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The Fallen Prospect Starting Rotation

A few days ago, I highlighted some former top position prospects who once graced magazine covers and had fantasy players’ hearts aflutter, but have since fallen out of favor. Today, let’s do the same with starting pitchers. Here’s the Fallen Prospect Starting Rotation.

Clay Buchholz, Boston Red Sox

CHONE: 151 IP, 7.33 K/9, 3.52 BB/9, 1.07 HR/9, 4.27 FIP

When a much-discussed hurler gets the big league call and chucks a no-hitter in his second start, expectations can become so enormous that anything short of that pitcher becoming a Roger Clemens/Nolan Ryan love child seems like a let-down.

Buchholz, who turned 25 last August, has logged 190.2 innings in the majors from 2007-2009, with a 4.91 ERA. That screams mediocrity. But his peripherals are more promising. The 6-3 right-hander has struck out 7.65 batters per nine innings, while posting a 49.9 percent groundball rate. His control hasn’t been precise (4.11 BB/9), but Buchholz has a more palatable 4.13 expected fielding independent ERA (xFIP). Buchholz has performed like an above-average starter, but a .317 BABIP and a near 14 percent home run per fly ball rate have obscured his quality work.

Known for his diverse arsenal of pitches, Buchholz has succeeded in the majors with his slider (+2.30 runs per 100 pitches), curveball (+0.52) and changeup (+0.42). His fastball, on the other hand, has been more than a run below average (-1.04).

However, his heater velocity did perk up in 2009. In 2008, Buchholz threw his fastball for a strike 61.8 percent of the time. In ‘09, his fastball was thrown for a strike 65.9 percent. His ceiling is still wicked high.

Homer Bailey, Cincinnati Reds

CHONE: 158 IP, 7.35 K/9, 3.87 BB/9, 1.25 HR/9 4.66 FIP

The seventh pick in the 2004 draft won’t turn 24 until May, but his odyssey in pro ball has taken him from uber-prospect to perceived bust to promising, if unpolished starter. Bailey was beaten badly during his first two stints in the big leagues (5.59 xFIP in 2007 and a 5.16 xFIP in 2008). But in 2009, he turned in a quality season at the Triple-A level (89.2 IP, 8.23 K/9, 2.71 BB/9, 3.86 FIP) and pitched at a league-average level (4.58 xFIP) in the majors.

Bailey has a four-pitch mix, including a mid-80’s slider/cutter, high-70’s curve and a low-80’s changeup, but he chooses to fire his fastball well over 70 percent of the time. Like Buchholz, Bailey got some extra oomph on his fastball this past year, sitting 94-95 MPH instead of 91-92 MPH like in ’07 and ’08. He’s basically an average starter right now, with the upside for more than that if he makes gains with his control and secondary stuff.

Sean Gallagher, San Diego Padres

CHONE: 102 IP, 8.12 K/9, 3.97 BB/9, 0.79 HR/9, 3.91 FIP

A former Cub and Athletic picked up by the Padres last July, Gallagher scarcely pitched in 2009 after suffering a left knee injury. In 2008, though, the right-hander used his low-90’s gas, hard slider and slow curve to punch out 8.04 batters per nine innings in 115.1 IP with Chicago and Oakland. He does lose the strike zone often (career 4.93 BB/9), and lets hitters loft the ball frequently (35.8 GB%).

Gallagher will need to stop being so generous with the walks, but Petco Park should help mitigate those extreme fly ball proclivities, should they persist (his near-50 percent groundball rate in the minors suggests that his GB/FB split might not be that pronounced moving forward).

The 24 year-old is not currently penciled in to San Diego’s rotation. However, with Chris Young‘s recent ailments, concerns over Mat Latos‘ workload and the checkered health history of Tim Stauffer, the out-of-options Gallagher figures to get a shot at some point.

Brandon Morrow, Toronto Blue Jays

Bill James (CHONE’s projection for Morrow comes in relief): 135 IP, 8.73 K/9, 5.27 BB/9, 0.87 HR/9, 4.34 FIP

Swapped from the Mariners to the Jays over the winter, Morrow has seen his development derailed by injuries, being shoved into the major league bullpen and indecision over his role: starter or closer, that is the question.

Toronto has spared us from any more rumination: Morrow, 25, will be a starter with his new organization. His ability to miss bats is unquestioned, but the former Cal star has to hone his control and prove durable (forearm and shoulder injuries have plagued him) if he hopes to become more than a hard-throwing curiosity.

Don’t be surprised if there are bumps along the way. Because Seattle’s former regime allowed Morrow to throw reallyrealyreally hard in the general direction of home plate out of the ‘pen, instead of building stamina and improving his breaking stuff as a minor league starter, the 6-3 righty remains green as grass.

Ian Kennedy, Arizona Diamondbacks

CHONE: 94 IP, 8.33 K/9, 3.93 BB/9, 1.05 HR/9, 4.20 FIP

A USC Trojan who terrorized minor league batters (9.9 K/9, 2.8 BB/9), Kennedy scuffled in limited time with the Yankees (5.84 xFIP in 59.2 IP) and was sent to Arizona as part of a three-team deal during the offseason. Kennedy’s ’09 season was quashed by surgery to repair an aneurysm under his right armpit.

A 6-0, 195 pound righty who relies far more on command than sizzling stuff, Kennedy sits 89-91 with his fastball and backs it up with a slider, curve and changeup. His Major League Equivalencies in 2007 (4.34 FIP) and 2008 (3.34 FIP) suggest that he could be a nifty back-end starter.

But, Kennedy faces a daunting task with the D-Backs. He’s a fly ball pitcher (career 39.7 GB% in the minors) headed to a park that, according to the 2010 Bill James Handbook, has increased run production by 15 percent and homers by seven percent compared to a neutral park over the past three years.