Starters


Go Bold or Go Home: Stephen Strasburg is the New Pedro Martinez

Stephen Strasburg is the new Pedro? What do I mean by that? Simply this: back in the day, Pedro was worth a first round pick, sometimes the first pick, and no other pitcher was all that close. I'm talking about Pedro before he threw Don Zimmer to the ground by the head, before he headhunted unsuspecting Devil Rays. I'm talking 1999-2001 Pedro, that's who Strasburg can be. Don't let him slip through your fingers in the first round, and whatever you do, don't waste a pick on some other pitcher instead.

As far as I can guess, there are three possible responses to this idea, and I'll deal with each one in turn.

1. Duh.
Fair enough, you're already on the Strasburg bandwagon. Go win your league. Better yet, finish reading this article just to be more sure.

2. But pitchers NEVER belong in the first round!
Never is such a scary word to throw around, but usually I agree with this idea. Whenever someone in my league nabs a starter in the first round, I always get excited, thinking they've wasted their pick. There are a couple reasons for this to usually be true, but they don't hold water this year.

The biggest reason is that pitchers are risky, moreso than position players and thus should not be given a first round pick. The problem with that this year is that there are an unusually rare amount of risky players on the first-rounder suspect list. Players like Matt Kemp (ADP 4.43) and Joey Votto (8.60) who missed significant portions of last season are there, not to mention garden variety injury risks like Carlos Gonzalez (9.75). On top of that, players like Justin Upton (15.07) and Adrian Gonzalez (32.16) who we counted on last year to provide big impacts failed to do so. Other first rounders that we've grown accustomed to seeing have dropped out of the top slots after injury marred (or ruined) seasons include Jose Bautista (14.11) , Troy Tulowitzki (16.15), and Evan Longoria (32.59). Someone has to take those spots over, but there's a lot more risk in the first round than there is in most years. So maybe taking a pitcher isn't so bad.

Along with the higher risk of some of the best potential first rounders this year, I think it's fair to say that, outside of the top four or five, the actual quality of this year's potential first rounders is lower than usual. A lot of those first round picks are providing the same (or nearly the same) value as players that can be found in the second round. Like Albert Pujols (7.18)? Try Prince Fielder (14.48). Like Carlos Gonzalez (9.75)? Try Adam Jones (25.41). Let's face it--a lot of first round picks are looking a lot like second round picks this year.

 The rule against taking a starter in the first round is a good one. This year just happens to be a great year to break it.

3. Strasburg isn't even the best pitcher in baseball, let alone as much better as Pedro Martinez was ten years ago! Give me Clayton Kershaw or Justin Verlander instead.

In all fairness, yes Strasburg is, for all it matters for your fantasy draft. In all but one respect, Strasburg is significantly better than Kershaw or Verlander than they are better than the others. That is to say, Kershaw and Verlander are great, but not very much greater than these pitchers: Cliff Lee, David Price, Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, Zack Greinke, Jared Weaver, Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia and others, in no particular order.

For the time being, I'm prepared to ignore any argument made that Kershaw will win more games in the shiny new Dodgers, or that Verlander will on the Tigers. Washington is a good team, and their offense will be good enough to keep Strasburg in plenty of games. With normal luck, he should be among the league's leaders in wins. Too bad you never know when someone will get normal luck with wins and when he won't. So call that one even, or insufficiently predictable.

The difference is in the strikeouts. Those of you who followed me in last year's Silver League Updates, will know that I love my strikeouts. So I'm admitting that bias. But they're a category, and they're decent at giving us information about two more categories (ERA and WHIP, obviously). We can learn even more when we add walks to the equation. Let's see how Strasburg (ADP 23.77) stacks up with the three pitchers being drafted before him: Kershaw (12.64), Verlander (15.56), and Price (23.59). Just for fun, let's check out the next three pitchers after him too: Lee (30.67), Hernandez (35.10), and Yu Darvish (36.95).

Here they are in K/9:

Strasburg    11.13
Darvish        10.40
Kershaw       9.05
Verlander    9.03
Lee                 8.83
Price              8.74
Hernandez  8.65

 All seven put up great numbers, but only Darvish came within two strikeouts per nine innings of Strasburg's total. And Darvish put up an ugly 4.19 BB/9 rate that didn't exactly help his ERA or WHIP.

