He is the last of the Big Four to get the call, but in the end, 21-year-old Yovani Gallardo could have the biggest impact on your fantasy fortunes.
With Chris Capuano headed to the disabled list with a strained groin, the Brewers are making the call for their top pitching prospect, who has spent the last few months obliterating Triple-A hitters with a devastating arsenal of fastballs, sliders, curveballs and changeups, all of which he can throw for strikes. He has little left to prove at Triple-A, where he is 8-3 with a 2.90 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP. That means that if he performs well at the major league level, he will stick, be it in the bullpen or in the rotation.
Major League Potential
Gallardo does two things very well. He strikes out a ton of batters and minimizes home runs. His weakness right now is that he allows a few too many bases-on-balls. His current rate of 3.24 BB/9 is a bit high, with a sub-3.00 rate being the mark of a good control pitcher. However, Gallardo does a good job of not letting those walks beat him, thanks to his tidy home run rate. He has allowed four homers this season in 77 2/3 innings, and he gave up only six in 2006, spanning 155 combined innings at High-A and Double-A levels. If he keeps that up -- that is, if he keeps the ball in the park -- he will no doubt be successful at the major league level because of that other thing he does really well. In fact, he does it really, really well.
Gallardo has elite strikeout potential. He led the minor leagues in strikeouts in 2006, with 188. This year has brought more of the same, with Gallardo sending 110 beaten batters back to the dugout in just 77 2/3 innings. That's a 12.75 K/9 ratio. That deserves to be repeated, with an exclamation point. That's 12.75 strikeouts per nine innings pitched! As a point of comparison, Tim Lincecum was putting up a 13.35 K/9 at the time he was called up, but that was over only 31 innings. Lincecum has translated his Triple-A success to a perfect 9.0 K/9, with 48 strikeouts in 48 innings, and there's little reason to believe Gallardo can't put up a similar rate. There is another Triple-A fireballer to whom Gallardo is often compared, and if you look at their Triple-A numbers leading up to their major-league debuts, it's easy to see why.
The numbers are eerily similar, and to Gallardo's credit, the Pacific Coast League is decidedly a hitter's league, whereas the International League, where Liriano toiled, plays mostly neutral. That might not excuse Gallardo's higher walk rate, but it does make his ERA, WHIP and HR/9 rate all the more impressive.
If Liriano's 2005 American League numbers put you off of Gallardo, don't let them. He allowed a few home runs, but overall, his WHIP, his walk rate and, most importantly, his strikeout rate all remained strong.
What, then, can we expect from Gallardo this season? He'll likely begin the season in the bullpen, like Liriano, if only because his last start was on Tuesday, and the Brewers may need to use him out of the 'pen, having had to call on Carlos Villanueva to start in Capuano's place on Wednesday. According to the Brewers' official website, if Gallardo isn't called upon over the weekend, he will get a chance to start Monday, with Villanueva headed back to the bullpen. Even if Gallardo is used and Villanueva does make a second start, it's likely that, sooner rather than later, Gallardo will be the one to end up in the rotation.
Based on the above comparison, we should expect something in between Liriano's debut season and his dominant 2006 performance. Say, a high-3's ERA with a WHIP around 1.10 and just about one strikeout per inning. If he made two starts in June and five each in July, August and September, averaging six innings each, Gallardo could reasonably throw just over 100 innings in his rookie year with triple-digit strikeouts.
What makes Gallardo even more enticing is that the Brewers are a good team with a decent bullpen. Certainly, he's in a better position to win than Homer Bailey is in Cincinnati, or Tim Lincecum in San Francisco, not to mention the injured Phil Hughes of the Yankees. The Brewers will provide plenty of run support, and should Gallardo make those 17 starts, winning 10 of them shouldn't be out of the question. Double-digit wins, triple-digit strikeouts, helpful ERA and WHIP ... if you were excited at the prospect of adding Roger Clemens to your squad, then you should probably feel just as good about rostering Gallardo. He may well be the best young pitcher in the National League in 2007.
Gallardo is long gone in leagues with any semblance of a farm system, and keeper-leaguers who have been waiting for his promotion to pounce probably don't need any more encouragement. Is he, however, a sell-high in that format? We've compared him to Liriano, and that certainly has to bring a lump to the throat of anyone whose 2006 season was decided by the young Twin's elbow injury. There is also plenty of anecdotal evidence that 21-year-old kids who throw fire can flame out.
The good news is this: While Liriano came to the majors with a medical dossier as thick as a Texas-cut steak, Gallardo has been relatively healthy his entire career. That's despite -- according to "Baseball America"-- having some high pitch counts in high school, including a 148-pitch, 11-inning marathon in which he struck out 25.
With no immediate health risks, the odds to play are that Gallardo will be just fine, and he should be viewed as a potential mid-round pick in 2008 with top-10 starting pitcher upside. Strikeouts rule in fantasy baseball, and if you have a chance to lock up this young hurler, you'll be ahead of the game for as long as you have him. Be he the next Francisco Liriano, the next Carlos Zambrano, or perhaps the first Yovani Gallardo, this a pitcher you want to own. He'll help you win, and he'll be fun to watch.
Pete Becker is senior editor for ESPN.com Fantasy.