Early 2013 awards projections (cont.)
1. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers
Kershaw turns 25 in March and has finished in the top two in the Cy Young voting in each of the last two seasons. Hard adherence to the statistics might have switched his finishes, with Roy Halladay winning in 2011 but Kershaw winning this year, but Kershaw belonged in the top two either way.
In his four full seasons in the Dodgers' rotation, he has averaged 218 strikeouts and a 2.60 ERA. In the last two he his average line has been 18-7, 2.40 ERA, 238 Ks, 230 IP, 1.00 WHIP 4.08 K/BB. Its fair to say that Verlander has succeeded Halladay as the best pitcher in baseball, but Kershaw has succeeded him as the best pitcher in the National League, at least for now.
2. Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Nationals
That qualifier on Kershaw's status as the best pitcher in the NL is due to the presence of this man. Strasburg's innings limit was a major story this season, but it will be history in 2013, which should be his first season with 30 starts and 200 innings. Finally, we'll get to see Strasburg in all his glory, and given his performance in 2012, his first full season following Tommy John surgery, the results could be staggering. Despite pitching around that elbow injury, Strasburg has struck out 11.2 men per nine innings in his young career while posting a 2.94 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 4.67 K/BB.
As he continues to get strength back in his pitching elbow and continues to mature and adjust to the major league level we could actually see those numbers improve. Before struggling in two of his last three starts in 2012, which may have been the result of fatigue, the distraction created by his impending shut-down or both, Strasburg went 15-5 with a 2.85 ERA. Strasburg is just four months younger than Kershaw, but in terms of his major league development, he's right about where Kershaw was prior to the 2010 season.
3. Cole Hamels, LHP, Phillies
Hamels has a few mid-ballot Cy Young finishes on his resume -- sixth in 2007, fifth in 2011 and eighth this year -- but with age and injury encroaching on his more decorated rotation mates, Halladay and Cliff Lee, and with Tim Lincecum having jumped the tracks in 2012, there's room for him to move up.
One shouldn't necessarily expect a significant change in performance from Hamels, who turns 29 in late December and has been very consistent over the last three years, but with the field thinned a bit, it would only take a small up-tick to get him into the top three. In the past three seasons he has averaged a 2.97 ERA, 213 innings, 207 strikeouts and a 3.96 K/BB.
Hamels gets this last spot just ahead of the Reds' Johnny Cueto, who turns 27 in February, has taken a couple of steps forward in the last two seasons and deserved a top-three finish in the NL Cy Young voting this year.
1. Wil Myers, OF, Royals
The Royals haven't cleared a spot for converted catcher Myers in their outfield yet, but if Lorenzo Cain can't stay healthy in center or Jeff Francoeur, who is owed $6.75 million for 2013, the last year of his contract, can't bounce back from a miserable 2012 campaign, one will open up soon enough. As it is, the Royals would be well advised to give Myers, who will be 22 in December, a chance to beat out Francoeur for the rightfield job in spring training. Myers, the last of the top hitting prospects that made the Royals' farm system one of the best in baseball history a couple of years ago, rebounded from a poor 2011 season with a monster 2012 in which he hit .314/.387/.600 with 37 home runs and 109 RBIs in 134 games split between Double-A and Triple-A. He's ready.
2. Travis d'Arnaud, C, Blue Jays
The top player acquired in the Roy Halladay trade three years ago, d'Arnaud hit .320/.375/.563 over the last two years, the first in Double-A and the second in Triple-A. The only trouble is that he can't seem to stay healthy. In 2010 it was his back. In 2011 he tore a ligament in his thumb. This year he tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his knee, ending his season in late June.
The Jays will likely want d'Arnaud, who turns 24 in February, to start the year in Triple-A to make sure his knees are healthy and to get his bat hot, but once he passes that test, they should call him up and insert him in the lineup before he breaks again.
3. Dan Straily, RHP, A's
Straily was not a prospect coming in to the 2012 season, but he took a huge step forward in Double- and Triple-A, posting a 2.02 ERA with 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings in the Pacific Coast League in 11 starts at the latter stop. That earned him a call-up to Oakland in early August. Four of Straily's seven big league starts were quality, but the fly-ball pitcher proved homer prone and his strikeout dipped to league average.
Still, he features a low-90s fastball, and plus slider and change. With some big league experience under his belt, a friendly home ballpark, good outfield defense and an organization that has shown a knack for breaking in quality pitching, the 24-year-old could be a regular part of my Rookie of the Year rankings in the coming season.
1. Jedd Gyorko, 2B, Padres
In working his way from High-A to Triple-A over the last two seasons, Gyorko, which is unfortunately pronounced "JER-ko," hit .323/.388/.550 while averaging 28 home runs and 107 RBIs in an average of 133 games. The problem is he's a third baseman and Padres incumbent Chase Headley just finished fifth in the National League MVP voting. The solution appears to be to move the Gyorko, 24, to second base, where he played 47 games this year, giving him a clear path to the Opening Day lineup. Petco Park will suppress his numbers, but as Headley and Adrian Gonzalez have proven, it's still possible to mash in San Diego, and Gyorko is a masher.
2. Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pirates
The top pick in the 2011 draft made quick work of High-A and Double-A in his first professional season, finishing things off with a strong start at Triple-A. Altogether, he posted a 2.80 ERA and struck out more than a man per inning across 132 frames. Cole can get his fastball into triple-digits, has a wipeout slider and an above average changeup. The 22-year-old will start 2013 in the minors due to some concerns about his mechanics and command, but Cole has ace potential, and after two years of mid-season contention, the Pirates seem unlikely to wait any longer than necessary to put him in the big-league rotation.
3. Wily Peralta, RHP, Brewers
Like Straily in the AL, Peralta is something of a lower-ceiling pick, but one with a clearer path to big league opportunities. The Brewers' top prospect, Peralta will turn 24 in May and pitched well in five major league starts in September (2.25 ERA, no home runs allowed). Peralta has good stuff, a pair of mid-90s fastballs (two- and four-seam), a featured slider and the occasional changeup, but he can get wild. If throws strikes, however, he should be in this race all year.
The Diamondbacks and Cardinals both have a pair of impressive starting pitching prospects: Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs for Arizona and Shleby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal for St. Louis. All four saw big-league action in 2012 and could very well factor heavily in this race in 2013. However, the fact that they will serve as competition for one another for whatever opportunities become available on their respective teams prompted me to leave all four out of the above list simply because it's unclear at this distance which of the four will get that chance. Gyorko, Cole and Peralta have a clearer path and will go as far as their own performance takes them in 2013.