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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Bold Observations (Young Guns - Tier Deux)

Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, and Matt Cain are going to get plenty of attention, as well they should. But I'd like to draw your attention to three young arms that for whatever reason might be coming in under the radar early in the 2007 season.

Jeremy Sowers (24) - SP - Cleveland Indians

Sowers rarely raises the radar gun above 90 mph, but he's quietly gotten off to a stellar start, going 13 innings while only allowing 3 earned runs against two relatively strong offensive teams, the Angels and the White Sox. This after going 7-4 with a 3.57 in the very tough AL Central during 14 rookie starts in 2006. Sowers is never going to overpower a team the way Hernandez and Cain did in their dominant outings this week, but he has a nasty slider, movement on all his pitches, and he's not afraid to throw inside. The thing I like most about him is that when he gets into a difficult situation he maintains his poise better than the overpowering peers, like a pitcher with much more experience. He doesn't have the stuff to be a young Greg Maddux, but he could be an old Greg Maddux at a young age, and 14-16 wins a season year after year after year isn't unrealistic starting this season on a strong Indians team.

Mike Maroth (29) - SP - Detroit Tigers

True, he's not exactly young anymore, but he's just coming into his prime without the spotlight that following fellow 20 game loser Jeremy Bonderman. Before his injury last season he was 5-2 with a 2.45 ERA and six quality starts and now's he's off to a 2-0 start (although he's had some nice run support to help him on his way). In the very tight AL Central, many pundits were prepared to write off the Tigers when they lost Kenny Rogers. Maroth will more than make up for Rogers absence and Detroit has plenty of young arms to slide into the fifth slot.

Clay Hensley (26) - SP - San Diego Padres

Everywhere I turned this spring people were talking about the depth of the Padres rotation. "Jake Peavy, Chris Young, Greg Maddux, David Wells..." They would always trail off, as if they couldn't remember who the fifth starter was, or didn't think it mattered. Nobody seems to remember that Hensley threw quality starts in seven of his last nine outings in 2006. He lowered his ERA from 4.19 to 3.71 over that span. He has had a couple rough outings to begin this season, but the same thing happened to him early last year and it is a common problem for sinker ballers. Wang and Lowe both struggled in their first two outings last season. Hensley is entering his first full season as a starter in a park that's more or less designed for him, with improved infield defense working behind him, and probably slightly better offense supporting him. He's primed.

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