MLB Prospects Update: Hottest, Coldest Pitchers at Every Minor League Level
With the first series of the 2013 Minor League Baseball season now in the books, it’s time to reflect on some of the best and worst pitching performances thus far.
Because most of this year’s Opening Day starters are set to toe the slab either Tuesday or Wednesday, all stats in this first installment only reflect each pitcher’s inaugural start. Similarly, this series will focus primarily on minor league starters until relief pitchers log a sizable number of innings.
So, after breaking down the more notable offensive performances yesterday afternoon, here’s a look at the hottest and coldest pitching prospects to begin the season.
*All stats courtesy of MiLB.com
*Due to the number of outstanding performances at Low-A, this week's installment will not include the coldest pitchers at the level.
Josh Hader, LHP, Baltimore Orioles
6 IP, H, 6/1 K/BB (1 G)
A 19th-round pick out of a Maryland high school last June, Hader allowed one hit over six scoreless frames in his full-season debut.
Eddie Butler, RHP, Colorado Rockies
5.1 IP, H, 7/1 K/BB (1 G)
After leading the Pioneer League with a 2.13 ERA last season, Butler was nearly unhittable in his Low-A debut. Expect his stay at the level to be brief.
Shane Watson, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies
6 IP, 1.50 ERA, 4/0 K/BB (1 G)
Despite logging only seven innings last summer in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, the Phillies assigned Watson to Low-A Lakewood for his full-season debut.
Martin Agosta, RHP, San Francisco Giants
5 IP, 4 H, 9/0 K/BB (1 G)
Considering Agosta fanned 19 batters last season over 10.2 innings in the rookie-level Arizona League, expect the right-hander to once again post a high strikeout rate in his full-season debut.
Rafael De Paula, RHP, New York Yankees
4.1 IP, 5 H, 4.15 ERA, 11/1 K/BB (1 G)
A very impressive stateside debut for the 21-year-old, as he used a plus fastball and better-than-expected breaking ball and changeup to fan 11 batters over 4.1 frames.
Dakota Bacus, RHP, Oakland Athletics
5 IP, 2 H, 9/1 K/BB (1 G)
Far from a household name, Bacus, a ninth-round pick in 2012, amassed seven saves and 35 strikeouts in his professional debut last summer. Considering his college background (Indiana St.) and plus slider, expect the right-hander to miss plenty of bats in the low minors.
Lance McCullers, RHP, Houston Astros
5 IP, 4 H, 5/0 K/BB (1 G)
The 41st overall pick last June, McCullers was dominant in his full-season debut, as he fanned five and induced eight groundouts.
Tyler Duffey, RHP, Minnesota Twins
7 IP, 0 H, 7/0 K/BB (1 G)
Although he was used exclusively as a reliever at Rice, the Twins made Duffey their fifth-round pick last June with the intention of converting him to a starter (think Tony Cingrani). And considering that he fired seven no-hit frames in his first professional start, the team’s scouting department deserves a pat on the back.
Roberto Osuna, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
5 IP, 2 H, 1.80 ERA, 8/0 K/BB (1 G)
Having turned 18 in early February, Osuna, a 6’2”, 230-pound right-hander, is one of the youngest players at a full-season level. Even though he may dominate in Low-A, expect the Blue Jays to be extra cautious with Osuna as they were with Aaron Sanchez in previous seasons.
Sal Romano, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
6 IP, 3 H, 6/0 K/BB (1 G)
Selected in the 23rd round of the 2011 draft out of high school, the 6’5” right-hander was dominant in his full-season debut in the Midwest League.
Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
5.2 IP, 4 H, 9/3 K/BB (1 G)
After dominating the Midwest League last season in his full-season debut, Bradley has a chance to become one of the game’s top pitching prospects with a strong sophomore campaign. And if he cuts down on the walks (84 in 136 innings last year), the right-hander could start moving quickly.
Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Kansas City Royals
5 IP, 3.60 ERA, 2 H, 8/0 K/BB (1 G)
With clean, repeatable mechanics and a four-pitch mix that includes a mid-to-high-90s fastball and plus curveball, Zimmer is simply too good to spend more than a month in High-A.
Noah Syndergaard, RHP, New York Mets
4 IP, 3 H, 5/1 K/BB (1 G)
Acquired from the Blue Jays during the offseason along with Travis d’Arnaud in the deal that sent R.A. Dickey north of the border, the 6’6” right-hander was dominant in his High-A (and Mets) debut.
