They say that pitching wins championships.
That's true in real baseball as well as in the fantasy version.
Come on, fess up. How many of you have tried to win a fantasy title with a high-octane offense and a mediocre pitching staff? Doesn't work so well, does it?
The problem is simply that there never seems to be enough pitching to go around. You assemble a halfway decent staff, then lose a hurler or two to injury or ineffectiveness and struggle the rest of the way to find suitable replacements.
That's where we come in.
This week's Future Exchange brings you some arms worth monitoring at various levels. They may not all help you right this minute, but they should at least be stashed on your radar to help you keep your cool the next time you're ready to declare a full-fledged pitching emergency.
In the bigs
Jonathan's pick: Derek Holland, LHP, Rangers
Consider this stint in the bullpen a way for Holland to get his feet wet in the bigs, because he is by no means a reliever. The 21-year-old lefty has looked unfazed in his two relief outings, and I'd look for him to be in the Rangers rotation within a month at the most as the club continues to stretch him out (he threw three innings in his last appearance). Once he does hit the rotation, Holland should be of interest to just about anyone in any league, so grab him now.
Jordan Zimmermann, RHP, Nationals
What a debut. A massive downpour caused a rain delay that lasted more than two hours before Zimmermann finally took the mound for the Nationals against Atlanta. The stud righty proceeded to shut down the Braves for two runs on six hits in six innings, striking out three while walking one en route to the 3-2 victory, just the Nats' second win of the season. He followed that up with another victory and has now allowed just three runs over his first 11 1/3 innings of work. The club's Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2008 seems like he's here to stay.
A phone call away
Jonathan's pick: Luke Hochevar, RHP, Royals
Remember him? Many expected to see the young righty in Kansas City all year, and some maybe even drafted him, though it's likely they dropped him already. Well, the No. 1 overall pick from the 2006 Draft is off to a 3-0, 1.89 ERA start at Triple-A, making an early claim that he'll be ready for another shot soon. If you think Sidney Ponson and/or Kyle Davies are the answer, then ignore this. If, instead, you're somewhat rational, you'll want to watch to see how Hochevar does because he could get the call back to the bigs in short order.
Lisa's pick: Tommy Hanson, RHP, Braves
How is it possible we haven't written about Atlanta prospect Tommy Hanson here yet? Though he's already suffered more than his share of tough-luck losses for Triple-A Gwinnett, that's been the only negative so far. In four starts, he owns a 2.18 ERA, 29 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings and a .205 batting average against. For now, there is no need to start his clock since the Atlanta rotation has been solid, but when the time comes to summon someone from Gwinnett, it would be a shock if it's not the 6-foot-6 right-hander.
A year away
Jonathan's pick: Kasey Kiker, LHP, Rangers
The aforementioned Holland and Neftali Feliz get most of the ink when it comes to the Rangers' pitching prospects, and rightfully so. But this is a deep organization and under-the-radar guys like Kiker should not be ignored. Pitching at Double-A at age 21, the club's top Draft pick from '06 owns a 2.65 ERA through three starts. The Texas League has hit just .150 against the young lefty, who's shown his dominant stuff by fanning a batter per inning. The Rangers have brought Kiker along slowly, but he's just about ready to take off, giving the club an embarrassment of riches in the young pitching department. And I've heard the Rangers sometimes need a little pitching help.
Lisa's pick: Sean West, LHP, Marlins
West seemingly belongs in this category, but he could also emerge as a "phone call away" candidate. The 6-foot-8 southpaw was in the mix to replace injured lefty Andrew Miller, but Graham Taylor, his slightly older rotation mate, got the nod instead. West has a 3.68 ERA in four starts at Double-A Jacksonville, with seven walks and 28 strikeouts over just 22 innings. That said, the organization is taking it slow with the 2005 first-round pick, who missed all of '07 with shoulder trouble. Given the wealth of talent in the upper levels of the system, it would be tough to knock the Marlins if they decide to keep West on the farm for the year.
Further down the road
Jonathan's pick: Casey Kelly, RHP, Red Sox
Here's the interesting thing about Kelly, who has begun his full-season debut with 15 scoreless innings: He may not be a pitcher when all is said and done. The '08 first-rounder will be focusing on pitching for the first half of the season, then will switch gears and play shortstop for the remainder. He's the kind of athlete who might be able to pull this off for a while, so it'll certainly be fun to watch this unusual approach to development. I'll say this: He's going to have to hit a ton to stay at shortstop if he keeps pitching like this.
Lisa's pick: Madison Bumgarner, LHP, Giants
Like West, Bumgarner could easily qualify for the next category above, but we're erring on the side of caution. In 2008, his first full season, the southpaw led the Minors with a 1.46 ERA at Class A Augusta, adding 164 strikeouts and 15 wins. Now, still three months shy of his 20th birthday, he's moved up to High A San Jose, where he's 3-0 with a 0.56 ERA. That's far better than he was through his first three starts last year (7.71 ERA), though he ripped through the rest of the summer with just one earned run allowed over 39 1/3 innings. Bumgarner is developing a curve and a slider to offset his blazing fastball, and he possesses an outstanding work ethic and command. The Giants won't rush him; they don't have to.
MiLB.com Beat the Streak
Jonathan's sticking with the '08 first-rounder strategy because it helped him get a five-game streak going last week, only to have it halted by a goose egg from the red-hot Gordon Beckham on Sunday. Lisa's approach wasn't as successful, but maybe the second time's the charm.
April 27: JM: Jason Castro, Houston/Lancaster; LW: Bobby Scales, Cubs/Iowa
April 28: JM: Justin Smoak, Texas/Frisco; LW: Corey Wimberly, Oakland/Midland
April 29: JM: Brett Wallace, St. Louis/Springfield; LW: Adrian Cardenas, Oakland/Midland
April 30: JM: Brett Lawrie, Milwaukee/Wisconsin; LW: Jake Fox, Cubs/Iowa
May 1: JM: David Cooper, Toronto/New Hampshire; LW: Xavier Paul, Dodgers/Albuquerque
May 2: JM: Ike Davis, Mets/St. Lucie; LW: Jordan Brown, Cleveland/Columbus
May 3: JM: Reese Havens, Mets/St. Lucie; Lw: Eric Thames, Toronto/Dunedin