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Major League Baseball: King Felix and the Top 25 Rising Pitchers Under 25

Nicholas PuglieseContributor IIIApril 23, 2011

Major League Baseball: King Felix and the Top 25 Rising Pitchers Under 25

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    Each year, the talent that enters Major League Baseball seems to get younger.  After all, we are on the verge of seeing a player break into the majors who is barely old enough to vote for the President of the United States.

    This is great news for the fans who get to see a young talent pool of players who should be around for a very long time.

    Here is a list of the top 25 pitchers under age 25 who should anchor major league pitching staffs for the next 10 to 15 years.

Honorable Mentions

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    Mike 'Klepto' LeakeChristian Petersen/Getty Images
    • Carlos Carrasco (Indians)
    • Wade Davis (Rays)
    • Jair Jurrjens (Braves)
    • Mike Leake (Reds)
    • Jon Niese (Mets)
    • Chris Sale (White Sox)
    • Jordan Walden (Angels)
    • Travis Wood (Reds)
    • Jordan Zimmerman (Nats)

    *John Danks just missed the list by turning 26 a week ago.

25. Madison Bumgarner (21)

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    As if the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants did not have enough great young pitching already with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez.

    Madison Bumgarner absolutely dominated the minor leagues after being the 10th overall selection in the 2007 draft, posting ERA's in the 1.00's in both 2008 and 2009.

    After starting 2010 in Triple-A and posting a 7-1 record in 14 starts, he was promoted to the big leagues and was terrific during his rookie campaign.

    He demonstrated the great stuff scouts loved and above-average command for such a young pitcher.

    His 2011 hasn't been the follow up he would have hoped for.  His command has fallen apart in the early goings of the season, but the extremely small sample size does not have me concerned about this terrific young starter.

24. Rick Porcello (22)

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    Rick Porcello has not been able to live up to the lofty expectations that surrounded him in the 2007 Major League Baseball draft.

    When you realize that he is still almost the youngest pitcher in the league and already in his third season, you become a little more understanding about the fact.

    Porcello had a great rookie campaign, finishing third in the Rookie of the Year voting by posting a 14-9 record with a 3.96 ERA. 

    On the surface, it seemed he fell into the "sophomore slump" last year, going as far as to earn a demotion to Triple-A, but the sabermetrics show he pitched just as well, if not even better. He just fell into some bad luck.

    This year, the veteran seems like a much more mature pitcher.  He changed his approach of attacking hitters and developed his change-up, enabling him to strikeout more hitters.

    While it still seems unlikely he ever turns into that bona fide ace he was advertised as out of high school, he still has a shot to develop even more into a No. 2 or very good No. 3 starter.

23. Phil Hughes (24)

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    An 18-game winner and All-Star appearance with the New York Yankees. That is what a 24-year-old Phil Hughes was able to accomplish in 2010.

    In a short amount of time, Hughes has already had an extremely eventful career.

    It all began when he went down with a hamstring injury during a no-hit bid in the seventh inning as a rookie back in 2007, but he would then win his first career playoff game later in the year when he had to replace Roger Clemens, who had ironically also suffered a hamstring injury.

    An oblique injury would cost him almost all of 2008, and then he was used as the setup man for almost all of 2009.

    Finally getting a full year as a starter in 2010, Hughes took off going 11-2 with a 3.65 ERA in the first half of the year to earn a spot in the All-Star game.  He was not nearly as effective in the second half of the year and finished at 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA.  Still a terrific year.

    In a continuing trend from the second half of last year, Hughes was just awful to begin 2011 and was forced to the DL with a "dead arm." His velocity was way down by about 4 mph, which is a little concerning.

    Nevertheless, the young Yankee has a bright future ahead of him.

22. Chris Perez (25)

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    Chris Perez was traded from the St. Louis Cardinals in June 2009 for Mark DeRosa.  He served in the setup role for a month and then took over as the closer following the Kerry Wood trade to the Yankees. Since then, Perez has taken the job and run away with it.

    After taking over as the closer, Perez has been successful in 30 out of 37 opportunities, good for an 81 percent success rate.

    He was particularly good in 2010, posting a 1.71 ERA and notching 23 saves while blowing just four.  That is an 85 percent success rate.

    On a surprising Indians team in 2011, Perez is already up to six saves while blowing just one. 

    After struggling mightily with his command early in his career, Perez has made some minor improvements in that area, on his way to becoming one of the better closers in baseball.

21. Gio Gonzalez (25)

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    The first of three Oakland pitchers to appear on this list and possibly the most underrated pitcher of anyone on this list.

