Power Ranking All 30 Teams' Top Pitching Prospects
Good pitching is the name of the game in baseball, and every MLB team is constantly on the search for the next great arm.
Now more than ever, teams scan the entire globe for that one pitcher that could be their future ace. No longer is that search confined to just the United States—hurlers from all corners of the earth can be found.
With each team now having well-organized and sophisticated scouting departments, they've used their vast resources to seek out the best pitchers available from Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Australia, Latin America, South America, Canada and a host of other countries and regions.
The maturation and progression of those pitchers once they've been found is then left up to each team's player development team, who hope to turn those pitchers into tomorrow's Cy Young Award winners.
So, which team has done the best job of developing their top pitching prospect?
Here is a ranking of the top pitching prospect according to team. For purposes of clarification, only pitchers who have thrown less than 50 innings pitched at the major league level will be considered. Pitchers who were on their team's 25-man roster at the beginning of the 2013 season will be excluded.
Note: Prospect rankings courtesy of MLB.com.
30. Manny Banuelos: New York Yankees
Just one year ago, New York Yankees pitching prospect Manny Banuelos was considered one of the top prospects in all of baseball, ranked No. 13 by Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com.
Now, Banuelos is just trying to make his way back to the playing field.
Banuelos was shut down by the Yankees last May after experiencing pain in his left elbow. After months of trying to determine the exact cause of the injury, Banuelos finally underwent Tommy John surgery in October.
The Yankees will now have to wait until 2014 to see whether he can bounce back and be the dominant left-hander they envisioned when they signed him back in 2008.
29. Arodys Vizcaino: Chicago Cubs
The Chicago Cubs are slowly working to rebuild a farm system that had been in disrepair for years. In particular, pitching is still relatively weak at the higher prospect levels—only six of their top 20 prospects are hurlers.
In fact, their top pitching prospect, Arodys Vizacaino, was acquired from another organization and hasn't thrown a pitch in over 18 months.
After making 17 appearances for the Atlanta Braves in 2011, Vizcaino was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow the following spring, requiring Tommy John surgery. He had been diagnosed with a partial tear back in 2010, but was able to rehab and bounce back in 2011.
Still, the Cubs thought enough of Vizcaino's potential to demand his services at the trade deadline last year when they traded Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson to the Braves.
As of last week, Vizcaino was still at least a few weeks away from appearing in games. Until then, Chicago won't know if their hunch regarding that considerable potential was right.
28. Nick Maronde: Los Angeles Angels
The Los Angeles Angels currently have the worst farm system in the majors according to Keith Law of ESPN.
Recent deals that brought in Dan Haren and Zack Greinke did a lot of damage in terms of prospects for the Halos. As a result, only one of their prospects—Kaleb Cowart—is ranked in the top 100.
Nick Maronde is the second-ranked prospect in their farm system, and he impressed in a September call-up last year, posting a 1.50 ERA in 12 relief appearances.
Maronde didn't do nearly enough this spring to warrant earning a roster spot, posting a 11.17 ERA in eight outings. He has been called up already this year, giving up three runs on two hits in 2.1 innings.
While he was drafted and has worked as a starter for the first two years of his professional career, Maronde lacks a solid third pitch to work effectively as a starter in the majors. At best he's a bullpen possibility for the Angels in the future.
27. Erik Johnson: Chicago White Sox
While Erik Johnson only has 28 games of professional experience, he could very well find himself in the plans for the Chicago White Sox rotation in 2014.
Johnson is off to a nice start at Double-A Birmingham, posting a 2.44 ERA in nine starts with a 0.97 ERA and 8.9 K/9 rate.
He features four quality pitches, an arsenal that will serve him well in the majors. He earned Future Sox pitcher of the month honors twice last year and in April of this year as well.
Considering the fact that Gavin Floyd is likely gone next season—especially after requiring Tommy John surgery—Johnson will be given every chance to show he's ready for prime time in 2014.
26. Chad Bettis: Colorado Rockies
After missing all of last season with a shoulder injury, Colorado Rockies top pitching prospect Chad Bettis is back on the radar once again.
A recent oblique injury may slow his progress a bit, but Bettis is clearly back on track after posting a 12-5 and 3.34 ERA in 27 starts at Advanced Single-A Modesto in 2011.
