The 5th Annual "Help is on the Way" column
May 21, 2005

Every May I write about players - predominantly pitchers - who are having fine seasons in the high minors that if given the chance can help their big league clubs and as a byproduct, help fantasy teams in need.  Most of them don't make an impact due to lack of opportunity.  But many, like Glendon Rusch, Tanyon Sturtze, David Bush, Ricardo Rodriguez (before he was hurt), Zach Greinke, Joe Blanton and Bobby Madritsch last year do contribute a significant number of quality innings to be worth rostering.  There have already been some guys make their first appearances in the majors who will very likely grow into larger roles as the year progresses.  They include Jon Rauch (WAS), Tim Stauffer (SD), Seth Etherton (OAK), DJ Carrasco (KC), Julio Santana (MIL) and Jorge Campillo (SEA).  Even though Stauffer is the only one of those assured of a starter's role, each could provide a significant number of quality innings.

Without any further fanfare or horn-blowing, here are this year's guys:

NAME                TEAM  W    L    ERA    G   SV    IP     H    R    ER    BB    SO   SO/9
*Tallet, Brian       CLE  3    0   2.68    8    0   40.1   32   12    12    13    31    6.9
McCarthy, Brandon    CHW  3    4   4.72    8    0   47.2   47   26    25    14    61   11.5
*Duke, Zach          PIT  7    2   3.32    9    0   57.0   59   22    21    10    37    5.8
Snell, Ian           PIT  6    0   3.48    8    0   51.2   36   20    20    10    52    9.1
*Keisler, Randy      CIN  3    1   2.59    8    1   41.2   38   13    12     9    38    8.2
Baker, Scott         MIN  1    0   1.74    6    0   31.0   29    6     6     9    23    6.7
Bonser, Boof         MIN  3    1   3.48    8    0   44.0   41   22    17    12    42    8.6
Gaudin, Chad         TOR  2    1   2.35    8    0   53.2   40   17    14    11    37    6.2
Rosario, Francisco   TOR  2    3   3.02    8    0   44.2   32   17    15    19    38    7.7
Douglass, Sean       DET  5    1   3.07    8    0   44.0   35   15    15    13    45    9.2
Miadich, Bart        FLA  2    1   2.84   18    5   19.0   15    7     6    11    34   16.1
Medders, Brandon     ARZ  1    1   3.06   17    4   17.2   15    6     6     6    23   11.7
Cain, Matt            SF  3    2   3.50    8    0   46.1   28   20    18    26    52   10.1
Gissell, Chris       STL  3    3   2.82    8    0   51.0   39   20    16    15    50    8.8
Reyes, Anthony       STL  5    1   2.44    8    0   55.1   35   16    15     9    48    7.8
Wainwright, Adam     STL  4    1   1.82    8    0   54.1   49   12    11     6    45    7.5
*Riley, Matt         TEX  0    0   0.00    1    0    3.0    1    0     0     1     5   15.0
Rodriguez, Ricardo   TEX  4    3   3.48    8    0   54.1   46   26    21    16    35    5.8
Hernandez, Felix     SEA  5    3   3.05    8    0   44.1   35   16    15    21    42    8.5

Cleveland's Jake Westbrook and Scott Elarton have both struggled this season.  Westbrook was extremely lucky with his performance last year, but this kind of karmic equalizing is a little extreme and the truth is he's pitched considerably better than his results this season.  Elarton is still a work in progress but shows signs of breaking through.  However, if either one can't get on track, there is an alternative in AAA.  Brian Tallett understands about pitching under the kind of scrutiny he'll face in the majors having pitched the championship game for LSU in the 2000 College World Series.  He's not overpowering but does a pretty decent job of keeping the ball inside the park.  He missed a large portion of last year recovering from Tommy John surgery, but showed his velocity was all the way back in the AAA playoffs. 

Brandon McCarthy made an impression on a lot of people with his performance in spring training this year.  With Orlando Hernandez spotty history of staying healthy, it was only a matter of time before he got his chance to start.  That chance will come this weekend.  He pitches off a 90 mph fastball and has great confidence in his other pitches.  So far he's posted superb numbers in AAA with one exception: his home run rate which is on the high side.  That's a bit of a surprise given that his previous record shows no such flaw.  And it's not exactly a deal breaker as there are a number of pitchers who have been successful despite surrendering a high rate of homers: Brad Radke, Bartolo Colon and Jamie Moyer to name a few.