    Gonzalez has one of the best curveballs in baseball and he knows it, using the curve as often as anyone in baseball by throwing it 30 percent of the time to rack up the strikeouts.

    After finally receiving a full-time gig in 2010, Gonzalez let the A's feel the benefits by reaching the 200-inning mark, putting up a 3.23 ERA to go along with a 170 strikeouts.

    Gonzalez is always going to be a guy who walks a lot of batters if history is any indication of future performance, but he is also a guy who will strike out a ton.

    While his blistering start to 2011 is likely unsustainable (low BABIP and extremely high LOB%) he still looks like he will be an above-average starting pitcher for a long time.

20. Kyle Drabek (23)

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    You better hope you turn out to be a very good player if you are the main piece in a deal for Roy Halladay, and Kyle Drabek is shaping up to be just that.

    The young righty has a little bit of "Doc" in him, being able to cut, dip, and dive an overpowering fastball while accompanying it with a great overhand hook. 

    Now he doesn't have the control, changeup, or ability to eat innings like Halladay, but then again almost no one does.

    After losing all three games in 2010, despite two quality starts, Drabek has followed it up with a better year in 2011.  He is struggling with his command this year, but history in his minor league career has shown that will improve. 

    Drabek should help ease the pain of Blue Jay fans who had to deal with losing someone like Halladay to a big-market team because they could not afford him.

19. Daniel Bard (25)

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    When your presence in the bullpen has Boston talking about getting rid of perennial All-Star and fan favorite closer Jonathan Papelbon, you know you've done something right.

    The University of North Carolina product, Daniel Bard, has been able to accomplish just that in his two seasons as the Red Sox setup man, thanks to his blistering fastball that has gone upwards of 100 mph. 

    While he was drafted as a starting pitcher and struggled in the minors in that position, ever since he was moved to the pen, he been he has been almost perfect.

    He has made steady improvements with his control in his young career and maintained his strikeout per inning rate, becoming one of the best setup men in the whole league.

    With Papelbon eligible for free agency at the end of year, Bard could become the full-time closer in Beantown by 2012.

18. Derek Holland (24)

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    In 2009, it appeared the Rangers had rushed Holland to the big leagues much too quickly after giving him just one start in Triple-A.

    Things were not so hot for Holland that year, and he wound up not making the Rangers out of spring in 2010, finally getting some seasoning in the high minors.  Holland was lights out during his time in Oklahoma City and made it back to the majors thanks to some injuries to Texas pitchers.

    He showed some improvements, upping his strikeout rate significantly and lowering his ERA down into the low 4's. 

    Fast forward to 2011, and Holland is looking more like a top prospect.  Thanks to his much improved command, he has two wins in his first three starts while posting a 3.65 ERA.  His FIP and xFIP are showing that the improvements are no joke.

    Holland's plus stuff from the left side make him look like a potential ace.  

17. Zach Britton (23)

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    The Orioles' top prospect entering 2011 was the story of spring training, looking like a seasoned veteran out there. 

    He wasn't supposed to make the team because of contract reasons, but an injury to Brian Matusz forced the O's hands and now they are reaping the rewards.

    In four starts, Britton is 3-1 with 3.16 ERA. More importantly, he has shown the ability to keep his pitch count down and pitch deep into games, averaging 6.1 innings per start.

    You will be hard-pressed to find another left-handed pitcher with as good a sinking fastball and changeup combo as Britton.

    His ability to use those two pitches to keep the ball on the ground give him a great recipe for success to excel in such a hitter's paradise as Camden Yards.

16. Aroldis Chapman (23)

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    102, 100, 101, 103, 100, 101, 100.

    No those are not scores to today's NBA playoff action, they are the average velocities for Chapman's fastball during some of his appearances this year.

    He is arguably the hardest thrower ever to grace the mound in a major league game and is a lefty to boot.  He is a once-in-a-generation type of talent.

    When the Reds signed him after he left Cuba, the plan was to make him a starting pitcher, but after some less than spectacular performances, they quickly switched him to a role in the pen.

    It only took 15 performances in 2010 for fans to quickly fall in love with this fireballer.

    The Cincinnati Reds closer job is currently locked down by Francisco Cordero, but there is no question if Chapman remains in the bullpen, that job will eventually be his.

15. Jhoulys Chacin (23)

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    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Jhoulys Chacin has already showed he has what it takes to be a top-of-the-rotation type starter.

    He has the ability to mix in four different pitches and throw all of them for strikes. 

    Chacin is not overpowering by any means, but it is his two plus breaking balls that allowed him to strikeout over one batter per inning during his rookie year.

    If Chacin was on another team in a big market, he would be talked about with the likes of some of the pitchers near the top of the list, because he really is that good.

