In another ten years, we might look back on the 2006 season as the season when a new generation of exciting young pitchers made their major league debut. Today, I would like to take a closer look at three young pitchers who are still in the minor leagues. All three pitchers were drafted in 2004 and performed well against Double-A competition during the 2006 season. Each of these pitchers may make an impact on major league baseball as soon as next year.
Gallardo was born in Mexico, but he grew up in Texas and was drafted out of high school in the second round of the 2004 draft. He led the minor leagues with 188 strikeouts this year.
Strengths: Brewers general manager Doug Melvin describes it as “great”. Huntsville pitching coach Rich Sauveur calls it “ridiculous”. Brewers third base prospect Ryan Braun says it is “unbelievable”. They’re all talking about Gallardo’s poise on the mound. The 20-year-old father has impressed a lot of people with his maturity and mound presence.
Risks: Gallardo has good command of four pitches, but he does not have the kind of overwhelming stuff that Homer Bailey or Philip Hughes can rely on. Instead, he has to rely on locating his 90 mph fastball and keeping hitters off balance with his changeup and breaking pitches. He has little injury history, but it is worth noting he has thrown more innings than the other two during the past two years.
Year Lg IP SO BB ERA 2007 AAA 170 169 75 3.66 2008 NL 179 154 82 3.36
Hughes started the season in the Florida State League, but he earned a promotion in May and went 10-3 with a 2.25 ERA in 21 Eastern League starts.
Strengths: Hughes’ stuff is above-average, but his impeccable control really sets him apart from other top pitching prospects. Hughes commands his fastball and secondary pitches well within the strike zone, and he only walked 34 batters in 146 innings pitched during 2006.
Risks: Hughes has been bothered by elbow and shoulder tendonitis in the past, but the Yankees coddled him with strict pitch and innings limits in 2006. The way his body responds to increased workloads in the coming years will be the most important factor in determining whether or not Hughes fulfills his potential as a front-of-rotation starting pitcher for the Yankees.
Year Lg IP SO BB ERA 2007 AAA 159 150 46 2.86 2008 AL 168 128 53 3.34
Bailey, the seventh overall pick from the 2004 draft, went 7-1 with a 1.59 ERA after a June promotion to the Double-A Southern League. There was speculation that Bailey would join the Reds during their run at a playoff spot in September, and he may have a chance to earn a spot in the Cincinnati rotation next spring.
Strengths: Homer Bailey’s upside is as high as any pitcher in the minor leagues right now. His curveball has a hard break and his lively fastball can reach 97 mph.
Risks: I worry about Bailey’s occasional control problems. Bailey walked more than five batters per nine innings in 2005, but the Reds suggested the high walk rate was due to their insistence that he work with secondary pitches. His control was improved in 2006, but he walked 20 batters in his final 31 innings of this year’s regular season. In his only playoff start, Bailey walked three batters and tossed two wild pitches in a 2-0 loss versus Huntsville.
Year Lg IP SO BB ERA 2007 AAA 152 149 76 3.72 2008 NL 161 135 92 4.15
These three 20-year-olds are remarkably similar in terms of their success this year, but their futures look a bit different. Gallardo is the least likely among the three to make an All-Star team in this decade, but he has as good a chance at any at putting together an impressive career. Bailey’s stuff is a bit better than what Hughes or Gallardo can offer, so the Reds are dealing with more upside and more risk than the Yankees or Brewers. Bailey is also the most likely of the three to earn a spot in a major league rotation next April. Some Yankees fans want to see Hughes join the parent club’s rotation in 2007, but the Yankees have the pitching depth and resources to be patient with their most exciting pitching prospect in over a decade. Assuming health, I think Hughes is the safest bet to put together above-average seasons at the major league level before age 25.