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A Tale of Two Young Pitchers

Team A has a 20-year-old hot shot pitcher drafted in the first round with a power sinkerball but fewer than 150 minor league innings under his belt.

Team B has a 22-year-old left-handed pitcher drafted in the first round with three above-average pitches but no significant minor league experience.

If you're the manager or general manager of either team do you consider inserting your young stud into the Opening Day roster this year?

If you said yes, congratulations, you're employed by Team A -- the Detroit Tigers -- and are ready to give the ball to Rick Porcello.

If you said no, you're collecting paychecks signed by Team B owner Peter Angelos of the Baltimore Orioles and sitting on Brian Matusz's talent.

Both the Tigers and Orioles are blessed with the aforementioned conundrum, a young talent that appears major league ready but with no proven experience to justify such a large jump in difficulty. The difference between the thinking of the two teams may be a matter of dollars and cents as well as expectations.

Detroit has rookie right-hander Rick Porcello in camp this spring to whom they gave a $7 million deal coming out of high school in 2007. Porcello never moved above Class A in his first year of professional ball but that hasn't stopped the Tigers from anointing him the organization's future nearly as quickly as his mid-90s sinkerball hits the catcher's mitt.

However, instead of allowing him to mature in Detroit's minor league system, Fox's Ken Rosenthal reports that the Tigers are strongly considering him for the team's rotation, a decision that's not entirely based upon Porcello's talent.

With a $130 million payroll, the Tigers are expected to compete in a wide open AL Central and most certainly do not want to duplicate last season's last place finish. Add to that the spring struggles of Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson, Jeremy Bonderman's injury concerns and Justin Verlander trying to bounce back from a disappointing 2008 and suddenly you can make a case for hitching your wagon to a rising star.

Perhaps an even more compelling reason is that Manager Jim Leyland has yet to be given a contract extension beyond this year. To paraphrase former New York Giants head coach Jim Fassel, perhaps Leyland is ready to put his chips in the middle for this season.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the Baltimore Orioles.

The Orioles have few expectations for this season and for all intents and purposes seem to be readying themselves to compete in 2010 or 2011. Further, Manager Dave Trembley and General Manager Andy MacPhail seem to be firmly entrenched in their roles and are not under any pressure to win now.

As a result, neither the front office nor the manager is leaning towards rushing Brian Matusz along even though he's proven to be a more than capable pitcher this spring.

In fact, the organization's best pitchers will likely be toiling in the minor leagues this year along with Matusz as the Orioles are hoping to slowly season a slew of talented youngsters.

Obviously there are no guarantees in developing talent, especially pitchers. Injuries and other unforeseen obstacles can prevent a player from reaching their potential but what do you guys think? Are the Tigers justified in seriously considering Rick Porcello or should they follow the Orioles' path and consider their young arms too sacred to be thrown into the fire?

By CJ Holley  |  March 13, 2009; 10:07 AM ET
Categories:  Orioles , Tigers  
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We've been debating this a lot up here, and it tends to break down into two camps:

A. The knowledgeable, patient baseball fans who have seen this team damage pitchers by rushing them before (Matt Riley, Daniel Cabrera, Hayden Penn, etc). We'd rather make Matusz, Tillman, and Arrieta force the issue by proving they're ready at Bowie and/or Norfolk, since we know realistically that 2010 is still part of the rebuilding process.

B. The impatient, angry folks who think Angelos is the devil, that the Orioles don't really want to win, and that Oswald couldn't possibly have acted alone.

Maybe that's not the fairest way to frame the argument, but it's not far off. We can afford to be patient with Matusz. He'll be up soon enough.


Posted by: neal_s | March 13, 2009 10:46 AM | Report abuse

I think the Orioles are taking the right approach. Despite the ages, there's a big difference between some minor league experience and essentially none at all.

I do expect Matusz to be up sometime this year, but hopefully not until July or so.

Posted by: dockboggs | March 13, 2009 11:41 AM | Report abuse

If you're the Orioles, why start the clock on a young pitcher when you're not going to compete. Not only does he have no Major League experience, but you'd want to seriously limit his innings and bring him up slowly. Starting him off at the beginning of the year would essentially mean ending his season after about 140 innings, or 2/3 of the way through the season most likely.

Why not have him pitch 120-140 innings in the Minors (his high in innings pitched in college was 123), then in 2010 he'll be good for 150-170ish innings, which would be a solid starter if he's called up two months or so into the season.

This way you're protecting him as a player and your organization in terms of service time.

Posted by: adampschroeder | March 13, 2009 12:43 PM | Report abuse

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