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Roark is up and local trio may not be far behind

The area has produced notable Major League Baseball players before. Morris natives Scott (and Ed) Spiezio, Kelly Dransfeldt and Billy Petrick all had some amount of professional success.

While none of them are yet in The Show, a few young pitchers from the area continue to flash the potential to become real contributors, if not stars, at the highest level. And just outside of the Morris Daily Herald’s readership area, Tanner Roark of Wilmington was added to the Washington Nationals’ 25-man roster Tuesday.

Roark made 33 appearances, including 11 starts, for the Nationals’ Triple-A affiliate in Syracuse this season. In 105 2/3 innings, he has 84 strikeouts, 20 walks and a 3.15 ERA. Dan Kolko of the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network wrote that Roark may be used as a long reliever immediately, but that he “could also be an option to move into the Nats’ rotation.”

“He’s thrown extremely well,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said of Roark, per the Washington Post, this week. “He’s kind of a hybrid between a long reliever and starting pitcher so he brings some versatility to the organization and another quality arm.”

One of my favorite baseball pundits, ESPN’s Keith Law, recently had positive things to say about two locals. Mike Foltynewicz of Minooka cracked Law’s midseason list of the top 50 prospects in baseball, coming in at No. 46. While Law admitted that Foltynewicz, according to some scouts, may end up as a closer due to a lack of secondary pitches to a fastball that’s been “hitting triple digits,” he says that Foltynewicz “might have a No. 2 (starter) ceiling.”

Zach Petrick of Morris didn’t make the top 50, but Law recently referred to Petrick as “maybe a back-end starter” on Twitter. He meant that as a compliment. Less than 14 months ago, Petrick was an undrafted free agent. For him to make it to Class AA Springfield and be viewed as a prospect with legitimate big-league starting potential by someone like Law already is pretty amazing.

Springfield is Petrick’s third stop in the Cardinals organization this season. He dominated at Class A Peoria (0.83 ERA, 46-8 K-BB in 32 2/3 innings) and was flat-out ridiculous at high-A Palm Beach (0.27 ERA, 32-4 K-BB in 33 1/3 innings) to earn promotions. CardinalsFarm named Petrick its Pitcher of the Month in both May and June.

Petrick was doing fine at Springfield until hitting a bump in his last start, when he allowed five earned runs in 3 1/3 innings on Aug. 1. Considering that minor disaster, his numbers in four Double-A starts (4.71 ERA, 20-6 K-BB) aren’t horrible.

Foltynewicz hasn’t had the eye-popping numbers or the meteoric rise of Petrick, but I’d imagine that to the Astros, he’s progressing about as they’d hoped he would when they drafted him 19th overall in 2010.

If the Astros, who were 37-74 entering Tuesday’s action, were more competitive at the big-league level, Foltynewicz might already be considered for a promotion. As it is, in an attempt to delay the start of his service clock, they’ll likely wait until at least June of next season to call him up.

Foltynewicz started the year by pitching 26 innings at Lancaster, a high-A hitters’ paradise, recording a 3.81 ERA and a 29-14 K-BB. Foltynewicz has had better results since being promoted to Class AA Corpus Christi, with twice as many strikeouts as walks (82-41) and a 2.67 ERA in 81 innings.

Another local who is enjoying professional success, even if he’s not (at least yet) considered a major prospect like Foltynewicz and Petrick, is Minooka’s Tony Bucciferro, a member of the White Sox organization.

Bucciferro made three dominant starts for rookie-level Bristol, with a 25-1 K-BB in 18 2/3 innings. That earned him a spot at low-A Kannapolis, where he’s continued to avoid walks (43-3 K-BB) and has a 2.93 ERA in 43 innings. He pitched six shutout innings Monday night at Greenville.

There’s a saying in baseball’s sabermetric community that there’s no such thing as a pitching prospect. The message is that even the most promising young hurlers get injured or flame out at such a high rate that their future contritions should never be taken for granted.

With that in mind, it’s possible that Foltynewicz, Petrick and Bucciferro never amount to much in the big leagues. It’s possible that none of the three ever get there. Roark might end up getting nothing more than a brief cup of coffee. But Roark, Foltynewicz, Petrick and Bucciferro have all been good enough in 2013 that sustained future big-league success is a real possibility.

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