This is Looking Back, and Looking Ahead, Part 2 – the American League. Last week, we looked at possible next step or breakout candidates in the National League, and this week we’ll do the same for the junior circuit. Then, in the third part of the series, we’ll close out the 2015 fantasy season and I’ll post my annual elite pitching prospect list, with arms that have yet to arrive, or have only given us a brief peak at what they might offer in the future. This is a fun time to start plotting a strategy for next season. Keep in mind, the pitchers listed below are at various steps along the developmental timeline, and the goal is to find arms capable of taking a significant step forward from where they are now. Let’s jump right in and take a look …
Potential Breakout Arms for 2016 – American League
Kevin Gausman (Baltimore Orioles) – Regular readers already known of my affinity for Gausman. I firmly believe he is one of the top pitching prospects in the game today. I use the term prospect despite the fact that he has pitched over 200 innings across two seasons with Baltimore. And, therein lies the struggle, and the opportunity. Gausman has pitched in 22 games with Baltimore this season (14 starts), along with six other starts for various organizational affiliates. Effective handling young pitchers has not been a strength of the team (I’ll site Orioles v. Arrieta as precedent), and bouncing a talent like this around has likely slowed his progress. Gausman has all the tools, a fastball in the mid-upper 90s, quality secondary stuff, and a commanding mound presence. He could be better at keeping the ball in the yard, and he sometimes gets a bit shaky with men on base, but he actually has a higher ceiling than Jake Arrieta, and I don’t think even the Orioles can hold him back as he enters his third season. Investment is recommended. The payoff could be extremely high.
Derek Holland (Texas Rangers) – Sometimes veterans make this list. Just keep in mind that the first requisite for inclusion on this list is the likelihood of that pitcher making a significant step forward in the coming season. Holland has 862 big league innings under his belt and has accumulated a decent, but certainly not eye-popping, 1.31 WHIP with a 4.21 ERA. Left-handers often reach their peak later, and left-handers who have an injury history may arrive later yet. He has made just 12 starts over the past two seasons, but he has teased us with what could be on his horizon. He missed most of 2014 with a knee injury – no real concern – but his shoulder flared up and cost him most of the current season. That word “shoulder” always conjures up shudders. He’s talented, hopefully healthy, and next year he’ll be pitching in a rotation with guys like Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels, and I believe in synergy, at least as a boost to potential. He needs to stay healthy and the innings may be monitored, but other owners may shy away.
Carlos Rodon (Chicago White Sox) – I’m pretty confident that Rodon could have used at least a full year in the minors before being thrown to the wolves at the major league level. Prior to 2015, he had just 24 professional innings. Despite the quick move to the top level, he has done reasonably well posting a respectable 3.94 ERA, albeit with a less appealing 1.46 WHIP. Not surprisingly, especially for a young southpaw, his walk rate is too high as he issues free passes to hitters at a poor 4.66/9 rate, but he also misses bats, striking out more than a batter an inning without a fully-developed third pitch. He has a great fastball that sits mid-90s, and his slider may be even better, but the change is still a work in progress. It’s coming. He could be scary-good when he can rely on that off-speed offering all the time. One of these years the White Sox will have everything come together, and he’s likely to be in the middle of it.
Daniel Norris (Detroit Tigers) – Norris is perhaps a bit of a longshot. I really like his stuff overall, but he is still very young, and relatively inexperienced. However, that is the recipe for exposure in the Tigers’ system. He came over to Detroit as the key piece in the deal that sent David Price to Toronto. After opening the season in Toronto, he was sent down early to garner more experience. Unlike Detroit, the Jays are typically more conservative with their young arms, so blowing through their minor league system in two years is notable. Loaded with ability, he’s likely to be in the Tigers’ rotation from day one next season, and if he can consistently throw strikes, he could be successful right out of the gate. He’s only 22, and he’s another lefty, so there will probably be times when adjustment to major league hitters will be a challenge. That said, I see enough tools, and enough mound presence, to get past those in fairly short order. Rushing a young arm is always risky, but I want to be on his bandwagon as early as possible.
Luis Severino (New York Yankees) – Like Norris, Severino is a bit of a risk because the prognosis is based on a small sample size. He’s pitched just over 43 innings at the major league level, and he’s done an admirable job, especially when you consider the white-hot spotlight of the New York stage, and the pressure of a playoff race. In eight starts he has posted a 3.12 ERA, and if you drop one outing where he was pummeled by Toronto (many pitchers know the words to that song). He has a solid repertoire, and like his peripherals would suggest, he’s comfortable on the mound, even when the pressure builds. I liked that he bounced back strong after that Toronto blowup. Actually he allowed five of those six runs in a very tough first inning, and in his next start, he tossed five shutout innings before tiring a bit in the sixth. The pieces are there, he could use a little refinement of his command, and he needs to show he can adjust as hitters adjust to him, but he’s worth a shot.
Some Notable Rotation Ramblings:
I almost put Rick Porcello on the above breakout list. Almost. Since he appears on lists I make of this nature almost every year, it just seemed natural. Porcello has been a complete flop this season, at least until the past month or so. I expected him to wake up after moving to Boston, and maybe he is showing signs these past few weeks.
The Diamondbacks continue to work on refining Rubby De La Rosa’s delivery to hone his command. He’s shown positive signs since joining the Arizona rotation, but he still suffers lapses leading to high pitch counts, and worse, middle-of-the-plate home run balls. He could be a decent sleeper for taking a step forward next year.
If you really want to walk on the wild side – literally – go ahead and jump in on Tampa Bay’s Matt Moore on draft day next spring. A few years ago he was very near the top of my elite prospects list, but between injuries and control issues, he’s never made his mark. Hoping he’s healthy, I’ll be tempted to give him one more shot.
The Nationals have had more than their share of disappointments this season, but few would be as hard to explain as that of Jordan Zimmermann. Many, including myself, expected him to step up to the next level this year. His season has been merely adequate, despite everything seemingly being there. Expect better next year.
Jeff Samardzija could easily be the most disappointing pitcher for 2015. After another thumping, this time at the hands of the A’s on Tuesday, his ERA stands at an atrocious 5.27 on the season. The velocity is still there, but he’s middle-of-the-plate way too often and the home runs are flying in a homer-friendly home park.
Once upon a time I was a follower of Casey Kelly. Well, actually I’m still following, just not as closely as I did a few years back. He has been on and off the disabled list, mostly with elbow issues including Tommy John surgery since 2012, but the Padres have called him up and he’ll start a couple of games. His prospect status needs to be rebuilt.
The Endgame Odyssey:
The Rays’ Jake McGee picked a bad time to get hurt. Brad Boxberger has been mess recently, and McGee might have gotten a shot to close full time again. He’s close to returning so he may get a few chances before the season ends, but they could also opt to look at Alex Colome. Washington’s Jonathan Papelbon blew his first save of the season a few days ago, but he’s not in danger of losing his job. Drew Storen has struggled since they took the job away, and now has a broken thumb suffered out of frustration. There have been many asking about the Boston closer situation, and to be honest, my recommendation unless you are really desperate for saves, is to stay away. Jean Machi probably gets the most chances, but you don’t want to go there if you can avoid it. What a blessing Andrew Miller has been for the Yankees playoff run. Not only has he been outstanding in converting 33-of-34 saves, perhaps even more importantly, he has freed up Dellin Betances for work in critical seventh and eighth innings. In Miami, Carter Capps could also be getting close to a return. A.J. Ramos has been rather erratic so Capps might get a look at closing situations, but it is more likely Mr. Hop-Skip-and-Jump settles back into a set-up role this late in the game.