While righthander Domingo Tapia has been a revelation for the Mets with his 20-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio through three starts for low Class A Savannah, he’s not the only young hurler who appears to be taking a step forward this season. Here we present one Class A pitcher from the other nine Eastern Division organizations who might be on to something.
Righthander Dave Filak flunked out of the South Atlantic League last year after running up a 7.54 ERA and 1.96 WHIP in 11 starts, but the 2010 fourth-rounder got off to a much better start with low Class A Rome this season. Better location of low-90s heat and a power curveball allowed Filak to compile a 27-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio through his first 21 innings.
The Orioles enticed last year’s 26th-rounder Zach Davies to forgo an Arizona State commitment by offering a $575,000 bonus, and he’s off to a good start with low Class A Delmarva this season. The 19-year-old commands four pitches at an early age—fastball, curve, slider, changeup—and because of that repertoire and the fact that he’s a 6-foot righty, Davies has drawn Mike Leake comparisons.
Boston Red Sox
Last year’s 19th overall pick, righty Matt Barnes did not allow a run through his first four starts with low Class A Greenville. The former Connecticut ace showed a consistent above-average fastball/curveball mix that he used to rack up a South Atlantic League-leading 34 strikeouts through 21 innings. The Red Sox believe Barnes is improving feel for his changeup, and they like his professional attitude and aggressive approach.
Lefthander Adam Conley served as the closer for Washington State as a sophomore, moving to the rotation last year prior to becoming the Marlins’ second-round pick. His sinker/changeup repertoire has proved to be too much for South Atlantic League batters to handle this season (23 strikeouts, fives walks, nine hits in 20 innings), though Conley must improve the snap on his slider to reach his ceiling as a mid-rotation arm.
New York Yankees
Among the organization’s Class A arms, trade acquisition Jose Campos has received much of the early attention—perhaps because of his novelty—but the Yankees have been equally encouraged by high Class A Tampa lefty Nik Turley. A 50th-round pick out of high school in North Hollywood, Calif., in 2008, Turley spent three years in short-season ball, but he’s physical (6-foot-6, 230 pounds), has shown signs of having quality command in the future and features swing-and-miss stuff. He tied for the Florida State League lead with 27 strikeouts through 23 innings.
Lefthander Ethan Stewart is shaping up as a 47th-round find from the 2010 draft (from New Mexico JC) now that he has matured physically and enhanced his feel for pitching. The 6-foot-6 native of British Columbia tops out near 91 mph these days and knows when to mix in a solid changeup and curveball while pitching for low Class A Lakewood.
Tampa Bay Rays
In the tradition of Rays power lefties like Matt Moore and Enny Romero, Felipe Rivero sports a devastating fastball/breaking ball combination that South Atlantic League batters can’t seem to touch. Rivero, a slight, 6-foot Venezuelan, pitched his way onto the low Class A Bowling Green roster this spring, and through four starts he hadn’t allowed an earned run, all while striking out 20 (against five walks) in 22 innings.
Toronto Blue Jays
Something of a late bloomer at his Mansfield, Texas, high school, righthander Noah Syndergaard no longer flies under the radar, not after dominating two short-season leagues last year as an 18-year-old and landing in the Midwest League for two starts. Syndergaard returns to low Class A Lansing this season, and he still shows the same 94-96 mph velocity, though the Blue Jays laud his control and say his curveball and changeup continue to improve.
Righthander Wirkin Estevez led the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League with 95 strikeouts in 2010 on the strength of a plus changeup and a feel for the strike zone. Those traits have carried forward as he climbed to the short-season New York-Penn League last year and low Class A South Atlantic League this year, where he had a 6.64 ERA through four starts despite a sterling 24-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The lanky, 20-year-old Estevez pitches at 89-90 mph and could add velocity as he matures, but he’ll need to tighten his slurvy breaking ball to profile as a starter.
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