Pitching at the major league level is never easy.
Even less so if a player is just starting out. While they do have the element of surprise — which is lessened due to ever-present smart phones and social media — facing big league hitters day in and day out is daunting.
As in any sport, though, having youthful zeal in the line-up is key. Especially for major league teams that carry 25 roster spots (expanding to 40 in September) for a grueling 162-game ride to the post-season.
In 2016, several young pitchers put their stamp on major league baseball, including AL Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer. The 24-year-old was stifling in 26 games for the Detroit Tigers, posting an 11-7 record and 3.06 ERA.
There are many 20-somethings plying their trade in spring training and a select number of them will join their big clubs for the marathon that is the 2017 MLB season.
Here are 10 young pitchers (six starters and four relievers well under the age of 30) who stand out, in no particular order.
10. Carlos Martinez, SP – St. Louis Cardinals
It will only be a matter of time before 25-year-old Dominican righthander Carlos Martinez hits a couple of milestones. And we think that as early as this season he could break the 200-inning plateau for the first time in his career, as well as the 20-win barrier. Martinez became a full-time starter in 2015 after two seasons of long relief and has steadily improved his numbers along with way. In 2015, he went 14-17 in 29 starts, with 184 strikeouts in 179.2 innings, earning his first and only all-star nomination. Last year, the man who has drawn comparisons to Pedro Martinez (including body type and mechanics) threw in 31 starts, compiling a 16-9 mark, with 174 strikeouts in 195.1 innings pitched. While his strikeouts per nine innings went down from 2015, he did decrease his WHIP from 1.286 to a career low 1.224. Even at his young age, he is already tabbed as the Cards’ no. 1 starter.
9. Cam Bedrosian, RP – Los Angeles Angels
Looking at his mug shot, Cam Bedrosian’s likeness to his Cy Young award winning father Steve is uncanny. Like his famous father (who won the NL top pitcher award in 1987), hard-throwing Cam is a reliever — though he’s a spot or long reliever rather than a closer like his Dad. The Angels first round pick in the 2010 draft (29th overall), has rewarded the big club for their selection, posting career best numbers in 2016 after two so-so seasons. The 25-year-old native of Senoia, GA, went 2-0 in 45 games, with a 1.12 ERA, a save and 51 strikeouts in 40.1 innings pitched. Also on the plus side, Bedrosian allowed just one home run in those 40.1 innings, as well as issuing just 14 walks, lowering his WHIP from an ungainly 1.770 in 2015 to just 1.091 in 2016. Bedrosian may yet become a closer like his Dad and is slated to open the Angels season in that position for the ailing Huston Street.
8. Julio Teheran, SP – Atlanta Braves
Put Julio Teheran on a team like the Chicago Cubs and we’re willing to bet he’d be a 20-game winner already. The 26-year-old native of Cartagena, Colombia has been dominant for four seasons with a mediocre Atlanta Braves team. In those four seasons, he has posted a record of 46-39, with an ERA of 3.32. Teheran has averaged 31.5 starts per season and struck out 694 batters in 795.1 innings pitched. In his best season (2014), for instance, he went 14-13 for the 79-83 Braves, posting a career low 2.89 ERA in 33 starts, along with 186 Ks in a career high 221 innings pitched. Teheran also had four complete games, two by shutout. The two-time all-star’s WHIP that season (1.081) was only surpassed by his mark in 2016 (1.053). Teheran was hard luck in 2016, fashioning just a 7-10 mark in 30 starts with a complete game shutout in the mix. He is a great pitcher who will only get better.
7. Michael Fulmer, SP – Detroit Tigers
As we said in the preamble above, Fulmer was one of the great young pitchers to debut in 2016. Originally drafted in the first round (44th overall) by the New York Mets in 2011, the 24-year-old native of Oklahoma City had a great enough 2016 campaign and Grapefruit League mark to be named the starter in the Tigers’ home opener this year (after the opening series on the road). His minor league career with the Mets was tepid at best and in 2015, he was part of the trade that sent Yoenis Cespedes from Detroit to New York. He pitched well in AA with Erie in 2015, but was a late cut from the big club in 2016. After just three starts with Toledo, however, Fulmer got called up in late April and never looked back. He won his first start, a 9-2 victory over Minnesota, and in his first home start on May 21 against Tampa, the eventual AL Rookie of the Year became the first Tigers’ rookie hurler since Pat Underwood in 1979 to fan 11 opposition hitters in a 5-4 win.