Maybe you prefer K%, fair enough. How about this list:

Strasburg       30.2%
Darvish           27.1%
Kershaw         25.4%
Verlander      25.0%
Price                24.5%
Lee                   24.4%
Hernandez    23.8%

If anything, Strasburg looks even better here, blasting the competition out of the water. (In all fairness, Max Scherzer looks pretty good here too, at 29.4%.)

What about K/BB, then? That's the one that gives a really good indication of next year's ERA and (especially) WHIP. (Spoiler alert: Cliff Lee reigns supreme.)

Lee                   7.39
Strasburg      4.10
Verlander     3.98
Hernandez    3.98
Kershaw        3.63
Price               3.47
Darvish          2.48

Two names stand out here as outliers. In fact, Lee's rate is more than 2.5 BB/9 better than the second best pitcher by this measure, none other than Joe Blanton. Yeah, him. (Sleeper? Maybe...) The other outlier, of course, is Darvish. So here's more confirmation not to take him over Strasburg, or anywhere near the other six pitchers on this list, if you were thinking about it. 

That leaves us with five names, and, once again, Strasburg is on top. But maybe he's striking out so many batters that he can walk a few too many and still look good. Maybe a lousy walk rate could take his ERA and WHIP down like Darvish's did.

Or maybe not: his walk rate sat at 2.71 last year. Five of the other six pitchers we compared him too had better rates, but not by a huge amount. Discounting Lee's ridiculous number (1.10!), King Felix was the best, with a 2.17 BB/9 rate. Price, Verlander, and Kershaw all fell in between.

This has been a lot of stats, but it boils down to a pretty simple point: Strasburg's strikeouts are significantly better than his competition for the top pitcher in (fantasy) baseball. It isn't even close. His walk numbers are similar to the competition, and not different enough to give them significant value over him. Other factors, like his team, just aren't as big of a deal.

The only reason I can see to take Verlander or Kershaw or anyone else over Strasburg is their experience, which is really just cover for the fact that we're comfortable taking those guys off the board first. I don't think you'll find very many people willing to say inexperience is going to cause Stephen Strasburg any trouble in the near future. As a rookie, Strasburg wasn't a normal phenom. As fantasy's best pitcher, he isn't any more normal. The difference between him and the next best pitchers is noticeably bigger than the difference between them and all the other ace pitchers.

By the way, looking at last year's data is kind of like assuming that Strasburg has peaked in his age-24 season, and that he doesn't have room to improve for next year. How often do great 24-year-olds not become better 25-year-olds?

Between the higher risk and lower quality in this year's top position players and Strasburg's own dominance over his competition there is a lot of reason to reach for him. Like Pedro Martinez before him, Strasburg is worth a pick in the middle of the first round in a way that no pitcher has been in a long time. Next year, this idea won't make it into an article like Go Bold or Go Home because everyone will agree. Get ahead of the game.



The Best Fantasy Starting Pitcher Of 2012

Two weeks ago we voted on the best non-Mike Trout fantasy position player of the season, with Yoenis Cespedes beating Todd Frazier and Bryce Harper by no small margin. The Athletics' outfielder has contributed in all five traditional scoring categories, so it wasn't the most difficult choice.

The crop of rookie starting pitchers is surprisingly strong, strong enough that preseason top megaprospect Matt Moore won't even garner much Rookie of the Year consideration. The left-hander hasn't been bad by any means, but expectations were (unrealistically?) high. Matt Harvey had as good a big league debut as anyone, but he was unable to accumulate a meaningful amount of innings. Wei-Yin Chen had a fine first season in MLB, but he basically a league average producer. With all due respect to Mike Fiers (only 121 1/3 innings) and Lance Lynn (technically not a rookie due to service time), here are the three best fantasy starting pitchers of the year...

Yu Darvish | Rangers | 16 W | 3.90 ERA | 214 K | 1.27 WHIP | 184 2/3 IP

I don't love the idea that veterans of the Japanese league are considered rookies, but the rules say they are and that's all that matters. The 26-year-old Darvish has lived up to the hype this year, particularly of late. He owns the third highest strikeout rate (10.4 K/9) among qualified starters and has pitched to a 2.13 ERA with a 60/14 K/BB in his last seven starts (50 2/3 innings). His early-season walk problems -- 5.05 BB/9 as late as mid-August -- have been assuaged, bringing his WHIP down to respectable levels. The ERA is still dangerously close to the 4.08 league average, however.

