07/11/08 8:00 AM ET
Meet the Future: U.S. pitchers
A's, Rockies each have two hurlers on an impressive staff
By Kevin T. Czerwinski / MLB.com
While it all seems a bit symmetrical, there's nothing really consistent about the 10 pitchers who'll be charged with keeping the World Team off the basepaths, other than that they are, well, consistent. This grouping is a varied bunch to be sure with a few big names among them, none of which, however, is the big knockout name that accompanies a top pick in the draft.
Big name, little name, no name, it really doesn't matter at this point, though. This group has proven to be effective as individuals, and will now get the chance to prove how good they can be as a collective. Here's a closer look at all the parties involved.
Brett Anderson, Midland (Double-A Athletics)
Anderson, who is one of only two lefties on the U.S. squad, was originally drafted by the Diamondbacks in 2006 (second round) and had a big debut season for them last year at South Bend of the Midwest League and Visalia of the California League. His season nearly ended abruptly, though, after he was involved in a traffic accident at the end of July. He suffered a concussion and would pitch only four more innings.
The accident, however, didn't impact his marketability. He had already established his value, and as a result was sent to Oakland as part of the monster deal that sent Dan Haren to the Diamondbacks last winter.
If the deal or his new surroundings upset Anderson, it hasn't showed. He began the year by going 9-4 with a 4.14 ERA in 14 games (13 starts) for Stockton of the Cal League, before earning a bump up to Midland of the Texas League, where he won his first start.
Anderson has a nearly six-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio in 200 career innings. He can hit the low 90s on the gun, but he changes speeds and controls the game more than blowing batters away. He has poise on the mound, enough that it may carry him to Sacramento this season.
Jake Arrieta, Frederick (Class A Advanced Orioles)
Arrieta was a fifth-round pick out of Texas Christian last year, but didn't sign early enough to get into any regular-season action. He looked good in the Arizona Fall League, though, impressing scouts while earning All-Prospect team laurels. The Orioles thought he was advanced enough to start him at Frederick this season and he hasn't disappointed.
He was 6-4 through his first 18 starts, while his 2.75 ERA was good enough for tops in the circuit and was one of only three sub-3.00 marks in the Carolina League. He allowed one earned run or fewer in seven of his first 10 starts. He recently endured a seven-start stretch in which he went 1-4 with a 5.45 ERA. He did strike out a season-high 10 against Winston-Salem July 4, earning his first victory in six weeks. He followed that up by allowing just one hit in seven shutout innings against the Warthogs on July 9, but received a no decision.
Trevor Cahill, Midland (Double-A Athletics)
Cahill is the second of two Oakland prospects on the staff, but no one will ever consider him anything less than a No. 1. The 2006 second-rounder is two years out of high school and dominating the Texas League to the tune of 3-0 with a 1.89 ERA through three starts. He began the season with Stockton of the California League, but it was clear that the Class A Advanced circuit couldn't hold him.
He was promoted to the Texas League shortly before the California-Carolina League All-Star Game, having gone 5-4 with a 2.78 ERA in 14 games (13 starts) with the Ports. He held the opposition to a .174 average in the Cal League, and has been even more dominant in Double-A, limiting Texas League hitters to a .131 average through 19 innings.
Cahill tossed eight innings of two-hit, shutout ball against Arkansas on July 4, once again proving that he pitches much older than he is. He turned 20 in March and displays a vast array of pitches, from a nice sinking fastball to a pretty nifty curve. If he continues to progress, don't be shocked if he celebrates his 21st year at some point with an arrival in Oakland.
Will Inman, San Antonio (Double-A Padres)
Well, there were some people in San Diego who weren't quite sold on Inman after he arrived from Milwaukee in the trade that sent Scott Linebrink to the Brewers last summer. He had a tough Double-A portion to the 2007 season (4-8 with a 4.80 ERA at Huntsville and San Antonio).
But Inman only turned 21 this spring. He has three Minor League seasons on his resume, and that experience has shown through this season at San Antonio, where he has gone 8-4 through his first 18 starts. He was tied for the league lead in victories and was second with a 3.05 ERA. He was also on top of the league with 100 strikeouts and tied for the top with a pair of complete games.
How he holds up in the second half of the season will be telling. He got tired in the second half of last year and struggled with fatigue at the end of the 2006 season. Still, Inman has proven the naysayers wrong with a big first half and will arrive at Yankee Stadium with thoughts of heading to Beijing and Portland on his mind after he leaves.
