Fantasy Futures: Rookie Pitchers

May 6, 2009

Though our top two pitching prospects are still in the minors – David Price and Tommy Hanson – a startling number of elite prospects opened the 2009 season in the big leagues. Here are some pitching prospects who are well worth keeping an eye on this season:

David Price: As the no-doubt No. 1 overall pick of the 2007 draft, David Price has been expected to excel since he turned pro. With a low-to-mid 90s fastball, a hard slider, a plus changeup, and great mechanics (source), he has the repertoire expected of true ace. As with Matt Wieters, he is big-league ready right now, and the Rays are likely keeping him in the minor leagues only to delay his arbitration clock. Expect a call-up in late May, at which point Price could become a mainstay in the Tampa Bay rotation the second he arrives. He has the talent to perform as a No. 3 starting pitcher for your fantasy rotation as soon as he lands in the majors. ‘09 Prediction: 135 IP, 11 W, 110 K, 3.90 ERA, 1.25 WHIP

Tommy Hanson: While not highly touted heading into the 2008 season, Hanson was impressive in High-A and Double-A and even more impressive in the Arizona Fall League. After ranking as a consensus Top 25 prospect entering 2009, the question of Hanson’s arrival is not if, but when. His fastball can touch the mid 90s, and he has a knee-buckling curveball to go along with a changeup and a slider that’s still a work in progress . He has some trouble keeping the ball on the ground, which could really cause him some trouble. Behind an experienced Atlanta rotation, Hanson will most likely have to wait for an injury to get a spot in the rotation. He should be up by mid-season, at which point you should use him as a No. 5 starting pitcher for your fantasy team. ’09 Prediction: 120 IP, 9 W, 100K, 4.40 ERA, 1.40 WHIP

Rick Porcello: Though he was the top prep pitcher in the 2007 draft – by signing bonus – the fact that Porcello is already in the major leagues has as much to do with the Tigers’ dearth of viable pitching options than his readiness. Prior to this season, he hadn’t thrown an inning above High-A. Because of this, and lack of polish with his curveball and changeup, his season should be filled with ups and downs. That being said, his ground-ball rate is elite for any prospect, especially given that he was one of the youngest prospects at his level last season. Porcello profiles as an ace down the road, but you shouldn’t expect him to perform like one this season. Use him as a reserve option for your fantasy team, starting him only when he gets favorable matchups. ’09 Prediction: 180 IP, 10 W, 100 K, 4.50 ERA, 1.40WHIP

Derek Holland: Holland headlines what could be a very productive tandem of pitchers for the Rangers in the near future. Already in the big leagues, Holland is currently working out of the bullpen, as the Rangers attempt to limit his workload this season, and to allow him to get acclimated to facing major leaguers – he has currently had only 5 starts above A-ball. Sporting a mid-90s fastball and a potential plus slider, in addition to a changeup he hasn’t been throwing out of the bullpen, Holland has the potential to be a front-of-the-rotation starter. Given the state of the Rangers’ starting pitching, Holland should be moved from the bullpen to the rotation around the All-Star break. From there, count on him as a solid starter to be used in most fantasy leagues. The fact that he will be eligible as a relief pitcher by the time he gets moved into the rotation only increases his value. ’09 Prediction: 100 IP, 8 W, 80 K, 4.20ERA, 1.35 WHIP

Neftali Feliz: The second of the Rangers’ elite pitching prospects, Feliz will have to wait a bit longer than Holland to make it to the big leagues. With a fastball that can hit 100 mph and a curveball and changeup that figure to be at least average pitches, Feliz has as much upside as any pitching prospect in baseball. He’s still extraordinarily young for his level, and he has had some control problems, as evidenced by his 12.4% walk rate at Double-A last season and his 18.7% this year in Triple-A – albeit, in a very small sample. Still, Feliz has a lot of time to iron out his walk issues. Given the Rangers’ lack of quality big league arms, and the way they expedited Derek Holland’s arrival, there is no telling when Feliz will arrive. That being said, I expect them to let him find his command in Triple-A before calling him up just after the All-Star break. His spotty command could get him into trouble against big league hitters, but his pitches are so good that he may be in for a few dominant outings. ’09 Prediction: 60 IP, 5 W, 50 K, 4.70 ERA, 1.45 WHIP

Trevor Cahill: The A’s have a talented young pitching tandem of their own in Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson. Cahill, like Feliz, saw his strikeout rate decrease and his walk rate increase upon his promotion to Double-A. However, unlike Feliz, Cahill is an elite ground ball pitcher – he posted a 63% GB rate last season between A+ and AA. While he doesn’t have a power pitcher’s arsenal, his ability to change speeds and his deceptive delivery allow him to get by without it. Command issues will limit his success initially, but if he can work those out, he could become a top-of-the-rotation starter. He probably won’t perform well enough merit a spot on your team initially, but if he gets hot put in a waiver claim for him. Cahill is an elite talent, and things could really click for him eventually. ’09 Prediction: 180 IP, 9 W, 140 K, 4.65 ERA, 1.40 WHIP

Brett Anderson: Anderson is a pitcher who succeeds because of his superior ability to locate his pitches. He throws a low-to-mid 90s fastball, and an average curveball, changeup, and slider. While he struck out batters at a very impressive rate in the minors last season (27.1% of all batters faced), his lack of a dominant pitch means that he’ll struggle to replicate those numbers against major league hitters. However, he is just 21 years old, and scouts say his knowledge of how to pitch is beyond his years. Anderson could blossom into a front-of-the-rotation starter at some point in his career, but I think he’s more likely to become a middle-of-the-rotation arm. Like Cahill, Anderson probably isn’t worth a spot on your fantasy team just yet, but scoop him up if he starts finding some success. ’09 Prediction: 180 IP, 8 W, 130 K, 4.55 ERA, 1.40 WHIP

Jordan Zimmerman: Though the Nationals aren’t known for great pitching, Zimmerman fully earned his spot in the rotation this year. He dominated minor leaguers last season, posting solid strikeout rates (31.3% and 23.5% at A+ and AA, respectively). Zimmerman is armed with a low-to-mid 90s four-seam fastball, a curveball that could be a plus pitch, and a slider and two-seam fastball that figure to be at least average pitches. Zimmerman is in the big leagues to stay, and while there will likely be a learning curve for him, he could turn into a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter depending on what happens with his curveball. Pitching for the Nationals, Zimmerman may not help your fantasy team a lot this year, but as with some of the other guys on this list, take a flier on him if he starts putting things together. ’09 Prediction: 180 IP, 7 W, 140 K, 4.60 ERA, 1.35 WHIP


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