- Gary Gillette, ESPN.com MLB insider contributor
Although he's only 24, Dontrelle Willis has been a bona fide star for three seasons and is one of the most popular and recognizable players in major league baseball. With rumors swirling that the D-Train will soon be pulling out of South Florida for good, it's time to take a look at the next generation of young left-handers who are lighting up the radar guns.
With the constant pressure to win and ubiquitous media speculation about who will be promoted and when, most top prospects no longer get extended auditions in the high minors before they are rushed to The Show. Sometimes, the organization's faith is rewarded; too often, the young pitchers immediately find themselves in deep water. All eight of these special young hurlers will be 23 or younger on July 1, 2006; they span the spectrum from established veterans to complete wild cards.
Tampa Bay's Scott Kazmir, who made his debut in The Show at the tender age of 20 in 2004, already is considered one of the AL's elite pitchers. And the high-frequency buzz around Francisco Liriano is such that he is unfairly expected by many to replicate the stunning performance of Twins teammate Johan Santana. Both will be taking the mound Friday night.
Who is the next Dontrelle Willis? Maybe Scott Kazmir. Gary Gillette takes a look at some of the game's best young left-handers.