Wade Miley | Diamondbacks | 16 W | 3.32 ERA | 134 K | 1.20 WHIP | 187 IP

Few teams can match the upper level pitching depth that Arizona has, but it was 25-year-old Miley who broke out of the Trevor Bauer/Tyler Skaggs/Patrick Corbin crop to became an impact pitcher as a freshman. The southpaw ranks 21st out of 91 qualified starters in ERA, though his strikeout rate (6.5 K/9) hardly stands out. Miley came into the season with relatively little hype and has exceeded all expectations, even earning a trip to the All-Star Game. In a world where pitcher wins and ERA are so important, he reigns supreme among rookies.

Jarrod Parker | Athletics | 12 W | 3.44 ERA | 134 K | 1.26 WHIP | 175 1/3 IP

Parker, 23, was another one of those high-end pitching prospects in the D'Backs system before they traded him to Oakland in the Trevor Cahill deal before the season. He stepped into the rotation in late-April and carried a flat 3.00 ERA into late-July. August wasn't very kind (4.71 ERA), but Parker has since rebounded in September (2.31 ERA). He doesn't have the one or two real standout categories to his credit like Darvish (strikeouts) or Miley (wins and ERA), but he has been a rock solid contributor in all non-save scoring categories. It's worth noting that his teammates share some of the blame on the low win total, as Parker has left a game either tied or trailing despite allowing two runs or fewer on seven occasions.



Orioles Give Bundy A Late Season Promotion

The Orioles are right in the thick of the AL East race, and last month they decided to bolster their roster by calling up infielder Manny Machado. He hasn't been great in his 153 plate appearance sample (.264/.276/.426 with four homers), but he has solidified what was an ugly third base situation. Baltimore took things one step further yesterday, calling up right-hander Dylan Bundy to pitch out of the bullpen during the final two weeks of the season. Monday's marathon 18-inning game against the Mariners stretched the Orioles bullpen thin, prompting the call-up.

At just 19 years old and one year removed from being drafted out of high school, Bundy is the youngest pitcher on a big league roster at the moment. He is the game's top pitching prospect and arguably the best prospect in baseball overall, regardless of position. Baseball America had him in the top spot of their midseason top 50 while ESPN's Keith Law had him second behind only Jurickson Profar in his midseason top 25 (Insider req'd). Bundy's minor league numbers are off-the-charts good, including a 2.08 ERA in 103 2/3 innings while climbing three levels from Low Class-A to Double-A. He struck out 119 (10.3 K/9) and walked just 28 (2.4 BB/9) while surrendering only 67 total hits and six homers. The scouting report backs up the performance as well. From Baseball America's preseason subscriber-only scouting report...

Tick off everything scouts want in an ace, and Bundy has it. Fastball? He pitches at 94-98 mph and touches 100 with his fourseamer, which features explosive life. He also uses a low-90s two-seamer to get groundballs and also has a cutter in the same range that essentially gives him a third plus fastball. Complementary pitches? In addition to his cutter, his upper-70s curveball already grades as a plus pitch, and he shows good feel for a solid changeup. Mechanics? Bundy is a great athlete with good body control, so his mechanics are clean and balanced and he repeats his delivery well. That should give him good command, and he also shows a great feel for his craft.

Bundy has yet to appear in a game with Baltimore (hey, it's only been one day) and it's very unclear how the Orioles will use him going forward. Manager Buck Showalter hinted that the right-hander was going to be the first out of the bullpen last night, but instead he turned to his core relievers like Darren O'Day and Pedro Strop in the tight game. Given where we are in the season, how Showalter uses Bundy is going to be the driving force behind the youngster's fantasy usefulness. If he's not going to pitch, he's not worth a roster spot. It's that simple. Despite his age, he has the potential to be absolutely dominant in short bursts (one or two or three innings at a time) out of the bullpen, enough so that he will have fantasy value despite a presumed lack of saves. We just don't know how often we're going to see him.

Long-term, Bundy is one of the top keeper pitching prospects in baseball. In the short-term though, it's tough to consider him worth a roster spot in fantasy crunch time. The Orioles have a great bullpen and a lot of established relievers that will get the call ahead of him, so his usage figures to be too sporadic to count on. You're definitely better off keeping a reliever, even just a strong setup man, who you know is going to pitch down the stretch. Bundy is a great young pitcher and will be a fantasy factor for years to come, but his time is not now. Enjoy his appearances as fan, but don't put yourself in a position to obsess over them fantasy-wise.



