In the coming weeks, I am going to be writing up a series of prospect ‘Cage Matches’ to see how different prospects stack-up from a fantasy perspective. However, instead of going through the typical Harper vs Trout debate that we see almost every week on a different blog, I have decided to dig a little (although not that much) deeper and just compare prospects who I find interesting, and whose differences I find very compelling.
This first comparison is of two of the game’s top pitching prospects, Trevor Bauer and Taijuan Walker. Let’s go piece by piece of each pitcher’s game and decide who would win in a prospect ‘Cage Match,’ at least from a fantasy perspective.
The “Stuff”Bauer: It’s hard to find a comparison to Trevor Bauer’s stuff, as he has 4 pitches all of which are currently quite good. Bauer’s best pitch is probably his fastball, which sits from 92-95 MPH and touches even higher than that. Bauer balances his fastball with an already above average changeup that sits around 84 MPH as well as two curveballs: one of which sits at around 78 and is a more traditional downward breaking curve, and one that the Pitch F/X system defines as a ‘Screwball’ that sits around 87, but it’s really more of a slurve type of pitch. With the entirety of his arsenal, Bauer reminds me more of a typical NPB pitcher in Japan than a typical MLB pitcher; by that I mean he has a little bit of everything in his arsenal – so every once in a while you’ll see him throw a cutter or slider or just a pitch that makes you say “What The Hell Was That?”, but he won’t rely on any of those other pitches. Overall, Bauer might not have an elite pitch, but he has 4 that could be above average, and that’s more than enough to make you a superstar pitcher at the major league level.
Walker: Taijuan Walker has yet to turn 20 years old and he already has some of the best stuff in all of the minors after being a supplemental first round pick (42nd overall) in the 2010 draft. Walker went from sitting in the low 90’s in 2010 to sitting from 93-96 last season and occasionally touching up to 98. It’s tough to believe, but that ridiculously hard fastball is only Walker’s 2nd best pitch, as his curveball completely blows hitters away, and has the upside to be a devastating offering comparable to the likes of Adam Wainright’s preposterous curve. Walker’s biggest problem with his current stuff is his changeup, which did improve from non-existent to useable last year, and should get better with time.
The Edge: Taijuan Walker. What’s better: 4 above average pitches, or 2 amazing pitches and a chance for a 3rd average pitch? For me, it’s the guy with 2 explosive offerings, it gives that pitcher the chance to still have a good outing without perfect control, without that dominant offering Bauer has to be on-point almost all the time. Which brings us to…
The Command and Control:
Bauer: Bauer had 148 K’s and 17 walks in 103 innings pitched in his final year at UCLA, which amounts to under 1.5 walks per nine innings, meaning great ‘control’. He combined that amazing control with an 8.7 K/BB rate which implies great ‘command’. Bauer did struggle with his control at first in pro-ball, and has so far again this year with 7 walks in just under 11 innings pitched, but his ‘command’ of his pitches has mostly been there, as he’s still racking up the strikeouts through good location with 18 K’s in that same amount of innings pitched. Overall Bauer’s command and control went from absolutely elite in college to mediocre or worse in pro-ball, and I think it will lean more towards his college stats than his pro stats as he pitches more innings against professional-level competition.
Walker: Taijuan Walker had 3.66 walks per nine in Low A last season, which in itself would be perfectly mediocre. The fact that Walker did it in his first full season solely focusing on baseball (he was a multi-sport athlete in high school) while 18 years old going into the year makes it a much more impressive feat. On the ‘command’ front, Walker showed skills beyond his years, throwing his curveball for strikes when he wanted too and managing to strike out almost 10.5 batters per nine innings. In his first start after being promoted all the way from Low A to Double A as a 19 year old this season, Walker managed to strike out 8 and walk only one in his 5 innings of work. It’s a small sample, but that outing alone shows how dominant Walker’s command and control could be.
The Edge: Push. Without his outings in pro-ball I would have easily given this one to Bauer, but his command has just been so bad that I have to make it a tie.
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Bauer: The Diamondbacks are in the National League, and better yet, in the NL Central. Not only that, but it appears that the Diamondbacks could be competitive for the next few years, which means wins for Bauer in fantasy.
Walker: Normally the AL pitcher always loses out to the NL pitcher, but the main exceptions to that rule are players who pitch for Seattle or Oakland. I feel great about Walker in Safeco’s spacious confines, and by the time he’s ready to be a major fantasy player, there’s a chance that the Mariners are okay again.
The Edge: Bauer. Safeco may be a great place to pitch, but it’s still in the AL and the Mariners can barely get King Felix wins. Bauer has a better chance to be a 4-category performer right away than Walker does.
Bauer: Trevor Bauer should be pitching for the Diamondbacks right now, and is an injury away from being in a major league lineup.
Walker: The Mariners took a huge leap of faith in Taijuan Walker by pushing him to Double A as a 19 year old, and I think it will prove a wise gamble in the long-run and he’ll have a great season. However, there’s a little bit of a difference between Low-A hitters and major league hitters, and the Mariners have no need to rush Walker. I’d say late-2013 is an optimistic view of Walker’s timetable.
The Edge: Bauer by a ton.
The Verdict: Trevor Bauer takes down Taijuan Walker very slightly.
Ironically in my most important Dynasty League (I would appreciate not being made fun of for being in more than one dynasty league, but that seems doubtful), I own Taijuan Walker and just traded away Trevor Bauer, even though I like Bauer more from a fantasy baseball perspective. Look, I’m as big of a fan of stuff as anybody, but the amount of risk in Taijuan Walker is so much more than the risk in Trevor Bauer that the potential upside just isn’t worth it. In keeper and dynasty formats, people often put potential upside over proximity, but I’d weigh proximity ahead of every other factor in the above breakdown. Not only is Bauer going to help your team sooner, but he’s also significantly less risky than Walker. It’s close between these two, and if you told me 100% that each of these players would hit their ‘upside,’ I’d take Taijuan Walker in a heartbeat. But, with what we know now, the prudent owner should take Bauer, even if taking Taijuan Walker might be a little bit sexier.
By Moe Koltun, exclusively for TheFantasyFix.com. Read more of Moe's excellent fantasy insight over at RotoAnalysis.com. Have a fantasy related question? You can follow the site on Twitter @RotoAnalysis or Moe on twitter@moeproblems.