MLB Prospects Update: Hottest, Coldest Pitchers at Every Minor League Level
We’re nearly a month into the minor league season and countless prospects are making strong impressions, for one reason or another, at each of the four full-season levels.
With most pitchers having made roughly four-to-six starts since Opening Day (April 4), it’s important to acknowledge the role of small sample sizes when evaluating a player's success using statistics. However, it's impossible to ignore there’s still a large contingent of pitching prospects who have either dominated or struggled in the season’s first month.
Here’s a look at the hottest and coldest pitchers at every minor league level.
Tyler Danish, RHP, Chicago White Sox
2014 Stats: 26 IP, 1.04 ERA, .232 BAA, 6 BB, 17 K (5 GS)
Danish is one of the more intriguing wild-card prospects in the minors, as he works from an unorthodox arm angle and lacks projection. However, the 19-year-old has a plus sinker (2.47 GO/AO) and knack for pounding the strike zone, and he’s drawn rave reviews for his mound presence and poise. On Tuesday, Danish struck out four batters and scattered five hits in six shutout innings.
Jonathan Crawford, RHP, Detroit Tigers
2014 Stats: 23.2 IP, 3.04 ERA, .238 BAA, 7 BB, 21 K (5 GS)
Crawford, the No. 20 overall pick last June, was considered one of the top arms in the 2013 draft class headed into the spring, but the right-hander’s stock dropped steadily during his junior season at Florida due to diminished velocity and poor command. Since allowing seven earned runs in 2.1 innings in his season debut with Low-A West Michigan, Crawford has posted a 0.42 ERA and 18-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 21.1 frames.
Kohl Stewart, RHP, Minnesota Twins
2014 Stats: 20 IP, 3.15 ERA, .164 BAA, 4 BB, 13 K (4 GS)
The No. 4 overall pick in the 2013 draft, Stewart made opened eyes last summer in his professional debut, posting a 1.35 ERA and 24-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 20 innings between a pair of Rookie-level affiliates. Making his full-season debut this year, the 19-year-old right-hander is yet to allow more than three earned runs in a start. He turned in a season-high six strikeouts in six innings in his outing last Friday against Low-A Clinton.
Aaron Blair, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
2014 Stats: 31.2 IP, 2.56 ERA, .148 BAA, 10 BB, 43 K (5 GS)
Blair, along with current Low Bend teammate Braden Shipley, is a product of the Diamondbacks’ 2013 draft (No. 36 overall). The 21-year-old right-hander is too good to remain at the level for much longer, as he’s currently tied for Midwest League-lead with 43 strikeouts.
Buck Farmer, RHP, Detroit Tigers
2014 Stats: 29.2 IP, 2.12 ERA, .207 BAA, 9 BB, 43 K (5 GS)
A fifth-round draft pick last June out of Georgia Tech, Farmer, 23, has logged at least six innings and six strikeouts in his last four starts, two of which featured double-digit punchouts. The right-hander turned in his best outing of the young season on Wednesday, striking out a career-high 12 batters and allowing one run in seven innings. The performance pushed his season strikeout total to 43, which ties him with Aaron Blair atop the Midwest League leaderboard.
Dace Kime, RHP, Cleveland Indians
2014 Stats: 19 IP, 9.95 ERA, .378 BAA, 8 BB, 14 K (5 GS)
Kime, a third-round pick last June out of Louisville, had a productive professional debut last summer in the New York-Penn League. However, the right-hander has been shelled this year in his full-season debut, as he's already allowed 34 hits in 19 innings.
Joe Ross, RHP, San Diego Padres
2014 Stats: 32.1 IP, 1.95 ERA, .234 BAA, 7 BB, 31 K (6 GS)
Ross, 20, has dominated through the first month of the season, posting a 1.95 ERA and 31-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 32.1 innings. Since allowing four runs in his season debut for Lake Elsinore, the right-hander has yielded just two in his last 22 1/3 innings, with a 30-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio during that span. Ross, the young brother of Padres starter Tyson Ross, has big-time upside but has been slow to move up the ladder in previous years due to injuries.
Ben Lively, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
2014 Stats: 29 IP, 0.31 ERA, .134 BAA, BB, 40 K (5 GS)
Lively has been the best pitcher in the minors through the first month of the season, as the 2013 fourth-rounder has allowed just one run and posted a ridiculous 40-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio through 29 innings. He’s already received a lot of Tony Cingrani comparisons with his hot start at High-A Bakersfield, and with good reason; through Cingrani’s first five starts at Bakersfield in 2012, the left-hander allowed one earned run and posted a 37-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 28 innings. So, technically, Lively’s performance this season actually is better than Cingrani’s.
