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Looking for the next Chris Heston: Four control pitchers to watch

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In 2015, the San Francisco Giants have received good work from rookie right-hander Chris Heston: 11-9, 3.54, 115/50 K/BB in 155 innings, and a no-hitter to put himself in the spotlight. Another 2015 no-hit artist, right-hander Mike Fiers of the Houston Astros, came up through the Milwaukee Brewers system as an unheralded but consistently successful control pitcher. In 2014, the Los Angeles Angels received an unexpected boost from a similar low-hype/sharp control arm in right-hander Matt Shoemaker.

It isn't hard to find and track the Clayton Kershaws and David Prices of the world as they come up through the minors. Finding the Hestons and the Shoemakers isn't as easy; such types are usually dismissed by scouts and for understandable reasons as most pitchers with mediocre velocity don't turn into tremendously successful big leaguers. But it does happen, and occasionally an unheralded pitcher can take an unexpected step forward, not just into Heston or Shoemaker-like decent adequacy, but sometimes taking a step further into genuine ace-dom as Corey Kluber and Dallas Keuchel have done.

Here are four young control pitchers to watch over the next year or two. I am NOT saying that these guys will turn into Klubers or Keuchels, but they could very well turn into Hestons or Shoemakers and provide a cost-effective boost, even if just in the short run.

Mat Batts, LHP, Minnesota Twins: Mat Batts is the most obscure of the quartet we are examining today. A 17th round pick in 2014 from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, Batts was outstanding in college (2.69 ERA, 105/18 K/BB in 104 innings as a senior) but fell in the draft due to his size (listed 5-11, 190) and lack of an impressive fastball. His heat tops out at 89 and dipped into the mid-80s in college, but his exceptional command and sharp secondary pitches have led to pro success: 2.61 ERA, 129/29 K/BB in 141 innings this year between Low-A and High-A. He could turn out to be something like Tommy Milone.

Clayton Blackburn, RHP, San Francisco Giants: In contrast to Batts, Blackburn has received a fair amount of attention thanks to four years of success in the Giants farm system. He's been effective at every level including Triple-A this year (2.85 ERA, 99/32 K/BB in 123 innings), handling the difficult Pacific Coast League with particularly strong pitching in the second half. Blackburn's velocity was down early in the year as he worked back from an injury, but his stuff has improved over the last two months and the results are as good as ever. Some scouts like to critique his stocky 6-3, 230 pound frame and are quick to downplay his chances when he has an off day, but others respect his pitching instincts and proven capacity to adapt and improve. If Heston falters next year, Blackburn would be a logical choice to replace him.

Andy Ferguson
, RHP, Kansas City Royals:
Drafted in the 18th round in 2011 from Arkansas State University, Ferguson has been one of the top pitchers in the PCL this year with a 3.21 ERA and a 71/16 K/BB in 73 innings, allowing 65 hits. He has a multi-year track record of strong control pitching and has thrived in '15 despite the no-mercy-for-pitchers environment of the PCL; that puts him in territory with Shoemaker and Heston who did the same thing before getting their chances in the majors. Ferguson's fastball is in the 87-90 range but he mixes it with an effective breaking ball and very good change-up. You won't see his name on top prospect lists but he could sneak up on us.

Logan Verrett
, RHP, New York Mets:
Last month we made an Unsubstantiated Prediction that Mets right-hander Logan Verrett would be the Chris Heston of 2016 or 2017. If he gets a legitimate chance to start and doesn't get shuffled into a permanent relief role, I still think that can happen. If he does end up in the bullpen, he could be quite dominant in middle relief stretches.