Mets among teams likely to lean on young pitchers this season
Noah Syndergaard recorded 133 strikeouts over in 117 2/3 innings at two levels in 2013. (Mark LoMoglio/MiLB.com)
By Jake Seiner / MiLB.com | March 5, 2014 10:00 AM ET
The value of a competent, young starting pitcher has never been greater to Major League clubs. Hurlers lacking big league experience have managed to play major factors on quality teams the last few years, contributing in playoff pushes and starting key postseason games. Last year, Michael Wacha and Danny Salazar were among the rookies who impacted the baseball landscape with their promising arms.
Earlier this week, we took a look at the American League's top rookie pitchers for 2014. Now we turn our attention to the National League. What are the names you should know? With the help of Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projections, taken with gratitude from the fine folks over at Fangraphs and prorated over 32 starts, here's a rundown of the pitchers who could earn key innings in the Majors this season and how you should expect them to perform.
The Projections: The Mets' rotation of the future began taking shape last season with Matt Harvey breaking into Cy Young contention and Zack Wheeler establishing himself as a Major League arm. The cavalry will continue to arrive this year, with Syndergaard and Montero right on the horizon. The former already projects to be an above-average big league starter, according to ZiPS. The system also thinks Montero -- a right-hander who could become a No. 3/4 starter -- is ready to approach his ceiling with an ERA that would fit nicely in a Major League rotation.
Playing Time Factors: Syndergaard finished 2013 with 11 starts at Double-A Binghamton and should get another half-season's worth of Minor League work. If all goes according to plan, the 21-year-old could join the big league rotation at mid-summer a la Wheeler in 2013. Montero, meanwhile, already has achieved success at the Triple-A level. Other hurlers already on the 40-man roster still may slot ahead of the 23-year-old, but Montero's chance should come early in 2014, assuming he stays healthy and productive.
Fantasy Impact: Fantasy owners in deep keeper leagues should already be taking a good look at Syndergaard. Rare is the MLB-ready pitcher who flashes ace potential, and locking up Syndergaard before his value skyrockets is a good idea, even if he may not reach the Majors until later this season. Montero lacks Syndergaard's No. 1 ceiling, but he should be a roster-worthy starter in short order.
The Projections: Like future rotation-mate Gerrit Cole, Taillon's rise through the Minor Leagues has been accompanied by a buzzing skepticism stemming from his inability to post gaudy strikeout numbers. Taillon believers, like their Cole-praising cousins before them, shrug that uncertainty aside, blaming the Pirates' pitch-calling practices for the merely average strikeout rates rather than the hurler's stuff or command. ZiPS seems to lean on the skeptical side, projecting an efficient but merely average season. ZiPS does think Taillon can pitch deep into games, which is somewhat uncommon for the projection system.
Playing Time Factors: Taillon should return to Triple-A Indianapolis to begin 2014, but like Syndergaard, he could contribute in the Majors by midseason. The Pirates have several rotation options, some more trustworthy than others. Taillon's place outside the 40-man roster likely hurts his chances for an early-season callup, as hurlers like Edinson Volquez, Jeff Locke, Jeanmar Gomez and Brandon Cumpton could come between him and a rotation spot.
Fantasy Impact: Taillon's 2014 value is tied in large part to playing time, so fantasy owners will have to gauge injuries and performances by pitchers around the right-hander to decide on his immediate value. Long-term, though, Taillon has the stuff to pitch near the top of a Major League rotation, giving him stellar fantasy value.
The Projections: Bradley's pure stuff is as good as any pitcher in the Minor Leagues, but the 21-year-old's control hasn't caught up with his high-90s heat just yet -- he walked 4.31 batters per nine innings in 21 Double-A starts last season. ZiPS doesn't foresee his control magically improving and is skeptical about his ability to strike out Major League hitters. The system does think he'll keep the ball in the park, though -- no small feat at Chase Field -- and perform like a competent back-end starter in 2014.
