a strikeout per inning at Triple-A this season.

There have been those who expected Cosart to be groomed as a potential closer, but the Astros are building, and want to see if he can put all the pieces together as a starter. He isn't completely ready for prime time yet, but he is making progress, and he's close, especially for a team that really needs the boost he could provide. When he does arrive, he could be a bit risky as top level hitters may be even more selective, forcing him to get his pitches up higher in the zone, but the skills are there to adjust and makes him a possibly appealing consideration as a mid-back of the rotation fantasy starter.

Notable Rotation Happenings

Dustin McGowan (TOR) -
Years ago - yes, it's been that long - McGowan was one of the most promising young arms in the game. Now, he's the poster child for why I shudder anytime the word shoulder is included in an injury analysis. Still, he's been popping the radar gun, and the Jays have an enormous need for rotation pitching.

Jeff Locke (PIT) -
I watched him develop while in the Atlanta system, then had the opportunity to watch him at Indianapolis when he joined the Pirates organization. He doesn't have the stuff to climb to the top of a rotation, but he has the command and the mound presence to remain reasonably productive.

Eric Stults (SD) -
Obviously pitching in Petco helps his cause, but Stults can also surprise you with a solid performance anywhere. Unfortunately, it's often when you least expect it, so he's hard to endorse for regular work in a fantasy rotation. I still consider him an emergency filler in most formats.

Jake Peavy (CWS) -
Watching a little of his last start in Seattle, it was obvious something wasn't right. He was leaving pitches up, and his velocity was down 2-3 mph from what you would normally expect. He has a non-displaced fracture in his left rib cage, and that likely means 4-6 weeks off.

Michael Pineda (NYY) -
The Yankees are saying he's possibly a month away, and that he won't pitch in relief when he makes it back. His velocity is still down a bit, but that could come back with more work. I was tremendously impressed with him when he was with Seattle, so I will definitely be monitoring his progress.

Matt Garza (CHC) -
He's back, and he has looked reasonably sharp, so is it any real surprise that the trade rumors have begun to circulate? I won't even speculate on where he might end up, but just about anywhere is better than the north side of Chicago so he might be someone to target as an acquisition. Remaining with the Cubs is unlikely.

Nathan Eovaldi (MIA) -
Another with shoulder woes, he is making his way back, and could show up in Miami in the next week or so. He still needs a more reliable third pitch, but he and Jacob Turner are the future in south Florida so arguments can be made that they should be tracked closely for signs of maturing.

Hisashi Iwakuma (SEA) -
Apparently there are still some actual doubters regarding Iwakuma's success late last season and so far this year. I will admit to being a little surprised at how amazingly well he is performing, but he is a solid starter who will help any fantasy team. If his owner in your league is a doubter, go for it.

Endgame Odyssey

The Blue Jays Casey Janssen continues to be effective, but they won't overwork him. He had off-season shoulder surgery, and he's not 100 percent healthy, but he seems to be fine as long as he doesn't have to go too many days in a row ... Tom Wilhelmsen has recently had some very rough outings, mostly an inability to find the plate, but he is still the guy in Seattle. Those who like to speculate might grab Carter Capps as he has a good chance of grabbing the gig at some point ... With Rafael Betancourt on the shelf, Rex Brothers has stepped in for Colorado, and there is the possibility he could stick, if not right away, at some point in the reasonably near future. He's the man the Rockies want in the role going forward anyway ... While Heath Bell has done a fairly decent job since stepping into the closer's role in Arizona, J.J. Putz hopes to return without surgery, and will almost assuredly reclaim his old gig ... Huston Street has made his annual pilgrimage to the disabled list. It doesn't look like he will miss more than the two weeks, and while the Padres have avoided moving Luke Gregerson out of the set-up role in the past, it looks as though he will be the first option while Street is away.

Be sure to check in next week, when Mound Musings will provide some insights and things to watch for from the best arms selected in this year's first-year player draft, which begins June 6 (for those like me who won't miss it).