How does the industry define an ace? Is it on a performance level? A scouting level? Some combination or both, or something more esoteric? "I think every team has an ace," said one American League scouting director. "There is someone on the staff who is a leader both on and off the field, but I don't think ace necessarily equates to No. 1 starter."
Defining true aces who are both staff leaders and No. 1 starters proves to be more difficult. "They have to be able to lead a championship level staff," said another AL scouting executive. "They have to contribute to winning games every fifth day, to shutting down lineups every fifth day." To do that takes special talent, and you can't be special without tools. "To be an ace, and sustain that title, it's about the stuff to dominate and overmatch opponents," the exec continued. "I'm talking about 7s and 8s on the scouting report [referring to the 2-to-8 or 20-to-80 scouting scale]."
In researching aces, I noted that there is nearly no such thing as a "surprise" ace. When you think about the elite starting pitchers in baseball, you are talking about players who were seen as potential aces as prospects. The only exception at this time is Cliff Lee, who was seen more as a No. 3 type when coming up through the Cleveland system. The other most recent surprise ace is Johan Santana, who it should be noted is also left-handed.
So who are the future aces? Here are seven names to keep in mind, while also remembering that aces are without question the most special commodities in the game, and even if just one of these players turns into that year-after-year Cy Young candidate, that might be exceeding expectations: