This is my 20th season playing a keeper league version of Scoresheet Baseball.
That experience has taught me that it is extremely rare for a starting pitcher to pitch mostly in the lower levels of the
minors one year then become a mainstay on the parent club the next. Even the most blue chip pitching prospects generally spend
a year in AA or a half season in AA and AAA each. Last year, there were five pitchers who spent most of the season in the
American League and spent most of their 2008 season at the high A level or lower. One, Brian Matusz of the Orioles, mostly pitched for his college and didn't make his official professional debut until this past season. Detroit's
Rick Porcello debuted last year in the high A Florida State League. The bulk of Texas Ranger Derek Holland's 2008 innings were in the lower level Midwest League. His 2007 debut was in a short season league. Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill have been locked together pitching most of 2007 in the Midwest League and most of 2008 in the high A California League before
a late season call-up to the AA Texas League. Then both Anderson and Cahill spent all of 2009 in Oakland's rotation.
And those are just the American League starting pitchers. I haven't checked for relievers
making the jump. There is no way we will have that many starters making such a leap this year. The top echelon of pitching
prospects who haven't had a good stint at the highest Minor League levels are way too young and inexperienced (Jacob Turner,
Martin Perez, Michael Ynoa). Perhaps, I've overlooked someone, but there are no A or A- AL pitching prospects who spent most
of last year at the high A level.
Here are my substantially researched estimates for the American League starting rotations
including those who have a reasonable shot at making their rotations at some point later in the season (excluding unforeseeable
Yankees starters for sure:
The Yankees seriously lack depth. The only viable alternatives beyond Gaudin are in
their bullpen. Pitchers as old as Pettitte tend to break down. Vazquez was a smart pick-up because he is so durable. The same
can't be said of Burnett and Chamberlain. I suspect they are treating Hughes with the kid gloves they used for Joba. Hence,
they will want to hold off until deep into the season before handing him a starting role. (If the original five hold up, they
won't bother.) It is not as though the Yankees haven't made a huge effort to develop starting pitchers. They stocked their
system to the rafters with excellent pitching prospects. They just haven't been very successful in developing them.
Red Sox starters for sure:
Ramirez, Ramon A.
Tazawa and Bowden are now passing Wakefield
and are 20 years younger. The odds are probably higher that Boston
will bid Wake a fond adieu than give him his job back in the rotation. There is not a chance of Casey Kelly leaping to the
rotation, yet. He only just decided this
December that his baseball "major" is pitching not shortstop. With Tazawa and Bowden in the fold, there is no
reason to rush him.
Rays starters for sure:
Like Wakefield, Sonnanstine
lost his starting job last year and may never get it back and has been passed by a couple of young pitchers - actually four:
David Price, Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, and Jeremy Hellickson. Unlike Wakefield,
Sonnanstine is not old (even for a knuckleballer) and could be useful for reasonable depth. Jake McGee should be well recovered
now from Tommy John surgery, but will likely be converted into a reliever.
Blue Jays starters for sure:
Marcum needs to show a return to his previous level, which would make him the ace. Morrow
must harness his huge potential into effectiveness. Zach Stewart will likely start in Las
Vegas, but could overtake Romero or Cecil at any time. Kyle Drabek has even more upside, but further
to get there. Litsch and McGowan are recovering from injuries. Due to conflicting reports, it is difficult to gauge how soon
and how well they will recover. The Blue Jays' pitchers' frequency of injuries is as remarkable as their ability to come up
with one decent pitcher after another.
Orioles starters for sure:
In a year or two, the Orioles may be hoping for a rotation of Matusz, Tillman, Britton,
Arrieta, and Erbe with eventually Hobgood challenging for a spot. Erbe was supposed to be almost ready now, but was passed
by several other Orioles pitching prospects. However, the 21 year old this past year in AA pitched quite well, Although, he
was slowed down by shoulder fatigue. Some teams are better at developing their pitching prospects than others; and the Orioles
do not seem to one of the better ones, although, they are highly invested in excellent pitching prospects at the moment. Koji
Uehara is expected to convert to reliever.
Twins starters for sure:
For a team once considered a team rich in pitching prospects, there doesn't seem to
be much to like here with the Twins. A step further towards full recovery from Liriano is their only hope for an ace. Mike
Maroth is in camp. After years of shoulder and other various physical issues, he is trying to come back to his pre-2006 mediocre
self. It is too soon to wish for prized pitching prospect Kyle Gibson making the Majors this year. He is fresh out of college
and hasn't thrown a pitch in the minors, yet.
