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September 17, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: Starting Pitchers

by Bill Baer

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Last week, we went over some NL starting pitchers you should become familiar with if you are in a keeper league. This week, we will do the same for AL starters.

Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay Rays

In his first 30 innings at the Major League level, Hellickson already compiled a four-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio. He will not overpower hitters a la Stephen Strasburg, but with a velocity differential upwards of 10 MPH between his fastball and change-up -- which, combined, he used over 80 percent of the time in his thus far brief time in the Majors -- he keeps them off-balance and constantly guessing.

In the Minors from 2006-10, Hellickson averaged nearly ten strikeouts per nine innings with a walk rate barely over two per nine. He enjoyed success wherever the organization put him and he was routinely at the head of any Rays-related top prospect compilation -- and for good reason.

Although the Rays' 2011 rotation looks crowded with young arms, Hellickson has a great shot to win a spot out of spring training next year since neither Wade Davis nor Jeff Niemann has dazzled. If you are looking towards the future, Hellickson is a great bet even in a mixed league.

Kyle Drabek, Toronto Blue Jays

Drabek impressed in his Major League debut on Wednesday night against the Baltimore Orioles. He struck out five in six innings of work. However, he did walk three and was a bit unfortunate with the nine hits he allowed, but for a debut start, that is nitpicking.

Last year, between Single-A Clearwater and Double-A Reading in the Philadelphia Phillies organization, Drabek averaged 8.5 strikeouts and 2.8 walks per nine innings. He also showed durability as he tossed 158 innings, by far the most he had thrown at any level in professional baseball. His numbers regressed a bit this year with Double-A New Hampshire in the Toronto Blue Jays organization but there was no doubt his call-up to the Majors was imminent.

Barring any legitimate performance issues or injury, Drabek is all but guaranteed to be in the Jays' rotation next year. He is most relevant in AL-only leagues, but can still provide some value in deep mixed leagues.

Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles

The young O's rotation is likely to get even better with the addition of Britton, a tall lefty who has been impressing since being promoted at the start of this year. Nearly evenly splitting his time between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk, Britton is averaging 7.3 strikeouts and 3.0 walks per nine innings. Impressively, he has logged 140 or more innings in each of the last three seasons.

With Kevin Millwood departing as a free agent, there is an obvious opening for Britton. Even if that opening never came up, the Orioles would likely have found some way to get him in the rotation. Just be thankful that Millwood is finally gone, making Britton a good option for AL-only players.

Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland Indians

Carrasco has been making the most of his time in the Majors since his promotion at the beginning of September. In three starts and 20 and two-thirds innings, Carrasco allowed only five runs and struck out 14 batters. With a fastball-curveball-change-up arsenal, Carrasco appears better suited pitching to contact at the Major League level despite averaging at least eight strikeouts per nine innings in each of the past three seasons in the Minors. Carrasco possesses great control, thus he should be rather WHIP-friendly even if his strikeouts are down a bit.

Carrasco is likely to be a mainstay in the Cleveland Indians' rotation next year. At the moment, Carrasco should only be taken in AL-only leagues, but if it turns out he can induce whiffs on a frequent basis in the Majors, he will become relevant in mixed leagues, too.

Michael Pineda, Seattle Mariners

When I hear the phrase "pitching prospect" I think of guys like Pineda. He has a ton of upside and few flaws; one just hopes he avoids the injury bug on his way to the Majors. In each of the past two seasons, Pineda averaged ten strikeouts per nine innings with very low walk rates to boot.

There were rumors that the Seattle Mariners would call up Pineda earlier this month but that never materialized. Still, he has more than proven himself at the highest level of the Minor Leagues, thus it would be appalling to see the Mariners break camp next March without him. Pineda is good in mixed leagues, great in AL-only leagues.

Bill Baer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bill's other articles. You can contact Bill by clicking here

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Prospectus Q&A: Russel... (09/17)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Weekly P... (09/17)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Slowing ... (09/20)
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