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Arms race for elite pitching trioThe defection of Cuban lefthander Aroldis Chapman has returned his name to the spotlight just four months after he blew scouts away in the second World Baseball Classic. But the tournament also featured top Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish. In fact, over the course of five days in March, an enterprising fan could have seen Chapman, Darvish and eventual No. 1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg all pitching in San Diego. Strasburg is now under control to the Nationals and Chapman should be a free agent within the next six months, leaving Darvish as the only one of the troika without an ETA on these shores. These three players represent the best pitching talent in the world that is not yet in the major leagues, and are all well ahead of any minor league pitching prospect. While all three have great potential, any ranking of them has to take into account both short- and long-term considerations, with different results for each list. Strasburg, 20, is the best-known to MLB scouts, because he was seen in high school and then burst on the scene the summer after his freshman year at San Diego State by hitting 97 and going nine-up/nine-down through a strong Team USA lineup. Strasburg primarily works with two pitches: a 94-98 mph fastball that has touched triple digits many times and a hard curve in the low to mid-80s that, given its velocity, acts as much like a slider as it does like a curve. He also throws a true slider and a solid changeup that he didn't need at the college level this year, where he posted what was likely the highest strikeout rate of any starter in Division I history. If all three pitchers were signed and placed in major league rotations today, my money would be on Darvish to provide the most value this year. He has the strongest experience, facing the highest caliber of opposing batters of any of these three pitchers; and he has a deep repertoire with some funk in his delivery that should make it hard for hitters to adjust to him. For the long term, however, I'd bet on Strasburg. Darvish's arm works fine now, but he has some minor delivery issues (like the way he hooks his wrist in the back) and has been worked very hard in Japan. Chapman's stuff is erratic and his workload is an unknown, making him riskier than the other two pitchers in this discussion. Strasburg's velocity is fairly easy -- if you can call throwing 100 mph "easy" -- and he's been managed carefully, working every seventh day in school and never running up excessive pitch counts under Aztecs coach (and new pitcher's best friend) Tony Gwynn. He's not the slam-dunk that Darvish is, and he may have some development left to do once he enters pro ball, although it is likely that Strasburg's development will have to come at the big league level because minor league hitters will be unable to hit his stuff. Even considering those caveats, Strasburg presents more potential to be not just a No. 1 starter, but an upper-tier No. 1 starter who gives his team 200-plus innings a year of dominant performance.
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