Start with Jose Fernandez, runner-up for the National League Cy Young Award last season, a year before he would be in the draft—this year’s draft as he was in the 2011 draft with Carlos Rodon—had he gone to college.
That’s a very good place to start with the Miami Marlins, whose Nate Eovaldi had the highest velocity of any starter in baseball last year. “The arms here are incredible,” Giancarlo Stanton said this spring. Indeed, in one intrasquad game they trotted out 11 pitchers who threw between 96 and 100 MPH.
Then go to the Mets. Start there with Matt Harvey, because he started the 2013 All-Star Game, and will be back next season. And Zack Wheeler, who is really good. Then Noah Syndergaard, who topped the poll at the end of this column of pitchers that general managers, scouts and managers considered potential star top-of-the-rotation pitchers.
Then there are the Washington Nationals. We know Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez (oh yes, and Doug Fister). They could afford to put Ross Detwiler in the bullpen and let the final starting spot go to Taylor Jordan or Tanner Roark…and one night came a text that read, “Seeing the best young pitcher I’ve seen all spring—Lucas Giolito. 97-100 with a curveball from hell.” Next day, same texter, on Blake Treinen.
And, in annual contention, are the Braves. They have lost Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to Tommy John Surgery, Tim Hudson went to San Francisco, Mike Minor will miss the first month, and it may be another year before Lucas Sims, J.R. Graham, Jason Hursh and Mauricio Cabrera are ready. But they have developed Julio Teheran and Alex Wood, they spent to get Ervin Santana because of the injuries, and they can turn and take a former Princeton infielder named David Hale and plug his 92-94 with a terrific slider into the rotation. And Sims, Hursh, et al may end up in Atlanta before it’s over.
One of the themes of Florida spring training was that the National League East is emerging as the power pitching division. We all understand that the Nationals may have depth issues and that last year their 86 wins were considered a disappointment, but their pitching is deep and powerful and can look down at A.J. Cole or Sammy Solis or Treinen and go eight or nine deep in power pitching without rushing Giolito, whose father grew up a Mets fan in Queens and raised Lucas on Nolan Ryan videos.
One Braves official warns that the Mets, even without Harvey, “are going to be a force everyone is going to have to deal with. Their pitching is that good.” Dillon Gee is their opening day starter for good reason. When Jonathon Niese is healthy, he is a top half of a rotation starter. Rafael Montero is in any discussion, Jenrry Mejia may be back in the rotation, Jeurys Familia has been a spring talking point out of the pen. Fireballing lefty reliever Steven Matz can come fast.
Because Sandy Alderson has been careful not to listen to the siren songs suggesting he deal pitching for bats, one Marlins official thinks, “they will be right in a very tough four team division for the next few years.”
Washington GM Mike Rizzo, who has successfully assembled those big, physical arms he loves, says “Miami is always tough on us, but they have a chance to really hurt some teams. Who wants to go into that park and get Fernandez, Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez, Jacob Turner (whose velocity was back to his draft days)?” Seen lefty reliever Arquimedes Caminero? 6-foot-4, 250 pounds…98. Henry Rodriguez was hitting 100. Their young pitchers like Anthony DeSclafani, Andrew Heaney, Justin Nicolino, Adam Conley are all big arm prospects, with Heaney and DeSclafani having ETAs in July or August.
There is a problem here. The Phillies still have extraordinary starters in Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and A.J. Burnett. But, for all their new television revenues, their farm system is thin. Their former general manager, Eddie Wade, fleeced them; how good would Jarred Cosart look in Philly right now?
You look at the other four teams, then look at what Philadelphia is bringing to Citizens Bank Park the next two years, and one wonders if the Phillies aren’t years from serious contention.
This will be a far, far more difficult climb for the Phillies than when they were assembling that extraordinary 2007-2012 team. “They could go out on a trip and get Fernandez, Eovaldi, Heaney, Harvey, Syndergaard, Wheeler, Strasburg, Zimmermann and Nicolino in a three city period,” says one GM. “This is not going to be an old man’s division.”
All of which leads to the poll on what young pitchers this spring caught people’s eyes as future rotation stars?
- Noah Syndergaard, RHP, Mets. Physical, hard, power sink. “Absolute potential star,” says one pro scouting director. “Has the power pitcher mentality.” Just wish Alex Anthopoulos hadn’t been pushed to win in 2013 and had to trade Syndergaard, Anthony DeSclafani, Justin Nicolino, Jake Marisnick and Travis d’Arnaud, not to mention Yan Gomes.
- Lucas Giolito, RHP, Nationals. We know how cautious and diligent the Nationals are about pitching development, but after TJ Surgery and 39 professional innings, he was the beast of the back fields in Florida.
- Yordano Ventura, RHP, Royals. One hears the Pedro Martinez comps, one hears questions about his size, then 1. Watch him throw up to 102 with ease, 2. Walk up to him and realize that he is bigger than prime Pedro, and really strong. He’s got the exceptionally long fingers, like Pedro, that keep the ball on them longer and make the changeup potentially devastating, and one scouting director says, “in Salvador Perez, he has one of the most perfect catchers for a young Latin pitcher to work with.”
- Archie Bradley, RHP, Diamondbacks. Big arm, curveball, makeup, Chris Carpenter comps. Struggled at the end of spring training with his fastball command, but somehow, sometime, he is a critical piece for the ‘Backs.
- Jonathan Gray, RHP, Rockies. Raw, thunder power, 94-99, very advanced command. Colorado is going to need Gray and Butler if they’re going to make a run.
- Mike Foltynewicz, RHP, Astros. The development of Foltynewicz and Jarred Cosart—holdovers from the Ed Wade administration—were very important to the Astros this spring, and having Brent Strom and his disdain for the two seam doctrine should only make them better when they get into the rotation. As he did more than any minor league starter last season, Foltynewicz put 100’s on a lot of radar guns. “He needs better command,” says one scout, “but the stuff and the aggressiveness are front end.”
- Eddie Butler, RHP, Rockies. Walt Weiss thinks Butler may be the quickest to go to the big leagues because of his experience up to double-A and the fact that the Rockies infield defense is so good it will encourage Butler’s cannonball sinker. In 217 minor league innings, he’s allowed 155 hits.
- Kevin Gausman, RHP, Orioles. In his last appearance, Gausman was 96-97 with the great change. He may have to go down to Norfolk to open the season, he could end up being a closing piece in the stretch, but one way or another he will be a part of what should be a legitimate Oriole run in the AL East. It’s a lot to ask for Dylan Bundy to come off TJ and help in the pen in September, but who knows?
- Robert Stephenson, RHP, Reds. From the same first round 2011 draft class as Fernandez, Bundy and Bradley, and ready to jump in sometime this year. “He’s really fun to watch,” says one GM, “with his fastball (94-96), curveball, change…” And can develop with Bryan Price, a rising managerial star whose first spring has been ravaged by injury issues.
- Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Royals. Got Jameson Taillon mentions from Pittsburgh, but he was slowed this spring by health questions.
Because Masahiro Tanaka has already pitched in a major league, he is not a real rookie; the pressure he pitched under getting Rakuten to the Japanese championship two years after the earthquake and tsunami devastated the region is immeasurable. Andrew Heaney is probably going to be in the Marlins’ rotation by mid-season, and the progress he made this spring with Terry Francona and Mickey Callaway—who provide the intellectual flexibility to reign in Bauer—could pay big benefits in the second half of the season.