New young pitchers on the rise

By Brent Atkinson, Evergreen columnist

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If five years ago someone had said the great Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay would post an earned run average (ERA) of 7.19 in the year 2013, I would have called them crazy.

Nonetheless, Halladay’s demise continued this season alongside that of other aging pitchers like R.A. Dickey (last year’s Cy Young Award winner), Ryan Dempster and maybe even C.C. Sabathia, who posted a career high ERA of 4.82.

As these hurlers age, a crop of youngsters stands ready to take over. A changing of the guard is taking place among the MLB’s pitching ranks. Aces who dominated the first decade of the century are starting to fizzle, and a new group of players is set to contend for CY Young awards.

Many people still do not know about the great talent that debuted this season. Several names will be tossed around, most notably young fire-ballers Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez, both of whom pitched in the All-Star game this July. Both players reside in the National League East division- Harvey a member of the New York Mets, and Fernandez with the Miami Marlins.

The 24-year-old Harvey played an impressive first five months of the season before injuring his throwing elbow in August, posting a 2.27 ERA with 191 strikeouts in 26 starts. While some are concerned about his injury, it’s proven less problematic than the team once thought. However, he will likely sit out the remainder of the season. This is the most logical choice considering the Mets are nowhere near the Wild Card hunt, meaning Harvey will have a long off-season to rehabilitate and return next year as strong as ever. 

One of the few bright spots in Miami’s dismal season was the birth of a star, 21-year-old Cuban product Jose Fernandez. Fernandez recently surpassed Harvey in the ERA category, posting a 2.23 ERA along with 182 strikeouts. He has a strikeout per nine innings ratio of nearly 10.0, meaning he records more than a strikeout per inning, while hitters post a batting average of just .181 against him.

Given Miami’s woes this season, it seems Fernandez might not stay a Marlin for long as the team could use him as trade bait. But wherever he resides in the MLB, Fernandez has a good chance of becoming one of the next great pitchers in baseball.

Harvey and Fernandez might be the top young hurlers of this season, but there are several others who are either still competing at the Triple-A level or who had a relatively quiet rookie season.

Three of the MLB’s top pitching prospects are right here in the great Northwest in the Seattle Mariners’ system. Taijuan Walker, the No. 1 pitching prospect in the MLB and No. 4 MLB overall prospect, made his major league debut this month, starting in three games and recording 12 strikeouts along with a 3.60 ERA. He will likely be a middle-of-the-rotation guy for the Mariners going into next season with future ace potential.

Danny Hultzen, the No. 1 left-handed pitching prospect and No. 24 overall MLB prospect, has yet to make his MLB debut but played well in six Triple-A starts this season, posting a 2.05 ERA. 

Finally, James Paxton, the No. 6 prospect in the Mariners’ farm system, made his MLB debut last weekend giving up just one run in six innings against the Tampa Bay Rays. 

So fear not, Mariners fans. Seattle’s pitching quality appeared to take a huge step back this regular season, but there are bright days on the horizon for the Seattle pitching staff so long as they don’t all get traded away in true Mariners fashion.

Another two pitchers who could make an impact in the next couple of seasons are Zack Wheeler of the New York Mets and Jameson Taillon of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Wheeler cracked the starting rotation for the Mets back in June and remained a pretty consistent piece at the back of their rotation. He posted a 3.38 ERA with 75 strikeouts in his rookie campaign and could be part of an up-and-coming Mets rotation alongside the aforementioned Matt Harvey.

Jameson Taillon has yet to make his MLB debut but is set to be an early 2014 call-up, according to sources at Taillon is the No. 10 rated MLB overall prospect and No. 2 rated pitching prospect just behind Taijuan Walker. With a Pirates team heading to the post-season for the first time in two decades, Taillon could help the club build sustained success in the coming years instead of staying a one-year wonder.