As a Pirates’ fan, it’s very difficult to be torn after Sunday’s (April 8) dominating performance by Jameson Taillon (Pirates), but I am. While he looked masterful in his first career complete-game, one-hit shutout (a hit captured by the opposing pitcher no less), I was of split focus, with much of my attention on that opposing pitcher: Tyler Mahle (Reds).
Mahle would have been a perfect candidate for this article last season, dominating for the AA Pensacola Blue Wahoos to the tune of a 7-3 record over 15 starts, but more notably a 1.59 ERA, 87 Ks (in 85.0 IP), and an 0.871 WHIP. Mahle moved up to the AAA Louisville Bats and started 10 games there before getting the call and finishing 2017 in a Reds’ uniform. He performed admirably at both the AAA and MLB levels fueling speculation that out of the gate in 2018 he’d be a handful for opposing hitters.
And in game 1 of the 2018 season (April 2 in Cincinnati against the Chicago Cubs), he was. Mahle spun a gem, allowing a single hit, two walks, and striking out seven (86 pitches) in a tight 1-0 Reds’ victory. Now, I love my Pirates, but their lineup doesn’t impose much fear in any pitcher. I’m sorry, it just doesn’t. So, why this lead in? What are we building toward?
After getting out of the first inning yesterday (29 pitches), Mahle was on a similar path as that of April 2. Pirates’ batters stepped in and Mahle dispatched them relatively quickly, save for a couple hits (Mercer’s scorching double and Taillon’s single to right get Mercer home in the second and a two-out single in the fourth). Then Home Plate Umpire Greg Gibson happened. (Yes, this is where Fantasy Baseball tears at one’s soul. Are you rooting for your team, your beloved? Or are you rooting for the young SP that you believe in, hoping he can continue to develop and improve, even at the expense of your favorite team?)
Well, Gibson’s strike zone, discussed frequently throughout the broadcast as “shifting,” stung Mahle. In the 5th against Josh Harrison, Mahle’s 94 MPH 4-seamer caught the outside corner for strike three, but was called a ball. (Funny that the spray chart on MLB.com shows it as w-a-a-a-y outside now. I find that interesting. ) Anyhow, digging in, Harrison promptly delivered a single on Mahle’s next pitch. Instead of two outs with Gregory Polanco striding to the plate, there was one out, one on.
Another long at bat (6 pitches) for Mahle that should have ended on the 4th pitch. (See the photo there, pitch #4 right on the inside line?) The count was 1-2 and Mahle placed it beautifully on the inside corner. Should have been the 3rd strike of the 3rd out. Instead, it was ball 2 (2-2). Frustrated, Mahle missed badly with pitch #5 and Polanco deposited pitch #6 in the right-field seats for a 3-0 Pirates’ lead. Mahle should have been back in the dugout down 1-0 after 5 innings with 89 pitches and would have probably been done for the day. Manager Bryan Price tried to get him through the 5th, to at least be eligible for the win (should they comeback, something Taillon’s brillance absolutely prevented). It was just frustrating to watch Mahle’s terrific start to the 2018 season take such a dramatic nosedive because of two missed strikes.
At the end of the game, I was over-the-moon happy for Taillon and the Pirates, who are an amazing 7-2 and in first place in the NL Central. I’ll take that in a heartbeat, especially the way the team is currently constructed. And how it played out in the bottom of the 5th does not mean that Mahle wouldn’t have imploded in the 6th (had he made it that far), it was just frustrating to watch two simple missed strike calls turn the game on its ear like it did. (And for those naysayers that will chime in that Mahle should have had the fortitude to power through the bad/ missed calls, it is difficult to dispute that line of thinking, if for no other reason that umpires never get it right all the time.)
So hang in there on Mahle, and definitely on Taillon, and let’s have a look at a few SPs currently down on the Farm who will soon be pitching on an MLB mound near you. Let me re-introduce you to:
WALKER BUEHLER, LOS ANGELES DODGERS (#1 DODGERS’ PROSPECT, #12 OVERALL [MLB PIPELINE])
Instead we will kick the tires with Walker Buehler (Dodgers). If you follow baseball and by default fantasy baseball, you have likely already heard of Mr. Buehler. No relation to Ferris (spelling is off a tick, as well), but every bit as popular. In 2017, Buehler crossed that magic threshold in that he pitched for three different levels in the minors: the High-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, the AA Tulsa Drillers, and the AAA Oklahoma City Dodgers. Over a combined 88.2 IP, he fared well enough to earn a call up to pitch at a fourth level last season: the MLB Los Angeles Dodgers. But he spilled his cup of coffee all over the table, fumbling to a 2.036 WHIP (8 H and 8 BB in 9.1 IP), 8 ER, 2 HR allowed … all numbers trending in the wrong direction. He did amass 12 Ks in those 9.1 IPs, so that was encouraging.
