x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

MLB: Younger pitchers moving up faster in the big leagues

Houston Astros select Stanford's Mark Appel as first overall in MLB draft as he is the latest college player who may leapfrog the minor leagues, writes Gregg Patton.

Houston Astros selected Stanford pitcher Mark Appel as first overall pick in the MLB draft. Larry Goren / AP Photo
Houston Astros selected Stanford pitcher Mark Appel as first overall pick in the MLB draft. Larry Goren / AP Photo

Anticipation is getting the best of them.

When Houston Astros made the Stanford right-hander Mark Appel the top pick, in the Major League Baseball draft earlier this month, the MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds predicted the college pitcher would be in the big leagues by July.

It was hard to fault Reynolds's over-the-top enthusiasm. Everyone loves the new wave of ultra-young, super-talented pitchers making major impacts, the ones who skip the traditional four years of minor-league bus rides and fast-food hamburgers and going straight to the big leagues.

When they perform like Shelby Miller, 22, of St Louis Cardinals, or Jose Fernandez, 20, of Miami Marlins, there is no keeping them down.

They are just two of the bumper crop of stellar "kid" pitchers who have less than a year of MLB service under their belts. With pitchers getting better instruction at earlier ages and the college game providing solid competition, long stays in the minor leagues for top prospects are not always necessary.

Curious teams want to quickly identify their prodigies.

"When you get a 22-year-old making pitches, you hope it's something you can hang your hat on for a long time," Clint Hurdle, the manager of Pittsburgh Pirates, told the PittsburghPost-Gazette earlier this year.

The Pirates introduced their hoped-for diamond last week. Gerrit Cole, 22, the No 1 pick in the 2011 draft, gave up two runs over 6.1 innings and beat San Francisco Giants.

What took him so long? Kevin Gausman, 22, who was pitching for LSU at this time last year, has already made five starts for Baltimore. Michael Wacha, 21, who was at Texas A&M a year ago, has three starts for St Louis.

Then again, Gausman (0-3, 7.66 earned run average) was sent back to the minors last week, as was Wacha. Wacha pitched well, but the Cardinals are loaded with arms, including another rookie, Trevor Lyons, (3.51 ERA) who, at 25, is a relative greybeard.

Not everyone can be Matt Harvey, 24, (5-1, 2.04) of the New York Mets, who debuted in July 2012. Or the rookies Tony Cingrani, 23, (3-0, 3.15) of Cincinnati; Julio Teheran, 22, (3.62) of Atlanta; Miller (7-4, 2.21); or Fernandez (3.11).

Or "old-timer" Patrick Corbin, 23, (9-0, 2.28) of Arizona, who is 15 months into his career.

The next big thing could be Zach Wheeler, 23, of the Mets, the sixth pick in 2009, whose first game comes tomorrow.

Anticipation? New York reporters have been asking about Wheeler since spring training, leading an exasperated Mets manager Terry Collins to say one rookie could not turn around a season.

"There's been so much made of this poor kid," Collins said. "He hasn't pitched a game in the big leagues and it looks like he's a finalist for the Cy Young [award]."

Blame it on the other kids.

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