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Mound Musings: Prospects Watch - American League

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.

Time to Start the Prospect Watch - American League

I just tore a page off of my 2014 calendar and see that April has turned to May. Teams desperate for rotation help might be tempted to look at their young guns fairly soon, and the more frugal organizations will be looking at their options when they can bring a pitcher up without triggering Super 2 status - typically in June. For fantasy owners this is a great time to strategize. The next couple weeks I'd like to bring up some names in each league that should be on your radar. Track these guys and be ready to pounce when a call-up is imminent. Let's look at some American League possibilities.

Many will come and go, but a few can make a big impact.

This can be a very tricky time of the year. Teams have had a chance to evaluate the effectiveness of the starters they brought out of spring training, and already injuries have taken their toll on the rotations of several teams. For fantasy owners, when new rotation options begin appearing, you have to sort out which ones could be a help to your team, and which are merely placeholders or fillers.

There are many variables that impact whether the call up is a genuine boost or a short-term patch intended to address an immediate need. In April and May, if a starter goes down with an injury that is expected to be relatively minor, teams will usually avoid calling up their top prospects. Similarly, if they decide they need to make a change, they will try to find a more "disposable" option rather than starting the arbitration clock on a blue chip prospect they want to keep long term.

In general, teams with deeper pockets, those who lose a key member of their rotation to a long term injury, or those somehow under more pressure to win now will be slightly more likely to bring up their top gun early, but even they will delay it as long as possible, especially if they have at least a passable fill-in.

Look at the pitcher being called up - not so much at the numbers he has put up so far this season, even if they are impressive, but look more at his long term upside and ceiling. Is he someone who could eventually be slotted at the top of their rotation? Is he still young and relatively inexperienced? If you answered yes, he could be someone to jump on quickly, particularly in keeper leagues. If he is a mid-to-low level prospect or a journeyman, but has posted brilliant numbers so far this season, the team may be hoping for a lightning strike, but if they aren't concerned with the impact on their investment he is not nearly as likely to help your fantasy team.

Here are some AL arms (next week we'll do NL) I am eager to see called up:

Kevin Gausman (Orioles) -
Have you ever watched someone calmly and quietly sharpening an already razor sharp knife on a foot pedal grinding wheel? Shhhk. Shhhk. Shhhk. That's pretty much what's happening with Gausman. I love this guy, and the Orioles are just calmly honing his skills, limiting his pitch counts, and calculating the day and hour for his 2014 arrival in Baltimore. If at all possible they will wait until June, and then immediately insert him into the rotation for the rest of the season, and far, far beyond.

Taijuan Walker (Mariners) -
He'd probably already be in Seattle if he hadn't come down with a sore shoulder. The good news is they haven't found any structural damage and his rehab is progressing well. I don't like shoulder woes, but the Mariners wouldn't be allowing him to work his way back if they weren't sure he was OK - he's too valuable to take risks with. I would expect him up by late May or June and he could make an impact right away, albeit he's likely to pitch with innings and pitch count limitations.

Alex Meyer (Twins) -
He's tall and that often means the pitcher might struggle with repeating his motion and locking in a release point. Meyer was banged up earlier this year, but he's healthy now and in the rotation at Triple-A Rochester where he is showing excellent progress. The walks are down, the strikeout rate is up (he's throwing his change-up for strikes and that was the missing piece, and he's getting results. He can hit triple digits on the gun and he looks like he's right on top of you when he's doing it. Minnesota is on a tight budget so they will be sure to keep him under wraps until he is past the Super 2 period, but be ready.

Marcus Stroman (Blue Jays) -
The clock is ticking for him and the alarm will surely sound very soon. At 5-foot-9 he's about a foot shorter than Meyer, but he has the tools to make scouts overlook his short stature and focus on his electric stuff. The Jays also have the very talented Aaron Sanchez in their barn, but Stroman is more polished at this point in their careers so he will be the first to get the call, and it sounds as if they aren't going to wait long. His debut is imminent.

