Young pitchers to watch: Part 1

After the year pitchers like Tim Lincecum and Yovani Gallardo had in 2007, a lot of people are trying to identify the “next big thing” for 2008. In this two-part series, I’ll point out some guys I think could have a fantasy impact in 2008. In Part 1, we’ll look at players who threw a large enough sample at Triple-A or in the majors last year. In Part 2, we’ll look at the Double-A guys.

Criteria

When attempting to identify young impact pitchers, we must consider two criteria: talent and opportunity. If a player has talent but the major league rotation is full, his Triple-A dominance doesn’t gain you any fantasy points. If a player has an opportunity but little talent, he’s going to flounder and that opportunity will soon go to someone else… right after he screws up your fantasy team’s ratios. Therefore, we’ll examine players using these two categories.

J.P. Howell—Rays

Talent

Year	Age	League	Level	G	GS	IP	K/9	BB/9	GB%	BABIP
2005	22	CAL	A+	8	8	46.3	9.3	4.7	68	0.274
2005	22	TEX	AA	3	3	18	11.5	2.5	63	0.256
2005	22	PCL	AAA	7	7	38	6.9	4.5	56	0.355
2005	22	MLB	MLB	15	15	72.2	6.7	4.8	55	0.298
2006	23	PCL	AAA	8	8	41	8.6	3.3	58	0.383
2006	23	IL	AAA	10	10	55	8.0	2.5	48	0.333
2006	23	MLB	MLB	8	8	42.1	7.0	3.0	45	0.357
2007	24	IL	AAA	21	21	123.3	10.6	2.5	53	0.294
2007	24	MLB	MLB	10	10	51	8.7	3.7	46	0.391

2005 scout grade from John Sickels: B+
2006 note from John Sickels: Was rushed very quickly, too quickly in my view… His walk rate was too high in the majors for a guy who doesn’t throw hard.

Howell has been all over the place in the past few years, including three stints in the majors. His peripherals improved each time, and his excellent Triple-A numbers in 2007 bode well for his 2008 production should he win a spot in Tampa Bay’s rotation. He’s still just 24 and shown the ability to strike batters out and limit walks, in addition to putting up ground ball rates ranging from good to great.

Opportunity

Likely MLB Rotation:
1. Scott Kazmir
2. James Shields
3. Matt Garza
4. Battle, including Howell
5. Battle, including Howell

He’s battling for two spots with Andy Sonnanstine, Jason Hammel, Edwin Jackson and young longshots Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann and Jacob McGee. Sonnanstine and Jackson are probably the favorites, but Jackson’s peripherals haven’t been very good and Howell will likely get a shot at some point. When he does, he could be a very nice waiver wire pickup.

Jeff Niemann—Rays

Talent

Year	Age	League	Level	G	GS	IP	K/9	BB/9	GB%	BABIP
2006	23	SL	AA	14	14	77.3	9.8	3.4	43	0.267
2007	24	IL	AAA	25	25	127	8.7	3.3	41	0.343

2005 scout grade from John Sickels: B+
2006 scout grade from John Sickels: B
2007 scout grade from John Sickels: B+ (can he stay healthy?)
2008 scout grade from John Sickels: B

Niemann is a talented pitcher, but he’s struggled with health since being drafted fourth overall in 2004. He pitched just 30 innings in 2005, underwent shoulder surgery after the season, and then his 2006 was cut short. In 2007, he finally put in a full season. His peripherals don’t jump out at you, but they are pretty good. It can’t hurt how scouts rave about his stuff (look at Sickels’ grades; B and B+ despite injury woes). All said, Niemann figures to be a quality major league pitcher one day, if he can stay healthy.

Opportunity

Likely MLB Rotation:
1. Scott Kazmir
2. James Shields
3. Matt Garza
4. Battle, with Niemann as a longshot
5. Battle, with Niemann as a longshot

Niemann probably won’t make the Rays out of spring training. There likely won’t be room for him during the year unless someone gets injured, and the Rays have other young pitchers to consider if someone does get injured. Of those other young pitchers, though, Niemann has been around the longest and could be first in line. While Niemann has talent, the opportunity isn’t guaranteed.

Adam Miller — Indians

Talent

Year	Age	League	Level	G	GS	IP	K/9	BB/9	GB%	BABIP
2004	19	SAL	A	19	19	43.3	9.6	2.5	--	--
2004	19	CAR	A+	8	8	91	10.5	2.8	--	--
2005	20	CAR	A+	12	12	59.7	6.8	2.6	--	--
2006	21	EL	AA	26	24	154	9.2	2.5	55	0.296
2007	22	IL	AAA	19	11	62.7	9.8	3.0	53	0.349

2005 scout grade from John Sickels: A
2006 scout grade from John Sickels: B-
2007 scout grade from John Sickels: B (would be A- or B+ if healthy, but I don’t trust his elbow)

Miller always has had outstanding numbers, but has been hounded by injuries. The 2005 line looks out of place with that 6.8 K/9, but we need to remember that he had elbow problems. These resurfaced in 2007, in addition to a finger injury, but he still pitched well.

