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May 9, 2008

Future Shock

April Pitching Awards

by Kevin Goldstein

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After handing out the April hardware for hitters, let's finally get to the pitchers. Stats guru Clay Davenport was good enough update our minor league statistic pages with a counting stat, now giving us RAR, but in lieu of that at the time, our speedy intern Jeff Gambino was able to generate some quick and dirty numbers using a quick and dirty formula that our old friend Keith Wooler gave me a while back. For lack of a better term, I call it pseudo-VORP, or P-VORP, and the formula is IP/9*(5.50-ERA).

International League

Pitcher of the Month: Darrell Rasner, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Yankees), 14.9 P-VORP
In the running: Homer Bailey, Louisville (Reds), 14.0 P-VORP; Lance Broadway, Charlotte (White Sox), 14.0 P-VORP

With Ian Kennedy's minor case of the yips and Philip Hughes' continued struggles, Rasner might suddenly be a surprisingly important part of the Yankees' 2008 season. That said, he also just might be up to the task, because he was totally dealing at Triple-A, allowing just 18 hits and six walks in 31 innings. He's a classic sinker/slider type with plus command, and while at 27 he's already at his ceiling as a back-end starter, he delivered six quality innings in his first big league start of the year, and should be able to provide that more often than not throughout the season.

Bailey was given a bit of a mulligan for a disappointing 2007, and so far that seems like the right decision, as he's been absolutely electric so far in 2008. The Reds might be awful this year, but pitching wins ballgames, and they're lining up one of the best rotations around. There's a whole lot of smoke and mirrors to Broadway's game, but he's basically becoming the David Blaine of that group with a 1.10 ERA in six starts and a boatload of groundballs.

Pacific Coast League

Pitcher of the Month: Nick Adenhart, Salt Lake (Angels), 14.9 P-VORP
In the running: Ryan Feierabend, Tacoma (Mariners), 11.9 P-VORP; Max Scherzer, Tucson (Diamondbacks), 10.0 P-VORP

Adenhart was called up a forced to pitch on three days' rest for his big league debut. He's struggled mightily with his control in two outings, but that shouldn't be a huge surprise really, because while he was limiting PCL hitters to a .170 average, he had also walked 15 of them in 31 innings. He's still an outstanding pitching prospect, but he's just not ready yet.

Feierabend is a solid but unspectacular lefty who definitely deserves another shot. He's probably a better option right now the Miguel Batista, and he could be a cheap, mildly effective starter for the next decade. Scherzer was the most dominating pitcher in the league in April, but getting called up limited his inning count. His first two outings in the majors provide an interesting psychological study on the reaction to small sample sizes. Following his stunning pro debut, I got multiple emails within hours asking me if I rated him too low. Following his first big league start, when he got roughed around a bit, I got multiple emails within hours asking if people should give up on him. Folks, calm down.

Eastern League

Pitcher of the Month: Chris Waters, Bowie (Orioles), 13.6 P-VORP
In the running: Daniel McCutchen, Trenton (Yankees), 13.4 P-VORP; Yohan Pino, New Britain (Twins), 10.3 P-VORP

A fifth-round pick in 2000 out of a Florida JuCo, Waters is an organizational lefty who turns 28 in August, and was originally in the Braves system. He's an unspectacular left-hander with a fastball, curve, and change; none of them are bad pitches, but none of them are anything to write home about either. He's already been moved up to Triple-A, where he gave up five runs over five innings in his first start, but if he gets back on a roll he might be the kind of guy who gets to make an emergency start here and there.

McCutchen's expoits were covered in a weekend Ten Pack, and he's continued to roll with seven four-hit innings on Tuesday. Pino is a guy who doesn't get a lot of love despite entering the year with a career ERA of 2.31 and nearly a strikeout per inning. He's been shuffled back and forth between reliever and starting throughout his career, and this year is no different, as he started the year in the bullpen, but is now back to starting. He's a strike-throwing machine with average velocity and a decent breaking ball.

