warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Young Pitchers Making Huge Impact This Season

Dave Dulberg |
June 16, 2011 | 11:36 a.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Ogando is quickly erasing Cliff Lee's memory in Texas. (Mike LaChance via Creative Commons)
Ogando is quickly erasing Cliff Lee's memory in Texas. (Mike LaChance via Creative Commons)
A little over two months into the MLB season, all looks to be in order across the leader board in wins amongst starting pitchers.

With names like Halladay, Lester, Hamels, Sabathia, Weaver and Verlander holding the fort down on the mound as per usual, the spotlight hardly gets shined on those that are still not household names.

This year in baseball, it is a cavalcade of young hurlers that deserve more than their fair share of loving. And while they might not win a Cy Young Award in their first few seasons nor grab the attention of a captive national audience like Dwight Gooden or Fernando Valenzuela, the future is bright for Alexi Ogando, Michael Pineda, Jhoulys Chacin and Carlos Carrasco.

Alexi Ogando (RHP)-Texas Rangers

In 2004, Ogando began his major league career as an outfield prospect for the Oakland Athletics. But if not for Rangers’ scout A.J. Preller discovering the young righty’s power arm and pitcher-esque body frame, this tale of dominance may never have been told.

A year after Preller’s discovery, Texas scooped up the hard-throwing Dominican in the Rule 5 draft, and over the next four years he would blossom into a talented reliever pitching in the Rangers organization, making 59 appearances and only three starts.

During last year’s magical run to the World Series, Ogando’s work in the Rangers bullpen after being called up largely went overlooked (44 appearances, 4-1 record, 1.30 ERA and only one run surrendered in six innings of work in the postseason).

This season, trying to fill the void left by the departure of Cliff Lee, Ron Washington  and Nolan Ryan looked desperately in spring training for a steady arm that could accompany starting pitchers C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis and Darren Holland at the back end of the rotation.

While option No.1 was lights-out closer Neftali Feliz, in the end it was the lanky, six-foot-four, 190-pound Ogando who earned a spot in the rotation--a position he clearly won’t be giving back anytime soon.

With a fastball that sits comfortably at 96-98 MPH, a plus slider that can reach 85-86 MPH and an effective splitter that he tends to break out in two-strike counts, the 27-year-old starter has all but pitched like the ace of the staff in 2011.

Outside of two appearances against the Yankees in which he gave up 11 runs in 9 1/3 innings, Ogando has simply been overpowering to the tune of a 7-1 record, 2.71 ERA (7th best in the AL) and a 0.96 WHIP (3rd best in the AL). Oh, and by the way, it took him 13 career starts to get his first loss.

Look for Ogando to be in Phoenix this July for the Midsummer Classic--the first of many appearances for a guy who was supposed to be just a complementary piece in the Rangers’ rotation.

Michael Pineda (RHP)- Seattle Mariners

Michael Pineda (Keith Allison via Creative Commons)
Michael Pineda (Keith Allison via Creative Commons)
Despite all the talk about realigning major league baseball to add a team to the smallest division in baseball, the AL West, it seems there is already plenty of firepower to go around in the four-horse west coast race.

Along with the aforementioned Ogando, the Mariners boast one of the game’s most exciting arms in Pineda--the kind you pay extra money to see at the ballpark every fifth day.

Last week I posed the question of which pitcher, between Ogando and Pineda, teams would rather have over the next 10 years to Yahoo! Sports MLB Senior Writer Steve Henson, and his instant response was that all of the scouts love Pineda.

And frankly, it’s not hard to see why.

At 16 years of age when he signed a contract with the Mariners, he was projected to be a Freddy Garcia-type pitcher. But at six-foot-seven, 260 pounds the native of Yaguate has been nothing short of a scout’s dream over the past six years in the Mariners’ farm system.

Combine his pro-ready frame with a plus fastball that can be thrown with ease in the mid to high 90s, his deceptive arm-action, uncanny control and two above average pitches in his changeup and slider (both which can hit in the mid to upper 80s), and it’s no surprise Baseball America ranked him as the No.10 prospect heading in to 2010.

Pitching in the offense-dominated Southern League (AA) and Pacific Coast League (AAA), Pineda thrived in his last year at the minor league level, going 11-4 with a 3.36 ERA and 156 strikeouts in 139-plus innings.

In 2011, the rookie has proven his success is by no means an aberration, as he has fit in quite well in the Emerald City behind 2010 Cy Young Award Winner Felix Hernandez and crafty veteran Erik Bedard.  Through 13 starts, Pineda’s power arm has kept the Mariners in playoff contention with a 6-4 record, 2.72 ERA (8th best in the AL), 1.04 WHIP (8th best in the AL) and 80 strikeouts.