Fast forward to Spring 2018 and you can see that the 2017 MLB experience had served its purpose in introducing Buehler to the level that the Dodgers hope to eventually see him pitch 2,000+ innings. This Spring saw Buehler on get an opportunity to record 12 outs (he started one game and had one relief appearance), but in those 12 outs he worked some magic: one hit allowed, zero walks, and seven strikeouts. Are we ready to anoint him the second coming? Not yet, I mean, it was Spring Training, after all. (And apparently the word is that Spring Training stats don’t matter. I mean, Shohei Ohtani (Angels) is a great example of someone flubbing in the spring but turning it over when the games count. But that said, I would much rather have a player perform well in the spring, feeling good about heading into the season than vice versa.
With a fairly stacked rotation (well, save one, but it is early):
- Clayton Kershaw 3 GS, (0-2) 19.0 IP, 1.11 WHIP, 1.89 ERA, 19 Ks
- Alex Wood 2 GS, (0-1) 14.0 IP, 0.50 WHIP, 1.93 ERA, 10 Ks
- Rich Hill 2 GS, (1-0) 10 IP, 1.50 WHIP, 2.70 ERA, 10 Ks
- Kenta Maeda 1 GS, 1 GR (1-0), 6.0 IP, 1.33 WHIP, 0.00 ERA, 12 Ks
- Hyun-Jin Ryu 1 GS (0-0) 3.2 IP, 2.73 WHIP, 7.36 ERA, 2 Ks
The Dodgers made the decision to start Buehler at AAA Oklahoma City to build on his nearly-immaculate spring and to be ready when the call comes. In his first OKC start, he pitched well, going 4 innings (72 pitches, 45 strikes) and allowing 3 H, 1 BB, 1 ER, and striking out 5 against the Cubs’ AAA Iowa farm team.
And based on last year, the first year of the 10-day DL, I believe that call will come soon. (Especially after Ryu’s first performance. If Ryu lays another egg (he pitches tonight and I wrote this today [Tuesday, April 10]) and the Dodgers continue to skid [3-6 and already 4.5 GB as of Tuesday afternoon, April 10], I don’t expect them to wait long.) The Dodgers used that 10-day DL as a revolving door to rest starters and get other starters some work, to the tune of placing starting pitchers on the 10-day a whopping 13 times in 2017 (and relievers another 11). I would expect that pattern to continue in 2018, especially if one of the pitchers is underperforming and Buehler continues to demonstrate he’s ready.
Since we all know about Buehler … the reason I bring him up early in my journey through the MiLB is that we don’t know when the Dodgers will call him up. That not knowing is the most challenging piece here. At 23 (Buehler will turn 24 in late July), I believe he’s shown that he’s ready. How long will the Dodgers’ struggles (not all pitching, mind you), keep Buehler in OKC? If you have the roster spot in your 12-team (or more) league, I’d recommend picking him up today. If you recall, I’m in a few Dynasty Leagues and a 16-team Redraft League. Someone cut him loose in my 16-team League and I immediately scooped him up. He is sitting there on my bench right next to Ronald Acuña (Braves) (and we all know what his story is), primed for action.
Another West Coast prospect is:
JESUS LUZARDO, OAKLAND ATHLETICS (#2 ATHLETICS’ PROSPECT, #60 OVERALL [MLB PIPELINE])
Next up would be one very talented Jesus Luzardo (Athletics)
Having Tommy John surgery in March 2016 and drafted in the third round by the Nationals that same year, Luzardo finally debuted for the Nationals in June 2017. His time with the organization was short, as he was dealt to Oakland in the July 2017 trade that brought Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle to the Nationals’ bullpen. After recovering from the surgery and switching teams, Luzardo only logged 43.1 IP last year, but he looked really good — 48 Ks, 0.923 WHIP (only 5 BBs), and only 2 HRs surrendered, completely commanding the zone.
Now sitting at #2 on the Oakland Athletics Top 30, he may not exactly be a dark horse, so to speak. However, currently pitching for the High-A Stockton Ports, he is more than likely at least a full year away from the Athletics’ rotation. If your league is configured such that it allows you some roster-ing flexibility, I would consider stashing Luzardo now. (Perhaps your league offers you a Prospect or Farm System option or you have a really deep [i.e. 40-man] roster where you can spare a slot or two.)
Luzardo picked up this year where he left off last year, a crisp 4.2 IP in his season debut (6 Ks, 1 BB, 4 H and a single ER in a 4-0 loss). Granted, almost as sterling as Buehler’s beginning, but Luzardo is well on his way to a breakout 2018 campaign. It’s not too early to put this guy on your radar.
Stay tuned next week as we continue our walk through the MiLB, looking for SPs that are worthy of our attention and potentially spots on our roster. Perhaps a Twins’ hurler that may soon be a difference maker?!
Have a great week!
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join Corey D Roberts, and Kyle Amore live on Thursday April 12th, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #114 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will the latest information in the world of fantasy baseball.
Our guest this week is Joe Iannone. Joe is a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com. He focuses on spot starting pitchers for the coming week. His articles publish every Sunday morning at 7am EST. One of our most popular writers so be sure to check him out.