Archie Bradley took a huge step forward in 2013.
Pitching prospects are volatile by nature.
Every year, there are countless young hurlers that enjoy breakthrough performances and emerge as a top prospect. However, there are just as many—if not more—that experience a steep fall from grace due to an underwhelming season.
So, with the minor league season now complete, it’s time to reflect upon the performances of baseball’s top pitching prospects in 2013.
Here’s a look at the best and worst performances this year by some of the game's top pitching prospects.
2013 Stats (Double-A/Triple-A): 5-10, 147.1 IP, 3.73 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, .249 BAA, 143/52 K/BB (26 G/25 GS)
After finishing last year with a strong performance at Double-A Altoona, Jameson Taillon was assigned back to the level to open the 2013 season.
While he was up and down in terms of his game-to-game performance and overall consistency, the 21-year-old still put up solid numbers, with a 3.67 ERA and 106/36 K/BB ration in 110.1 innings.
As a result of his success, he was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis for the final month of the season in anticipation of the team’s playoff berth. While he wasn’t as sharp, the right-hander held his own with a 3.89 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 37 innings over six starts.
Don’t get me wrong; Taillon had the type of season you want to see from a 21-year-old in his first full campaign in the high minors. However, given his huge upside, I was expecting a performance more in line with the ones we've seen from Archie Bradley and Noah Syndergaard this season.
2013 Stats (High-A): 4-5, 86.1 IP, 3.34 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, .202 BAA, 75/40 K/BB (22 G/20 GS)
I’ll be the first to admit that I expected Aaron Sanchez to take a bigger step forward in 2013 than former teammate Noah Syndergaard. Needless to say, things didn’t unfold that way.
Sanchez opened the season with High-A Dunedin in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, registering a 3.17 ERA and 37/16 K/BB ratio through his first nine starts. However, the 21-year-old experienced shoulder fatigue in late May, which resulted in roughly a month on the disabled list.
In July—his first month back at High-A—Sanchez was hesitant to cut it loose, and he struggled to settle in. In six outings, the right-hander posted a 7.13 ERA with 11 walks in 17.2 innings. However, in his defense, he finished the season on a positive note with a 1.35 ERA over five starts in August.
2013 Stats (Rookie/Triple-A): 5-1, 35.2 IP, 2.02 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, .168 BAA, 42/7 K/BB (7 GS)
Considering that all of the Mariners’ top prospects were called up ahead of schedule this season, it seemed like a safe bet that Hultzen would have spent a majority of the season in the major leagues.
After a rough finish to his full-season debut last year at Triple-A Tacoma, the 23-year-old opened the year on fire back at the same level, posting a 2.78 ERA and 25/6 K/BB ratio over his first four starts. However, that was basically it in terms of his 2013 season.
Hultzen was shut down following his start on April 19 due to a shoulder strain (rotator cuff), and he didn’t return to the mound until late June. The left-hander was still experiencing lingering pain in his shoulder after a pair of a rehab outings and was subsequently sidelined for the new two months.
He was able to make it back for a two-inning appearance at Triple-A in September, but, yet again, he was shut down after the appearance. Hultzen threw a simulated game earlier this month, so it appears he’ll be ready for the Arizona Fall League.
2013 Stats (Triple-A): 6-10, 109.2 IP, 4.60 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, .274 BAA, 115/47 K/BB (20 G/18 GS)
2013 Stats (MLB): 2-3, 38.2 IP, 5.12 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, .252 BAA, 36/15 K/BB (7 GS)
Skaggs was regarded as the top left-handed pitching prospect in the game heading into the season after reaching the major leagues last year in his age-20 season. He failed to make the Diamondbacks starting rotation out of spring training, so he opened the season back at Triple-A Reno.
The 21-year-old spent parts of May, June and July in the major leagues by plugging holes in the starting rotation. However, Skaggs’ lack of polish and overall inconsistency was obvious for the second-straight season, as he registered a 5.35 ERA with seven home runs allowed in 38.2 innings.
He spent all of August back at Reno and struggled to the tune of a 5.46 ERA over six starts.
2013 Stats (Triple-A): 6-7, 121.1 IP, 4.15 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, .266 BAA, 106/73 K/BB (22 GS)
2013 Stats (MLB): 1-2, 17 IP, 5.29 ERA, 1.82 WHIP, .238 BAA, 11/16 K/BB (4 GS)
The Indians were hoping that a change of scenery would help Bauer get his promising career back on the track. Unfortunately, in 2013, he ended up looking more like the pitcher the Diamondbacks went out of their way to trade over the offseason.
While he made four spot starts with the Indians over the first three months of the season, the 22-year-old labored through each of them. Even in his best showing on May 1 against the Philadelphia Phillies—when he allowed one hit over five scoreless innings—Bauer was predictably wild with six walks.
On June 28—his last appearance in the major leagues this season—the right-hander didn’t make it out of the first inning against the Chicago White Sox, as he allowed five earned runs on six hits (two home runs) and a walk in 0.2 innings.
Spending the final two months of the season back at Triple-A Columbus, Bauer posted a 4.18 ERA in 10 starts, including an ugly 5.46 ERA and 28/25 K/BB ratio over 29.2 innings in September.
Bauer is still a prospect and has the upside of a major-league starter. However, his stock has taken a huge hit since reaching the bigs with the Diamondbacks last season.
If he can improve his fastball command and learn to attack hitters, rather than try to out-sequence them, then his arsenal depth could serve as a weapon. But as of now, it consists of too many pitches for him to think about when the focus should be on his fastball command at this point, above all else.
