2004 Rookie Analysis: The Starters

In Part 2 of 3, InsidethePark.com evaluates the effect of the rookie starting pitchers that threw their first major league pitches in 2004. <br><br> Even considering the tough seasons by two of the M's top three pitching prospects, the emergence of a certain left-hander greatly aided the group to grade out better than expected.



Heading into 2004 the Mariners were set with their starting five having just come off of a season where each of the five made each scheduled start. After a feat like that you'd think there would be very little chance of the club having issues putting together a rotation any time in the subsequent future.

How quickly things change.

The M's traded their ace, received the news that their No. 2 starter had an elbow injury, and their 3rd starter turns 42 before the club will have their managerial replacement for recently departed Bob Melvin.

Now with the off season upon them, the Mariners will look to elsewhere to help the restructuring of the starting pitching.

But instead of tossing out the kind of dough it would take to land two top-of-the-rotation starters, they probably have an opportunity to hand the keys to at least one of the spots to an arm that is already in the organization.

LH-Bobby Madritsch
The M's called up Madritsch after the Major League All-Star break and may never feel the need to look back. The left-hander made 15 appearances, 11 starts, and pretty much sewed up a rotation spot by posting a 6-3 record and a 3.27 ERA in 88 innings of work.

The primary numbers for the 28-year-old are only part of the story. Not to mention his route to the majors through the independent leagues, Madritsch had a frustrating first half in Triple-A Tacoma due to an oblique injury that sidelined him on two occasions. Had it not been for the two stints on the DL, the Chicago area native would have undoubtedly been the first starter called up from the minors.

The most impressive aspect of Madritsch's game is his poise and maturity on the mound as well as his ability to adapt to pitching certain hitters in specific ways. This ability allowed the southpaw to consistently get the game into seventh inning and he never failed to finish the sixth until the second-to-last start of the year.

Using a fastball clocked in the 90-93-mph range, an above-average slider and a tantalizing change up, Madritsch keeps hitters guessing for the duration of his outing which stretched the distance in his final start of 2004.

Madritsch will enter spring training with a starting role in hand, allowing the club to spend some of the available payroll on the offense.


RH-Clint Nageotte
Nageotte was not ready when the M's came calling this past summer, although waiting until September may not have helped. The 23-year-old right-hander just wasn't himself from day one this season and finished the year on the DL with a sore lower back.

One of the M's top pitchers in the farm system, Nageotte came into this season looking to polish off his pitches and sharpen his arm action and delivery.

Instead, the kid from Ohio battled all year with command problems and never fully recovered his velocity from years past. Typically armed with a fastball in the 90-94-mph range, Nageotte struggled to reach 90 or 91 and spent much of the season sitting in the high-80's. When you're a power pitcher with two plus power pitches, you can't lose three to five miles per hour off your fastball and feel comfortable throwing it to set up the slider.

Nageotte's 2004 season was one of those that he very well could just chalk up as a lost season, though he will have his time in the big leagues to remember forever.

Considering the rest of the 40-man roster, Nageotte will likely start the 2005 season in the Tacoma starting rotation, which is surely to serve him well as he tries to put a disappointing '04 in the rear-view mirror.


RH-Cha Seung Baek
Baek never really hit stride in Triple-A and had very few outings that raised any eyebrows. The 23-year-old waited for his final start in the majors to toss that performance out on the table.

Rarely getting past the fifth inning with Tacoma, Baek repeated this trend in his first four starts as a major leaguer.

Usually getting much too deep into counts on a regular basis, the right-hander hits the wall and is removed earlier than starting pitchers are desired to do so.

Baek missed nearly two months with a finger injury while in Triple-A which could have greatly affected his stamina once he finally returned.

Armed with a 90-mph fastball and a solid assortment of off speed pitches, including a plus change up, Baek will likely begin his 2005 season in the Rainiers rotation in Triple-A, looking to prove he can get the ball to the setup man rather than the long reliever.


LH-Travis Blackley
Blackley's 2004 campaign was as up and down as the weather in Seattle in the Spring, and the left-hander ended his year on the DL with tendonitis in his shoulder and elbow.

The sore arm was partly responsible for the large dip in velocity that Blackley suffered while in the midst of his first call up to the big leagues.

Generally touching the 86-89-mph range, the 21-year-old uses a slider and a solid change as his out pitches. When Blackley is on, a lot of hitters break bats as the cutter rides in on right-handers and away from lefties. After his first two starts with Seattle, not many splinters were surfacing during Blackley's stay on the hill, usually meaning they were making solid contact.

Depending on the progress of the tendonitis issues, Blackley is likely headed for Triple-A Tacoma. If the Australian-born southpaw can shake the sore arm and regain the live arm he showed early this past season, he could break right back into the majors if the need for a starter arises.


Overall
Some of the luster was lost off the M's top group of starting pitching prospects with the disappointing season from Nageotte and the big-league struggles of Blackley. But the surprising showing by Madritsch saved the day and brought a lot of hope to the younger crop of pitchers that made their debuts in 2004.

If GM Bill Bavasi can scoop up a solid starter off the free agent market, only Madritsch will likely have a rotation spot come opening day. Should the club suffer any injuries to the rotation, Nageotte, Blackley and Baek will be ripe and ready for the picking. Nageotte and Baek could also fill roles in relief if the injury bug hits the bullpen.


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