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Young Arms on the Rise

   by Bryan Leonard - 06/02/2008

Young arms are a prized commodity for baseball teams, on the starting mound or in the pen. It’s an arms race, for sure, and you notice more and more World Series teams loaded with reliable arms, especially in the bullpen. The 2002 Angels and 2005 White Sox won the whole thing with deep bullpens, and last year’s World Series participants, the Red Sox and Rockies, were stockpiled with reliable pens and closers.

Last year it was Cleveland’s Fausto Carmona coming out of nowhere to win 19 games for the Indians. Here’s a look at some young arms that could fly under the radar until oddsmakers catch up.

Edinson Volquez: The Red did a lot of things right this offseason, shoring up the bullpen and stocking up with arms. It’s too bad their offense has been so hit or miss because they have a dynamite one-two punch atop the rotation with Aaron Harang and 24-year old Edinson Volquez.

They basically stole Volquez from the Rangers and the kid has electric stuff. He’s no longer under the radar at 7-2 with a 1.31 ERA, but what outstanding stuff. Opponents are hitting .194 off him and he has 76 Ks in 62 innings. He’s won 4 start starts with some reasonable prices on him of -145, -170, even money and -135.

Clayton Kershaw: This is a young phenom the Dodgers just brought up. He’s a 6-foot-3, 20-year old lefty with an outstanding fastball and drop dead curve. He fanned 7 with one walk in his first start, impressing everyone. In LA they’re calling him “Koufax Kernshaw.â€쳌 The only pitchers since the turn of the century to make a major league debut at a younger age was Felix Hernandez of the Mariners, at 19, and Edwin Jackson of the Dodgers, who beat Randy Johnson on his 20th birthday.

He didn’t play college baseball and is the 8th player of the Top 11 picks in the 2006 draft to hit the majors, a class that is making a name for itself. Those 8 players: Luke Hochevar (Royals, No. 1); Greg Reynolds (Rockies, 2); Evan Longoria (Rays, 3); Brandon Morrow (Mariners, 5); Florida’s Andrew Miller (Tigers, 6); Kershaw (7); Tim Lincecum (Giants, 10) and Max Scherzer (Diamondbacks, 11).

Justin Masterson: You will probably see more of this 23-year old righty of the Red Sox because of the injury to Curt Schilling and the recent dead arm concern with Daisuke Matsuzaka. In 2 spot starts he had a 1.46 ERA. He has a long, almost sidearm delivery that unleashes a wicked sinker. Boston has very good infield defense, which is a huge plus for this kid with batters more likely to hit his sinker into the ground. He’s 6-foot-6, a long frame that helps add sink to his pitches.

The Red Sox baby their pitchers, letting Schilling rest for over a month last summer when he had a tired arm, having Josh Beckett miss two starts last May with an avulsion, and keeping Clay Buchholz off last year’s playoff roster because he had pitched a lot of innings in 2007 (even though he had pitched a no-hitter and would have been useful in the October bullpen). Don’t be surprised if they rest Dice-K, which will mean you will see more of young Mr. Masterson. In his last start the total was 9.5, but it sailed under in a 2-1 Red Sox win.

Matt Garza: It’s hard to figure why the Twins gave up on Garza, trading him and Johan Santana over the winter. The 24-year old Garza has been a great addition to the first place Rays. All five of their starters have turned in at least one shutdown performance this season, and some many more than that.

The Rays got another one last week with Garza handling a Rangers lineup that had posted a dozen runs the previous evening for an outing Rays manager Joe Maddon called his best yet. Add in some timely hitting and walks and Tampa Bay emerged with a 5-3 victory. Garza had a career high eight innings and 10 strikeouts. In his previous start he was off 71/3 innings of shutout ball against the Orioles. The Rays won 15 of their last 20 games posting a collective 3.10 ERA along the way, with Garza a key factor. The under is 4-1 the last 5 starts by Garza.

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