Allen Webster will be Chattanooga's starting pitcher Thursday night when the Lookouts open their 2012 season against the Tennessee Smokies at AT&T Field, and he has no plans of easing into things.
"I'm going to be more aggressive this year," Webster said Tuesday afternoon. "Early in the counts, I'm going to go right after them."
The Lookouts led the Southern League in earned run average (3.66) and strikeouts (1,103) last season, and their rotation this spring is filled with even more promise. Webster is the No. 2 prospect in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, according to Baseball America, while Chris Withrow, Ethan Martin and Aaron Miller were the top draft picks of the Dodgers from 2007 through '09.
Martin is scheduled to start on Friday night; Miller on Saturday night.
Withrow is rehabbing an abdominal pull in Arizona and may not join the team until next week. He is the No. 7 organizational prospect and could team with Webster to provide the Lookouts the league's top 1-2 pitching punch out of the gate.
"Without a doubt, those are two guys at the top of our list as far as moving through the system and getting to the big leagues quicker than anybody else," Lookouts pitching coach Chuck Crim said. "Everybody has got a chance to do it, but those are definitely two guys who can lead us. My job is moving all these guys to the big leagues, and that's what I'm planning on doing."
Crim isn't sure who will start Sunday or Monday due to Withrow's injury and the status of Nathan Eovaldi, who is still trying to make the big-league roster. There is no shortage of possibilities, with Matt Magill, Jon Michael Redding and Red Patterson having combined for 29 wins and just 13 losses in 59 combined starts last season for Rancho Cucamonga in the high Single-A California League.
Webster, 22, began last season as the No. 5 organizational prospect and went 5-2 with a 2.33 ERA in nine starts with Rancho Cucamonga before being promoted to Chattanooga, where he went 6-3 with a 5.04 ERA in 18 games (17 starts).
"Allen has a tremendous four-pitch mix, and it's all above-average stuff," Crim said. "He's got an above-average fastball and an above-average sink on his fastball. My main objective is getting him to learn how to control it. He's still a young pitcher, and he's still learning how to control that pitch.
"He's got a plus curveball and a plus slider, and his changeup is the best you can have. It's going to be fastball command for him; otherwise he's ready to pitch in the big leagues now."
Withrow turned 23 this week yet is entering his fourth season in Chattanooga. He made six starts late in the 2009 season, 27 starts in 2010 and 25 last year.
After struggling to a 4-9 record and a 5.97 ERA two years ago, Withrow went 6-6 with a 4.20 ERA last season.
"I don't think people understand just how young he was when he got here," Crim said. "We moved him through the system pretty quick out of high school, and he wound up using some of his years here to experience the minor league system. So the timetable is about right for him, and I expect him to have a big year.
"He showed out very well in big-league camp and looked like a big-leaguer. He just got rushed here and had to develop A-ball stuff at the Double-A level, and it's tough to do that. He's right on pace for me."
Webster and Withrow aren't the only pitchers on the big-league radar for the Dodgers. Closer Shawn Tolleson posted a 1.62 ERA in 38 appearances with the Lookouts last season, and both Crim and manager Carlos Subero pointed to Luis Vasquez as a player to watch.
The Dodgers have shown they won't hesitate to promote a pitcher from Chattanooga to Los Angeles, as Eovaldi can attest, and there are Lookouts who would love to have such an experience.
"You're always going to think about it, but you can't think too much about it or else it will mess with your head," Webster said. "You've got to go day to day."