A couple of weeks ago, Nate Ravitz of ESPN Fantasy and I were discussing the Pirates' Charlie Morton in the context of which rookie pitchers in the National League might have some impact during the second half of the season. Here are a couple of candidates who are pitching at Triple-A:
Carlos Carrasco, SP, Phillies
His minor league pitching coach, Rod Nichols, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that Carrasco's stuff has been "electric" despite a 4.92 ERA at Triple-A this season. More than one scout has told me about his good stuff while mentioning some variation of the phrase "despite the ERA."
After tearing up the low minors, Carrasco struggled in his first exposure to Double-A in 2007 but showed improved command of his fastball in repeating that level last season. This season, he has struck out 84 batters and walked just 25 in 86 innings. He has induced many ground balls in his 15 starts but has still needed a couple of good starts of late just to get his ERA under 5.00. More on that in a moment.
Carrasco's fastball sits at 91-94 mph with good life in the zone, and he can touch a bit higher if he needs to. His changeup is a plus pitch with sink and fade, but he occasionally tips it with his arm speed. His curveball is a "slurvy" pitch from 72-77 mph that can be an average pitch in the majors. The stuff is there for him to be an effective three-pitch hurler at the big level, especially because he can throw strikes with all his pitches, and his command of his changeup and curve has slowly improved.
The knocks on Carrasco have been that he lacks consistency, pitches soft, doesn't challenge hitters enough and pitches "backward" too often, using his secondary stuff a bit too often instead of trusting his fastball. He needs to work on the mental aspect of pitching and have better pitch sequences. He still needs to do a better job repeating his delivery, especially from the stretch, as he often allows his front side to fly open, leaving his arm to try to play catch-up and causing his pitches to elevate. He has had some issues working with runners on base, which have led to his high ERA.
He has a relatively simple, compact delivery that should be repeatable, so he has definite potential for improvement. He just speeds up the game too often in crucial moments.
Carrasco's strikeout and strikeout-to-walk ratios are nice, but I think there's a good chance he'll struggle at the big league level at this juncture of his career. That said, he still has a high ceiling long-term, and a lot of time (he's 22 years old) to reach it.
With Antonio Bastardo on the disabled list, the Phillies will need a starter for Friday, and it could be time for the Venezuelan right-hander to make his big league debut.
Brad Lincoln, SP, Pirates
Lincoln was the fourth overall pick in the 2006 draft out of the University of Houston. He made just six professional starts before needing Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss the entire 2007 season. He came back last year and made 19 starts at the Class A level, but his stuff wasn't back yet, and neither was his command.
Another year removed from the surgery, both have started to come around, as Lincoln posted a 2.28 ERA in 13 starts at Double-A, striking out 65 and walking just 18 in 75 innings, to earn a promotion to Triple-A, where he has made two starts thus far.
The 24-year-old's fastball sits at 92-93 mph with plus movement -- he can get sink and some lateral action -- and can even elevate his velocity on occasion. He doesn't have that upper-90s extra gear that he did before the surgery, but he can still touch 95 mph now and then. His curveball is a plus pitch at 76-80 mph with a hard, short break. He also features a low-80s changeup that he doesn't throw much, and although it's below-average right now because of its inconsistency, it projects to at least average.
Another scout who has seen Lincoln pitch this season called him a "Chad Billingsley-type who 'gets it' before Chad did about how to pitch" and raved about his command, especially of his fastball.
"He pounds the zone, keeps it low and can dial it up high on you if he wants," the scout said. "I was really, really impressed, and this was during an outing in which he struggled. He doesn't overthrow and doesn't muscle up to try to strike out batters."
Even though he's just a 6-foot righty, Lincoln's high arm slot gives him a decent plane, and although he has a stocky frame, he's athletic for his size. He's also as aggressive as he has been as a pro and a competitor who doesn't back down, and he has shown an aptitude to make adjustments quickly.
"He's at least a third starter for me, maybe even a two," the scout said, and given the Pirates' well-documented poor track record with first-round pitchers, they will take that, as will fantasy owners when the time comes. He's not far off.
• The Rangers called up Julio Borbon this week, but with Marlon Byrd hitting well of late and Josh Hamilton set to return soon, Borbon's stay in the majors might not last long. He's up to provide another center-field option until Hamilton returns.
I wrote about Borbon during this past Arizona Fall League:
A supplemental first-round pick in 2007, Borbon split '08 between high-Class A and Double-A and hit .321 with 53 steals. He was a true 80 runner at the University of Tennessee before breaking his ankle, but his speed has bounced back nicely. He's so good at making contact that he really doesn't worry too much about patience at the plate, which means his OBP is always going to be an issue (29 walks in 546 at-bats in '08), but there's a lot to like about the rest of the package. He has great range in center field, plus makeup and an excellent work ethic. He hasn't hit for a ton of pop yet, but there is still a bit more projection in him, and he should eventually have some pull power. He's squaring up balls consistently, and even his outs have been hard-hit balls right at fielders. He needs to be firmly on your radar screen.
Borbon was hitting .298 with 19 steals at Triple-A before getting the call and already had drawn almost as many walks as he did all last season. He's not quite ready for prime time, but if for some reason he gets some extra at-bats, his steals potential should be enticing to AL-only players.
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