Clayton Blackburn, RHP, San Francisco Giants
5 IP, 2 H, 6/0 K/BB (1 G)
After registering a 2.54 ERA with 143/18(!!) K/BB last season in Low-A, Blackburn, 20, picked up right where he left off in his High-A debut. While he doesn’t have Kyle Crick-type stuff, the 6’3” right-hander’s command is the best in the Giants’ system.
Matt Wisler, RHP, San Diego Padres
5 IP, 3 H, 5/2 K/BB (1 G)
Considering that he registered a 2.53 ERA with 113/28 K/BB in his full-season debut (Low-A) last year, Matt Wisler deserves more love. He was very impressive in his first High-A start last week, though it’ll be interesting to see how he adapts to the hitter-friendly California League.
Garret Gould, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
5.1 IP, 8.44 ERA, 5 H, 5/1 K/BB (1 G)
After registering a 5.75 ERA with 140 hits and 54 walks last season in High-A (California League), Gould is back for his second tour of the level as the Dodgers hope the former second-rounder begins to put everything together.
Andrew Chafin, LHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
3 IP, 12.00 ERA, 4 H, 5/3 K/BB (1 G)
Boasting a swing-and-miss arsenal highlighted by one of the best sliders in the minor leagues, Chafin endured both control and command problems last season as he walked 69 batters in 122.1 High-A innings last season. If he’s unable to make the necessary adjustments while repeating the level this year, the left-hander could hop on the fast track to the major leagues as a reliever.
Michael Foltynewicz, RHP, Houston Astros
2.2 IP, 16.87 ERA, 6 H, 4/4 K/BB (1 G)
Foltynewicz made tremendous strides last season in his second consecutive season at Low-A Lexington. As a ground-ball pitcher who struggles to miss bats with consistency, the 2010 first-rounder could be in a for a long season in High-A if he doesn’t keep the ball down in the zone.
Rafael Montero, RHP, New York Mets
5.2 IP, 1.59 ERA, 2 H, 8/0 K/BB (1 G)
Keep your eye on Rafael Montero. After drawing rave reviews from coaches and teammates alike this spring, the 22-year-old right-hander was electric in his Double-A debut. With a three-pitch mix that’s highlighted by a plus fastball and slider, it’s conceivable that he’ll reach the major leagues at some point this season.
Asher Wojciechowski, RHP, Houston Astros
5 IP, H, 7/1 K/BB (1 G)
Acquired from the Blue Jays last summer, Wojciechowski was promoted to Double-A upon joining the Astros, where he registered a 2.06 ERA over eight starts. At 6’4”, 235 pounds, the right-hander has a frame capable of eating innings, while his four-pitch mix could potentially get him to the major leagues by September.
Alex Meyer, RHP, Minnesota Twins
5 IP, 1.80 ERA, 6 H, 8/1 K/BB (1 G)
The 6’9” right-hander should make quick work of Double-A thanks to a mid-to-high-90s fastball, devastating slider and steadily improving changeup. Don’t be surprised if he reaches the major leagues earlier than expected this season.
Adam Conley, LHP, Miami Marlins
5 IP, H, 8/0 K/BB (1 G)
After registering a 3.47 ERA with 135/43 K/BB in 127 innings last season across both Class-A levels, Conley, a left-hander, was outstanding his Double-A debut.
Brian Flynn, LHP, Miami Marlins
6 IP, 4 H, 9/0 K/BB (1 G)
Acquired by the Marlins last summer in the deal that sent Anibal Sanchez and Omar to Detroit, Flynn posted a 3.80 ERA over eight starts in Double-A to finish the year. At 6’7”, 240 pounds, the left-hander may fly under the radar this season, but is nonetheless a name to follow closely.
Jesse Biddle, LHP, Philadelphia Phillies
6 IP, 1.50 ERA, 2 H, 6/1 K/BB (1 G)
Ranked as the Phillies’ top prospect headed into the 2013 season, Biddle’s stuff and command has steadily improved in each minor league season. The 6’4” left-hander was excellent in his Double-A debut and appears poised for yet another strong campaign.
Cody Buckel, RHP, Texas Rangers
2.2 IP, 23.62 ERA, 5 H, 2/5 K/BB (1 G)
After thriving across High-A and Double-A last season, Buckel has struggled to right the ship following a poor showing this spring in major league camp. And considering that he’s showcased above-average command in previous seasons, the right-hander’s recent control issues are concerning.
Nathan Karns, RHP, Washington Nationals
3.2 IP, 17.18 ERA, 7 H, 3/3 K/BB (1 G)
The Nationals’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year last season, Karns, 25, registered a 2.17 ERA with 148 strikeouts in 116 innings across both Class-A levels. His first Double-A start was ugly, but expect the right-hander to bounce back.
