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This blog was born out of a Dynasty Rankings thread originally begun in October, 2006 at the Footballguys.com message boards. The rankings in that thread and the ensuing wall-to-wall discussion of player values and dynasty league strategy took on a life of its own at over 275 pages and 700,000 page views. The result is what you see in the sidebar under "Updated Positional Rankings": a comprehensive ranking of dynasty league fantasy football players by position on a tiered, weighted scale. In the tradition of the original footballguys.com Dynasty Rankings thread, intelligent debate is welcome and encouraged.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Baseball | Johan Santana Wears Johnny Cueto Pajamas to Bed

I borrowed the post title from C. Trent Rosencrans after future Reds ace Johnny Cueto went four more scoreless innings last night against the Phillies---closing out with a perfect 9th inning against the Phils' murderer's row of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Pat Burrell. I know it was just 24 hours ago that I confessed to having little excitement about the upcoming baseball season, but there's been a change in status generated by baseball's next great young pitcher.

I've had several guys ask me on chat if I was going to do baseball rankings and who would be some intriguing NL sleepers. If you only listen to one thing I have to say about baseball this pre-season, do yourself a favor and run---don't walk---to pick up Johnny Cueto. If you are in a keeper league, knock over women and children Costanza-style if they get in the way.

Considering his blue chip pedigree and minor league numbers, Homer Bailey has rightly received the lion's share of hype as one of the top handful of prospects in baseball over the past couple of years. But while Homer has struggled with command and maturity in his brief major league trials, Cueto has skyrocketed past him with a devastating fastball, dominant changeup, impeccable control, swaggering confidence, and pitching acumen beyond his years.

I know this will seem like hyperbole because of Cueto's relative lack of national prospect buzz, but he's the best Reds pitching prospect I've seen since I've been following the team. Now that's partially the result of the Reds having fewer pitching prospects over the past 20 years than just about any team in baseball, but it's also an indication of Cueto possessing the total package. Homer Bailey was seen by some as the top pitching prospect in baseball heading into the 2007 season. Cueto is clearly a better prospect. Rob Bell and Brett Tomko were once seen as future aces, but neither possessed Cueto's mix of stuff, command, and confidence. Scott Williamson blazed through the minors behind a filthy repertoire, but he was never going to succeed as a starting pitcher with that violent delivery and below average command. Back in 1990, Jack Armstrong put it all together for half a season and ended up as the starting pitcher in the All-Star game. But Nuxie didn't call him The Tuna Man for nothing---Armstrong had a bit of a Nuke LaLoosh 10-cent head.

Let's just say the following don't count as dominant pitching prospects despite their misplaced hype: Brandon Claussen, Chris Gruler, Ty Howington, Ed Yarnell, Chris Reitsma, Dennys Reyes, John Roper, Mo Sanford, Scott Scudder, and Chris Hammond. Boy, that's an ugly list. The Reds can develop outfielders, shortstops, and relief pitchers, but the franchise has a disastrous record with starting pitcher prospects.

As for Cueto's impact this season, it's a foregone conclusion that he's going north as part of the big club's rotation. Don't believe the hype? Check out these five items:

[1] From Blue Jays beat writer and Tornoto Globe and Mail reporter of 30 years, Robert MacLeod, after last week's game against the Jays:

I have seen the future and it looks a lot like Pedro Martinez. The single most impressive thing I've seen this spring was Cincinnati Reds prospect Johnny Cueto pitching against the Toronto Blue Jays.

My god, this guy looks like Pedro looked when he first came to the Montreal Expos - a little thicker through the hips, maybe, but he's got the jaunty leg and arm swing that Pedro has when he finishes off a pitch and feels as if he's healthy. Bill Lee once told friend Mitch Melnick that Pedro must be one helluva dancer because of the waye he uses his hips to generate power and the statement's kind of stuck with me. Oh, sure: you're already hearing some B.S. about whether or not Cueto's strong enough. Rubbish. Manager Dusty Baker, whose handling of young pitchers has never been a strong suit, is already saying he might let Cueto make the team as a reliever and build him up in the majors. Based on what I saw, I'd have no problem letting the guy run with it. There is nothing in spring training - nothing - that beats seeing a good young arm, either in a game or in the bullpen. Still takes your breath away.

[2] From Reds Hall of Fame beat writer of the Dayton Daily News, Hal McCoy:

This one stunned even me — because I’ve been covering this team for 36 years and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything this strong from a scout.

