Pitching's youth movement more trend than fluke

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — With four no-hitters, including two perfect games (and that’s not even counting Armando Galarraga’s perfecto robbery), this has definitely been the year of the pitcher.

Not only have we seen dominant performances on the mound, we’ve witnessed an incredible rise of talented young arms. These guys can not only bring the heat, but bring to the table a level of polish and maturity not often seen in pitchers with so little big league experience.

Case in point: the starters for Tuesday’s All-Star game. NL manager Charlie Manuel elected to go with Colorado Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez (15-1, 2.20 ERA), a 26-year-old right-hander who commands high-90s heat with unreal movement.

On the AL side, Joe Girardi went with Tampa Bay Rays left-hander David Price, who at 24 leads the American League in wins (12) and ERA (2.42), and has 100 strikeouts in 115.1 innings.

“It seems it’s the time of the pitchers now,” Girardi said, comparing the wave of young pitching to the golden era of shortstops 15 years ago. “These aren’t just guys with stuff. These are guys who know how to pitch at a young age.”

In addition to the starters, both rosters are filled with 26-and-under hurlers like Trevor Cahill, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, Josh Johnson, Tim Lincecum and Yovani Gallardo. But the remarkable thing about this group is not just that there are so many power arms, but that they have become polished so quickly.

“This is a good time for pitchers,” said Boston’s Lester, who is already 53-19 at age 26 and has a World Series-clinching victory on his resume from the 2007 World Series. “Development is getting better. They’re spending more time and money on those guys and giving them a chance to pitch at a younger age. Back in the day they probably wouldn’t have called all these guys up. They would have gone with a lot more veterans and kept paying those guys. And now teams are going with the younger guys with the salaries and all that. It’s just good to see the young guys come in and do well.”

Detroit Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander, who is already a three-time All-Star at age 27, believes that a trend started with his draft class in 2004, a group that also includes fellow All-Stars Jered Weaver and Phil Hughes, as well as Tampa Bay Rays mainstay Jeff Niemann.

“I was definitely at the front of the wave,” he said. “It’s like fantasy football where one guy picks a kicker and then everybody else starts picking kickers. Guys are going with young strong, talented pitching with good arms, and that’s what teams have started developing.”

Verlander said that improved coaching, from the youth level on up through college and into the minor leagues, has helped pitchers be ready for the majors more quickly.

“To be honest with you, there’s money in it,” he said. “All these youth organizations are making money by putting together some good coaches and having parents send their kids out. I think it’s a win-win.”

But is the trend toward young pitching really here to stay, or is it simply a blip on the screen, part of the cyclical nature of the game? It depends on who you ask.

“Overall I think there is maybe a trend you can look at, but it’s too early to make any assumptions,” said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. “But no doubt there are some real young power arms coming up in the American League that are prepared for a high level.”

Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, though, who has witnessed the maturation of teammate Jimenez from Class-A ball on up, thinks there is a movement afoot.

“(Coaches) know more about pitching then they did back in the day, and that’s helped these guys,” Tulowitzki said. “They can come in and handle pressure situations at the big league level and be real polished at a real young age.

“I would say we’re going to see some really special pitchers every single year coming up to the major league level and making an impact. I’ll take my chances and say it’s going to happen every year.”

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Orioles are eying Welington Castillo as their primary catcher target

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 25: Welington Castillo #7 of the Arizona Diamondbacks warms up prior to taking an at bat against the Baltimore Orioles in the second inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 25, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)
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A report from the Baltimore Sun’s Dan Connolly suggests that free agent catcher Welington Castillo currently tops the Orioles’ list of potential backstop targets for the 2017 season. With Matt Wieters on the market, the Orioles lack a suitable platoon partner for Caleb Joseph behind the dish, and Connolly adds that the club has been discussing a multi-year deal with Castillo’s representatives since the Winter Meetings.

Castillo batted .264/.322/.423 with the Diamondbacks in 2016, racking up 14 home runs and driving in a career-high 68 RBI in 457 PA. His bat provides much of his upside, and Connolly quoted an anonymous National League scout who believes that the 29-year-old’s defensive profile has fallen short of his potential in recent years.

For better or worse, both the Orioles and Castillo appear far from locking in a deal for 2017. Both the Rays and Braves have expressed interest in the veteran catcher during the past week, while the Orioles are reportedly considering Wieters, Nick Hundley and Chris Iannetta as alternatives behind the plate.

Report: Phillies agree to minor league deal with Daniel Nava

KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 12:  Daniel Nava #12 of the Kansas City Royals bats during the game against the Oakland Athletics at Kauffman Stadium on September 12, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The Phillies reportedly signed veteran outfielder Daniel Nava to a minor league contract, according to Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Nava began the season on a one-year contract with the Angels, during which he slashed .235/.309/.303 through 136 PA in the first half of 2016. He was flipped to the Royals in late August for a player to be named later and saw the remainder of his year go down the drain on an .091 average through 12 PA in Anaheim. After getting the boot from the Angels’ 40-man roster in November, the 33-year-old outfielder elected free agency.

Nava is expected to compete for a bench role on the Phillies’ roster in the spring. As it currently stands, the club’s projected 2017 outfield features Howie Kendrick and Odubel Herrera, with precious little depth behind them. Nava’s bat is underwhelming, but at the very least he offers the Phillies a warm body in left field and a potential platoon partner for one of their younger options, a la Tyler Goeddel or Roman Quinn.