Help is Here

Probably the most important thing you can take away from draft day is this: you will always be able to find excellent pitching help on the waiver wire for the first couple of months of the season.  And I'm not just talking about a nice reliever to help rehabilitate your team WHIP.  I mean an impact pitcher who can mean the difference between fourth place and first.  Last year, for example, in all but the deepest leagues, Esteban Loaiza, Sidney Ponson, Dontrelle Willis and Brandon Webb were available after the draft.   If you were a regular reader of this website last May, you also got the heads up on Wilson Alvarez, Jeremi Gonzales, Eric DuBose, Rafael Soriano and Rich Harden.  Last year's plums were the rule not the exception and this year should be no different.  It's just a matter of getting to them first. 
As usual, this year's list is a mix of studly prospects, guys who were once studly prospects but had lost their way for a year or two, and some veterans who appear to have figured out what they need to do to get back to the majors.  All of them have talent and many have fairly obvious opportunities on the horizon to contribute.

Pitchers          TEAM    LVL    W  L    ERA   G  GS  GF     IP    H   ER   BB   SO  HR
Glendon Rusch *    CHC    AAA    2  0   1.89   4   4   0   19.0   18    4    1   16   0
Dan Reichert       MIL    AAA    1  0   1.37   8   0   2   19.2   17    3    4   15   1
Tanyon Sturtze      LA    AAA    2  0   2.74   4   4   0   23.0   16    7    8   20   0
Ryan Kohlmeier     CWS    AAA    1  1   2.28   4   4   0   23.2   16    6    5   21   1
Felix Diaz         CWS    AAA    4  0   2.01   5   5   0   31.2   23    7    3   29   3
Kyle Denney        CLE    AAA    3  0   2.16   4   4   0   25.0   19    6    6   25   0
Cliff Bartosh *    CLE    AAA    0  0   3.12   5   0   1    8.2    7    3    1   10   0
Dicky Gonzales      TB    AAA    1  0   1.64   4   4   0   22.0   15    4    3   26   0
Jorge Sosa          TB    AAA    0  1   6.00   1   1   0    3.0    3    2    0    9   0
Brandon Claussen * CIN    AAA    0  2   3.80   4   4   0   21.1   20    9    8   26   0
Matt Belisle       CIN    AAA    2  3   2.81   5   5   0   32.0   27   10    5   22   1
Matt Ginter        NYM    AAA    0  1   0.86   4   4   0   21.0   13    2    2   19   0
Brent Schoening    MIN    AAA    0  2   2.84   5   3   0   19.0   17    6    1   17   2
Justin Miller      TOR    AAA    1  1   2.16   3   3   0   16.2   16    4    4   21   2
David Bush         TOR    AAA    3  2   3.86   5   5   0   30.1   31   13    7   28   1
Adam Wainwright    STL    AAA    2  0   2.35   4   4   0   23.0   19    6    6   23   0
Ricardo Rodriguez  TEX    AAA    1  0   2.77   2   2   0   13.0   10    4    1   10   0
Zack Greinke        KC    AAA    0  1   3.68   3   3   0   14.2   13    6    3   12   1
Blaine Neal         SD    AAA    2  1   2.40  11   0   3   15.0   14    4    4   17   0
Chris Oxspring      SD    AAA    3  1   3.42   5   5   0   26.1   21   10   13   26   0
Joe Blanton        OAK    AAA    2  1   2.08   5   5   0   30.1   27    7    9   20   0
George Sherrill *  SEA    AAA    0  0   1.88   9   0   1   14.0   12    3    4   24   0
Bobby Madristch *  SEA    AAA    1  0   3.25   5   5   0   27.2   27   10    9   31   2

I feel like I'm taking crazy pills because I'm listing guys like Glendon Rusch, Ryan Kohlmeier, Dan Reichert and Tanyon Sturtze here.  Each of them has had extended looks in the majors and all of them have failed.  But just like last year with Wilson Alvarez, I had to list them because each appears to have conquered that which was the primary cause of their failures. 

In the case of Reichert, it was throwing strikes.  He has a history of struggling to throw his slider in the strikezone, and umpires have had a hard time calling it a strike when it did cross the plate because it's movement is so surprising.  But from the looks of it, he's getting it over the plate enough that hitters can't sit on his other offerings.  Milwaukee's feeble staff offers opportunities in the pen and the rotation, so he's a good bet to get some quality innings this year.

With Kohlmeier, Sturtze and Rusch, the problem has been keeping the ball in the park.  All three appear to have solved that issue while racking up some nice hits/IP and strikeout/walk ratios.

While Jon Rauch and Jason Grilli are pitching well in AAA Charlotte, it is Felix Diaz who appears to be the best candidate to fill a rotation opening on the South Side of Chicago.  The 23-year old is a legit prospect who's posted solid numbers at every level.  Neal Cotts will probably get the first shot to step into the rotation now that Dan Wright has been sent down, but Wright might not be the only current starter who gets demoted this year.  Diaz should be next in line to fill any vacancy.  Grilli and Rauch still have to work on one of the things that got Wright sent down: keeping the ball in the yard.

The Indians have not had much luck with their pitching yet, so Kyle Denney and Cliff Bartosh are almost guaranteed to see the majors soon.   Denney has posted very good, and occasionally exceptional numbers in his minor league career, although he has been older than his competition for most of it.   Still, he throws strikes and keeps the ball in the yard, which is more than can be said of the rest of the Cleveland staff.  They've collectively issued the 3rd most walks and 7th most home runs in the AL which is why they have the 4th worst ERA.  Bartosh is a hard-throwing lefty reliever out of the Padre organization (they preferred Eddie Oropesa?  yikes!).  He's had control problems and a severe one-year case of gopheritis in 2002, but the rest of his career numbers look very solid.  He also has experience closing out games so he has an outside chance for some saves.