Enny Romero (Rays) -
There's a gap in my eyes between the other four listed here and Romero, but he's not all bad, and the Rays have had enough injuries to move him closer to a rotation spot. Romero has very lively stuff for a southpaw and even his breaking stuff is quality when he throws it for strikes. I'd be more interested in him for the future than for today, but his chance may be coming soon and he has that favorable upside. Expect the normal command ups and downs you typically see from a young lefty.

Some Other Notable Rotation Ramblings:

Was last week walk week in MLB? Brandon Morrow had walked eight in four starts and then issued eight free passes in less than three innings. Others had similar control problems, and then on Sunday night Masahiro Tanaka walked four (and hit a batter) in four innings after allowing just two walks in four starts. I'm calling it an anomaly.

Speaking of Sunday night, I had a bit of a surprise. I've watched the Angels' Garrett Richards a few times and liked his arm but that was about it. Too straight, very shaky command and nothing much off speed. He's back on the radar with more movement, a useful cutter, and a little better idea where it's going. His breaking stuff still needs a lot of work, but he's showing improvement.

A few years ago I frequently touted Ian Kennedy as a pitcher with good but not great stuff, but an incredible mound demeanor. In 2011 he showed everyone. Then he struggled through the last couple of seasons with on and off command that really tied his hands. He looks like he did in 2011 again. These are early returns but his stock is rising rapidly.

The Reds' Tony Cingrani gets a lot of attention - his strikeout rate and stuff will garner that for you - but I am still not sold on his ability to be a stable starting pitcher. He still lacks command of the strike zone, and perhaps more importantly he hasn't shown much developmental progress with his secondary offerings. And now he's landed on the disabled list with left shoulder tendinitis.

Stroman may be eyeing the rotation spot of Dustin McGowan, but McGowan pitched well (and lasted into the seventh inning) last time out, so the decision on when to bring him up could be delayed a bit longer. I see flashes of the ability he displayed before all the injuries, but it's been a long, hard, road back.

I'll be watching with interest when Gavin Floyd finishes his rehab assignment and comes up with his new team, the Braves. The decision won't be an easy one in Atlanta because both of the pitchers he might replace in the rotation - Alex Wood and Aaron Harang - have pitched well. The obvious choice would be Harang, who seemingly came crashing back to Earth in his last outing with nine runs allowed in 4.2 innings.

Another key starter, Seattle's Hisashi Iwakuma is now healthy and slated to start Saturday, so owners will want to get him into their lineups as soon as possible. There were many skeptics when he began to string solid starts together late in 2012, but last year should have been enough to convince any doubters. He's the real deal.

Endgame Odyssey

The wheels go round and round and round and round - and in some more cases off. The Angels made a move and replaced Ernesto Frieri with Joe Smith. Frieri was bad early on, but I have my doubts about Smith long term ... Jim Johnson may have his job back in Oakland - not really a surprise that he's getting another chance given the team's investment. He's just a mediocre closer, but he's likely to end the season leading the A's in saves ... The Cubs aren't really saying who will close now, but usage suggests they may be leaning away from Pedro Strop and toward Hector Rondon ... Even I was a little surprised when the Mets asked Daisuke Matsuzaka to close a game last week. Kyle Farnsworth isn't a great option, and is not really capable of handling a heavy closer's workload so they need alternatives, and if Matsuzaka keeps throwing strikes he actually fits pretty well ... One of the best closers to own for the first month of the season is San Diego's Huston Street. He's been very reliable for years, but he's also been fragile so the prudent owner probably needs to have Joaquin Benoit as a backup plan if possible ... A week ago it looked like Josh Fields had worked his way up to the top of the Astros end game food chain, and within two days he had experienced an epic meltdown. Anthony Bass is the lukewarm choice today, but as noted in the last Musings, this situation is going to remain fluid for the foreseeable future ... Good news for the Reds and owners of flamethrower Aroldis Chapman. He is heading out on a rehab assignment and should be back in Cincinnati sometime next week. The Reds will gladly hand him the ball in the ninth.