This time of year, many owners turn their attention to young pitchers getting their first tastes of big-league action in an effort to fill out the back-end of their dynasty-league rotations. Often times, pitchers who are unowned—even this late in the season—in deeper leagues can step in over the rest of the season and make enough of an impact to establish trade value over the winter or secure a place as keepers heading into the 2016 season.
Let’s take a look at three recent starting-pitcher callups who have a chance to establish themselves as back-end rotation options in dynasty leagues over the rest of the season:
Duffey was taken in the fifth round of the 2012 draft after closing while at Rice University and the Twins converted him into a starting role during the following season, giving him 18 starts between the Midwest and Florida State Leagues over which he struck out 94 in 121 innings. The 2014 season saw Duffey split time between three levels, bumping his workload up to 149 1/3 innings, in which he K’d 113 batters and walked 30, finishing at Triple-A Rochester. At the start of this season, Duffey was assigned to Double-A Chattanooga, where he made eight starts and posted a tidy 1.99 FIP, not allowing a single home run (in 52 2/3 IP) while posting the best strikeout rate of his career (9.2 K/9) to earn himself a promotion to Rochester. Duffey’s FIP while in the International League rose slightly to a still-solid 2.40 mark (this time allowing one home run 85 1/3 IP) over 14 starts, the product of a strong 3.78 K:BB ratio.
Duffey left a sour taste in the mouths of some owners after being thrown to the wolves in his major-league debut on August 5th, facing the Blue Jays at Toronto, taking on 13 hitters before completing two innings, giving up six earned runs on five hits, and joining the extensive list of pitchers who have been victimized via the long ball by Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista this season. The Twins sent Duffey back to Triple-A Rochester after the start and with the Twins fighting for the second Wild Card, it seemed unlikely that Duffey would be called upon before rosters expanded in September.
Then, Phil Hughes’ injured back required a disabled list stint and gave Duffey another chance in the rotation, and he’s been much more effective in his two starts since his recall, which have come against the Indians and Orioles. Duffey pitched 13 2/3 innings over the two starts, striking out 15 while allowing 11 hits and only two earned runs. Duffey has walked seven hitters over his first three outings (with five coming in his August 15th outing against Cleveland), puzzling for a pitcher with a minor-league walk rate of less than five percent.
Duffey’s fastball velocity has been about average over his first three major-league starts and the video below shows the quality of his curveball, which has the makings of a plus pitch:
The further development of Duffey’s changeup and cutter will determine whether his long-term role is in the rotation or the bullpen (an outlook discussed here by Chris Mellen last season) but his minor-league track record indicates that he has the arsenal to be successful at the big-league level, particularly while calling Target Field home. With Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco, and Phil Hughes under contract until at least the 2017 season, Duffey will have to fight his way past Kyle Gibson, Trevor May, and Tommy Milone to be a part of the 2016 rotation, with Jose Berrios knocking on the door as well. Continued good work over the rest of this season could go a long way in making his case.
Rea’s background was touched on in his Call-Up feature, but his appeal is largely based on the opportunity that he has to stick in a Padres rotation that figures to have significant turnover this winter. Every current Padres rotation member seemingly could be out the door this offseason as James Shields, Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner have all been featured in various trade rumors this summer. With Ian Kennedy’s contract expiring at the end of the season, there will likely be at least one or two rotation openings for 2016, and Rea is currently auditioning for one of them.
Rea posted killer numbers earlier this year while at Double-A San Antonio, allowing only 50 hits in 75 innings and only seeing one ball leave the yard, good for a 1.08 ERA. The 24-year-old Rea’s 2.34 FIP is first among starters (min. 50 IP) in the Texas League, where the amazing Julio Urias’ 2.58 mark is currently second, and his 5.45 K:BB ratio gives him the third-best number. The Pacific Coast League was understandably a much bigger challenge for Rea, but he still managed to keep the ball in the ballpark over the course of his six starts (two home runs allowed in 26 2/3 innings), though he struggled to the tune of a 4.65 FIP overall. The continued struggles of Odrisamer Despaigne earned Rea a call-up from Triple-A El Paso on August 11th, and he’s since made three starts at the big-league level.
Rea’s first three starts (all at home) have been a mixed bag, as he pitched effectively in winning his first two starts—facing the Reds (5 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 4 K) and the pathetic Braves offense (5 2/3 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K)—before struggling his last time out on August 23rd against the Cardinals, when he only completed four innings and gave up five runs (four earned) on five hits. Rea’s 3.20 FIP is much better than his 5.52 ERA, but his 5.69 DRA number shows he needs to make improvement in order to secure a spot in next year’s rotation. He should have the opportunity over the rest of the season to do so.
The Phillies acquired Eickhoff (who turned 25 in July) as part of their Cole Hamels haul and inserted him into their rotation on August 21st, when he made his major-league debut in Miami and impressed in working six scoreless innings of five-hit ball, striking out five non-Giancarlo Stanton Marlins. Eickhoff made his next start Wednesday night against the Mets, and pitched well after allowing three first-inning runs, finishing with six strikeouts over six innings, allowing six hits and four runs (three earned).
Kate Morrison of the BP Prospect Team identified the 6-foot-4 Eickhoff, a former 15th round pick, as a breakout candidate before the season and pegged him as a prospect whose results had yet to match up to his stuff to that point of his minor-league career. Eickhoff took a step forward in his second full season as a starter in 2013 at Myrtle Beach of the Carolina League (3.41 ERA in 21 starts) before moving to Double-A Frisco at the end of the season and pitching there exclusively over the course of the 2014 season; he posted a 4.08 ERA (3.83 FIP) in 26 starts at that level. It was at Frisco that Eickhoff, whose fastball typically sits between 92-95 mph, established the best K/9 mark (8.4) to that point in his career as a starter—a definite sign that things were heading in the right direction.
The Rangers gave him three starts at Double-A Frisco this season before moving him up to Triple-A Round Rock of the Pacific Coast League, where he made 17 starts. Eickhoff worked 101 2/3 innings at Round Rock before the trade, striking out 93, and allowing 95 hits while holding opponents to a .244 batting average, which was fifth among PCL starters (min. 100 IP).
Like the Padres, the Phillies figure to have at least a few rotation departures (Aaron Harang and Jerome Williams are almost certain to be elsewhere) heading into next season, giving Eickhoff a strong chance to join Aaron Nola as part of the 2016 Philadelphia rotation.