Projecting MLB's Most Dominant Rotations 5 Years from Now
Starting pitching is the most valuable commodity in Major League Baseball right now. And with rosters across the league pretty well set, it's not hard to see which of the league's 30 teams have the most of it for 2018.
But what about five years from now?
Thus begins our quest to answer that question. The first thing to understand is that the target year is 2022, not 2023. By the time 2022 comes to a close, MLB will officially be five seasons past last season.
Otherwise, here are the things that determine our rankings:
- Controllable Young Starters: Young pitchers who are already in the major leagues and under team control through 2022. This covers an exclusive list of present and future stars.
- Pitching Prospects: The more good pitching prospects a team has, the better. For this, the emphasis will be on the "Tier 1" prospects (i.e. guys with All-Star potential) from Bleacher Report's latest farm system rankings.
- Future Spending Power: We don't want to get too carried away with predicting contract extensions and free-agent signings. However, it would be foolish to ignore teams that will have the financial flexibility for either/or in coming years. And the closer any free-agent signings are to 2022, the better.
Given how many moving parts are contained within any five-year period of MLB history, it goes without saying that this is a presumptuous exercise that may not age well.
Nonetheless, there's nothing wrong with a little imagination. Let's take it away.
30-16: Where Uncertainty Reigns
30. Kansas City Royals
Jakob Junis is the only established starter controlled by the Royals through 2022, and their MLB-worst farm system is short on impact arms, among other things.
29. Miami Marlins
Because Miami's one and only Tier 1 pitcher (Sandy Alcantara) is likely destined for the bullpen, their future rotation won't really start coming into focus until after the next few drafts.
28. Texas Rangers
The Rangers have a weak rotation now and are short on impact pitching prospects. The only silver lining is that they'll be able to spend in coming winters.
27. Seattle Mariners
The Mariners control Ariel Miranda, Marco Gonzales and Andrew Moore for the long haul. None of the three inspires much confidence, however, and there aren't any Tier 1 arms underneath them.
26. Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles have interesting arms (e.g. Hunter Harvey and DL Hall) in the minors but no aces in waiting. They need to change that before possibly losing Kevin Gausman after 2020 and Dylan Bundy after 2021.
25. Chicago Cubs
Of Chicago's current starters, only Yu Darvish will still be around in 2022 and he'll be 35 years old by then. With no Tier 1 arms in the minors, the Cubs had better make the most of what they have now.
24. Washington Nationals
The Nationals stand to lose Gio Gonzalez after 2018, Tanner Roark after 2019 and Max Scherzer and Joe Ross after 2021. Only Stephen Strasburg will be left by 2022, and he'll be 33.
23. San Francisco Giants
The Giants like to retain their stars, so Madison Bumgarner is probably sticking around after 2019. After that, the list of reasons to look forward to the club's 2022 rotation gets a lot less exciting.
22. Los Angeles Angels
It bodes well for the future of the Angels rotation that Shohei Ohtani is a better pitcher than he is a hitter. But apart from Parker Bridwell, the Angels are short on long-term rotation mates for him.
21. Arizona Diamondbacks
The D-Backs control the overlooked Zack Godley through 2022, and should soon graduate well-regarded righty Jon Duplantier to the majors. Otherwise, their rotation is set to incur heavy losses in coming years.
20. Cleveland Indians
At a certain point, Cleveland's rotation will include top prospect Triston McKenzie alongside Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger. But by 2022, only McKenzie and Clevinger will remain.
19. Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers' current rotation is lacking in long-term fixtures. So, it's a good thing they have a pair of Tier 1 arms belonging to Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes who should become fixtures no later than 2019.
18. Colorado Rockies
German Marquez and Kyle Freeland are set to anchor Colorado's rotation for years to come. Riley Pint and his 102 mph fastball should be along by 2020, which will help offset the eventual loss of Jon Gray after 2021.
17. New York Mets
The Mets don't have any guaranteed dollars on their books after 2020, so they darn well better extend Noah Syndergaard beyond 2021. Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo, neither of whom is as bad as his 2017 numbers suggest, are already in for the long haul.
16. Toronto Blue Jays
With virtually nothing on their books after 2019, the Blue Jays have a perfect excuse to extend Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez. If so, they'd eventually join forces with Nate Pearson, a Tier 1 righty with a big-time fastball.
15-11: The "Just Missed" List
15. Tampa Bay Rays
There's good news and bad news regarding right-handed prospect Brent Honeywell. The good is that he's among the best of all the Tier 1 arms in MLB. The bad is that he needs Tommy John surgery.
