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Mound Musings: Captain Greybeard

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

Continuing the ongoing look at premier young arms making their way to the major leagues, this week we'll look at some pitchers who have just been thrust into the spotlight, and might offer some significant upside. Let's look at a couple who are here now.

Gerrit Cole (Pittsburgh Pirates)

This is yet another case of the quality pitching prospect "haves" organizations. Step one for organizations is finding and signing high-ceiling arms; the second step is developing those arms into high performance pitchers at the major league level. The Pirates have done very well with step one, but until recently have had limited success with the all-important developmental step. With flamethrower Cole and fellow high-ceiling prospect Jameson Taillon, that situation could be changing.

In one of the more pitching-deep first-year drafts in 2011, the Pirates had the first overall selection and had the luxury of choosing between pitchers like Cole, Danny Hultzen and Trevor Bauer. It had to be a difficult decision. All were college pitchers who could likely fast-track to the major leagues, and all had something that made them especially appealing. Cole had the electric arm, Hultzen had exceptional poise and polish, and Bauer had gaudy results throughout his college career. The Pirates chose the big arm in making Cole the No. 1 overall pick. I actually had Hultzen ranked first (narrowly), but going with a cannon arm is certainly understandable.

Cole has now made two starts for the Pirates and holds a 2-0 record with a 3.75 ERA. While definitely encouraging, the results have been a bit of a mixed bag. Lefties are hitting him pretty well (.320) and he has recorded just three strikeouts over his 12 innings. On the plus side, he hasn't allowed a walk or a home run. The extremely low strikeout rate follows a trend he has experienced during his rise through the minor leagues, and really shouldn't be too surprising when you look at his pitch selection.

During his first two outings, Cole relied almost exclusively on his devastating fastball, only occasionally mixing in changeups and curveballs while not using his slider at all. Major league hitters will catch up to a fastball, no matter how good it is, if they can ignore other offerings, and lefty swingers will be particularly dangerous with nothing to at least keep them honest in the batter's box. The results have been predictable: not pitching as deeply into games as he had to face hitters for the third or fourth time, and a vulnerability to batters who swing from the left side.

So, how does that translate into a fantasy forecast? Cole is still learning to pitch, and while the ability to survive on just his fastball is a testament to its game-changing quality, he will likely have some rough outings until he can effectively mix in other pitches - especially if asked to pitch seven or eight innings. Monitor his pitch sequencing and look for an increase in breaking balls and off-speed pitches. If it happens without increased pitch counts, and increased walk rates, that is a good sign he is making progress. The talent is clearly there, and there is a very good chance it will surface as he matures. For this year I would be cautious, but in a keeper/dynasty, he is a great own.

Nathan Eovaldi (Miami Marlins)

Miami is a dreadful baseball team. I'm guessing that didn't open any eyes, but if I said there are some potentially very bright spots on the horizon, would that attract some attention from the fantasy baseball community? They have Giancarlo Stanton who hits the ball as hard as any human being, but they also have a trio of pretty impressive young arms, including Jose Fernandez, Jacob Turner and Nathan Eovaldi. I think all three could be something to build around, and I want to take a few minutes to discuss Eovaldi here. He is actually the most experienced (major leagues) of the three.

He first caught my eye in the minor leagues, and then reinforced my initial assessment when he came up with the Dodgers a couple years ago. He has a tantalizing fastball that has both velocity (he sits mid 90s and can get into the upper 90s) and movement. I wouldn't call that rare, but it is uncommon enough to catch my eye. With that notable combination, and his delivery, which features a sharp downward plane, there is a lot to like already. Unfortunately, he didn't really have the secondary stuff to fully compliment that exciting fastball, and even though he is showing forward progress, he is still putting the pieces in place.

His fastball command is improving, his slider, though still a little inconsistent, is potentially a plus-plus offering with a nice, crisp, late bite and there is enough of a changeup in his repertoire to buy him more time to develop as a potential starter - he could probably be a devastating closer with what he has today. The Marlins are in no hurry, and they have plenty of time to see if he can master all of those pitches.

