Generation Now – The Future of MLB Pro is here now (Pitching)
Its a natural human desire to look forward. We long for the unknown and constant and bright promise of potential yet untested. In the future, no one is a bust, and all your hours of planning and preparation pay off. That is who we all see it anyhow. But in the midst of our yearning, we often gaze to far off into the distance and miss the very near future. This particular portion of the future is what I want to focus on today. The immediate and unavoidable future for MLB Pro in 2017. I want to look at 15 players who will be counted as rookies in 2017, and currently reside in either AAA or have already been promoted to the major league clubs. 15 players who will be making first impressions, and have immediate impacts on division races. Lets start on the bump, where I have identified 5 pitchers, only 1 of whom has more than 17 innings to their resume. All five of these fellas are slatted to start the year in the rotation for their respective major league clubs. Lets kick it off:
The 20 year old lefty has never pitched above AA (and he only threw 46 innings there in 2016), but he is slated to start the year in Baltimore with the birds. The first overall pick from the 2015 draft posted a 5.05 ERA across those 46 innings, so my immediate thought when seeing him make that jump is “what the hell are the Orioles doing?” But you only have to watch this kid warm up to know he is ready for the bigs. 3 PLUS pitches with a strong splitter to boot, Aiken tops out at 97 mph on his fast ball. Couple those two pitches with a devastating 12-6 curve and a masterfully hidden change up, and I would say the AL East is not super excited about having to face this kid for the next 10 years (remember he is only 20). All that being said, I have my concerns about him making the jump straight to the majors. I know Baltimore is under new (and contrarian) management with former GM Ryan Naylor being hired down in Miami, but this still feels to quick. While the Baltimore defense on the dirt is certainly not a huge concern, it is nothing super exciting either. And while the AL East has again become an open division with Toronto’s expected step backwards, it seems that Aiken could at least man the rubber for a month in AAA before jumping to the show.
2017 projection: 6-13, 4.34 ERA, 164 k, 45 bb
Zach Potter has been a favorite of mine for years. Not only does he have a real cool last name (especially if you are a fan of scar-faced wizards), but he was wildly underrated for the first few years he was in the league (minors). Potter was brought in from Cleveland at the end of 2014 when Tampa decided to cut bait with James Shields, and after 11 months with Tampa’s single A coaching staff, finally figured out how to control his pitches. from that moment on he has been lights out at every level. The 22 year old righty got an extended try out last year as the Rays were looking WAY up at the Blue Jays and had no shot a the wildcard, and he performed very well in his first 6 starts as a pro. Potter has great stuff, and though he only throws 3 pitches, his strike out numbers through out his minor league career has hovered right around 10k/9. That number sunk considerably as he jumped into the highest level of competition, but this is a kid who has been doubted his whole life. I am telling you now, Potter will be a HUGE difference maker for a team that already boasts the best young 1-2 combination in the league in Lucas Giolito (2016 ALL-star at 22) and Austin Brice.
2017 projection: 10-4, 2.97 ERA, 130 k, 67 bb
Craig Cooper is a Pennsylvania man through and through. After growing up in Philadelphia during the 90’s, Craig made the decision to travel all the way to Villanova for college, a whole 18 miles from the heart of downtown Philly. After a very successful career at Nova, Cooper was drafted #11 overall by the Rockies in 2014. Cooper pitched just over 100 innings at the AA level and was called up by the Rockies late last year as they were attempting to catch the Giants in a tight pennant race. Though the Rockies came up short, they got a peak at what this young kid can do. AS we sit two days from his 25th birthday, Cooper, having only pitched 16 innings for the major league club to date, has already become a leader in the locker room. He and battery mate Jed McKinnely (who we will cover a bit later) are almost always the last to leave the facilities each day in the off season, and his work ethic has already become the stuff of legend in the mountains. Cooper doesn’t have the velocity that the first two guys we discussed do, but he makes up for it with a knee buckling curveball and Greg Maddux esque ball placement. Watch out for Cooper to defy the stereotype of Coors Field pitchers and keep his ERA, and the ball, low.
2017 Projection: 12-6, 3.45 ERA, 125 k, 26 bb
Matuella is another youngster who came out of that 2015 draft class who has already found their way onto the major league club. Drafted #3 overall by the Padres, Matuella spent his entire first year between rookie ball and single A. in 2016, he made the highly unlikely journey from Single A all the way to the majors, skipping no steps along the way. At every level, he averaged double digit strike outs per 9, and posted a positive WAR. Upon receiving the call up to the majors, Matuella got 2 starts, both against division rivals. On September 12th Matuella started his first game against the Arizona Diamondbacks and pitched 6 innings surrendering 3 runs, none of which were earned. MM struck out 9 in those 6 innings, but was stuck with a hard luck loss. Similar situation on September 27th in his second start, this time against the Dodgers. He pitched 5.1 innings and surrendered another unearned run, taking his second loss. So for those of you keeping score at home, Matuella has surrendered 0 earned runs in his short career, but is still somehow 0-2. Sucks to be a Padre sometimes. With that being said, this team is my dark horse to make the playoffs this year, and I think Matuella will see a reversal of fortunes in 2017.
2017 Projection: 11-6, 2.89 ERA, 180 k, 60 bb
Broderick Wilson has a super similar story to the man we just discussed above. The 21 year old righty was drafted second overall in 2014, and spent all of 2015 in Single A. Then in 2016, Wilson rocketed all the way to the majors. Though his statistics were not as impressive as Matuella’s, Wilson was more than holding his own at every level. Wilson had the opposite experience of MM though, as he pitched 2 games, both the day immediately after MM and against the same opponent, and had perfect defense behind him. Wilson finished the year 2-0 with an ERA of 1.88 over 14 innings. While Wilson will never be a high strike out guy, he pitches in a large park, with a talented defense behind him. Wilson may not be ready for a full year in the bigs, as he still has a little refinement left on his off speed stuff, but Wilson will be a great piece of a young and talented rotation.
Slightly Further Off:
John Bauer – Hernando, FL – 21 Years Old – Cincinnati Reds
Bill Hauck – Augusta, GA – 23 Years Old – Arizona Diamondbacks