Inside Pitch: Hurlers a hot commodity
2007 shaping up to be a bumper-crop year for young arms
The stepped-up efforts by some teams in recent years to develop more pitching through the First-Year Player Draft and avenues other than free agency may be starting to pay off, as 2007 is looking like a bumper-crop year for young pitching.
With the season not yet at the halfway point, such emerging talents as Cincinnati's Homer Bailey, Minnesota's Kevin Slowey, Detroit's Andrew Miller, Milwaukee's Yovani Gallardo, Baltimore's Jeremy Guthrie, Seattle's Brandon Morrow, San Diego's Justin Germano, Arizona's Micah Owings, Kansas City's Joakim Soria, Houston's Chris Sampson, San Francisco's Tim Lincecum, Cleveland's Tom Mastny, Dustin Moseley of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and John Danks of the Chicago White Sox are among the rookie pitchers who have made an impact.
Not all were developed by their current organizations, and the list doesn't include one of the leading candidates for American League Rookie of the Year, Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka. Or Phil Hughes of the New York Yankees, who got hurt in the middle of a no-hitter in just his second start.
All were uncovered through the diligent efforts of team scouting and front-office personnel. All are years away from potential free agency and thus prized assets to their organizations.
During a season in which everybody is looking for pitching, these guys are hot properties.
"Good young pitching is the rarest commodity in the game," said one general manager. "It's the hardest thing to find, and the last thing you want to part with [in a trade]. To get [good young pitching] by the [Rule 5] Draft or [the] waiver [wire] is rare, but it happens when a team sees something in a guy his [current] team doesn't."
The current crop of quality arms sprang to the Major Leagues from different paths. Most came by the Draft, a few by waivers and others the Rule 5 route:
Bailey, who turned 21 last month, was the seventh overall pick by Cincinnati in the 2004 Draft. He is 2-0 with a 4.00 ERA in three starts since the Reds summoned him from the Minor Leagues. His arrival has created quite a buzz in the Queen City of the West.
Moseley (4-1, 2.52) has been outstanding for the first-place Angels. The 25-year-old right-hander was originally selected by the Reds in the first round (34th overall) of the 2000 Draft and came to the Angels in the 2004 trade that sent right-hander Ramon Ortiz to Cincinnati.
Ortiz's struggles in the Minnesota rotation this year were partly the reason for the arrival of Slowey, a second-round pick by Minnesota two years ago. Slowey is 2-0 with a 4.43 ERA in four starts since his arrival from the Minor Leagues.
Gallardo, 21, was the Brewers' Minor League Pitcher of the Year last season and, like Bailey in Cincinnati, has been a hot topic among the fans in Milwaukee. The 2004 second-round Draft choice is 1-0 with a 2.70 in two starts since being called up.
Miller's rapid advancement (he was the sixth overall selection in last year's Draft) hastened Mike Maroth's departure from Detroit. Miller, a 22-year-old lefty with a high-90s fastball, is 3-1 with a 2.70 ERA in four starts for the Tigers.
Guthrie is 4-1 with a 2.42 ERA in 16 games, including 10 starts, for the Orioles. His ERA ranks fifth-best in the Major Leagues (through Sunday's games). The 27-year-old right-hander, a first-round pick by Cleveland in 2002 (22nd overall), was claimed off waivers in January. He'd appeared in 16 games for the Indians over the previous three seasons.
Baltimore's Brian Burres (3-2, 3.36) is among the AL rookie leaders in strikeouts (49) this season after appearing in 11 games last year. Burres, a former 31st-round pick of the Giants (2000), also came to the Orioles through waiver claim.
Morrow (3-1, 3.38) is the third pitcher from the 2006 Draft class to reach the Major Leagues (Miller and Joe Smith of the New York Mets are the others). Morrow, Seattle's first-round pick (fifth overall) last year, is tied for the team lead with nine holds and had a string of 18 2/3 scoreless innings snapped on June 11.
The Padres took Germano (5-1, 2.67) in the 13th round of the 2000 Draft but sent him to Cincinnati in 2005 as part of the deal for third baseman Joe Randa. The Reds dealt Germano to Philadelphia last year for Rheal Cormier, and when the Phillies put the right-hander on waivers in March of this year, the Padres claimed him and have been reaping the dividends of that wise move ever since.
Owings, 24, was a non-roster invitee in Arizona's camp this past spring. He was originally signed as Arizona's third-round pick of the 2005 Draft and has blossomed with the big club this year. The right-hander is 5-2 with 3.84 ERA for the first-place D-backs.
Kansas City GM Dayton Moore took Soria from San Diego in last winter's Rule 5 Draft, and the 23-year-old has been very good. The right-hander has a win and 10 saves in 28 games for the Royals.
Sampson, among the National League rookie leaders in wins (6-5, 3.71), has registered quality starts in 10 of his 14 for the Astros.
