This is the second in a two-part series evaluating some of this year’s top pitching prospects. Click here for part one.
Danny Hultzen - Seattle Mariners
It speaks volumes of the Mariners organizational depth at the position that Hultzen, 2011’s #2 overall pick, isn’t even the most highly regarded pitcher in Seattle’s farm system (Taijuan Walker is now generally thought to have higher ceiling). Hultzen is, however, the most likely of Seattle’s three blue chip pitching prospects (James Paxton being the third) to make his MLB debut in 2013, as he’s the only one who reached AAA in 2012. Hultzen dominated during his stint with the double-A Jackson Generals, going 8-3 with a sterling 1.19 ERA, but struggled in Tacoma, where he went just 1-4 with an ERA of 5.92. His difficulties in Triple-A were the result of problems with his control – he jumped from 3.92 BB/9 in Jackson to 7.95 with the Rainiers.
It’s a safe bet that the Mariners will let him work through his control issues in the minors to start the season, but I’d be very surprised if we don’t see him in The Show in 2013. He throws a low-90s fastball, an excellent slider, and a decent changeup. Assuming that he’s able to get a handle on his control issues (which seems likely as his pitch command was one of his major strengths prior to his problems in Triple-A), he could be an interesting fantasy option this year, either as a mid-season pickup or a late-round flyer to stash on your bench until he’s called up. In keeper leagues, Hultzen has a great deal of value, as barring injury or some other setback, it’s looking like a safe bet that he’ll be the Mariners #2 or #3 starter by early 2014. Many have compared him to Cliff Lee – a prediction which, as a Mariners fan, I sincerely hope comes true (except for the part about only having him for a few months and trading him for a colossal bust and an alleged sexual predator).
Casey Kelly - San Diego Padres
Kelly, as you might recall, was acquired by the Padres from the Red Sox two years ago as part of the package that landed Boston Adrian Gonzalez (how’d that work out for you, Sox fans?). He boasts a fastball that hovers around 92 MPH and an above-average curve, which serves as his out pitch (of his 26 Ks in his brief stint in the majors last year, 19 came on the curveball). Kelly’s weakness at this point seems to be his change-up, against which opposing hitters hit a whopping .533 last season. Granted, since PITCHf/x data isn’t readily available for his minor-league career, these figures are based on the miniscule sample size of his six appearances with the Padres, but early indications are that the changeup will need work if he is to become a legitimate ace.
MLB hitters will have no problem teeing off on his low-90s fastballs if he lacks the ability to keep them honest with the change. Kelly figures to see significant time in the majors this season, but due to his apparent need to make adjustments to be effective at the big-league level, he seems a likely candidate for growing pains and as such I don’t see him having a huge fantasy impact in 2013. He’s worth drafting in standard leagues, but not until the later rounds. As for the long-term, if the stars align for him, he could potentially have a career not unlike Josh Beckett’s (before all the chicken and beer).
Dylan Bundy – Baltimore Orioles
The comically athletic Bundy, having been drafted out of high school in 2011, has far less experience than any of the other pitchers we’ve discussed. His lack of appearances against high-level competition means there’s not much data on Bundy to date, making him the most difficult of the six to assess. But what little we have seen has been phenomenal. Despite his minimal experience, he rocketed through the Orioles organization to make two appearances with the big club in 2012 at just 19 years old. Bundy throws a fastball that can hit triple digits, a very effective cutter, a change, and a curveball. The change-up is the one that needs the most work, as scouting reports indicate he sometimes has difficulty locating it.
It’s difficult to say where he’ll start the year, but the Baltimore Sun reports that he believes he has a shot to make the Orioles roster out of spring training, despite rumblings to the contrary from the organization. Perhaps improving his odds of seeing significant time with the Orioles in 2013 is the fact that he’s the only pitcher of these six whose team has any shot at contention this year, which could motivate Baltimore to call him up sooner if they think he can help them in the pennant race. With the possible exception of Cole, Bundy is the safest bet of this group to become a legitimate ace, but his young age and lack of experience makes me hesitant to predict an immediate fantasy impact from him this season.
Based on his skillset, an optimistic long-term comparison for him would be another pitcher who got his first taste of The Show at age 19 - Felix Hernandez, the undisputed greatest pitcher of all time (I mentioned that I’m a Mariners fan, right?). Bundy is definitely capable of paying dividends as a late round pick in standard leagues, but understand that it’s something of a gamble. In keeper leagues, he should probably go around the same time as Cole (which is to say very, very early).