Bettis has featured outstanding command this season in his seven starts, walking just five batters in his seven starts. He's also given up two earned runs or less in five of those starts.
Bettis has a fastball/slider combination that's already major league ready and has been working on a changeup as a solid third pitch—a must for any pitcher looking to start in the majors.
Bettis knows that he has a legitimate shot at seeing time with the Rockies at some point soon, telling Irv Moss of the Denver Post that he needs to take care of things on his end first.
"Everyone says we're on the radar playing here in Double- A," he said. "I don't have control over the other, so I don't get involved talking about it."
25. Tyler Thornburg: Milwaukee Brewers
Tyler Thornburg got his chance to show the Milwaukee Brewers his stuff last year, but thus far at the Triple-A level in 2013 he has struggled mightily.
Thornburg, drafted in the third round of the 2010 MLB draft, made his debut last June, making a spot start against the Toronto Blue Jays. He gave up five runs in 5.1 innings, picking up a no-decision. Thornburg made eight appearances in all, three of them starts.
Thornburg made just two appearances in spring training before being reassigned to Nashville. It's been a grind thus far for him, posting an 0-5 record and 6.80 ERA in nine starts.
The stuff is there for Thornburg with four quality pitches—it's now a matter of putting it all together and taking his game to the next level. For now, he's laboring just to find success.
24. Sonny Gray: Oakland Athletics
The top pitching prospect in the Oakland Athletics farm system could find himself helping out at the big league level sooner rather than later.
With Brett Anderson on the disabled list and both Dan Straily and Jarrod Parker struggling, that call could come soon for Sonny Gray. Gray has posted a 4-2 record and 2.47 ERA in seven starts at Triple-A Sacramento.
Parker bounced back with a strong effort on Thursday against the Kansas City Royals, but Straily's 7.27 ERA in five starts will give him a very short leash. Gray could be the one to step in when called upon.
23. J.R. Graham: Atlanta Braves
If there's one thing that's not music to the ears of a general manager, it's hearing that your top pitching prospect has issues with his shoulder or elbow.
That was the case last week for Atlanta Braves GM Frank Wren, who heard that J.R. Graham, the No. 1 prospect in the Braves organization and No. 95 in all of baseball, was shut down in his last start after two innings with shoulder discomfort.
Graham was initially examined in Mississippi before flying to Atlanta for further tests. Those tests revealed no major structural damage and Graham will spend about a month in rehab.
He quickly shot up the charts with his 12-2 record and 2.80 ERA across two minor league levels last year.
22. Bruce Rondon: Detroit Tigers
At some point, Bruce Rondon will be a closer for the Detroit Tigers. It likely won't happen at any point this year.
Rondon was given the opportunity to win the job outright during spring training. His command issues, however, put Rondon back in the minors.
At Triple-A Toledo, he's been terrific, posting eight saves while not giving up a run in 14.2 innings thus far. The 3.1 walk rate has been manageable as well.
But Rondon was called up in late April and he struggled. In his third and final outing on May 1, Rondon pitched just one third of an inning, giving up two runs on two hits and two walks. While several of the 17 pitches Rondon threw were over 100 MPH, only five of them were strikes.
In sending Rondon back to the minors after that outing, manager Jim Leyland told reporters that the Tigers are high on Rondon, but he just simply needs time and work.
Via George Sipple of USAToday.com:
"Right now he's just not ready for this," Leyland said. "When I say that, please don't think anybody's down on him. We think he's a future closer at the major league level. But I can't get him enough work right now."
With heat like that, Rondon's future is bright. But it's commanding that extreme heat that's currently at issue.
21. Jarred Cosart: Houston Astros
Jarred Cosart, the No. 4 prospect in the Houston Astros organization, has done nothing but impress thus far for the Triple-A Oklahoma City RedHawks.
Considering the struggles of the Astros starting rotation and the shuffling of starters, Cosart could soon try to impress at the major league level.
With a 6.06 ERA from its starters, it's likely that the Astros will keep a close eye on Cosart as he continues his progression in Oklahoma City.
20. Cody Buckel: Texas Rangers
After being named the Minor League Pitcher of the Year by the Texas Rangers in 2012, top pitching prospect Cody Buckel is now working in extended spring training trying to figure out how to throw strikes again.