Lincecum, the 10th overall selection in last year's Draft, turned in five consecutive quality starts before stumbling in his last three outings.
Mastny, who leads all AL relievers in wins (five), was acquired from the Blue Jays in 2004 in the trade that sent infielder John McDonald to Toronto.
Danks (3-6, 4.61) came to Chicago along with reliever Nick Masset in the trade that sent pitcher Brandon McCarthy to Texas.
There are other young arms who have emerged this season though they are no longer rookies, pitchers such as Toronto's Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum, and Tampa Bay's James Shields.
So many good youngsters are making an impact, it may cause teams to look even harder at their Minor League pitching options before diving into the free agency or trade markets.
"There's not much out there [on the trade market]," another club official said. "If you think there's a chance one of your kids can step up, it only makes sense to go that route if you think he might be ready."
Pearls from the diamond: Detroit's Magglio Ordonez leads the Major Leagues with a .379 batting average and is third in the Majors with 68 RBIs. "Having [Gary] Sheffield hitting in front of him and [Carlos] Guillen behind him means he's seeing a lot more strikes," one scout said. "But he's also doing a great job of hitting the outside pitch to right and not trying to pull everything, a habit he'd fall into in the past." It also helps that the sports hernia and knee injuries Ordonez had in 2004 and 2005, which also affected him the early part of last season, are clearly history.
Soreness in Dontrelle Willis' left forearm might postpone some of the calls the Marlins will surely be getting between now and the trade deadline regarding the 25-year-old left-hander, but Willis would be one of the most highly sought pitchers on the market should the Marlins decide they want to become sellers next month. That will be a tough call and all the more reason for the Marlins, in fourth place and 6 1/2 games out in the NL East and seven out in the Wild Card, to wait. Willis, however, is making $6.7 million this season and will be arbitration-eligible again next year, so it wouldn't be surprising if the Marlins decide to deal him.
The Rangers may not be meeting expectations this year, but their future may be in good hands. Eric Hurley, a 6-foot-4 right-hander, is a combined 7-3 with a 3.46 ERA for Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Oklahoma City with 80 strikeouts in 93 2/3 innings, and could make it to Arlington before season's end.
Several teams looking for bullpen help, including Cleveland, Detroit, Boston and Philadephia, have scouted Eric Gagne of the Rangers recently. Another closer being eyed by multiple teams is Washington's Chad Cordero.
With the White Sox falling off the pace in the AL Central and the Chicago offense continuing to slumber (both the team batting average of .233 and it's 92 runs scored over the last 30 days are the lowest totals in baseball during that span), it stands to reason the team might be ready to start making deals. The White Sox have lost 22 of their last 27 games.
"Something's got to happen, I'm tired of watching this," GM Ken Williams said on Sunday. "Slapped in the face, hit upside the head, whatever you want to call it, change needs to happen, and change is going to happen. When that happens, I don't know. We have to do our due diligence."
When asked for the specific areas that need to be addressed, Williams didn't hesitate before stating, "[Almost] every aspect."
"There's no energy. There's no production, offensively," he said. "The starting pitching is probably the most consistent aspect we have, so if you have to do some reshuffling and help the deck, at least if you have that in tow, it makes it a ... lot easier."
Williams won't discuss specific players, but it is known that teams have already called about left-hander Mark Buehrle, who will become a free agent at season's end. The Sox began the process of getting younger on the pitching side by dealing Freddy Garcia during the offseason, so it wouldn't be a shocker if Buehrle is the next to move on, especially in a market in which pitching figures to be precious.
The Los Angeles Dodgers, having lost Jason Schmidt for the season; the New York Mets, with Pedro Martinez recuperating from rotator cuff surgery; Boston; and the New York Yankees are potential suitors for Buehrle.
Astros manager Phil Garner and GM Tim Purpura figured that the Houston offense would eventually get going, and it looks as though they were right. Since May 31, the Astros have scored 130 runs, an average of 5.65 per game, the third-most in the Major Leagues during that span. Houston has scored eight or more runs seven times and five or more 14 times since then. Unfortunately for the Astros, this long-awaited offensive awakening has been undermined by a suddenly shaky bullpen, such that the Astros are only 11-12 during that span entering Monday night's game at Milwaukee.
The most surprising turnaround this year from last might be that of Washington shortstop Cristian Guzman, who was batting .329 with a .382 on-base percentage. "He looked like he was finished last year," one scout said. "But his bat speed is back this year, he's hitting the ball on the nose and using all fields. He's not wasting at-bats and makes the pitcher work."
Unfortunately for Guzman, who batted .219 with a .260 on-base percentage last year, his first with the Nationals after he'd spent the six previous seasons with Minnesota, he went on the disabled list on Sunday with a thumb injury and will miss the rest of the season.
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.