Daniel Norris, LHP, Toronto Blue Jays
2014 Stats: 24 IP, 0.75 ERA, .193 BAA, 6 BB, 26 K (5 GS)
Between Norris’ six starts last August and five this season, the 21-year-old left-hander owns a 0.68 ERA and 56-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 53 innings. Meanwhile, opposing hitters have amassed seven extra-base hits during that span.
Lance McCullers, RHP, Houston Astros
2014 Stats: 28.2 IP, 2.51 ERA, .204 BAA, 12 BB, 33 K (7 G/4 GS)
McCullers hasn’t pitched more than five innings in a game this season, a result of the Astros piggybacking their young arms, and struggled to settle in while bouncing between the bullpen and rotation. However, the 20-year-old right-hander put everything together in his start Tuesday, as he allowed three hits in five scoreless innings while striking out a season-high 10 batters.
Rob Zastryzny, LHP, Chicago Cubs
2014 Stats: 22.1 IP, 8.46 ERA, .352 BAA, 8 BB, 21 K (5 GS)
A second-round draft pick last June out of Missouri, Zastryzny was assigned to High-A Daytona this season after logging only 9.2 frames last summer at Low-A Kane County. Despite residing in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, the 22-year-old left-hander has yielded 37 hits (18 extra-base hits) through his first 22.1 innings.
Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
2014 Stats: 7 IP, 2.57 ERA, .136 BAA, 10 BB, 6 K (2 GS)
After allowing just two hits over five scoreless innings in his season debut last week, Glasnow, 20, struggled with his control on Wednesday, evidenced by his 7-to-0 strikeout-to-walk ratio in only two innings. The 6’7” right-hander emerged last year as one of the more high-ceiling pitchers in the minor leagues, posting a 2.18 ERA with 164 strikeouts in 111.1 innings for Low-A West Virginia.
Corey Black, RHP, Chicago Cubs
2014 Stats: 23 IP, 2.35 ERA, .128 BAA, 13 BB, 21 K (5 G/4 GS)
Acquired from the Yankees last season in the Alfonso Soriano trade, Black, 22, is off to a great start this season at Double-A Tennessee, as he’s held opposing hitters to a .128 batting average through 23 innings. After making his season debut out of the bullpen, Black has been dominant in his last four starts: 21 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 12 BB, 18 K.
Matt Wisler, RHP, San Diego Padres
2014 Stats: 30 IP, 2.10 ERA, .234 BAA, 6 BB, 35 K (6 GS)
Despite ranking among the sport’s top 50 prospects headed into the season, Wisler, 21, continues to fly under the radar. With a 2.80 ERA and 138/33 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 135 innings (26 starts) at Double-A San Antonio over the last two years, Wisler seemingly is due to receive a promotion to Triple-A (or possibly the major leagues) sometime soon.
Luke Jackson, RHP, Texas Rangers
2014 Stats: 27.1 IP, 2.63 ERA, .194 BAA, 6 BB, 26 K (5 GS)
Jackson has struck out at least six batters and allowed no more than four hits in three consecutive starts. If we removed the 22-year-old right-hander’s ugly outing on April 10 (3.1 IP, 7 H, 7 ER, 2 BB) from his season line, then he’d have a 0.38 ERA and 25-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 24 innings. I still think he ends up as a late-inning reliever, but it’s difficult to ignore his 1.66 ERA and 9.3 K/9 in 54.1 innings as a starter at Double-A Frisco dating back to last season.
Jon Gray, RHP, Colorado Rockies
2014 Stats: 23.2 IP, 3.80 ERA, .241 BAA, 4 BB, 25 K (5 GS)
Gray, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 draft, struggled mightily in his second start this season, as he allowed six earned runs on seven hits and failed to complete the first inning. However, the 22-year-old right-hander has since righted the ship and dazzled in his past three outings, with a 0.53 ERA and 19-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 17 innings.
Cam Bedrosian, RHP, Los Angeles Angels
2014 Stats: 2 SV, 10.2 IP, 1.69 ERA, .111 BAA, 3 BB, 26 K (10 G)
I normally don’t include relievers on these lists, but Bedrosian’s performance this season is simply too impressive to ignore. Splitting the first month between High-A Inland Empire and Double-A Arkansas, the 22-year-old right-hander has been scored on once in 10 appearances, and that one shaky outing is the only game in which he’s failed to strike out multiple batters. In fact, Bedrosian has struck out the side on six occasions. Given the ongoing struggles of the Angels’ bullpen, I wouldn’t be surprised if the right-hander is in the majors by the All-Star break.
