Baseball’s best young guns, Vol. II

Clearly what Hank Steinbrenner wants, Hank Steinbrenner gets.

The Senior Vice President and part owner of the New York Yankees made it clear in late April that he wanted promising stud reliever Joba Chamberlain to be a starter. Not even a month later, Yankee manager Joe Girardi began prepping Chamberlain to join the rotation and with an injury to Ian Kennedy, it appears Joba will make his starting debut sooner rather than later.

On the left coast, the Los Angeles Dodgers had a similar situation with one of their young pitching prospects. Well, okay, so the two situations are actually quite different. The Dodgers don’t have an overbearing part-owner meddling in the team’s affairs. But they do have a top pitching prospect in Clayton Kershaw, who made his much-anticipated debut last Sunday against the Cardinals.

The 20-year old held St. Louis to two runs while striking out seven in six innings of work. He earned a no decision, but the outing proved he has loads of potential and his 96 mph fastball is nasty. What was even more promising was that he only gave up one walk since he had battled command issues in the minors.

Chamberlain and Kershaw are just two of baseball’s next generation of talented pitchers. Below is a look at 10 of baseball’s top young guns. To make the list, the pitchers could only be 24 years old or younger. For a look at baseball’s best young guns of 2007, click here.

1. Joba Chamberlain, 22, New York Yankees
Everyone is waiting on pins and needles to see what Chamberlain can do in a starting role. His 0.38 ERA last year as a setup man was ridiculously good and his four-pitch repertoire is filthy. An 83-87 mph slider, an 11 to 5 curve and a solid changeup complement his 94-98 mph fastball. Even though he’s battled some weight issues in the past, at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, he has great size and is durable. Now that the “Baby Boss” has demanded him to be in the rotation, it’s only a matter of time before manager Joe Girardi stretches out Chamberlain’s arm so that he’s ready to start. While ranking Chamberlain No. 1 might be a reach since he has zero starting experience, his work in the bullpen has been proof enough of his vast potential.

2. Cole Hamels, 24, Philadelphia Phillies
Hamels hasn’t looked as dominate this year as he did last season, but he’s been solid nonetheless. He’s currently 5-3 with a 3.18 ERA and a fantastic 1.07 WHIP. More importantly, the Phils are 6-0 in his last six starts and he’s made quality outings, averaging almost 7.0 innings per game. The only issue has been inconsistency and he’s had problems staying healthy over the course of an entire season. Hopefully his last outing (4.0 IP, 6 ER, 0 K) isn’t an indication that he’s suffering from some kind of aliment.

3. Tim Lincecum, 23, San Francisco Giants
“The Franchise” has been absolutely dominating in his first full season in the bigs. (He started 24 games last year after being called up from Triple-A Fresno.) Thus far in 2008, he’s 7-1 with a 2.33 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. At only 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, scouts have always worried that he’ll eventually breakdown. But his unique throwing motion (designed by his father) doesn’t put a ton of strain on his arm and creates less torque when he pushes off the mound. His devastating 93-98 mph fastball has given batters fits this year, but even more damaging has been his changeup – a pitch he worked on during spring training and is starting to perfect.

4. Scott Kazmir, 24, Tampa Bay Rays
If Kazmir could ever stay healthy, he could be one of the more dominant pitchers in the league – especially now that the Rays are winning and scoring runs. After missing all of April with an elbow injury and struggling against the Red Sox in his first outing off the DL, Kaz has been lights out. In his past four starts, he’s 4-0, has only given up two earned runs and has struck out 27 in 26 innings pitched. He’s truly one of the more underrated ace pitchers in the league and once again, if he can stay healthy he’ll win 12-plus games.

5. Fausto Carmona, 24, Cleveland Indians
Carmona recently suffered a left hip strain that landed him on the 15-day DL, but apparently it’s nothing major and he’ll return in a couple weeks. Some were concerned that his 19-8 record in 2007 was a bit of a fluke, but thus far in 2008, Carmona is 4-2 with a 3.10 ERA and 1.59 WHIP. In his last start before the injury, Carmona was dominant through seven innings, but took the no decision after the Tribe lost to the Reds on a walk off dinger. If he bounces back from the injury, he should have no problem totaling 10-plus wins again.

6. Felix Hernandez, 22, Seattle Mariners
“King” Felix is another young pitcher that just can’t stay healthy. While he’s pitched better than his 2-5 record indicates, it’s clear that the soreness in his calf has bothered him of late. Hernandez has one of the best arms in all of baseball and his power curve is outstanding. But if he can’t stay healthy, then he’ll never reach his full potential. Still, at only 22, he’s got plenty of time to mature and hopefully he’ll be more durable with a refined in-season conditioning program.

7. Clayton Kershaw, 20, Los Angeles Dodgers
Kershaw has only one major league start, but it’s easy to get excited about the youngster’s potential. He has a great fastball that tops off at 96 mph and an outstanding curve. He’ll need to work on his changeup, but once that develops, he’ll have an evil three-pitch repertoire. The Dodgers can’t rush the 20-year old, but he has a good, live arm and there’s always a high demand for lefties so they’ll be tempting to keep him in the majors.

8. Matt Cain, 23, San Francisco Giants
Don’t look at his overall record, because it’s not pretty. If the Giants could ever give him some run support, Cain could easily be a 15-win pitcher every season. He has one of the best live fastballs in the league and he’s incredibly durable. He’s been more inconsistent this year than in his two previous seasons, but his strikeouts are always high and at only 23, he hasn’t even sniffed his potential. It would be interesting to see what he could do on a team that averaged more than three runs per game.

9. Edinson Volquez, 24, Cincinnati Reds
Where did this guy come from? In three seasons with the Rangers, Volquez was 3-11 with an ERA just south of 10.0. Now in his first season with the Reds, he has a major-league best 1.31 ERA and a 7-2 record. He also has 76 strikeouts this year and has only walked 33 batters. Is he a one-year (or even half-season) fluke? Maybe. But the same could have been said about Fausto Carmona this time last year and he looks like the real deal. Maybe a change of scenery and a chance to be a full-time starter has inspired the youngster, either way, Volquez has been one of the best surprises in 2008.

10. Clay Buchholz, 23, Boston Red Sox
Buchholz is off to a rocky start in his first full season as a starter, recording a 2-3 record with a 5.53 ERA, but as evidence from his no-hitter in his major league debut last year, he has excellent stuff. And he arguably has a higher ceiling than teammate Jon Lester, as well as other top prospects Franklin Morales (Rockies) and Homer Bailey (Reds). He’ll go through growing pains, but Buchholz is in a great situation in Boston and will have plenty of opportunity to succeed.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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