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10 Pitching Prospects to Watch

A couple of days ago, I made a list of the position players I'd be watching most closely in the Brewers organization this year.  As I said in that article, my aim isn't to produce yet another "top 20" list where we nitpick over whose ceiling's the highest and whether it matters.

Instead, I'm focusing on prospects who I think are the most interesting: either big-time character guys, players coming back from injury, guys trying to bounce back from a rough year, maybe players trying to keep the momentum going from a surprisingly good 2005.  In other words, the best stories--not necessarily the guys who are locks for the starting lineup in 2009.  

That said, here's my 10 pitching prospects to watch:

  • Tim Dillard: Racked up 185 innings last year, which is just about impossible to do below AAA, if only because organizations tend to be so careful with young arms.  Judging from that total and his WHIP under 1 last year, Dillard looks like a guy who throws strikes and doesn't mess around with much else.  That, combined with his starting AA this year at age 22, suggests he could be in the rotation in 2008.

  • Yovani Gallardo: pitching in low-A ball last year, he put up MLEs that would've made him a passable member of the Reds bullpen.  Give credit to John Sickels here: in my pre-season interview with him last year, he pegged Gallardo as the guy to watch.  While people still talk more about Mark Rogers, Gallardo outperformed him in just about every possible way.  That he's still growing (he's 19!) and could potentially add a couple mph to his fastball makes him one of the best pitching prospects not named Felix that an organization could ask for.

  • Ben Hendrickson: ack.  A couple of years ago, we were talking like he'd be the #4 guy in the rotation by now.  At this point, he does project to be the #4 guy in the Nashville.  He doesn't have overpowering stuff, so I wonder to what degree his issues are confidence-related, and if that's the main problem, whether there's any hope for him to bounce back.

  • Zach Jackson: I said this wasn't necessarily a "top prospect" list, but then again the guys with the most promise tend to be the most interesting to follow, especially if they're fairly new to you.  Jackson came over in the Overbay trade, and it's no secret he could become the key to the deal.  He rocketed his way through the minors last year, so it remains to be seen how well he'll do against a league that gets the chance to see him for a full season.  That is, unless he earns his way to Milwaukee before the end of the year!

  • Mike Jones: He hasn't pitched since he threw a mere 23 innings in 2004, but he's still young: he turns 23 in April.  I noticed not too long ago that he's never had a bad year in the minors, which may mean nothing after all this time rehabbing, but it gives some hope that a healthy Mike Jones could be a big-league contributor within the next couple of years.  

  • Rolando Pascual: One thing you might have noticed about this list, especially in comparison to the position player list, is that most everybody is on the young side.  Many stathead Brewer fans have complained that the club repeatedly stocks up on high school arms, just to see them fizzle out or go down in a heap of injury, a la Mike Jones.  Well, those guys aren't young...Rolando Pascual is YOUNG.  In a couple of weeks, he's turning 17.  Here's some of what Baseball America had to say about him when his signing was announced in September:
    The Brewers jumped into the Pascual bidding because he fits the profile of the kind of prospect they are willing to spend significantly to sign, Arango said. He has some present ability, with an average present fastball (in the 87-93 mph range), and it projects to be an above-average pitch. He has some physical maturity as well as projection, and enough mental maturity to handle coming to the United States to play in 2006. The Brewers don't have a Latin American academy, so any Latin players they sign must be ready to come to the U.S. immediately and be ready to play in Rookie ball.

    "This kid has broad shoulders, long arms and big hands," Arango said from his Miami-area home. "He was 12 pounds when he was born--I heard the scream from his mother. He's got good size.

    "Rolando's mechanics are pretty fluid. He has a real easy arm action to go with his size. He has the ability to spin a breaking ball pretty good. His biggest thing is going to be getting command of his breaking ball. His changeup at times needs a lot of work and at times it's pretty good. He has a high ceiling."

    Excited yet?  I don't have anything to add, except that I can't wait to see this kid pitch.

  • Mark Rogers: As I mentioned with regard to Yovani Gallardo, Rogers is mighty close to being eclipsed by the guy who followed him in the draft.  Rogers still makes scouts go gaga, and some still give him the chance to become a top-of-the-rotation starter.  Well, okay.  Let's get some outs.

  • Chris Saenz: Remember this guy?  He got one win in 2004, beating the Cardinals and immediately returning to AA.  Then he got hurt and didn't pitch all of last year.  He doesn't have the ceiling that Mike Jones did, but then again, he shut out the Cardinals for six innings!  

  • Mitch Stetter: in another organization, he might be competing for a spot on the big club.  He might not have much of a shot, but he'd be in the mix.  Unfortunately for Mitch, Doug Melvin signed every quad-A lefty middle-relief guy and their brother, if their brother throws lefty.  True, Stetter has only thrown 25 innings above AA, but they were solid innings, and except for an atrocious stint in hitter-happy High Desert back in '04, he's succeeded everywhere he's gone.  If he does reasonably well this year, I would imagine he'll get a serious shot in '07--as we know, one of the things this organization does very well is stack the bullpen with cheap, quality arms.  Stetter may already fit that description, and he'll be that much closer a year from now.

  • Josh Wahpepah: Josh is usually mentioned only after talking for much longer about Rogers and Gallardo (yes, I know, I did that too, but just because I'm doing this alphabetically), and its true that he doesn't have the high ceiling of those two guys.  On the other hand, he pitched quite well at West Virginia last year in his first full season, he throws hard, and he's still young (22 in July).  A lot of pitchers like Josh end up as organizational fodder, topping out at AAA, but a few put it all together, maybe adding a pitch or a few mph to the fastball as they put on weight, and end up with solid major league careers.  

Closing thoughts: If you're not familiar with the maxim TINSTAAPP ("there is no such thing as a pitching prospect") the Brewers organizational pitching over the last few years has given you a good introduction.  In this list, we've got a lot of high ceilings, but some cautionary tales--Jones, Hendrickson, Sanez to some extent--to go along with them.  That's one of the things that makes the acquisition of Bush and Jackson so exciting--once guys reach the level those two have, a lot of the risk is gone.  Which isn't to say either one is a sure thing--far from it--but given that the organization didn't have any starting prospects of Jackson's stature that close to the big leagues, it tells you what a need that deal filled.