With the 2009 MLB Draft quickly approaching, each team is looking for that stud arm to bolster their starting rotation (or bullpen) in the near future.
With Stephen Strasburg expected to be chosen number one overall by the Washington Nationals, it got this writer thinking: who are the best young pitchers in baseball?
The criteria is rather simple. The pitcher is not allowed to have had his 25th birthday. (Sorry Cole Hamels, Scott Kazmir, and Jon Lester.) They also must have made an appearance in the Big Leagues. Meanwhile, the list will take into account what the pitcher has accomplished already and what they may do in the future.
So who are the best young arms in baseball?
Rick Porcello has already made a name for himself in his rookie season with the Detroit Tigers.
Just 20 years of age, Porcello is the youngest player in baseball. Don't let that fool you. He is currently 6-3 with a 3.48 ERA and 1.16 WHIP.
He could have been picked much higher in the 2007 Draft, but slipped down to the 27th spot, where Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski did not hesitate in taking him. Give the Tigers credit for busting slot and paying Porcello a large signing bonus. They got a heck of a talent because of it.
Jair Jurrjens may not always come to mind as one of the best young pitchers in baseball, but he has a track record that is tough to go against.
Becoming the first pitcher from Curacao to reach the Majors, Jurrjens has been a highlight this season for the Atlanta Braves, going 5-2 with a 2.59 ERA thus far.
Credit goes to Dombrowski for drafting Porcello, but take some points away for the trade that sent Jurrjens and outfield prosepct Gorkys Hernandez from the Tigers to the Braves for aging veteran Edgar Renteria.
Jurrjens debuted in 2007 with Detroit. He started 31 games last season for Atlanta, posting a 3.68 ERA and a 13-10 record.
Since being selected first overall by Tampa Bay in the 2007 draft, it's been nothing but success for southpaw David Price.
Price has hardly scratched the surface in terms of Major League experience, but has already proven his top-pick status. He has struck out 29 batters in 23 innings in the Majors and got some valuable post-season experience last October.
He returned to AAA to begin 2009 because the Rays wanted to monitor his innings and pitch counts. He is now back with the big club and may not need another trip to the Minors in his career.
According to FanGraphs, his fastball has become a little faster, up to 95.2 MPH on average so far this season, up from 94.2 last year.
If you're a baseball fan, you may know the "Joba Rules." The rules prevented Chamberlain from pitching on consecutive days, and allowed him extra rest in between appearances. That was back in 2007. Since then, Chamberlain has become a key part of the New York Yankees' starting rotation.
He had an astounding 13.8 K/9 ratio in his 18 games in the minors. Fifteen of them were starts.
This year, Chamberlain has started ten games for the Bronx Bombers, going 3-1 with a 3.71 ERA. Control has been a bit of an issue, as he has walked 27 batters in 53.1 innings.
But the 23-year-old Chamberlain rocketed to the majors after being selected by the Yankees in the 2006 draft. At the beginning of last season, he was named the Yankees' No. 1 prospect by Baseball America. Yeah, he's lived up to that.
When you think about nasty pitches in baseball, you think of Johan Santana's change-up, Nolan Ryan's fastball, and Mariano Rivera's cutter. Pretty soon, you will be able to add Clayton Kershaw's curveball to that list.
Kershaw just became of legal drinking age in March. The baby-faced lefty wowed scouts, and became the seventh pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2006.
His curveball is said to have plus potential, while his fastball is nothing to scoff at either, sitting in the mid-90s regularly. He has had some growing pains, seeing he has a 4.29 ERA in the Majors thus far.
However, he has struck out 155 hitters in 163.2 innings already, and his WHIP of last year at 1.50 has tumbled to 1.29 this season.
It was obvious that some day, Yovani Gallardo would be Milwaukee's ace. With the departure of right-hander Ben Sheets, Gallardo has become that ace.
It's not to say Gallardo hasn't had some injury issues, a problem that bothered Sheets as well. Last season, he tore his ACL in a game against the Cubs in May. Amazingly, he returned much sooner than expected on September 24, and pitched in the first game of the NLDS against the Phillies.
