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Prospect Patrol: Rookies Pitching In

With the arrival of June–and more importantly, the assumed “super two” deadline–the prospect floodgates open. Though most of the top guys are already scooped up in you keeper or dynasty leagues, a solid rookie can turn a serious profit on you FAAB budget at this time of year, even in your standard mixed leagues. The problem is, these players are young, raw and, frankly, unpredictable this point in their careers.

We’ve already got some success stories to think about, with Jose Fernandez making the surprise jump to the big leagues just before opening day and never looking back. Shelby Miller certainly had a slower rise through the minors, but he’s pitching like a legit Cy Young candidate right now. Tony Cingrani impressed early on, only to later get bumped back down to the farm (though he could be on his way back up with Johnny Cueto heading to the DL), while Kevin Gausman has had some ups and downs in his first taste of major league action.

It’s easy to get carried away in the hype with these rookies and with pitchers it is extremely important to tread lightly. Innings limits, adjustment periods and even immaturity can put your ratios at risk during any given start, but still, as any 2012 Matt Harvey owner will tell you, rookie pitchers can certainly help you out quite a bit for a stretch run.

So what do we make of the top rookie pitchers of 2013? Well lets take a look at where they have been and try to help show you where they are going.

(Stats through June 5, these guys are in no particular order)

Shelby Miller (STL)

Age: 22

2013 MLB: 11 starts, 69.1 IP, 6 wins, 1.82 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 72 Ks, 17 BBs

Hype: Miller, a 2009 first round draft selection, entered the season as Baseball America’s No. 6 prospect.

Workload: Tossed a career high 150.1 innings in 2012 between Triple-A and the majors, and is already 46% of the way to that total.

Opportunity: Shelby is locked into the Cardinal’s rotation as he’s been the teams ace over the first two months of the season.

Outlook: While it feels as though Miller has been around for some time, he is just 22 years old with plenty of room still to grow.  His walk rate has improved to a career best 6.3% during his transition to the majors and Miller continues to provide a strikeout per innings. Miller’s stock slipped a bit following a down 2012 season, but he has re-asserted himself as one of the top young pitchers in the game. Expect a slight regression from the ridiculous 1.82 ERA he has put up so far, but 15 wins with an ERA in the low threes are possible for Miller. He is, unlikely to top 200 innings this season, but he should be allowed to get pretty close to that mark while remaining a solid top-25 pitcher the rest of the way

Jose Fernandez (MIA)

Age: 20

2013 MLB: 11 starts, 59.1 IP, 3 wins, 3.34 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 60 Ks, 22 BBs

Hype: Fernandez was selected as the 14th overall pick in the 2011 draft and checked in as BA’s No. 5 prospect prior to the season.

Workload: Jose spun 134.0 innings between Low-A and High-A for the Marlins last season.

Opportunity: A last minute promotion put Fernandez in the big leagues on Opening Day 2013, about a year earlier than most expected. He has responded phenomenally, showing off his plus talent and bulldog attitude through his first 11 starts. There were whispers in the spring that Jose would be capped around 170 IP and while that remains speculation, it seems logical that the last place Marlins’ would play it safe with their prized arm.

Outlook: The Marlins have done a decent job at managing Jose’s innings so far, but he may be tough to rely on in a head to head format come September. One other caution with Fernandez the rest of the way would be the dominant 0.50 ERA over 18.0 innings pitched during three starts against the Phillies this season. The Marlins have just two series left against Philadelphia for the rest of the season so Jose is unlikely to get more than one additional start against them. Still, this is a hurler with excellent strikeout ability and there s little reason to think he can’t finish with an ERA under 4 and close to a strikeout-per-inning for the season.

Julio Teheran (ATL)

Age: 22

2013 MLB: 11 starts, 4 wins, 71.0 IP, 3.30 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 55 Ks, 15 BBs

Hype: Baseball America’s No. 44 prospect heading into the year.

Workload: Teheran has been working in the Braves minor league system since 2008 and has thrown over 135 innings in each of the past two seasons.

Opportunity: With Brandon Beachy’s mid-June activation closing in, the Braves are going to have an awful difficult decision to make with one of their starters.

Outlook: Teheran’s absolute gem on Wednesday’s (8 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 11 K) likely locked him into the rotation long term, but there will be competition down the line and the Braves will not  wait around for a struggling young starter as they try to get back into the playoffs. Teheran doesn’t bring much strikeout upside and even after his domination of the scuffling Pirates, he had registered a sub-par 6.97 K/9 rate for the year. Still, his work over his past eight starts is impossible to ignore with a 2.13 ERA and 1.05 WHIP over 55.0 IP. He does an excellent job of limiting walks, we peg Teheran as a No. 3 fantasy starter the rest of the way and with his somewhat limited strikeout upside. He’s  a slight sell high candidate coming off of a monster effort, but should remain productive if you want to hang on tight.

Tony Cingrani (CIN)

Age: 23

2013 MLB: 6 starts, 2 wins, 33.0 IP, 3.27 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 41 Ks, 9 BB

2013 MiLB: 6 starts, 3 wins, 31.1 IP, 1.15 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 49 Ks, 11 BB

Hype: Third round pick by the Reds in 2011, ranked No. 82 in the preseason by Baseball America

Workload: Fired 145.0 IP across two minor league levels before a 5.0-inning cup of coffee in September.