Matt Boyd, LHP, Toronto Blue Jays
2014 Stats: 31 IP, 0.29 ERA, .167 BAA, 5 BB, 37 K (5 GS)
Boyd has continued to surpass expectations as a starter after making the transition from the bullpen during the 2012 Cape Cod League. The 23-year-old left-hander—a sixth-round draft pick last June—was scored on once in his first five starts at High-A Dunedin, and he struck out a career-high 12 batters last Friday in eight shutout innings. Boyd was recently promoted (he broke the news on Twitter) to Double-A New Hampshire as a result of his overwhelming success, and he’s scheduled to make his first Eastern League start Thursday.
Kyle Crick, RHP, San Francisco Giants
2014 Stats: 12.2 IP, 2.84 ERA, .209 BAA, 14 BB, 15 K (4 GS)
The Giants have kept Crick, 21, on a short leash this season at Double-A Richmond due to his inconsistent command, which explains why he’s lasted five innings in just one start. Opposing hitters are only batting .209 against Crick this season, but he’s already issued 14 walks in 12.2 innings, including 11 in his last 7.2 frames.
Henry Owens, LHP, Boston Red Sox
2014 Stats: 28.2 IP, 3.77 ERA, .236 BAA, 12 BB, 29 K (5 GS)
Owens, the Red Sox’s top pitching prospect, began his season with nine strikeouts in back-to-back starts—the first one being a rain-shortened, six-inning no-hitter. However, the 21-year-old left-hander has since struggled in three consecutive outings, during which he’s posted a 6.75 ERA and 11-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 16 innings.
Robbie Ray, LHP, Detroit Tigers
2014 Stats: 28.1 IP, 1.59 ERA, .255 BAA, 5 BB, 21 K (5 GS)
After posting a 15-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 13.1 scoreless innings in his last two starts, the Tigers announced Wednesday (via Chris Iott of MLive on Twitter) that Ray, who was acquired this offseason in the Doug Fister trade, will be called up to replace the injured Anibal Sanchez in the starting rotation. The 22-year-old left-hander will make his major league debut next Tuesday against the strikeout-prone Houston Astros.
Alex Meyer, RHP, Minnesota Twins
2014 Stats: 26.2 IP, 2.70 ERA, .207 BAA, 11 BB, 35 K (5 GS)
After struggling through his first three starts at Triple-A Rochester, Meyer, 24, has struck out 11 batters in back-to-back scoreless outings and allowed just five hits in 12.2 innings during that span. The 6’9” right-hander has made a strong case for a first-half promotion with his recent domination, and it’s only a matter of time until he gets a chance to prove he belongs in the Twins’ big league rotation.
Marcus Stroman, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
2014 Stats: 26.2 IP, 1.69 ERA, .222 BAA, 7 BB, 36 K (5 GS)
Stroman turned in the best performance of his professional career Tuesday, striking out 10 batters in six no-hit innings for Triple-A Buffalo. The Blue Jays intentionally lined up Stroman’s start Tuesday to coincide with Dustin McGowan’s, as assistant general manager Tony LaCava recently stated that the 23-year-old’s "time is coming soon." Regardless of whether he takes McGowan’s next turn in the rotation, it’s become increasingly clear that Stroman will reach the major leagues sometime in the next month.
Mike Montgomery, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays
2014 Stats: 25.2 IP, 2.81 ERA, .183 BAA, 12 BB, 28 K (5 GS)
Montgomery, 24, enjoyed his best first month of the season since 2010 as a member of the Royals and, more importantly, partially resuscitated his prospect stock in the process. If we removed the left-hander’s only poor outing (April 16) from his season line, then he’d have a 1.16 ERA and 25-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 23.1 innings.
Nathan Karns, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
2014 Stats: 26.1 IP, 8.20 ERA, .297 BAA, 18 BB, 33 K (6 GS)
After coming up short in his bid to crack Tampa Bay’s Opening Day rotation, Karns has struggled mightily in season’s first month as part of the Triple-A Durham starting rotation. In his outing Monday, the 26-year-old allowed five earned runs for the fourth time in six starts.
Zach Lee, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
2014 Stats: 26.1 IP, 3.42 ERA, .260 BAA, 7 BB, 17 K (5 GS)
Lee, 22, pitched well in his first four starts this season, allowing a combined five earned runs in 22 2/3 innings, but the right-hander’s shaky outing on Sunday pushed his season ERA to 3.42. In the game, Lee allowed five runs on 10 hits and was chased from the game before completing the fourth inning. He hasn't been missing many bats this season, with 17 strikeouts in 26 1/3 innings, but he's consistently generating weak contact with opposing hitters batting just .260 in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.