MLB 2012 Preview: 7 Young Emerging Starting Pitchers to Watch

Ross ZelenCorrespondent IIMarch 31, 2012

MLB 2012 Preview: 7 Young Emerging Starting Pitchers to Watch

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    Opening Day has technically passed, with the Seattle Mariners and Oakland A's bringing their talents and goodwill to Japan for a short stint. However, with the real domestic Opening Day just days away for the rest of the 28 teams, fresh arms will return to the mound and America will soon fall in love with new names. It was only a few seasons that names like Kershaw, Lincecum, King Felix and Tommy Hanson were known only by diehards in their organizations, and now they are Cy Young winners and household names.

    With the Washington Nationals vying to challenge the Philadelphia Phillies (and stud Vance Worley pictured here) in the NL East, new arms other than Stephen Strasburg will be needed to knock the perennial power down. Enter Jordan Zimmermann, a lefty on the verge of a breakout season. 

    For pitchers like Jarrod Parker and Drew Pomeranz, they were the big names in big trades, so there is a decent amount of pressure on them to have success early on. Both pitchers could be the go-to guy in their respective rotations by midseason if they perform up to their potential. 

    Both Jacob Turner and Henderson Alvarez can barely drink legally, but they throw in the upper 90s and have been turning heads in Florida all spring. Turner, with the Detroit Tigers, might be right in the middle of the AL Central title chase, and Alvarez has already had some success against the three-headed monster that is the AL East's Yankees, Rays and Red Sox. 

    Finally, young lefty Chris Sale might be the best pitcher both sides of Chicago have seen in a long time. Moving into the rotation after honing his skills in the bullpen, the big kid has been lights-out this spring—if he finds consistency, he might be pushing Robin Ventura's first year with the White Sox back into relevance.

    Let's take a closer look at these seven phenomenal young arms who you will definitely want to find in your fantasy league. For those readers involved in keeper leagues, do not pass go or collect $200 after reading this; go try to pick up these guys and thank me later.  

1. Vance Worley, SP, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Coming into this season, the name Vance Worley will not make National League hitter snicker. Worley burst onto the scene last season, and will push the dominant Phillies trio of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels for an All-Star appearance. Worley is definitely the best young No. 4 pitcher in the game today, after going 11-3 last season with a 3.01 ERA.

    Worley started 21 games last year and struck out 119 in 131 innings, while only walking 46. At 24 years old, the 6'2" right-hander out of Long Beach State is ready to put his name amongst the best not only in his own rotation, but in the entire National League. So far this spring, Worley has not allowed a run and has blown away hitters, looking sharp early.

    Expect an even better season from Worley in 2012. Where 20 wins is probably just out of reach, 17-6 looks like a reasonable guess. Worley could get to 200 strikeouts as well, so make sure to pick him up in your fantasy draft before he’s gone. In a keeper league, Worley will be an All-Star and a workhorse for years to come. 

2. Jordan Zimmermann, SP, Washington Nationals

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    Zimmermann, at age 25, is the oldest pitcher on the list, but is poised for another season of growth and dominance. Drafted in 2007, Zimmermann debuted in 2009 and entered what may have been the worst rotation in baseball. Helping to bring some youthful talent, the 6'2" right hander throws hard and has impeccable command. 

    Jordan was 8-11 with a 3.18 ERA last season, striking out 124 in 161 innings. Only walking 31, his WHIP was a stellar 1.15 and opponents batted only .251 against him. After missing most of the 2010 season with an elbow injury, Jordan returned strong as the No. 2 pitcher for the Nats. Now, Zimmermann finds himself the back end of the 1-2 punch behind Stephen Strasburg. 

    With the Nats steadily improving both in the bullpen and offensively, especially with the arrival of Bryce Harper, expect Zimmermann’s stats to improve proportionally. Having 12-to-14 wins, along with another 2.90-3.00 ERA campaign, in 2012 seems very possible for Jordan. Expect about 150 strikeouts, with consistent performances even against the talented lineups of division rivals such as the Philadelphia Phillies and the Miami Marlins. 

3. Jarrod Parker, SP, Oakland Athletics

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    Acquired in the offseason by the Oakland A’s for fellow young pitchers Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow, the former Arizona Diamondbacks top pitching prospect quickly found himself at the top of Oakland’s major-league rotation.

    Parker, from Indiana, is a 23-year-old hard-throwing right hander with tremendous upside. The Diamondbacks highly touted Jarrod, drafted out of high school in 2007, and threw him into the fire of a playoff push last September. Expecting to be part of the 2012 plans for the Diamondbacks, the team instead packaged him in a deal that brought the All-Star Cahill to Phoenix.

    Parker pitched 5.2 perfect innings in September against the Los Angeles Dodgers, but gave up his first major-league run in a Game 4 victory in the NLDS against the Milwaukee Brewers. The D-Backs showed great confidence in Parker to include him in their postseason plans, but getting Cahill seemed like the better move.

    For Parker now, the A’s will be dependent on him having a huge breakout season. With no starting pitchers who have extensive experience or solid health, the A’s are looking to patch together a rotation. Bartolo Colon, Brad Peacock, Tommy Milone and Parker will all try to help staff ace Brandon McCarthy reclaim some of the glory the A’s have been missing for the better part of the last decade.

