Texas Preview: Pitchers may gain edge

Strong duos in the rotation, 'pen; Hooks plan on piggybacking

Chad Bettis (left) and Tyler Matzek excelled at Class A Advanced Modesto in past years.

By Andrew Pentis / Special to MLB.com | April 4, 2013 6:00 AM ET

It's becoming increasingly clear that despite the number of top hitting prospects the Texaas League has graduated to Triple-A -- including such one-name known quantities as Profar, Taveras, Myers and Arenado within the last year -- the Southwest-centric circuit will not be lacking for talent. The so-called stars of tomorrow may be gone, but next week's are already here.

And yes, many of them are everyday players. In fact, seven of our top 10 TL prospects made this list because of what they're capable of with a bat in their hands.

But to say this eight-team league is a hitter-friendly one misses the point. The fact that there are only eight teams -- the smallest of the four Double-A or Triple-A leagues -- benefits whoever can make adjustments faster.

"At this point in the season," another 2012 alum, Kolten Wong, told MiLB.com in September, "we have probably faced [a given pitcher] five to seven times already. I have an idea of how he likes to pitch me and what his pitches are."

With that in mind, our season preview ... well, previews pitching.

Top-heavy rotations: If position-player prospects outnumber their pitching counterparts on the circuit this season -- and they seem to -- consider there are still some elite young hurlers in ace-in-training roles. As a result, a few clubs have the benefit of potent 1-2 punch in the first and second slots of their rotations. If Chad Bettis (missed 2012 because of arm trouble) is healthy and Tyler Matzek (153-to-95 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 142 1/3 innings last year) maintains consistent command of his repertoire, there's little doubt that Tulsa will have the best pair of stoppers in the league. Those are two big ifs, however, so consider Northwest Arkansas' Yordano Ventura and Jason Adam, while the most experienced duo -- Frisco's Cody Buckel and bounce-back candidate Neil Ramirez -- is the perhaps the safest bet to emerge. The good thing about having only seven different opponents over a five-month period, of course, is that we should have plenty ace-vs.-ace duels on the diamond.

Speaking of starters: Corpus Christi may not have as much firepower, but it will literally be deeper by design. Flush with prospects after multiple trades, the Astros planned to install a tandem starting pitching system throughout its Minor League system, according to the Houston Chronicle . The "piggybacking" system, as it's also called, worked at Class A Lansing with then-Blue Jays prospects Noah Syndergaard, Justin Nicolino and Aaron Sanchez. The concept, which at its core simply splits a nine-inning game between two starters, is commonplace among the lower levels, but it's not known whether it's ever been put in place on a consistent basis at or above Double-A. It will be interesting to see how Hooks skipper Keith Brodie handles the outings of two of his pitchers, Nick Tropeano and Asher Wojciechowski, who are ranked ninth and 15th among Houston's best prospects. Jake Buchanan and Ross Seaton slot in behind them in what will certainly be the league's largest rotation. We'll have to wait to see if it's also the most effective.

Welcome relief: If Arkansas holds seven- or eight-inning leads this season, good luck to the opposition -- teams are going to need it. Angels' No. 2 and 10 prospects Nick Maronde (lefty) and Daniel Tillman (righty) should form the best setup man-closer combo. Maronde has excelled, even dominated at times, in a starting role his first two pro seasons, but the 2011 third-round draftee now seems to be leaning has toward a bullpen role. His 1.50 ERA in the first dozen Major League appearances of his career last season probably went a long way in that regard. Like Maronde, Tillman was a collegiate reliever before the Halos selected him in the 2010 Draft's second round. He needs more polish than does his bullpen peer, having walked 19 batters in his first 19 1/3 innings on the circuit in '12. He and Maronde just need to throw strikes and it should be smooth sailing.

A pitcher's programming note: If not for undergoing major surgery on his throwing elbow last season, Jordan Swagerty would be among the pitchers to watch this spring and summer. The 15th-ranked Cardinals prospect is back throwing, however, and we can get a first-hand look at his post-op adjustments to pitching via his blog, "Walking with a Swagerty" on the MLBlogs Network. His experience on and off the field should be worth reading about.

Defending champs decimated: The Springfield club that overcame Swagerty's absence and won the 2012 Texas League crown in four games is no more. With five top prospects from that club -- Taveras, Wong, Trevor Rosenthal, Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez -- now at Triple-A Memphis or on their way there, the Double-A Cards will have to find new ways to win ballgames. There is a hole in the middle of St. Louis' Minor League system as the next wave of the organization's best young players -- a group led by pitcher Tyrell Jenkins and infielder Carson Kelly -- will spend the bulk of the year below the Class A Advanced level. If 2012 first-round draftee James Ramsey gets off to a hot start at Palm Beach, however, he could be a big help.

Last things last: Here's a look at some significant lasts around the Texas League.

Andrew Pentis is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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