If Miller can ever stay healthy, he’s has the skills to be a very good major league pitcher. He strikes out a lot of batters, doesn’t walk many, and gets lot of ground balls. Major league pitchers who do all three include such guys as Francisco Liriano, Felix Hernandez, and everybody’s favorite sleeper this year, Dustin McGowan.

Opportunity

Likely MLB Rotation:
1. C.C. Sabathia
2. Fausto Carmona
3. Paul Byrd
4. Jake Westbrook
5. Battle, not including Miller

Miller will have to prove he’s healthy and pitch effectively in Triple-A to work his way back into the Indians’ plans, but given his former top prospect status and immense talent, it probably won’t take too much to convince them. They have one open spot now, but the guys vying for it aren’t ultra-talented. Aaron Laffey is decent, but Cliff Lee and Jeremy Sowers aren’t very good. Byrd is getting older and isn’t great himself, so there’s a possibility Miller could get some action in 2008.

Dallas Braden—Athletics

Talent

Year	Age	League	Level	G	GS	IP	K/9	BB/9	GB%	BABIP
2005	21	CAL	A+	7	7	44	13.1	2.3	40	0.314
2005	21	TEX	AA	16	16	96.7	6.6	3.0	45	0.337
2006	22	RK, A+, AA	10	10	37.3	13.3	1.9	35	0.358
2007	23	PCL	AAA	11	11	69.7	10.5	2.5	41	0.282
2007	23	MLB	MLB	20	14	72.1	6.8	3.2	37	0.355

2005 scout grade from John Sickels: none
2006 scout grade from John Sickels: none
2007 scout grade from John Sickels: none

Braden was injured in 2006 and bounced all over the place, but he was exceptional in Triple-A in 2007. In the majors… well, it was a different story. His minor league numbers look as though he could be a quality pitcher, but some scouts don’t think he’ll make it as a starter at the major league level.

Opportunity

Likely MLB Rotation:
1. Joe Blanton
2. Rich Harden
3. Chad Gaudin
4. Justin Duchscherer*
5. Lenny DiNardo*
*Not set in stone

Oakland’s rotation has plenty of question marks, and there’s a good chance Braden will see time in the majors this season. Blanton could get traded, Harden usually gets injured, Duchscherer could fizzle as a starter, and Lenny DiNardo is no superstar. Braden is a very interesting guy to watch.

Edinson Volquez—Reds

Talent

Year	Age	League	Level	G	GS	IP	K/9	BB/9	GB%	BABIP
2005	21	CAL	A+	11	11	66.7	10.4	1.6	48	0.331
2005	21	TEX	AA	10	10	58.7	7.5	2.6	47	0.306
2006	22	PCL	AAA	21	21	120.7	9.7	5.4	45	0.278
2007	23	CAL	A+	7	7	35	9.8	5.1	40	0.264
2007	23	TEX	AA	11	11	51.3	9.8	3.0	47	0.240
2007	23	PCL	AAA	8	8	50	11.9	3.8	44	0.238

2005 scout grade from John Sickels: none
2006 scout grade from John Sickels: B+ (excellent raw talent… some question marks)
2007 scout grade from John Sickels: B (Wild guess on the grade. I don’t trust the Rangers to develop him properly)
2008 note from John Sickels: Rebuilt his mechanics… Great stuff, all boils down to command, just like before.

Traded to the Reds from Texas this offseason, Volquez has plenty of talent. His biggest asset is his strikeout rate, which was incredible at 11.9 in Triple-A in 2007. His control has been shaky at points, but it was very good in 2005. If he can fine-tune that just a bit, Volquez could be an excellent major league pitcher.

Opportunity

Likely MLB Rotation:
1. Aaron Harang
2. Bronson Arroyo
3. Battle, including Volquez
4. Battle, including Volquez
5. Battle, including Volquez

The Reds have several quality options for three spots, including Volquez, Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey and Matt Belisle, as well as Josh Fogg and Jeremy Affeldt. Volquez’s peripherals have been great this spring, but his ERA is 5.63. With Dusty Baker as his manager, it’s looking like Volquez might start the year in the minors. He figures to get recalled at some point this year, though, and he has the skills to be a very good major league pitcher.

