Waiver Wire: Don't give up on young pitchers
So Taijuan Walker and Carlos Rodon haven't lit the world on fire this season? If they're still on your waiver wire, our Chris Towers says it's time to grab them.
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Ah, the life of the young pitcher. One day, you're the toast of the town, the next savior who will provide power to the team's championship hopes with your electric arm. Beware, however, if you don't immediately pull off your best Dwight Gooden or Jose Fernandez impression, you'll be branded a bust, the product of a prospect system that inevitably overhypes unproven and ultimately unworthy players.
Taijuan Walker has already experienced that cycle and Calros Rodon might be a bad month away from it. However, both players have shown over their last two outings that writing off anyone with their kind of talent is a fool's errand.
Taijuan Walker, Mariners (68 percent owned)
Walker has been a top-20 prospect in Baseball America's preseason rankings on three separate occasions, but hadn't been able to stick in the majors before this season. After nine starts this season, with a 7.33 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio below 2.0, it looked like Walker was on his way back to the minors. The 22-year-old looked like he had no idea where the strike zone was, with 23 walks in 43 innings, while also allowing eight home runs in nine starts. He still had the electric stuff that made him one of the most promising young talents in the game, but Walker didn't seem to know how to best employ it. His swinging strike rate was just 8.8 percent. Something appears to have clicked in his last two starts as he has run through a pair of solid lineups, first tossing eight shutout innings against the Indians before limiting the Yankees to three runs over another eight-inning stint. He has 17 strikeouts over those 16 innings of work, and most importantly, just one walk while throwing more than two-thirds of his pitches for strikes. He has a swinging strike rate or 10.5 percent in those two starts and did it against lineups that featured just two right-handed bats between them. Walker's inconsistency certainly makes it difficult to rely on him, but with his talent the lightbulb could flick on at any time. That potential is worth a spot on your roster.
Carlos Rodon, White Sox (71 percent owned)
Rodon is more or less the left-handed version of Walker, right down to the electric stuff and inconsistent command. His results have mostly been better than Walker's, but he did walk 15 batters in his first three starts -- an unsustainable rate even if he did have a pair of quality starts in that span. The issue for Rodon wasn't so much that he wasn't throwing strikes, but that opposing hitters were having no trouble laying off his pitches out of the zone, forcing him to work inside the zone. Even if you can throw in the mid-90s with movement and twirl one of the league's best sliders, major-league hitters aren't going to have much trouble with pitches in the strike zone. You need to get batters to chase to rack up swings and misses, and that's what he has done over the last two starts. Rodon has a 14.0 percent swinging strike rate, including a whopping 19 percent against the Rangers Thursday, the majority of which came outside the strike zone. Rodon is still mostly a two-pitch pitcher -- his changeup is a work in progress -- but the upside he has shown makes him far too valuable to leave on waivers, just like Walker.
Vidal Nuno, Mariners (1 percent owned)
Nuno probably doesn't have much appeal in mixed leagues, even ones where you are starting nine pitchers per team. After all, he isn't even in the Mariners rotation following the trade. However, he does have experience as a starter and posted a 3.76 ERA in 83 2/3 innings after a trade to Arizona last season. He is a fly-ball pitcher, which didn't play well in Yankee Stadium last season, but could work out alright in Safeco even with the combination of Mark Trumbo, Nelson Cruz and Seth Smith manning the outfield corners. His 3.76 ERA and 1.09 WHIP post-trade last season were backed up by a 3.90 FIP, the kind of numbers that could have a lot of appeal in league-specific formats. Owners in AL-only leagues should be willing to give Nuno a long look even before he gets placed in the rotation, because it seems inevitable he will end up there before long.
Welington Castillo, Diamondbacks (3 percent owned)
On his third team in two months, it's hard to get too excited about Castillo. He is hitting just .162/.213/.279 for the season, and hasn't shown much at either of his two stops. However, he won't need to show much to wrest the starting catcher job from Jordan Pacheco or Jarrod Saltalamacchia and he has been Fantasy relevant in the very recent past. He finished 2014 as the 28th ranked catcher in Rotisserie leagues and was 19th in 2013. His upside isn't terribly high, but Castillo's swing generates a lot of fly balls, which could play up in Chase Field. In two-catcher formats or NL-only leagues, Castillo should be on your radar.
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