Days after Dallas Braden’s perfection, Johnny Cueto came pretty close to matching it on Tuesday.
In his first career complete game, Cueto struck out eight and walked none, allowing just one hit. Ronny Cedeno‘s third-inning single was inches away from being caught by shortstop Paul Janish, costing Cueto a no-hitter. Cedeno was the lone baserunner for the Pirates, also reaching on an HBP in the sixth.
It is a rare prospect that comes into the majors with the kind of expectations Johnny Cueto did. Could this performance — the best of his career — be the kind that launches the 24-year-old to stardom?
Cueto ripped through minor league lineups as a youngster and was the next fireballer ready to take over Major League Baseball in 2008. Cueto was someone who could clear the skies of the Reds’ gray world — they haven’t had a complete-game one-hitter since John Smiley in 1996.
Instead, Cueto mixed flashes of hype-matching brilliance with 6-run and 4-run outings. He finished with a 4.81 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in his 2008 rookie campaign. He’s been on the roller coaster since and has taken plenty of fantasy owners for a ride.
The following season, the then 23-year-old weathered the peaks and valleys of a young star, showing minor improvements in his end-of-season numbers (4.41, 1.36).
So far in this young 2010, his ERA and WHIP have again shown minor advancements. However, all of Cueto’s 8- and 9-K games, all of his dominant performances are signs of what the pitcher is capable of at his best.
Scratch that. The dominating performance Tuesday is what he’s capable of at his best. Can he lump enough performances like that together to turn into an upper echelon pitcher? Let’s ask his catcher:
“He’s always got his stuff,” catcher Ramon Hernandez told the Associated Press after Tuesday’s game. “He’s been working at trying to get ahead of the hitters and not get too excited, concentrate a little more. He has a good idea of where he wants to put the baseball.”
It’s Hernandez’s job to stroke the young guy’s ego, and to compliment him on a great performance. But coupled with his dominant streaks I see quite a bit of truth in that statement.
So where does that leave us fantasy owners? Waiting, watching and hoping mostly. But we also need to take action because Cueto’s available in 63% of Yahoo leagues. I picked him up for one of my revolving door rotation spots. It’s a pretty competitive league and I was surprised he was available.
His current owners are probably too jacked up about the one-hitter to get decent trade value, but you should check the wire and increase his ownership rate if you can. Even if you stash him for two or three starts and dump him, it’s a safe gamble worth taking.
Cueto’s career numbers:
- 22-26 record, 4.55 ERA, 387.1 innings, 323 Ks (7.51/9), 141 walks, 1.37 WHIP.
What do you think? Is Cueto ready to break out or will it always be a roller coaster ride with him?