    Jarrod has the skills, but not the experience. This season could go really well or could be a major struggle for him. I think he will excel in the fairly relaxed and low-pressure environment of Oakland. Parker will impress hitters with his velocity and refined off-speed pitches, putting up solid numbers in his first year.

    Expect Parker to put up 11-to-13 wins with an ERA hovering 4.00, striking out around 125 while struggling with command at times. Despite fits of lack of confidence, in 2012 Parker is going to establish himself as a talented major-league arm with a bright future. 

4. Jacob Turner, SP, Detroit Tigers

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    Born on May 21, 1991, Turner is the youngest of our group of talented young pitchers. Turner is looking to break into the talented and deep Detroit Tigers rotation, spearheaded by last season’s AL MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander. In Turner, the Tigers see another star in the making, with his 6'5" wiry frame and hard-throwing nature. 

    Turner struggled in his first opportunity last season, which was not to be unexpected considering the young man could still not legally drink. In about 13 innings, Turner posted a 8.53 ERA in three starts. In his limited 12 innings, he struck out eight and only walked one batter, but gave up 17 hits.

    Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski loves the 210-pound, still-developing young man from Missouri. Even though there is not a spot for him in the rotation by nature, Turner will garner some quality innings for Detroit this season while probably spending some time refining his mechanics and getting more experience in Triple-A.

    Expect Turner to get a midseason call-up if he does not make the Opening Day roster, and expect him to burst onto the scene after getting his first jitters out of the way.  

5. Drew Pomeranz, SP, Colorado Rockies

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    Pomeranz was the big pickup for the Rockies in the Ubaldo Jimenez deal, coming over from the Cleveland Indians in the middle of last season. Pomeranz, a powerful left-handed arm from Ole Miss, is slated to fill the third or fourth spot in the Rockies' patchwork starting rotation. Pomeranz, fellow young arm Alex White and 49-year-old Jamie Moyer are all battling to fill out the back end of the rotation. 

    Pomeranz was 2-1 in his few September appearances for the Rockies. Colorado is very high on the 6'5", 230-pound workhorse from Memphis, who possesses a low-90s fastball, an excellent curveball and an above-average changeup. Pomeranz is known for his durability and his ability to eat innings, which will be important in the thin air and hitter-supported friendly confines of Denver’s Coors Field. 

    At age 23, Drew is poised for a breakout year and could be the difference in pushing the new-look Rockies to success in the NL West. As long as he keeps his walks down and manages to avoid succumbing to the pressure of pitching in a ballpark where runs are given up, Pomeranz is in for a solid year of 13-to-15 wins with an ERA around 4.00. Expect the big horse to record about 175 strikeouts and solidify the Rockies rotation. 

6. Henderson Alvarez, SP, Toronto Blue Jays

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    At just 21 years old, Henderson is the second youngest arm on the list. Henderson was born in 1990, but has been in the Blue Jays system for five years already. From Venezuela, Henderson only arrived in the U.S. in 2008 and has dominated in every minor-league outpost he has been sent to. 

    Alvarez was called up in the middle of last season to replace Carlos Villanueva in the rotation, and held his own, posting a 3.53 ERA in 63 innings. Although the 1-3 record suggests that the young, hard-throwing right hander was in over his head, he put up solid numbers against the strongest American League teams.

    Against the rival AL East Boston Red Sox, Alvarez threw six scoreless innings. Out of his 10 starts, seven were quality starts. His only win was a gem—eight scoreless innings in a shutout of the Baltimore Orioles. To close the season, Alvarez threw well against both the slugging Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Chicago White Sox. 

    Going forward, Alvarez will be in the middle of the Blue Jays’ young rotation, flanked by Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Brett Cecil. Expect Alvarez to experience some growing pains against the likes of the Red Sox and the New York Yankees, but for the most part expect positive results.

    A 13-10 season with a 3.80 ERA and 150 strikeouts is very possible for the young man who is barely be able to drink legally as this season gets going.  

7. Chris Sale, SP, Chicago White Sox

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    Chris Sale is one of the most interesting pitchers on the list—and perhaps the most impressive, because although he entered 2012 spring training at only 22 years old, he is going into his third season with the Chicago White Sox. In 2010, the White Sox drafted him out of Florida Gulf Coast in the first round. By September, the 6'6" lefty was in the major-league bullpen, closing games for manager Ozzie Guillen. 

    Now, for new manager Robin Ventura, the big lefty will try to make the transition to the starting rotation after being a front-line reliever for the last one-plus seasons. Last year, Sale ended up with eight saves and a 2-2 record. His career ERA (a shade over 2.50) and his career batting average against of .190, explain his dominance over major-league hitters. 

    Sale will most likely make a seamless transition to the rotation, winning 15 games and throwing 160 innings. He has been dominant in spring training, firing fastballs past all hitters in his way. Chris' size and wiry arm is something the White Sox should be investing in for a long time, as he could be a Cy Young candidate as soon as this season. Although John Danks is the No. 1 pitcher on the White Sox staff, watching Sale on his good day is unmatchable. 

    Chris just needs to settle into a groove in his first season as a major-league starter, building up the arm strength needed to go deep into games in the dog days of the season. For years to come, he will be the arm that teams are afraid of facing at U.S. Cellular Field.