Cusp Dwellers: MiLB Starting Pitchers to Monitor
Edwar Cabrera, LHP Colorado | Placed on the 60-day disabled list in mid-February with shoulder impingement, Cabrera is now targeting an early June return to action (missed his original eligibility date). The 25-year old had a legit opportunity to earn a rotation spot out of spring training prior to the injury, this despite getting shelled in his two introductory big league starts in 2012: pitching in rough venues (Coors versus Washington and at Arizona) he allowed seven earned runs in 5 2/3 innings, walked seven, and 42.9% of his fly balls left the yard.
Cabrera and his trademark changeup wiped out the competition in his first four minor league campaigns, striking out 495 in 371 1/3 IP between the Dominican Summer League and Advanced A California. Last season he held opponents to a .195 BAA between AA Texas and AAA PCL and earned himself a Futures Game invite.
At 6’0 175 he doesn’t possess the prototype pitchers build or use his lower half to generate velocity. His fastball sits at 90, with his “fast arm speed” changeup serving its function to mess with batters hand speed. He also offers an inconsistent but improving curveball with decent break.
If Cabrera pitches his way back into game shape with a clean bill of health, he could be called on to contribute in short order (on the 40-man roster). Current rotation member Juan Nicasio has emerged as a candidate for demotion routinely throwing 100 pitches thru five innings and Jeff Francis is pitching to an ERA over seven. He didn’t showcase it during his brief call-up last year, but Cabrera throws strikes, something that can’t be said for fellow farmhand and southpaw Drew Pomeranz.
Zach Lee, RHP LA Dodgers | As I delved into video on Lee and scanned his minor league resume, I couldn’t help but think “this guy is Casey Kelly part deux”; it turns out ESPN’s Keith Law made the same comparison. Both have athletic frames/deliveries with football backgrounds, and while their pitchability is off the charts, the dominant minor league measureables are absent. In 56 MiLB starts, Lee’s K% hovers in the high teens. This early season in the AA Southern League, Lee is sporting a 30:9 K: BB ratio, a 1.86 GO/AO ratio, and a 2.15 ERA (favorable given his 2.75 FIP).
He’s a strike thrower, solid but unspectacular, with projectability as a middle of the rotation piece. Lee has shown flashes of a mid-90’s fastball; however, he’s mostly worked in the high 80’s to low 90’s. Still just 21, he seems intent on mastering the art of pitching before gearing up his heater on a consistent basis. He controls all of his secondary offerings (change, slide and curve) but none are elite K accumulators.
Even when Greinke returns in late May, the Dodgers 5th spot is a mess with Capuano, Magill and the currently disabled Ted Lilly among the options. The Dodgers called up a similar projectable athlete in Nate Eovaldi back in 2011 (also from AA) and could look to utilize the same tact with Lee. The Boys in Blue need a spark any way they can get it. At 6’4 190, Lee is physically ready. He pitched a single inning in spring training allowing three hits and two runs.
Jake Odorizzi, RHP Tampa Bay | Dealt to St. Petersburg in the James Shields/Wade Davis trade, Odorizzi, 23, is now with his third organization after being a first-round selection in 2008. His stock has dipped since he entered the professional ranks, but he remains a valuable and intriguing commodity. Prior to this season the Rays brass proclaimed that he would contribute to the big club in 2013. He made two starts for the Royals last September, pitching to a 4.91 ERA in 7 1/3 innings of work.
In six starts this year in the AAA PCL he’s struck out 39 in 34 IP and has allowed only 21 hits. The stingy hit total is a familiar theme for Odorizzi, as between 2010 and 2012 (Low A to AAA) he allowed 47 less hits than innings pitched. Another less encouraging theme lies in his alarmingly high fly ball rates: 0.64 GO/AO in 2011, 0.44 in 2012 and down to 0.30 thus far in 2013. He allowed two homers in five spring training innings as well.
At 6’2 195 he has easy velocity, but his number readings have dropped from mid-90’s to low 90’s since high school. Despite his lost MPH’s, however, he made hay on fastball deception and plus command alone for quite some time. Fortunately that is no longer the case, as today his curveball has developed into an effective offering with a tight break. Odorizzi has seemingly all but ditched his cutter-like slider.
When and if the time for promotion arises, Odorizzi will have a battle for supremacy on his hands with fellow AAA arms Chris Archer and Alex Torres. But in terms of seasoning, he is a step ahead. Roberto Hernandez’s stuff has looked adequate in the #5 spot, but he’s allowed six homers in 36 innings and his standing is not secure for the duration. Jeff Niemann is out of the equation following shoulder surgery.
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