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One of my favorite under-the-radar pitchers this season is Alex Cobb of the Tampa Bay Rays. It’s only been three outings of 3.71-ERA ball, but I’m buying into that kind of performance completely and think good things lie ahead for the 24-year-old right-hander. He’s less heralded than many of the other young Ray pitchers and pitching prospects, but I believe he’s every bit as good as last year’s rookie sensation Jeremy Hellickson, if not better, and has the higher ceiling of the two. (Admission: that’s a cop-out. If I weren’t afraid of the backlash by Hellickson’s rabid supporters, I’d have been stronger in my assertion that Cobb is better right now. Okay, well, I guess that kind of counts.)

Cobb has posted K/9 rates north of 9.0 at each stop at Double- and Triple-A, but he’s the kind of guy people are skeptical of in the majors. He doesn’t have mind-boggling stuff, and the lack of a dominant fastball can put people off, but there is a lot to like once you get past his four-seamer. He throws with just slightly above-average, low-90s velocity, but he has an interesting smattering of secondary pitches to make up for it.

In addition to his four-seamer, Cobb also throws a two-seam fastball, a change-up, and a knuckle curve. The movement on his change-up is nothing short of ridiculous. Very rarely do you see a changeup (labeled as a splitter by Brooks Baseball) move the way Cobb’s does. Max Scherzer’s is the only one I can think of.

Alex Cobb’s Pitch Movement

Max Scherzer’s Pitch Movement

C:Documents and SettingsDerekMy DocumentsDerekBaseballFantasy BaseballBP Articlescobb_movement.png

C:Documents and SettingsDerekMy DocumentsDerekBaseballFantasy BaseballBP Articlesscherzer_movement.png

The way Cobb’s changeup tumbles into negative vertical-movement territory is very impressive, and he’s made good use of the pitch in his three starts this year, utilizing it 40 percent of the time. Throwing an off-speed pitch that frequently can sap its effectiveness, but he’s induced whiffs on 18 percent of swings, and the pitch is certainly good enough to rely upon, even if not quite that heavily.

A strikeout per inning will likely elude Cobb now that he’s in the majors, but even if he can’t keep up anything better than a 7.0 K/9, the combination of the sinker, changeup, and knuckle curve—which he has used a combined 75 percent of the time—will result in tons of grounders, which should keep him plenty effective. Throw in solid control, and you have a player who many are going to wrongly overlook or write off too quickly.

And, of course, he’ll be aided by the Tampa Bay environment, which boasts a good pitcher’s park in Tropicana Field, MLB’s ninth-best offense in terms of TAv, and a great defense.

A great fantasy comparison for Cobb is Brandon Beachy, not in terms of repertoire, but in the sense that Beachy was a guy who managed excellent minor league numbers but lacked a dominating fastball and didn’t receive much hype. He had a good corps of secondary pitches, however, that allowed him to post an excellent rookie campaign in 2011. I can see Cobb following a similar path.

Put all this together, and you have a guy with good (if not great) stuff, solid control, lots of groundballs, a good park, and quality team support. Yeah, you can sign me up for that. I drafted Cobb in the CBS AL-only Experts League, and I’m excited he’s getting a shot so early in the season. If he’s not owned in your AL-only league yet, snatch him up immediately. Even in a deep mixed league Cobb could well have value. Ride him while Jeff Niemann is out, and I have a feeling you’ll be pleased with the results.

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moonlightj
6/04
Cobb throws a Sobsey's pieces at indyweek earlier in the season: "Cobb's changeup is an unusual one: It's a "split-change," he said afterward, rather than the circle-change Hellickson throws, and it functions quite like a sinker. Cobb's fastball sits at 90-91 mph; the changeup usually clocks in at about 84 mph. ("I rely more on the pitch action than on the speed differential," Cobb said.) And where Hellickson's changeup swerves and spins, Cobb's dives."
moonlightj
6/04
link died in the first post. Cobb throws a split-change http://cdn1.sbnation.com/photo_images/3444974/119763107_extra_large.jpg
dandaman
6/05
Would you rank Cobb ahead of any of the following: -Lilly -AJ Burnett - Dempster - D Hudson - Volquez If so whom? Might have to drop someone to pick him up, but I'm not convinced after his last start.
derekcarty
6/06
I probably take those five before him, especially since his role will likely be up in the air when Niemann returns.
kdierman
6/05
Cobb's last outing was a good one in that he actually had to battle through adversity and he did. This will give him confidence going forward.... He showed me more (makeup) in that outing than his two previous ones.
dfroslie
6/09
How would you order Cobb, Liriano, and Friedrich? All are available on my waiver wire for Saturday.