Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hots ‘n’ Nots – The Pitchers

Money is the only reason Strasburg is still in the Minors

If I had the time, I would do the math on this equation, because I can tell you that it feels like a bad idea. Start with the premise that after last night’s six inning, no-hit, performance that gives Strasburg 12 AAA innings with but one hit and two walks allowed—while fanning 13, there really is little left to prove for Strasburg in the Minors. The excuse that the Nationals used to not move him into their Big League rotation at the start of the season was they wanted him to get more experience with runners on base. In case Mike Rizzo hasn’t noticed, you can’t get experience with runners on base if there isn’t anyone on base. In fact Strasburg hasn’t allowed the first batter to reach in any of his 34 Minor League innings. So let’s be transparent in what this is—namely an orchestrated attempt to gain another year of service before Strasburg becomes arbitration eligible. From an organizational standpoint, this is a valid concern. But the Nationals have already stated that they are limiting Strasburg to 150 innings this season. With 34 of them already under his belt, this means Strasburg is likely to make approximately 19 more starts this season. The conventional wisdom is that Strasburg is now slated to make his Major League debut either June 4th in Houston or Home on June 5th. This means he will be wasting three of those starts, proving nothing in AAA. If Strasburg was promoted now, this would not only assure the Nationals of at least one additional home gate buoyed by the appearance of baseball’s ‘phenom’, it would give them 3 more Strasburg starts and three less by Luis Atilano or Craig Stammen. If you combined this with the addition of Drew Storen to the Nationals’ pen we could be talking about at least another victory or two, maybe more, for the Nationals this season. And just in case you haven’t been paying attention, the Nationals are only 1.5 games back in the NL East and are presently tied for the Wild Card spot. How much is one additional Strasburg gate receipt and a potential of a couple of playoff games worth? As I said, I haven’t done the math, but I have to believe it may be worth more than the money that they are hoping to save by eliminating any possibility of Strasburg to become a Super Two. In any case, in a relative no-brainer, Strasburg tops this week’s list.

Hot Pitchers

1) Stephen Strasburg, RHP, WSN

Not sure what more we can say here. He has been everything that was advertised and that alone has to be considered tremendously impressive as the hype was unreal. Over his last three starts he has posted a 1.62 ERA, a 0.720 WHIP and a 17:5 K:BB ratio. On the year he has a 40:8 K:BB ratio and only 22 batters have reached base in 34 innings. Remarkable!

2) Julio Teheran, LHP, ATL

Falling a spot to #2 this week, Teheran continues to be the fastest rising pitching prospect in the Minors. With Teheran, Vizcaino, Delgado and Minor, the Braves rotation could be deadly in a couple of seasons. Over his last three starts, the 19yo Teheran has posted a 1.37 ERA, a 0.814 WHIP and a 23:2 K:BB ratio. On the year he has a 1.14 ERA and 45 Ks in 39 IPs.

3) Kyle Gibson, RHP, MIN

While Gibson’s 1.25 ERA, 0.831 WHIP and 18:6 K:BB ratio over his last three starts is impressive, he has become a groundball machine, and has an almost unheard of 3.67 Ground Out/Fly Out ratio. Look for him to move to AA any day now, and be a serious contender for a rotation spot to open the 2011 season.

4) Chris Tillman, RHP, BAL

After posting a 1.29 ERA, a 0.762 WHIP and a 19:4 K:BB ratio over his last three starts, Tillman looks ready to make the jump to the Major Leagues. Both Brad Bergesen and David Hernandez have struggled of late, and either could be a candidate (although we prefer Hernadez’s upside) to be replaced by Tillman within the next couple of weeks.

5) Mike Leake, RHP, CIN

Leake is showing that quality pitching is quality pitching regardless of whether it is in college or the pros, as he has used the same formula that provided him with tremendous collegiate success to easily transition to the Major Leagues. Leake flirted with a no-hitter through six innings against the Cubs last Sunday, and has a 2.25 ERA, 0.850 WHIP with a 15:4 K:BB ratio over his last three Big League starts and now has a 3-0 Big League record. With Chapman struggling with control issues in AAA, Leake has been a welcome addition to the Reds’ rotation.

6) Jhoulys Chacin, RHP, COL

Through three Major League appearances this year Chacin has yet to allow a run. Only 22yo, opposing Major League hitters are batting a paltry .132 against him and he has fanned 16 batters in 15 innings pitched. Jimenez and Chacin could shortly give the Rockies their most potent 1-2 rotation punch in the Franchise’s history.

