Introducing Yu Darvish and MLB's New Crop of Top Aces

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistApril 25, 2013

Introducing Yu Darvish and MLB's New Crop of Top Aces

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    Each MLB season, a handful of players take a major step forward and join the ranks of the game's elite. In the starting rotation, that sort of emergence can play a major role in the team's present and future success.

    Texas Rangers right-hander and Japanese import Yu Darvish was solid in his first big league season last year. In 2013, he's been nothing short of dominant out of the gates, pitching like a legitimate staff ace.

    He's not the only one who has made the leap to ace status. Here is a look at the MLB's new crop of top aces.

Clay Buchholz

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    2013 Stats

    5 GS, 5-0, 1.19 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 39 K, 37,2 IP


    Why He's An Ace

    Clay Buchholz has always had front-line potential, dating back to the Red Sox taking him in the supplemental round of the 2005 draft.

    He was the No. 4 prospect in baseball entering the 2008 season, according to Baseball America. He had dazzled in a brief four-game audition in Boston the previous season, which included a no-hitter in his second big league start.

    After a shaky first two full seasons in the majors, Buchholz finally appeared to take the next step in 2010 when he went 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA.

    However, he went just 17-11 with a 4.24 ERA over the next two seasons. Entering the 2013 campaign, he was as big a question mark as any on the Boston roster.

    Those questions have been cast aside, as the 28-year-old has been fantastic through his first five starts. He has certainly looked the part of staff ace.

Jeff Samardzija

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    2013 Stats

    5 GS, 1-4, 3.03 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 39 K, 32.2 IP


    Why He's An Ace

    When the Cubs drafted Jeff Samardzija in the fifth round back in 2006, they signed him to a five-year, $10 million deal that included a $2.5 million signing bonus to ensure that the talented two-sport athlete would not be tempted by the NFL.

    After a rocky start to his career, he settled in as the team's top setup man in 2011. He made 75 appearances, posting a 2.97 ERA and 8.9 K/9 that season.

    A starter by trade, the Cubs gave him a rotation spot out of camp last season, and he responded with a breakout campaign. His 9-13 record wasn't pretty, but he had a 3.81 ERA and 180 strikeouts in 174.2 innings of work.

    His stuff can be unhittable when he's on, evidenced by his 13 strikeouts in 5.2 innings of work during his second start of the season. The rebuilding Cubs need him to continue to progress into a bona fide ace, and he's done that in the early going this year.

Matt Moore

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    2013 Stats

    4 GS, 4-0, 1.04 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 29 K, 26 IP


    Why He's An Ace

    Matt Moore had a dominant minor league season in 2011, going 12-3 with a 1.92 ERA and 210 strikeouts in 155 innings of work. He entered the 2012 season as the top pitching prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America and essentially every other publication.

    He was given a rotation spot to open the season, and his stats were terrific for a 23-year-old rookie. He went 11-11 with a 3.81 ERA and 175 strikeouts in 177.1 innings.

    However, expectations were so high for the left-hander that his debut season was viewed as a mild disappointment.

    There's been nothing disappointing about the way he's started the 2013 season, though. With James Shields gone, the Rays need him to keep pitching like he has if they're going to have a shot at the playoffs.

Matt Harvey

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    2013 Stats

    5 GS, 4-0, 1.54 ERA, 0.69 WHIP, 39 K, 35 IP


    Why He's An Ace

    When the Mets selected Matt Harvey with the No. 7 pick in the 2010 draft out of the University of North Carolina, they viewed him as a future front-line starter who could move quickly through their system.

    They were right on both accounts. It took him a little over two years from the time he was drafted to crack the Mets rotation. Once he arrived, he excelled immediately.

    In 10 starts following his call-up last year, he went 3-5 with a 2.73 ERA, 1.146 WHIP and 10.6 K/9. He stood out as one of the few bright spots for the Mets in the second half.

    The 24-year-old has built off that impressive debut and been even better this season, allowing just 14 hits through his first 35 innings of work en route to a 4-0 start. He and top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler should be the driving force behind the Mets' return to contention.

Yu Darvish

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    2013 Stats

    5 GS, 4-1, 1.65 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 49 K, 32.2 IP


    Why He's An Ace

    After a spectacular career in Japan, the Rangers shelled out some serious money to sign Yu Darvish last offseason. They paid a $51.7 million posting fee to win negotiating rights and then signed him to a six-year, $56 million deal.

    He made a smooth transition to the MLB game as a rookie, going 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA and 221 strikeouts in 191.1 innings of work. It was a season that would have won him Rookie of the Year honors in almost any other year, but he wound up third behind Mike Trout and Yoenis Cespedes.

    Though Matt Harrison earned the Opening Day nod for the Rangers, there was little question who their best pitcher was entering the season. And Darvish has certainly avoided a sophomore letdown thus far.

    After coming an out away from throwing a perfect game in his first start of the season, Darvish has continued to dominate. He currently ranks in the top five across the board in the American League.