09/02/2008 2:27 PM ET
Pitchers of the Week
For the week ending Sept. 1
By Bryan Smith / MLB.com
Ricky Romero, Syracuse
2-0, 1.29 ERA, 2 G, 2 GS, 14.0 IP, 11 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 5 BB, 11 SO
The Blue Jays were aggressive with their 2005 first-rounder this season, but they deserve kudos for promoting him at the right time. On June 11, Romero was in Double-A and struggling, his ERA at 6.56. However, in his next eight starts, the left-hander went 3-1 with a 2.79 ERA over 51 2/3 innings. The Blue Jays jumped at the success, promoting him to Syracuse despite a season ERA just a shade under five. The decision proved a good one, as Romero was not overmatched at Triple-A, with a 3.38 ERA in his seven starts with Syracuse. He was especially good last week, and best on Aug. 26, with seven scoreless innings against Rochester. Romero was a ground-ball machine with Syracuse, finishing there with a 2.15 groundout-to-flyout ratio.
Pacific Coast League
Michael Ballard, Oklahoma
1-0, 0.90 ERA, 2 G, 2 GS, 10.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 SO
Unlike Romero, Ballard seemed overmatched after he got to Triple-A. The Rangers promoted him there in mid-July, as Ballard was in the midst of a five-game winning streak with Frisco. However, after five starts the left-hander was a mess with the RedHawks, his ERA at 9.64. At that point, PCL hitters were tattooing Ballard at a .404 clip. He settled down in his last three starts, however, with his best outing Aug. 27. Pitching against Round Rock, Ballard threw five scoreless innings, allowing just two batters over the minimum. He did the same in his next outing, though one run did cross the plate in his five innings. All in all, the southpaw proved that in 2009, Oklahoma is where he belongs.
Kyle Aselton, New Britain
2-0, 0.00 ERA, 2 G, 2 GS, 12.1 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 17 SO
By the raw season-ending numbers, it wasn't a good decision to move Aselton from the bullpen to the rotation. As a reliever, he had a 3.46 ERA in 24 appearances. As a starter, it creeps up to 4.72. However, that doesn't tell the whole story, particularly the contents of the four-game winning streak that punctuated Aselton's season. In his last four outings, Aselton gave up just three runs in 24 1/3 innings, allowing just 15 hits in that span. He was, of course, best in the final week, with more than seven shutout innings Aug. 27 and five more Sept. 1. A good starter is more valuable than a good reliever, and the big left-hander is certainly looking like a good starter now.
Jacobo Meque, Jacksonville
2-0, 1.50 ERA, 3 G, 0 GS, 6.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 9 SO
At age 24 entering the season, Meque needed a big year as the developmental system was catching up with him. The left-hander started in the California League, and after he was dominant there, the Dodgers moved him up in mid-June. Meque's time with Jacksonville didn't begin well, with a 6.17 ERA through 10 outings. However, the Dominican southpaw was brilliant after that, becoming the Suns closer late in the season. Meque earned two wins in relief this week, and after allowing just five walks over 14 2/3 innings in August, he seems to have shed the command problems that plagued him in the past while retaining his ability to strike batters out. Should the trend continue next season, watch out.
Blake Wood, Northwest Arkansas
1-0, 0.00 ERA, 2 G, 2 GS, 9.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 SO
The first right-hander on this list, Wood deserves props after ending his season on a high note. It certainly began there, as Wood's 2008 started fantastically with Wilmington in the Carolina League. A promotion to Double-A did not meet with such success, and besides a complete-game shutout in his second start, Wood has really struggled with the Naturals. That's why it was so good to see him end things so well. On Aug. 25, Wood threw six shutout innings on the road in Tulsa. That was notable, because the road has really plagued him in this league. Entering the start, Wood's road ERA was a ghastly 8.17. Five days after the blanking, Wood faced the same Tulsa Dillers, pitching just three scoreless innings, presumably to stay fresh for the playoffs.
Scott Mitchinson, Stockton
1-0, 0.00 ERA, 1 G, 1 GS, 6.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 SO
Certainly, Mitchinson now looks like a steal in last December's Minor League phase of the Rule 5 Draft. The Phillies loss is Oakland's gain as the finally healthy right-hander looks again like the dominant player he was years ago. Mitchinson did have some injuries this season, but all in all, it didn't derail a 1.74 ERA in 13 starts with Kane County. The A's allowed Mitchinson to finish his campaign with Stockton, and it was a good decision as his last start of the season was a brilliant six innings. Mitchinson faced just one batter over the minimum against Lancaster in crafting his sixth scoreless start this season. In all, opponents have hit just .202 off him this season.
Brandon Erbe, Frederick
1-0, 0.00 ERA, 1 G, 1 GS, 7.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 SO
When you're this young, and this talented, you're worth the wait. In 2006, Erbe became one of the Minor League's top pitching prospects on the heels of a first full-season campaign with 133 strikeouts in 115 innings. The 3.21 ERA for an 18-year-old in the South Atlantic League was also brilliant. In 2007, Erbe began to struggle a bit with command and consistency, and his first Frederick campaign ended with a 6.26 ERA over 119 1/3 innings. This season, the right-hander was stretched out, crossing the 150-inning threshold for the first time in his career. He struck out 151 batters in 28 starts and walked just 50, including 12 in 30 August innings. Erbe had his ups and downs, including a bad May and bad July, but it was a step forward overall, especially given that opponents have hit just .196 off him in the second half.