Southern League

Pitcher of the Month: Ryan Tucker, Carolina (Marlins), 16.4 P-VORP
In the running: Chris Jakubauskas, West Tenn (Mariners), 13.7 P-VORP; Daryl Thompson, Chattanooga (Reds), 13.1 P-VORP

Tucker is arguably the story of the Marlins system this year. Part of the bevy of pitching prospects that Florida selected in the 2005 draft, Tucker has always had the best arm strength of any of them, but problems with command, focus, and finding a consistent breaking pitch have kept him from taking the big step forward that his mid-90s velocity readings have always seemed to portend. This might be that year, as Tucker has absolutely dominated this year, pitching shutout baseball in four of his seven starts, never allowing more than two runs in any outing and compiling a 0.89 ERA in 40.1 innings.

Jakubauskas is a great story as well. The right-hander turns 30 in December, and converted to pitching while playing in the independent leagues, and spent the last five years there before the Mariners decided to give him a shot. He gets decent velocity and sink on his fastball, had a 0.83 ERA in six starts at West Tenn, then delivered 5 2/3 shutout innings in his Triple-A debut. ESPN and Fox have to be drooling at the chance to do a long-winded story on him once he reaches the bigs. Like Tucker, Thompson is a guy who the Reds (and the Nationals, before he was traded to Cincy) have always had high hopes for based on his stuff alone. Still just 22, Thompson throws strikes with a plus fastball and solid secondary stuff, and everything has been clicking so far in 2008, as he has a 1.45 ERA in seven starts and 44 strikeouts against just seven walks in 43 1/3 innings.

Texas League

Pitcher of the Month: Carlos Rosa, NW Arkansas (Royals), 14.8 P-VORP
In the running: James Simmons, Midland (Athletics), 11.7 P-VORP; Bud Norris, Corpus Christi (Astros), 10.3 P-VORP

On a pure prospect level, this is arguably the top trio. Rosa was profiled in a recent Ten Pack, and his plus fastball/slider combination continues to baffle opposing hitters, as Rosa has a 1.38 ERA after seven starts and has allowed just 27 hits and six walks in 39 innings.

Simmons also hit the Ten Pack recently, and his combination of plus-plus command of slightly plus stuff should make him a rotation stalwart. Norris is one of the few bright spots in the Astros system. His smallish frame turns off some, but with a plus fastball and outstanding curve, he's capable of missing plenty of bats, and has struck out 40 in 30 innings. Combining that skill with much better command this year, he's generating fewer concerns about his size.

California League

Pitcher of the Month: Ben Snyder, San Jose (Giants), 13.9 P-VORP
In the running: Kevin Pucetas, San Jose (Giants), 12.8 P-VORP; Trevor Cahill, Stockton (Athletics), 11.3 P-VORP

Snyder is a big, beefy left-hander who pitches more like a small, frail one, sitting in the mid-to-upper 80s with his fastball, freezing hitters with an excellent slow curve, and hitting his spots with outstanding precision. With an ERA of 0.85 in seven starts for San Jose while allowing less than a baserunner per inning, he could get moved up to Double-A soon, and projects as a back-end rotation workhorse.

Add a couple of inches to Snyder, a pinch more velocity, and make him a righty, and you have Pucetas, who has a 1.80 ERA in his seven outings while allowing just 29 hits in 40 innings. His right-handedness alone makes him less of a prospect than Snyder, though he could have the same ceiling. On the other hand, Cahill is a very real prospect who continues to dominate at Stockton, striking out 48 in 36 innings while limiting opponents to a .182 batting average and just three extra-base hits (all of them doubles). As the A's figure out what to do with all of their prospects, expect Cahill to reach Double-A by midseason.

Carolina League

Pitcher of the Month: Tommy Hanson, Myrtle Beach (Braves), 15.8 P-VORP
In the running: Polin Trinidad, Salam (Astros), 12.9 P-VORP; Everett Teaford, Wilmington (Royals), 11.2 P-VORP

Hanson has been the top pitching in the minors leagues this year, hands down. He's simply too good for the Carolina League at this point, and his numbers border on ridiculous: 40 innings, 15 hits, 11 walks, 49 strikeouts. Both his fastball and curve are 60+ pitches on the 20-80 scouting scale, and he clearly has all-star potential.