    When you add in the factor of his home ballpark, Chacin's season becomes even that much more impressive.

14. Michael Pineda (22)

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    Michael Pineda puts the horse in workhorse.  The young starter is a behemoth on the mound, standing at a ridiculous 6'7" and 260 pounds.

    He had posted great numbers throughout his minor league career, with the only thing holding him back being injury problems with his elbow.

    Now healthy, Pineda has made his presence felt in his rookie season.

    He is already able to mix in three plus pitches at a young age, which has given him terrific results in his first three starts. 

    He has given his team a quality start in each of his performances and showed why he was such a hot prospect coming into 2011.

    Between Pineda and Felix Hernandez, the Mariners have themselves a pair of the two best young pitchers in the game.

13. Daniel Hudson (24)

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    Daniel Hudson was never expected to be anywhere near this good, but now he looks like he will be a bona fide star in the league.

    He was terrific in a cup of coffee in 2009, but it was a late-season trade in 2010 that really saw his stock take off and made him one of my favorite pitchers in baseball.

    After the trade, he went 7-1 in 11 games with a minuscule 1.69 ERA.  Sure his LOB% was crazy high, but it demonstrates the type of potential he possesses.

    When you are able to throw 94 mph heat and your best pitch is a changeup, you are a special pitcher who is going to have a successful career.

    Add the fact that you can also be classified as a control pitcher and you are talking about a pitcher who can anchor your staff.

12. Jeremy Hellickson (24)

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    Anytime you can get yourself mentioned in the same breath as Greg Maddux, you are probably doing something right as a pitcher. 

    Scouts sometimes threw around the "Greg Maddux lite" tag when talking about the young Hellickson because of his superb ability to spot the fastball with sniper-like precision and paint both sides of the plate routinely.

    His nickname "Hellboy" has a different meaning to hitters than just a play on his last name, because of the difficulty they face while trying to hit him.

    One can make an argument that Hellickson has the best changeup of any young pitcher in the game, and I would not disagree at all with that person.

    He has some early difficulties with that pinpoint control in 2011, but Hellickson should be able to team up with David Price to create one of the best lefty/righty 1-2 punches in baseball.

11. Yovani Gallardo (25)

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    Yovani Gallardo is that pitcher who has the stuff to be one of the very best pitchers in the whole league, but has never seemed to have been able to make that jump to the next level.

    He has posted two consecutive years of over 200 strikeouts, but hasn't been able to get his ERA lower than the high 3's or win more than 14 games.

    I really want to put Gallardo higher on this list, but until he able to turn his stuff into a little better overall results, I am reluctant to do so.  Chicks love the strikeouts like they like the long ball, but there is more to being a great pitcher than that. 

    Gallardo does bring a little more than your traditional hitter. He is one of the best hitting pitchers in the league, clobbering six home runs over the last two years.

10. Jaime Garcia (24)

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    Does any pitching coach get more out of his pitchers than Dave Duncan? I think not.

    Jaime Garcia was considered a pretty good prospect in the minor leagues, but I do not think you can find one person who thought he would be this good.

    Garcia had a fantastic rookie year that saw him finish in third place for the ROY voting after going 13-8 with a 2.70 ERA.

    He has somehow been even better in the early goings of 2011, posting the fifth-best ERA in baseball at 1.44.

    Any stats you check will tell you that Garcia is the real deal. He has almost no holes to his game and has the poise of a seasoned veteran.

9. Tommy Hanson (24)

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    The fact that Tommy Hanson is this low on the list tells you all you need to know about how strong the young pool of talent is in baseball.

    Hanson has been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the last two years since finishing third in the Rookie of the Year voting.

    He has size, stuff, and command—everything one would want with an ace starting pitcher.

    Atlanta has a reputation for producing great starting pitchers, and Tommy Hanson plans to be the next on the list.

8. Brett Anderson (23)

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    There really is no No. 1 in Oakland.  The top two guys are so good that it is going to be a 1A. and 1B. type of deal for them for a long time.  For ranking purposes though Brett Anderson will come in the lower of the two.

    There is not much not to like about Anderson.

    He is a bulldog on the mound who can get outs in the two best ways you want your pitcher to do so—getting ground balls and striking guys out.

    As good as his ability to generate ground balls is, his best asset might be his command.  In his two seasons in the majors, the most batters he walked was 2.3 per nine innings and in both years, he had a K/BB over 3.3.

    He will be in the running for the consideration as the best left-handed pitcher in baseball for the better part of the next decade, no question about it. 

    Not to mention he runs a great twitter.