Three September Call-Ups To Watch For

The calendar turns over to September this Saturday, meaning clubs will expand their rosters and call-up extra players for the stretch run. Most September call-ups are spare parts - third catchers, extra left-handed relievers, etc. - but every so often a team will bring a top prospect to the big leagues and give him a month's worth of playing time. David Price and Francisco Rodriguez are the two most notable September call-ups in recent memory, as both went on to become key components of a deep playoff run. Impact like that is the exception though, not the rule. Here are three high-end prospects who could make their way to the big leagues next month and actually have some fantasy value...

Jurickson Profar | SS | Texas Rangers

The 19-year-old wunderkind from Curacao has emerged as baseball's top prospect this summer. Profar has hit .280/.367/.452 with 14 homers and 16 steals in Double-A this season, which is insane production given his age relative to the competition. It's worth noting that he's played some games at second base lately and in each of the last two games, he was used off the bench as a pinch-hitter. It's very possible the Rangers are preparing him for a call-up, though Jeff Wilson of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram says it may not happen until the end of the Double-A postseason.

Fantasy owners should keep the plight of Mike Olt in mind when considering Profar's fantasy impact. Texas called up their other elite prospect in early-August and he's gotten just 32 plate appearances so far, including only six starts in 26 team games. Perhaps things will be different later in September after the Rangers clinch a playoff berth, but I would be skeptical right now. Profar is a definite keeper long-term, but his 2012 impact may be severely limited.

Wil Myers | OF | Kansas City Royals

After starring at the Futures Game in Kansas City and for most of the season in Triple-A, the 21-year-old Myers may finally get a chance to crack the outfield in Kauffman Stadium next month. He's hit a whopping .307/.384/.589 with 35 homers in 568 total plate appearances, pretty much confirming that he's ready for the next level. Calling up Myers could require the team to either finally bench Jeff Francoeur or sit Lorenzo Cain, the latter of whom might actually have a future with the team. If he does get the call and does play everyday in some outfield position, Myers could be a nice little late-season boost for fantasy owners, potentially chipping in something like 5-6 homers the rest of the way. That's nothing to sneeze at.

Shelby Miller | SP | St. Louis Cardinals

Earlier this week Joe Strauss of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported (on Twitter) that there is a "strong sentiment" within the organization to promote Miller, the 21-year-old flamethrower who's pitched to a 4.89 ERA with 10.4 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 in 130 2/3 Triple-A innings this year. Those numbers aren't all that impressive overall, but the right-hander has a 57/4 K/BB in his last eight starts and seems to have figured some things out.

If the Cardinals do recall Miller next month, they'll have the option to use him out of the bullpen or instead of Joe Kelly in the rotation. I wouldn't count on him replacing Jason Motte as closer, so he would have the most fantasy value as a starter. The September schedule is loaded with intra-division games as always, meaning a whole lotta games against the lowly Astros and Cubs. St. Louis also has a West Coast swing through San Diego and Los Angeles on their slate, adding two top pitcher's parks into the mix. Miller definitely offers some impact potential going forward, assuming the club actually decides to call him up and insert him into the rotation down the stretch.



D'Backs Turn To Skaggs As Latest Rotation Aid

The Diamondbacks came into the season with perhaps more high-end young pitching than any other team in baseball, and they've had a chance to cycle through pretty much all of it this year. Right-hander Archie Bradley is still several years away, but Patrick Corbin has settled in as a solid rotation fixture while the mega-hyped Trevor Bauer got a brief four-start audition earlier this summer. Yesterday Arizona turned to 21-year-old left-hander Tyler Skaggs to start game one of a doubleheader. He, like Corbin, was part of the Dan Haren trade, and yesterday's MLB debut featured two runs in 6 2/3 innings against the Marlins despite more walks (five) than strikeouts (four). Apparently it wasn't a one-start deal either...

Skaggs, 21, was considered the 13th best prospect in baseball before the season and the seventh best prospect at midseason by Baseball America. In their subscriber-only scouting report, they mention that he sits anywhere from 88-93 mph with the fastball and backs it up with two offspeed offerings: a sharp curveball "that's a true swing-and-miss pitch" and a changeup that is "at least an average pitch." PitchFX data from yesterday's game (available at Brooks Baseball) confirms Baseball America's report while noting that he also threw a handful of cutters as well.

