Help Is On The Way, 8th edition.
May 26, 2010

Unless you haven't been following baseball for the last two years, you already know that Stephen Strasburg is the next big thing in young pitching.  The hype-machine has been in overdrive as his major league debut approaches, but unlike many other uber-prospects there is a great deal of substance behind all the breathiness.  Once he is called up, I expect he'll have an even greater impact on his team's fortunes, both real and fantasy, that Tommy Hanson had last year. 

But the Nationals aren't the only team that has pitching prospects that can help their team this year.  So without further adieu, here are the minor league pitchers who have caught my eye so far this season.

Name                    Team W L ERA  G  GS CG SV  IP   H  R  ER HR HB BB SO WHIP
Rudy Owens              ALT  3 2 3.35 8  8  0  0  45.2  39 18 17 3  2  8  43 1.03
Matt Klinker            CAR  4 3 1.63 9  9  0  0  55.1  43 13 10 1  5  11 53 0.98
Daryl Thompson          CAR  0 2 3.44 7  7  0  0  34.0  21 13 13 2  0  7  38 0.82
Jordan Lyles            CC   4 3 3.00 9  9  1  0  57.0  49 20 19 4  3  13 47 1.09
Douglas Arguello        CC   5 3 2.45 9  9  2  0  58.2  50 18 16 0  3  13 49 1.07
Carlos Hernandez        DUR  3 2 2.31 9  9  0  0  46.2  40 21 12 4  3  19 40 1.26
Jeremy Hellickson       DUR  7 2 2.79 10 10 0  0  58.0  53 19 18 2  4  12 60 1.12
Blake Beavan            FRI  6 2 2.88 9  9  0  0  56.1  43 18 18 3  1  9  37 0.92
Thomas Diamond          IOW  3 1 2.01 9  9  0  0  49.1  35 13 11 5  1  19 45 1.09
Alejandro Sanabia       JAX  5 0 1.72 9  9  0  0  57.2  40 13 11 1  2  11 49 0.88
Travis Wood             LOU  2 4 4.15 9  9  0  0  56.1  53 30 26 7  2  17 57 1.24
Matt Maloney            LOU  4 1 2.72 8  8  0  0  39.2  33 13 12 2  2  8  43 1.03
Mike Minor              MIS  1 3 3.44 9  9  0  0  49.2  37 26 19 4  1  24 72 1.23
Barry Enright           MOB  2 1 2.96 8  8  1  0  51.2  44 20 17 3  1  10 40 1.05
Simon Castro            SA   3 1 1.75 9  8  0  0  51.1  34 17 10 3  2  15 41 0.95
Andrew Cashner          TNS  3 1 2.75 6  6  1  0  36.0  22 12 11 1  0  13 42 0.97
Michael Pineda          WTN  3 1 2.23 8  8  0  0  44.1  40 12 11 1  2  11 54 1.15
Dan Hudson              CHA  5 2 4.47 9  9  0  0  48.1  50 28 24 7  2  14 59 1.32

The Pirates won't be contending for the division this year, but they may take a look at their future sometime before the end of the season... more sooner than later if Charlie Morton and Daniel McCutcheon continue to pitch batting practice.  Rudy Owens is not particularly young for his level, nor is he overpowering but he's putting together a nice run that should get him a look before September.  Morton might be better suited to the bullpen anyway with his power stuff.  Think of Owens as Zach Duke 2.0.

Aroldis Chapman has garnered most of the attention in the Reds' minor league system, but there are four other pitchers who might make the majors before he does.  Matt Klinker and Daryl Thompson grade out more toward the organizational pitcher mold than true prospects, but both are having excellent seasons in AA and might get a look.  The plus side is that both of them have outgrown the concern that Dusty might overwork their arms.  In AAA, Travis Wood and Matt Maloney have been on the prospect radar for some time and are pitching well enough to get the call to the Reds' rotation should GM Walt Jocketty deal Harang or Arroyo for prospects.  Neither is overpowering but both could develop into quality left-handed middle-of-the rotation starters.

I still find it hard to believe that Jordan Lyles is still only 19-years old, which means there's still a possibility that his velocity could improve.  For a 19-year old to be pitching this well in the hitter friendly Texas League... well, it doesn't take a genius to guess who will get a call-up in pitching desperate Houston.  Or at least who should get the call-up.  That Baseball America had him ranked behind Jason Castro and Jiovanni Mier only shows that even the best prospect evaluators miss badly on occasion.  He's got three above average pitches and clean mechanics.  In short, he's Roy Oswalt only bigger (about 6' 4"). 

Douglas Arguello is a little old for the level but what caught my eye was the number under the "HR" category... 0, as in zero home runs allowed this season.   He's definitely worth keeping an eye on if he can continue this sucess.

