2010 Echelons of Starting Pitching: Part 2

Continuing my mega-list of starting pitchers for 2010…

Echelon 5 – Lottery Tickets

For this grouping, players will be broken up by age instead of ranked. After all, what does it really mean if I rate Junichi Tazawa over Tanner Scheppers or vice versa? It doesn’t. Both are deep AL-Only options in dynasty leagues or leagues with a “keepable” minor league roster and hopefully my 1-2 sentence insight will help your decision one way or another. This echelon is more of an informational session than anything else bringing names to light who you may need to know about later in the season. There are 66 guys in this echelon and I see them in two separate sets: 25 and under and 26 and over. Anyone in the latter has probably had a shot in the majors, but has enough warts on him to merit this low of ranking. At the same time, they have talent that could be refined and parlayed into a modicum of success in the right scenario. The former is a group that likely hasn’t reached the bigs for any significant time as of yet and they need a lot more polish before becoming viable options for your starting roster. As I mentioned earlier, they are for the hardest of hardcore players with very deep rosters.

I’ll break it into two parts starting with the 25 and under set.

19 Year Olds

1. Tyler Matzek, Colorado Rockies (no pro ball) – Excellent high school lefty with a plus fastball and two solid breaking pitches. An unpolished changeup will be what he needs to work on to get himself to the majors. He projects as a #1 right now, but there’s no legitimate data to suggest otherwise. A late pick even in minor league drafts unless you are interested in waiting.

2. Martin Perez, Texas Rangers (AA) – Drawing comparisons to Pedro because of his slight stature and excellent stuff. Enjoyed a breakout in the Sally League, but came back down to earth a bit in a tiny AA sample. He cracked Baseball America’s Top 100 last year before the breakout so he’s likely no fluke, but he’s still at least a full year away, perhaps even a year and a half.

20 Year Olds

1. Jenrry Mejia, New York Mets (AA) – Hopefully the Mets don’t let their major league pitching deficiencies dictate how quickly they move Mejia. He’s got an amazing fastball, but little else right now which could relegate him to the bullpen as he moves forward. Control and a bankable second pitch should be his areas of focus in 2010.

2. Mike Montgomery, Kansas City Royals (A+) – Reinforcements for Zack Greinke are on the way and Montgomery is part of the cavalry. He has had three stops over the past two seasons and managed an ERA of 2.25 or better each time. His changeup is already very strong which could fast-track his route to the majors if his fastball improves across AA and AAA.

21 Year Olds

1. Tim Alderson, Pittsburgh Pirates (AA) – His K/9 dropped by nearly two to below 6.0 in concert with a significant dip in velocity. The results, a 3.89 ERA and 1.28 WHIP, were still passable, but there is cause for concern. The 2010 season is a huge one for Alderson and will give insight into whether he’s a top half of the rotation starter or back-end innings eater type.

2. Phillippe Aumont, Philadelphia Phillies (AA) – A solid two-pitch guy with a huge arm capable of consistent high 90s fastballs, but also lacks the control that usually comes with this profile. This could mean a future in the bullpen, but likely as a closer if he maintains the kind of dominance he’s shown thus far. The progression of his changeup (which is virtually unusable at this point) will determine his future path.

3. Casey Crosby, Detroit Tigers (A-) – An excellent return from TJ surgery put him on the prospect map in 2009. Sparkling K/9 (10.1) overshadowed a high 4.1 BB/9. Fastball-changeup combo already effective, but needs to refine his breaking stuff to reach his full top of the rotation potential.

4. Deolis Guerra, Minnesota Twins (AA) – Results (4.89 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) overshadowed a decent seasons skills-wise, especially with his control (2.5 BB/9). He will likely be given every opportunity to succeed with the Twins just so they don’t come away completely empty-handed from the Johan Santana trade. He’s fantasy’s version of a draft-&-follow because it could take awhile.

5. Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays (A-) – Yes, the Rays have even MORE excellent pitching on the way. Moore destroyed the SALLY league to the tune of 12.9 K/9 in 123 innings which helped cover up an ugly 5.1 BB/9. Already owns a 4-pitch arsenal, but needs to become a smarter pitcher as he moves through the system or he will burnout.

6. Jarrod Parker, Arizona Diamondbacks (AA) – Out for 2010 with TJ surgery, but still worth keeping on the radar if you can stash him at a next-to-nothing cost. He’s obviously a long-term investment, but should be worth the wait.

7. Trevor Reckling, Los Angeles Angels (AA) – May be at least part of the reason the Angels were OK with letting John Lackey move on as he projects to be a future top of the rotation starter. Already possesses an above average changeup and slider, command of his decent fastball is the missing ingredient.

22 Year Olds

1. Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles (A+) – Yes, they have even more pitching on the horizon in addition to the group of excellent arms on the cusp for 2010. Britton’s stuff isn’t that great, but he induces throngs of groundballs and has enough to maintain a passable 6.0-6.5 K/9 rate as he advances through the system.

2. Brandon Erbe, Baltimore Orioles (AA) – Better pure stuff than Britton, but lacks a third pitch right now which combined with the influx of starting pitching talent in Baltimore could lead him down a path towards future closer. Even moving his changeup from well below average to average could make him a mid-level starter.

3. Christian Friedrich, Colorado Rockies (A+) – He’s got three explosive pitches already, but the missing piece is a more consistent changeup. He has at least added it to his repertoire, but refinement of it will determine how quickly he can get to Denver. Of course even without it being a reliable pitch, it will be hard to keep him down too long if he continues to strike out 12.0 batters per nine as he has in his first 168 innings of pro ball.

4. Jeremy Jeffress, Milwaukee Brewers (AA) – Possesses a top speed fastball, but often fails to command it resulting in some ugly BB/9 numbers. He’s going to be serving his second suspension, this time a 100-gamer, essentially costing him the 2010 season. He’s very raw and at least a full year away, tread lightly.

5. Kasey Kiker, Texas Rangers (AA) – His changeup is the most effective pitch in his arsenal which includes a low 90s fastball, too. His K/9 held strong in the jump to AA, but control nearly doubled to 4.7. How that control develops at AAA will determine Kiker’s progression towards Arlington.

6. Mike Leake, Cincinnati Reds (AFL) – I saw a lot of polish for a 22-year old in his first pro ball experience in Arizona this past fall. I really like him, but instead of trying to express that in 2-3 sentences, I’ll recommend the Base Heads scouting report of Leake done by Paul Bourdett.

7. Sean O’Sullivan, Los Angeles Angels (MLB) – Performed about as well as you’d expect for a low strikeout/low walk guy. Home runs killed him (2.1 HR/9), or else he might have been able to keep his ERA closer to 5.00 than 6.00. Profiles as a Nick Blackburn type as a ceiling.

8. Jordan Walden, Los Angeles Angels (AA) – Basically your standard big fastball pitcher who needs work just about everywhere else. Has a decent secondary pitch with the slider, but the changeup needs quite a bit more polish and control is too erratic even for someone striking out a batter per inning. A worthy long-term investment.

23 Year Olds

1. Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland Indians (MLB) – Excellent fastball/changeup combo projects as top of the rotation stuff, but struggles to consistently display his best work. Peripherals portend at least a #3 starter if not a #2 or ace, but the mental game stands in front of him and that level right now.

2. Andrew Cashner, Chicago Cubs (AA) – Elite fastball and decent breaking pitch haven’t produced the kind of strikeout results you’d expect just yet. Relieved in college so the adjustment could be messing with him a la Joba Chamberlain. Might end up back in the ‘pen in the long run.

3. Aaron Crow, Kansas City Royals (AFL) – Has a beautiful fastball to build his arsenal around which should all but guarantee him at least a future in the bullpen if his changeup doesn’t continue to develop throughout the minors. Tough to project with no pro work under his belt besides the AFL, but he seems to be legitimate.