Prior to being recalled, Skaggs pitched to a 2.87 ERA with 8.5 K/9 (23.1% of batters faced) and 2.7 BB/9 (7.4%) in 122 1/3 minor league innings. He made 13 starts with Double-A Mobile before moving up and making another nine with Triple-A Reno. This was the first year of his career in which he struck out fewer than a batter per inning, though few top prospects maintain their minor league 9+ K/9 in the show. Yesterday's five-walk, four-strikeout showing can be chalked up to jitters at this point, I see no reason to believe it's indicative of a long-term problem.

The D'Backs bounced Corbin back and forth between the rotation and bullpen and few times earlier this season, and right now Skaggs' role with the club is undefined. Veteran southpaw Joe Saunders is on trade waivers and prime candidate to be moved, so that could free up a rotation spot. The only left-hander in Arizona's bullpen at the moment is the shaky Mike Zagurski, who was designated for assignment and outrighted to Triple-A earlier this month only to be recalled when Takashi Saito was placed on the DL. If Saunders is not dealt, Skaggs could wind up working as a reliever for the next few weeks.

I like Skaggs quite a bit and think he could really help both the D'Backs and fantasy owners down the stretch. Certainly more than Saunders will, anyway. If they keep their young southpaw in the rotation, his next two starts figure to come on the road against the Dodgers and Padres, and those are two pretty decent matchups. If they stick him in the bullpen, then he's not worth a roster spot. It's not like he's going to usurp J.J. Putz or anything. Bauer's performance was disappointing given the hype, but I believe Skaggs is a better bet to have immediate impact given his lack of control and walk issues in the minors.



Mets (Finally) Turn To Matt Harvey

There was only so much Miguel Batista the Mets could take. After allowing eight baserunners and four runs in three innings to the Dodgers last weekend, the Amazin's cut ties with the 41-year-old right-hander and decided to finally turn the reigns over to 23-year-old top prospect Matt Harvey. He'll make his big league debut against the Diamondbacks in Arizona tonight, the Mets went so far as to recall catcher Rob Johnson from Triple-A with him just to make sure he's comfortable.

Harvey, the seventh overall pick in the 2010 draft, was ranked the second best prospect in the Mets farm system and the 54th best prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America before the season. "Harvey holds his velocity deep into starts but has below-average command and presently lacks a reliable changeup, so evaluators project him as anywhere from a No. 2 starter to a high-leverage reliever," wrote the publication in their subscriber-only scouting report. He regularly runs his fastball into the mid-90s and will use both a slider and curveball when ahead in the count.

After splitting last season between High-A St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton, Harvey opened this year with Triple-A Buffalo. He's pitched to a 3.68 ERA in 110 innings across 20 starts, striking out 112 (9.2 K/9 and 23.7% of batters faced) while walking 48 (3.9 BB/9 and 10.1%). Data at First Inning shows that he gets a decent amount of ground balls (46%), but any pitching prospect worth a damn with have a solid ground ball rate in the minors. Harvey did allow nine homers in Triple-A this season (0.7 HR/9), a bit higher than you'd expect from a top prospect.

Harvey has a little Max Scherzer in him in the sense that it's overpowering raw stuff with less than stellar command. It remains to be seen if he'll have the same homer issues as the Tigers' right-hander, but the high-strikeout potential is there as well as the potential for frustratingly high ERAs. The Mets do not have a great defense - though it's better with Lucas Duda in Triple-A and not right field - and of course you can't really expect their bullpen to hold many of the leads given to them. It's a great young arm thrust into an undesirable situation, unfortunately.

At this point of his career, as a rookie set to make his big league debut, Harvey shouldn't be considered more than a strikeouts guy for fantasy owners in traditional 5x5 scoring formats. The walks and spotty defense will likely lead to higher than usual WHIPs and that tends to results in runs. Wins figure to be hard to come by as well. Following tonight's start in Arizona, Harvey is lined up to start in San Francisco against the Giants then in San Diego against the Padres. Those are some pretty fine matchups in terms of the lineups he'll be facing, but keep his limitations in mind. Different doesn't always mean better, but it almost certainly will be in the case of Harvey vs. Batista. In terms of fantasy output, be careful not to fall in love with the hype.