Pittsburgh has a pair of solid hurlers in Zach Duke and Ian Snell.  Both have above average velocity and command, but unfortunately the Pirates problems aren't so much with the rotation - Oliver Perez notwithstanding - but with the offense.  Still, Perez' struggles may create an opportunity and the Pirates won't figure in the playoff hunt unless they can start scoring more runs so they could trade a highly marketable lefty like Mark Redman to open up a spot. 

I included Randy Keisler on this list despite the fact that I think he's another in a long list of highly over-rated (former) Yankee prospects.  Still, his numbers in AAA merit a chance to prove me wrong in Cincinnati, especially given the horror show that's been playing on the mound all season at Great America Ballpark.  While Keisler won't be the savior the staff needs, he should be able to stem much of the run hemorrhaging from Paul Wilson, Eric Milton and Ramon Ortiz.  Unfortunately, none of those guys are likely to lose their spot in the rotation as they are getting paid too much to pitch out of the pen.  But it's not like Brandon Claussen (another ex-Yankee prospect) has been that great either so at least there will be some sense of uniformity when Keisler gets his shot.

Coming into this season, the Twins rotation looked a lot like Santana, Radke, then pray for structural damage to the dome.  But Carlos Silva is showing that last year was just the beginning of a solid career and Joe Mays has pitched increasingly well in his return from missing a season due to surgery.  So the question then becomes can Kyle Lohse hold on to his spot?  Gardenhire is notoriously loyal to his veterans so Lohse will be given every chance to prove he can't pitch in the rotation, even if it means his ERA remains bloated.  This was proven two years ago when Mays was pitching injured with an ERA over 7 while Johan Santana was languishing in the bullpen.  This may be a case of history repeating itself because both Scott Baker and Boof Bonser are pitching very well in AAA, yet the only chance they'll get at a rotation spot this year is if someone goes down with an injury.  Baker passed last year's Twins hot pitching prospect JD Durbin on the depth chart with a terrific spring, and Bonser, who came to the team along with Joe Nathan last year in exchange for AJ Pierzinski, appears to have passed him as well.  Baker will get the first shot as Bonser still has some work to do keeping the ball in the park.  Both have outstanding futures in the Twin cities if Gardenhire ever softens his prejudice against young players.

Ted Lilly's last start was a positive sign that he's turning his poor start around so the Blue Jay rotation appears to be set for now.  However, the league is starting to catch on to Gustavo Chacin and the thin line that Josh Towers is treading - few baserunners despite poor velocity and a high home run rate - likely won't last the full season.  In their places would step Chad Gaudin and/or Francisco Rosario.  Like Towers, Gaudin has excellent control but he can occasionally simulate that he's pitching 90 mph.  He has a good slider and as long as his change-up is working, he can be effective.  Rosario, on the other hand, has the stuff to be dominating.  His biggest obstacle has been repeating solid mechanics.  Once he gets that, his star should rise very quickly.  Currently he's discovering that even AAA hitters can turn on a mid-90s fastball but that shouldn't stop him from making an appearance in Toronto this year.

Like Gaudin, Sean Douglass isn't a hard-thrower by any stretch.  But he knows how to pitch and only Jeremy Bonderman and Jason Johnson seem to have their spots in the Tiger rotation assured.  Wil Ledezma, Nate Robertson and Mike Maroth have each pitched better recently so the likelihood of a change in the rotation isn't very high at this point.  But the threat of injury is ever-present and Douglass would be the most competent beneficiary.

I don't normally include relievers in this list primarily because minor league closers rarely become major league closers upon promotion.  However, two guys to keep an eye on are Bart Miadich (FLA) and Brandon Medders (ARZ), both of whom could get a chance to save games this year.  Miadich's ridiculously high strikeout rate this season is well over his career average, although even that was better than a batter per inning.  His problem has always been walks but in being able to strike out nearly two batters per inning, it doesn't pose as much of a problem.  The Marlins are the fifth organization that's taken a chance on his power arm, which may pay off if Guillermo Mota doesn't come back strong.  Leaving the closing duties to Todd Jones or Antonio Alfonseca is no less risky than giving Miadich a shot. 

For now, it appears that Brian Bruney will be the closer in Arizona.  And he has the skill set to keep the job even when Brandon Lyon returns.  Still, having the skills to do the job and the mental temperament to handle being the goat occasionally can be two different things.  So if the D-backs find themselves looking for a closer again this year, Medders might be considered.  Although he wasn't listed among the top 30 prospects in the D-backs system by Baseball America, that may be due as much to the presence of studs like Carlos Quentin and Conor Jackson as a lack of exceptional numbers from Medders.  His career 10 Ks per 9 innings would have stood out much more had it not been for a moderately high walk rate (3.29) and a high ERA (4.26) for a reliever. 

