It seems like there is no escaping the Stephen Strasburg hype. The guy has been eating hitters alive in the minor leagues (three straight scoreless outings), and any day now I expect his first major league start, likely June 4, to be named a national holiday. There is so much attention and hype surrounding Strasburg that there is absolutely no chance of betting value in his debut – or likely all year for that matter. Despite the absence of opportunities with him, young pitchers making their major league debuts can provide very attractive value to people who have been paying attention and who realize what the pitchers are capable of and what they have been doing in the minors. Here’s a look at five guys who aren’t as hyped as Strasburg, or even as much as Cincinnati prospect and recent Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman, but who we should see playing with the big boys in the not-so-distant future.
Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay – I’m not sure just how the Rays have done it, but they have built up a ridiculously good rotation, and they have more in reserve. All of their starters are young, and have obviously been effective this year. We have yet to see one of them falter, but as soon as one does we’ll see Hellickson called up to take his place. He’s been pitching in Triple-A, and he’s been very comfortable doing so. In 50 innings he has 55 strikeouts and just 11 walks. That’s major league performance. His 3.24 ERA is solid, too. Hellickson has two plus pitches – a swinging curveball, and a very nice change-up – and he can throw a fastball at 94 mph. He’s a guy who is a year or two away from being a number two starter. The biggest problem the Rays have is figuring out how to use seven or eight guys of his caliber. Nice problem to have.
Kyle Drabek, Toronto – Drabek has the pressure of being the pitcher the Jays got in trade for the best pitcher in baseball. He’s familiar with dealing with pressure, though – his dad Doug is the 1990 NL Cy Young winner, and Kyle grew up around the sport. There were some concerns about Drabek’s maturity early in his career, but he’s handled the responsibility well since coming to the Jays, and he’s putting up some solid numbers in Double-A. He may get moved up to Triple-A, or he may just bide his time at his current level until he gets his chance in the show. Drabek has a very heavy fastball and a devastating curveball. He had Tommy John surgery in 2007, but he’s getting his command back very nicely, and looks like he’s ready for the pros. The jays have some nice young pitchers, but will likely have room for Drabek, at least on a trial basis, this summer.
Dillon Gee, New York Mets – The Mets need all sorts of help with their rotation. They have already called up veteran knuckleballer R.A. Dickey to fill the gap, and Gee likely isn’t far behind. If he were to turn into a star Gee might have a Disney movie made about him. He was drafted just 663rd overall in the 2007 draft, but three years later he’s the best pitching prospect the team has at Triple-A Buffalo. He had shoulder issues last year, but he’s looked great this year. He can have control issues at times that lead to walks, but when he limits that – which he has done the majority of the time this year – he is very good. He sure looks like he’s ready, and the Mets need every arm they can get, so it’s just a matter of time.
Andrew Cashner, Chicago Cubs – Cashner started the season in Double-A, but after a strong start there – 42 strikeouts and 13 walks in six outings, and an opponent batting average of .176 – he was recently promoted to Triple-A. There’s a good chance it will be a brief stop. He’s got a big fastball that looks like it is going even faster than it is because he is so tall and long. Cashner has one big advocate in his corner – Greg Maddux. The multiple Cy Young winner is working for the Cubs, and he has spent a lot of time with Cashner this spring. There are certainly worse mentors.
Jake Arrieta, Baltimore – Arrieta is a guy waiting for an opportunity to join the rotation in Baltimore, and I honestly don’t know why he hasn’t gotten it yet. I can only guess that the team is making a long term financial decision since they are out of contention already. That means we should see this hurler in June. He doesn’t have any single pitch that stands out, but he has four that are pretty solid. He’s a smart pitcher who knows where the strike zone is, and he’s now in his second year of exposure to Triple-A hitters, so we know he has some game. He’s not a guy who is going to make it to Cooperstown or anything, but he’s the kind of prospect that could turn into one of those starters that you never think about – in a good way. You know, the guys who are just so quietly competent that they do their thing without a lot of attention or hoopla.