Now, there are lots of teams with good young pitching. But at this point, two teams seem to be ahead of the curve when it comes to building future pitching staffs: the Tampa Bay Rays and the Atlanta Braves. Presumably you all know about Tampa Bay's ridiculous wealth of pitching talent already, given that prospect evaluators seem to rave about a new set of young Tampa pitchers every year. But it feels like people haven't gone nearly as crazy about Atlanta's young pitching in general; that might just because there's a lot to be excited about with that team in general, though, what with that Heyward kid and all. Because, frankly, Atlanta may have the most impressive stable of young pitchers in baseball.
And that's the question I've set out to ask today: if you had to select one organization's top young pitchers for the next 15 years, which would you choose? And to clarify, by young pitcher, I mean any pitcher under age 25 as of Opening Day. So, do you bank on David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, and a couple of the younger Rays prospects to come through? Or would you go with Atlanta, led by the likes of Tommy Hanson and Julio Teheran?
It's certainly not an easy choice to make, but I'll try to make things easier for everyone by outlining exactly which pitchers I'm talking about within each organization, and what my thoughts are on the entire situation. I'm curious to see what you guys think, because we all know how elite young pitching can sway a division for a long time. And if you choose the "other" option in the poll, I'd love to hear which organization's pitching you'd prefer in the comments.
The Atlanta Braves
We'll start with Atlanta, because I think that people need a reminder of how ridiculously good this club's young pitching is. In the MLB rotation, they already boast 24-year-olds Tommy Hanson and Brandon Beachy, but 25-year-olds Jair Jurrjens and Kris Medlen are currently on the disabled list, too. We can toss an elite reliever in there, too, with 22-year-old closer Craig Kimbrel. Hanson's already one of the best starters in the NL with a 3.17 career ERA, Jurrjens has two quality seasons under his belt already even with injury struggles over the past two years, and Beachy should be able to develop into a good No. 4 starter. Medlen may end up in the bullpen long-term after Tommy John surgery, but he should be able to develop into a good set-up man for the potentially elite Kimbrel.
The depth in the minors is arguably as impressive, too. 20-year-old Julio Teheran was rated as the best pitching prospect in baseball by Baseball America, BP's Kevin Goldstein and ESPN's Keith Law coming into the season. He's already in Triple-A, and has legitimate ace potential. 23-year-old lefty Mike Minor joins Teheran in the Triple-A Gwinnett rotation, and while he can't match Teheran's upside, he's already MLB-ready, and got strong top-100 rankings from BA, Goldstein and Law: 37, 26 and 61, respectively.
The pitching continues from there, too. 21-year-old Randall Delgado is already in Double-A, and he was rated as a top-60 prospect by all three evaluators. He's joined at Double-A by 23-year-old J.J. Hoover, also one of Atlanta's top prospects, and 23-year-old closer Billy Bullock, a flamethrower with closer-upside that was acquired from Minnesota for Rule 5 pick Scott Diamond. At the lower levels, they have two more power pitchers with huge upside: 20-year-old righty Arodys Vizcaino at High Single-A and 19-year-old lefty Carlos Perez at Low Single-A.
The Tampa Bay Rays
If you thought that Atlanta's depth was impressive, think of Tampa Bay as the American League equivalent. Or think of Atlanta as Tampa's National League equivalent. Whatever. They're both absolutely loaded.
Tampa is already depending on their young pitching at the MLB level, with 25-year-olds David Price and Wade Davis, along with 24-year-old Jeremy Hellickson, taking key roles in the starting rotation. 24-year-old lefty Jake McGee has a similarly prominent role in Tampa's bullpen, where he could end up as closer before the season's over. It's not clear that Davis or Hellickson has ace-upside like Price, but both can develop into good No. 2/3 starters, and the Rays have more than enough upside in the minors anyways.
Delving into that minor league pitching talent, heading Triple-A Durham's rotation are 23-year-olds Alexander Torres and Alex Cobb. Neither was rated as a top-100 prospect, but both have good stuff and strong track records- these are still some very good pitching prospects.
Things get a lot more interesting at Double-A, though, where Tampa Bay deploys their two best pitching prospects, Matt Moore and Chris Archer. The 21-year-old Moore is considered an elite pitching prospect with ace-upside; all three evaluators had him among their top-16 prospects in all of baseball. Archer, a 22-year-old acquired from Chicago in the Matt Garza deal, doesn't have Moore's upside and some project a future move to the bullpen, but his stuff is excellent. BA has Archer much higher than Goldstein does (No. 27 to No. 70), but that just reflects the polarizing opinions on his projection. Tampa has two more interesting young pitchers at Double-A, too: 22-year-olds Joseph Cruz and Nick Barnese are often mentioned when discussing Tampa's best young pitchers.
And part of what makes Tampa so impressive, though, is the fact that they're still churning talent at the lower levels. 21-year-old Jake Thompson and 22-year-old Alex Colome head the High Single-A rotation, and 20-year-old Enny Romero is certainly the most impressive arm at the low Single-A level.
Holy crap, this is difficult. Both teams have great starters and a great reliever in the majors right now, and potentially great starters across nearly every level of their minor league systems. I'll try to break this down a little, I guess, to simplify things a bit.
Ready for 2011
Atlanta: Hanson, Jurrjens, Minor, Beachy, Kimbrel, Medlen
Tampa: Price, Davis, Hellickson, McGee
Ready for 2012
Atlanta: Teheran, Delgado, Hoover, Bullock
Tampa: Archer, Torres, Cobb, Cruz
Ready for 2013 and beyond
Atlanta: Vizcaino, Perez
Tampa: Moore, Barnese, Thompson, Colome, Romero
Okay, so this simplifies things, a little. Or at least it helps to put into perspective exactly when these guys are expected to contribute at the MLB level. Atlanta's clearly got more guys closer to the majors, but Moore could move more quickly than I expect.
The near-term advantage of getting value from guys like Hanson, Jurrjens, Minor, Kimbrel and Beachy is obvious, but is it significantly higher than Price-Hellickson-Wade-McGee? Frankly I might take Tampa Bay's foursome over Atlanta's quintet with all things considered. Moving on, you realize that if Atlanta's impressive depth doesn't trump Tampa Bay in the next couple years, the Rays will probably gain the advantage at some point given their superior talent below Triple-A.
Teheran, Delgado, Vizcaino and Perez are impressive, but the Moore, Archer, Colome, Romero group is somewhat comparable. And then you try to compare Torres, Cobb, Cruz, Barnese and Thompson with Hoover and Bullock, and the advantage there is palpable. So Atlanta has slight advantages in terms of young pitching at the MLB level and elite talent within the minor leagues, but Tampa Bay has a clear advantage in depth when it comes to minor league pitching depth.
Do you take Atlanta's slight advantages in proximity to the majors and peak-level talent, or Tampa Bay's clear advantage in lower level depth?
In the end, I'd probably take Atlanta. But you might get a different answer if you ask me next week.