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The Minors' top pitching rotations04/04/2013 6:00 AM ET
Here's a look, league by league, at the pitching rotations baseball fans will be excited to follow in 2013:
International League -- Durham Bulls
The staff: Years from now, we may look back on Durham's rotation in awe, thanks to the Rays-Royals swap with James Shields as its centerpiece. The Bulls feature two top-50 overall prospects in Odorizzi (45) and Archer (46) and two more arms who rank in the organization's top 12 in Montgomery and Colome. Odorizzi, Archer and Colome each posted ERAs below 4.00 and struck out about nine per nine innings last year. Montgomery, who has always been lauded for his three-pitch mix, will hope to bounce back in a new location from a subpar 2012 that saw him struggle at Triple-A and Double-A after a demotion. If he's successful, watch out.
The series: The Bulls will face the Louisville Bats, MiLB.com's best IL lineup, for the first time in a four-game set on June 8-11 at Louisville Slugger Field.
Pacific Coast League -- Tacoma Rainiers
The staff: Left-hander Hultzen is the Mariners' No. 2 prospect and 18th on MLB.com's list. The University of Virginia product is three years older than the organization's top prospect Taijuan Walker and he made 12 PCL starts last year. In 48 2/3 innings, he went 1-4 with a 5.92 ERA, 57 strikeouts and 43 walks.
Jeremy Bonderman, Erasmo Ramirez and Andrew Carraway are also expected to make life difficult for opposing teams in the rotation.
And he won't start in Tacoma, but 6-foot-4 right-hander Walker went 7-10 with a 4.69 ERA in Jackson last year. A Futures Game selection and Southern League All-Star in 2012, Seattle's top prospect -- ranked No. 5 overall by MLB.com -- struck out 118 batters over 126 2/3 innings and held hitters to a .258 average. He's expected in Tacoma by midseason. Seattle's No. 5 prospect James Paxton should see plenty of time in Tacoma before the end of the year.
The series: The Rainiers square off against the PCL's top lineup -- that of the Round Rock Express -- just once, from Aug. 12-15 in Round Rock.
Eastern League -- Bowie Baysox
Dylan Bundy, RHP
2. Kevin Gausman, RHP
3. Mike Wright, RHP
4. Jake Pettit, LHP
5. Eddie Gamboa, RHP
The staff: Any rotation led by Bundy is going to be a nightmare to face during the season, and luckily for some Eastern Leaguers, they won't have to face him immediately. Bundy won't begin the year with the Baysox as the Orioles shut him down temporarily with mild elbow stiffness, but once he's back, he makes an already solid rotation a much more intimidating one. Gausman, the Orioles' No. 1 pick in 2012 and the organization's No. 2 prospect, is joined by Opening Day starter Wright, the O's No. 9 prospect, who appeared in a dozen games for Bowie last year before coming up big in the playoffs. Southpaw Pettit, who led the Eastern League in winning percentage and ranked second in WHIP in 2012, and Eddie Gamboa, a veteran who added a knuckleball this spring, round out the staff. Bundy, though, is the marquee name here and he figures to stick around at least a few months. He finished his stellar rookie campaign last year in the Majors and will be itching to return.
The series: The Baysox will face the Erie SeaWolves, MiLB.com's best EL lineup, for the first time in a three-game set starting April 15 at Prince George's Stadium.
Southern League -- Huntsville Stars
The staff: The Stars will start the season with two of the top prospects in the Southern League, Nelson and Jungmann, leading up their rotation. Both induce a lot of ground balls, with Nelson more prone to racking up both strikeouts and walks. Pena struggled in seven starts with Huntsville late last summer but was extremely effective -- he posted a 2.99 ERA in 19 outings -- with Arkansas in the Texas League before coming to the Brewers system. 6-foot-5 right-handers Lowe and Moye round out the rotation, though Huntsville may get to see left-hander Jed Bradley, the Brewers' first-round pick in 2011, later this summer.
The series: The Stars take on the league's top lineup, that of the Jacksonville Suns, in a five-game home series starting April 10. The two clubs meet again in Jacksonville for a June 19-23 series.
Texas League -- Northwest Arkansas Naturals
The staff: There are deeper rotations in the Texas League -- Frisco's for one -- but none have as much star power as Northwest Arkansas. That starts at the top with right-hander Ventura, who is the ace of the staff even if he doesn't toe the rubber on Opening Day. Called "Little Pedro" for his likeness to you-know-who, this should be the year that Ventura pairs his 100-mph heater with better off-speed stuff. He's infamous in scouting circles for being a high-risk, high-reward hurler, however, and the Royals have another wild card in Sulbaran, who struggled on the circuit in 2012 (7.62 ERA in six starts). If this staff needs a more stable if less spectacular rock in the middle of its rotation, third-year strike-thrower Jason Adam should step forward in his first Double-A action. Plus, Arguelles was the Royals' No. 11 prospect before registering a 6.41 ERA in 25 starts for the Naturals in 2012 -- but he's 23 and left-handed, so he's a strong comeback player of the year candidate. He could be joined in the rotation by another down-and-out "vet" in John Lamb at some point.
