We may be yet a month or more away from the much-anticipated arrivals of Stephen Strasburg and Aroldis Chapman. In the meantime, however, a number of top pitching prospects are taking advantage of injuries and April inefficiencies. Here are the most noteworthy:
Brett Cecil - Blue Jays (1-1, 3.55 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 11 K, 12 2/3 IP)
Last week Cecil replaced the injured Brian Tallet at the backend of the Jays rotation. His initial starting assignments were a bit unfortunate, on the road against the red-hot Rays and at home against the streaking Red Sox, but the 23-year-old faired relatively well, managing at least six innings on both occasions. He struck out eight Rays (though he yielded a pair of homers) and held the Sox scoreless for the first five innings. Next week he'll get a more favorable matchup against the Indians.
Cecil is a top prospect, who throws in the mid-nineties with a wicked curve. He got half a season worth of work last year, going 7-4 with a 5.30 ERA and a very poor strikeout to walk ratio (1.82). This year, however, he seems to have corrected that problem. In two starts at AAA he struck out eleven while walking on two. And in his first two starts in the majors? He's struck out eleven while walking only two. A small sample size, no doubt, but certainly encouraging. Cecil should be owned in AL-only leagues and is a solid spot-start option against weaker lineups in the mixed leagues. Trips to New York, Boston, and Tampa could be a little rough on him, but I expect him to hold onto his spot in the rotation, even after the return of Tallet and Dustin McGowan.
Jhoulys Chacin - Rockies (3-0, 1.69 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 21 K, 21 1/3 IP @ AAA)
Chacin got the call when Colorado had to send Jason Hammel and Jorge De La Rosa to the D.L. He's just 22-years-old, with nasty stuff, but like Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales at his age, he's wild. Nobody can put a bat on him in Colorado Springs, but he's averaging upwards of six walks per nine innings in eight starts at AAA, dating back to last fall. That won't fly in the show.
However, his first start comes against the free-swinging Giants, in San Francisco. That's a favorable match-up. Unless he's dominant, this is probably nothing more than a month-long audition, as De La Rosa, Hammel, and Jeff Francis are all likely to return sometime in June, if not before.
Jaime Garcia - Cardinals (2-1, 1.04 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 17 K, 26 IP)
Garcia has surged in front of Jason Heyward as the early NL Rookie of the Year frontrunner. His walk rate (3.1 BB/9) is mild cause for concern, but otherwise his April record is fairly spotless, though we should note that he's faced only one lineup, Milwaukee, that's in the top half of the NL in scoring (the Brewers are, however, #1, and he shut them down).
There's no obvious back-up plan in St. Louis, so Garcia will have a long leash, even if he takes some lumps during his second run through the league. Garcia clearly understands the Dave Duncan philosophy. His groudball rate (71.2%) is currently tops in all of baseball.
Ian Kennedy - Diamondbacks (1-1, 4.45 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 27 K, 30 1/3 IP)
I know I've been writing about Kennedy every week for the past two months, but following another strong start this afternoon against the Cubs, I can't help but mention him again. He's been pitching to contact in his past two starts and, as a result, has gone eight inning deep in each of them. He's still giving up a disconcerting number of longballs (6 HR), but he limits baserunners (2.4 BB/9) and is capable of racking up strikeouts (8.0 K/9). I think he's mixed-league worthy at this point, especially following strong outings against two fairly potent lineups (Phillies are #2 in NL, Cubs are #8).
Mike Leake - Reds (2-0, 3.25 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 18 K, 27 2/3 IP)
His starts haven't always been pretty, but so far Leake has been the most effective pitcher in the Cincinnati rotation, probably assuring that he won't be the one getting replaced by Chapman in the coming month. Leake has kept the ball on the ground in the Great American SmallPark (59.3%) and has shown improved control in his last two starts (only three walks in his last fourteen innings, after giving up twelve walks in his first fourteen innings). He throws lots of pitches with lots of movement, which makes for enjoyable viewing, but you do get the sense that the wheels will eventually come off, at least for a start or two.
Mitch Talbot - Indians (3-1, 2.05 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 7 K, 26 1/3 IP)
Definitely the most overlooked rookie this month, Talbot has three victories, despite pitching in front of an anemic offense. There is nothing about the 26-year-old's minor-league track record which suggests he can keep this up and the having more walks (11) than strikeouts (7) is rarely a path to success in the majors. However, it's hard to argue that Talbot has had an easy time of it thusfar. His wins came against the White Sox, Twins, and Angels. Like his teammate, Fausto Carmona, he's been keeping his pitch count down by rolling lots of groundballs. At the beginning of the season, Talbot looked like the odd man out, were Carlos Carrasco or Aaron Laffey to get off to a strong start at AAA, but for now his position is probably pretty safe.