Braves Pitchers, Hisashi Iwakuma, AFL Rising Stars: Prospect Chatter

Today’s Chatter topics involve a look at the Braves’ options for the final rotation spot, the best Japanese pitcher not named Yu and the Rising Stars rosters.

1) A Trade With Minor Ramifications (Get It?)

As you, no doubt, know by now, the Braves paid the Indians about $10 million to help them get rid of Derek Lowe, who hasn’t really been a relevant fantasy option since he left the Dodgers. But neither Lowe, nor the player Atlanta received in return (minor league reliever Chris Jones), is why this deal impacts the 2012 fantasy landscape. For that, we have to look at the potential replacements in the Braves rotation.

According to GM Frank Wren, the two top candidates are Mike Minor and Julio Teheran. Both are top prospects with big-league experience. Minor, in fact, no longer qualifies as a rookie, having pitched more than 120 innings in the majors across 2010 and 2011, and Teheran is considered the second-best pitching prospect in all of baseball behind the Rays’ Matt Moore. So there’s a good chance that whichever one takes Lowe’s spot will wind up being a better fantasy option than the departed sinkerballer.

While I like Teheran more long-term, I’ll give the edge to the 23-year-old Minor for 2012, primarily for two reasons. First, he’s left-handed, which would make him the only southpaw in a rotation that is otherwise filled with righties in Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens and Brandon Beachy. Second, Minor is more experienced and more polished at this point, which not only puts him in position to help the Braves immediately next year, it also allows the organization to let Teheran continue to develop and improve at Triple-A.

As for what to expect from a fantasy standpoint out of Minor, he’s struggled some in his 123.1 IPs, posting a 4.74 ERA and 1.52 WHIP. But most of the ERA damage was done in 2010 (5.98 ERA over 40.2 IPs), and he’s also pitched better than those numbers indicate on the surface — his career FIP and xFIP are 3.51 and 3.63, respectively — thanks mainly to a passable 3.0 BB/9 and strong 8.8 K/9. Minor also shouldn’t have quite the innings limit he’s seen so far in the majors — he pitched more than 6 innings just once in his 15 starts last year — because he’s thrown 150 and 180 innings between the majors and minors in his first two pro seasons.

The biggest thing to watch is how hard the lefty is getting hit, because he’s a fly ball pitcher who’s surrendered 10.7 H/9 as a Brave, so a few blow ups are likely. Still, he should whiff enough batters to keep his owners happy, and when he’s on, he could perform as an SP3/4. I’d be targeting him as an upside guy late in drafts (think: Rounds 16-20 in 10- or 12-team mixed leagues), with the idea of using him as a matchups play to start the season, and he just might prove to be better than that.

Now there’s always the possibility that Minor falters or one/both of Hanson or Jurrjens — not the healthiest pups last year — hit the DL for a stretch. In that case, Teheran would likely get the first crack at a rotation spot. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him sneak in 10-15 starts over the course of the season, either for one of those reasons above or because he’s simply pitching that well at Gwinnett. We are, after all, talking about a guy who went 15-5, with a 2.55 ERA and 1.18 WHIP at Triple-A — as a 20-year-old. He was less effective in his stints with Atlanta as an emergency/fill-in starter (5.03 ERA, 1.48 WHIP), but it was his first taste and just 19.2 IPs.

Beyond Teheran, there’s also fellow righty prospect Randall Delgado, who I’d be remiss to omit, since he looked ready to contribute in his 35 IPs down the stretch (2.83, 1.23). So yeah, Atlanta’s unloading Lowe not only helped them improve their rotation via addition by subtraction, it also adds a few intriguing sleeper names in the fantasy realm.

2) Japanese Pitching Import (Non-Yu Division)

As for some news you might not have heard, Hisashi Iwakuma recently confirmed that he will exercise his right to free agency. While fellow Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish has been getting all the pub, I think Iwakuma is someone worth pointing out, too.

The 30-year-old right-hander was actually posted last offseason by the Rakuten Golden Eagles, his NPB team, and the Oakland A’s paid $19.1 million to negotiate with Iwakuma. Alas, the two sides could not reach a deal, so Oakland regained the posting fee and Iwakuma returned to Japan, where he went just 6-7 in 17 games this season, but his other stats, including a 2.42 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 6.8 K/9, were right in line with his career, despite the fact that he dealt with shoulder injury this year. Having pitched 10 seasons in Japan, he now becomes an outright free agent, meaning once the Japan Series is over — which could be as soon as Saturday or as late as Tuesday — Iwakuma will be free to negotiate with all 30 MLB teams.