It seems unlikely that Mark Hendrickson and Paul Abbott will continue to pitch as effectively as they have so far in Tampa, but the D-Rays are ready with two decent replacements in AAA: Dicky Gonzales and Jorge Sosa.  Once upon a time Gonzales was a highly touted Mets prospect.  He doesn't throw hard but he throws strikes and the D-Ray defense is rangy enough to cover up many of his mistakes.  Sosa, on the other hand, does throw hard.  He's spent the last couple of years ping-ponging from relief work to spot starter with mixed success.  He's a long shot to do anything special, but you have to like a guy who struck out every batter he faced who didn't get a hit off him, even if it was only one start.

The Reds starting staff has been good enough to keep them in the race in the early going and with Brandon Claussen and Matt Belisle in the wings, they aren't going to be fading anytime soon.  Neither pitcher is dominating, but both can be above average strikeout pitchers on a staff that has just one legit strikeout artist - Jose Acevedo.  Jung Bong, traded from the Braves this spring, also has a chance to make some noise but he'll need to do a better job of keeping the ball inside the fences before he gets his chance.

It's somewhat of an upset that Ken Williams has managed to keep his position as GM of the White Sox for as long as he has.  Matt Ginter is just one more example why.  Williams traded Ginter this spring for Timo Perez, despite already having Aaron Rowand and Jeremy Reed to play between Carlos Lee and Magglio Ordonez in the outfield.  Perez currently has an on base percentage of .273 and slugging of .290, while Ginter is mowing down AAA batters by the bushel for the Mets.  He's a hard thrower who just needed work on an offspeed pitch.  Whether he's perfected it enough to start regularly or not, he will help the Mets this year.

Depending on when Grant Balfour returns and how the Twins use him, they may still have an opportunity in the rotation for Brent Schoening.  Like Brad Radke, he has a bad history with home runs but appears to have turned the corner this spring.  Among the Twins farmhands, he and AA prospect JD Durbin have best chance of sticking in the rotation if given the shot.

Ideally, the Jays would like each of their recent acquisitions to their starting staff - Hentgen, Lilly and Batista - to pan out.  But realistically, they would still be ok if only one did because they have several studly starters waiting in the wings.  Justin Miller is the first to get a chance.  He's a year removed from shoulder surgery, but should get stronger as the season progresses.  Before the surgery, he was throwing in the mid-90s with hard sinking stuff and just a change-up away from becoming Roy Halladay Jr.  David Bush doesn't possess the same raw stuff, but makes up for it with polish.  Dustin McGowan, who is a combination of both stuff and polish, is pushing his way into the picture from AA but might not get a shot until next year.

The Cardinals traded JD Drew to get Adam Wainwright.  While they appear to be getting along well enough without Wainwright, who is currently toying with AAA hitters, there will come a point where the Cardinals will stop fooling themselves with Jeff Suppan.  It should come this year, but knowing Tony LaRussa's love for veterans they might wait until 2005.

The Rangers starting staff is not as good as their record, but RA Dickey and Joaquin Benoit are moving them in the right direction.  Ricardo Rodriguez will be another positive step once he returns from surgery to have his appendix removed.  He'll start throwing again in a couple of weeks and should get his chance at the Ranger rotation some time in June.  He could be the Rangers best starter in the second half.

If the Royals want any hope of competing for the Central division title this year, they need to get Zack Greinke into their rotation as soon as possible.  No one else in the division has dominating pitching, but the Royals' staff just plain stinks.  They have the 2nd worst ERA (only Colorado is worse) and have struck out the fewest batters of any team in the majors.  Affeldt is probably the only candidate guaranteed to get much better than he is now, but both Brian Anderson and Darrell May have been nearly this bad before.  They need Greinke.

As noted in an earlier article here, the Padres need to address problems in the bullpen and in their rotation.  Antonio Osuna has pitched better recently, but Blaine Neal, whom they acquired from Florida for Ben Howard, is posting excellent numbers in AAA and should be on the short list of call-ups.  Likewise, if Brian Lawrence doesn't get corrected soon - he's given up 4 runs or more in all but one of his starts and has allowed 50% more hits than innings pitched - Chris Oxspring and his plus curve should get the call.  Dennis Tankersley is also a possibility, but he has not quite ironed out his control issues yet.

I think Peter Gammons has gushed about Joe Blanton enough that most people know about him.  Compared favorably to Rich Harden, Blanton is doing nothing to dispel the notion that he's the next stud A's starter.

In addition to Rafael Soriano, who's close to returning and possibly forcing his way into their rotation, the Mariners have a pair of interesting pitchers who could have a similar impact to what Soriano did last year.  Bobby Madristch is a hard-throwing lefty who's story reads like a made-for-TV movie - Native American JC prospect leads the low minors in Ks, hurts his shoulder, misses 2 years to surgery, gets released, has to join the independent leagues to get noticed, then sets a league record for strikeouts in a season.  The M's outbid several teams for his services after his IL stint and may finally reap the rewards this year.  George Sherrill, who's more known for his coachability than his stuff, is another pitcher they signed from the independent leagues.  His stuff isn't bad; in fact it's probably slightly above average.  If he keeps striking out hitters at his current rate - 83 Ks in 66.2 professional innings since joining the M's organization last year - he'll get a chance to let major league hitters decide if it's good or bad this summer.

Obviously, there are other pitchers in the minors who will contribute this season, and some like Edwin Jackson (LA), John VanBenschoten (PIT), Clint Nageotte (SEA) and Jesse Crain (MIN) have significant upside.  But for now, those guys appear to need to work on a few things before they are ready for the majors.  The ones on this list, however, are ready to contribute quality innings now and should do so immediately if given the opportunity.