A scout who once pitched successfully in the major leagues and whose opinion I trust implicitly, has seen young Johnny Cueto pitch every time he has pitched this spring. BEFORE Cueto’s appearance Wednesday night against the Phillies this scout said:

“Cueto is that team’s ace. Right now.”

Yikes. Pretty strong stuff, huh?

Then Cueto pitched the last four innings of a 6-1 win over the Phillies, and even when he is less than glamorous he is pretty cute.

With a new shaved head, Cueto hit the first batter he faced and gave up a bloop single to the second hitter he faced. Then he got a double play and a pop-up.

Then he pitched a 1-2-3 inning with two punchouts and when his night was over his line was: 4 innings, 0 runs, 1 hit, 1 walk, 1 hit batsman, two strikeouts. And this didn’t come against a Phill-in Phillies team. It was the big boys — Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Geoff Jenkins — everybody but Richie Allen and Richie Ashburn.

The kid has style and pizz-zazz and is confident enough in himself to shave off his straggly hair when he was doing good and risking a dose of bad luck from the Superstitious Gods.

“He ain’t Samson,” said manager Dusty Baker. You could have fooled the Phillies, who took some swings that looked like Delilah twirling a broom. He threw 49 pitches, 33 for strikes.

[3] Also from Hal McCoy:
Of Cueto, one American League scout said, "From people whose judgements I trust, they said Cueto is the best they've seen this spring."
[4] Tigers manager Jim Leyland:

Leyland smiled and said, “If you don’t want Cueto, we’ll take him off your hands.” And that was before he saw him pitch. Afterward, Leyland said, “Some of the best crude stuff I’ve seen. Good velocity, good breaking ball. One of the best-looking young pitchers I’ve seen. Very impressive.”
[5] Peter Gammons 3/16/08:

One scout says Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto "is from another planet. He's like Pedro [Martinez]. Throws in the 90s, good breaking ball and feel, loves to pitch. But the feeling down here is that there's a reason Homer Bailey's been available in the right deal."

The Reds are going to surprise in the National League this year, and a big reason will be the shot in the arm that their dominant young talent will provide throughout the season. Cueto is likely to open the season as the Reds #3 starter while Homer Bailey will probably hone his command and learn how to pitch from the stretch in AAA for a couple of months. Edinson Volquez, acquired from the Rangers for The Natural, still has a ways to go in control and consistency, but he did strike out eight Yankees in four innings the other night. Josh Roenicke, son of former major leaguer Ron (and nephew of Gary), is a flame throwing reliever who could make an impact while Tyler Pelland and Pedro Viola bring it from the left side. Throw in "The Best Prospect in Baseball," Jay Bruce, plus the major-league-ready power/plate discipline package offered by Joey Votto, and the Reds have as much young impact talent as any team in baseball. Cueto has already taken the next step, but will he have company throughout the season?


Anonymous said...

Johny Cueto sure looks like the future of the Reds starting rotation. And from what I hear, the future is now. Although I still haven't seen Cueto pitch personally, the rave reviews from McCoy, Baker, John Fay, C Trent, Javier Valentin, etc, make me think not trading Cueto for Blanton is the best move Krivsky has made (acquiring superstar B. Phillips for a PTBNL looks pretty good too).

Chris Wesseling said...

I can't believe Krivsky still catches so much flack in Cincy. From what I can gather, all of it goes back to a trade that sent 2 of the worst regulars in baseball (Felipe Lopez & Austin Kearns) for a couple of relievers and a pitching prospect. Despite Bray's fragile health and Majewski's gas-can impression, there's no way fans can say that trade backfired when looking at the salaries & performances of Kearns/Lopez. Similar to the Rob Bell/Ruben Mateo deal back in the day, the only player of real consequence may be the low-level prospect throw-in -- in this case pitching prospect Darryl Thompson.

Not dealing away Cueto is a great move.

Dealing for Brandon Phillips was an awesome move.

Picking up Josh Hamilton in the Rule 5 draft was an inspired move.

Picking up flame-thrower Jared Burton in the Rule 5 draft was a savvy move.

Trading the right guy (Wily Mo Pena) for Bronson Arroyo was a veteran move.

Krivsky's been all we could have hoped for . . . and more.

Kilroy said...

Krivsky catches a lot of undo flak for that trad with Kearns. Why I don't know. It opened up room for a lot of far better players, even if the pitchers we got weren't that good.

Chris Wesseling said...

Well said, Kilroy. I couldn't agree more.