Drafted by the Giants in the first round (No. 10 overall) of the 2006 draft out of the University of Washington, few organizations seemed interested in drafting Tim Lincecum, a 5’11”, 175-pound right-hander with highly unorthodox mechanics.
However, Lincecum’s stellar track record as an amateur was hard to ignore, not to mention his arsenal of above-average to plus offerings and highly deceptive mechanics.
It didn’t take long for “The Freak” to reach the major leagues, as the Giants called up the then-23-year-old up after only 13 starts in the minor leagues. Although he endured some initial struggles following the promotion, it was clear that there were great things to come.
In 2008, his first full season in the major leagues, Lincecum went 18-5 with a 2.62 ERA, 7.2 H/9, 10.5 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 and, more importantly, won the National League Cy Young award.
The following year, Lincecum, in his age-25 season, collected his second straight Cy Young award after posting a 15-7 record, 2.48 ERA, 6.7 H/9, 10.4 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9.
Between the 2008 and 2009 seasons, he made 65 starts, logged 452.1 innings and compiled 526/152 K/BB. Not too shabby, right?
But since his back-to-back Cy Young campaigns, Lincecum has regressed across the board in every subsequent season. However, I’m only interested in extolling his virtues.
As we shift our focus to the minor leagues, are there any prospects capable of making a Lincecum-like impact? Normally, I would say no. But considering the ridiculous upside of the game’s elite pitching prospects, it’s entirely possible.
After a brutal first half of the season at Triple-A, Miller, 22, regained his 2011 form in the wake of a slight adjustment to his mechanics. Even though Miller’s fastball isn’t as overpowering compared to some of the other pitchers on this list, it’s a plus pitch thanks to his ability to command it throughout the strike zone and induce whiffs.
When he’s painting with his fastball, the right-hander’s curveball and changeup are that much more effective—though he needs to mix his pitches with more consistency as a big leaguer.
Acquired by the Mets in exchange for Carlos Beltran at the 2011 trade deadline, Wheeler, 22, was excellent this past season at Double-A and finished the year at Triple-A after a late-season promotion. At 6’4”, 185 pounds, the right-hander has deceptive mechanics and explosive arm action that make him incredibly hard to barrel. Furthermore, Wheeler possesses two plus pitches in a mid- to upper-90s fastball with exceptional late life and a 12-to-6 downer curveball.
He made strides this past season, developing a true feel for his changeup, which should be an above-average offering by the time he reaches the major leagues.
One of the top pitchers in the minor leagues this past season, Fernandez, 20, is a physical right-hander who possesses an advanced feel for pitching well beyond his age. At 6’3”, 215 pounds, he exhibits surprisingly consistent mechanics and throws everything on a downward plane, pummeling the strike zone with four above-average to plus pitches.
In my opinion, the kid should be included in any conversation about the game’s top pitching prospect. After dominating at both Class-A levels this past season, it’s conceivable that Fernandez could be a late-season call-up in 2013.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft, Cole is the epitome of a power pitcher. At 6’4”, 220 pounds, the 22-year-old right-hander boasts a plus-plus fastball and devastating slider that can be unhittable at times. His changeup, which frequently touches 90 mph, plays up a grade when he’s locating his fastball. Even though he struggles to repeat his mechanics, Cole has all the makings of a No. 1 starter in the big leagues.
Reaching the major leagues in his first professional season, Dylan Bundy has the potential to be a legitimate superstar for a long, long time. The 19-year-old is durable with clean and repeatable mechanics and features four pitches that are already above-average to plus offerings. Given his age and lack of professional experience, the right-hander’s pitchability is simply amazing and will only get better over time.