Continuing on with my personal list of "franchise" players. Keep in mind the criteria: 25 or younger, and currently making $10 million or less in salary. And again, these are my opinions, intended to start a discussion. Your mileage may vary.
Oh yea the list goes on...
5. Mat Latos, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
Salary in '13 $4.25M
The Reds have some nice pieces in their rotation. I like Cueto (when not on the DL) and the young Cingrani, but as of this moment, Mat Latos is the Red ace. It's odd that Latos turned out to be so good because he wasn't apart of Baseball America's top 100 prospects. Yet, he turned out to be an ace anyways. When the Reds traded for him in December of 2011, they knew were getting a productive pitcher. The 6-6, 235 lbs right-hander has put together three consecutive 3.0+ WAR seasons and is on pace for his best season yet in 2013. A 2.23 ERA and a 2.74 FIP would be career highs for Latos. His 1.2 WAR through seven starts if sustained would outdo his 4.0 WAR in the 2010 campaign.
4. Matt Moore, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Salary in '13 $1M
Matt Moore is another pitcher that was off a lot of people's radars, but this was in high school. The Rays look pretty smart by picking up the future ace of their club in the 8th round of the 2007 MLB Draft. I say future ace with the likely chance of David Price being traded or leaving via free agency. That would leave Moore or possibly Hellickson as the Rays future top of the rotation pitchers.
So far in 2013 it seems as if Moore is having himself a Cy Young caliber season. He's really just having a really lucky season. His ERA and FIP are way off in margin. A 2.14 ERA through seven starts combined with a 4.44 FIP and a 4.21 xFIP shows just he's just getting lucky. That and he has a 96.1% LOB%. Which is, uh, significantly impossible to maintain over the course of the season. I expect his ERA to inflate some in the next few months. Moore will be a great pitcher for years to come, but I think he'll have end up with a mid 3.00 ERA by seasons end.
3. Matt Harvey, RHP, New York Mets
Salary in '13 $498,750
Harvey's Better! Harvey's Better!
Well, Harvey's better than seven other guys on this list, but despite his incredible start I'm going to need to see more. That's not to say I don't think he'll keep it up. Through seven starts Harvey has put up a 1.9 WAR combined with a 1.28 ERA and a 1.91 FIP. Harvey is drawing comparisons to Justin Verlander in that he can reach back for more velocity in the later innings of a game. This is a very valuable asset for Harvey to have. He is definitely a strikeout pitcher with a 10.58 K/9 this season.
The Mets are a different team when he pitches. Not that they give him plenty of run support (they don't), but he pretty much pitches them to victories every outing.
2. Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Washington Nationals
Salary in '13 $3.9M
A lot of you will probably want Harvey higher than Strasburg, but I have yet to jump on that. I do believe in Harvey and all that he's done so far. He'll likely continue his dominance, but Strasburg has already been an established pitcher in the league. Everyone is concerned that his slow start is due to his elbow. So the concern of future injury is there, but he's a once in a generation talent. For the injury concerns I put him at number two, and not one on the list.
I'm not all that worried for Strasburg though. His W/L record is 1-5, but we're all aware of how misleading of a stat wins can be. The numbers so far do indicate regression from a season ago. His K/9 dropped from 11.13 to 9.30. Yet, there is a bit of a mystery in his numbers. Strasburg has a 3.10 ERA so far in comparison to his 3.16 ERA a season ago. In 2012 his FIP was 2.82 meaning he was unlucky. This year his FIP is 3.35. His LOB% is something that should rise over the course of the season. Right now it sits at 66.7%, but that should get into the mid 70's by seasons end. I'm not all that worried for Strasburg. I feel he's a little unlucky this year and eventually that will change.
1. Madison Bumgarner, LHP, San Francisco Giants
Salary in '13 $0.75M
It's hard to believe that at the age of 23, Bumgarner has already accumulated over 580 innings pitched. He's already been very valuable to the Giants as a solid number three pitcher behind Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum. However, with Lincecum's recent struggles, it's Bumgarner that is about to be the number two in San Francisco. That is until he begins to outdo Cain, and that's happening so far in 2013.
Bumgarner is on pace for his best season yet. He already has a 1.3 WAR through eight starts. With that his ERA is 2.18 alongside his 2.73 FIP. Another note of interest is that so far in 2013, Bumgarner has a increased his K/9 from 8.25 a season to a 9.06. As he develops more and more he should become more a strikeout pitcher. With that skill he should be able to totally control and dominate opponents. Bummy and his rival Clayton Kershaw should battle over NL Cy Youngs for years to come.