Sunday was something else, as far as professional debuts go. The much-heralded Stephen Strasburg made his first start for the Washington Nationals Double-A affiliate in Harrisburg. Aroldis Chapman, Cuban defector and owner of a 100 mph fastball, pitched in Triple-A in his first non-spring training appearance. The name that people heard much less about all winter and spring was the first of the three to appear in the big leagues: Mike Leake skipped the minors entirely and debuted as the Cincinnati Reds fifth starter. Leake’s making the team was such a surprise that many websites, our own included, still don’t have him in their database. Look for Mike Leake in our search engine right now, and you’ll be redirected to a former Red Sox player that made their own debut well over a century ago.
As baseball fans, it’s good fun to see this much young pitching talent hit all at once—especially in an age where, with access to MLB.tv or MiLB.tv, all of these pitcher’s first appearances could be viewed from the comfort of your couch or desk. As a fantasy baseball player, there’s more incentive to pay attention than just fan enjoyment—these are three players that could all factor in to the 2010 season, never mind their implications in keeper leagues, and chances are good that many owners are only going to be able to own one, if any of them.
Before Strasburg or Chapman were even given assignments, they were drafted in the league of almost everyone reading this sentence. Leake did not merit the same attention, unless your draft took place after he won the fifth starter job—in any case, he was scooped up off of the waiver wire as teams prepared themselves for the start of the season once the Reds rotation was set and the news was known. So, don’t think of this article as advocating owning one of these three—you don’t need me to tell you that’s a good plan If you want a high risk/high reward edge against your league mates—but instead, as the start of a year-long appreciation and analysis of what these three do in their first year of professional baseball. I don’t plan on doing this weekly or anything, as there are just a few more players worth looking at over the course of the season, but between the Fantasy Focus column and updates on the Fantasy Beat blog, I hope to give everyone a good sense of where it looks like their 2010 fantasy value is heading, for better or worse, throughout the year.
Strasburg, who unsurprisingly was Kevin Goldstein’s #1 Nationals prospect as well as the #1 prospect in all of baseball heading into 2010, threw five innings against the Altoona Curve, whiffing eight hitters while allowing four runs, four hits and a pair of walks. He worked in the high 90s for most of the start, showing off the fastball that worked so well for him at San Diego State, but also flashed his curveball and an occasional changeup.
It’s too early to make judgments based on overall stats, so it’s definitely too early to analyze splits—I do plan on checking up on those as the season progresses though, to see how the right-handed Strasburg fares against left-handers, and to see if there is any noticeable difference in his numbers pitching from the windup or the stretch.
Aroldis Chapman, the tall left-hander in the Reds organization, is pitching for the Louisville Bats in Triple-A. His first start lasted 4 and 2/3 innings, but was just as impressive as Strasburg’s initial start: nine punch outs, a lone walk, and five hits scattered resulting in just one run allowed. Unlike Strasburg, who balanced balls on the ground and in the air over his five innings, Chapman was all air, all the time. He struck out five of the seven left-handers he faced in the game, with the other two scoring hits off of him.
This was a dominant effort—Chapman crossed the 100 mph threshold three times, and 55 of his 85 pitches registered as strikes. All five of the hits he allowed were singles, with just one leaving the infield. His fastball was the highlight of the day, though—with both Chapman and Strasburg, I’m very interested in seeing how their secondary stuff develops, because they will need that more in the majors than they do in the minors, even at the Triple-A level. Kevin Goldstein thinks that there’s a chance Chapman could beat Strasburg to the majors, but the control he had on display Sunday will need to stick for that to happen.
Speaking of the majors, Leake is the only one of the group currently residing there. Leake went 6 and 2/3 against the Chicago Cubs in somewhat of a mixed debut. He gave up just one run and allowed four hits while striking out five, but he also handed out seven free passes. Replay that game with the same walk and strikeout numbers enough times, and there’s no way “one run allowed” will be the outcome seen most (well, okay. Maybe if all of the games are against the Cubs it will be).
His catcher, Ramon Hernandez, said after the game that Leake was trying to be “a little too perfect," and Leake himself admitted that he was “trying to overthrow," and that he “never issued that many walks before, ever." Well Mike, you’ve also never pitched against a big-league lineup before. Kosuke Fukudome isn’t the scariest bat around, but I bet he would have rocked those college kids you trounced last season.
Leake is the most intriguing name of these three at present for fantasy purposes, because he’s already in the majors. His seven walks may have kept him on waivers in the leagues where he was still available, and if it turns out to be more than a one game issue, he could be available again soon—everyone is far too drop happy the first few weeks of the season, but that’s to your benefit if you keep your eyes peeled. I’ll be watching his next start very closely to try to get a sense of whether that walk rate is something to be alarmed about.
Only somewhat related, I very much wanted to name this entry "Delta Attack", but realized that something would be lost in the translation. Still, +100 internets to the first person who figures out why I wanted to name it thus.