Four Prospects To Watch In The Second Half

As we come out of the All-Star break, we're going to see a number of top prospects join their big league club down the stretch as they push for a playoff spot. Some may have a huge impact like Mike Trout has already had for the Angels while others may just be complementary pieces shoring up the bench or bullpen. Here's a look at four high-end prospects who could assume important roles in the second half and have real fantasy value. I've including their ranking among Baseball America's Top 50 Prospects midseason update for reference.

Matt Harvey | SP | Mets | Baseball America: #34

The Mets got some unfortunate news earlier this week when right-hander Dillon Gee had to be placed on the disabled list after feeling numbness in his fingers. He was diagnosed with a blood clot in his shoulder and may still need surgery. The team has yet to announce his rotation replacement, but right now it seems like the immortal Miguel Batista will be a temporary solution. With Harvey tearing up Triple-A, he becomes the prohibitve favorite to fill Gee's spot if he misses an extended period of time.

Harvey, 23, has pitched to a 3.39 ERA in 18 starts and 98.1 innings for the club's Triple-A affiliate this season. His strikeout (9.3 K/9) and walk (3.8 BB/9) rates are very good, though they're better measured in terms of percent of batters faced -- he's struck out 24.2% while walking 10.0% of the hitters to step in the box against him this year. The walks are a bit of a concern because they will boost his WHIP, but Harvey can miss bats and that will cure a lot of ills. Throw in a pitcher friendly ballpark and you're looking at a potential fantasy weapon down the stretch.

Wil Myers | OF | Royals | Baseball America: #3

The 21-year-old Myers has had a busy week, first starring in the Futures Game before winning the Triple-A All-Star Game MVP Award last night. He's hit a combined .327/.403/.676 with 27 homers in 363 plate appearances split between Double and Triple-A this season, and in reality he probably should have been up a few weeks ago. Lorenzo Cain is just coming back from a groin strain and Jeff Francoeur has been unable to replicate last season's success, so the Royals can make room for Myers if they really want to get him in the lineup. Either way, expect him to rake and become an instant fantasy starter as soon as he's recalled and given an everyday job.

Mike Olt | 3B | Rangers | Baseball America: #11

Olt, 23, has had a huge year - .292/.403/.574 with 22 homers in 348 Double-A plate appearances this summer - and he doesn't figure to need much Triple-A time before being big league ready. The problem is that there's no obvious opening for him in Texas with Adrian Beltre manning the hot corner, though they've had him work out at both first base and right field this season. Of course that also makes Olt one of the very best pieces of trade bait in the game. The Rangers could go big game hunting - Zack Greinke? Cole Hamels? Justin Upton? - with their top third base prospect going the other way. That could land Olt in the big leagues down the stretch and third base is a sneaky shallow position. Keep an eye on Texas and their trade deadline dealings, because they could have big fantasy implications for more than the obvious reasons.

Tyler Skaggs | SP | Diamondbacks | Baseball America: #7

The arrival of Trevor Bauer has been a little underwhelming so far, but he's not the only high-end pitching prospect the D'Backs have on the cusp of the show. Skaggs, a 21-year-old southpaw, pitching to a 2.84 ERA in 13 Double-A starts before jumping to Triple-A and making two starts. His strikeout (8.7 K/9 and 23.2% of batters faced) and walk (2.6 BB/9 and 7.0%) rates are excellent, it's just a matter of making room for him in the rotation. Daniel Hudson's injured elbow opens a starting job that will likely be filled when Joe Saunders comes off the DL (Josh Collmenter is filling in for the time being), but the veteran southpaw always seems to be involved in trade rumors. Skaggs probably has the most to overcome to reach the show in the second half, but he has fantasy impact potential once he does arrive.



Diamondbacks Finally Free Trevor Bauer

Before the season started, fantasy owners were counting down the days until Mike Trout and Bryce Harper joined the Angels and Nationals, respectively. Matt Moore of the Rays was a hot target on draft day and the Mariners' Jesus Montero was a sleeper at the catcher position even though he didn't have catcher eligibility yet. The fifth megaprospect everyone was waiting on was Trevor Bauer, the eclectic right-hander taken third overall last summer by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Having drawn Tim Lincecum comparisons because of a unique delivery (here's video) and workout/conditioning routine, Bauer was the Next Big Thing after those other four Next Big Things.

