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  • Three young starters shined during their first starts of the season and they all came from some of baseball's smallest markets.
By Gabriel Baumgaertner
April 01, 2019

Whether you are looking for a hipster fantasy addition or are interested in some up-and-coming young pitchers, three youngsters with under 35 combined big league starts shined in their first starts of the 2019 season. It's too early to tell how each player will project for the rest of the season, but these three players are all worth your attention after standout performances during opening week.  

Chris Paddack, Padres

The rebuilding Marlins must be lamenting that they traded Paddack, who dominated the Giants over five innings in his MLB debut, in exchange for 39 Fernando Rodney appearances that produced a 5.89 ERA and more than six walks per nine innings in 2016. His name may not be Fernando Tatis Jr., but Paddack may be as central to the Padres' future plans as more notable prospects like Tatis, Luis Urias and Franmil Reyes. When asked what two players he would trade for in the entire organization, a rival scout said Paddack and Manny Machado. On Sunday, Paddack demonstrated why that scout said his name and not Tatis, Reyes or any of the other heralded young players in general manager A.J. Preller’s organization.

Paddack surrendered just two hits with one walk and seven strikeouts over five innings in San Diego’s 3-1 win over San Francisco. Padres fans should be excited, even if they should temper a bit of their enthusiasm—the Giants managed just five runs over four games and will likely be one of the league's worst offenses. The Giants’ ineptitude, however, shouldn’t take away from how dominant Paddack looked. Alternating between a fastball that touches 96 mph, a curveball that he uses sparingly, and a changeup that will soon be known as one of baseball’s best, Paddack looked every bit like the future ace that so many predicted he’d be in spring training.

The biggest shortcoming of the 2019 San Diego Padres will likely be their starting pitching, but Paddack demonstrated exceptional command in his first outing and, for those who dig a more Western look, a superb pregame outfit. Even when he did surrender hard contact, he had other players of elite pedigree to back him up.

         

Frankie Montas, A's

Montas may be finally honing the tools that made him one of the White Sox' top prospects when he was 20, the centerpiece of a three-team trade with the Dodgers in December 2015 and, eventually, one of the two prized prospects who arrived from L.A. in a trade that sent Rich Hill and Josh Reddick to the Dodgers in July 2016. Montas is now 26, with his prospect pedigree gone and now Oakland’s latest starting pitching project in a rotation hamstrung by torn UCLs to top prospects A.J. Puk and Jharel Cotton as well as Sean Manaea, their best starter in 2018. Montas’s foremost appeal as a prospect was his big fastball that still hovers around 96 mph. The A’s, however, turned Montas into a sinkerballer and have added a splitter to his repertoire. HIs inconsistent 2017 had flashes of brilliance (he outdueled Gerrit Cole on the road last July), but ended the year pitching out of the bullpen.

Manager Bob Melvin raved about Montas in the spring, claiming his confidence was up and coming away impressed with a new splitter to complement the fastball and sinker. Despite trying out a new pitch, often the recipe for disaster in the spring, Montas logged a 0.56 ERA with 9.0 K/9 during the spring.

The versatility was on display against the Angels, as Montas allowed just one run on three hits over six innings in a 2-1 win on Sunday. Most encouragingly, Montas didn’t walk a hitter and expertly commanded his fastball, sinker, slider and new splitter over six innings. After clocking 97 mph on his first pitch, Montas kept every Angels hitter off-balance including Mike Trout, who struck out to end the sixth inning.

With their traditional ragtag rotation, the A’s all but silenced the Angels over the course of the a four-game set. The starting pitchers allowed a total of one run and nine hits over a total of 24 innings pitched in the series—Montas allowed a solo homer to Kole Calhoun—but the young flamethrower may have had the most encouraging outing of any of them.

Brad Keller, Royals

He’s just 23 years old and playing anonymously in Kansas City, but Keller shined in his opening day start against the White Sox, even if they’re one of the less seasoned lineups in the big leagues. Despite his youth, Keller confidently mixes a fastball, sinker and slider that should allow him to stand out in the light-hitting AL Central. The rebuild is going to be long in Kansas City, but Keller has earned plaudits from those who watched him in the spring and he compiled 20 effective starts (3.28 ERA despite an unlucky .306 opponents' batting average on balls in play) while nobody except die-hard Royals fans were watching in Kansas City.

During his first start of the season, Keller flashed much of what made his 2018 so successful. Though the strikeout rate remains low (he whiffed five over seven innings), Keller walked one and surrendered two hits over seven innings—the best outing of his young career. An ex-Rule 5 product from the Diamondbacks who ended up on the Reds and was eventually traded for a player to be named later, Keller lived around 95 mph with his fastball and heavily used his slider, which earned seven swings and misses. If Keller can earn comparable whiff percentages and continue to pitch to soft contact, look for him to be the surprise name on the AL ERA leaderboard as the season continues.

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