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Friday, September 6, 2002
Baseball's best young pitchers

By Matt Szefc
ESPN.com

Baseball is full of young star pitchers. ESPN.com's Alan Schwarz writes about one of the best in Milwaukee's Ben Sheets. Here are a host of the game's best pitchers 25 or younger, with some future predictions.

Josh Beckett, RHP, Marlins
Age: 22
2002 stats: 94.2 IP, 5-6, 40 BB, 101 SO, 4.28 ERA

The second-overall pick in the 1999 draft was hyped as one of the top young pitchers heading into this season. Blister problems, however, have slowed Beckett and he's currently on the disabled list for the third time with the same blister woes. If healthy, Beckett still projects as a top-of-the-rotation starter and remember, he is just 22. There has been speculation that Beckett may return sometime in September and pitch in relief to see if pitching fewer innings at one time helps.

Prediction: Future All-Star, but must overcome the blister problems.

Mark Buehrle, LHP, White Sox
Age: 23
2002 stats: 205 IP, 17-9, 51 BB, 114 SO, 3.34 ERA

In just his second full year in the big leagues, Buehrle already has 37 career wins and a 3.41 career ERA. He's pitched more than 200 innings (205) for the second straight year and has a chance to reach 20 victories. Was also chosen to his first All-Star Game this season.

Prediction: Perennial All-Star.

A.J. Burnett, RHP, Marlins
Age: 25
2002 stats: 191 IP, 12-9, 82 BB, 183 SO, 3.25 ERA

Had put together a solid year before shutting down for the rest of the season in mid-August with pain in his right elbow. Was a workhorse this season with seven complete games, second in the majors to Bartolo Colon's eight. Mixes in a normally mid-90s fastball with decent breaking stuff along with an above-average changeup. An ace for sure ... if he can stay healthy, that is.

Prediction: Future All-Star.

Roy Halladay, RHP, Blue Jays
Age: 25
2002 stats: 205.1 IP, 15-6, 56 BB, 146 SO, 3.02 ERA

Was a promising young pitcher heading into this year, but had struggled in previous seasons to the point where he spent the first half of last season in the minor leagues. This year has been a different story as Halladay has already won 15 games and has cemented his spot as the Blue Jays' staff ace. Throws a mid-90s fastball along with a curve, splitter and sinker. Was selected to his first All-Star Game.

Prediction: Perennial All-Star.

Jason Jennings, RHP, Rockies
Age: 24
2002 stats: 162.1 IP, 16-6, 54 BB, 116 SO, 4.38 ERA

A pitcher excelling when he has to pitch half of his games at Coors Field? Jennings, the leading candidate to win NL Rookie of the Year honors, has done just that. While his home ERA stands at 5.38, Jennings has managed to go 9-2 at Coors. His road numbers (7-4, 3.48 and a .234 batting average against) show how well he's pitched in a friendler environment.

Prediction: Potential All-Star.

Wade Miller, RHP, Astros
Age: 25
2002 stats: 126.2 IP, 12-3, 51 BB, 108 SO, 3.84 ERA

He's been an absolute dominator over the second half of the season, going 8-0 with a 2.12 ERA and a .219 batting average against in 11 starts. All four of his pitches -- fastball, curveball, slider and changeup -- are considered to be above-average. Was on the disabled list for more than a month earlier this season (mid-April to late May) and if not for that could have made a run at 20 victories.

Prediction: Future All-Star.

Mark Mulder, LHP, Athletics
Age: 25
2002 stats: 170.1 IP, 16-7, 49 BB, 123 SO, 3.80 ERA

Has put together a second straight superb season, and could win 20 games for the second straight year. Is unbeaten in his last four starts (3-0, 3.52) to help Oakland's big winning streak. Throws a low-to-mid 90s fastball with a splitter. Is equally tough against right-handed hitters (.235 batting average against) as he is against lefties (.243).

Prediction: Potential All-Star. Would be in the regular category, if not for teammate and fellow left-hander Barry Zito.

Roy Oswalt, RHP, Astros
Age: 25
2002 stats: 202 IP, 18-6, 50 BB, 174 SO, 2.85 ERA

Stands just 6-feet, but other than his height there is nothing small about Oswalt. Is an amazing 32-9 over the last two years and don't forget he didn't join the Astros' starting rotation until June of last year. Like Miller has been dominant in the second half, going 9-1 with a 2.07 ERA and a .219 batting average against in 11 starts. Is already the Astros' ace and should be for the next decade or so.