Ranked as the ninth best prospect in baseball by Baseball America coming into the season, the Diamondbacks sent Bauer to Double-A Mobile when they broke camp. He struck out 60 batters and allowed just nine earned runs in 48 1/3 innings across eight starts before Arizona decided hey, we have to promote this guy. Bumped up to Triple-A Reno, Bauer went on to whiff 56 batters while allowing 14 earned runs in 44 2/3 innings across eight starts. In 16 minor league games this season, he owns a 2.23 ERA and an 11.2 K/9, or better put he's struck out 29.4% of the batters he's faced. The league average is somewhere around 19.0-19.5%, just for perspective. Bauer leads the minors in wins (11) and strikeouts (116) as of right now.

Unfortunately -- I'm not sure for who, really -- he won't get a chance to pad those totals. Arizona is calling Bauer up to make his big league debut against the Braves in Atlanta tonight, replacing the injured Joe Saunders. It sounds like Saunders will be back sooner rather than later, but Daniel Hudson's torn UCL means Bauer is in the rotation to stay. His stuff is excellent and his arsenal includes a mid-90s fastball and a "plus-plus curveball" to go with a solid slider, changeup, and splitter according to Baseball America (subs. req'd). Dan Syzmborski's ZiPS system pegs the Bauer as a 4.18 ERA pitcher at the moment, albeit one with a fantastic strikeout rate (9.2 K/9). In a subscriber-only piece at Baseball Prospectus, Kevin Goldstein says the right-hander from UCLA is "among the best fantasy rookie pickups from here going forward," and I think that goes without saying.

As for the drawbacks, Bauer is known to be pitch inefficient, give out walks, and surrender some homers. He's averaged 101 pitches per six innings according to Goldstein, walked 60 batters in 118 2/3 minor league innings (4.6 BB/9 and 11.7% of batters faced), and given up eight homers during that time. That last number isn't scary, but Bauer has admitted to preferring fly balls to ground balls -- fly balls are more likely to turn into outs -- and not being afraid of the long ball on Twitter (@BauerOutage). Since he'll be playing his home games at the hitter friendly Chase Field, expect Bauer to serve up a few dingers. Given his propensity to walk people, more than a few of them will be multi-run shots as well.

Despite that, I still believe Bauer can outperform that 4.18 ERA projection and settle in as a 3.50-ish guy with a strikeout rate near one batter per nine innings, although his WHIP figures to be a little high given his walk issue. That puts his performance in line with guys like Jonathon Niese and Yu Darvish, though his ability to rack up wins will not be the same given the different teams these guys play on. Following his outing against the Braves tonight, Bauer lines up to make starts against the Padres and the Matt Kemp/Andre Ethier-less Dodgers (both games at home in Chase Field) before the All-Star break. Needless to say, fantasy owners should be salivating. He's a long-term fantasy star that figures to be among the highest drafted pitchers in the coming years, but for 2012 and he's a very good rotation option that might hit some bumps along the way.



Recent Call-Ups: Conger, Kirkman, Moore

Let's round up three recent call-ups and their fantasy impact. Two hail from the AL West, the third from the NL East.

Hank Conger | C | Angels

Had it not been for an elbow strain earlier this season, Conger would have been up a long time ago. Chris Iannetta broke his wrist in early-May and the Angels had to turn to Bobby Wilson and John Hester to replace him while their top catching prospect was out. Now that he's healthy -- and Bobby Wilson is on the 7-day concussion DL -- Conger is in the big leagues but playing second fiddle to Hester. He's only started three of eight games since being recalled, including just one of the last six. Hester's solid batting line -- .256/.333/.349 with one homer in 48 plate appearances -- is a hindrance, as is manager Mike Scioscia's affinity for defense-first catchers.

Conger, 24, is seen as an offense-first backstop with a line drive swing from both sides of the plate according to Baseball America. He has more over-the-fence power from the left side and his minor league plate discipline rates -- 14.4% strikeouts and 8.7% walks -- are evidence of his contact-oriented approach. This isn't another Mike Napoli situation but it's similar, the Angels are focused more on defense than offense behind the plate and that works against Conger. With Wilson expected back as soon as this weekend, Conger might find himself back in Triple-A. He's a fantasy non-option until we know he's going to get regular at-bats.

Michael Kirkman | RP | Rangers

The Rangers have lost Derek Holland (shoulder), Neftali Feliz (elbow), and Alexi Ogando (groin) to the disabled list in recent weeks and with Roy Oswalt still a few weeks away, they had to dip into their farm system for a replacement starter. Kirkman, 25, has 29 appearances and 48 2/3 big league innings to his credit already, but all of them have come in relief. He's worked primarily as a starter in Triple-A but his performance hasn't been anything to write home about: 5.25 ERA with 9.0 K/9 and 5.8 BB/9. The walks are a problem now and have been throughout his career based on his 4.9 BB/9 in over 600 minor league innings.

