|Young Pitchers Becoming Big|
Written by Daniel Paulling (Contact & Archive) on May 24, 2006
Baseball is a cyclical game. Offense takes charge over periods of times -- like in recent seasons -- then it'll step back for a few years and pitchers dominate the game. To steal a line from a famous movie, "the only constant is baseball." How can we tell when one era is ending and another is beginning? It all starts with the infusion of great, young arms. Here are a few guys aged 26 or younger that will soon be responsible for the switch back to 1-0 games.
Josh Beckett, Boston Red Sox (Age: 25) - This Big Texan carries similar traits to another Big Texan: Kerry Wood. Beckett looms at 6-5, 222 pounds. Hitters are very, very frightened when they see someone like that standing on the mound. When healthy, he throws a fastball in the upper 90's, a knee-buckling curveball, and a heavy sinker. With this type of arsenal, opposing hitters are praying he stays on the DL.
Rich Harden, Oakland A's (Age: 24) - When asked what he thought of Rich Harden, Rangers' manager Buck Showalter said that the A's right hander might have the best stuff in the league. At the beginning of games, he throws hard (94), but as the game wears on, throws even harder (97). Oh, and he drops in a changeup and filthy slider whenever he gets bored. Opponents only hit .201 against him last year, so he must be doing something right.
Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners (Age: 19) - The Seattle Mariners are giving their young phenom a full time gig against Major League hitters next year. The last teenager to have a spot in a starting rotation was Britt Burns in 1978. An anemic Mariners' offense only gave him four wins last year, but that says nothing about his talents. The right hander throws hard (mid to high 90's) but thinks harder (he'll change speeds and make opposing hitters look like Christian Guzman). This season he'll be re-adding his slider to his repertoire, which makes him doubly dangerous. The biggest thing holding back young power armed pitchers is control, but he's already mastered that category.
Scott Kazmir, Tampa Bay Devil Rays (Age: 22) - When the Mets traded this guy away, I bet they lost a few people from their fanbase. Hall of Fame candidate Roberto Alomar said he has never seen a lefty throw so hard with so much movement. Yes, the second baseman has faced Randy Johnson. That's some high praise. If you need to imagine what it's like to face Kazmir, picture facing Billy Wagner for nine innings. Opposing left handed hitters "get sick" the night they oppose Kazmir.
Jake Peavy, San Diego Padres (Age: 24) - The Padres' right hander has four good offerings in his arsenal, all of which makes him utterly dangerous to opposing batters. Factor in a great home ballpark (for pitchers, anyway), a deceptive delivery, and a bulldog mentality and you've got one dangerous son-of-a-gun who carves hitters up like turkey on Thanksgiving.
CC Sabathia, Cleveland Indians (Age: 25) - The only active pitcher to have more wins before turning 24 was Greg Maddux, a pretty good pitcher if I do say so myself. And that was only by three (49 vs. 46). Sabathia, with his 6-7 frame, loves to take the ball for his team and competes as well as he can. It's been enough to dominate. Every time out, the Cleveland Indians know they have a chance to win.
Johan Santana, Minnesota Twins (Age: 26) - When a guy can throw three pitches for strikes, that's a good thing. When said pitcher can change speeds and still throw strikes, that is a great thing. Santana has a 94 mph fastball, 87 mph slider, and 76 mph changeup. The Twins' lefty leaves Major League hitters looking ridiculous whenever they guess wrong. When they guess right, it rarely matters.
Dontrelle Willis, Florida Marlins (Age: 24) - It's a surprise that he didn't win the NL Cy Young last year, considering that he knows how to win so well. For the Florida Marlins last year, Willis put up 22 W's. Need more food for thought? The only active pitchers to have more wins before turning 24 are Greg Maddux and CC Sabathia. The Marlins' left hander has an unmatched passion for the game and a great windup that absolutely confuses hitters.
Carlos Zambrano, Chicago Cubs (Age: 24) - Scouts say that Zambrano has the best stuff of anyone in the Cubs' starting rotation. When you're compared to guys like Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, that's praise of the highest rank. He throws two different types of a fastball in the mid to upper 90's, both of which rank among the best in the Major Leagues. With a 6-5 frame and a delivery that makes it hard for hitters to pick up the ball, that heater gets in on their hands in a hurry. If anyone's ever watched him pitch, they know that he is one of the fieriest competitors in the league.