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There never seems to be enough left-handed pitching to go around in the majors
and to progress through the playoffs, having a quality portsider is almost mandatory.
While the Oakland Athletics (Barry Zito and Mark Mulder) and the Los Angeles
Dodgers (Kaz Ishii and Odalis Perez) are blessed with two quality
southpaws, other clubs scrounge around to find just one.

Just like their MLB counterparts, minor league systems are bereft of
quality left-handed pitching. Each team might have one or two top-notch arms,
but finding teams that possess four or more solid left-handed pitchers is a
rarity. Here are three teams that can boast of both quality and quantity.

CLEVELAND INDIANS

At the time Cliff Lee
was acquired in the Bartolo Colon deal with Montreal,
he was the top pitcher in the Eastern League. The 23 year-old was hampered
early in his career by an inconsistent delivery which led to command problems,
but he’s done a better job repeating his motion in 2002. He has the standard four
pitch arsenal, with an 89-92 MPH fastball, a 71 MPH curveball, an 81 MPH slider,
and a 79 MPH change-up. He will use any of his pitches at each point in the
count and will throw strikes. He was 9-3 with a 3.58 ERA, a 3.7-1
strikeout-to-walk ratio, 10.7 K/9, and a .189 opponent batting average for two
Eastern League teams, and is 3-1 with a 3.30 ERA in five starts for Triple-A
Buffalo.

Billy Traber is another pitcher acquired via trade,
coming to Cleveland
in the Roberto Alomar deal
. He was a former number one pick by the Mets whose
debut was delayed by elbow surgery. He is a very polished pitcher who sets
up his pitches well and works slowly. He’ll work his 85-89 MPH fastball, 78 MPH
circle change-up, and 72 MPH curveball with regularity and will offer an 80 MPH
splitter for show. The 22 year-old has a slight hesitation to his 7/8 delivery
which gives hitters problems in picking up the baseball. He was an outstanding
13-2 with a 2.76 ERA, a 4-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, 7.2 K/9, and a .235
opponent batting average for Double-A Akron and is 2-3 with a 3.82 ERA in six
starts for Triple-A Buffalo.

Brian Tallet is a tall (6’7″) pitcher who has picked up his velocity
(89-92 MPH) since turning pro after a successful career at LSU. He has a very
nice 80 MPH slider that is murder on left-hand batters and does a fair job at
locating his fastball. His new 3/4 delivery is considerably more fluid than his
previous mechanics, where he threw across his body. The 25 year-old still needs
to sharpen his command (2-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio) and be more deceptive
with his change-up. At Double-A Akron, he was 10-1 with a 3.08 ERA, 6.4 K/9,
and a .233 opponent batting average and is 1-1 with a 3.42 ERA in four starts
for Triple-A Buffalo. Getting stronger and registering more strikeouts will be
key for him.

Alex Herrera is small in stature (5’10”), but has a plus fastball, in the
low 90s with late movement. His 80 MPH slider has the potential to be another
solid pitch and he does a nice job at working low in the strike zone. The 25
year-old registered nine saves with a 3.38 ERA, a 2.5-1 K/BB ratio, 9.6 K/9, and a
.200 opponent batting average at Double-A. He shows plenty of confidence on the
mound and projects as a successful situational reliever.

SAN DIEGO PADRES

Mark Phillips was out of shape when he reported to spring training, which
set him back a month, but is getting better with every outing. He is 8-8 with a
4.60 ERA, 8.9 K/9, and a .221 opponent batting average at Single-A Lake
Elsinore. His walk rate (87 walks in 123.1 innings) is his worst enemy, which
has caused him to be inefficient, running up high pitch counts and leading to
early fatigue. The 20 year-old doesn’t have much polish in pitching or fielding
his position, but he has dynamic movement to his pitches. His out pitches are a
fastball in the low 90s, and a curveball that flutters in in the mid-70s, and
he’s fine tuning his change. He has a solid pitcher’s build, but needs to get
more serious about his trade.

Eric Cyr has thrown well when his pitching hasn’t been interrupted by
injury (elbow and shoulder) and off-field distractions. With an athletic,
slender build and a smooth delivery, he gets good movement to his 88-92 MPH
fastball and 75 MPH knuckle-curve. His 79 MPH slider and 78 MPH sinking change-up
have the potential to be good pitches, but he doesn’t disguise them well, making
him reluctant to throw them when behind in the count. The 23 year-old shows a
lot of poise on the mound and knows how to set up hitters. At Double-A Mobile,
he is 4-6 with a 3.24 ERA, a 1.9-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, 8.1 K/9, and a .222
opponent batting average. He has just started pitching again, after spending
time on the DL.

