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Mound Musings: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

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.

One of my favorite parts of the season is just a couple of weeks away. This year, the First Year Player Draft takes places June 9 to 11 and that’s something I never miss. Yes, I already have my preliminary list of pitchers I want to track, and I’ll be anxious to see where they go, because some organizations typically do very well with developing young arms, while others are far from ideal landing spots. Very few, if any, of the guys selected in this draft will have an impact this year, but some of them could start arriving as early as next season. Super 2 status is a big part of when the top players arrive, and that date is also right round the corner this season, so this week I want to look at some blue chip pitchers who could arrive in the next few weeks. Let’s take a look at who might be a boon to fantasy teams when they arrive to the show…

The Better the Prospect, the More Super 2 Matters

We’ve seen a lot of pitchers arrive in the major leagues this spring. Some have posted respectable numbers, while most have struggled. That’s not too surprising. The question some fantasy owners ask is, “Why did Pitcher B or even Pitcher C get called up when Pitcher A has been lights out all spring?”

There are two answers. The first applies in the vast majority of cases, and the second is sometimes a part of the reasoning, or, at the very least, a good publicly stated reason (the player will benefit from more experience/seasoning). Baseball is a game, but it’s also a very expensive business requiring astute financial decision-making. Therein lies the first and most likely reason – money. Keeping your most valuable assets, as inexpensively, and as long as possible, is job one for a professional baseball franchise. This especially applies to any franchise with limited resources like teams playing in smaller, less lucrative markets. Early in their professional careers, most young players are relatively inexpensive. After a few years, arbitration kicks in and their price tags can inflate dramatically. Not long after, it’s free agency, and if the player has developed into a true star, his price can escalate out of reach for all but the richest organizations.

All of this is based on a timeline or “clock” that starts ticking as long as the player is accumulating days of service at the major league level. It varies a bit – from late May to early June – but each season there’s a day when bringing up a player after that date has passed will delay arbitration and free agency by a full year. You can well understand what the impact of having control of a superstar for an extra season could mean to a franchise working hard to put a winning team on the field. For teams in smaller markets with lower payrolls, that impact multiplies exponentially.

The next, and perhaps most logical, question would be, why do teams call up some players, starting their arbitration clocks, but opt not to call up others? It’s that money thing. This may sound a bit cold-hearted, but teams aren’t all that concerned with the payroll constraints in the future for the vast majority of their players. Arbitration for a fringe utility infielder or a spot starter serving as organizational pitching depth won’t make much difference, but the dollars attached to the team’s best young player will matter a great deal. That blue chip prospect deserves, no, demands, protection. Think about it; that is a big reason I’m more skeptical about pitchers brought up in April. So, let’s look at some of the pitchers who teams have been keeping under wraps. These are prized possessions.

    So, here are my nominees for impact pitchers who could be arriving soon:

  • Julio Urias (Dodgers) – A lot of analysts would list Urias as the second best pitching prospect in the game, right behind the guy below. Based on arm alone that would be a pretty solid argument, but I have to give this guy the edge just because he’s so young that it’s hard to predict how good he’ll eventually be. The Dodgers have tried hard to be conservative with his development. But, it has turned out to be like hooking a leash to a locomotive. He is 4-1 with a 0.78 WHIP and a 1.10 ERA at Triple-A, Oklahoma City – at the ripe old age of 19. It’s only a matter of time. They’ll probably use him as a long reliever or swingman even though they could use help in their rotation. If he starts, use him.

  • Lucas Giolito (Nationals) – The 21-year-old flamethrower is currently toiling at Double-A Harrisburg, and his results so far have been so-so. He’s still getting everything together after missing key developmental time due to Tommy John surgery, but his day is coming. Remember last week’s tier definitions? His fastball is plus-plus (80) and his curve is plus-plus (70 and approaching 80). His change-up is rated 55-60, which is above average, so you do the math. This guy is an ace in waiting. The Nationals may continue to let him move slowly, but don’t be surprised if he shows up in Washington later this year. So far, their rotation has provided enough quality innings to make promoting Giolito unnecessary, but if that should change for any reason, his timetable could be accelerated.

  • Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow (Pirates) – The Pirates have a double-dip treat honing their skills in Indianapolis. I actually think Taillon is slightly closer to major league ready, perhaps even the first on this list to arrive, but both have top-of-the-rotation talent. I’m going to focus on Taillon here, but keep Glasgow in your sights. Taillon just missed two full years with Tommy John surgery and hernia surgery, but he’s making up for lost time. He has a 0.81 WHIP, with a 1.82 ERA and an even more impressive 51:5 K:BB ratio. In his first year back after missing that time, the Pirates aren’t going to let him pile up innings, but they are already managing his workload to preserve innings for his trip to Pittsburgh. They’re clearly looking forward with glee to the days when Taillon and Glasnow can join Gerrit Cole in a rotation of doom for National League opponents.

