Young players stole the show in 2013, and just four days into the 2014 season, several young pitchers are already making their mark. Youthful hurlers Michael Wacha, Jose Fernandez, and Chris Archer have turned in strong outings after making good showings in 2014.
The 24 year-old Gray, a Vanderbilt product, made his mark in 2013, striking out 25.7 percent of hitters in 64.2 innings for the Oakland Athletics and posting a 2.67 ERA. He then dueled Justin Verlander to a draw in Game Two of the ALDS, and was awarded the Game Five start. Gray handled the Cleveland Indians on Opening Day, throwing six shutout innings and striking out seven.
An excellent curveball highlight his arsenal, as well as a cutter, a new pitched he added for 2014. Undersized at 5’11, Gray has drawn Tim Hudson comparisons with his tenacious attitude on the mound. He’s already the best pitcher on the A’s staff.
The left-handed Cingrani, also a 24 year-old, throws more fastballs than any other starting pitcher in the major leagues, which is usually not a recipe for strikeouts. Nevertheless, he struck out 28.6 percent of hitters in 104.2 innings in 2013, and he made quick work of the St. Louis Cardinals Wednesday night. His fastball sat at 93-94, and topped out at 96, a couple ticks up from 2013.
Cingrani struck out nine Cards batters, and allowed just two hits in seven shutout frames. Of the 34 swings batters took at his fastball, just 11 were put in the field of play, and only one of those resulted in a hit. With that kind of dominance, he hardly needed a secondary pitch, and 11 of his 13 whiffs came off his fastball.
Paxton, the elder statesman of this group at 25, made a strong impression in four late-season starts with the Seattle Mariners in 2013, managing a 22.3 percent strikeout rate and a 1.50 ERA. He bewildered the Los Angeles Angels Wednesday, firing seven shutout inning. Over those seven innings, he fanned nine, and allowed only four batters, facing just three above the minimum.
The left-handed Paxton’s fastball averaged just a shade under 96 miles per hour, topping out at 99. In addition, he displayed a sharp curveball, which garnered seven whiffs on 17 offerings and 11 Angels swings. As if that wasn’t enough, Paxton also utilized a cutter and changeup. Paxton has excellent raw stuff, and his control has been sound after coming back from a knee injury. He’s just another reason for Mariners fans to be excited, and they’ve had plenty in the season’s first few days.
The last couple seasons have delivered an impressive crop of dominant young pitchers such as Chris Sale, Yu Darvish and Matt Harvey among others. Early returns on the 2014 season indicate that it will be no different.