Chad Bettis, RHP, Colorado Rockies
5 IP, 7.20 ERA, 9 H, 4/1 K/BB (1 G)
After fanning 184 batters in 169.2 innings at High-A in 2011, Bettis missed the entire 2012 season with an arm injury. He should eventually find his groove as he shakes off a thick coat of rust, though it may take longer than expected given the jump to Double-A.
Ariel Pena, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
3.1 IP, 13.50 ERA, 3 H, 2/5 K/BB (1 G)
Acquired from the Angels last summer as part of the Zack Greinke deal, Pena’s command has been uninspiring since joining the Brewers, as he’s now walked 28 batters in 35.2 Double-A innings dating back to last season.
Kevin Gausman, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
4 IP, 9.00 ERA, 8 H, 8/0 K/BB (1 G)
Fresh off an impressive showing in major league camp, Gausman—who boasts the best changeup in the minors—was knocked around in his Double-A debut. On the bright side, the hard-throwing right-hander did fan eight batters and induced five ground-ball outs.
Tony Cingrani, LHP, Cincinnati Reds
6 IP, 0 H, 14/1 K/BB (1 G)
Coming off an unexpectedly great 2012 campaign that began in High-A and concluded in the major leagues, Cingrani fired six no-hit innings while fanning 14 batters in his Triple-A debut. A few more starts like that and the Reds may have to consider adding him to their right-handed-heavy starting rotation.
Jake Odorizzi, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
6.2 IP, 4 H, 8/2 K/BB (1 G)
After a cup of coffee with the Royals last September, Odorizzi was traded during the offseason as part of the prospect package used to land James Shields and Wade Davis. With clean mechanics and a four-pitch mix, the right-hander will likely post impressive numbers in Triple-A before an inevitable return to the major leagues.
Tyler Skaggs, LHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
6 IP, 4 H, 4/2 K/BB (1 G)
Considering that Skaggs struggled mightily this spring in big league camp, his impressive first start for Triple-A Reno to open the 2013 season (in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League) is very encouraging.
Danny Hultzen, LHP, Seattle Mariners
6 IP, 1.50 ERA, 3 H, 8/2 K/BB (1 G)
After struggling to the tune of a 5.92 ERA with 43 walks in 48.2 innings following a midseason promotion to Triple-A last season, Hultzen has seemingly righted the ship and could be in line for a big league call-up before the All-Star break.
Allen Webster, RHP, Boston Red Sox
5 IP, 2 H, 5/3 K/BB (1 G)
After opening plenty of eyes with his high-90s fastball and wipeout slider this spring in major league camp, Webster was sharp in the first Triple-A start of his promising career. Considering that he’s already on the 40-man roster, the 6’2” right-hander may reach the majors this season earlier than expected.
Ethan Martin, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies
4.1 IP, 8.31 ERA, 3 H, 3/4 K/BB (1 G)
Acquired from the Dodgers in the Shane Victorino deal last summer, Martin has always showcased swing-and-miss stuff while his command continues to underwhelm. I wouldn’t be surprised if he winds up in the Phillies bullpen by the end of the 2013 season.
Robbie Erlin, LHP, San Diego Padres
3.1 IP, 8.10 ERA, 6 H, 3/3 K/BB (1 G)
After missing most of the 2012 season with an elbow injury, Erlin, a 5’11” left-hander, returned to the mound late in the summer to post a 2.92 ERA with 72 strikeouts in 52.1 innings for Double-A San Antonio. Although he was roughed up in his first start, the southpaw’s deep arsenal and excellent command should help him reach the major leagues later this season.
Jonathan Pettibone, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies
5.1 IP, 10.13 ERA, 8 H, 5/3 K/BB (1 G)
Although he fared well last season in Triple-A (2.55 ERA in 42.1 innings) following a late-season promotion, the right-hander’s lack of a plus pitch remains a legitimate concern.
Daniel Corcino, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
3.2 IP, 12.27 ERA, 5 H, 5/1 K/BB (1 G)
Even though he boasts a deep arsenal of above-average-to-plus pitches—at least that’s the case when he’s around the zone—Corcino’s strikeout and walk rates have been trending in the wrong direction during his ascent of the Reds’ system.
Michael Wacha, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
4 IP, 4.50 ERA, 5 H, 0/4 K/BB (1 G)
After registering a 0.86 ERA with 40/4 K/BB in 21 innings across three levels in his professional debut last season, Wacha proceeded to dazzle this spring in major league camp. Therefore, the 6’6” right-hander’s ineffective first Triple-A start came as a surprise. While he may get touched up here and there, Wacha’s excellent command should help him reach the major leagues later in the season.