7) Liam Hendriks, RHP, MIN

Signed out of Australia in 2007, Hendriks made an impressive Gulf Coast League (GCL) debut before losing the 2008 season to injury. He had a solid comeback in 2009, but nothing overly exciting. Therefore, when Hendriks opened the year by ripping through Midwest League (MWL) hitters, as a 21yo, we approached things cautiously. But after last night’s Florida State League (FSL) debut where he tossed 7 innings, allowing 1 run on three hits while fanning 8, we can comfortably tell you to put Hendriks on your radar. Hendriks has a 1.32 ERA and opposing batters are hitting .136 against him on the year.

8) Bryan Morris, RHP, PIT

Morris is trying to put a career of injury-filled seasons behind him with his 2010 performance. While a tad old, at 23yo, for the Florida State League (FSL), Morris has been nothing short of spectacular, as he has now strung together 27 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run. On the year he has a 0.66 ERA, a 0.959 WHIP and a 36:5 K:BB ratio. It is time for bigger challenges here.

9) Alejandro Sanabia, RHP, FLA

Sanabia was a 32nd round pick in the 2006 draft, and until the FSL in 2009, he had done little to distinguish himself. But that isn’t due to a lack of upside, because the 21yo has a low 90s fastball, and an at least average breaking ball. Enter the season, he seemed to be a quality change away from becoming a successful mid-rotation candidate. 2010 is beginning to look like that breakout year. As through 7 starts, Southern League (SOL) hitters are batting a mere .182 against him. Over his last three starts, Sanabia has posted a 2.37 ERA, a 0.842 WHIP, with a 16:4 K:BB ratio.

10) Andrew Cashner, RHP, CHN

While most teams viewed Cashner as a reliever when he was drafted in 2008, the Cubs have held firm in their belief of him as a starter. A few adjustments this spring has led to great results on the season where Cashner had 2.75 ERA and 42 Ks in 36 AA innings before last night’s AAA debut. Cashner was outstanding, going six innings while allowing one run, five hits and a walk, while fanning six. Look for Cashner to join the Cubs rotation once they tire of Carlos Siva.

The Nots

1) David Bromberg, RHP, MIN

Bromberg had a solid first three starts of the 2010 season, but his last three haven’t been as good…especially his last outing. Over the last two weeks, Bromberg has a 6.75 ERA, a 2.591 WHIP, with only 6 strikeouts in 15 innings of work. This from a pitcher who has fanned better than a batter per inning over his career. While we have never been tremendously high on his upside, we are concerned about the drop in strikeout rate.

2) Jeremy Hefner, RHP, SDP

Hefner is another player that we have never been tremendously high on his upside, and another player that has had a rough few starts after a good beginning to the season. Over the last two weeks Heffner has posted a 7.07 ERA, a 1.929 WHIP and has a 6:7 K:BB ratio. At 24yo, Hefner needs to take a big step forward this season or risk prospect obscurity.

3) Ethan Martin, RHP, LAD

Martin has continued to flash tremendous skills, but hasn’t been able to consistently display them for any length of time since being the first prep pitcher drafted in 2008. At only 21yo, and facing the hostile to pitchers California League this season, Martin has struggled more often than not, posting a 12.34 ERA, a 2.657 WHIP, with a 11:12 K:BB ratio over his last three starts. His ERA stands at 6.41 ERA and he has walked 17 batters in 27 innings on the year. The good news is that he has fanned 31. No need to press the panic button yet, but we expect more.

4) Zach Stewart, RHP, TOR

Stewart is one of those players that we have never been as high on as some have, predominantly because we don’t see a path that ever adds up to him as a successful starter in the Big Leagues. That said, Stewart’s 2010 season has been even worse than we would have imagined, as he has a posted a 9.00 ERA. A 2.083 WHIP and a 6:9 K:BB ratio over his last three starts. This leaves him with a 6.84 ERA on the year, and 18:14 K:BB ratio. If we are running the Jays, we are getting Stewart ready for a future bullpen role.

5) Aneury Rodriguez, RHP, TBR

Rodriguez becomes the first player of the season to appear on both the ‘Hot’ and the ‘Not’ list, as he has cooled off considerably from his torrid start. Over his last three starts, Rodriguez has posted a 7.27 ERA, a 2.769 WHIP and has walked eight batters. Plenty of tools here, but still a struggle to find consistency, as he appears to be over-throwing.

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