I like Kirkman -- who Baseball America ranked as the teams 28th best prospect coming into the season -- more than most because he's a four-pitch lefty with some funk and deception in his delivery. He's slated to start at home against the Astros on Saturday, making him a fine end of the week candidate if you're desperate for counting stats or need to roll the dice on someone for help in the rate categories. Kirkman might not be long for the rotation with Holland reportedly on the mend, but if he sticks around he'll pick up SP eligibility soon enough.

Tyler Moore | OF | Nationals

Bryce Harper garners all of the attention and rightfully so, but the 23-year-old Moore has two straight 30 homer seasons to his credit in the minors and tagged Triple-A pitching to the tune of .310/.372/.660 before being recalled. He hit two homers yesterday -- the first two of his big league career -- and has started three of Washington's last five games after coming off the bench for the previous month. Baseball America only ranked Moore as the team's 16th best prospect coming into the season because of his high strikeout rate (23.5% of all minor league plate appearances) and defensive shortcomings, but they do acknowledge that his right-handed pop is very real. He's totaled at least 70 extra-base hits in each of the last two minor league seasons.

With Steve Lombardozzi starting to come back to Earth a bit -- .238/.289/.333 in the last 33 team games -- Moore could see more time in left field, particularly against left-handers. He's not going to give you much average or even OBP, but Moore will hit some homers and drive in some runs if given the playing time. Keep an eye on their lineups the next few days, if Moore starts to see more and more playing time, grab him if your team is power-starved.



Jered Weaver's Back Brings Garrett Richards Back

Initially it looked like a hamstring or ankle injury, but earlier this week the Angels lost ace right-hander Jered Weaver to the disabled list with spasms and a strained muscle around a disc in his lower back. It sounds -- and looked -- pretty painful, and right now it's unclear how long he'll be out.

"Hopefully it won't be too long before he's out there pitching, but we don't know what the timetable is going to be," said manager Mike Scioscia to Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles. "I think everyone believes it's going to be manageable, and hopefully it won't be too long, but we have to give him enough time ... It's significant enough where it's going to take a couple of weeks. When he's back in the rotation is when he's healthy, and when that time frame comes isn't certain."

Taking his place in the rotation will be 24-year-old right-hander Garrett Richards, who appeared in seven games (three starts) with the Halos last season. He wasn't very good in his first taste of the show, pitching to a 5.79 ERA with nearly as many walks (seven) as strikeouts (nine) in 14 innings. Richards jumped right from Double-A to the big leagues though, and early this year he was able to get some Triple-A innings under his belt to continue his develop. He's pitched to a 4.31 ERA with unimpressive strikeout (7.67 K/9) and walk (4.63 BB/9) rates in 52 1/3 innings across ten starts. I have to think the Angels would have preferred to give him more minor league time, but duty calls.

Baseball America ranked Richards as the team's third best prospect before the season, saying "a No. 3 profile is the most likely outcome" in their subscriber-only scouting report. PitchFX data available at FanGraphs corroborates their report of a legitimate mid-90s fastball with a hard, mid-80s slider and a nascent mid-80s changeup. It's the kind of stuff that makes you wonder why Richards didn't rack up more strikeouts in the minor leagues, when he posted a 7.9 K/9 and whiffed just 21.1% of the batters he faced. Most hard-throwers are up around 25% in the minors thanks to pure velocity.

Coming into the season, Dan Syzmborski's ZiPS system thought Richards was a true talent 5.48 ERA pitcher at this point of his career. That's really harsh and despite his status as one of the club's top prospects, it's very much in line with what you'd expect given his recent minor league performance. The schedule will help him a little bit in the coming weeks. Richards will start against the Mariners in a few days (the Halos took advantage of today's off day to rearrange their rotation) after throwing a perfect tune-up inning last night, then he lines up for dates against the Dodgers, Giants, and Dodgers again. One of those three games (the first Dodgers matchup) will be in an NL park. You can use him as a matchup guy if you're desperate for counting stats late in the week, but otherwise Richards is unlikely to contribute much in a standard 12-team mixed league with 5x5 scoring. Sit this one out and hope one your opponents decides to roll the dice.





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