Looking ahead to Opening Day for 2017, most of the teams have sorted out who will lead their pitching rotations.
We will take a look at the probable rotations for each team, and give an assessment of their depth and quality ahead of the season’s start. We give each club a letter grade and discuss the positive and negative aspects of their pitching.
ANCHORAGE ACES (D)
Dusty HERTZ, HUI YANG, FRED LOVELESS, BEN PARKHOUSE, PHILIP DOUR
The Aces have one of the softest rotations in the league, headed by RHP Dusty Hertz (2016: 6-7, 4.27 ERA, 95 K), who OSA has rated as 15th in the league. Graced with decent breaking pitches, the relatively new Hertz let his WHIP creep up from 1.16 in 2015 to 1.34 last season, and gave up a hit about every inning. adding 31 walks over his 111.2 innings pitched. For many teams, he would slot in at #3 or #4, but the rest of the Aces rotation leaves much to be desired.
RHP Yang (5-8, 4.81 ERA, 120 K) was picked up from Nevada as a free agent signing in December, and despite throwing a decent curveball, repeatedly gets tagged for homers when his other pitches don’t move. He gave up the most home runs in the AEL while pitching for the Nevada Speeders the last two seasons running. With Yang on the mound, the Aces need to reliably score 5 or more runs to win games.
For the rest of the rotation, Fred Loveless is a slightly worse version of Yang, and the last two slots are filled by sophomores, one too old to learn and one still a couple years away from his prime.
ARIZONA COWBOYS (C)
NICK SEER, ORLANDO HERNANDEZ, JUNIOR STRONG, ROBBY MCWEENEY, GEORGE GREASE
RHP Nick Seer is a dark horse, playing in his first season in the Bull League as a well-scouted undrafted amateur. Because of a lack of playing history, OSA scouts rate him 18th in the league, but he has shown promising skills particularly with his breaking stuff.
While the league waits to see what Seer develops into, more is known about #2 RHP Hernandez (5-5, 5.36 ERA, 61 K), who spent 2016 with Chicago, where his WHIP was an astronomical 1.51, and he regularly allowed nearly one home run every start. Following him are Junior Strong (3-7, 4.09 ERA, 62 K), best suited as an emergency SP but who is in the #3 slot out of necessity, rookie RHP McWeeney (1-0, 2.89 ERA, 5 K) who only pitched 9 innings last season, and rookie RHP Grease (1-2, 5.96 ERA, 20 K), who also needs time to develop.
BATTLE CREEK ATTACK (C-)
NIEK RODRIGUEZ, RAFAEL CARBALLO, CALEB EMERY, JOE DODD, TIM WEIS
RHP Niek Rodriguez (2-10, 4.77 ERA, 62 K) was at one time one of the most dangerous pitchers in the game, who regularly threw a 101 mph fastball and who routinely appeared in Sandy Koufax Award voting in 2nd or 3rd place (though never winning). He dominated batters when he played for the Ohio Oxen from 2002-2012, particularly in 2008 when he went 11-4 with a 2.54 ERA and struck out a league-leading 174 batters. But Rodriguez is now 36 and has seen his conditioning rapidly decline, despite never having been injured. Last year with Battle Creek was his worst yet. On the plus side, a bad year from Rodriguez is still a solid contribution to the team, and if they score 5 or more runs a game then Attack will win games with Rodriguez on the mound.
RHP Carballo (2-7, 3.58 ERA, 90 K) is a very promising young rookie in the #2 slot who could one day take Rodriguez place in the pole position. His 98 mph fastball is among the best when used effectively with his changeup, keeping batters guessing, and giving him a 1.17 WHIP in his debut year last year. #3 RHP Caleb Emery (7-5, 5.10 ERA, 75 K) is the only other effective starter, and as one Boston was happy to see leave, that doesn’t say much for Dodd and Weis.
Overall, Attack look to score runs to back up their high-ERA starters, who are either too old to stay effective or too young to have developed into a batter’s menace.
BOSTON BRAWLERS (D)
PETE SHARPE, ALFONSO GUTIERREZ, MARSHALL BENNETT, ZACH DUCK, JOAQUIN TORRES
Boston historically has relied on great hitting and one or two great pitchers to anchor their rotation, but they lost one of the best pitchers in the Bull League when Judson Martel left for free agency at the end of 2016. Now the cupboard is nearly bare.
