Ranking Major League Baseball's Top 10 Pitching Prospect Trios
The original "Big Three": Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder
In 2010 the San Francisco Giants won the World Series with the best homegrown rotation in recent memory. Drafted and developed by the organization, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner were each at the forefront of the team’s immensely successful season.
Before that it was the Oakland A’s “Big Three” of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito, who combined for 234 wins in the same starting rotation from 2000 to 2004.
If you've read Prospect Pipeline’s top 100 prospects, you already know the minor leagues are rich with high-ceiling pitching prospects, and many from the same organization.
But which organization houses the best trio of young arms?
Actually, it's a surprisingly a long list. But these 10 teams’ pitching prospect trios stand out in a big way.
*Prospects ranked in the top 100 have a "No. X'"next to their name. For example: Dylan Bundy, RHP (No. 2).
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10. San Francisco Giants
Kyle Crick, RHP (No. 60)
Clayton Blackburn, RHP (No. 87)
Chris Stratton, RHP
9. Boston Red Sox
Matt Barnes, RHP (No. 40)
Henry Owens, LHP (No. 86)
Allen Webster, RHP (No. 97)
8. Tampa Bay Rays
Taylor Guerrieri, RHP (No. 34)
Jake Odorizzi, RHP (No. 41)
Chris Archer, RHP (No. 74)
7. Miami Marlins:
Jose Fernandez, RHP (No. 8)
Justin Nicolino, LHP (No. 45)
Andrew Heaney, LHP (No. 92)
6. Arizona Diamondbacks:
Tyler Skaggs, LHP (No. 18)
Archie Bradley (No. 25)
David Holmberg, LHP
5. St. Louis Cardinals
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Shelby Miller, RHP (No. 14), Trevor Rosenthal, RHP (No. 57) and Carlos Martinez, RHP (No. 38)
Possessing arguably the top farm system in the game, the Cardinals continue to produce big-league players like it’s going out of style. More specifically, the organization’s ability to groom young pitchers has led to a log jam at Double-A and Triple-A, which is actually an enviable situation.
As a result, the Cardinals had four pitching prospects ranked within Prospect Pipeline’s top 100 prospects. But since this article on features on the best pitching trios in the minor leagues, that leaves right-hander Michael Wacha on the outside looking in—for now.
After a quick ascension through the Cardinals’ system in 2011, Miller, 22, struggled for the first time in his young career over the first half of the 2012 season at Triple-A. Thankfully, the 6’3” right-hander righted the ship and began dominating once again after the All-Star break. As a result, Miller finally made his highly anticipated big-league debut as a September call-up.
With a three-pitch mix that’s highlighted by a deceptively quick, swing-and-miss fastball in the low- to mid-90s, Miller appears to be ready for the challenge of a full season in the major leagues. Following Trevor Rosenthal’s relegation to the bullpen, the right-hander is now competing with Joe Kelly for the final spot in the starting rotation.
Given his background as a former first rounder, not to mention his massive success in the minor leagues (excluding his first-half struggles last season), Miller should ultimately break camp with the Cardinals. If he pitches as he did during the second-half surge in 2012, he could emerge as one of the better rookies in the game this season.
Despite his dominance in the Double-A rotation during the first half of the 2012 season, Rosenthal’s electric plus-plus fastball and swing-and-miss breaking ball led to a big-league promotion as a reliever. After struggling in his initial appearances, everything clicked for the 6’2” right-hander in September. More importantly, it happened just in time for the postseason.
Appearing numerous times in both the NLDS and NLCS, the 22-year-old allowed only four baserunners while notching 15 strikeouts (exactly half of the batters he faced) in 8.2 innings. I still like him more as a starter and expected him to pitch better than he did in such a role this spring, but, at the same time, I completely understand the Cardinals' desire to move him back to bullpen with two weeks left in the spring.
For now, Rosenthal will likely serve as the team’s seventh- or eighth-inning guy, and likely receive a few save opportunities when Jason Motte needs a day off. But don’t be surprised if he ultimately ends up in the Cardinals’ starting rotation.
Often compared to Pedro Martinez as an undersized right-hander with a lightning-quick arm and easy plus velocity, Martinez excelled as a 20-year-old in Double-A last season. With a fastball that registers in the mid- to high-90s, as well as a sharp-breaking curveball and plus changeup with excellent fade, the right-hander’s pure stuff alone will get him to the major leagues in some capacity.
Once he gets his visa issues straightened out and finally joins the Cardinals’ big-league camp, Martinez will likely head back to Double-A to make up for lost time this spring. As his fastball command and changeup continue to improve, the 21-year-old could start moving quickly. Considering how the organization handled Trevor Rosenthal last season, it would make sense for Martinez to get his first taste of the major leagues as a reliever later in the year.
