Help Is on the Way, 6th Edition
May 9, 2007

It's time once again for my annual column on pitchers waiting in the wings who are good candidates to contribute this year.  I missed doing this on the site last year because I had an appearance on ESPN news.  I relayed some of the info I was going to put in a column but never got around to writing the actual column.

Anyway, last year I talked about three players in my TV appearance.  The first one was Frank Thomas - I had to do a hitter for balance - when he was hitting about .210 with only a little bit of power.  That one turned out OK as Thomas finished in the top five in the AL MVP voting. 

The second guy was Matt Belisle.  That didn't work out as well because he went down with back troubles and was never really healthy.  Still, I liked him even in Cincy because he was the most groundball-oriented pitcher they had.  This year he's healthy and looking pretty good so far.  I don't think he's playing over his head, as this guy was the Braves' top pitching prospect about five years ago. 

The third guy I liked was Jorge Sosa.  He didn't fare well at all but I attribute that to never being given a chance to learn how to pitch.  In Tampa he was jerked between the rotation and the bullpen fairly frequently and before this year only had just barely 100 minor league innings total.  He's been learning while facing major league hitters, never an easy task.  But the guy has seriously good stuff and when the Mets demoted him to start the season I was pretty happy because he would finally get his chance to learn.  Unfortunately, the Mets couldn't wait too long to call him up but it's not because they were so desperate.  He earned his promotion and although he will have some rough outings, I think he'll turn out to be a pretty decent pitcher for them.

OK, so how about this year's crop?

Name              Team  W  L   ERA  G  GS  CG  SHO  SV   IP    H  R  ER  HR  HB  BB  SO  WHIP 
Adam Miller        CLE  3  0  2.32  5   5   1   0    0  31.0  25  9   8   0  3   11  30  1.16
Winston Abreu      WAS  1  0  0.50 10   0   0   0    1  18.0   6  1   1   0  0    8  29  0.78
Joel Hanrahan      COL  1  1  1.69  4   4   0   0    0  21.1  13  5   4   1  1    7  22  0.94
Andy Sonnanstine   TB   3  2  2.13  6   6   0   0    0  38.0  28 11   9   3  0    7  42  0.92
Tim Lincecum       SF   4  0  0.29  5   5   0   0    0  31.0  12  1   1   0  1   11  46  0.74
Yovani Gallardo    MIL  3  1  2.70  5   5   0   0    0  30.0  20  9   9   1  0    8  42  0.93
Jorge Sosa         NYM  4  0  1.13  5   5   0   0    0  32.0  29  6   4   1  0    4  29  1.03
Devern Hansack     BOS  1  3  3.77  5   5   0   0    0  28.2  30 15  12   3  0    6  34  1.26
Justin Germano     SD   4  0  1.69  5   5   0   0    0  32.0  23  7   6   0  1    3  20  0.81
Scott Baker        MIN  2  1  2.40  5   4   0   0    1  30.0  20  9   8   2  0    3  30  0.77
Kevin Slowey       MIN  3  1  1.38  5   5   0   0    0  32.2  21  6   5   1  1    2  31  0.70
Matt DeSalvo       NYY  3  0  1.05  5   5   0   0    0  25.2  15  3   3   0  2   13  23  1.09
Dustin McGowan     TOR  0  2  1.64  5   5   0   0    0  22.0  16  6   4   0  0    9  29  1.14

Name              Team  W  L   ERA  G  GS  CG  SHO  SV   IP    H  R  ER  HR  HB  BB  SO  WHIP 
Rick Vanden Hurk   FLA  0  0  3.00  2   2   0   0    0  12.0   9  5   4   1   0   4  14  1.08
Jack Egbert        CHW  3  2  1.46  6   6   0   0    0  37.0  21  6   6   0   1   5  35  0.70
David Purcey       TOR  3  1  3.23  5   5   1   1    0  30.2  20 12  11   2   3   7  31  0.88
Chase Wright       TRE  2  0  0.90  3   3   0   0    0  20.0   9  2   2   0   0   3  25  0.60
Dan Smith          MIS  3  2  2.41  6   6   0   0    0  33.2  24 10   9   1   0   9  32  0.98
Nick Adenhart      ARK  3  1  1.70  6   6   0   0    0  37.0  20  8   7   0   4  15  28  1.22

Adam Miller is pretty much on everyone's radar but has the bad fortune of being in Cleveland's farm system.  Not that it's a bad farm system (quite the contrary), but at this point the Tribe already has an abundance of starters.  There is a chance that he will pitch so well that the Cleveland front office will feel comfortable trading someone like Paul Byrd, but right now that possibility seems remote.  Still, with the way their starters are going down to injury, Miller might get his chance nonetheless. 

Winston Abreu used to be on prospect lists but is a little old for that now.  Still, he could be a useful piece of the bullpen in Washington.  At the rate the Nationals' starters are falling short of completing even six innings, they'll need a 10-man for the bullpen before long.  As an aside, I've been preaching patience with John Patterson but after his latest injury it's obviously time to sell him for this year and maybe for the foreseeable future.  Watching his last few outings, even when he had good innings his body language said "I have no confidence."  Joel Hanrahan might be a guy who could give the Nats some much needed innings.  A groundballer with decent strikeout rates in the minors, he's just what a team with excellent infield defense needs. 