RHP Pete Sharpe (5-8, 4.16 ERA, 97 K) heads the rota, which spells trouble for the Brawlers. He’s never had a winning season, and even discounting wins as a debatably important stat for pitchers, his WHIP has crept up to 1.43. Most other teams would slot Sharpe in as a #3 at best. For Boston, the rest of their rotation looks somber, with RHP Gutierrez (6-7, 5.85 ERA, 80 K) sinking from decent to dreadful between 2015 and 2016. Bennett and Duck are journeymen within the Brawlers who are capable of putting in reliable innings from time to time, but 2012 first-round draft pick Torres would only be getting his first crack at the big leagues this season, though he showed high potential at AAA-level Laval, should he crack the rotation after spring training.
CALGARY INFERNO (A-)
MATTHEW RENDALL, ROD MATOS, ENRIQUE NUNEZ, FERNANDO LATORRE, JEFF ST. JOHN
Calgary has leaned on RHP Mattew Rendall (6-6, 3.57 ERA, 121 K) for years now, and with good reason. After making the switch from reliever to full-time starter in 2014, he’s had great seasons, consistently striking out batters and keeping runners from scoring, while contributing as a Platinum Glove fielder as well. Just about to enter his prime years, the 27 year old uses his slider and changeup to devastating effect, and has worked hard at control dropping his bases on balls to 30 last year, from 40 the previous season.
Following Rendall is a very capable 2014 Sandy Koufax winner LHP Rod Matos (11-1, 2.99 ERA, 99 K), signed from Montreal last November. The 33 year old Cuban posted a 1.16 WHIP last season, allowing just 95 hits over 105.1 innings. Seattle acquisition Enrique Nunez (7-4, 3.43 ERA, 110 K) is a capable #3, who could easily be a #2 on some teams. Calgary leans on Latorre and St. John to fill out the rotation, both of whom can regularly contribute solid innings on the mound.
Few teams can outmatch Calgary’s pitching, leaving no question why they were in the Bull Cup last season, nor why they won it the season before.
CALIFORNIA TIDALS (D-)
KYLE CAHILL, JOE LUND, SALVATORE RESENDIZ, LIEN-YING LI, BOB OLIVER
The Tidals have just one starter pitcher who had an ERA last season that was under the AEL’s league average of 4.14, and it isn’ t their #1 guy, LHP Kyle Cahill (7-7, 4.33 ERA, 106 K). Cahill is on a downward trend for ERA and WHIP, nearly doubling the number of walks he gave up last year (37) over 2015 (19). The 2014 AEL Sandy Koufax winner is still capable of solid innings, but whether he should be in the prime slot remains an open question.
RHP Joe Lund (5-6, 3.01 ERA, 99 K) is their other solid starter, in the #2 role, and who is coming off his best season. The 2010 first round draft pick had a razor thin WHIP of 1.17, struck out a career best 99 batters, and twice struck out 11 or more batters in games last season. But Lund’s upwards trend is off-set by the high-ERA #3, #4 and #5 pitchers, two of whom are over 30 and in dodgy condition. Career-long Tidal RHP Li (2015: 0-5, 4.79 ERA, 59 K) in particular missed all of 2016 after being injured half way through 2015, and remains a huge liability.
CHICAGO PIT BULLS (C+)
MARLO MORALES, MASATO WATANABE, BRET GILBERT, BERNARDO GONZALEZ, YARDBIRD ROOKS
The Pit Bulls earn a high grade for only having one pitcher in their starting five whose 2016 ERA was over the league average. LHP Morales (2-2, 3.14 ERA, 61 K) presents as an 8th ranked starter whose 2016 season was cut short by shoulder problems, but who had great outings prior to that and should recover nicely. His debut year had him striking out 150 batters, he sent another 61 to the bench last season before his injury, at a blistering rate of 11.3 per nine innings. Add to this just 10 walks allowed, his WHIP of 0.95 was enviable, even for just half a season of playing time. He remains a confident choice for a #1.