Bauer’s no longer a top-50 prospect for me and, quite frankly, he has a long journey toward redeeming himself.
2013 Stats (Double-A/Triple-A): 8-6, 134.2 IP, 3.14 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, .238 BAA, 155/53 K/BB (26 G/25 GS)
2013 Stats (MLB): 5.2 IP, 5 H, ER, 2 BB, 3 K (1 GS)
Yordano Ventura was promoted to Triple-A Omaha in early June after an impressive first half of the season with Double-A Northwest Arkansas. But the 22-year-old got off to a shaky start at the more advanced level, posting a 5.95 ERA with 26 hits allowed and a 21/13 K/B ratio over his first five starts.
After that, however, he was one of the Pacific Coast League’s top pitchers, registering a 2.36 ERA and 49/15 K/BB ratio over his final 42 frames (eight starts).
It seemed as though Ventura was a candidate to work out of the Royals’ bullpen when the rosters expanded on Sept. 1, but the organization decided to keep him in the minor leagues with Triple-A Omaha playing in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) playoffs. After a solid outing in Game 2 last Wednesday, the Royals decided to promote Ventura to the major leagues at the beginning of this week.
On Tuesday, the 22-year-old flame-thrower allowed one run on five hits and two walks over 5.2 impressive frames in his major-league debut. He struck out three batters in the outing, showcasing a fastball that averaged 97.7 mph and registered as high as 102.5 mph at one point, according to BrooksBaseball.net.
2013 Stats (Low-A/High-A/Double-A): 7-7, 114.1 IP, 2.99 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, .217 BAA, 136/35 K/BB (22 GS)
Assigned to Low-A Dayton to open the season after reaching the level for the first time in late 2012, Stephenson struggled out of the gate but eventually heated up along with the weather.
Although a minor hamstring injury sidelined the 20-year-old for a month in early June, he dominated with a 2.57 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 77 innings. As a result of his success, the Reds promoted him to High-A Bakersfield in mid-July, where he proceeded to post a 3.05 ERA with a 22/2 K/BB ratio over four starts.
The 20-year-old received a final promotion in mid-August, as the Reds decided to move him up to Double-A Pensacola for the last month of the season. While he showed the ability to miss bats at the more advanced level with 18 strikeouts in 16.2 innings, the right-hander struggled with his control and failed to work deep into games.
With a fastball that sits in the upper-90s and frequently bumps triple digits—as well as a pair of secondary pitches that have noticeably improved over the last year—Stephenson’s electric stuff will help him reach the major leagues next season, ahead of schedule.
2013 Stats (High-A/Double-A): 9-4, 117.2 IP, 3.06 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, .243 BAA, 133/28 K/BB (23 GS)
Acquired by the Mets from the Blue Jays in the R.A. Dickey deal, Syndergaard emerged as one of baseball’s top pitching prospects this year, which also was his first in New York's system.
The 21-year-old took a huge step forward on all fronts this year, opening the season with a 3.11 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 63.2 innings at High-A Fort St. Lucie.
Syndergaard was even more impressive at Double-A Binghamton following a promotion in late June. In 11 starts at the more advanced level, the right-hander posted a 3.00 ERA and 69/12 K/BB ratio in 54 innings, which would have been significantly lower if not for a forgettable final regular-season start (3.0 IP, 9 H, 9 ER).
With a four-pitch mix that includes a fastball in the upper-90s and a pair of swing-and-miss breaking balls, Syndergaard has both the pure stuff and the pitchability to one day headline the New York's starting rotation. And once he arrives in the major leagues—presumably late in the 2014 season—expect the right-hander to make an immediate impact.
2013 Stats (Double-A/Triple-A): 9-10, 141.1 IP, 2.93 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, .217 BAA, 160/57 K/BB (25 GS)
2013 Stats (MLB): 1-0, 15 IP, 3.60 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, .204 BAA, 12/4 K/BB (3 GS)
After an up-and-down age-19 campaign at Double-A in 2012, Walker’s command and overall execution of his electric arsenal developed rapidly during his second tour of the level this season.
The 21-year-old opened the season by mastering the Southern League with a 2.46 ERA and 96/30 K/BB in 84 innings at Double-A Jackson, which ultimately earned him a promotion to Triple-A Tacoma in late June. Despite the fact that he was one of the younger pitchers at the level, Walker held his own with a 3.61 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 57.1 innings in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.
Even though he amassed 141.1 innings between both minor league levels this season, the Mariners decided to give their top prospect a taste of "The Show" as a September call-up.
Suffice it to say that Walker responded favorably to the challenge. In his final start of the year on Sept. 9 against the Houston Astros, the promising right-hander allowed two earned runs on five hits and a walk with eight strikeouts over five innings.
2013 Stats (High-A/Double-A): 14-5, 152 IP, 1.84 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, .215 BAA, 162/69 K/BB (26 GS)
No pitching prospect has improved his stock more this season than Archie Bradley. Moved up to Double-A Mobile after five dominant starts in the California League this year, the 21-year-old didn’t skip a beat, despite the jump in competition. In fact, he thrived as one of the younger pitchers at the more advanced level.
Bradley hit a brief rough patch in late June, but righted the ship and was outstanding in his return to Mobile following an appearance in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game. Over his last eight starts this season, the right-hander registered a 6-1 record with a 1.33 ERA and 47/25 K/BB ratio in 47.1 innings.
Among all minor-league starters who logged at least 150 innings this season, Bradley ranked first in ERA (1.84), third in strikeouts per nine innings (9.59 K/9) and fourth in strikeouts (162).