But assuming he recovers well (knock on wood), he'll make a fine addition to a 2022 rotation picture that already includes talented lefty Blake Snell and overlooked righty Jake Faria. If his bat doesn't prove to be his primary meal ticket, left-hander Brendan McKay is yet another Tier 1 prospect who'll join the fun.
14. Oakland Athletics
At the major league level, the A's control Sean Manaea, Jharel Cotton, Daniel Mengden, Paul Blackburn, Daniel Gossett and Andrew Triggs through 2022. At the minor league level, they have two Tier 1 arms (LHPs A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo) and several more prospects worth knowing (RHPs Grant Holmes, James Kaprielien and Logan Shore).
Since there's always a question of funds in Oakland, how many of them will last in A's uniforms is the big question. Nonetheless, a rotation of Puk, Luzardo, Manaea, Holmes and Mengden is just one of many exciting potential combinations.
13. Pittsburgh Pirates
Among the major leaguers controlled by the Pirates through 2022 are Jameson Taillon, Joe Musgrove, Chad Kuhl, Trevor Williams and Steven Brault. Also in the mix is Tyler Glasnow, who was an elite pitching prospect for many years, and two Tier 1 arms in Mitch Keller and Shane Baz.
Mind you, the names at play here are arguably more interesting than the accompanying talent. Nevertheless, a five-some of Taillon, Keller, Baz, Glasnow and Musgrove sounds even better than any of the combinations that could form in Oakland.
12. Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox could lose Drew Pomeranz and David Price (if he opts out) to free agency after 2018, and then Chris Sale and Rick Porcello after 2019.
However, Sale is a solid bet to return for the long haul, and other spots can be filled by Tier 1 lefty Jay Groome and solid right-handers Bryan Mata and Tanner Houck. All that's missing is a free-agent value buy, such as a Kyle Hendricks or a Jose Quintana after 2020.
11. Minnesota Twins
Jose Berrios is one of MLB's most exciting young pitchers, and he's slated to be a fixture in the Twins rotation through at least 2022. Down on the farm, they have two Tier 1 arms (RHP Fernando Romero and LHP Stephen Gonsalves) and a flame-throwing teenager with huge upside (RHP Brusdar Graterol).
So in just a few years' time, the Twins should have four high-quality young arms anchoring their rotation. And with zero dollars in commitments past 2019, they could easily afford a Gerrit Cole or a Sonny Gray as a veteran presence to complete the ensemble.
10. Detroit Tigers
Controlled Through 2022: RHP Michael Fulmer, LHP Matt Boyd
Tier 1 Prospects: RHP Franklin Perez, RHP Matt Manning, RHP Beau Burrows, RHP Alex Faedo
This is, of course, assuming that the Detroit Tigers don't trade Michael Fulmer in the coming years.
It seems likely that they will, yet it's plausible that they won't. As a 25-year-old who's already been a Rookie of the Year and an All-Star and who's under team control for five more seasons, his trade value is simply too much for many teams to afford.
The longer the Tigers hold on to him, the more they could be inclined to keep holding on to him. After all, just look at all those Tier 1 arms they have to look forward to.
The Tigers acquired Franklin Perez in the Justin Verlander trade last August. Beau Burrows was a high draft pick in 2015. Ditto for Matt Manning and Alex Faedo, respectively.
The weakest link of the bunch is Manning, as the 20-year-old former two-sport star has plenty of kinks to work out before he can be put on a fast track to the majors. Nonetheless, he comes with a high ceiling that fits well alongside the high floors of Perez, Burrows and Faedo.
The latter three should start getting assignments in Detroit's major league rotation in 2019, with Manning coming along in 2020. Over the next two years, they can combine with Fulmer to form a rotation that will make the Tigers relevant in the AL Central again.
The Rotation: Fulmer, Perez, Burrows, Faedo, Manning
9. Chicago White Sox
Controlled Through 2022: RHP Lucas Giolito, RHP Reynaldo Lopez, RHP Carson Fulmer
Tier 1 Prospects: RHP Michael Kopech, RHP Alec Hansen, RHP Dylan Cease, RHP Dane Dunning
It won't be long before Michael Kopech is coming to a major league mound near you.
The 21-year-old is as much an urban legend as a prospect by now, and it's entirely due to his fastball. He's thrown as hard as 105 mph in a game and 110 mph in practice. You just don't see radar-gun readings like that every day.
The hard part for Kopech has been gaining control over his electric arm. He did make strides as 2017 went along, however, and he's now generally feeling more comfortable and confident than ever.