  • Blake Snell (Rays) – You AL-only leaguers are probably unhappy that almost everyone mentioned here is property of an NL team, but the cupboard is fairly bare for those organizations other than Snell. There are a couple of others to keep an eye on – Jose Berrios of Minnesota will be back, and a sleeper might be Edwin Diaz of Seattle – but Snell is the peach. He has already had a cup of tea with Tampa Bay, when he tossed five solid innings against the Yankees back in April. Other than that spot start, he has been honing his skills at Triple-A Durham, and, while his command can still be a bit erratic, his stuff is good enough to get him by. A lefty with a plus fastball and a plus change-up – not the easiest thing to find in the minor leagues — he should miss a lot of bats as long as he gets ahead in the count. Add the Rays’ reputation for developing excellent young pitchers and there’s a lot to like about Snell.

  • Alex Reyes (Cardinals) – If he hadn’t missed the first two months of this season due to a suspension for marijuana use, he might have even been higher on this list. He’s back now and continues his rapid transit through the Cardinals’ system. He still loses his release point at times, but when he’s in the zone, he’s very tough to hit. His fastball touches triple digits, and his curve and change-up are plus pitches too when the fastball forces opposing hitters to always look for heat. His stuff has been likened to facing a closer for six or more innings, and the bullpen could be where he lands later this season. The Cardinals like to break in their young guns with relief work. It hurts his 2016 fantasy value, but he can be a prominent fixture in their rotation looking ahead if he can harness his stuff.

  • Honorable Mention: Braden Shipley (Diamondbacks), Jake Thompson (Phillies), Cody Reed (Reds), Amir Garrett (Reds), Frankie Montas (Dodgers), Jeff Hoffman (Rockies), Edwin Diaz (Mariners), Jose De Leon (Dodgers), Taylor Guerrieri (Rays), Alex Meyer (Twins).

    Some Other Notable Rotation Ramblings:

  • I watched Matt Harvey’s last start. I don’t think his problems are physical. But, I always think of him being free and easy, just letting it go and believing in the best. That’s not what I saw – especially when pitching from the stretch. He seemed to be “steering” his pitches. Be patient, I think he’ll be back.

  • Saturday should mark the return of Yu Darvish, and I am excited. His rehab went very well, and there’s time for him to get 22 or 23 starts in without overdoing it. They will probably not push his pitch counts, but with his tools he can still ring up a lot of strikeouts and quality innings. If he’s out there, take the chance!

  • Shelby Miller has quite a bit of innate ability, but I’m having trouble finding anything positive in his current performance. Arizona gave up a lot for a 1-6 record with a 1.86 WHIP and a 7.09 ERA. Those numbers are legitimate – he can’t throw quality strikes and everything is being hit hard.

  • Nathan Eovaldi is catching on. He has made the connection between getting his 100 pitches into six innings and turning it over to the three-headed monster the Yankees call a bullpen. He’s pitching like a reliever who’s comfortable letting it all fly when he’s in there, and that’s bad news for the opposition.

  • From about this time last season: A bonus watching Syndergaard’s first start was having the opportunity to watch Jake Arrieta again. His awesome breaking pitches were handcuffing the Mets all night. He has put up good numbers this year, but I actually think the best is yet to come. I think most will agree.

  • The Angels’ Garrett Richards is rehabbing his torn UCL rather than undergoing Tommy John surgery. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, as he could be back in a couple of months. He’s not really risking much. Having the surgery now or two months from now would still result in him missing next season.

Endgame Odyssey:

In Houston, Luke Gregerson has begun to look a bit shaky, and the Astros made some adjustments to Ken Giles’ mechanics that appear to have helped. I think a switch back to Giles as closer could be imminent. How about that Francisco Rodriguez! K-Rod just became the sixth pitcher to record 400 saves. He still makes me nervous, but he’s been making owners nervous with the best of them for years. Jake McGee is set as the closer in Colorado, but Jason Motte has returned and could start working his way into higher leverage situations. McGee figures to be a trade target later this summer so keeping an eye on Motte is prudent. Fernando Rodney is doing a good job closing in San Diego, but we all know he can have stretches of antacid-inducing appearances. If that should happen and provide an occasional save chance, I have been impressed with the work of Ryan Buchter. Now, how about some freewheeling speculation? The Jays are reportedly shopping Drew Storen. Could he be closing in San Francisco? It’s a good fit.