Injuries to starting pitchers have been one of the bigger storylines for fantasy players to start the year, with the list of pitchers succumbing to season-ending surgeries growing weekly. Matt Moore is the most recent victim, joining Jarrod Parker, Patrick Corbin, Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen, Bobby Parnell and last year’s poster-boy, Matt Harvey on a list you just don’t want to land on. It has gotten so bad that it makes you almost not want to click over to the news wires for fear of seeing that another one of your pitchers went down. But, with so many arm injuries predominating the news these days, it creates opportunities to speculate on who could be next in line should more injuries or ineffectiveness strike. Today, we’ll take a look at the American League East, and some names for you to consider grabbing and stashing in deeper leagues.Baltimore Orioles
Kevin Gausman - It really is only a matter of when the Orioles decide to promote their prized prospect at this point, as he is ready for primetime now. I personally am stashing him in a number of places in anticipation of his eventual arrival. The rookie has been on a strict pitch count to start the year, which shows that the team is monitoring his innings early on to ensure he will be able to help them make what Buck Showalter surely hopes is a return to the playoffs.
Helping Gausman’s cause are the early struggles of Ubaldo Jimenez and Miguel Gonzalez. Jimenez has been brutal to start the year, allowing 13 runs on 23 hits over his first three starts, all losses. Gonzalez has been hit hard as well, sporting a 9.64 ERA after two rough road starts against the Tigers and Yankees. Once Gausman hits the Majors, he should be here to stay. The only remaining question will be if he can find more success than he did in his first run as a starter last year.
Boston Red Sox
Brandon Workman - Workman will likely be the first name called upon should injuries hit the Red Sox rotation this year. John Lackey and Jake Peavy are locked into the rotation as long as they stay healthy, but both have battled injuries in recent years. Clay Buchholz's season has also gotten off to a rocky start, as he seems to still be building up his arm strength, coming off a 2013 that saw him end the year battling a shoulder injury. Workman makes a nice target for AL-only owners because even if he can’t crack the rotation, he can be a useful piece out of the bullpen for the Red Sox. He has already demonstrated the ability to handle the pressure of pitching out of the pen in last year’s World Series.
Henry Owens - The 21-year-old is off to a blistering start at Double-A to open the year, and he created some buzz by hurling a rain-shortened, six-inning no-hitter in his first start. He followed that up with another 6.2 innings of scoreless pitching in his next start. The express train hit a bump yesterday, as he finally showed his age by giving up a pair of two-run homers in the third inning, which pushed his ERA up to 2.04 on the year. The Sox aren’t going to rush their top pitching prospect to the Majors, but if he can make a smooth transition up the ladder, he should be in line for a late-season arrival.
New York Yankees
Dellin Betances - The Yankees don’t really have too many high-level starting pitching prospects in their system at the present time. That fact was a driving force behind their decision to do whatever it took to sign Masahiro Tanaka this off-season. Still, the Yankees do boast some intriguing power arms that could make some noise in the bullpen and provide some useful stats for those in leagues that value relievers or count holds. Betances was once one of the jewels of the Yankees system, hyped along with Manny Banuelos as part of the rotation of the future. The team finally has moved the hulking 6'8" Betances to the bullpen, and all that is left is for him to gain Joe Girardi’s trust to be used in more important situations. The injury to David Robertson has shuffled the bullpen roles for now and has gotten the former top prospect some extra work. He has responded by delivering 4.1 innings of scoreless pitching over five outings while sporting a K% of 16.62 out of the gate. His cutter, the pitch that Mariano Rivera built his career around, is averaging a touch over 95 mph. He still walks more people than you would like to see, but if he keeps racking up the strikeouts, he can be a useful middle reliever for AL-only owners.
Tampa Bay Rays
Nate Karns/Mike Montgomery/Enny Romero - No team in the AL East has been hit harder by injuries to their rotation than the Rays in the early going. As we mentioned at the top, Matt Moore has been lost for the year, as he will undergo Tommy John surgery later this month. Alex Cobb suffered an oblique strain in his last start and could miss up to a month recovering. Add in the fact that the team was already missing Jeremy Hellickson, who won’t be back until June at the earliest, as he rehabs from his own elbow surgery. The Moore injury has dealt a serious blow to the Rays' hopes to contend for the title in the division, and the injury to Hellickson had already forced the team to open the year with top prospect Jake Odorizzi in the rotation. For now, Erik Bedard and Cesar Ramos will fill the holes in the rotation, but Ramos got rocked in his first start, lasting only two innings while giving up four runs against the Reds the other day. Bedard has struggled badly the last few years, and I personally have no interest in adding him to any of my teams.
So that brings us to Karns, Montgomery and Romero as the next candidates to get pressed into action if or when the Ramos and/or Bedard experiments fail. Karns, 26, came over from the Washington Nationals in a trade for Jose Lobaton. His career was stalled by shoulder surgery early on, but he pitched well at Double-A last year and even made three starts last season for the Nats, with pretty mediocre results.
Montgomery is a former top prospect for the Royals who came over in the James Shields trade. He has always battled control issues, and his velocity isn’t what it used to be when he was highly touted by Kansas City, but he has gotten off to a solid start so far, going 2-0 with 12 strikeouts in 10 innings of work at Triple-A.
Romero is considered by many the top pitching prospect left in the Minors, and he may get the first crack via a spot start this week. He was scratched from his start Monday in case he is needed as a fill-in for Jake Odorizzi, who was suffering from the flu as of this writing and may not be able to make his scheduled start on Tuesday. Romero, a lefty, got a cup of coffee with the Rays last year after a solid season at Double-A and a brief stint at Triple-A.
Toronto Blue Jays
Marcus Stroman - The Blue Jays rookie was a popular sleeper pick for AL-only drafters this spring, since it was easy to see a clear path to a rotation spot at some point in 2014 with injury-prone names like Brandon Morrow and Dustin McGowan ahead of him. So far, the veterans have looked pretty solid, along with fellow rookie Drew Hutchison, so there is no need to rush Stroman’s development at this point. Ideally, they can keep him down until June for service-time considerations, but if Toronto is in striking distance of a playoff spot at that point, I think the team will not hesitate to throw Stroman into the mix.