Prediction: Future Cy Young winner.

Vicente Padilla, RHP, Phillies
Age: Turned 24
2002 stats: 190.2 IP, 14-9, 48 BB, 121 SO, 3.30 ERA

In his first year as a starter, Padilla has blossomed into the Phillies' ace. Had a great first half (10-5, 3.05), and was rewarded by being named to the NL All-Star team. Has fallen off a bit in the second half (4-4, 3.75), but some of that is related to the fatigue of not pitching this many innings before.

Prediction: Regular All-Star.

Odalis Perez, LHP, Dodgers
Age: 25
2002 stats: 194.1 IP, 13-8, 33 BB, 133 SO, 2.92 ERA

Was a fifth starter and teetering on falling out of the Braves' starting rotation for much of last season. Then the offseason came and Atlanta shipped him and Brian Jordan to the Dodgers for Gary Sheffield. It's been all uphill for Perez since. Was a monster in the first half, going 10-4 with a 2.81 ERA, and was rewarded with his first All-Star selection. Struggled in July (1-3, 7.59), but since then has gotten back on track (3-1, 1.80 in seven starts).

Prediction: Future Cy Young contender.

Joel Pineiro, RHP, Mariners
Age: 23
2002 stats: 170.2 IP, 13-5, 45 BB, 113 SO, 3.06 ERA

Came up to the big leagues in midseason last year and showed flashes of brilliance as both a starter and reliever. Began this year in the bullpen, but by May had pushed his way into the starting rotation. Has arguably been the Mariners' most consistent starter since joining the rotation, and has been impressive of late as he hasn't allowed more than three runs in any of his last six starts (2-1, 2.52). His curveball is his best pitch.

Prediction: Future All-Star.

Mark Prior, RHP, Cubs
Age: 21
2002 stats: 116.2 IP, 6-6, 38 BB, 147 SO, 3.32 ERA

Hyped as the best college pitcher ever heading into last year's draft, Prior made quick work of the minor leagues and was promoted to the big leagues in late May. This guy is the real deal and should be the Cubs' ace for a long time. Allowed two or fewer runs in 14 of his 19 starts, but won't pitch the rest of the year due to a strained hamstring, an injury sustained in his last start on Aug. 31.

Prediction: Future Cy Young winner.

C.C. Sabathia, LHP, Indians
Age: 22
2002 stats: 174 IP, 10-10, 77 BB, 129 SO, 4.71 ERA

Hasn't been as good as he was as a rookie last year, but his overall aren't as far as people think. He's won seven fewer games so far (17 in 2001 compared to 10), but his ERA is nearly identical (4.39 in 2001 to 4.71 this season). And he's been especially good of late, going 4-1 with a 2.36 ERA over his last six starts. How he continues to hold up over the duration of his career will continue to be an issue as long as he stays in the 270-pound range.

Prediction: Possible All-Star, but not likely.

Kerry Wood, RHP, Cubs
Age: 25
2002 stats: 178.2 IP, 10-8, 83 BB, 178 SO, 3.78 ERA

Believe it or not, Wood is still just 25. That's what happens when you reach the big leagues at the age of 20. Wood stormed onto the scene in 1998 by striking out 20 batters in his fifth major-league start. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 1999 and hasn't developed into the ace-type pitcher he was expected to become. Will he ever become that pitcher? Maybe, but it's not likely from what he's shown in the last three years, as his control problems have prevented him from becoming a big star.

Prediction: Possible All-Star, but that's pushing it.

Barry Zito, LHP, Athletics
Age: 24
2002 stats: 196.2 IP, 19-5, 67 BB, 158 SO, 2.84 ERA

In his second full year in the majors, Zito is making a serious run at the AL Cy Young Award as he leads the AL in wins (19) and is third in ERA (2.84). Throws an outstanding overhand curveball along with a low 90s fastball. When he's totally on his game is nearly unhittable, as evidenced by his strong second half (8-2, 1.79 in 11 starts with a .207 batting average against).

Prediction: Future Cy Young winner.

Others: Casey Fossum, Carlos Hernandez, Joe Kennedy, John Lackey, Damian Moss, Brett Myers, Jake Peavy, Brad Penny, Sidney Ponson, Kip Wells.

Matt Szefc is the assistant baseball editor at ESPN.com.