Matt Cain is the next great San Francisco pitching prospect, although frankly, I'm still waiting on the first.  Russ Ortiz, Shawn Estes, Jason Grilli, Kurt Ainsworth (am I boring you yet?), Sean McGowan, Ryan Vogelsong, Jesse Foppert, Jerome Williams, Ryan Hannaman (are there any GMs out there who are paying attention?), Noah Lowry, Brad Hennesey... if you'd like to tell Giant's GM Brian Sabean what a genius he is, please send all correspondence to:

Peter Gammons
Bristol, Connecticut

because the publicity he gets on Baseball Tonight from Gammons' frequent soliloquies on drafting power arms to trade and Sabean's superior ability to do so have made him what he is today.  I didn't include Scott Linebrink or Joe Nathan because they aren't starting pitchers anymore.  So if you want to call the Giants "the breeding ground for great relievers", feel free.  In the meantime, Cain is the best they have on the farm and appears to be the best of the bunch, although how much that is saying remains to be seen.  What is important is the Giants aren't going to be competitive this year so there's really no good reason why Jeff Fassero should stay in the rotation.  Matt Cain will get his chance this year. 

My friend Brian Walton would kill me - ok, he doesn't have the temperament for murder, but he'd send me a nasty email threatening to use four letter words - if I didn't include three pretty solid starting prospects working at the Cardinals' AAA club in Memphis.  Adam Wainwright gained some notoriety last year when the Braves traded him to the Cardinals in exchange for JD Drew's one good season.  Anthony Reyes has gotten a decent amount of pub from the minor league set for some very solid years pitching at USC and for a remarkable season last year in AA when he struck out 102 batters in 74.1 innings.  But the guy whose record most impresses me is Chris Gissell, who somehow managed to go 14-2 with a 3.67 ERA and only give up 11 homers last year in 90.2 innings at AAA Colorado Springs.  Here's a guy who figured out how to pitch at altitude.  Two questions one must ask in light of that realization: 1) how much easier do the Cubs, Pirates or Astros hitters look at sea level when you've pitched in a place where bunt pops go over the wall, and 2) what were the Rockies smoking when they decided to let this guy go?  Truth be told, Gissell is by far the oldest of the three - he's 27, Wainwright is 23 as is Reyes - so he has the least upside long term.  And despite their recent injury history, the guys in the Cardinals starting rotation are reasonably sturdy so the chance that any of these three getting an extended chance to start games isn't very good.  But they aren't bad alternatives is something were to happen.

The Rangers are currently hanging close to the Angels in the AL West despite having a rotation that includes Kenny Rogers, Pedro Astacio, Chan Ho Park and Ryan Drese.  OK, even when writing that I have to pause in awesome wonder.  If I remember correctly, the reason the Rangers traded ARod to the Yankees was free up enough money so they could bolster their starting pitching corps.  And this is what they came up with.  This tells me two things: 1) Buck Showalter is either the Satan's pawnbroker for souls because just one isn't a sufficient enough price for this miracle, or he's a complete genius when it comes to handling pitchers (or both), and 2) the Rangers front office is comprised of 20 monkeys locked in a room banging away on 20 typewriters and any time they come up with a legible name, owner Tom Hicks gives that guy a contract. 

That said, there should be some opportunity for some minor league pitchers to get a chance this season in Arlington.  At the top of the list is Ricardo Rodriguez, who debuted with the team last year before suffering a broken elbow on a freak play in June.  Back and healthy, he's had several outstanding outings in AAA Oklahoma and was rumored to be promoted if Astacio had one more bad outing.  Astacio righted his ship for the time being, but with the cast of characters currently taking the mound Rodriguez' return is a matter of when, not if.  Juan Dominguez is another promising young arm who should get a chance but currently finds himself in AA due to disciplinary issues.  One other intriguing possibility is Matt Riley.  The O's gave up on him finally after years of frustration; even Ray Miller could not get him to begin to realize his potential.  He failed in the bullpen in Texas earlier this year, but is pitching well back in AAA.  The talent has always been there to become a very good starter; it's only been a matter of drive. 

And finally, the pitcher everyone has been waiting to see, Felix Hernandez.  The Mariners have been content to let him stay in AAA Tacoma this season and since there's no way one prospect could fill all the holes the Mariners have in their rotation no matter how good he is, it's not a bad plan.  He'll have plenty of years dominating major league hitters; one half season isn't going to make that big of a difference.  Besides, there have been occasions this season where the opposing batters did actually string together enough hits to score runs.  Not many mind you, but it was enough that everyone could chalk it up as a learning experience.  Hernandez will likely get a chance to show his stuff in Seattle this September.