Baseball's Top 10 Young Studs Likely To Throw a No-Hitter
Colorado's 26-year-old Ubaldo Jimenez became the first Rockie in franchise history to throw a no-hitter when he silenced the bats of the hot-hitting Atlanta Braves over nine dazzling innings. But he's not the only guy 26 or younger to be lighting things up on the mound.
There are usually a couple of no-nos each year, although that number will probably drop now that Jason Varitek has seen his playing time behind the plate drop. He has caught four no-hitters, the most in baseball history.
There are still three teams who have yet to see a pitcher toss a no-hitter. The Rays haven't seen one in their young history, and the Padres have been waiting 41 years without any joy.
Spare a thought though for the New York Mets who have gone 48 years, and 7,663 games, without a no-no.
Here's my top 10 young studs not named Lincecum likely to throw a no-hitter before the end of the season. And whatever you do, don't jinx them when you're at the park when you look up at the scoreboard in centerfield and see no runs, no hits.
Remember: the first rule of a no-no is that you don't talk about a no-no. It's like Fight Club, just that little bit cooler.
10. Chris Volstad
Chris Volstad may be seen by some as a long shot to throw a no-hitter, but he certainly has the ability to turn into one of Florida’s best young pitchers.
Things haven’t been too smooth so far in 2010, but there are some serious skills lurking behind these deceptively-average performances. The thing about throwing a no-no is that you don’t have to be the best pitcher in the league. You don’t need to be a Cy Young winner and you don’t need to have a career ERA around 3.00.
You need to be on your game for about 2.5 hours and have faith that your best stuff is enough to stifle the opponents. Think about the list of people who threw no-hitters, even perfect games, before. Not all of them are Hall of Famers, and some pitchers may only be remembered for that one amazing game in an otherwise uneventful career.
Volstad can be one of these guys. He is only 23 years old, and he’s been pretty effective when he’s had the ball late into games. He’s only ever pitched one shutout (a five-hit performance away at the Giants) and he’s not your typical candidate for shutting down teams. His fastball isn’t overpowering and none of his pitches is what you would considering elite.
Still, he gets ahead of hitters, changes speeds, and works fast. He is improving each year and 2010 could be the year he really breaks out. He is a big guy (6’8”, 227) and if he continues to develop his changeup and works on pushing off the mound even stronger, he could be a gem in the rough.
9. Brian Matusz
Baltimore’s 23-year-old is something pretty special, and he could be a star for years to come.
He has nice movement on his two-seamer complemented by a big breaking ball, and even though he has only made a dozen Major League starts, the signs are there for him to dominate batters.
He’s struck out 27 in 24.2 innings of work this year, and as long as he doesn’t leave too many balls up in the zone, he could be tricky to hit when he’s pitching well.
While he has the natural ability to be a no-no candidate, there are a few things holding him back right now. Saturday’s start against Boston marked the first time in his career that he has thrown 100 pitches in back-to-back starts, and he has only ever pitched into the eighth inning once.
He hasn’t had a one-hitter or even an eight-inning three-hitter, so there needs to be a lot going right for Matusz to write himself into the history books. Still, stranger things have happened. I mean, who would have predicted Jon Lester throwing a no-hitter against the Royals coming into the 2008 season?
8. Brett Anderson
I have a tiny bit of a man crush on Anderson, I won't deny it. His stuff is as good as any 22-year-old in the league, and he has shown time and time again in his young career that when he is on, he is as unhittable as any seasoned veteran.
The second-round draft pick of the D'Backs in 2006 dominated at low-A ball in 2008 before being named as Baseball America's seventh-best prospect heading into the '09 season. Now 33 starts into his professional career, the question is just how high is his ceiling?
If you want an idea of what this kid is capable of, look no further than his two-hitter against the Boston Red Sox, at Fenway, last July.
While John Smoltz was getting battered by Adam Kennedy and Co., Anderson ploughed through a very good lineup with masterful brilliance. Sure, there was no Pedroia, Drew, Lowell, or Lowery, but he still had to deal with the trio of Youkillis, Ortiz, and Bay.
Whoever you're facing, there's something special going on when you allow just four base runners (two hits, two walks) in a complete game shutout.
It was the first time the rookie had pitched into the ninth inning, and he proved he was for real when he pitched eight innings of two-hit ball again just 13 days later against the Angels. Anderson carried a perfect game into the seventh before surrendering a two-out single to Bobby Abreu. If you remember that game, you'll recall that even then it was a weakly-hit ball that barely got past Kennedy and into shallow left field.
There's no reason to think that a sophomore slump is going to hinder Anderson's development, and there's every reason to be optimistic about his chances of a no-no. He has a sick slider, a quickly-improving curveball, and pinpoint control. With Anderson's ability to miss bats, that all adds up to the perfect recipe for a no-hitter.
7. Josh Johnson
Josh Johnson is one of the very best young aces in all of baseball. He is right at my self-imposed cut-out point in terms of age, but there's so much to love about his game.
He proved last season that his arm problems were well and truly behind him, and he has all the tools to throw a no-no. He has electric stuff and he knows how to keep the ball in the yard.
The big right-handed stud is equally comfortable on the road as he is at home, and he is absolute death throwing to righties. He threw more than 100 pitches in over half of his starts last season, and he recorded two complete games.
His best game though arguably came on Aug. 14 when he threw 7.1 innings of one-run, one-hit ball against the Rockies. That solo hit came with two outs in the sixth inning on a solo home run to Garret Atkins. Johnson struck out 11 in that game and it was the latest he has carried a no-hitter into the latter stages of a game.
Johnson has the makeup, and the fastball, to dominate games, and it might only be a matter of time before he makes history.
6. Tommy Hanson
Tommy Hanson may walk too many to ever dream of perfection, but he has
unbelievable stuff that could lead to a no-hitter by the end of the year.
