Superior young pitching is a highly valued commodity in today's MLB. When you look around the league, there are a lot of special young arms. As baseball moves out of the steroid era, this youth is ever so more important. Although there are some teams who have the financial aptitude to assemble All-Star studded rotations through free agency and trades - such as the Phillies, Red Sox, and Yankees - most clubs rely on prospects that they must develop themselves.
The defending World Champion San Francisco Giants' surprising postseason run was fueled by the success of their rotation. In Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, and Madison Bumgarner, the Giants had four aces. Interestingly enough, these four stars were all home grown. San Francisco drafted Cain 25th overall in the first round of the 2002 draft, Sanchez in the 27th round in 2004, Lincecum 10th overall in the first round in 2006, and Bumgarner 10th overall in the first round in 2007.
This kind of success in the draft is a rarity. However, there are an increasing number of teams trying to follow in San Francisco's footsteps by winning with young pitching. Look at the Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, just to name a few. As evidenced by San Francisco last Fall, good pitching can compensate for offensive inefficiencies. Going into last year's postseason, the Giants weren't supposed to beat the Phillies because of their weak offense. It didn't matter. Philadelphia's power-laden lineup wasn't able to overcome San Francisco's young aces.
Although they have struggled of late , the Seattle Mariners know a thing or two about developing young pitching. Seattle traded for Randy Johnson, a player with severe control issues, early in his career. After a rocky start, including multiple 10-walk outings, Johnson broke out during his second season in the emerald city (he threw a no-hitter on June 2, 1990, against the Detroit Tigers). We all know how the rest of the big unit's career turned out.
Then there's King Felix, who won last year's AL Cy Young Award despite playing for a 100-loss team. The 25-year-old, who may soon find himself in pinstripes, is now arguably the game's best pitcher. In 2006, in order to avoid overworking their best prospect, Seattle limited Hernandez to 200 innings total (including spring training). I think it's safe to say that their strategy has worked out. Limiting young pitchers is tough, especially when they are so talented. The Washington Nationals learned that the hard way with Stephen Strasburg.
Seattle is choosing to do what has worked for them in the past. Michael Pineda is one of the best young pitchers in today's game. At 6-7, 260, the 22-year-old dominates opposing hitters with his mid- to high-90's fastball. So far this year, Pineda is 4-2 with a 2.583 ERA. Seattle has indicated that, similar to King Felix in 2006, Pineda will have an innings limit this year.
The Mariners are making the right decision. Why risk an injury when there is no hope of contending anyway? By the looks of it, Pineda could develop into one of the league's best pitchers (he already may be). With Felix Hernandez's possible departure on the horizon, Seattle can't afford to compromise the future of his replacement. I would sure love to see what kind of numbers this kid could put up in a full season of work this year. Yet, I would love it even more to see him dominate with that 95+ mph fastball for many years into the future.