Florida State League
Nicholas Carr, St. Lucie
1-0, 0.00 ERA, 2 G, 2 GS, 12.0 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 13 SO
This looked ugly for awhile. Carr started and ended his season in Port St. Lucie, though in June he was briefly demoted to the South Atlantic League. At a macro level, Carr's FSL season began with a 0-10 record and 7.18 ERA over his first 18 starts. It certainly looked like a lost season. Four appearances later, Carr's ERA had dropped to 5.70, and while the season can't be painted very positively as a whole, at least it ended on the right note. In his last four starts, in which Carr went 4-0, the right-hander allowed just two runs over 22 innings, scattering 11 hits while striking out 18 batters. His 3.95 ERA over the second half certainly offers hope for 2009.
Jose Perez, Cedar Rapids
2-0, 0.00 ERA, 2 G, 2 GS, 15.0 IP, 10 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 12 SO
The Angels promoted Perez from Orem to Cedar Rapids just three weeks ago, as the Venezuelan had struck out 11 and then 10 batters in his last two starts in the Pioneer League. He was ready for a new challenge. Perez joined a Cedar Rapids team that was fighting for a playoff spot, and in the end, helped pitch the Kernels into the postseason. On Aug. 26, Perez threw eight shutout innings against Wisconsin, earning his first Midwest League win with 10 strikeouts. Perez would win again five days later, against the Kernels upcoming playoff foes, the Clinton LumberKings, as seven more scoreless innings gave him 15 straight entering the playoffs.
Michael Pineda, Wisconsin
1-1, 1.15 ERA, 2 G, 2 GS, 1 CG, 1 SHO, 15.2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 20 SO
What a season it has been for the Dominican teenager who, with a near-perfect complete-game shutout Sept. 1, lowered his ERA to 1.95 for the season. Pineda was absolutely brilliant in his last outing, allowing just one hit while striking out a career-high 14 River Bandits. It was undoubtedly the best start the league saw the entire season, and it put a cap on a tremendous run to finish his season. After Aug. 1, Pineda struck out 47 batters in 39 1/3 innings, walking just three batters in that span. He'll turn 20 next January, and he's someone to keep an eye on.
South Atlantic League
Nathan Nery, Delmarva
2-0, 0.00 ERA, 2 G, 2 GS, 14.2 IP, 10 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 SO
Nery is another who will enter 2009 with a nifty streak intact, as he has not allowed an earned run since Aug. 16. That's 22 2/3 innings without an earned run for the left-hander, who lowered his season ERA with Delmarva to 3.39 in the process. In his last outing, the Shorebirds let him work his longest start of the season as he threw 7 2/3 innings, allowing just one unearned run. Nery finished the season 5-0 in his last six starts, with a 1.18 ERA after Aug. 1. He struggled upon commencing his 2008 campaign in June with Delmarva, but after three starts, a 2.25 ERA over his next 12 indicated that there's a good pitcher underneath, perhaps even better than his solid season ERA indicates.
Efrain Nieves, Helena
2-0, 1.93 ERA, 2 G, 2 GS, 14.0 IP, 10 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 16 SO
An easy choice, certainly after tossing the league's best start of the week Aug. 25, with eight shutout innings against Great Falls. Nieves faced just one batter over the minimum, striking out a career-high nine batters. His next start, his last of the season, also came against Great Falls, and Nieves continued to make the Voyagers swing and miss, with seven whiffs in six innings. The Puerto Rican left-hander finishes his summer with a 4.61 ERA, but there were great positive steps, especially with his command (just eight walks over 70 1/3 innings). He finished the season by scattering 11 hits in 17 innings over his last three starts, striking out 22 batters in the process.
New York-Penn League
Josh Wells, Auburn
1-0, 0.00 ERA, 2 G, 2 GS, 12.0 IP, 8 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 SO
Wells is a story in the making, perhaps the only player in the Minor Leagues with London for a birthplace. Though born in "old blighty," Wells' baseball career blossomed in Australia, from whence the Blue Jays extracted him in 2006. He hadn't done much to get on the radar up to now, but with the way Wells ended this season, there's much to look forward to in 2009. The right-hander had his best and longest start of the year Aug. 26, holding Williamsport scoreless over seven innings to advance to 6-4 on the season. Five more shutout innings against State College to end the campaign dropped his season ERA to 3.96. Wells didn't allow a home run in 15 starts with the Doubledays this summer.
Pedro Figueroa, Vancouver
1-0, 0.00 ERA, 2 G, 2 GS, 13.0 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 19 SO
It's hard to end much better, as Figueroa's 19 strikeouts were second in the Minor Leagues this week, only one behind Michael Pineda. Figueroa also one-upped Pineda by tossing two scoreless games, six innings on Aug. 25 and seven more five days later. The latter start was his best, as Figueroa allowed just one hit and struck out 10 against the Eugene Emeralds. The slight left-hander really harnessed his command late in the season, solving the lone bugaboo that caused his season to begin with a 0-4 mark. With better command going forward, and his propensity for strikeouts intact, Figueroa could be dominant when he makes his way to full-season ball in 2009.
Bryan Smith is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.