The Rangers moved Buckel from Double-A Frisco to extended spring training two weeks ago after he posted an ugly 20.25 ERA in six outings.
Buckel posted a very manageable 3.0 BB/9 rate last year in winning the top pitching honors in the minors. But in his six outings this year, Buckel walked an astounding 28 batters in just 9.1 innings.
Buckel will attempt to rework his mechanics in an effort to regain his command. Rangers GM Jon Daniels told Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that they'll do whatever they can to get Buckel back on track.
“We’re going to use all our resources,” Daniels said. “I think it’s more of a mental thing than a physical thing. He’s scuffling to throw strikes. We need to get that addressed.”
19. Kyle Crick: San Francisco Giants
The San Francisco Giants have several young outstanding pitching prospects, chief among them Clayton Blackburn, Chris Stratton and Kyle Crick.
None of them are ready for major league action at this point, and Crick—the top-ranked prospect in the Giants organization—has been felled with an oblique injury for nearly a month.
Crick came out of the gates quickly to begin the season, posting a 0.93 ERA in three starts at Advanced Single-A San Jose. He was 7-6 with a 2.51 ERA in 22 starts last year at Single-A Augusta.
If the Giants need immediate help for their rotation, it won't come from their top prospects.
18. Zach Lee: Los Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles Dodgers pitching prospect Zach Lee won't blow hitters away with a blazing fastball, but he's got four pitches he can use to consistently keep batters guessing.
Playing at Double-A Chattanooga for the second season, Lee has been solid thus far with a 3.11 ERA in nine starts.
The key to Lee's game is command and movement. His fastball tops out in the low-90s but features late movement. He has an outstanding slider and throws a changeup that in many ways resembles a slow sinker.
Lee is only 21, so the Dodgers will continue preaching patience in his development at this point.
17. Trevor Bauer: Cleveland Indians
So far in his brief career, Trevor Bauer has made waves at the major league level, but not necessarily in a good way.
He became an unwanted man in Arizona after an inauspicious start to his major league career when he posted a 6.06 ERA in four starts. More to the point, he apparently had chemistry issues with catcher Miguel Montero.
Bauer was one of the central figures in the three-team trade between the Diamondbacks, Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians. Bauer failed to make the Indians team out of spring training, but has made three starts in three separate call-ups.
Command is the issue for Bauer. In his start on May 1 against the Philadelphia Phillies, he allowed just one hit in five innings but walked six batters. His first start of the season saw him walk seven Tampa Bay Rays hitters as well.
Bauer's been relatively okay at the minor league level with a 3.6 BB/9 rate at Triple-A Columbus. But the struggles at the major league level have kept him from maintaining a coveted rotation spot.
He'll likely have more opportunities this season, especially if Brett Myers struggles in his return from the disabled list.
16. Lucas Giolito: Washington Nationals
The Washington Nationals admittedly took a chance in selecting high school right-hander Lucas Giolito with the 16th overall pick in last year's MLB draft.
The Nationals were well-aware that Giolito might need to undergo Tommy John surgery when they selected him. He was unable to pitch in his senior year because of right elbow issues.
They took the risk anyway, and Giolito threw off a mound in early May for the first time since undergoing the procedure.
Washington firmly believes it has a future ace in its hands with Giolito, and they will be patient in his development.
15. Justin Nicolino: Miami Marlins
One of the pieces that moved from the Toronto Blue Jays in the mega-deal with the Miami Marlins over the offseason, right-handed pitching prospect Justin Nicolino has moved slowly but methodically up the ladder in the minors.
After posting a 10-4 record and 2.46 ERA at Single-A Lansing last year, Nicolino made the jump to Advanced Single-A level this season. Thus far, he's again handling the promotion well, posting a 2.89 ERA in nine starts.
Nicolino doesn't have overpowering stuff, but scouts believe his overall feel for the game and instincts will serve him very well moving forward.
14. Jesse Biddle: Philadelphia Phillies
In posting a 2.95 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 10.8 K/9 rate at Double-A Reading, top pitching prospect Jesse Biddle is definitely boosting his stock in the eyes of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Biddle will likely bid for a rotation spot as early as next year, but the way he's pitching now he could easily see time with the Phillies at some point this season as well.
13. Max Fried: San Diego Padres
Harvard-Westlake High School was blessed last year to have two outstanding pitchers in Lucas Giolito and southpaw Max Fried.