At age 23, Eovaldi is the greybeard of the Miami mound trio, and at the risk of sounding like a recording of the Cole analysis, he will be challenged while garnering confidence in his secondary pitches. Like Cole, he has trouble against some left-handed hitters, and facing a batting order too many times in a game makes him more vulnerable. He doesn't have quite the ceiling of Cole, but I actually like his upside a bit better than Fernandez or Turner, and that's saying quite a lot. He's had just one start since missing the first couple of months of 2013 with some minor shoulder problems, but he looked good in that first start back, and will be worth watching as the summer heats up.

Some Notable Rotation Happenings:

Matt Harvey (NYM) -
Mets fans got to recall the days of Tom Seaver, Doc Gooden and Jerry Koosman on Tuesday when Harvey was almost untouchable in the first game of a doubleheader before Zack Wheeler made his debut in the nightcap. This pair could be an overwhelming force in the NL East, and it could happen very soon.

Roy Oswalt (COL) -
There were some very encouraging things in his build up to joining the Rockies rotation, and he could be an innings eater they need. He is no guarantee to be extremely successful, especially at Coors Field, but there would be worse flyers to take if you are looking for help on the mound.

Yu Darvish (TEX) -
He has an ERA below 3.00 and is on pace to strikeout nearly 300 hitters this year, and I still harbor lingering disappointment. Darvish is actually better than what we are seeing, and I think he will gain momentum as things progress. Honestly, I would acquire him at face value today, and think I was getting a bargain.

Chris Sale (CWS) -
I think his generally max effort motion will probably make him an ongoing injury risk, but damn he can pitch when he is healthy. The durability issues are probably the only thing keeping him out of the top tier of starting pitchers - well, that and the fact that the White Sox rarely give him any runs to work with.

Matt Cain (SF) -
There was a lot of concern regarding his early season struggles. After all, the past few seasons not many pitchers have been as consistently reliable. Some even thought he was having a Lincecum-like unraveling. Both have had serious command issues, but Cain's easier-to-repeat delivery is also easier to correct.

Chris Capuano (LAD) -
Back off the disabled list, Capuano was sharp against the Yankees on Wednesday. He still gets in trouble with the long ball now and then, but he is a viable back-of-the-rotation starter in most matchups when healthy. If he was dropped a few weeks ago when he suffered the lat strain, give him some thought.

Jordan Lyles (HOU) -
He has always had adequate stuff, but there is a new maturity about him these days. Like a lot of pitchers who get thrown to the lions too early, fantasy owners forget about them, and it can be difficult to believe when they start to put it all together. He's not out of the woods yet, but he should be back on the radar.

Ubaldo Jimenez (CLE) -
There are games where he looks vaguely like the old Ubaldo, but they don't come along very often. Most nights he is all over the place, runs up a high pitch count, and heads for the shower in the fifth or sixth inning. He is tempting to look at sometimes, but far too erratic to rely on. I'm staying away.

Endgame Odyssey:

The Mariners shifted to Plan B in their end-game scenario, albeit supposedly for just a couple weeks while they try to find Tom Wilhelmsen's command of the strike zone. Carter Capps and Oliver Perez - yes, that Oliver Perez - are tabbed to step in, and Yoervis Medina even took a turn in a 10-inning game. Capps is the upside guy, and likely the future closer long term while Perez has enjoyed success as a lefty specialist. Capps is probably worth grabbing where you can ... Is Jose Valverde still the closer in Detroit? He was bypassed in favor of Joaquin Benoit in a save situation recently, but the Tigers like Benoit in a set-up role. This scenario has acquisition written all over it, and the name Jonathan Papelbon has already begun circulating ... So where do the Phillies go if they deal Papelbon? Mike Adams would be the most obvious choice, but I continue to track Phillippe Aumont. He has devastating closer stuff, but has struggled mightily with his command. He's admittedly a longshot, but if it clicks, I'm all in ... Expect to see this name popping up in Endgame Odyssey with some regularity - Joakim Soria. He is likely to start a rehab assignment soon, he is blocked by Joe Nathan, and it could be mid-July before he is ready, but he was one of the best closers in the game before he got hurt, and there are a lot of teams in need of a closer upgrade, which could mean he or Nathan might have a change of address ... The Indians were hoping - now perhaps not likely after a rehab implosion - to have Chris Perez back for this upcoming weekend, which could possibly bring an end to the closer duties for Vinnie Pestano. However, don't be too surprised if we revisit the Cleveland situation again and again this year Rafael Betancourt should be back soon for Colorado, but there is no guarantee he will replace Rex Brothers as the closer, especially long term.