RHP Gerrit Cole (Pirates)
A few weeks ago as the minor league regular season neared conclusion, I highlighted the top tools and pitches at every minor league level. But now, with the season over and the Arizona Fall League underway, I thought I’d expand upon some more on the previous article.
Specifically, today I’ll review the top breaking balls among all minor league pitchers from this past season. While some are already graded as plus offerings, I also identified prospects with a curveball and/or slider that projects to be a plus pitch by the time they reach the major leagues.
So, here’s a look at the pitching prospects who possess the best breaking balls in the game.
Like the Diamondbacks' Archie Bradley, Crick struggled this past season with fastball location, though Crick did make strides with his breaking ball.
Out of high school, the 19-year-old’s slider was more of a slurve with a sweeping break. However, he refined the pitch and began to throw it with sharper, up-and-down break and demonstrated the ability to throw it for a strike in any count.
A 22-year-old power pitcher, the 6’3” right-hander turned in an impressive season in the New York-Penn League (Class-A Short Season). A strikeout artist with a mid-90s fastball, he generates most of his swing-and-misses with a hard, 10-to-4 breaking slider that should be a potential plus-plus offering by the time he reaches the major leagues.
An undersized (6’) right-hander who employs a torque-oriented delivery, Buckel pounds the strike zone with an impressive four-pitch mix.
His breaking ball is by far the best of his offerings, featuring excellent pace and shape. He throws the pitch, which he apparently learned from Barry Zito according to Baseball America, with conviction, both to get ahead in the count and to induce whiffs.
Bradley’s struggles stemmed from his lack of fastball command, as he posted a 152/84 K/BB ratio over 136 innings at Low-A South Bend. However, he still piled up strikeouts with his curveball, which features a 12-to-6 shape and explosive pace. It probably already grades as a plus pitch, especially in relation to well-located fastballs.
To supplement his low- to mid-90s sinker, Guerrieri, 19, throws a plus, downer curveball that draws swing-and-misses against both righties and lefties. Perhaps what’s most impressive about the young right-hander is his excellent command of the pitch and ability to command it throughout the strike zone.
Playing off his mid- to upper-90s explosive fastball, Bundy’s curve is an absolute hammer that frequently buckles right-handed hitters. He still can leave it up in the zone on occasion, but he improved his command of the pitch over the course of the season.
The No. 2 overall selection in 2010, Taillon finished the season in impressive fashion at Double-A, going 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA and 17/1 K/BB over three starts.
The 6’6” right-hander’s curveball continued to develop this season, though he’s still working to find an ideal grip and arm angle. It still features the same spike, downward bite that it has in the past, though he now throws it with more confidence.
It’s hard to disagree that Tyler Skaggs has the best left-handed curveball among prospects. As we saw this season following his late-season call-up, it’s a pitch with tremendous depth and shape, and it is equally effective against right- and left-handed hitters. However, he needs to be more efficient with his fastball and changeup to better set up the pitch.
In addition to a crisp, mid- to upper-90s fastball, Wheeler owns a legitimate plus breaking ball, as his deception makes it an especially dangerous offering. It’s a 12-to-6 breaker with excellent pace and shape and features late downer action.
In my opinion, Cole possesses the most devastating slider in the minors (and best overall breaking ball), as it typically registers in the 88-90 mph range with excellent depth and late, sharp break. He doesn’t command the pitch particularly well, as it’s currently more of a swing-and-miss offering than one he can throw for a strike early in the count.