Not a Rookie: Yovani Gallardo
The only reason that big media baseball people don't talk about Gallardo in the same reverent tones they discuss people like Joba Chamberlain or Clay Buchholz is because he pitches in Milwaukee and not someplace out east.
Gallardo was drafted in the second round in 2004, out of high school in Fort Worth. He pitched very well in the Arizona Rookie League (0.47 ERA, 23/4 K/BB in 19 innings.) Scouts reported that he had a good fastball and breaking ball, but that his changeup needed work and that he was maxed out physically. His command was obviously good. I gave him a Grade C+ in the '05 book, noting his long-term potential but also noting the standard young pitcher caveats about health.
He had a fine season in the Sally League in '05, posting a 2.74 ERA and a 110/51 K/BB in 121 innings for West Virginia. His changeup reportedly improved, and he got plenty of ground balls out of his 90-94 MPH fastball and breaking ball. I moved him up to a Grade B in the '06 book, projecting him as a "solid major league starting pitcher."
'06 was his big breaththrough. He was excellent in the Florida State League (2.20 ERA, 103/23 K/BB in 78 innings) and even more impressive in the Southern League (1.63 ERA, 85/28 K/BB in 77 innings). His velocity increased, his command improved further, and I gave him a coveted Grade A rating entering '07, rating him as the Number Three pitching prospect in baseball.
He dominated Triple-A last year, and went 9-5, 3.67 with a 101/37 K/BB in 110.1 major league innings. I don't think it's a fluke. He gave up 45 earned runs for the Brewers last year, but 11 of them were in one disastrous 2.2 inning outing against the Rockies on August 8th. If you eliminate that start, his ERA in the majors was 2.84. He posted a 1.36 ERA in September. I think he's well-positioned to continue to pitch excellent baseball.
What he did last year was no fluke in my view. So the question is, can he stay healthy? He's been remarkably durable as a pro. Listed at 6-1, 210, he doesn't have the prototype 6-4, 210 pound pitcher's body and may have to watch his weight as he gets older. But he repeats his delivery well, and appears to have a resilient arm. I don't think his injury risk is any higher than it is for any other pitcher his age, and perhaps it's a bit lower.
I could see Gallardo being a pitcher who is best in his early-to-mid-20s, then gradually fading as he approaches 30. My guess is that his best years will be in the next five, and that eventually he'll become "just" an inning-eating starter. Assuming he stays healthy, Gallardo should be recognized as Number One starter and among the best pitchers in baseball in the 2008-2012 window, but that by 2014 he'll be more of an inning-eater type. An early peak, followed by a very gradual decline in other words. No massive sudden shock injury, but rather a slow loss of effectiveness as his arm wears down.
Does that make sense to you?