10 MLB Prospects Who Could Be the Next Cliff Lee

Mike RosenbaumMLB Prospects Lead WriterAugust 1, 2012

10 MLB Prospects Who Could Be the Next Cliff Lee

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    After all the excitement and rumors over the past week surrounding the Phillies potentially trading Cliff Lee, the 33-year-old left-hander was not moved before Tuesday’s trade deadline.

    Drafted by the Montreal Expos Washington Nationals in the fourth round of the 2000 draft, Lee enjoyed a breakout season in 2008 with the Cleveland Indians when he was 22-2 with a 2.54 ERA, 1.110 WHIP, 6.9 K/9 and MLB-leading 1.4 BB/9. He ultimately was named the American League Cy Young Award winner and finished 12th in the MVP voting.

    In 2009, the left-hander began his career as a hired gun, playing parts of seasons with Philadelphia, Seattle and Texas over the last four years.

    Over the course of his 11-year career, Lee is 121-75 with a 3.65 ERA, 7.3 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 in 1,767 innings. Not to be forgotten, he's also registered a 2.82 ERA with 89 K/10 BB in 82 postseason innings (11 starts).

    But as we look toward the minor leagues, are there any young, left-handed pitching prospects who have the potential to be the next Cliff Lee?

    Here are 10 southpaws who warrant consideration.

10. Nick Turley, LHP, New York Yankees

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    High-A: 6-3, 82.2 IP, 2.83 ERA, .230 BAA, 90 K/28 BB (17 G; 15 GS)

    A 50th-round draft pick—yes, you read that correctly—Turley is a 6’6” southpaw who lacks velocity, but makes up for it with command of three average pitches. He’s posted surprisingly high strikeout totals this season at High-A, and he is rapidly becoming a legitimate prospect.

    With his ongoing success, Turley’s ceiling grows as well, and he could emerge as a notable left-handed pitching prospect if he can repeat such success at Double-A.

9. Max Fried, LHP, San Diego Padres

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    Rookie: 8 IP, 6 H, 5 ER, 8 K/6 BB (5 G; 4 GS)

    Selected with the seventh overall pick in the 2012 MLB First-Year Player draft, Fried is more advanced than most high school pitchers. The left-hander demonstrates command of a three-pitch mix that includes a slightly above-average fastball, a plus curveball and a changeup that also flashes plus potential.

    With smooth and effortless mechanics, Fried’s 6’4”, 180-pound frame still leaves room for projection, as he should have No. 1 starter upside in his prime.

8. Daniel Norris, LHP, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Rookie: 25.1 IP, 4.97 ERA, .227 BAA, 26 K/10 BB (7 G; 6 GS)

    Drafted by the Blue Jays in the second round of the 2011 draft, Norris is an athletic left-hander with a four-pitch arsenal—three of which have the potential to be plus offerings. He’ll need considerable seasoning in the minor leagues to clean up his mechanics and become a more cerebral pitcher, but the upside is overly apparent.

7. Robbie Erlin, LHP, San Diego Padres

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    Double-A: 2-1, 33.2 IP, 2.67 ERA, .273 BAA, 45 K/10 BB

    While many of the elite arms on this list have blazing-hot fastballs and need to come up some in terms of commanding pitches and developing useable third pitches, Erlin already has plus-secondary offerings and command. His breaking ball has terrific shape as does his changeup, and he locates both nearly as well as his fastball. His fastball works in the 88-to-91 mph range, but can scrape 93 mph when he lets one go.

    Erlin gets great plane on his pitches despite only being 6'0", and he has fluid, repeatable and athletic mechanics that should keep him healthy.

6. Nick Maronde, LHP, Los Angeles Angels

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    High-A: 3 -1, 59.1 IP, 1.82 ERA, .187 BAA, 60 K/14 BB (10 GS)

    Drafted in the third round of the 2011 draft out of the University of Florida, the Angels chose to develop Maronde as a starter after working out of the Gators bullpen. He muddles between being a finesse and power pitcher, and a strained lat muscle sidelined him for nearly a month earlier this season. However, the early results this season have been highly promising, and the 22-year-old recently received a promotion to Double-A.

5. Tony Cingrani, LHP, Cincinnati Reds

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    High-A: 5-1, 56.2 IP, 1.11 ERA, .189 BAA, 71 K/13 BB (10 GS)

    Double-A: 5-3, 58.2 IP, 2.15 ERA, .193 BAA, 62 K/21 BB (10 GS)

    After serving as a reliever at Rice, the Reds converted Cingrani to a starting pitcher after drafting him in the third round of the 2011 draft. Since then, the left-hander has breezed through the low minors and is nearing another promotion after dominating at Double-A.

    Basically, Cingrani is a two-pitch pitcher relying on a plus fastball-changeup combination. With plus command of both offerings, Cingrani has posted huge strikeout numbers this season and, in general, has been incredibly difficult to square up. I still think that he’ll need to develop at least a solid-average breaking ball, but obviously he’s doing well with his current arsenal.

4. Jesse Biddle, LHP, Philadelphia Phillies

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    High-A: 7-4, 111.1 IP, 3.23 ERA, .252 BAA, 116 K/45 BB (21 GS)

    A strong season at High-A has led to Biddle’s ascent to No. 1 prospect status within the Phillies organization. He’s improved the command of his three-pitch mix this season, which has led to more consistency and higher strikeout rates. Additionally, his effectiveness has allowed him to work deeper into games.

    Moving forward, improving his fastball command will be essential in his overall development, as it sets up each of his off-speed offerings.

3. Tyler Skaggs, LHP, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Double-A: 5-4, 69.2 IP, 2.84 ERA, .241 BAA, 71 K/21 BB (13 GS)

    Triple-A: 3-1, 34.2 IP, 2.08 ERA, .264 BAA, 26 K/10 BB (6 GS)

    Currently the top left-handed pitching prospect in the game, Skaggs is tall and wiry with deceptive arm action and repeatable mechanics that allow him to pound the knees with his 88-to-93 mph fastball.

    He also has arguably the best left-handed curveball in the minor leagues, a double-plus offering that keeps right-handed hitters off balance as much as it does lefties. Skaggs will also work in a decent changeup, but the southpaw’s bread and butter is his hammer.

2. Danny Hultzen, LHP, Seattle Mariners

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    Double-A: 8-3, 75.1 IP, 1.19 ERA, .151 BAA, 79 K/32 BB (13 GS)

    Triple-A: 1-2, 32.2 IP, 5.23 ERA, .280 BAA, 41 K/24 BB (6 GS)

    Hultzen was regarded as one of the more advanced pitchers in the 2011 draft class due to his collegiate experience at Virginia and overall pitchability. Poised for a big league call-up later this season, he demonstrates advanced command of three pitches—a low-90s fastball, a slider (technically his out pitch) and a changeup—and is effective against right- and left-handed hitters.

1. Justin Nicolino, LHP, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Low-A: 7-2, 89.1 IP, 2.52 ERA, .251 BAA, 90 K/14 BB (21 G; 15 GS)

    Drafted by the Blue Jays in the second round of the 2010 draft, Nicolino has emerged as an elite left-handed pitching prospect due to his projectable frame and impressive three-pitch mix. His velocity has climbed as he’s physically developed, and the Blue Jays have protected him in the lower minors with the rest of their "big three" in RHP Aaron Sanchez and RHP Noah Syndergaard.