Young MLB Pitchers Ready to Break Out Next Season
In 2013, a new group of young pitching stars emerged with Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez leading the way. Rookies Gerrit Cole, Pat Corbin, Shelby Miller, Martin Perez, Hyun-jin Ryu, Julio Teheran and Zack Wheeler also burst onto the scene and appear to have cemented themselves near the top of their respective team's starting rotation for years to come.
So if you're a fan of pitching, you've probably had an enjoyable season. And fortunately, there are more big-time arms ready to break out in 2014. This group includes another potential Japanese import, 24-year-old right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who is expected to be posted by his current team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, as was first reported by former big league and Japanese League pitcher C.J. Nitkowski in an ESPN Insider article back in early March.
Tanaka isn't believed to be as good as Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish, but many still consider him to be a top-of-the-rotation starter with a mid-90s fastball, plus-plus splitter and solid breaking pitches. If he's anywhere close to Darvish and Ryu, who were posted in each of the past two respective seasons, acquiring him could have just as big of an impact than signing either of the top two free-agent starters available—Matt Garza and Ervin Santana.
Here's a look at seven other young starting pitchers who are ready to make a major impact in 2014.
Archie Bradley, Arizona Diamondbacks
Despite the July trade of Ian Kennedy, the D-backs could still have a crowded rotation heading into 2014 and, arguably, the most talented pitcher in the group, 21-year-old Archie Bradley, is probably slated for Triple-A Reno to begin the season.
It won't be long before he reaches Arizona, though, if he continues to dominate as he's done in his 26 starts between High-A and Double-A in 2013. After posting mixed results in his first full pro season in 2011 (3.84 ERA, 5.8 BB/9, 10.1 K/9), the 6'4" right-hander has appeared to put it all together this season, showing improved control (4.1 BB/9) while shutting down opponents consistently (1.84 ERA, 152 IP, 115 H, 69 BB, 162 K).
The walk rate could still use some improvement, but Bradley has the makings of a top-of-the-rotation workhorse who averages over 200 innings and 200 strikeouts annually. Expect him to get a fair shot to win a rotation spot next spring, though it might take an injury or two to for him to make his debut prior to early June.
Jarred Cosart, Houston Astros
Pitching prospect Jarred Cosart, who joined the Astros rotation in early July, has given the team plenty of reason to look forward to the future. Although he appears to still be a work in progress with nearly as many walks as hits (29 BB, 30 K), big league hitters have not had much success against the 23-year-old.
In nine starts, Cosart has a 2.13 ERA and has had only one start that would be considered bad (4 IP, 4 ER, 5 H, 3 BB, 5 K versus Cincinnati on September 3). In his previous eight starts, Cosart had seven quality starts (at least six innings pitched, no more than three earned runs allowed) and allowed no more than one earned run six times.
If he continues to progress, the Astros could have a legitimate top-of-the-rotation starter on their staff as they move from their current rebuilding state to win-now mode by the 2015 season.
Kevin Gausman, Baltimore Orioles
Gausman, who was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2012 draft, showed that he wasn't quite ready to take on a permanent rotation spot after an inconsistent five-start stint to begin his big league career (7.66 ERA, 24.2 IP, 34 H, 6 BB, 20 K). The 22-year-old was returned to the minors and has been brought back in a relief role on a few different occasions with much better results (2.51 ERA, 14.1 IP, 10 H, 6 BB, 14 K).
While he is having an impact as a reliever during the team's playoff run, Gausman should be ready to make a much bigger impact out of the gate next season when he's likely to win a rotation spot behind Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris and Miguel Gonzalez. The right-hander has the potential to quickly jump to the top of the O's rotation, however, with a chance to be the clear No. 1 starter by Opening Day 2015.
Sonny Gray, Oakland Athletics
After two impressive relief appearances to start his big league career (4 IP, 0 R, 2 H, BB, 6 K), the A's sent Gray back to the minors for a brief stint before bringing him back to the majors in a starting role.
The results have been excellent (2.90 ERA, 31 IP, 23 H, 9 BB, 31 K), although he's already surpassed 150 innings on the season and might not be able to contribute much if the A's made a run deep into the playoffs.
That won't be the case in 2014, however, when Gray will be expected to take on an integral role early on. The 23-year-old, who was the 18th overall pick in the 2011 draft, has the talent to emerge as the leader of an impressive rotation that includes Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, Dan Straily and A.J. Griffin.
Jameson Taillon, Pittsburgh Pirates
Taillon is likely to be on the same path as fellow top pitching prospect Gerrit Cole, who made his big league debut on June 11 and has been in the Pirates rotation since. As was the case with Cole, the 21-year-old hasn't dominated in the minors, but he's been consistently good and has top-of-the-rotation potential.
In six starts since a promotion to Triple-A, the 6'6" right-hander has a 3.89 ERA with 16 walks and 37 strikeouts in 37 innings pitched. A September call-up hasn't been ruled out, although it's more likely they shut him down in the near future, as he's currently at a career-high 147.1 innings on the season.
While it's certainly possible that the Bucs will try to bring in another starter this offseason with A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez eligible to become free agents, Taillon's presence and close-to-major league readiness will likely keep them out of the mix for a big name. In fact, they could stand pat altogether in anticipation of a mid-June rotation that includes Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Jeff Locke, Charlie Morton and Taillon.
Yordano Ventura, Kansas City Royals
It's very likely to be one-and-done for Ervin Santana, who is eligible for free agency after one terrific season in Kansas City. Fortunately, the team could have top pitching prospect Yordano Ventura ready to step into the rotation early in 2014, if not right out of the gate.
As a 22-year-old with a fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s, there is still the possibility that he ends up as a late-inning reliever. But his 2013 season—split between Double-A and Triple-A—has given no indication that he'll need to go that route anytime soon.
In 134.1 innings, Ventura has a 3.14 ERA with 53 walks and 155 strikeouts. Since a promotion to the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, the 5'11" right-hander continues to pitch well with a 2.85 ERA, 16 walks and 54 strikeouts in 47.1 innings over his last nine starts.
A projected 2014 rotation of James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Danny Duffy, Wade Davis and Felipe Paulino could be good enough to get the team through the first month or two of the season. But as long as Ventura continues to get hitters out in Triple-A, it won't be long before he claims a spot.
Taijuan Walker, Seattle Mariners
Mariners fans are currently getting a consolation gift to another disappointing season. That gift is an early look at top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker, who has allowed four earned runs in 10 innings over his first two big league starts.
The 21-year-old, one of a few minor leaguers with "ace" potential, should slot in right behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma in the 2014 rotation. While he still isn't close to reaching his potential, his 2013 numbers between Double-A and Triple-A (2.93 ERA, 141.1 IP, 112 H, 57 BB, 160 K in 25 starts) indicate that he's more than ready to make an impact in the majors.
Once his repertoire becomes more refined, the 6'4" right-hander should develop into one of the better young pitchers in the game. Considering how many up-and-coming pitching stars there are in the game, that should say a lot.