Andy Sonnanstine has performed the best of a talented trio of starters for the Devil Rays Triple-A club.  Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann have gotten more press, but they lack his command of the strikezone.  He won't wow anyone with a radar gun but he has a good feel for pitching and gets enough strikeouts to be useful.

Tim Lincecum has been compared to a right-handed Sandy Koufax but that comparison if it ever comes to fruition is still years away.  The Giant’s hurler has posted some very impressive numbers in Triple-A but it was at the expense of inexperienced hitters.  His first major league start revealed that he has trouble throwing strikes with his breaking pitches and that he has a tendency to overthrow, costing his fastball velocity and movement.  There are few things major league hitters enjoy more than straight fastballs; they tend to become souvenirs.  Control issues punctuated by more than the occasional home run is not a good recipe for success.  Lincecum will eventually get there, but it’s probably best to avoid him this year. 

Milwaukee is being led by an impressive youth movement, with a cadre of potential All-Star hitters already making their presence felt and a few pitchers on the way led by Yovani Gallardo.  His heavy sinker/curveball combination produces fantasy gold: lots of strikeouts with very few homers allowed.

Devern Hansack made a big splash on the final day of the 2006 season by pitching 5 perfect innings against the Orioles before the games was rain-shortened.  He's not overpowering; more out of the Cuban pitcher mold of Orlando and Livan Hernandez making stuff up on the fly to get hitters out.  Still, he has been fairly effective and will provide quality innings regardless of his role in Boston.

Justin Germano has been kicking around Triple-A for sometime now.  He's a control pitcher in the Rick Reed mold: average stuff but has the guts of a cat burglar and knows how to set up hitters.  He should provide league average ERA and ratio which can be useful to ballast a staff that is going through tough times.

The Twins have a couple of guys who could capably fill in for Sidney Ponson when they tire of his lack of production.  Scott Baker you probably already know.  He's a decent #4 starter who throws strikes.  Kevin Slowey is a control artist who kind of reminds me of Brad Radke but without the gaudy totals of home runs allowed.

Matt DeSalvo impressed me with how well he pitched in his first start in Yankee Stadium.  His outing was lost on most people as that was the game that Roger Clemens announced that he will be returning to the Bronx to finish out this season.  It wasn't a sexy stat line with lots of strikeouts... well, in fact he didn't strike anyone out.  But he made smart pitches to almost every batter and never gave in to them.  He won't get much of a look once all the big money guys are healthy but he could turn some decent innings as a long reliever.

I've been a fan of Dustin McGowan for some time now and this is the year (I hope) that my faith is rewarded.  He still has a few things to learn about pitching, particularly on how to stretch his outings out by not revealing everything he has in his arsenal during the first couple of innings.  But there's no question he has the stuff to be a star and it's not like Tomo Ohka, Josh Towers and Victor Zambrano are going to force him back to the minors. 

There are some guys in Double-A I like as well.  I'm on record as saying Rick VandenHurk has everything he needs to be a star.  The Marlins had no need to rush him so it was the right move to let him get some innings in Double and Triple A this year.  But definitely keep an eye on this guy for next year and long term. 

Gio Gonzales gets all the press in Chicago, and there's no question he will be a major league starter soon.  But he still has problems with the gopherball and his control still needs work.  The guy in the White Sox system who might contribute this year is Jack Egbert, who's pitching brilliantly.  He has excellent control and has given up just 9 homers in more than 350 minor league innings.  He also has a career minor league strikeout rate of better than 7 per nine innings.

David Purcey is another guy in the Blue Jays system who has impressive stuff.  I can't wait to see how this team will do once they get McGowan and Purcey acclimated to go along with AJ Burnett and Doc Halladay.  That will be one nasty rotation.

Chase Wright made history when he allowed four consecutive home runs to the Red Sox during a Sunday night game a few weeks ago.  It's even more amazing balanced against the fact that he rarely gives up home runs.  He has yet to give up a homer this year in Double-A and gave up only 1 last year in nearly 120 innings in the Florida State League.  in fact, in over 500 innings in his minor league career he has surrendered just 18 dingers. 

After John Smoltz and Tim Hudson, the Braves are still searching for answers in their rotation.  Kyle Davies has had some good outings and Andrew Lerew had a strong showing his last time out.  But Chuck James and Mark Redman have not been impressive so there's opportunity for Dan Smith if he continues to pitch well.  He spent much of last season as a reliever but is back starting this year and has the kind of attributes that make for excellent fantasy plays if he gets the call-up.  For his career his has struck out better than 11 batters per nine innings and has given up just 11 homers in over 200 innings pitched.  The only negative has been that he walks a lot of guys but he seems to have gotten that under control so far this season.

The Angels are loaded in the rotation but that doesn't mean that Nick Adenhart won't get a chance if he can show better control.  Neither Bartolo Colon or Kelvim Escobar are good bets for an injury-free season and Jered Weaver has shown many of the cracks in his game that were predicted last year and in spring training right here.  If Adenhart shows better command, he could legitimately put up the kind of numbers that Weaver did last year.