MLB Handicapping: Six Young Pitchers to Watch
by Matt Severance - 03/26/2009
Determining which "young pitcher to watch" is a pretty open-ended description, so what I am going to give you here is a pitcher with little-to-no MLB experience who could be the difference in his team reaching the playoffs - or the youngster himself could even be a factor in postseason success.
Basically I'm talking about someone like David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays. But since he's the basis for the comparisons, I will not include him on this list even though he would be at the top. But you already know about Price. So here are six guys on six potential playoff teams (thus I didn't include the Nats' Jordan Zimmerman) who could make or break those futures bets. I've included Bodog odds for the teams to win their respective divisions.
Tommy Hanson, Atlanta Braves (3/1 to win NL East): This guy is the fourth-best pitching prospect in baseball according to Baseball America and the highest-rated National League prospect overall by Scout.com. The Braves' offseason trade talks with the Padres about Jake Peavy broke down mainly because Atlanta wouldn't include Hanson.
Hanson was optioned to Triple-A on Thursday, but he won't be down long. This spring the 22-year-old, 6-foot-6, right-hander was 1-0 with a 2.45 E.R.A. in four Grapefruit League games, allowing 14 hits and six walks with 14 strikeouts in 14 2/3 innings. But Atlanta doesn't need a fifth starter but maybe twice in April, so this way the Braves can stash Hanson in the minors for about a month and not start his arbitration clock.
Max Scherzer, Arizona Diamondbacks (8/5 to win NL West): The D'backs will probably have to outpitch the Dodgers this year to win the NL West now that Manny Ramirez is around for a full year. The 24-year-old right-hander got a taste of the majors last year, going 0-4 in seven starts but with a 3.05 E.R.A.. He struck out 66 in just 56 innings.
He has the power arm, having been clocked at 97 mph this spring. The only worry on this guy is his history of shoulder troubles, and he already had some stiffness early this year. But he is penciled in as the No. 5 starter for a first-place caliber team. Scherzer technically is not eligible for any rookie awards, by the way, having pitched more than 50 innings last year.
Trevor Cahill, Oakland A's: Cahill barely gets the call over fellow youngster Vin Mazzaro and Brett Anderson; Mazzaro, in fact, was sent down this week. But Cahill has the highest ceiling, and the A's appear to have two spots in their rotation open with Justin Duchscherer and Gio Gonzalez hurting.
Cahill is the A's organizational Player of the Year two seasons running, and that's saying something in a farm system now considered one of the best in baseball. Even if he doesn't start the season with the big club, keep your eye on Cahill.
Rick Porcello, Detroit Tigers (5/2 to win AL Central): The 20-year-old also has benefited from the problems of others and might start the season as the No. 5 starter. With Dontrelle Willis still struggling and Nate Robertson now hurting, Porcello might have the inside track at No. 5.
The guy who has never pitched above Class A has been pretty dominant this spring.
"I know he's a big league pitcher," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "It's going to be a matter of time. Is that now? Is that later? I don't know yet."
Clayton Richard, Chicago White Sox (6/1 to win AL Central): He is still technically a rookie after throwing 47 2/3 innings last year for the White Sox. He mostly struggled, going 2-5 with a 6.04 E.R.A. last year. But he was a surprise addition to the postseason roster and had a 1.42 E.R.A. in six innings in the ALDS vs. the Rays.
Last year in the minors, Richard, who would have been one of Team USA's top pitchers in the Beijing Olympics if not having been called up by the Sox, was 12-6 with a 2.47 E.R.A. between Double-A and Triple-A, walking 20 batters in nearly 130 innings. His status on the White Sox is still up in the air; he could be the No. 5 starter depending on the health of Bartolo Colon and Jose Contreras or end up in the bullpen to start the year.
Nick Adenhart, Los Angeles Angels (4/7 to win AL West): Not sure what happened to this top prospect last year. He had a 5.76 E.R.A. in Triple-A and allowed 12 earned runs in 12 innings in three big-league starts, with 13 walks to just four strikeouts.
But he has been sharp this spring, and the Halos need some rotation help with Kelvim Escobar not yet ready and Ervin Santana having arm issues. Adenhart is in the mix for one of those spots. "Nick worked his butt off this winter," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He felt what happened last year was a half-step backward. He's really impressed us this spring."