4. Daniel Gutierrez, Texas Rangers (AA) – Like many others on this list, the development (or lack thereof) of his changeup will determine his future in the majors between the rotation and the bullpen. You have to like that he’s being developed in the Texas system which has established itself as one of the league’s best.

5. Dan Hudson, Chicago White Sox (MLB) – Zoomed through five levels in 2009 including a 19 inning stint in the majors. May seem rushed, but he acquitted himself well at every stop before the majors never falling below 9.0 K/9 or topping 3.4 BB/9. After a half season of polish at AAA, Hudson’s 4-pitch repertoire could be ready to stick in bigs permanently.

6. Shairon Martis, Washington Nationals (MLB) – He wasn’t terribly special in the minor leagues so his lackluster major league performance shouldn’t really surprise anyone, either. If you’re relying on him for anything, you’ve already lost your league.

7. Tanner Scheppers, Texas Rangers (AFL) – His brilliant fastball was on display in Arizona this fall, but there is uncertainty around his future as a starter since he lacks a legitimate changeup at this point. Worthy of investment while role is sorted out, though.

24 Year Olds

1. Eric Hurley, Texas Rangers (AAA) – Torn rotator cuff cost him the 2009 season and he’d had a rough 2008 before that, however he’s got enough velocity and control to not give up on just yet. Definitely a wait-&-see guy given the injury, though.

2. Chuck Lofgren, Milwaukee Brewers (AAA) – Twice a top 75 prospect, Lofgren has been dismal the past two seasons leading to his departure from Cleveland via the Rule 5 draft. He has dropped a strikeout per nine in each of his last three stops bottoming out at 5.7 last year. Has enough control to fill back end spot in the rotation.

3. Brad Mills, Toronto Blue Jays (MLB) – Nothing overpowering within his arsenal, but that hasn’t kept him from keeping a decent K/9 throughout each stop along the way to the majors. The control has gotten a tick worse along the way, too which would be a recipe for disaster in the majors.

4. Esmil Rogers, Colorado Rockies (MLB) – Everything about him right now suggests a future in the bullpen: no discernible third pitch, significant fatigue as game wears on and shaky control. Improvements to a very weak changeup could make him fourth starter material.

5. Junichi Tazawa, Boston Red Sox (MLB) – Moved from AA to the majors last year, but his peripherals were awful at AAA and MLB levels albeit in tiny samples. Lacks a dominating out pitch, but he is crafty enough to stick in the rotation if he holds 85% of his 8.1 K/9 from AA.

25 Year Olds

1. Sam LeCure, Cincinnati Reds (AAA) – Solid fastball, but not a lot else. He is becoming a pitcher and using what he does have to the best of his ability. That ability might cap out as a back of the rotation starter, though.

2. Brad Lincoln, Pittsburgh Pirates (AAA) – A good fastball/curveball combo afforded him a solid if unspectacular 2009 season, but the development of his changeup will determine his future at the next level. It’s a popular refrain, but it’s accurate, too.

3. Adam Miller, Cleveland Indians (AAA) – He just can’t stay healthy. He’s spent his last three years at AAA, totaling 99 innings and he missed all of 2009. Too big of a risk to invest in right now.

4. Kevin Mulvey, Arizona Diamondbacks (MLB) – A pitch-to-contact type who will likely struggle to strikeout 6.0+ batters per nine at the big league level, but could still be effective by utilizing his defense. A back end starter at best.

5. Craig Stammen, Washington Nationals (MLB) – Doesn’t walk anybody, but doesn’t strike anybody out, either. He’s the kind of guy who could have 4-5 good starts before giving up 8 ER in 2.1 IP. Very thin margin for error with this skillset.

6. Donnie Veal, Pittsburgh Pirates (MLB) – Big power arm, but lacks any control whatsoever. It doesn’t hurt the Pirates to try the Veal, but he’s still pretty raw (pun-intended).

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