Prospect Watch: Gausman, Montero make their season debuts
Despite TINSTAAPP (There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect), it has been a big week for the double Ps in that acronym, with two of them promoted and another potentially on the horizon.
The Orioles called up Kevin Gausman to start Wednesday's game against the Tigers, and it was a bit curious that he was pressed into service on just three days rest. He struggled mightily against Detroit, allowing five runs on six hits and two walks in four innings. His command of pitches inside the strike zone left plenty to be desired, something that was also true in his stint in the majors last year.
While the team has yet to say if this is just a spot start or if he will stick around, fantasy owners should take notice. Gausman's presence on the team in May likely means he will be here to stay at some point, even if that is not the case this time around. In addition, he hadn't thrown more than 77 pitches in a start in the minors this year, precisely because the front office has handed down marching orders to the staff at Triple-A Norfolk not to push Gausman too far, as they had plans for him to contribute in Baltimore this year. The No. 20 prospect in baseball according to Baseball America should be stashed in deeper formats.
Gausman was off to a great start at Triple-A Norfolk, posting a 2.08 ERA, 3.47 FIP and 26 strikeouts in the same number of innings. His best pitch right now is, of course, his blazing fastball, which typically sits in the 95-96 mph range. That alone makes him a viable major league starter. At the same time, he had trouble in the majors last year precisely because major league hitters can handle that pitch when a pitcher cannot keep them honest with his secondary offerings. That was exactly the case for Gausman when he compiled a 5.66 ERA -- albeit with a 3.99 FIP -- in 47 2/3 innings in the bigs last year.
At this point, it's hard to say that owners in shallower leagues should be targeting Gausman. We can't be sure that he'll stick in the majors after Wednesday's start, and his mixed results last year should give owners a fair amount of skepticism regarding the 23-year-old. There's no doubt that he has frontline stuff, but Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey -- guys who come up and dominate from day one -- are the exception, not the rule. With Chris Tillman struggling and dealing with a groin injury, and Miguel Gonzalez having bullpen experience, it's possible the rookie supplants one of them in the rotation, but the Orioles aren't tipping their hand just yet.
The Rafael Montero buzz started building in Queens over the weekend, and the Mets confirmed the rumors of his impending promotion on Monday. The team moved the promising-yet-erratic Jenrry Mejia to the bullpen, inserting Montero in his old spot in the rotation. He made his debut Wednesday against the Yankees and Masahiro Tanaka at Citi Field, and, outside of two mistakes, looked ready for the show.
Montero allowed three runs on five hits and two walks in six innings, while striking out three. He surrendered solo homers to Yangervis Solarte and Mark Teixeira, but otherwise held the Yankees in check. The other run he allowed crossed the plate in large part because of a questionable play by Eric Young in left field. With two outs, a man on first, and Tanaka on deck, Young dove for a sinking liner off the bat of Brian Roberts. It scooted past him, allowing Solarte to score all the way from first. Had he just played it on a bounce, Montero likely would have been able to retire Tanaka and get out of the inning unscathed.
The No. 2 prospect in the Mets system and No. 68 overall according to Baseball America, Montero made strides at Triple-A Las Vegas before earning the call to the majors. In 41 2/3 innings, he had a 3.67 ERA, 3.96 FIP and 41 strikeouts. Add that to his 18 starts with Las Vegas in 2013, and he heads to the majors with very solid numbers at the highest minor league level: 9-5 record, 3.25 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 119 strikeouts, 43 walks, 130 1/3 innings.
At 23 years old, Montero's calling card is his command. His fastball is strong, but not overpowering, generally sitting in the 91-93 mph range. What he is known for is regularly throwing pitcher's strikes, spotting his offerings exactly where he wants them in the zone. That's more than half the battle for a prospect, as you can no longer get by on stuff alone once hitting the majors.
Furthermore, Montero should get a good deal of slack in the Mets' rotation. Top prospect Noah Syndergaard is struggling just a bit at Las Vegas, and there's no way the Mets want to start his service-time clock any earlier than is necessary. The team also appears set on developing Mejia as a reliever and potential closer sometime down the line. That means Montero shouldn't have to look over his shoulder, at least for the time being. Pitching-needy owners in deep leagues should have already added him, so go ahead and make the move if he's still out there in your league.
The Jose Fernandez-torn UCL news is terrible for the entire baseball-loving community. It's always terrible to see one of the best, brightest and most exciting young stars go down with a serious injury, and we'll all be happy to see him make a full recovery and return next year.
Having said that, someone needs to replace him in the Miami rotation, and while it may not happen right away, the best bet in the long term is No. 30 prospect Andrew Heaney. We've already discussed Heaney once this year, and he hasn't slowed a bit since the last time we checked in on him. In 46 innings at Double-A Jacksonville, he has a 2.35 ERA, 2.21 FIP, 1.07 WHIP and 44 strikeouts against 12 walks. He has allowed exactly one home run, and that was in his first start of the season. The Marlins will be wary of service-time clock, but they've shown a willingness to disregard that in the past. Despite a strong start to the season, it's hard to imagine the Marlins truly competing without Fernandez the rest of the way. Given that reality, they may want to hold off on promoting Heaney until the Super Two deadline passes. However, smart money is on him getting the call shortly thereafter, which would put him in the majors sometime in June. Now is the time to stash him, regardless of league size, so long as you have the roster space.