The series: Northwest Arkansas takes on the top hitting lineup of Arkansas May 4-7, June 8-11, July 22-24, Aug. 24-26 at home and May 13-16, June 16-19, July 29-31, Aug. 31-Sept. 2 at ARK.
California League -- San Jose Giants
The staff: If you're looking for a glimpse of the future, be sure to catch a game in San Jose, where the rotation will feature four of San Francisco's Top 20 prospects. 2011 first-round pick Crick (the Giants' No. 1 prospect), Escobar (No. 10) and Blackburn (No. 11) all posted ERA's under 3.00 in the South Atlantic League in 2012, while Mejia (No. 18) showed flashes down the stretch, posting a 3.00 ERA after the All-Star break. Crick, who owes his success to a plus fastball, held batters to a stingy .193 average against and allowed just one homer, a number he'll be challenged to reproduce in the hitter-friendly Cal League.
The series: San Jose and Modesto, which sports the Cal League's top lineup, square off in six straight games from April 23 to April 28, the first three in San Jose (23-25), the next three in Modesto (26-28).
Carolina League -- Wilmington Blue Rocks
The staff: The most attention-grabbing name in Wilmington's rotation will obviously be that of Zimmer, the fifth overall pick in last year's Draft. The University of San Francisco product was dominant in his brief debut last season between the Rookie-level Arizona League and Class A Kane County. The heralded right-hander has been aggressively promoted to the Caroline League thanks in part to the 2.04 ERA with 42 strikeouts and just eight walks he sported in 39 2/3 innings last year.
Behind him will be the pair of lefties, Lamb (Kansas City's No. 5 prospect) and Selman (No. 12). Drafted out of high school back in 2008, Lamb will be out to show he's fully recovered from Tommy John surgery that sapped most of his 2012 season, while Selman will have his first full-season exposure after being drafted in the second round last year out of Vanderbilt University.
Smith, rounding out the rotation, will be both the Blue Rocks' youngest starter and perhaps their most intriguing. A fourth-rounder in 2011, the 20-year-old Florida native made his debut last year in the Rookie-level Pioneer league, needing just one start before he was advanced to the Class A Midwest League. In 72 1/3 innings, Smith went 5-3 with a 2.86 ERA and struck out 98 batters while walking 21.
The series: Kansas City's young arms will first face Salem, the league's best lineup, on the road April 22-25 and then quickly turn around to for another crack at the Red Sox, this time at home, April 29-May 2. In all, the two teams will square off 20 times in 2013.
Florida State League -- St. Lucie Mets
The staff: The Mets sent three of their top 20 prospects to St. Lucie to begin the season. No. 3 Syndergaard will lead the staff as one of the top pitching prospects in the game, ranking 29th on MLB.com's Top 100 prospects. The right-hander came over from Toronto in the offseason and figures prominently in the Mets' rebuilding plans. No. 8 Montero made eight starts with St. Lucie last year, showcasing a mid-90s fastball while tallying a 2.13 ERA. DeGrom made four starts with St. Lucie in 2012 with a 2.08 ERA and ranks 12th in the Mets' system despite battling injuries since being drafted out of Stetson University.
The series: The Mets will host the Daytona Cubs, MiLB.com's best FSL lineup, for the first time during a four-game set starting May 5.
Midwest League -- Fort Wayne TinCaps
The staff: The TinCaps' collection of young arms represents a truly elite grouping of pedigrees. Fried, the seventh overall pick of the 2012 Draft, is the most exciting of the bunch, but Eflin (33rd overall in 2012), Weickel (55th overall in 2012) and Ross (25th overall in 2011) each represents a first-round talent of his own.
The group offers limited experience with only 93 1/3 total innings of professional ball between them (55 2/3 of which belong just to Ross). But what they lack in experience they should more than make up for with their ability to light up the radar gun and dazzle crowds with their raw stuff on a nightly basis in Fort Wayne.
The series: Fort Wayne will travel to Beloit for three games July 13-15 in what will be the only regular-season meeting of the Midwest League's best arms and bats this season.
South Atlantic League -- Rome Braves
The staff: Sims -- the Braves' first-round pick in 2012 out of Lawrenceville, Ga. -- could end up being the best pitcher in the South Atlantic League when he returns to his home state, thanks to an above-average fastball and curveball that should both continue to develop. But don't sleep on Cabrera or Merejo either. Cabrera, armed with a plus heater, held Appalachian League opponents to a .213 average and put up a 2.97 ERA in his U.S. debut last year. Meanwhile, Merejo struck out 53 in 41 innings in the Gulf Coast League, solid if not spectacular for a 17-year-old in the pros. He should continue to develop at 18 and give the R-Braves some optimism after a down 2012 campaign.
The series: The Braves will face the Lexington Legends, MiLB.com's best SAL lineup, for the first time in a three-game set on June 10-12 at Whitaker Bank Ballpark.