Young pitching is always in demand in the MLB. Young studs Mat Latos, Trevor Cahill, Michael Pineda, and Gio Gonzalez were all dealt this offseason for top 100 prospects. It’s a known fact that teams are in love with cost-controlled, successful MLB pitchers, and they’re not hesitating to give up young, unproven players for them, often in large quantities. Here’s a list of ten young pitchers (think, “under 25”) that didn’t get dealt this offseason that are poised for huge 2012 campaigns in the majors.
1. Matt Moore, Rays. The 22 year old Moore is the top pitching prospect in all of baseball, and that distinction is warranted after his fanastic 2011 campaign. In AA Montgomery, he struck out 131 and walked 28 in 102 1/3 innings, posting a 2.20 ERA in the process. He was promoted to AAA Durham at the end of July, and threw 52 2/3 innings there, with 79 strikeouts, 18 walks, and an even better 1.37 ERA. That earned him a promotion to Tampa Bay to close out the season, where Moore allowed three runs in 9 1/3 innings, striking out 15 and walking three. Tampa Bay signed him to an extension based on that season, and he’ll be a Ray for the foreseeable future. Moore is already penciled in to the 2012 rotation, and will help the team greatly this season behind studs like James Shields, David Price, and Jeremy Hellickson.
2. Julio Teheran, Braves. If Moore is the best pitching prospect in the game, Teheran is number two. Teheran, who turn just 21 next week, was named the AAA Starting Pitcher of the Year last season (at age 20!) in addition to a host of post-season All-Star honors. In 144 2/3 innings, Teheran had a 2.55 ERA, struck out 122 and walked 48 while allowing just five homers, which are pretty good peripherals for a 20 year old in the highest level of the minor leagues. He also got a brief tryout in the major leagues and struggled, walking eight and striking out ten in 19 2/3 innings and allowing four homers. With the glut of starting pitching in Atlanta, Teheran probably won’t start the season in the majors unless the Braves deal one of their veteran starters. But if he keeps dominating for AAA Gwinnett this season, I wouldn’t be shocked at all to see the Braves deal one of their major league starters to make room for him. Besides, three of their five starters dealt with injury problems last season, and if that repeats itself in 2012, Teheran would likely be the first one to get the call as a replacement.
3. Neftali Feliz, Rangers. An elite closer during his MLB career thusfar, the Rangers plan to shift Feliz to their rotation in 2012, a move that has many fans saying “finally”. With a fastball that averages 96 miles per hour, Feliz was a starter for his entire career in the minors…until 2009, when the Rangers split his season between starting and reliever. As a starter, he was dominant. In 2008, the first full season after the Braves traded Feliz to the Rangers, he struck out 153 and walked 51 in 127 1/3 innings, while allowing just three home runs. Over his career in the majors, Feliz has been very good (164 strikeouts and 56 walks in 162 2/3 innings, 3.9 fWAR), but he has much more value for the Rangers throwing 160-180 innings in a season as opposed to 60-70 innings. The Rangers have a contingency plan in their bullpen after signing closer Joe Nathan to a two year deal, and they have a full rotation after signing Yu Darvish yesterday, If Feliz falters in the rotation, the Rangers aren’t screwed, and if he thrives, their bullpen isn’t screwed either. It’s a good situation to be in.
4. Brian Matusz, Orioles. The Orioles aren’t really expected to contend in 2012, but if they want to be anywhere near respectable, Matusz needs to look more like his 2010 form, and nothing like his 2011 form. In 2010, Matusz had a 4.30 ERA (not bad for a 23 year old in his first full season in the AL East), a 2.27 strikeout to walk ratio, and he let 19 balls leave the park in 175 2/3 innings. Last season, the wheels fell completely off for Matusz. He threw just 49 2/3 innings, and allowed 18 homers, just one fewer than he did in 2010 in 125 fewer innings. His ERA was a historically high 10.69, and his strikeout to walk ratio fell to 1.58. It was a quizzical turn for such a promising prospect, but not necessarily shocking considering the Orioles’ past history with top pitching prospects. Injuries were at work here, as Matusz’s averaage fastball velocity fell to just 88 miles per hour last season after topping out around 90 in 2010. It would really be nice to see him get back on track, if only for the sake of the sanity of Baltimore fans.
5. Kyle Drabek, Blue Jays. Drabek was expected to be a key part of Toronto’s rebuilding process in 2011. Well, half of that came true: Toronto had a largely successful season, but Drabek wasn’t a big part, amassing -0.2 fWAR in 78 2/3 innings. Drabek couldn’t put anything together in the majors or the minors. During those 78 2/3 innings in Toronto, he struck out 51 and walked 55. In AAA Las Vegas, he struck out 45 and walked 41 in 75 innings. So combined at both levels, Drabek both struck out and walked 96 in 153 2/3 innings. Those are the numbers of a career minor leaguer or a guy about to be released, not a top prospect who was part of the package you got for the franchise’s best pitcher. Remember, in 2010 at AA New Hampshire, Drabek struck out 132 and walked 68 in 162 innings while allowing just 12 homers. There is still a lot of potential here, and he really needs to tap into it this season to keep from completely losing his luster as a top arm in the Blue Jays’ system.
6. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals. You all know who Strasburg is. His career is only two professional seasons old, and his career high in innings (combined minors and majors) is 123 1/3. Yet, he’s been one of the most talked about players in the game, and for good reason. In his 2010 first professional season, Strasburg struck out 157 in those 123 1/3 innings with just 30 walks, including 92 and 17 in the majors. Then, he blew his elbow out, and went away for a year. Strasburg came back with a vengeance in the summer, and threw 44 1/3 innings in the majors and minors, striking out 53 and walking five, including 24 and two in the majors. If control is the last thing to come back after Tommy John surgery, and Strasburg as a strikeout to walk ratio of over ten to one…yeah, I think he’s good to go. His velocity wasn’t back all the way after returning in the majors last season, but his average was still touching 96 miles per hour. The Nationals have said they’re going to cap his innings at 160 this season, much like they did last year with Jordan Zimmermann in his return from Tommy John. For his major league career, Strasburg has struck out 116 and walked 19 in 92 innings for a total of 3.7 fWAR. Over 160 innings, he could be one of the best pitchers in the game. And imagine in 2013, when they take the reins off and let him throw 200. It could be a treat to watch.
7. Ivan Nova, Yankees. Nova was the de facto number two for New York last season after the struggles of AJ Burnett and the mediocrity of Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, and he wasn’t too bad, with a 3.70 ERA and a shiny 16-4 record. Look past those numbers, and you see a low strikeout total of 98 and a middling walk total of 57. Expecting Nova to keep his ERA under 4.00 and win a ton of games with peripherals like that again next year is a tall order, but it’s not all on him anymore. Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda are now Yankees, and Nova suddenly finds himself as the number four for New York. That will help the Yankees a ton, with a more talented young pitcher and a veteran experienced with a big city mentality in front of Nova in the rotation. But he can’t turn into an egg, because there’s always the possibility that Pineda melts under the bright lights of New York, and that Kuroda breaks down physically. If everything goes perfectly, Nova will have less pressure on him. The only thing is, not everything goes perfectly all the time.
8. Johnny Cueto, Reds. With Mat Latos now a member of the Reds, Cueto doesn’t have to worry about being the staff ace anymore. And that’s probably for the best, considering that his 2.31 ERA was a mirage when you consider his 3.45 FIP and 3.90 xFIP. Cueto only struck out 104 hitters in 156 innings, giving him a career low strikeout rate of 6.00 per nine innings. However, a career low homer rate of 0.46, half of his previous career low of 0.92 set in 2010, helped nullify that low K rate. If Cueto were to heavily regress in 2012 without Latos in the fold, it would doom the Reds, who would really be lacking an ace at that point. However, with Latos on the team, Cueto doesn’t need to worry about carrying the team. He can be the number two, with Homer Bailey, Mike Leake and Bronson Arroyo filling out the rotation behind him. A 3.45 ERA isn’t bad from your number two, and that would help the Reds a lot, much more so than if he had that ERA as the staff ace.
9. Madison Bumgarner, Giants. In a year where Tim Lincecum wasn’t as soul-takingly dominant as he had been in the past, Bumgarner stepped up to be THAT GUY for the Giants. He was 21 for a majority of the 2011 season, and he threw a career high 204 2/3 innings, posting a 3.20 ERA with 191 strikeouts and just 46 walks. When you have a rotation with Lincecum and Matt Cain at the top, getting a performance like that from your third starter helps out a ton. With Lincecum locked in arbitration with the Giants now and no long-term deal in the future, and Cain looking at free agency next season, the team could use a ready-made replacement like Bumgarner, who won’t be a free agent until after 2016. If he’s able to replicate his performance, maybe it will help the Giants feel a lot better about losing Cain after this season, and perhaps Lincecum after 2013.
10. Jaime Garcia, Cardinals. Staff ace Adam Wainwright is recovering from Tommy John surgery that he underwent last spring, and it’s unknown how he’ll recover. Midseason acquisition Edwin Jackson is gone. Veterans Chris Carpenter and Kyle Lohse are another year older. That leaves Garcia as the cornerstone of the rotation for the defending World Champions. With Albert Pujols out of town, Garcia is one of the future building blocks of the team, and after a 2011 season that saw him throw 194 2/3 innings with a 3.12 strikeout to walk ratio and a 3.56 ERA, he is a crucial part in the Cardinals quest to repeat in 2012.
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