Tigers starters for sure:
This could go very badly, though, complete comebacks from Bonderman, Robertson, and
Willis would make the Tigers the favourites of the division. Unfortunately, there is only a small chance that will happen
to any of them, let alone all three. Yet, I am optimistic, although admittedly a biased Tigers fan for most of my life. John
Perrotto reported in Baseball Prospectus that the Tigers were pleased with Armando Galarraga's performance in Venezuela. Phil Coke was apparently promised a trial conversion. It will be more than a year
before Casey Crosby surfaces and likely longer for Jacob Turner.
White Sox starters for sure:
From 2001-2006 Freddy Garcia was a reliable 210+ inning pitcher. He hasn't logged as
much a 60 innings in any season since. However, Garcia's strikeout, walk, HR, and Ground ball rates all looked normal for
him in the 9 starts he gave his White Sox. Daniel Hudson rose very far very quickly and is realistically in a three way battle
for the 5th spot with Garcia and Carlos Torres, who, though was never listed as a top 10 prospect, nonetheless
dominated AAA last year with a 2.39 ERA and 130 strikeouts in 128 innings.
Sowers keeps getting long stints in the rotation all of which have proved that his respectable
rookie 14 game starts in 2006 were beginner's luck (or the nice showing rookies often get before the league learns to exploit
their weaknesses). Surely now he has run out of chances as a "respectable alternative". Though Condon and Carrasco might improve
matters, help from their most promising pitching prospects Hagadone, Knapp, and Alex White are a long way away. If any of
them soar up to the Indians this year, they would likely come as relievers.
Royals starters for sure:
Tejeda - better in pen
Hochevar, Bannister, and Davies have not pitched consistently well enough to secure
their places in a Major League rotation. It's just that the Royals don't have any practical alternatives. Robinson Tejeda
and Brad Thompson seem to fit better in the bullpen. Phil Humber is a minor league veteran with occasional call-ups (don't
know why), who's AAA ERA last year was 5.34 with a 6.54 K/9. Unless that current quintet of starters improves, the Royals
will have to wait painfully for their top pitching prospects to sling through a couple levels of the minors. The best chance
for that to happen is here.
Angels starters for sure:
Danger! Here we have an entire rotation with significant injury history and only very
scary choices to fill in. Bell's ERA in AA and AAA last summer
earned himself an August promotion to the Angels. His strikeout and groundball rates indicate those ERAs were heavily enhanced
by fairy dust and his 9.74 ERA with the Angels confirmed it. Brian Stokes didn't start a game last year for the Mets. No wonder:
his strikeout rate sank, while his walk rate soared so that they almost came to equal each other. Probably the Angels' top
choice to be a substitute starter is Matt Palmer who had an almost equally weak K/BB (1.25) last year. At least he gets ground
balls (1.5 GB/FB). Trevor Reckling and Jordan Walden both pitched mostly in AA last year and are better pitching prospects
than anyone on the Angels' 40 man roster.
Rangers starters for sure:
Until last year, fans wondered if the Rangers were capable of developing a quality major
league pitcher. Then Scott Feldman and Tommy Hunter gave them surprisingly good seasons. Neftali Feliz has Rangers fans pumped.
He most likely will be their future ace, but at 21 years old, they don't want to wear him out too soon. The season did not
pan out so well for fellow highly hyped Derek Holland nor formally highly hyped Brandon McCarthy. They will have to do better
as Colby Lewis returns from Japan with
Mariners starters for sure:
Bedard - later, for sure
Every name under the Mariners above has been projected by once source or another as
a most probable member of the rotation - except Daniel Cortes, a highly regarded prospect who has spent the last two seasons
in AA - plus one other: Yusmeiro Petit, who has been designated for assignment. Other nearly ready prospects Rohrbaugh and
Feierabend are recovering from injuries. King Felix, Cliff Lee, and Ryan Rowland-Smith made every list, Ian Snell: all but
one. Of the rest, only Doug Fister made more than one list. Erik Bedard isn't expected to be recovered from his shoulder surgery,
at least, until mid-season.
By the way, I don't use a poll of depth charts to decide who is most likely to be in
the rotation. I do weigh the sites that are closest to actual inside sources the most and make a few common sense deductions
Athletics starters for sure:
Quite a lot would have to go wrong to get to pitching prospect James Simmons or someone
else not listed, but this is a starting pitcher menu of two veterans with a very high injury risk (Ben Sheets and Justin Duchscherer)
and youngsters who's limits haven't even been tested (Anderson, Dallas Braden, Trevor Cahill, etc.). Gio Gonzalez is highly
regarded and seemingly ready for a serious challenge for a rotation spot. Clayton Mortensen could be the A's long reliever
/ spot starter this year.