While Seattle is likely a year away from really making a late-season push in the AL West, if GM Jack Zduriencik can hold on to King Felix, there is no question the Mariners will have a 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation to match any pitching duo in baseball over the next few years.

Jhoulys Chacin (RHP)- Colorado Rockies

In terms of pro experience, Chacin is the veteran of this youthful quartet. But at age 23, the Mile High sky really is the limit for the Venezuelan righty.

Lost amongst the Ubaldo-mania that swept across Denver last year as the Rockies’ ace tried to become the first pitcher in franchise history to win a Cy Young, was the rookie campaign of Chacin.

While his 9-11 record in 2010 was not exactly the stuff of legends, his 3.28 ERA and 138 strikeouts in just over 137 innings were definitely a sign of things to come.

At six-foot-three, the most menacing quality about Colorado’s new ace-in-the-hole is not his frame or a high 90s fastball. Chacin is most effective with a sinker ball that tails off at 92 MPH, a sweeping slider in the upper 80s and a plus changeup that he throws consistently in any count, all ingredients that have made him one of the more effective ground ball pitchers in all of baseball over the last five years. Entering 2011, Chacin had a combined 2.38 groundballs/fly balls ratio between his years in the minors and the majors.

This season, while Jimenez struggled out of the gates with just one win and No.2 starter Jorge de la Rosa suffered a season-ending torn ligament injury in his right elbow, Chacin has been the cog in the Rockies’ rotation through 14 starts with an impressive eight wins (tied for 3rd best in the NL), 2.81 ERA (8th best in the NL), 1.08 WHIP (6th best in the NL), and an opposing batting average of .195 (2ND best in the NL).

Maybe Chacin hasn’t gotten his due because he pitches in a ballpark still synonymous with the long ball, or simply because he has a name that doesn’t easily roll off the tongue. Whatever the reason may be, as Colorado charges back in the NL West race come August and September, look for Chacin to be right in the thick of things.

Carlos Carrasco (RHP)- Cleveland Indians

Carlos Carrasco (Rory Connell via Creative Commons)
Carlos Carrasco (Rory Connell via Creative Commons)
The city of Cleveland is in great need of a young star to rally around. That is evident even as the one-year anniversary of LeBron’s infamous “decision” approaches.

While the Browns’ Peyton Hillis will be adorning EA’s Madden 12 cover and the Cavaliers likely will selected point guard sensation Kyrie Irving with the No.1 pick in next week’s NBA Draft, the most promising future may be found on the mound at Progressive Field.

Although the Indians surprisingly sit in 2nd place in the AL Central after two more or less impressive months of baseball thanks in large part to contributors like Masterson, Tomlin, Perez, Cabrera and Brantley, Manny Acta’s X-factor (behind of course staying healthy) may come in the form of Venezulean Carlos Carrasco.

In 2003, Carrasco was taken by the Phillies in free agency after 32 teams disappointingly overlooked him in the annual amateur draft.

After struggling out of the gate to a tune of 1-7 in his first season in Class-A Lakewood, something began to click for the 19-year-old.

Over the next threes seasons, Carrasco developed a four-seam fastball (which now can sit between 94-96 MPH) and a sinking changeup (which hovers in the mid 80s) that dives in on left-handed batters. His quick maturation landed him two straight appearances in the All-Star Futures Game and three selections to the Class A, High A and AA All-Star Games (went a combined 36-18 between 2005 and 2007).

He didn’t join Cole Hamels at the top of Philadelphia’s rotation as was initially planned and instead was traded as the centerpiece in the summer 2009 deal that sent the Indians’ Cliff Lee to the City of Brotherly Love.

For the Indians, Carrasco quickly became a gem of a pitcher in their farm system, going 16-6 for Triple A Columbus in 2009 and 2010.

After making the major league club out of Spring Training in 2011, Carrasco has shown flashes of brilliance in May and June while putting together dominant performances against the Rays, Twins and most recently the Yankees.

Aside from his current 15 1/3 inning scoreless streak, the former-No.1 prospect in the Phillies’ system is doing his part (six wins and 4.09) to bolster what has already blossomed into a talented young rotation.

If the Indians are going to mend the hearts of their still-depressed fan base this summer, Carrasco will have to continue to produce well beyond his lack of experience and 24 years of age.

Regardless of whether he proves to be mature beyond his years as the season rolls along, GM Mark Shapiro has a lot to smile about knowing Carrasco will be taking the mound in an Indians’ uniform for the foreseeable future.

Other names to know: Josh Collmenter and Daniel Hudson (Diamondbacks), Dillon Gee (Mets), Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton (Orioles), Jordan Zimmerman (Nationals)


Reach Dave by email.



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.