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Baseball's Young Arms

   by Al McMordie - 06/26/2006

Each season, the hopes of a team rest on the arms of 4-5 starting pitchers and a handful of relievers. Pitching carries a team through the long 162-game regular season and is the difference maker in October. The 2005 White Sox were loaded with hard throwing young arms as they raced to their first World Series title since 1917. The 2004 Red Sox won because of the acquisitions of Curt Schilling and ace closer Keith Foulke the previous winter.

The 2003 Marlins surprised everyone with an array of hard throwing young arms, like Dontrelle Willis and Josh Beckett. Here's a look at some of baseball's young pitchers, ones that were expected to be good and ones that have been big surprises.

Scott Kazmir: The Tampa Bay lefty was rushed to the big leagues two years ago simply because the Devil Rays didn't HAVE any pitching! Kazmir was labeled an ace at a young age. It is often unwise to hang that kind of moniker around the necks of young players. However, unlike many other kids, Kazmir has blossomed this season (9-4, 3.21 ERA). He has fanned 100 in 95 innings with great control. Here's the best part: He's only 21!

Oliver Perez: Two years ago the Pittsburgh southpaw went 12-10 fanning 239 batters at age 22. He was expected to anchor the rotation, a guy they could build around. But consistency is a key and he is 2-10 with a 6.63 ERA this season. The problem is control: Since the start of last season he has pitched 179 innings and walked 121 batters. It is better to fade pitchers who can't throw strikes, rather than back them.

Jon Garland: Garland was a big story with the White Sox last season, busting out with an 18-10 campaign after years of mediocrity. 2006 has been tough, with a 6-3 record but a 5.76 ERA. He's still only 26 years old and notice his last two starts: 3 earned runs allowed in 13 innings. He might be one to watch closely as a pitcher who has turned a corner after a shaky start.

Jon Lester: This 22-year old Red Sox lefty is one to keep an eye on. He is their best pitching prospect and they refused to rush him to the big leagues, even starting Double-AA prospect David Pauley to prevent Lester from being forced up last month. Lester has an excellent curveball, cutter and fastball and has impressed, striking out 19 in 16 innings. His last two starts he's thrown 12 innings, allowing 8 hits, 5 walks with 15 Ks. It's very early, but this kid has been better than expected. Since the Blue Jays, Yankees and Red Sox are in a tight race with the same weaknesses (starting pitching and middle relief), Lester might be a difference maker.

Josh Johnson: This is one of the many young Florida Marlin starters. Johnson is just 22, and stands 6-foot-7 and 240 pounds! He can also pitch, allowing 53 hits in 67 innings with 59 Ks and a 2.01 ERA. Willis may be the guy people think of leading the Florida pitching staff, but don't ignore this kid. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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