Trinidad is a 23-year-old Dominican lefty with little velocity, but outstanding command and a decent breaking ball. That's the kind of pitcher who can dominate at the lower levels, and Trinidad has done just that, allowing 33 hits and nine walks in 44 innings. Unfortunately, that combination tends to stop working at the higher levels, and almost never in the big leagues. Teaford is a small, fringy southpaw who like Trinidad, depends on control far more than stuff. He doesn't strike out a lot of hitters, is a fly-ball pitcher, and scouts aren't very high on him.

Florida State League

Pitcher of the Month: Eric Hacker, Tampa (Yankees), 18.4 P-VORP
In the running: Antonio Bastardo, Clearwater (Phillies), 14.8 P-VORP; Jeremy Hellickson, Vero Beach (Devil Rays), 14.7 P-VORP

The fact that Hacker is in his seventh pro season and only in the Florida State League tells you a lot about him. Already 25, Hacker has been constantly beset by major injuries, including a Tommy John surgery that cost him all of 2006. He's a sinker/slider type with a good changeup and plus command, and has allowed just 22 hits in 42 innings. While he's way behind on the age/level curve, many think he could get to the highest level as a middle reliever. However, a note of caution: he left his last outing after two innings due to a blister issue.

Yet another Ten Pack honoree, Bastardo took his small body and huge changeup to Double-A last week, and in his first start for Reading he gave up just one run over 5 2/3 innings. Speaking of guys making Ten Packs, "strike-throwing machine" doesn't do Hellickson justice--factory? power plant?--as he's struck out 46 in 35 innings while walking a grand total of two. Have I mentioned he has power stuff too? His stock way, way up.

Midwest League

Pitcher of the Month: Alfredo Figaro, West Michigan (Tigers), 13. 3 P-VORP
In the running: Nate Starner, Lansing (Blue Jays), 12.1 P-VORP; Luis Montano, Dayton (Reds), 11.3 P-VORP

A guy on pretty much nobody's radar entering the season, Figaro has been the talk of the Midwest League this year, as his 0.46 ERA in 39 innings is backed up by some pretty impressive scouting reports as well. A 23-year-old Dominican with a lanky build, Figaro has been lighting up radar guns by parking his fastball in the 92-94 mph range (touching 97 at times) while showing a pretty solid breaking ball. Keep an eye on him--it's a big league-caliber arm, though likely one that winds up in a bullpen in the end.

Starner is another off-the-radar guy, but he'll likely stay that way. An undrafted lefty who turned 24 at the end of the month, he's definitely the kind of polish over stuff pitcher who's a longshot to get there. The same could be said for Montano, as the 23-year-old Dominican righty controls the strike zone well, but doesn't blow hitters away.

South Atlantic League

Pitcher of the Month: Cory Riordan, Ashville (Rockies), 14.0 P-VORP
In the running: Jhoulys Chacin, Ashville (Rockies), 13.8 P-VORP; Daniel Bard, Greenville (Red Sox), 12.2 P-VORP

A big, beefy righty who has a sixth-round pick out of Fordham last year, the Rockies see Riordan as a solid prospect that could develop into a quality innings-eater in the big leagues. He has a deep arsenal of solid offerings that he mixes and commands well, leading to a 2.40 ERA in his first seven starts while striking out exactly a batter per inning in his 45 frames, and walking only seven. As a college product, he's a tad old for this league, but he's lined up to finish the year in the California League.

Chacin is a far superior propect in the Rockies system, a 20-year-old Venezuelan with an electric arm who combines plus velocity with hard sinking action and good control. Like many young Latin American pitchers, his secondary offerings need work, but the building blocks are there. A first-round pick in 2006 who got a case of the yips last year and walked 78 in 75 innings while uncorking 27 wild pitches, Bard has been the reclamation project of the year so far. Pitching out of the bullpen for Greenville, Bard has suddenly become an intriguing closer prospect, striking out 37 in 24 innings while allowing just 12 hits, and more importantly walking only four. It's early, but with a mid- to upper-90s fastball and a decent slider, his stock is rebounding strongly.

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

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Fantasy Article Fantasy Focus: Preempt... (05/09)
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