Mike Bynum is back on the prospect map again, after struggling with a
knee injury and his command in 2001. The 24 year-old has one of the better
breaking pitches in the minors – a slow slider that breaks extremely hard. His
88-91 MPH fastball is good enough to keep hitters from just sitting on breaking
stuff, and Bynum’s increasing the use of his change-up. He blistered Double-A
hitters, going 4-0 with an insane 0.82 ERA before getting promoted to Triple-A
Portland, where he is currently 3-2 with a 3.69 ERA. His overall command (4.3-1
strikeout-to-walk ratio) is outstanding, though he does have trouble with
right-handed batters. A relief role will suit him fine if the rotation presents
a problem.

Rusty Tucker has simply been dominant all season, saving 22 games with a
1.31 between Single-A Lake Elsinore and Single-A Ft. Wayne. The 22 year-old is
not an imposing figure, but has a vicious fastball that reaches the high
90s, complemented by an 80 MPH slider, both thrown from a drop-and-drive
delivery. His peripheral numbers back up his ERA, showing a 3.7-1
strikeout-to-walk ratio, 12.1 K/9, and a .175 opponent batting average. He
pitches very aggressively and has such good command of his fastball and
resilience that it would be a waste to use him just for situational purposes.
The Padres really need to get him to the upper levels to get a better read on
his dominance, but he looks to be the real deal.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

Francisco Liriano made dramatic improvements to his mechanics and pitched
so well in the first half that he represented San Francisco and the Dominican
Republic in the Futures Game. The 18 year-old has an extremely live arm, with
an explosive 92-96mph fastball that can stand on its own. His 79mph curveball
and change-up are not polished pitches, but he’ll have time to work on them. He
missed a few starts due to elbow soreness, but has been effective, going 3-6
with a 3.49 ERA, a 2.7-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, 9.6 K/9, and a .203 opponent
batting average. The Giants have had him on a pitch count to protect his arm
and will obviously need to fill-out his lanky frame.

Eric Threets, 20, throws harder than any left-hander in organized
baseball, reportedly reaching triple-digits with his fastball. The big-bodied
pitcher works more comfortably in the 92-97 MPH range and has a nasty 83 MPH
slider that needs better command. The Giants changed his delivery upon signing
from a sidearm motion to a high 3/4 delivery, resulting a smoother arm action and
improved overall command. He was cruising along at Single-A San Jose with a
1.86 ERA and 11.7 K/9 before an elbow injury caused him to take a couple of
beatings, lifting his ERA to 7.79. If he can straighten things out and stay
injury-free, Threets has an extremely high upside.

Ryan Hannaman is the third Giants’ pitcher with an electric fastball. He
features a 91-96 MPH fastball, an 82 MPH slider, and a change-up. More athletic
than Liriano and Threets, he was extremely raw when San Francisco got him, but
has done a better job at repeating his delivery and improving his command. At
Class-A Hagerstown, he is 6-6 with a 3.14 ERA, a 2.9-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio,
9.8 K/9, and a .257 opponent batting average. The 20 year-old will battle
hitters relentlessly, but has a tendency to try to overpower everyone, and ends
up leaving pitches in the middle of the zone. He needs to improve his secondary
pitches and set up hitters more effectively.

Noah Lowry is the perfect complement to the hard throwers, as the
Pepperdine product is extremely polished and possesses a repertoire more like
Jamie Moyer than Billy Wagner. The 21 year-old gets good movement from his
87-91 MPH fastball, but it is his 74 MPH curveball and his ability to change
speeds that keeps hitters off-balance. He has wrestled with shoulder problems
for the past two years, possibly stemming from being overworked as a collegian,
and he is on a pitch count as well. He is 3-5 with a 3.03 ERA, a 3.2-1
strikeout-to-walk ratio, 9.5 K/9, and a .200 opponent batting average at
Single-A San Jose. Stamina is an issue with him right now, but Lowry could
progress rapidly through the system if his shoulder is sound.

Deric McKamey is a minor league analyst for Baseball HQ and Street & Smith’s
publications. He can be reached at dmckamey@wcoil.com.