"Physically and emotionally, I'm more in control," he told MLB.com's Richard Justice. "When I take the mound, I feel like I'm able to control my pitches better. That being said, I feel very in control of my thoughts and how comfortable, per se, I am on the mound."
Alec Hansen and Dylan Cease have similar profiles to Kopech but should be in the majors by 2019, if they make like him and add some control to go with all their heat. Dane Dunning, meanwhile, is polished enough to potentially join Kopech this year.
It's good that the White Sox have this much prospect depth to choose from, as there isn't a sure thing among the trio of Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer. But since Giolito is a former elite prospect with a perfect pitcher's build, he's worth trusting as a long-term contributor.
The Rotation: Kopech, Hansen, Dunning, Cease, Giolito
8. Cincinnati Reds
Controlled Through 2022: RHP Luis Castillo, RHP Sal Romano, RHP Robert Stephenson, RHP Jackson Stephens, RHP Rookie Davis, LHP Amir Garrett, LHP Cody Reed
Tier 1 Prospects: RHP Hunter Greene, RHP Tyler Mahle
Of the many young pitchers under the Cincinnati Reds' control, Luis Castillo is the one most worth knowing.
He emerged to post a 3.12 ERA and strike out 98 batters in 89.1 major league innings last year. He worked off a fastball that averaged an elite 97.5 mph and got plenty of swings and misses on his filthy changeup. With weapons like these, the 25-year-old is a star in the making.
Hunter Greene is a far younger yet similar story.
He was a two-way player when the Reds chose him at No. 2 in the 2017 draft but is now a full-time pitcher. He's only 18, so he likely won't be ready for the majors until at least 2020. But as is, he already boasts an upper-90s fastball and a feel for a slider and changeup.
Tyler Mahle, 23, is a less exciting yet capable prospect who's MLB-ready for 2018. Somewhere in between him and Greene is another righty named Tony Santillan, a 20-year-old whose live arm could make him a top prospect in a hurry.
The Reds will probably spend the next two seasons trying to squeeze something out of their other young arms. But eventually, they'll need to find a veteran to help tie it all together. Poaching either Kyle Hendricks or Jose Quintana from the rival Cubs after 2020 would be too perfect.
The Rotation: Castillo, Greene, Quintana, Mahle, Santillan
7. Philadelphia Phillies
Controlled Through 2022: RHP Nick Pivetta, RHP Ben Lively, RHP Mark Leiter, RHP Jake Thompson, RHP Zach Eflin
Tier 1 Prospects: RHP Sixto Sanchez, RHP Adonis Medina
Not listed anywhere above is Aaron Nola. But I wouldn't worry about that.
The 24-year-old righty is the best thing to emerge from the Philadelphia Phillies' rebuild to this point, so he's the first man up for a contract extension. Since the Phillies are a deep-pocketed franchise with virtually nothing on the long-term books, that's as doable as it gets.
But if you think Nola's legit, wait until you get a load of Philly's very own Pedro Martinez: Sixto Sanchez. He's slightly undersized at 6'0", 185 pounds but has heat that touches triples digits and a veritable galaxy of electric secondaries to choose from.
"It was like he was a clone," one scout told B/R's Danny Knobler. "Physically, he looks like him. He has the same style of pitching, the same delivery. And for a young guy, I loved his poise and presence. For me, he is Pedro Martinez."
Sanchez could be ready for the majors as soon as 2019. So should Adonis Medina, who comes with a solid floor. Left-hander JoJo Romero is off the Tier 1 radar, yet he can also slide into the back of the Phillies rotation sooner than later.
To round things out, it's likely the Phillies will dip into the free-agent market in the near future. Somebody like Sonny Gray would look darn good in the middle of their homegrown pieces.
The Rotation: Nola, Sanchez, Gray, Medina, Romero
6. Houston Astros
Controlled Through 2022: RHP Francis Martes
Tier 1 Prospects: RHP Forrest Whitley, RHP J.B. Bukauskas
Sure, Francis Martes is the only pitcher of note who the Houston Astros control through 2022. But don't sell him short.
The right-hander is only one year removed from being rated as one of baseball's best pitching prospects. He didn't hit the ground running in the majors last year, managing just a 5.80 ERA in 32 starts. But Martes is still just 22 years old and is now in good shape and opening eyes at spring training.
"He's throwing as hard as anybody in camp," manager A.J. Hinch said, according to Hunter Atkins of the Houston Chronicle. "It's still really early, but he came really prepared."