At the age of 23, Gallardo is having his best season yet. He is sixth in the league in WHIP, and has allowed just 49 hits in 65 innings. He is 5-2 with a 3.18 ERA.
A fastball-curveball pitcher, Gallardo also has a very good slider that breaks away from hitters. Now getting his chance, Gallardo has proved he is every bit of the ace that Milwaukee expected him to be.
Imagine having to face a 6'4", 290-pound pitcher in the ninth inning of a ball game. Yeah, not fun.
It's less fun when you consider Jonathan Broxton throws 100 miles per hour. This season, Broxton has mocked opposing hitters. He's 5-0 with 12 saves, and has allowed eight hits in 26 innings. His K/9 ratio is 14.2, and he's one of the most imposing relief pitchers in baseball.
He was barely eligible for our list, as he will turn 25 in two weeks. He's also the lone reliever on the list, which validates his performance as nothing else but amazing.
Opposing hitters have a .198 BABIP against him, which may show he's due to regress to the mean in the near future. On the flip side, if he continues throwing heat, not many players are going to be putting the ball in play against him anyway.
Moving into his fourth full season in the Major Leagues, it may be tough for some to believe Matt Cain isn't 25 yet. Alas, he doesn't have his 25th birthday until October 1.
Cain is truthfully a general manager's wet dream: Young, accomplished, healthy, and cheap. He hasn't been on the disabled list in his Major League career, and he makes just $2.65 million this season, $4.25 million next year, and has a club option for 2011 at $6.25 million. A player's contract status didn't factor into this list, but it's certainly an interesting footnote.
The funny thing is, Cain went 15-30 in 2007 and 2008 combined, another reason that wins for starting pitchers has become an irrelevant stat. He had some of the worst run support in baseball the past few seasons, but is finally getting some help this year on his way to a 6-1 record.
He has a 2.31 ERA this season, after his 3.76 ERA last year and 3.65 ERA in 2007. He is on his way to pitching 200 innings for the third consecutive year, and has proved as durable as any pitcher in baseball. Most impressively, he's allowed just 620 hits in 721 innings in the Majors.
I guess if you're a player in any sport, "King" isn't a bad nickname. For 23-year-old Felix Hernandez, hopes were high ever since he signed as a teenage undrafted free agent.
He debuted in 2005 in the Majors, and also won Pacific Coast League Most Valuable Pitcher and Rookie of the Year. He has a dominating fastball which can reach the high 90s, but also throws his change-up, curveball, and slider effectively.
This year, he's 5-3 with a 3.41 ERA and 1.28 WHIP, and has struck out 72 batters in 71.1 innings. For the most part, he has been healthy, but has made a couple trips to the DL in his career with minor ankle and elbow issues.
He was a minor league cult hero of sorts, going 25-9 with a 2.42 ERA before reaching the Majors. He is the type of pitcher who, barring injury, can be an upper-echelon pitcher in the American League for years to come.
If you knew Tim Lincecum's age coming into this list, you probably knew how this was going to end. Like Broxton, he'll also be 25 in about two weeks. Nonetheless, here's the book on Lincecum: He's good. Really good.
Yes, nine teams passed on Lincecum in the 2006 draft, maybe because they had questions about his violent delivery and his size. (He's 5'11", 172 pounds.) The San Francisco Giants ended up getting one heck of a pitcher.
The delivery was created in part by his father, and he has used it throughout his entire life, all the way back to little league. Dad must have been a good teacher.
Lincecum won the N.L. Cy Young last year, going 18-5 with a 2.62 ERA for a 72-90 Giants team. In his 13 starts in the minors, he went 6-0 with a 1.01 ERA and 15.0 K/9 ratio. He got the call-up to the Big Leagues in early 2007, and has been a staple in the Giants' rotation since.
His fastball reaches the upper 90s, his change-up is devastating, and his curveball, which is usually thrown to get hitters chasing for strikeouts, is a nasty pitch that usually hits the dirt.
When it's all said and done, the record books better look out, because the not-yet-25 Lincecum is off to some start. In terms of pitchers not yet 25, he's the best.