Opportunity: Cingrani officially remains in the minors, but with Johnny Cueto hitting the DL with a lat strain it is widely presumed that Cingrani will get the call during the Reds.

Outlook:It remains to be seen just how long he sticks in the majors, but while he is, that K-rate is going to be quite valuable. Cingrani is a must add if you are in one of the 80% of standard league that he is not owned in, but we’d be careful just how much you want to invest at the moment. The one positive is that if the Reds do send Cingrani back down, it would enable them to more closely watch his workload, potentially allowing him to re-enter the major league rotation during a stretch run.

Michael Wacha (STL)

Age: 21

2013 MLB: 2 starts, 11.2 IP, 5.40 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 10 K, 1 BB

2013 MiLB: 9 starts, 52.2 IP, 2.05 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 34 K, 15 BB

Hype: First round selection in the 2012 draft while ranking as BA’s 76th best prospect prior to the season.

Workload: Wacha started just two games in the minors last year, functioning mostly as a bullpen arm as he tossed just 21.0 professional innings with another 46.3 IP for the Taxas A&M Aggies. Wacha has just about evened his overall workload from last season.

Opportunity: The Cards’ should continue to roll Wacha out every fifth day, but he may find himself in the bullpen down the line as the team may get Chris Carpenter back sooner than initially thought.

Outlook: Wacha’s stuff is impressive and for a guy who was drafted just last season, he has shown great maturity in handling his first taste of the big leagues. The stuff is legit, but it is difficult not to be concerned about a so-so 44:16 strikeout-to-walk ratio he has put up between the majors and the minors. Workload and role will also be a concern moving forward so temper expectations for Wacha in 2013.

Kevin Gausman (BAL)

Age: 22

2013 MLB: 3 starts, 0 wins, 15.0 IP, 7.20 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 9 Ks, 3 BBs

2013 MiLB: 8 starts, 2 wins, 46.1 IP, 3.11 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 49 Ks, 5 BBs

Hype: Fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft and  BA’s No. 22 ranked prospect (though he wasn’t the O’s top arm on that list, with Dylan Bundy at No. 2)

Workload: Gausman tossed just 15.0 professional innings last year after throwing 123.2 IP at LSU.

Opportunity: With the O’s expecting to make a run to playoffs this season, Gausman’s spot in the rotation will be based on his ability to compete at the major league level.

Outlook: The Orioles’ have bungled the development of just about every top-flight pitching prospect that has passed through their system since Mike Mussina, so it is extremely difficult to expect a smooth progression from their next exciting arm. Gausman surpassed fellow top-prospect Dylan Bundy as the latter struggles with some injury issues early in the 2013 season, and his superb command in the minors has us salivating over his potential, but the AL East is not the friendliest place to pitch. Gausman has allowed eight home runs between the majors and the minors this season and even after his bounce-back effort against a tough Detroit team, we worry that he’s going to get hurt all too often pitching his home games at Camden Yards with divisional road tilts in New York, Boston and Toronto regularly. Gausman is an enticing talent for the long term, but remains a spot starter in standard mixers.

Tyler Skaggs (ARI)

Age: 21

2013 MLB: 2 starts, 11.2 IP, 1 win, 3.86 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 13 Ks, 3 BB

2013 MiLB: 9 starts, 51.2 IP, 4 wins, 5.23 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 54 Ks, 17 BBs

Hype: Selected in the first round of the 2009 draft, Skaggs checked in as BA’s No. 12 prospect before the season.

Workload: Tyler spun 141.2 innings in across two minor league levels and a brief stop in the majors last season.

Opportunity: Skaggs has been up and down in the past couple of weeks and will get at least 2-3 more turns with Brandon McCarthy on the DL. He could end up back on the farm unless he forces the DBacks hand with his performance.

Outlook: Skaggs has struggled for much of the 2013 season in the minors, but has shown improved command in his first two major league starts. Arizona is not the best park to pitch in, but we worry less about his situation than some of these American League hurlers. He’s a solid fantasy add for the short term with upside to return No. 4 starter value if he can stick in the rotation, though that is far from guaranteed.

Who’s next?

It’s evident with the above list, that there can be some serious fantasy value to be had with these young hurlers. Still, player development is far from a scientific endeavor and it’s impossible to expect a smooth transition from every top prospect. Miller appears to be the class of the group above and if you took a flier on draft day, you are certainly pleased with the return. Still, a guy like Gausman reminds us there will be bumps along the road and young hurlers like Wacha are set to march into uncharted territory in terms of workload, both reasons to question these guys as reliable fantasy commodities. Overall, it’s tough to consider anyone on this list aside from Miller a top-30 arm, though Teheran is certainly making a case with the way he is throwing. In a standard 10- or 12-team league these guys are much more suited to be spot starters for you rather than every-week plays. We’d also be selling high on every one of these hurler’s not named Miller as we head deeper into the summer.

As the hype continues to build for the likes of Zack Wheeler (rumors circling he could be up witht the Mets’ in a couple of weeks), Taijuan Walker (2.67 ERA in 11 starts at Double-A), and Gerrit Cole (2.91 ERA through 68.0 IP at Triple-A) feel free to jump on in and try to catch lightning in a bottle. Expecting top-30 value from these young arms over the balance of the season, however, will not be a wise decision and in a redraft league, we’d recommend persistently trying to sell these exciting young arms as they flash their upside to avoid the detrimental impact of their inconsistency.

 

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