MLB: Ranking the Rookie Pitchers of the AL East
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The AL East is known for big bats, big budgets, and big markets, but this year is the year of the pitcher.
Here are the best arms of the future that have already made it to the show in 2011.
5. Jake McGee, Tampa Bay Rays
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Jake McGee the next in a line of talents to come out of Tampa's 2004 draft, which featured Jeff Niemann, Reid Brignac, and Wade Davis. A 5th round pick selected out of high school, the lefty reliever overcame Tommy John surgery to force his way into the closer mix this spring.
Despite losing the closer job to Kyle Farnsworth, McGee may get his fair share of opportunities to close as the summer goes on. He has a strong fastball that can reach the high 90s and a power slider that can keep lefties and righties off-balance. He has the potential to be a very good piece in this revamped Rays bullpen.
4. Ivan Nova, New York Yankees
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Ivan Nova came to the Yankees as an undrafted free agent and made his mark as he climbed the minors. He was taken by the Padres in the Rule 5 draft, but his rough spring led to him being sent back to the Yankees and they wouldn't risk letting him go again.
Now the 4th starter on the team, Nova is still developing into a back-end of the rotation pitcher. His has great heat on his fastball, which sits in the mid 90s. His two-seam fastball should lead him to being a good groundball pitcher, which plays well with the right side of the infield, but could expose Derek Jeter's range issues on balls hit to the left.
Nova will take his lumps this season, as seen by his rough start in Boston in his second start, but his tall frame and quality stuff should shine through as he progresses over the course of the season.
3. Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay Rays
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Jeremy Hellickson should not be on this list. In my mind, the Rays made a mistake leaving him in the minors to mince the Triple A hitters and dominate them until his call-up in August.
Now that he is in the rotation to stay, Hellickson is in a good position to be successful. The Rays may not be able to give him wins due to poor offense, but Hellickson can keep runs off the board because he refuses to walk hitters (despite an unnatural 5 walks against the Red Sox on Monday).
Hellickson possesses incredible control of all of his pitches and can use that and his intelligence to fool hitters. It also leads me to believe that he can maintain his success for a long time.
I get the feeling that Hellickson will hit a road block in the middle of the year, when hitters start making adjustments faster than he can. That said, I get the feeling that it will just become a short, tough stretch that will teach him to overcome adversity and make him a better pitcher in the end.
2. Kyle Drabek, Toronto Blue Jays
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Kyle Drabek has been a hot name over the past couple years due to his "untouchable" status as a part of the Phillies organization. That ended up being false as Drabek became the main piece in the deal that sent Cliff Lee to the Mariners and Roy Halladay to the Phillies. As the main piece of the deal, Drabek had a lot of expectations and has lived up to the hype in his short foray into the league.
The son of former Cy Young winning pitcher, Doug Drabek, Kyle is blessed with a low 90s fastball that he commands well and a slow, lock-up curveball that has the ability to draws some swings and misses.
Drabek could be a key piece in the young Blue Jays rotation, which features some solid arms around him. His early offerings this year have shown Toronto that they have a bright future.
1. Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles
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Zach Britton wasn't supposed to be in the Orioles rotation when they broke camp, but an injury to Brian Matusz led to Britton starting game 3 of the season against the Rays. Britton dazzled in his debut, despite giving up on his signature sinker at the beginning of the game.
Britton, the Orioles top prospect, showed that his first start was not a fluke against the best team in the majors, the Texas Rangers, and handed them their first loss, going 7 2/3 of shutout innings in the process.
The best sinker in the minors has belonged to Britton over the past couple of years, due to the mid 90s velocity and his ability to leave it at the bottom of the strike zone. His other defining quality is his tenacity as he is not afraid to challenge hitters with his plus stuff. He also possesses a good slider and has shown signs that his changeup is also good.
Zach Britton has clearly made a mark on the league in his first two starts, going 2-0 with a 0.66 ERA, which ranks 3rd in the AL (right behind teammate Jeremy Guthrie). He has jumped out into the lead of the rookie of the year race and, assuming the Orioles keep him in the majors, could easily win it when the year is over.