RHP Masato Watanabe (8-5, 3.78 ERA, 101 K) was a solid performer with San Diego last year before going to free agency, and Chicago made sure to secure him to a 6 year, $102M deal that will see him paid $19.8M by 2020. One big reason was his low WHIP of 1.20, upward trending number of K’s, and his league-leading low 0.2 HR’s per nine innings last year – just 2 allowed all season. Watanabe uses a six-pitch repertoire effectively, with a hard-to-hit fastball breaking the 100 mph mark.
Former reliever Gilbert (6-3, 8 SV, 3.97 ERA, 73 K) is now transitioning to the #3 starter slot, and the team feels he is more than ready, with his innings going up and his WHIP going down over the last few seasons. The one blight is Gonzalez (7-9, 6.51 ERA, 103 K), who may have just had an off year in 2016, or might finally be reaching the wear out point for his arm and shoulders. #5 Rooks was signed as an FA after leaving the Bull Cup Champs, Ohio Oxen, and should contribute nicely at that slot.
Look for Chicago to be a very tough team to score on through at least 3 out of 5 games this season.
CHICOUTIMI CINQUANTES (C-)
Jose Munguia, Jason Connery, Carlos Beltran, Casee Hite, Choong-suk Kang
The 50’s pitching rotation grades out at below average, lead by Cuban RHP Jose Munguia (3-9, 4.63 ERA, 81 K) who is capable enough, but will never win a Sandy Koufax Award for his efforts. The #2, Jason Connery (5-6, 4.58 ERA, 81 K), shows promise, and is entering his best years. He was a trading-deadline acquisition from Arizona last season, went 2-1 and 2.82 with Chicoutimi after coming over, and has an interesting repertoire of pitches including a great fastball and slider.
But the remaining slots remain questionable, with Carlos Beltran (0-0, 1.42 ERA, 9 K) a free agent acquisition who spent last season warming a bullpen spot with Montreal, and who will be 37 by the time the season starts, and following him the untested rookies Hite and Kang, the latter of whom at least managed some solid starts last year in a Chicoutimi uniform.
DALLAS DEPUTIES (D)
Bob Finney, LAZARO LOZANO, RAFAEL ROSARIO, MIKE BITTER, JEROME CARTER
Dallas has struggled since forming in the 2012 expansion, and 2017 will be another difficult year for them based on a glance at their pitching rotation. RHP Bob Finney (7-5, 4.94 ERA, 94 K) is a mid-rotation guy picked up as a free agent in November after leaving Chicoutimi, but who now fills the #1 role with the Dep’s because of necessity. Far too streaky to be a reliable #1, and now hitting 32 he’s quickly passing his prime years.
Their #2 is Lozano (3-9, 4.88 ERA, 98 K), who screams mediocrity, with average rated stuff and pitches, and needs plenty of run support to win games, something Dallas may not be able to supply often enough this season.
The last three in the rotation are slightly younger, but more mediocre versions of Lozano. The cumulative effect of have five mid-rotation starters is a below grade overall rating, as they have no one to anchor it and thus will heavily rely on run scoring to win games.
DENVER HIGHLANDERS (B+)
RICH OJEDA, COUNT MONTECRISTO, WILLIE SALAZAR, DONG-SU BAI, MARCUS COOK
Denver has possibly one of the only starting rotations with every pitcher boasting a 2016 ERA under 4.00. They would rate a higher grade if their #1, Ojeda (7-3, 3.20 ERA, 138 K) was just a few years younger than his 36, and their other four players had a bit more experience.
For his part, Ojeda is still throwing great heat and probably deserves an OSA ranking higher than 11th, especially because lefty starters are a rare commodity. The four time all-star has led in K/9 for the past four seasons, with three different teams, and is perfectly capable of anchoring any team’s rotation. He shows no signs of aging and should be a reliable and solid start through the season.
After five years in the Bull League, all with Denver, #2 man Montecristo (7-6, 3.64 ERA, 113 K) has struggled with control a bit, but still consistently produced great innings and kept runners from scoring too often. His 113 K’s last season were a career best and he’s still improving.
Salazar, Bai and Cook are all high-potential pitchers capable of working the strike zone to their advantage, though Bai and Cook are just at the cusp of their careers and their upper limits remain unknown.
… TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 2