Four Young Pitchers Showing They Belong

Not all great pitchers are picked at the top of the draft, like Clayton Kershaw or David Price, or imported expensively from overseas, like Masahiro Tanaka or Yu Darvish. As we all know, young, quality arms often sneak up on us, emerging from under the radar to provide an unexpected boost.

For these four young pitchers, there’s hope that what they’ve shown in 2014 is just the start of things to come — that soon, despite fairly modest pedigrees, they could prove to be an irreplaceable part of a big league roster for years to come.

Jacob deGrom, New York Mets

Much has been made of the collection of young pitching the Mets have been stockpiling. Yet before this season, we rarely heard deGrom’s name mentioned. Fans talked about Matt Harvey, still only 25, who had established himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball before injuring his elbow. They dreamed about Noah Syndergaard, 21, the prize of the R.A. Dickey trade, who has been striking out more than a man per inning in the offensive haven that is Triple-A Las Vegas; and 24-year-old Zack Wheeler, obtained in return for Carlos Beltran and well into his second season as a solid big leaguer.

But deGrom wasn’t on many preseason top-10 Mets prospect lists, and most also preferredRafael Montero as well as those listed above.

Not anymore. All deGrom has done since his May promotion is be the best pitcher in the Mets rotation, putting up a 2.79 ERA backed closely by a 3.07 FIP, and striking out 83 in 87 innings while allowing only five home runs.

Really, what deGrom’s emergence has done more than anything is give the Mets extra trade depth, because as much as fans might like to think of it, an entirely home-grown quintet of Harvey/Syndergaard/Wheeler/deGrom/Montero (or Jon Niese or Dillon Gee) probably isn’t realistic.

For the Mets to improve quickly, they’re going to need to make a trade for the big bat they so sorely lack. But to completely wipe out that pitching core to do so would be counterproductive. Now, with deGrom’s sudden emergence, he can be included to get the Troy Tulowitzki type they desperately need — or remain in Queens if his presence makes trading some of the others more palatable.

Jesse Hahn, San Diego Padres

It’s been an absolutely disastrous season for San Diego, both on and off the field, and the team is still operating without a general manager more than a month after letting Josh Byrnes go. If Pads fans are in need of a dash of optimism — and it seems like they are — they can at least look to Hahn, a 25-year-old rookie acquired from Tampa Bay in January.

How good has Hahn been? He’s one of six pitchers this year to throw at least 50 innings and post a strikeout rate of 25 percent or better and a ground-ball rate of 50 percent or higher. Three of the other five are among the absolute best pitchers in baseball — Clayton KershawFelix Hernandez and Zack Greinke. The fourth, Francisco Liriano, has been elite at times, and the fifth,Tony Watson, was an All-Star this year. Playing in Petco Park doesn’t hurt, but striking hitters out while getting grounders is the universal language of fantastic pitching, and those are some impressive names to be compared to.

Hahn’s fastball is just fine. He’s excelled mostly on the strength of his fantastic curveball, which gets an 18.3 percent swinging-strike rate against a league that usually whiffs on hooks at around an 11 percent clip. In nine starts, he’s allowed just 12 earned runs. Four of those earned runs came in major league debut. In eight starts since, he’s compiled a 49-19 K-to-BB ratio, pitching so well that the Padres, as awful as they are, have won seven of those games.

Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays

Stroman may have been Toronto’s first-round pick in 2012 and their No. 2 prospect on Keith Law’s preseason list, but that doesn’t mean his path to the bigs came without questions. After all, Stroman is listed at only 5-foot-9, and short righty pitchers always have a lot to prove. So far, so good: After a few initial relief appearances, Stroman joined the rotation May 31 and has stuck there ever since.

How has that worked out? Well, here’s one way to look at it: Since moving into the rotation, Stroman’s ERA is 2.12, which is fantastic, especially when you realize that nearly one-third of the runs he’s allowed as a starter came in one poor game against the Angels early in July. He’s managed to maintain most of his velocity since leaving the bullpen, and he’s kept hitters off balance with six different pitches.

Most impressively, he seems to be evolving. Stroman threw his sinker all of five times in his first 13 outings in the bigs. On July 24 against the Red Sox, he suddenly threw it 24 times; his next time out, on Tuesday in Boston, he threw it 31 times, more than any other pitch. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he went seven innings, striking out eight while allowing one run, because who can prepare for a pitcher who throws hard and makes your scouting report useless? The Jays disappointingly didn’t acquire a pitcher before the deadline, so if they’re going to continue to make a run at the AL East title, Stroman will have to continue to dominate.

Jake Odorizzi, Tampa Bay Rays

The big trade that sent James Shields and Wade Davis to the Kansas City Royals for a package headlined by Wil Myers looked poor the day it happened, because the Royals didn’t look like they were close enough to contention to make the trade worth it. So far, that’s been the case. Not helping the matter: Odorizzi has been about as valuable in 2014 as Shields has.

That may seem unbelievable, but it’s true: Shields has pitched more innings, so he’s been worth more overall, but as far as run prevention and advanced peripherals go, they’ve been about the same. That’s including Odorizzi’s lousy first month (18 earned runs in 23.2 innings), too; since May 1, he’s had an even 3.00 ERA in 16 starts, striking out 107 in 90 innings.

Odorizzi’s improvement is owed in large part due to a split-change taught to him by teammateAlex Cobb, which he’s used to create an out pitch low in the zone and give hitters something to think about rather than being able to focus on his solid but unspectacular fastball high in the zone, as they had in 2013. It’s fair to say that had the Royals held onto Odorizzi, he wouldn’t have met Cobb and learned the pitch; it’s also fair to say that a deal that already looked good for Tampa Bay when Myers won the Rookie of the Year last season now looks really, really good.




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Mike Petriello used to write here, and now he does not. Find him at @mike_petriello or MLB.com.

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