6. Cody Allen, RP – Cleveland Indians
Much was made of the acquisition and subsequent mastery of opposing hitters by Andrew Miller in 2016. And a solid guy like Cody Allen was able to operate in relative anonymity for an Indians team destined for greatness. The 28-year-old closer again posted stellar numbers in 2016, registering a 2.51 ERA, 32 saves and 87 strikeouts in just 68 innings pitched. In 67 games, he had a 3-5 record and career low 1.000 WHIP. His value in the post-season couldn’t be underestimated either, as the native of Orlando, FLA allowed just eight hits and five walks in 13.2 innings pitched in 10 games. Allen fanned an incredible 24 opposition hitters and logged six saves and no earned runs against as Cleveland took the World Series to the limit. Allen saved 90 games over the past three years, and has also delivered a 2.52 ERA with 12.0 strikeouts per nine, averaging 69 innings and 1.8 WAR.
5. Kyle Hendricks, SP – Chicago Cubs
The L.A. Angels and Texas Rangers’ loss is the Chicago Cubs gain. Drafted by the Angels in the 29th round in 2008, Hendricks didn’t sign and then pitched for Ivy League Dartmouth. He went back in the draft in 2011, where the Rangers picked him up in the eighth round. He got in one season of short ‘A’ ball with Spokane, before being dealt to Chicago in a trade for veteran Ryan Dempster in 2012. The native of Newport Beach, CA was the Cubs minor league pitcher of the year in 2013 and late in 2014 he became a starter, going 7-2 with a 2.46 ERA in 13 starts. After a so-so 2015, Hendricks put the hammer down in 2016, going 16-8 with a National League leading 2.13 ERA. Hendricks also had career highs in strikeouts (170) and innings pitched (190). His WHIP was a minuscule 0.979 and his 5.0 WAR led to him finishing third in Cy Young voting. Hendricks was great in the World Series, allowing just one earned run in two starts, fanning eight in nine innings pitched.
4. Roberto Osuna, RP – Toronto Blue Jays
It’s been a bit of a rough spring for Osuna — he got lit up in one WBC outing for Mexico and has pitched sparingly in Grapefruit League action — but hope springs eternal in the Big Smoke. The 22-year-old phenom seems to be fine now as neck stiffness has kept him out of the line-up this March. There is no denying he has the goods to be an all-time closer, given that he has logged 56 saves in 140 total games over his first two big league seasons. The crafty righthander has also fanned 157 opposing batters in 143.2 innings worked. He finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting in 2015 and posted a few firsts, including the youngest major leaguer to earn an extra inning save in the regular season, as well as the youngest pitcher to record a save in the playoffs. In 2016, Osuna became the youngest pitcher to reach 50 saves and in the post-season, he was outstanding, allowing just four hits and no earned runs in nine innings pitched, along with 10 strikeouts.
3. Jake Odorizzi, SP- Tampa Bay Rays
Through some trying times with Tampa and in a tough, tough American League East, young Jake Odorizzi has been pretty consistent. The 27-year-old starter was 10-6 for the Rays in 2016, starting 33 games and posting a 3.69 ERA. The righty from Breese, IL pitched in a career high 187.2 innings and struck out 166 batters. Odorizzi fashioned a 1.194 WHIP (second best of his career) and his Achilles Heel was allowing a career high 29 homers. His name has surfaced in recent months in trade rumors, yet Odorizzi is second on rotation depth chart and has been one of their more consistent starters. The Rays will be counting on him to provide depth in a fairly young rotation headed by Chris Archer. He’s the one wild card who needs to come through if the Rays are to be successful this season.
2. Jeurys Familia, RP – New York Mets
The metamorphosis of Jeurys Familia, middling minor league starter, to Jeurys Familia, lights out major league closer is near complete. After floundering in the minors for several years, the 27-year-old Dominican found a home in the Mets bullpen. Put it this way, in six seasons (118 games) of Rookie through AAA baseball, Familia’s ERA was 4.56. In 247 games with the Metropolitans, Familia’s ERA is a sparkling 2.46. The Santo Domingo native has become a premier closer, leading all firemen in saves last season with 51. This was just a year after posting 43 saves in his first full campaign as the Mets’ closer. In addition to his 51 saves, Familia struck out 84 batters in 77.2 innings, while surrendering just one homer and 63 hits. He was an all-star for the first time in 2016, too, and it probably won’t be his last nomination.
1. Aaron Sanchez, SP – Toronto Blue Jays
Funny how a year later, no one is talking about sending Aaron Sanchez to the bullpen. In early 2016, the thought was that Toronto’s promising right-hander would start in the bullpen. Good thing he pitched his way out of long relief stints. Sanchez was the Blue Jays’ best — and most consistent — starter last year, going 15-2 in 30 starts and leading the American League in ERA at 3.00. Of those 30 starts, 24 of them were quality, the seventh best mark in all of baseball. Sanchez mixed his pitches up well enough to strike out 161 batters in 192 innings, while giving up just 15 homers to lead the AL in HR9 at 0.7. An all-star for the first time in his fledgling career, the 24-year-old Californian is just getting warmed up. He is also an impending free agent and will command big bucks to stay in Toronto.