mlb 06/09/08 12:40 PM ET Lisa Winston is a reporter for]]> In the bigs

Now that the 2008 First-Year Player Draft is over, we can all breathe a big sigh of relief. So let's use that motif for this week's Futures Exchange.

No, not the Draft.


It was a good week for several underdogs who made it to big league bullpens against the odds.

Among that group, both 6-foot-7 right-hander Scott Patterson of the Yankees and 5-foot-8 southpaw Danny Ray Herrera of the Cincinnati Reds came up, got their names engraved into the Major League rolodex, did their jobs and returned to the Minors, for now at least.

Others, such as sidearming specialists Brad Ziegler of Oakland and Mark Worrell of St. Louis, remain in the bigs with their respective teams.

Worrell, a 12th-round pick from 2004 who is not related to former St. Louis closer Todd, collected 62 saves from 2005-06 for Advanced A Palm Beach and Double-A Springfield. He excelled in a setup role for Triple-A Memphis this year, posting a 1.87 ERA before his promotion. So far in the big leagues, he's tossed three shutout innings over two appearances. He also added to his value by blasting a three-run homer in his lone plate appearance off Washington's Tim Redding.

Ziegler, signed by Oakland in the summer of 2004, spent his first two full seasons as a starter with a traditional over-the-top delivery. He did well in that role, leading the system with 164 strikeouts in 2005 and posting the second-best ERA (3.37) in the Texas League in 2006. He performed even better after converting to a submarine delivery and a relief role the next summer, posting a 1.14 ERA at Double-A Midland before turning in a 2.96 mark at Triple-A Sacramento.

This year, he rang up a 0.34 ERA in 24 1/3 innings at Sacramento before coming up to the Majors on May 30. Since then, the 28-year-old Ziegler, who has suffered two skull fractures in his career, has yet to allow a run in 6 1/3 innings over five games, earning his first big league win on June 8 against the Angels.

Also collecting his first Major League win that same day was the pitcher with perhaps the most upside of this group, Padres right-hander Carlos Guevara. This Rule 5 steal, whose ascension to the bigs was delayed by a groin strain at the start of the season, made his debut June 2 with a perfect inning against the Cubs. Since then, he's pitched twice more, allowing three runs on three hits in his second game before Sunday's perfect inning got him that first W against the Mets.

The 25-year-old screwballer posted a 2.32 ERA and an impressive 12.6 K/9 ratio last year with Cincinnati's Double-A Chattanooga squad. A seventh-round pick in 2003 from Texas, Guevara was widely regarded as one of the best arms available in December's Rule 5 Draft, and wound up with San Diego after Florida took him with the fifth pick.

A phone call away

Right-hander Josh Roenicke, a 10th-round pick out of UCLA by Cincinnati in 2006, moved from football gridiron to the baseball outfield to the baseball mound, so he has a fresh arm despite his relatively advanced age of 25. His baseball bloodlines (dad Gary and uncle Ron both played in the Majors) likely helped him make a quick transition to the pro game, as he led to the system with 24 combined saves for Advanced A Sarasota and Chattanooga in his first full season in 2007. Roenicke posted a 3.27 ERA and 10 saves for Chattanooga at the start of this season, and has limited International League hitters to a .118 average in five innings since his promotion to Triple-A Louisville. He throws a fastball in the mid-90s with late life and has emerged as the organization's top closer prospect.

The Yankees may have lost an erstwhile closer prospect with the conversion of Joba Chamberlain to the rotation, but they have two more with right-handers Mark Melancon and J. Brent Cox both returning from Tommy John surgery. Melancon, who entered the season with just eight pro innings under his belt since being drafted in the ninth round out of Arizona in 2006, has been viewed by many as the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera. He's lived up to the hype this year, posting a 2.84 ERA at Advanced A Tampa and a 1.37 ERA in 19 2/3 innings since moving up to Double-A Trenton. Cox also appears to have regained his top form, ringing up a sterling 0.75 ERA and 10 saves for Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre. A second-round pick in 2005 out of Texas, he was the top collegiate closer in his Draft class.

A year away

He may be closer than a year away, but we'll put closer prospect Casey Weathers in this category for now. The soon-to-be 23-year-old is currently working in the Double-A Tulsa bullpen, where he has a 2.25 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 24 innings of work. The eighth overall pick out of Vanderbilt last summer, Weathers throws a plus fastball and hard slider.

The Mets' top pick in 2007, right-hander Eddie Kunz, is an Oregon State alumnus who has been mentored by veteran closer Billy Wagner. The lessons have paid off this year, as the 22-year-old has recorded 15 saves and a 3.62 ERA for Double-A Binghamton. Kunz is one of the top prospects in a system stripped by the Johan Santana deal, and as the Mets recently showed by calling up Nick Evans, they're not shy about turning to the Double-A level for reinforcements.

Down the road

Two years ago, you would have made a lot of money in Vegas if you'd gotten odds on right-hander Robert Delaney being named to the Florida State League All-Star Game this weekend. But the undrafted free agent, who signed in 2006 out of St. John's University, has been money in the bank for the Twins organization. Last summer, Delaney compiled 29 saves with a 0.77 ERA at Class A Beloit by the midseason break, then posted a 1.54 ERA and seven more saves after a promotion to Advanced A Fort Myers. He's been every bit as impressive for Fort Myers this year, using his low-90s fastball and plus slider to collect 13 saves and a 1.42 ERA with 34 strikeouts and four walks in 31 2/3 innings.

I saved for last the pitcher whose numbers are simply mind-boggling. Since joining the Giants a 21st-round pick out of South Florida last summer, Daniel Otero has allowed three earned runs in 47 innings of relief work (0.57 ERA) while collecting 35 saves.

After earning's Short-Season Reliever of the Year Award in 2007, when he notched 19 saves and a 1.21 ERA at Salem-Keizer (which was also our Minor League Team of the Year), Otero picked right up by reeling off 23 2/3 innings of scoreless ball to open the year at Class A Augusta. He finally gave up an unearned run on Sunday, but his ERA is still perfect, and his 16 saves rank him sixth in the Minors.

The Miami native transferred to South Florida after three years at Duke. While he's not going to blow batters away with his high-80s fastball, slider and changeup, Otero clearly has what it takes to pitch.