Iwakuma’s best season was 2008 when he won 21 games with a league-best 1.87 ERA to earn the Sawamura Award as the best pitcher in Japan and Pacific League MVP honors. Then at the 2009 WBC, he led all pitchers with 20 innings pitched, while sporting a 1.35 ERA and allowing just 12 hits against 15 whiffs, and he was in line to win the championship game against South Korea before — of all people — Darvish blew the 3-2 lead in a game Japan went on to win extra innings.

Given that he doesn’t measure up to Darvish in age (30), size (6’2″, 170 pounds) or stuff (low-to-mid-90s fastball), Iwakuma isn’t going to seem as worthwhile a fantasy option next year. But that doesn’t mean he won’t help owners, either. Obviously, it’s difficult to project how he’ll do, especially before we know where he’ll sign. And of course, there’s the stigma surrounding the subpar production from Japanese imports. But is there a chance Iwakuma could perform capably, a la Hiroki Kuroda, another older right-handed Japanese pitcher who came over a few years ago to little fanfare? I wouldn’t bank on it, certainly; but I also don’t see why not. For what it’s worth, Baseball America mentioned in last year’s Prospect Handbook that, had Iwakuma signed with the A’s, he would have ranked as their top prospect, ahead of 2009 first-rounder Grant Green. So if you don’t feel like using up what will most likely have to be a pick in the first 5-8 rounds on Darvish, you should be able to score Iwakuma several rounds later. Remember, the name of the game in fantasy is value, and Iwakuma should have that on his side, compared to Darvish.

3) Rise, Stars

Prospecters, be sure to tune into MLB Network — or at least set your DVRs — this Saturday, Nov. 5, at 8:10 p.m. EST. That’s when you’ll get a chance to get a look at some of baseball’s best youngins in the Arizona Fall League’s Rising Stars Game. Plenty of big names will be featured, including:

Bryce Harper, Nationals — THE Bryce Harper, 19-year-old moonshot expert
Mike Trout, Angels — If you missed him in MLB this year, don’t miss this
Gerrit Cole, Pirates — 2011’s top overall pick throws high-90s heat
Danny Hultzen, Mariners — No. 2 pick could reach Seattle, like, soon
Wil Myers, Royals — Disappointed after breakout 2010; still future stud
Jed Bradley, Brewers — 6’4″ lefty was second of team’s two RD 1 picks
Will Middlebrooks, Red Sox — 3B of the future, post-Youkilis
Michael Choice, A’s — Oakland’s top 2010 pick bashed 30 HRs this year
Anthony Gose, Blue Jays — As dynamic — and enigmatic — as they come
Mike Mahtook, Rays — Former LSU OF was team’s second pick in June
Tim Wheeler, Rockies — 30-HR season in 2011 could become norm in Coors
Nick Franklin, Mariners — One of the better SS ‘spects in the game
Matt Adams, Cardinals — A big boy — and potential Pujols replacement
Matt Dominguez, Marlins — Could be first 3B in Miami Marlins’ history
Jean Segura, Angels — Speedy, athletic, injury-prone MI
Jaff Decker, Padres — OBP specialist could see most pitches in game
Brad Boxberger, Reds — Power-armed reliever should be in pen next year

Cole and Hultzen will start against each other on the mound, which will give viewers a peek at how the top two selections in the most recent draft stack up just five months later.

For a full rundown of the rosters, click here.

Jason Catania is an MLB Lead Writer for Bleacher Report who also contributes to ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Insider and MLB Rumor Central, focusing on baseball and fantasy content. When he was first introduced to fantasy baseball, Derek Jeter had 195 career hits, Jamie Moyer had 72 wins and Matt Stairs was on team No. 3. You can follow him on Twitter: @JayCat11

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any idea why iwakuma’s innings dropped to 119 from 201 last season? if i were a GM i’d be scared off by a potential drop in his K rate, though if he could keep his control (1.4 BB/9) it might not be such an issue.