Posted 04/27/2009 at 04:48 AM
Two top prospects are likely to get into big league action this week. Phil Hughes is tearing it up in Scranton-Wilkes Barre and with the “injury” to Chien-Ming Wang, the Yankees need another starting pitcher. Ian Kennedy has been equally impressive so far at AAA, but Hughes is the prospect with the much higher ceiling. Hughes should get the start on Tuesday at Detroit. There is absolutely no question about this kid’s stuff. He’s got top of the rotation talent. The key is in Hughes trusting his own stuff, which he did not do last year. He basically was trying to get by on just two pitches last season with the Yankees and wasn’t even commanding those very well.
According to reports, Hughes is using his complete arsenal this year and while dominating International League hitters isn’t close to outclassing a lineup as potent as the one he’ll see Tuesday night, it’s still a very positive sign for a team that could use one right now. The flip side of the equation is that there’s no guarantee Hughes will flash the same impressive command as he returns to the show for a third trial. It’s important to note, however, that Hughes is still only 22 years old, so even another misstep should not be viewed as a disaster.
——— The Pirates are reportedly set to call up highly regarded Andrew McCutchen. He’s been the top prospect in a mostly barren Pittsburgh organization since being drafted 11th overall in 2005. With the oblique injury to Nate McLouth looking as though a DL trip may be necessary, McCutchen seems likey to get his first taste of life in the majors.
There is some debate as to how good McCutchen will end up becoming. He originally was projected as a future #3 hitter, but the power just doesn’t seem to be there, and he’s now viewed more as a leadoff type. He’s had some problems in the past with strike zone command and has struggled with breaking balls. McCutchen has great speed and started figuring out how to use it last season at Indianapolis, where he stole 34 bases, although he was also caught 19 times. This year he’s a perfect 4/4 in steals. He’s off to a very good start at the plate this year, hitting better than .300 and striking out only eight times in 73 AB. There’s zero question about McCutchen’s defense. He’s got Gold Glove potential and is big league ready as far as that part of his game is concerned.
McCutchen already has 168 games at AAA under his belt. The Pirates should use the McLouth injury as an opportunity to let McCutchen get a good look, and if he’s ready, find a place for him in the everyday outfield. Nyjer Morgan has been amazing so far and a healthy McLouth is obviously playing everyday. But right field has been mostly manned by Brandon Moss, who’s more a fourth OF type than a regular. McCutchen is a center fielder, but if he has to get moved to get him the lineup on a regular basis, so be it. The bottom line is that it’s time for the Bucs to see what the kid can do and the injury to McLouth creates at least a window of opportunity for McCutchen.
——- The Red Sox have talented arms throughout the organization and one of them was razor sharp in two perfect innings Sunday night as Boston finished off a thrilling three-game sweep against the Yankees. Michael Bowden pitched two perfect innings in the victory. Bowden picked up a win in an emergency start last year and appears to have a great deal of poise for a 22 year old. He’s been awesome in the early going for Pawtucket and looks very close to being ready for regular big league duty. Bowden doesn’t have the ceiling of some of the other top Red Sox prospects, but he has excellent command and is therefore the most ready pitcher in the system right now. Bowden is heading back to the Pawsox today to make room for Julio Lugo. But should the Red Sox need immediate pitching help, it’s clear that Bowden is ahead of the more highly touted Clay Buchholz at this juncture.
——– The Florida Marlins are looking for a #5 starter. Andrew Miller continues to be all hype and no production, and now he’s hurt again. The Fish brought up lefty Graham Taylor for Sunday’s start against the Phillies and he got destroyed. How bad was this game for the Marlins? They ended up using OF Cody Ross to pitch the ninth inning.
Taylor will apparently get at least one more start. Good luck. It’s against the Cubs, who can be pretty nasty against southpaws. Regardless, Taylor really isn’t a high end prospect. At best, he might fit the crafty southpaw category, but I kind of doubt it. He tops out in the high 80’s and while his deceptive delivery and ability to throw strikes has helped him progress through the system, he didn’t look to me like a pitcher who will fool too many good big league hitters. In fairness, this is a kid on an emergency callup from AA Jacksonville, so he’s got plenty of time.
The Marlins appear to have a real problem at the back end of the rotation. Brett Sinkbeil is getting crushed at New Orleans, as is Ryan Tucker. Sean West has looked pretty good at Jacksonville, and he’s the best pitching prospect in the farm system. But West probably is right where he should be for the present, and the Marlins likely would prefer to resist the temptation to bring him up this soon. They’re better off getting by with what certainly looks like a rock solid four-man rotation and just hoping for the best with the fifth spot.
——– I mentioned last week that while the Toronto Blue Jays are a very pleasant surprise out of the gate, I don’t see how it can continue. One of the keys to their early success has been Ricky Romero, and now he’s on the DL because he pulled a muscle sneezing. Romero’s replacement in the rotation is Brian Burres, a limited southpaw who was mostly overmatched during his two seasons with Baltimore.
The high end prospect currently in Las Vegas is Brett Cecil, but he’s been absolutely terrible. Burres was 0-2 with a 6.97 ERA for the 51’s, so the fact he got called up is a pretty good indicator about the problem Toronto has with Romero unavailable. Right now, the hottest pitcher on the farm is a 5?7? lefty named Fabio Castro, who’s been absolutely lights out at AA New Hampshire. Maybe the Jays should roll the dice and see what he’s got.