While Giolito was unable to pitch because of elbow issues, Fried showed scouts why he was worthy of such a high selection in the MLB draft. The San Diego Padres certainly thought so, taking Fried with the seventh overall pick.
Fried got his feet wet late last season in rookie league ball, and he's now trying his further his development with the Single-A Fort Wayne TinCaps.
All in all, its been a success thus far with Fried posting a 2.35 ERA in six outings with a 10.0 K/9 rate. At just 19 years of age Fried has a ways to go, but the Padres have to like what they've seen thus far.
12. Michael Wacha: St. Louis Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals could soon be looking for a long-term solution for their starting rotation with the recent new concerning Jaime Garcia.
Garcia, who missed two months of last season with a shoulder impingement, is once again on the disabled list with shoulder issues. He'll visit Dr. James Andrews next week.
The Cardinals announced that left-hander Tyler Lyons will take Garcia's spot in the rotation starting on Wednesday.
For now, that is.
If Lyons proves to not be up to the task, St. Louis could turn to top pitching prospect Michael Wacha, who is currently having his way with hitters in Triple-A.
Wacha has posted a 1.89 ERA in his eight starts, giving up just 29 hits in 47.2 innings and holding opposing batters to a .175 average.
Wacha was selected with the 19th overall pick by the Cardinals in last year's draft, so his ascension thus far has been meteoric.
But considering how he's performed, the big club is the logical next step, and soon.
11. Robert Stephenson: Cincinnati Reds
The Cincinnati Reds have crafted what they believe is their future starting rotation.
Tony Cingrani has already arrived after less than two years in the minors since being drafted in the third round of the 2011 MLB draft. At some point, he'll be joined by both Nick Travieso and Robert Stephenson.
Stephenson—like Cingrani—was also selected in the 2011 draft, but Cingrani was a more well-developed college pitcher. Both Travieso and Stephenson were high profile high school right-handers.
Stephenson has an impressive 11.5 K/9 rate and manageable 2.7 BB/9 rate at Single-A Dayton. He features a fastball that many scouts feel is a major plus with secondary offerings that are still developing.
He's been outstanding in his last three outings, totaling 25 strikeouts against just one walk in 19 innings.
At just 20 years of age, the Reds will continue to be patient with Stephenson. But in two years, it's entirely possible that Stephenson, Travieso and Cingrani could all be major cogs in the Reds rotation.
10. Jake Odorizzi: Tampa Bay Rays
With David Price sidelined for the Tampa Bay Rays for at least a few starts, top pitching prospect Jake Odorizzi will get his chance to shine on the big stage.
Odorizzi's first start comes on Monday at the Rogers Centre against the Toronto Blue Jays.
With a 4-0 record and 3.83 ERA in eight starts at Triple-A Durham, Odorizzi showed off an ability to keep the damage to a minimum, giving up just 6.9 hits per nine innings with a 9.5 K/9 rate.
He'll look to do the same against Toronto on Monday.
9. Alex Meyer: Minnesota Twins
When the Washington Nationals discussed the possibility of obtaining center field Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins, they wanted a top pitching prospect in return.
They got one in Alex Meyer.
Now the top arm in the Twins' farm system along with being ranked the No. 39 prospect by MLB.com, the Twins absolutely got their money's worth. Meyer is off to a solid start at Double-A New Britain with a 2-1 record, a 3.56 ERA and 10.7 K/9 rate in eight starts.
Coming off the heels of a stellar first season in professional ball in 2011 (10-6, 2.86 ERA in 25 starts), it's easy to see why Twins general manager Terry Ryan cherished Meyer and was willing to give up a solid starting center fielder in return.
8. Matt Barnes: Boston Red Sox
After a rough first month in April, Boston Red Sox top pitching prospect Matt Barnes has righted the ship in the month of May at Double-A Portland.
Barnes has posted a 1.96 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP and 11.0 K/9 rate in his last four starts. Certainly much more in line with what the Red Sox were hoping to see out of their 2011 first round draft pick.
Improvement is the goal for Barnes at this point, and he's definitely growing on the job.
7. Aaron Sanchez: Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays parted with a fair amount of top prospects in their offseason deals with the Miami Marlins and New York Mets.
