Looking over the Charlotte Stone Crabs roster, not a whole lot of names jump out at you. Alex Cobb and David Newmann were both 4th-round picks and are decent prospects, but based on names alone, the Crabs' 17-11 record doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It helps, of course, that they've been getting great starts from Darin Downs, and Cody Cipriano's hit well, but a big reason for the unexpected(to me, anyway) success has been a lights-out bullpen, headlined by Matt Gorgen and Austin Hinkle.
Gorgen was the Rays' 16th-round draft pick in 2008 out of the University of California. He signed and reported to Hudson Valley, where he put up ridiculous numbers in 23 innings: 7 hits, 5 walks, 35 strikeouts to go with a 1.96 ERA. In our off-season top 15 pitchers list, he was one of the guys who just missed the cut, but he probably deserved to be on it. The Rays clearly saw something with him, skipping him over low-A ball into the Florida State League, where he's done nothing but dominate.
He's thrown 14 innings on the season, admittedly a small sample size. But he's got 19 strikeouts to 6 walks, a 1.86 GO/AO ratio, and he hasn't allowed a run yet. Another thing to like about Gorgen is his ability to pitch multiple innings: He's made 8 appearances, pitching two innings in 6 of them. Coming out of college, Gorgen sat at 90-92 MPH with his fastball, but he relied a lot on a high-80s cutter. He doesn't have the same changeup as his twin brother Scott, who was a 4th-round selection by St. Louis, so he's limited to the bullpen.
Gorgen's great statline might bring up memories of Ryan Reid, who started 2008 like a house afire in the FSL, but I think Gorgen's a better prospect than Reid. While Reid was a higher draft pick(7th round in 2006), he was 23 years old for the majority of the time he was domination the FSL. Gorgen is 22, which isn't young for the league, but it's not a problem for a college player. The Rays have already skipped Gorgen one level, but if he keeps up this pace, it'll be tough to deny him at shot at AA later this year.
Hinkle hasn't exactly taken the conventional route to this point. He wasn't selected until the 41st round in the 2007 draft out of Coastal Carolina University. He only pitched four innings in the 2007 college season, but he showed enough for the Rays to keep an eye on him and draft him late. He debuted in Princeton, posting a 1.64 ERA, impressive to be sure, but he was a college draftee. The Rays sent him to full-season ball in 2008, and he "broke out" with Columbus, striking out 67 batters in 46.2 innings on his way to a 2.51 ERA.
The Rays moved him up a level to Charlotte for 2009, and he's been an important part of the Crabs' bullpen. His strikeouts are down(but still 9.8 per 9) and his walks are up(a more alarming trend, but possibly a sample-size anomaly), but his WHIP is still under 1, and he's allowed just a single earned run in 14.2 innings. He turns 23 later this month, so he's a bit old for the FSL, but his development was slowed by hardly pitching in college in 2007. The report on him out of college was that he throws in the low 90's, but it was his slider that caught the Rays' eye. Like Gorgen, Hinkle is capable of working multiple innings, having done so in 6 of his 8 appearances.
Neither pitcher has the dominating stuff you'd expect from a future closer, but it's easy to see either one becoming at least an effective reliever at the major-league level. Obviously it'll depend how they do at higher levels, but so far both of them have done the things you'd want from any reliever: They don't walk too many people, they strike batters out, and they keep the ball in the ballpark(over the past two years combined, they've struck out 137, walked 39, and allowed 5 homeruns in 98.1 innings). For now, though, they'll help the Stone Crabs continue to make noise in the FSL.