Kevin Jepsen, Salt Lake (Triple-A Angels)
It's taken a while for Jepsen to come into his own this season, splitting time between the Texas and Pacific Coast Leagues. Though he had two losses, he also had a pair of saves and a 2.93 ERA through his first nine Triple-A appearances. He had been 2-1 with a 1.42 ERA and 11 saves in 25 appearances at Arkansas of the Double-A Texas League.
Jepsen was a second-round pick in the 2002 Draft and was slow to develop, spending two-plus seasons at Rancho Cucamonga of the California League after moving to the bullpen. He has dealt with injury problems in the past, but appears to have put any of those concerns behind him. Jepsen has regained the velocity that made him attractive earlier in his career, and could play a role in the Angels' playoff push late this season.
Ryan Mattheus, Tulsa (Double-A Rockies)
Mattheus had been a starter throughout his career, and even earned a berth on the Texas League All-Star team last season. But his ERA was well over 5.00, and the inconsistencies he showed in the rotation hadn't dissipated in four professional seasons.
So, the Rockies sent him to the bullpen, putting him on the same path they had chosen for Juan Morillo and Steven Register. While Register has had more success than Morillo, they both are prime examples of what the Rockies hope will happen with Mattheus, who was 2-2 with a 3.03 ERA and 12 saves through 38 appearances with Double-A Tulsa.
Mattheus has had some success. At one point in May, June and July, he had a stretch where he didn't allow an earned run in 18 of 19 appearances. Whether he'll turn into Colorado's closer of the future remains to be seen, but he certainly seems to have found his niche in the bullpen.
Kevin Pucetas, San Jose (Class A Advanced Giants)
It's taken Pucetas awhile to get some respect, though it would seem that a 29-5 record and a 2.24 ERA through 56 career games would be enough to garner some attention. Yet, when discussing San Francisco pitching prospects, Pucetas' name hadn't been mentioned much, if at all, until recently.
But he's 7-0 with a 2.52 ERA in 15 starts at San Jose this season, and will, in all likelihood, be in Beijing when the USA contingent touches down in China in a few weeks. He's allowed only two homers through 78 2/3 innings this season and has a strikeout-to-walk ratio of better than three-to-one. It will be interesting to see when the Giants decide its time for the Limestone College product to move up to Double-A.
Clayton Richard, Charlotte (Triple-A White Sox)
The 6-foot-5 southpaw had a solid, yet undistinguished, career heading into this season but has blossomed this year, particularly since earning a promotion to the International League after going 6-6 with a 2.47 ERA in 13 starts for Double-A Birmingham.
Richard has been nothing short of spectacular since moving up to Charlotte, going 6-0 in his first six starts with a 2.37 ERA. He's got a complete game for the Knights and has walked only four batters in 38 innings.
He was an eighth-round pick in 2005 and had gone 9-15 with a 3.75 ERA in 32 appearances (31 starts) at Winston-Salem of the Carolina League prior to beginning this season with Birmingham. Richard finished second in the Carolina League in innings pitched last season, but had not been on the radar screen of most pundits prior to his recent effort.
Jess Todd, Springfield (Double-A Cardinals)
The Cards grabbed Todd in the second round of the 2007 Draft out of the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, but he's pitched more like a first-rounder since. He's gone 5-3 this season with a 1.68 ERA while splitting 18 games (14 starts) between Palm Beach of the Florida State League and Springfield of the Texas League.
Though he's lost two of his last four Double-A starts, Todd still sports a 1.69 ERA in 69 1/3 innings since his promotion. He's been a little more susceptible to the home run ball in the Texas League (five allowed after not allowing any in 27 1/3 innings at Palm Beach). But he's held the opposition to a .190 batting average, and has struck out 52 while walking only 13.
Casey Weathers, Tulsa (Double-A Rockies)
The Rockies chose the former Vanderbilt star in the first round last season, and he has made the switch from Commodore to Colorado with relative ease. He's got a big-time arm with a big-time fastball, and has proven to be very effective this season with Double-A Tulsa.
Weathers is 2-0 with a 2.29 ERA and two saves through 35 appearances, striking out 40 in 35 1/3 innings. He's allowed only one homer and has held the opposition to a .189 batting average. The Rockies have been using him in measured bursts, so he'll probably be fresh through the end of the year, when there's a very good chance he'll be spending time in Denver.
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.