At 23 years old, Hanson is still pretty raw and unpolished as far as the finished product goes, but he showed several times last year that he has the stuff to dominate. He blanked the Red Sox over six innings of two-hit baseball in just his fifth big league start last summer, and he relied on a heavy dose of ground balls to shutout the Astros through eight innings later in the fall.
His mid-90s fastball is his main weapon, but he also has a heavy slider and fantastic curveball. His changeup is the only pitch that he doesn't really have the confidence to throw on any count, but when there is a 12 or even 13 MPH difference in speed compared with the heater, he can make a lot of good hitters look very, very bad.
He will get plenty of opportunities to face the Mets and the Nationals this season, and that could mean a no-no is on the cards. Heck, regardless of who he goes up against, an 11-4 record and 2.89 ERA in 21 starts last year shows just how good he is. Eighteen strikeouts in 16 innings so far this year says expect more of the same in 2010.
Tom Glavine who?
5. David Price
David Price has been ripping it up in 2010. He’s started the year 3-1 with a 2.20 ERA, and he threw a four-hitter against the Blue Jays yesterday while striking out nine.
He did give up a couple booming doubles and line drive base hits, but there were plenty of encouraging signs for the 24-year-old in his best start yet. His command isn’t always the best, and numbers show that he’s been a little fortunate so far this year, but he still has a nasty fastball that he relies on most of the time.
He’s got a taste for going the distance after his first complete game, and he knows that the guys in the starting rotation need to go deep in to games to give the Rays every chance to stay competitive in the tough AL East. If his changeup is on, like it was yesterday, and Evan Longoria continues to turn in outstanding plays behind him, the sky’s the limit for this highly-touted 6’6” hurler.
There’s a great chance that he can live up to his No. 1 draft pick billing, and he's only going to get better.
4. Jair Jurrjens
Jurrjens is one half of the very talented duo of young arms in the Atlanta rotation who could anchor the staff for years to come. While Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, and Kenshin Kawakami are all over 34, Jurrjens is just 24 years old.
I really like his stuff, but he has shown a tendency early on in his career to walk a lot of batters. His control isn't fantastic and that can get him into trouble, but he throws three good pitches that can get him out of tough spots.
When he is on, he's as good as anybody, but he needs everything to go right to have a legitimate shot at a no-hitter. He's never pitched into the ninth inning of any game in his career, and only on one occasion has he finished seven innings with only one base hit. He has the tools to do it, but it's less likely.
3. Yovani Gallardo
Yovani Gallado exploded back from knee problems in 2008 last year when he won 13 games for the Milwaukee Brewers. The truth is that if he played for a big-market club, he would already be a household name. As it is, he's just another young ace waiting for the country to step up and take notice. A no hitter would certainly do that.
Gallardo posted a staggering 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 2009 which was second in the National League only to a little-known guy called Tim Lincecum. That's pretty good company for the 24-year-old pitcher on the Brew Crew.
Gallardo came close to a no-hitter several times last year and 2010 could be the year when it all comes together. He gave up two hits in eight innings against the Pirates last April, allowed just an infield single and one line drive to left against the Cardinals in May, and out-pitched fellow young star Jair Jurrjens when he scattered a pair of hits over eight shutout innings in June.
He doesn't have the best control out of anyone on this list, but few have the stuff that he possesses. Watch out for fireworks in 2010.
2. Felix Hernandez
King Felix entered the season as a 23-year-old full of promise, coming off the back of a Cy Young-worthy 2009 which saw him notch 19 wins.
He has started off a little slowly in 2010 by his own high standards, but he has improved with each start, including a complete game against the Orioles last time out.
He has always had electric stuff, exemplified by a complete game as a teenager back in 2005 and a four-hit shutout against the Angels in ’06. The greatest example of his ability to dominate, however, came during his second start of the 2007 season when he threw a one-hitter at Fenway.
The ball didn’t leave the infield for the first seven innings, and only Jason Varitek’s ground ball through the gap between second and short prevented him for a no-hitter. Hernandez finished allowing just two walks and that sole hit, striking out six in masterful 111-pitch display that included 17 ground ball outs.
The only other time he came this close to a no-no was in a two-hit shutout against the Padres, although the excitement was considerably less considering he had allowed a second-inning single.
You know the book on Hernandez, and it’s not pretty if you’re a hitter. He has been striking out more batters for each of the past three seasons while allowing fewer home runs per fly ball. Opponents’ batting averages against him have dropped from .280 in 2007 to .259, .229, and now just .218.
His fastball is virtually unhittable at 94 MPH and his changeup is paralyzing. Add in a slider and deuce to the mix and you can see why he’s a candidate to throw a no-no whenever he takes the mound. Oh, and Safeco is a notorious pitchers' park, just in case it wasn't hard enough to score runs off him as it was.
1. Clayton Kershaw
Clayton Kershaw is my top prospect to throw a no-hitter in 2010. He led the league in hits per nine innings at just 6.3 in 2009 and he regularly goes deep into games without getting hit hard.
It’s not unusual to see Kershaw on the mound in the seventh inning of a game around the 85 pitch mark with one or two hits and double-digit strikeouts. The guy is flat out great.
Last year alone he shut down some very solid offenses with unhittable stuff. There were four games where he pitched seven innings of two-hit ball or less, and two of these came on four days rest.
On one occasion he gave up just one hit to the Giants in seven innings of work, facing the minimum 18 batters after a leadoff home run in the second inning. He struck out 13 in that game. In another, he surrendered just one hit to the Marlins while striking out nine.
Kershaw has been below his best in four starts this year, but he is still striking batters out and giving his team a chance to win. He has a lively fastball and a filthy curve, and he has one of the best defenses in the National League to make plays behind him.