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    A Pair of Rookie Arms You Need to Know About

    Brandon C. Williams April 23, 2016 11:02PM EST
    We’re now in the early portion of the season in which — either by necessity or sheer want — teams begin recalling top prospects. Friday saw the announcement that three of the game’s best rookie arms (Braves righty Aaron Blair, Red Sox lefty Henry Owens and Rays southpaw Blake Snell) would make their in-season debuts this weekend (Owens made 11 appearances last year), whetting the appetite for Fantasy owners in need of a jolt to their languishing staffs.

    The question is whether this trio is capable of immediate deliverance or if the early investment results in the type of initial growing pains that leaves a sour impression when it comes to the long-term gain. Are we looking at a potential Lance McCullers or Steven Matz-like run of success or just the big-name kid who fluctuates between flashes and frustration every five days? My partner Michael Florio touched on Blair earlier this week, so I’ll bring my focus toward Owens and Snell.

    Blake Snell projects as a future staff ace. Photo Credit: Twitter

    Blake Snell projects as a future staff ace. Photo Credit: Twitter

    Henry Owens: As mentioned, Owens, who will get the start at Houston on Sunday, has experience, so his debut won’t be as anticipated as Blair or Snell. Having missed out on winning the fifth spot in the rotation, Owens went back down to Triple-A and had a 1-1 record with a 1.00 ERA in three starts with Pawtucket. What had to have impressed the Boston brass was Owens rediscovering his strikeout form.

    After averaging close to ten strikeouts per nine innings in 2014, Owens’ K/9 numbers dipped to 7.58 K/9 in 122.1 frames in Triple-A before taking a further decline (7.14) in 63 innings with the Red Sox. His changeup has shown more bite to go along with a fastball that has returned to the low 90s after averaging 89.1 mph with Boston last season. As a result, Owens was averaging 11 K/9, bringing his strikeout rate to 32.3 percent, numbers that are more in line with his pre-2015 production.

    Currently owned in just three percent of polled leagues, Owens is more of a filler type at this point, as the Red Sox project him to make a handful of starts until Joe Kelly (shoulder) returns from the disabled list. A solid showing could extend his audition since Boston is also currently without Eduardo Rodriguez, who is set to make the first of two minor league rehab starts before returning to the rotation in early May. I’d pass on Owens for the time being, as it doesn’t sound like a good use of FAAB money for someone who will likely be sent back down shortly. Owens will eventually stick in the majors. Given the state of the Red Sox rotation, he’ll very likely have an encore performance before the season ends.

    Blake Snell: Now we’re talking. Whereas Owens is more steak than sizzle, Snell is the type of prospect that feels like the full meal with dessert and the best bottle of (red) wine in the house. MLB.com’s 12th-best prospect will make his big league debut today against the Yankees, which resulted in his ownership more than quadrupling the seven percent ownership Snell had on Friday morning.

    While the plan is to give him a spot start and send him down, one has to think the Rays will be hard-pressed to keep Snell up if he makes a lasting impression. If you look at his minor league numbers, the only way you can imagine him being sent back would be if becomes extended batting practice.

    Oh, those numbers? Yes….why yes, let’s view them: 1-1 with a 2.51 ERA in 14.1 innings with a 13.19 K/9 mark that translates to fanning one of every three batters Snell has faced thus far. His K-BB mark is at 22.2 percent; I wouldn’t worry too much about the .273 batting average against that Snell had leading into his callup. Even with the hiked up rate of successful contact, Snell has held opponents to a .226 average since breaking into the pros as the 19th overall pick of the 2011 draft.

    Despite the threat of a one and done (for now) appearance, you’re going to break off FAAB bucks for Snell, who projects as a staff ace. The Rays may not be able to consistently hit water if you threw the batting order into the Atlantic, yet they’re pretty damn nifty when it comes to developing arms. The current rotation of Chris Archer, Drew Smyly, Jake Ordorizzi, Matt Moore and Erasmo Ramirez are each 27 and under, while Snell is just the tip of the next wave of young arms expected to push for a big league spot and/or become prime trade bait.

    Brent Honeywell could get fast tracked to majors by September, with Taylor Guerrieri, Jacob Faria and Chih-Wei Hu each closing in toward their respective major league debuts.

    A look at some other arms who could be one phone call away:

    Friday’s loss to the Red Sox dropped the Astros to 5-12, with much of the blame falling on a pitching staff that entered the night with a 4.99 ERA that ranked 27th in the majors. With only Dallas Keuchel sporting an ERA under 4.11 among the rotation, the team could move up either Francis Martes or David Paulino from Double-A and give them the seasoning they need at Triple-A in order to get their live arms into the fray before the season slowly gets away from them. Think they miss Vincent Velasquez right about now?

    The Rockies brought up Jon Gray for his first start of the season on Friday night, and while he gave up ten hits and five earned runs to the Dodgers in five innings of work, Gray also struck out ten in just 95 pitches. He struck out 11 batters in 8.2 frames of minor league ball before getting the nod to Denver. While Rockies pitchers are a death warrant to Fantasy league pitching staffs, Gray (owned in four percent of polled leagues) is worth the look in deeper formats while also an intriguing play in DFS formats, especially if the strikeouts remain a trend.

    Brewers lefty Josh Hader still remains in play as a starter in the eyes of the organization, yet his path to the majors would be accelerated if given the chance to work out of the bullpen. Considering Milwaukee’s 5.52 ERA is 29th, it may not be long before Hader becomes an option. He’s sporting a 0.69 ERA in three starts at Double-A while striking out 19 in 13 innings. One of the pieces the Brewers got from the Astros in the Carlos Gomez deal last July, Hader can light it up to 98 mph on the gun and would be an intriguing source of whiffs in NL-only formats if given the chance to come up.

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