But top pitching prospect Aaron Sanchez was simply untouchable, and for good reason.
Sanchez, taken in the first round of the MLB draft in 2010, was outstanding last year at Single-A Lansing, posting a 2.49 ERA and 9.7 K/9 rate in 25 appearances. He's made strides at the next level this year, posting a 3.16 ERA and 7.8 K/9 rate at Advanced Single-A Dunedin.
Sanchez features a fastball/curveball combination that could be as good as any prospect in baseball, and he's made strides in improving his overall command as well.
6. Kyle Zimmer: Kansas City Royals
When the Kansas City Royals selected Kyle Zimmer with the fifth overall pick last year, he had just two years of pitching experience under his belt.
But Zimmer, a former shortstop, has taken quickly to his new duties.
A plus fastball with three solid secondary pitches makes up Zimmer's arsenal, which he's used to post a 7.8 H/9 rate and 11.7 K/9 rate thus far in 2013.
The Royals are hoping that Zimmer's relative freshness will serve him well in the future and launch him quickly through their system as well.
5. Tyler Skaggs: Arizona Diamondbacks
Tyler Skaggs was given a chance to win the final rotation spot for the Arizona Diamondbacks this spring. He lost out Patrick Corbin, who has started with a 6-0 record and 1.52 ERA in eight starts.
It hasn't been quite as rosy for Skaggs at Triple-A Reno. He's struggled with a 5.93 ERA in eight starts thus far.
Still, Skaggs is projected to be a solid and consistent starter for the Diamondbacks in the not-so-distant future, and along with Corbin and Wade Miley would give Arizona a terrific trio of southpaws in the rotation.
4. Gerrit Cole: Pittsburgh Pirates
At the rate he's progressing through the minors, it won't be much longer before top Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospect Gerrit Cole is seen regularly at PNC Park.
Cole has posted a 2.55 ERA in eight starts at Triple-A Indianapolis. This comes a year after Cole jumped from Advanced Single-A to Triple-A.
Cole gives the Pirates a formidable right-handed tandem along with Jameson Taillon, and both could be fixtures in the rotation as early as next season.
3. Zack Wheeler: New York Mets
In parts of four seasons in the minors, New York Mets top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler rapidly rose through the and San Francisco Giants and Mets farm systems while climbing in prospect rankings lists as well.
Now the No. 8 prospect in all of baseball, Wheeler has nearly arrived.
Wheeler's last three outings at Triple-A Las Vegas have been stellar, posting a 1.35 ERA and striking out 19 batters while walking just three in 20 innings.
There was a recent scare when Wheeler experienced discomfort in his right shoulder. There was good news, however, when he was diagnosed with inflammation, given a cortisone shot and ordered to rest for hours. He'll miss just one start in the process.
As long as his health holds out, Wheeler is almost a lock to be seen at some point this season at the major league level.
2. Taijuan Walker: Seattle Mariners
The No. 5 prospect according to MLB.com at the start of the season, Seattle Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker has lived up to his billing thus far in 2013.
Walker has posted a 2.08 ERA in eight starts at Double-A Jackson, with a paltry 5.5 H/9 rate, 9.9 K/9 rate and holding opposing batters to just a .154 batting average.
It could be next season that Walker and fellow prospect Danny Hultzen join Felix Hernandez at the top of the Mariners starting rotation.
1. Dylan Bundy: Baltimore Orioles
The Baltimore Orioles are taking a conservative approach with top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy.
After experiencing pain in his right elbow in spring training, Bundy was originally completely shut down and just prescribed rest. But after attempting to throw again in late April, the pain returned.
Bundy and the Orioles sought out the services of Dr. James Andrews, who administered a platelet rich plasma injection and ordered him to completely shut down for at least another six weeks.
Certainly not good news for the Orioles, who were filled with hope after Bundy's outstanding 2012 campaign. He posted a stellar 2.08 ERA across three minor league levels before making two late-season scoreless relief appearances for Baltimore last year.
Even if Bundy were to have to undergo Tommy John surgery, he's only 20 years old with plenty of time to build a memorable MLB career. He'll team with fellow right-handed pitching prospect Kevin Gausman to give the Orioles a terrific tandem at the top of their rotation for years to come.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.
Feel free to talk baseball with Doug anytime on Twitter.
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