Kei Igawa—Yankees

Talent

Year	Age	League	Level	G	GS	IP	K/9	BB/9	GB%	BABIP
2005	25	CEN	JAP	27	25	172.3	7.6	3.1	--	0.345
2006	26	CEN	JAP	29	21	209	8.4	2.1	--	0.292
2007	27	MLB	MLB	14	12	67.2	7.1	4.9	30	0.307
2007	27	IL	AAA	11	11	65.7	9.7	2.1	35	0.320

Kei Igawa was pretty bad for the Yankees to start the year, but his great Triple-A numbers after his demotion really caught my eye. He’ll be just 28 this year, and he had pretty good numbers in Japan, so don’t count Igawa out just yet.

Opportunity

Likely MLB Rotation:
1. Chien-Ming Wang
2. Andy Pettitte
3. Philip Hughes
4. Mike Mussina
5. Ian Kennedy

Igawa will start the year in Triple-A, but if he pitches as well as he did there in 2007, he’ll probably see some time in the majors this year. Mike Mussina’s best days are behind him, and the Yankees will limit the innings of Hughes, Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain. Plus, Kennedy is no sure thing, and Hughes has had injury troubles in the past.

Ian Kennedy—Yankees

Talent

Year	Age	League	Level	G	GS	IP	K/9	BB/9	GB%	BABIP
2007	22	FSL	A+	11	11	54.7	10.5	3.5	35	0.280
2007	22	EL	AA	9	9	48	10.7	3.2	41	0.234
2007	22	IL	AAA	6	6	33	9.3	3.0	41	0.267
2007	22	MLB	MLB	3	3	19	7.1	4.3	26	0.237

2007 scout grade from John Sickels: B- (potential B/B+ if he can regain ’05 form)
2008 scout grade from John Sickels: B+

Kennedy’s strikeout rates were good in the minors, but dropped off in the majors. Scouts call Kennedy a finesse guy and think the Ks will fall off further once batters see him again. If that happens, his control hasn’t been good enough to compensate. Kennedy has the potential to be good, but he could also fail miserably. Consider a downside of a 5.0 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9.

Opportunity

Likely MLB Rotation:
1. Chien-Ming Wang
2. Andy Pettitte
3. Philip Hughes
4. Mike Mussina
5. Ian Kennedy

With Joba Chamberlain in the bullpen, Kennedy will start the year in the rotation. He’ll have to pitch well to keep the spot once Joba gets moved, but he’ll get to take a stab at it.

Sean Gallagher — Cubs

Talent

Year	Age	League	Level	G	GS	IP	K/9	BB/9	GB%	BABIP
2005	19	MDW	A	26	26	141	8.5	3.5	47	0.261
2006	20	FSL	A+	13	13	78.7	9.2	4.4	57	0.345
2006	20	SL	AA	15	15	86.3	9.5	5.8	51	0.326
2007	21	SL	AA	11	11	58.7	8.3	3.7	49	0.291
2007	21	PCL	AAA	8	8	39	8.5	3.0	45	0.308

2006 scout grade from John Sickels: B
2007 scout grade from John Sickels: B (inning-eater type)
2008 scout grade from John Sickels: B

Gallagher isn’t the most talented pitcher on this list, but he could be a usable player in deeper leagues. His strikeout rates weren’t fantastic last year and his control has been a little iffy, but he has shown the ability to get ground balls and is at least decent in every regard. His scouting grade seems to indicate the same. You could find better; you could find worse.

Opportunity

Likely MLB Rotation:
1. Carlos Zambrano
2. Ted Lilly
3. Rich Hill
4. Ryan Dempster
5. Battle, with Gallagher as a longshot

Likely MLB Rotation if Traded to Orioles:
1. Jeremy Guthrie
2. Daniel Cabrera
3. Adam Loewen (might start on DL)
4. Battle
5. Battle

If Gallagher stays in Chicago, he’s got several pitchers ahead of him, including Jon Lieber, Jason Marquis, Sean Marshall and possibly Kevin Hart. He could get a shot at some point in 2008, but there is no guarantee of that.

If he is traded to Baltimore, he’ll be in a tougher league, but his chances of playing greatly increase. The O’s have several players battling for spots, some more talented than others, but Gallagher is skilled enough to get a shot over some of them. A trade is looking more likely in recent days given the report that the Cubs may have included Jose Ceda in their offer for Brian Roberts.

Concluding thoughts

That does it for our Triple-A pitchers. Next time, we’ll look at some Double-A pitchers, including some more exciting guys like Johnny Cueto and Gio Gonzalez.

Print Friendly
« Previous: Introducing: Fantasy roundtable
Next: Five Questions: Atlanta Braves »

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current day month ye@r *