Playing Time Factors: Arizona isn't in a hurry to get Bradley to the Majors. Rather than promote him or another youngster, the team invested $23.5 million over two years in Bronson Arroyo. The move put another roadblock in front of Bradley, who was a non-roster invitee to Spring Training. If there's an injury, Bradley may not be the first pitcher called upon to fill a rotation spot -- Randall Delgado, Zeke Spruill and Andrew Chafin are among those who might get first crack -- but he should become a fixture in Arizona's rotation at some point in 2014.
Fantasy Impact: Bradley has a realistic shot to be a perennial Cy Young Award candidate. There are safer bets on this list, as his penchant for the free pass is a red flag, but the expectation from most is that he'll strike out more batters than what's predicted here. If that happens, and his walk rate drops, Bradley could be a fantasy monster by the end of the season. He's well worth an investment in dynasty leagues and also a player to watch on the waiver wire.
The Projections: Escobar has slowly risen up prospect charts over the past couple of seasons, first emerging as a name to know in 2012 with Class A Augusta, then breaking out with Class A Advanced San Jose and Double-A Richmond last year. A left-hander with an advanced approach, Escobar is ready to shine, according to ZiPS, which thinks he'll keep the ball in the strike zone and the ballpark.
Playing Time Factors: Escobar was added to the 40-man roster a year ago, making him a mere callup away from Major League action. San Francisco has a good starting five, but leaning on 36-year-old Ryan Vogelsong and 38-year-old Tim Hudson should leave the Giants with some innings to fill. Escobar has made only 10 starts at the Double-A level, so a little more Minor League seasoning may be in order, but he should be ready for a rotation spot at some point in 2014.
Fantasy Impact: Escobar's stuff is more in line with a mid-rotation starter than a top-of-the-rotation type, so his fantasy ceiling is somewhat limited. Hurling half his games at pitcher-friendly AT&T Park should help keep his ERA down, though, and pitching for competitive Giants teams should help him pick up some wins. Escobar could move fast if space opens and is a name to watch as a late-round flier or waiver wire pickup.
The Projections: Like Bradley, Biddle struggled with his control in 2013, posting a 5.33 BB/9 in 27 Double-A starts. ZiPS doesn't project much improvement in that category for 2014. Otherwise, the projection system is bullish, predicting impressive strikeout numbers and a below-average home run rate, despite the hitter-friendly reputation of Citizens Bank Park.
Playing Time Factors: The left-hander should begin the season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley and could get a crack at an MLB rotation spot during the summer. If the 22-year-old can show improved command with the IronPigs, he could be in Philadelphia quickly, especially with job competitors Jonathan Pettibone, Ethan Martin and Adam Morgan battling injuries.
Fantasy Impact: The upside with Biddle is high, as he could post tremendous strikeout numbers at the Major League level. There's risk, though, as his current command profile is below average and could keep him from succeeding as a big league starter. The southpaw is worth a look in deeper leagues, though, especially in dynasty leagues where owners can stash him on the farm to wait and see about his control.
J.R. Graham was supposed to break into the Majors in 2013 but was delayed by injuries. ZiPS is confident he can be a quality big league starter this season. … Eddie Butler probably needs at least another half-year in the Minors, if not more, but ZiPS is bullish on his ability to keep the ball in the park -- a fine attribute for a pitcher headed to Coors Field. … Both Clayton Blackburn and Kyle Crick are likely headed to Double-A to begin 2014 but could rise quickly behind Escobar. … Miami is loaded with MLB-ready hurlers, as Andrew Heaney, Adam Conley, Brian Flynn, Justin Nicolino, Anthony DeSclafani and Jose Urena all project as worthy rotation candidates. … This time last year, Severino Gonzalez hadn't even thrown a pitch in a stateside game. Now, ZiPS thinks the 21-year-old is ready to take on a Major League gig. That said, he'll likely start the year at Double-A. … St. Louis could have another under-the-radar rotation find in Tim Cooney, a 2012 third-round pick poised to shine in a No. 4 role.
Jake Seiner is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Seiner.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.