If Carlos Hernandez' name sounds familiar, it's probably because he was a top pitching prospect with Houston a few years ago.  Arm troubles set his career back but he appeared to be back in top form this spring with his new team, the Tampa Bay Rays.  Only one problem: the Rays have a pretty solid young rotation already.  I'm not convinced Wade Davis is the answer so Herhandez might get another shot this year if Tampa's other uber-arm is not ready for the show.   Hernandez still might get a break if the Rays deal him for some help with the big club.  But as it stands now, the guy who will get the call is Jeremy Hellickson.  He's not overpowering, but neither is he a soft-tosser.   He's got the stuff to be a solid #2 for most rotations.  Command was an issue earlier in his career - it's not that he wasn't throwing strikes, but that the strikes he was throwing were too fat - but he seems to be coming to terms with that bugaboo.

The Texas Rangers have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to young arms.  Neftali Feliz and Derrek Holland are already in the majors but in AA they have two very promising arms who should be contributing no later than next year: Martin Perez and Blake Beavan.  Coming into this season, Perez was regarded as one of the two or three most talented lefties in the minors.  The 19-year old has his hands full at the moment with AA hitters, but his teammate Beavan seems to be cruising right along.  Beavan's stuff is a tick above average but as you can see control is a strength. 

Thomas Diamond began his career with the Rangers but now finds himself in the Cubs organization.  The road to the big league rotation might be a little jammed this year, but he was a closer in college and might find his way to the big club as a reliever.  He has the power stuff to set-up or close if given the chance.

If you were to ask me which organization is the best at developing young pitchers, the Florida Marlins would certainly be in the discussion.  They have one more in the pipeline in AA, 21-year old Alejandro Sanabia.   His performance before this season had not been remarkable, but this year he seems to be putting it all together.  If the Marlins decide to pull the plug on the Nate Robertson experiment, Sanabia might be the guy who gets the call.

It's amazing what an extra 2 or 3 miles per hour on a fastball will do for a guy.  Mike Minor was throwing in the high 80s last year and got cuffed around in the Arizona Fall league as a result.  This spring, however, he's been throwing in the low 90s and suddenly he looks like Tommy Hanson, part deaux.  He was considered a big overdraft when the Braves took him at #7 last year but it's looking more like that was just about where he deserved to be taken.  The Braves rotation hasn't been as solid as many anticipated so they might call on Minor for a boost if they can't figure out how to fix Kawakami, Lowe and Jurrjens. 

The Diamondbacks are another team that has had disappointing results with their pitching.  Barry Enright is a little older than most players who are still considered prospects at AA, but he's proved to be a durable workhorse in his last two years and should make a serviceable innings eater if the D-backs give him the opportunity.  He's a pitch to contact pitcher so his success will depend on the defense behind him.

There has been some discussion as to whether Simon Castro would make a better starter or closer, but at this point there's really no need to move him out of the rotation.  He has two plus pitches - fastball and slider - and what will determine his success as a starter is the continued development of his change.  If he can make it at least a respectable pitch, he profiles as a #2 starter and would give the Padres an intimidating young tandem with Mat Latos.  If not, his fastball and slider are good enough to make him a top flight closer.

Andrew Cashner is another pitching prospect who's merited considerable buzz.  He's drawn comparisons to Kerry Wood both for his size and his stuff, but I'm not sure the comparison is valid.  He's much older than Wood was at this point in his career, largely because Wood was drafted out of high school whereas Cashner was a collegiate pitcher at TCU.  But neither does Cashner have Wood's gaudy strikeout numbers in the minors so his stuff appears to be just a tick below Wood's.  He hasn't pitched a lot of professional innings in part due to injuries but thankfully last year's was due to a strained lat and not any arm or shoulder troubles.  He's doing fine at this level as a starter but many feel he'll end up in the bullpen, just like Wood

I know that Dustin Ackley has gotten all the press in the Seattle system, but Michael Pineda is probably their best prospect.  I'll admit, I was never much of a believer in Ackley esepcially after watching him in the Arizona Fall League, but I don't want to take anything away from Pineda.  He's a big guy with good velocity, movement and command of three pitches - fastball, slider and change - and a good feel for pitching.  The only thing holding him back is his elbow, which has had bouts of soreness in the past.  So far (fingers crossed) he's been healthy this year and if his elbow holds up he should merit at least a cup of coffee with the Mariners this year. 

I saved Dan Hudson for last because his numbers in AAA belie a very promising starting pitcher.  He has struck out at least 8 batters in a game four times despite the fact that his starts don't usually go longer than 6 innings.  And while sometimes gaudy minor league strikeout numbers are due to polish or an exploit pitch, Hudson has the legitimate dominating stuff be a strikeout pitcher in the majors.  There were outings this spring where he looked like the White Sox best pitcher but then he would follow that up with a real clunker.  That pattern has continued with a mediocre start followed by a dominating shut-out.  Remove his worst start by far - a one inning outing against Columbus where he surrendered 9 earned runs - and his ERA (2.85) would look much more in line with his ability.  But physical ability isn't what's keeping him down. As noted before consistency is, and that is usually due to a lack of focus.  If and when he masters the mental aspect of the game, he should have an immediate impact in the majors.  Until then, buyer beware.