7. Trevor Cahill (23)

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    What team wouldn't love to have a pair of 23-year-old budding stars in their starting rotation like the Oakland A's?

    Before this year I definitely had Anderson as the better of the two pitchers, but I am starting to sip the Trevor Cahill Kool-Aid.

    Cahill is the one who had the better success in the past with an 18-win season and All-Star appearance, but Anderson was the one with the better peripherals.  In 2011, Cahill has closed that gap with the league-leading 9.6 K/9 in the young season.

    Cahill had struggled with striking batters out in his first two seasons, but ever since throwing his curve on a more consistent basis, he has given hitters more to worry about and is getting back to being the K master he was in the minor leagues.

    The two A's starters are so close it was hard for me to pick, but I like Cahill's natural stuff a bit more with the crazy movement he gets on all his pitches, giving him the edge.

6. Neftali Feliz (22)

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    There is a lot to be 'happy' about for Rangers' fans with the reigning Rookie of the Year and All-Star closer.

    It takes a special kind of talent to close 40 games in a 22-year-old and blow just three saves, and Feliz is just that.

    Feliz has one of the best fastballs in baseball and the repertoire of a starting pitcher, which makes him so difficult to hit coming out of the pen.

    He is so good that the Rangers are going to always want to flirt with the idea of moving him into the starting a rotation, a position he excelled at in the minor leagues, but if it's not broken, don't fix it.

5. Mat Latos (23)

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    Mat Latos is a beast.

    It is a shame he had to burn his rookie eligibility barely in 2009, because he could have given Buster Posey a run for his money for 2010 Rookie of the Year.

    At just 23, Latos already has one of the best fastball/slider combos in baseball.  The two pitches are so good that he almost does not need to throw any other pitches.

    Latos reminds me a lot of the Marlins' Josh Johnson in terms of size and stuff, and if he can have anywhere near the same success Johnson has had, the Padres have themselves an legitimate ace in their rotation.

4. David Price (24)

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    The No. 1 overall selection in the 2007 MLB draft has not let anyone down, already finding himself as one of the top 15 pitchers in the league.

    Last year, in his second season in the majors, David Price broke out in a huge way, winning 19 games, making an All-Star appearance and finishing second in the Cy Young voting.

    Price uses his overpowering fastball to get ahead of hitters and put them away.  It is that deadly of a weapon. 

    If hitters don't have enough to worry about with his fastball, a filthy changeup, curveball and slider have made Price nearly unhittable.

    The only thing one can try to complain about with Price is that he walks a couple of batters, but it's not nearly enough to cause worry.

3. Clayton Kershaw (23)

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    I love me some Clayton Kershaw (and as a New York City boy, those Brooklyn unis).

    The Dodgers knew they had something special in Kershaw back in 2008 and wasted no time promoting him to the majors after he dominated Double-A competition as a 20-year-old.

    Considering he never threw a pitch in Triple-A and was so young, Kershaw performed very well during his half of a season.

    He has not had much success winning ballgames, but he has averaged over a strikeout per inning for his career and broke the 200 innings and Ks plateau for the first time last year.

    When a young starter already has three plus-plus pitches, watch out because he is going to be scary when he is able to get his command under control.

    In my opinion, Kershaw will be a top 5 pitcher or better by the end of 2012.

2. Stephen Strasburg (22)

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    It is a shame baseball fans will have to miss out on watching this phenom pitch for a whole year in 2011 thanks to Tommy John surgery.

    Seeing almost no time at all in the minor leagues, it is scary how good Stephen Strasburg already is.

    There is no need for projection with his future performance, because his stuff and command is already so good that as long as he can stay on the field, he will be a future Hall of Famer.

    I am not sure there has ever been a pitcher before who could throw 100 mph and still walk just 2.3 per nine innings.

    It is hard enough to find a pitcher who has the ability to do one of those things, let alone both.

    Oh, by the way, he also posted a K per 9 innings of 12.2. No big deal.

1. Felix Hernandez (25)

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    I am not sure there is much to say about Felix Hernandez at this point in his career; he is just that good.

    By the age of 24, he already had two top finishes in the Cy Young voting, including winning it in 2010, and back-to-back seasons of an ERA under 2.50.

    While his nickname is 'King,' people might as well start calling him 'Superman,' because there is nothing this young stud cannot do.

    Just try to imagine the type of numbers he would have put up already had he been on a good team.  He would win 20 games just about every year. 

    Becoming a top 3 pitcher by the ripe old age of 25 is no laughing matter.

The End

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    If you enjoyed the article and would like to read more like it, visit my blog Mini Mets Pipeline.  You can also follow me on twitter @NickPugs97.

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