Thursday, December 11, 2008

In Retrospect: 2008 Top 20 Pitching Prospects (#1-10)

Finals are over, I finally have my laptop working again with a new power cord, and my stocks are up 20% since the beginning of November! What does that mean? It means I'm feeling good and it's time to talk baseball.

Before we get started looking forward to the 2009 season, I thought it would be fun to look back at some of my rankings at the beginning of 2008. Here's my Top 20 pitcher's list with my original pre-2008 season commentary as well as post-2008 thoughts.

1. Joba Chamberlain --

Pre-2008: Some would put Clay Buchholz in this spot, while others would put Philip Hughes here, but when you combine Joba's K/9 rates with his high ground ball rates, his overall make-up puts him at the top of this list. He also had a very low BB/9 rate last year, and as long as he can maintain good control, he'll be special.

Post-2008: I think I was right on with putting Joba at the top. He's a special talent and proved it by posting a 2.60 ERA over 100 innings in the A.L. East. And don't forget, he did so at the ripe old age of 22. Compared to King Felix Hernandez, an equally talented 22 year old, Chamberlain matched him in BB%, GB%, and posted a K% of 28% which was a full 8% higher than Hernandez.

2. Philip Hughes --

Pre-2008: Hughes isn't far behind Chamberlain, and these 2 young pitchers could become a legendary duo in New York. Hughes has as much talent as Chamberlain, but he doesn't share the same ground ball tendencies, which is why Hughes comes in at #2. If I had to choose any 2 young pitchers not named Felix Hernandez to start a team, I'd take Hughes and Chamberlain and wouldn't think twice about it.

Post-2008: Something went wrong with Hughes in 2008, and I think the Yankees know it. If I could do this list all over again, I'd probably drop Hughes down below guys like Brett Anderson and Brett Cecil. There are indications that Hughes is regaining his previous form by striking out 38 hitters over his last 30 innings at Winter Ball(which is great), but he has also allowed 14 earned runs (7 of which came in a 2.2 inning outing in October), and given up 14 walks. I think he has mostly suffered from odd injuries, high expectations, and being tossed back and forth between the minors and the majors all year, but he hasn't come near the type of performances we saw from him in 2006 and 2007. I think the talent is still there, and the Yankees are pursuing veteran pitchers this off-season, so maybe Hughes will have some time to work things out.

3. Jaime Garcia --

Pre-2008: I still don't understand why Garcia doesn't get any kind of recognition for what he's been able to do thus far in his career. He doesn't have the sexy K/9 numbers that other top prospects have, but with a ground ball rate over 60%, a K/9 of 8, and a BB/9 under 3, Garcia has the make-up of a very good pitcher. I wouldn't be surprised to see him put up numbers similar to Fausto Carmona in the next couple of years.

Post-2008: I'm still sold on Garcia. He did very well at AA and AAA ball in '08, and I think by late 2009 or early 2010 we'll begin to see him put up some very dominant performances.  Still in my top 10, but maybe not my top 5.

4. Andrew Miller --

Pre-2008: Miller is another pitcher that doesn't put up big strikeout totals, but his ground ball rate is around 70%, making him one of the best ground ball pitchers out there. He won't get much publicity now that he's with the Marlins, but if you get a chance to see him pitch sometime, don't pass up the opportunity. He's already had a few rough starts in '08, but I think he'll be just fine once he makes a few adjustments.

Post-2008: Rough is a good word to describe Miller's season. His GB% was creeping back up to his minor league average towards the end of the year, but his K% and BB% were all over the place, and it's hard to say when he'll truly settle down. As with Hughes, in retrospect I'd put Miller a bit farther down on this list.

5. David Price --

Pre-2008: Price was a dominant college pitcher in a pretty good conference, so I think his abilities should translate to professional ball fairly well. He showed a lot of talent this spring, but an mild elbow injury has him out for about another month. The injury doesn't sound serious, but the Rays are more than willing to postpone his major league action if it means they save a few bucks (see Evan Longoria). Price should post similar numbers to Tim Lincecum, with fewer walks, and if he keeps the ball down he could be better than almost anyone on this list.

Post-2008: Price came no where near Lincecum's numbers in the minors, and I think he's likely to be more like A.J. Burnett or Ben Sheets. He's possibly a top 10 prospect on this list on a good day.

6. Brett Anderson --

Pre-2008: The trade that Oakland made with Arizona this off-season was pure genius. Arizona got a decent pitcher in the prime of his career, while Oakland ran off with almost enough young talent to field an entire team. Anderson has a K/9 of about 9.5 and a BB/9 rate of 1.5, which makes him a very good prospect, but his 57% ground ball rate makes him a very special prospect.

Post-2008: I think I've made it clear in other posts that I think Anderson is one of the top pitching prospects in the nation, along with Trevor Cahill, Brett Cecil, and Madison Bumgarner.  If I had a time machine, I'd go back and list Anderson, Cahill, and Cecil right behind Chamberlain on this list.  Unfortunately, last spring I didn't have Cahill or Cecil in my spreadsheets and they got completely overlooked, which makes me feel like a complete idiot.  But I'm making up for it now by letting the world know that these guys will be my top 3 pitching prospects going into 2009. 

7. Clay Buchholz --

Pre-2008: I really wanted to put Buchholz higher on this list, but my gut instinct won't let me. He has tons of talent, and the Red Sox will give him a better early education than almost any other team, but his ceiling is a little bit lower than some of the other pitchers above him. He'll put up some great numbers, but he'll also get shelled on occasion until he learns to keep the ball on the ground more often.

Post-2008: I think my gut feeling was right with Buchholz.  Good stuff, good team, but not the absolute best out there.  He got smacked around in 2008 and suffered from a BABIP of .361, but it will trend back towards .300, bringing his ERA down with it, so don't worry about his future.  He'll turn things around and be part of a great Boston pitching staff over the next 5-10 years.  

8. Chris Volstad --

Pre-2008: Another guy without the K/9 rates to impress anyone, but he's got good control and makes hitters put the ball on the ground. He doesn't get much recognition playing for the Marlins, but he'll do well for himself.

Post-2008: Steady as a rock.  In 2008 with the Marlins, Volstad pitched 84 innings with a 2.88 ERA, and matched almost every single one of his minor league stats.  And if that wasn't impressive enough, in 37 innings away from home, Volstad posted an ERA of 1.95, including 6 shutout innings agains the Mets, and 6 shutout innings against the Phillies.  Not badfor a 21 year old kid.

9. Sean Gallagher --

Pre-2008: The Cubs almost traded away Gallagher for Brian Friggin' Roberts this spring, and had they done so, they would've deserved to go without a World Series Championship for at least another decade. Gallagher wasn't great in the majors last year, but he has enough talent to be a solid #3 or #4 starter early, and possibly a #1 starter in his prime. I expect 10-15 wins a year very soon.

Post-2008: So the Cubs went and traded Gallagher anyways, and got knocked out of the playoffs in the first round.  Big surprise.  With Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Gallagher, and Gio Gonzalez, in 5 years watch for the A's to have perhaps one of the most dominant rotations since the mid-1990's Braves when Maddux, Glavine, and Smotlz were all in their prime.   

10. Nick Adenhardt --

Pre-2008: Adenhart gets a lot of buzz from west coast prospect enthusiasts, and most of it is legit. He's come a long way since his surgery a few years ago, and he'll make a fine middle-of-the-rotation started in the next year or so. Good command and good stuff.

Post-2008: Bad AAA numbers, and his stats with the Angels were even worse.  Sme obvious regression issues with few bright spots.  Adenhart is definitely out of my top 10.  

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