4. Seattle Mariners
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Taijuan Walker, RHP (No. 5), Danny Hultzen, LHP (No. 30) and James Paxton, LHP (No. 77)
Taijuan Walker headlines the trio, as he pitched the entire 2012 season as a 19-year-old in Double-A. He endured his share of ups and downs throughout the year, but showed the ability to make adjustments against more advanced competition. As always, the 6’4” right-hander’s stuff is electric. His plus fastball is explosive out of the hand and registers in the mid- to high-90s, and he’s also developed a promising cutter that comes in around 89-92 mph. Walker’s curveball is a hammer with sharp, downer bite, though he’s still developing a feel for both that and his changeup.
Entering his age-20 season, which will likely begin at Triple-A, the right-hander has the highest ceiling of all pitching prospects not named Dylan Bundy. At the same time, there’s no need to rush the final stages of his development.
The second-overall pick out of Virginia in 2011, Hultzen’s mature arsenal and pitchability make him the closest to the major leagues of all the Mariners‘ pitching prospects. However, because the 23-year-old lacks a plus pitch, his success has always been dependent on his command—which was excellent last year, until he received a mid-season promotion to Triple-A. As long as his control problems are a thing of the past, the southpaw could get to the major leagues in a hurry in 2013.
At 6’4”, 220 pounds with a plus fastball and hard breaking ball, Paxton offers plenty to dream on. At the same time, that’s exactly why he’s so frustrating. There’s no question the left-hander can miss bats at the highest level. However, his lack of control and command, as well as a lack of viable third pitch, limits his ceiling.
Even though he’s been successful as a starter and spent the entire 2012 season in Double-A, the 24-year-old is still a ways away from the majors. If he doesn’t start to make swifter adjustments and improve his command, it’s possible the organization may move him to the bullpen, where his fastball-curveball combination would be a legitimate weapon.
3. New York Mets
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Zack Wheeler, RHP (No. 7), Noah Syndergaard, RHP (No. 37) and Rafael Montero, RHP
Wheeler emerged as one of the top right-handed pitching prospects in the game last season—his first full season in the Mets organization—as he spent most of the year at Double-A and spent the last month of the season in the Triple-A starting rotation. With a four-pitch mix of above-average to plus offerings, including a fastball that scrapes 97-98 mph, Wheeler’s pure stuff is good enough to pitch in the major leagues right now. However, his overall command can be iffy, so he stands to benefit from additional seasoning in Triple-A.
Acquired from the Blue Jays as part of the deal for R.A. Dickey, Syndergaard could very well be the next Zack Wheeler. Not in the sense that he will develop the same caliber of arsenal, but rather his prospect status could explode in 2013 with a strong showing at High-A. If his secondary arsenal continues to develop as hoped, the 20-year-old could potentially finish the season in Double-A.
While the Mets have several candidates to round out their pitching trio, Rafael Montero gets the nod for his insanely-good command that led to 110/19 K/BB in his full-season debut (across both Class-A levels) in 2012. The 22-year-old right-hander had a late start to his professional career, and, given the lack of mileage on is arm, could hop on the fast track to the majors if he deals at Double-A to begin the season.
2. Baltimore Orioles
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Dylan Bundy, RHP (No. 2), Kevin Gausman, RHP (No. 47) and Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP
The Orioles come in a close second thanks to their own dominant duo of Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. After selecting Bundy with the fourth-overall selection in the 2011 draft, the organization decided that the prized right-hander needed a friend. So, with their second-straight fourth-overall pick last June, the Orioles selected LSU ace Kevin Gausman.
Even though Bundy was plucked out of high school, both he and Gausman are within the same striking distance of the majors. They haven’t been cut from camp yet, but when that inevitably happens, expect them both to open the year at the same minor-league level and move up the ladder together.
On the other hand, Rodriguez has some serious helium headed into the 2013 season, as the 19-year-old left-hander showcased improved stuff last season and held his own as a younger player in the South Atlantic League (Low-A). If he continues at his current rate of development, the wiry southpaw could slide into the starting rotation behind Bundy and Gausman by the end of the 2015 season.
1. Pittsburgh Pirates
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Gerrit Cole, RHP (No. 6), Jameson Taillon, RHP (No. 10) and Luis Heredia, RHP (No. 54)
Despite 20 consecutive seasons with a losing record, Pirates fans still have every reason to be optimistic. By the end of the 2014 season, the team’s top prospects, right-handers Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, will both be in the team’s starting rotation. After reaching Triple-A in his professional debut last season, Cole will be the first of the trio to debut in the major leagues, likely during the second half of the 2013 season. Taillon, on the other hand, is headed back to Double-A after three excellent starts at the level to conclude his 2012 campaign. The 21-year-old is on pace to reach the majors in 2014.
It may take another season, but 18-year-old Luis Heredia will eventually be regarded in the same manner as his future rotation-mates. At 6’6”, 205 pounds, the right-hander has the potential for three above-average to plus pitches, and already possesses command well beyond his years. Considering that he’ll be making his full-season debut this year, Heredia will be the last of the trio to reach the majors.
Assuming the organization is as protective of him as they’ve been Cole and Taillon, don’t expect Heredia to arrive before late 2015.