Friday, April 8, 2011

Young, Armed, and Dangerous | Baseball Digest

Young, Armed, and Dangerous | Baseball Digest

Due to league expansion over the last 20 years, younger and younger pitchers have made Major League rosters as starters or relievers before they were ready. But a new trend has grown over the last few years where young pitchers have not only made the roster out of spring training, but have excelled as well. Here’s a look at the youngest and brightest in the big leagues right now.

Aroldis Chapman, 23: The Cuban defector with the triple digit fastball is the most highly anticipated pitcher that baseball has seen in some time. Chapman started in one-third of his 39 minor league appearances (where he struck out 11.8 batters per nine innings) before the Cincinnati Reds recalled him last season, but he’ll strictly be a reliever for now. His 15 appearances in the Majors last season included 19 strikeouts in 13.1 IP. His pitching coach Bryan Price sums it up best:

“You don’t run across guys like this. His potential is off-the-charts in regards of what he physically can be able to do. The essential part of this equation is what he does mentally and emotionally. The way you evaluate all pitchers with great stuff is, where does their mental side of the game allow them to go? Randy Johnson was a wild, hard-throwing left-hander years ago, and he figured it out, and his temperament and mentality allowed him to be a dominant pitcher for a long time. But you have a laundry list of hard-throwing pitchers who struggled with command or haven’t taken the game seriously enough or didn’t have the competitiveness to be great. I don’t think Aroldis lacks any of those.

“He’s athletic, he’s bright, he’s aggressive and he doesn’t back to anybody. The sky is the limit. But time will tell. To say what he can do is unfair to all the guys who have done it and accomplished it. Let’s not reward someone for something they haven’t accomplished yet. But we have to honor the unbelievable talent level the kid has. It’s undeniable.”

Kyle Drabek, 23: The Toronto rookie made the jump from Double-A to the Majors this season and threw five no-hit innings in hist first Major League start against Minnesota. The son of former big league pitcher Doug Drabek, Kyle was the centerpiece of the deal that sent Roy Halladay to the Philadelphia Phillies prior to last season. Drabek is said to be one of the most fit mentally and physically among the current crop of kids and it takes a make up like that to make the jump in levels that he did. Drabek already had a fine reportoire of pitches, but he unveiled a nasty cutter in his start against the Twins. A one time emotional pitcher, Drabek has learned to control his game. His manager John Farrell had this to say about him after a spring training start. “What he showed in his last outing was very good emotional control. He didn’t show the tendency to over throw, he didn’t try to strike everybody out, he still maintained the same approach and I think that speaks volumes to what’s going on inside him. When you combine that harnessing of emotions with the physical abilities, we’ll be very pleased to have go to the mound every five days.”

Jhoulys Chacin, 23: The Colorado Rockies right-hander isn’t a rookie, he made 21 starts last year as part of 28 appearances, but he enters his second season at just 23 years of age. He had a 9-11 record last season despite a 3.28 ERA, a .224 opponents batting average, and 138 strikeouts in 137.1 innings pitched. The native of Venezuela was the 2008 Minor League Pitcher of the Year and put up excellent stats throughout his minor league career. His success has come from a low 90-mph sinker and a deceptive changeup. “From a scouting perspective, Chacin throws five pitches for strikes, including a low 90’s sinking fastball that has powered his GB/FB numbers. The challenge for Chacin is that while he has generated swings and misses at lower levels, his stuff is not overpowering and if his command departs, it could get ugly in a hurry.”

Zach Britton, 23: The Baltimore Orioles top pitching prospect was expected to make an impact on the O’s rotation this season, just not this early. With another young stud, Brian Matusz, out with a strained oblique, Britton made his Major League debut on Sunday. He picked up the win over Tampa Bay after he threw six innings of 3-hit ball and allowed one earned run. Though he walked three, Britton also struck out six to make his first time out a success. Baseball America’s Jim Callis had Britton rated as the top left-hander in the minor leagues and felt (just as the O’s would) Britton would be best served by starting the season at Triple-A. But then Matusz’s injury came up and the O’s figured why go with anyone else. ESPN’s Tim Kurkian recently spoke to Buck Showalter about his star of the future. “He (Showalter) likes him (Britton) a lot and not just his stuff. He likes his demeanor on the mound, which is half the battle for a young pitcher. All sorts of young pitchers have great stuff, more than don’t. But it’s the way you command it and the way you use it and react out there. He just looks a little beyond his years.”

Michael Pineda, 22: The Seattle Mariners right-hander struck out 396 batters in 404.1 minor league innings en route to be named the top pitching prospect in the organization. He had a good chance to make the club out of spring training and sealed the deal with an outstanding spring. His manager, Eric Wedge, had this to say after a late March performance by Pineda. “He (Pineda) was outstanding. You’ve seen him be very consistent all spring, but today I think he took it to another level. You look at the way he used his fastball and his secondary stuff was right there for him all day long and he pitched with it. He just really did a great job of commanding the ballgame.” Pineda’s fastball was clocked as high as 98 mph in 2010, which is pretty remarkable consider an elbow injury put a damper on his 2009 season. According to John Sickels, Pineda’s change up still needs work, but he has an effective slider and his command and control is a big plus. Pineda made his season debut Tuesday night and took the loss despite a quality start.

Jeremy Hellickson, 24 (Apr 8th): The Tampa Bay Rays #5 starter showed what he could do in a short stint with the team last season. The Iowa native went 4-0, 3.47 in 10 appearances (including four starts) with 33 strikeouts and just eight walks in 36.1 innings pitched. Add to that a 12-3, 2.45 season in Triple-A with a 9:2 strikeout to walk ratio and you can see why the organization is excited. The favorite to win AL Rookie of the Year, Hellickson has a low to mid-90′s fastball, a plus curve and a plus changeup. His manager Joe Maddon is definitely a fan. “In spite of how he appears to be, there’s got to be some kind of nervousness going on inside. And I think having done what he did last year is definitely an aid to him mentally. I have a lot of faith in him. We all do.” Hellickson should more than make up for the loss of Matt Garza.

There you have it, just a handful of the pitchers that can have a major impact for their teams this season. Before the year is out Jake McGee (TB), Jordan Walden (LAA), Jenrry Mejia (NYM), Shelby Miller (St. L) and others may join them as the young guns take over.

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