The Hot Seatby Scott Strandberg
June 10, 2013
Another week brings with it another round of exciting prospect news. The next two weeks are expected to feature the major-league debuts of two of the game’s top pitching prospects, and both need to be owned in all leagues.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft is slated to make his first big-league start on Tuesday against San Francisco, and there are plenty of reasons to be excited. As far as pure stuff is concerned, there are few pitchers in the minors right now who can even compare to Cole.
He has an electric fastball, sitting in the mid-90s and dialing up triple-digits when he wants to. His power slider isn’t far behind, a true plus major-league offering that he throws in the upper-80s with crazy late break. Pair those two pitches with a change-up that is at least an average major-league weapon, and you have the makings of a potential ace.
Strangely, the 22-year-old’s strikeout rate has taken a huge hit with the move to Triple-A this season. His 6.22 K/9 rate is thoroughly unimpressive, especially when compared to last year, when he struck out at least a batter an inning in each of his four minor-league stops. He has struck out no more than five batters in any of his 12 Triple-A starts this year.
Control has always been the biggest question about Cole, and his 3.71 BB/9 rate this year illustrates that this continues to be an issue. Despite the ugly 1.68 K/BB rate in Triple-A, Cole is worth taking a chance on in pretty much any format. His stuff is too dominant to make me care all that much about his minor-league numbers this season, although I will admit that the control problems concern me. Another issue is how long he’ll have a job.
It is undetermined at this point whether Wandy Rodriguez will require a trip to the disabled list or how long his recovery would take if he does. If Rodriguez turns out to be fine, there’s not a lot of room in the Pirates rotation. With A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano and Rodriguez entrenched at the top, and Jeff Locke giving the team no reason to bump him from the rotation, there’s only one open spot. Both James McDonald and Charlie Morton are expected back very soon, so things could get crowded in a hurry.
Still, Cole is one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball and is seen as a blue-chip, top-of-the-rotation starter. The obvious questions of whether he’s ready and how long he’ll stay are certainly valid, but he’s looked up to the task in his last two starts (14 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 8 K). Despite all the questions, the upside is way too high to ignore.
It initially was reported that Wheeler was expected to make his major-league debut this Friday against the Cubs, but the team now is saying that he will make one more start in Triple-A before joining the Mets rotation next week against the Braves. I may be in the minority here, but if I could have only one of this week’s top waiver-wire options, I would take Wheeler over Cole. Allow me to explain why.
Part of my reasoning for this is job security. It’s pretty clear at this point that the Mets have a plan for Wheeler. Even though his projected June 18 call-up is a bit further off than Cole’s debut this Tuesday, and despite the fact that June 18 is a double-header with the Braves, thus allowing each team to carry a 26-man roster for the day, I still believe Wheeler will be in the majors to stay.
The main thrust of the job-security argument is that the Mets just aren’t very good. Why would a team in the Mets' position not give a kid like Wheeler the opportunity to pitch against major-league competition every fifth day, knowing that they’re not likely to have any chance at the playoffs?
When I attended last year’s Futures Game, Wheeler was the one pitcher who stood out from the crowd for me. He was just so smooth, so fluid, painting the corners with ease and showing a seamless, repeatable delivery. His numbers in Triple-A this year aren’t great (4.14 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 4.04 FIP), but Mets manager Terry Collins, amongst others, has suggested that Wheeler, much like Matt Harvey last season, has gotten bored in Triple-A and may not have much more to learn at that level.
The 23-year-old showcases a four-pitch mix, with two of those pitches (his fastball and slider) being easy plus major-league offerings. So far this year, although his 3.57 BB/9 is very similar to Cole’s rate, he’s striking out batters at a 9.43 K/9 clip, giving him a 2.64 K/BB ratio.
I just don’t believe the Mets would be making such a big fuss about Wheeler’s impending promotion if they weren’t planning to keep him with the big-league club. Also, because his call-up is still more than a week away, Wheeler probably can be acquired with a much smaller FAAB bid or lower waiver claim than Cole can be had for.
Fantasy is all about value, and the likelihood is high that you can stash Wheeler now at a reduced rate while everyone else is blowing up their budgets for Cole.
Scott Strandberg lives in Norman, OK with his cat, Bea. He is a musician by night and a writer by day. In addition to writing for THT Fantasy, Scott writes for MLBDepthCharts and co-hosts the MLBDepthCharts Fantasy Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @scottstrandberg.
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