Meanwhile, a 50-game suspension shouldn't strip Forrest Whitley of his status as arguably the best pitching prospect in baseball. The 6'7" 20-year-old dominated the minors with a 2.83 ERA last year and should take his act to the majors in 2019. Although he's further behind, J.B. Bukauskas should parlay his excellent fastball/slider combination into a major league role by 2020.
Projecting the last two spots in Houston's 2022 rotation is a simple matter of spending the team's money.
With nothing on the team's books past 2020, it's easy to imagine an extension for electric righty Lance McCullers and a big free-agent signing after 2019 to help ease the blow of losing Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander. How about 2017 All-Star Alex Wood? He'll be young enough (28) for a multi-year deal and would be an ideal lefty to break up all the righties.
The Rotation: Whitley, McCullers, Wood, Martes, Bukauskus
5. San Diego Padres
Controlled Through 2022: RHP Dinelson Lamet, RHP Matt Strahm
Tier 1 Prospects: LHP MacKenzie Gore, RHP Cal Quantrill, RHP Michael Baez, LHP Adrian Morejon, RHP Anderson Espinoza
There's no ignoring the San Diego Padres' collection of excellent pitching prospects, but first things first: Don't sleep on Dinelson Lamet.
Although he was never a household name as a prospect, the 25-year-old was always putting up high strikeout totals. With the help of his mid-90s fastball, sharp changeup and even sharper slider, he proved with 139 punchouts in 114.1 innings that his act can work in the majors.
As for those prospects, the one whose status is on the thinnest ice is Anderson Espinoza. He earned rave reviews as a dominant 17-year-old in 2015, but he has since struggled against tougher competition in 2016 and went under the knife to have Tommy John surgery in 2017.
On the bright side, Cal Quantrill is now three years removed from Tommy John and is being propelled by his fastball/changeup combination on a fast track to the majors. Michael Baez, a 6'8" giant with a big fastball, isn't far behind. Neither is Adrian Morejon, who's much more polished than most other 18-year-olds.
MacKenzie Gore has the furthest to travel but also the most upside to realize. The 19-year-old already has a strong fastball/curveball combination and is developing a slider and changeup as well.
All this helps explain why the Padres have been willing to spend on Wil Myers and Eric Hosmer. They don't need to save money for arms.
The Rotation: Gore, Quantrill, Baez, Morejon, Lamet
4. Atlanta Braves
Controlled Through 2022: LHP Sean Newcomb, RHP Lucas Sims
Tier 1 Prospects: LHP Luiz Gohara, RHP Mike Soroka, LHP Kolby Allard, RHP Kyle Wright, RHP Ian Anderson, LHP Max Fried
The Atlanta Braves have spent the past few years obtaining pitching prospects faster than Indiana Jones grabs rare antiquities. All they have to do now is arrange them into a fully functional starting rotation.
That shouldn't be hard.
Luiz Gohara and his explosive fastball are ready to go right now. So are Max Fried and his outstanding fastball/curveball combination. Mike Soroka and Kolby Allard need a bit more time but should be ready for their first major league action before 2018 is out.
Kyle Wright is likely to be ready in 2019, and he might not need long to join David Price and Sonny Gray as former Vanderbilt Commodores who've found success on a major league mound.
Ian Anderson may not be ready until 2020. But as a 19-year-old who already boasts three good pitches and decent command, he might have the most upside of any of Atlanta's young arms.
It must be said that Sean Newcomb and Lucas Sims aren't chopped liver. But ultimately, the Braves will have to pick just five of their young pitchers for their 2022 rotation. If they choose wisely, the result should be the team's best since Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Steve Avery were in town.
The Rotation: Gohara, Wright, Anderson, Soroka, Allard
3. St. Louis Cardinals
Controlled Through 2022: RHP Carlos Martinez, RHP Luke Weaver
Tier 1 Prospects: RHP Alex Reyes, RHP Jack Flaherty
There's a chance that Carlos Martinez won't still be with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2022. His contract officially ends in 2021, and only has options for 2022 and 2023.
But barring a serious injury or two, it's hard to fathom why the Cardinals wouldn't exercise those. Martinez has been an All-Star twice and has accumulated a 3.24 ERA over 580 innings since 2015. He's only 26 now and will be going into his age-30 season in 2022.
Although he's not as accomplished, Luke Weaver's future looks just as bright. The 24-year-old got shelled in the majors in 2016 but came right back with a 3.88 ERA over 60.1 innings last year. All told, he's struck out about four batters (117) for every one he's walked (29) in 96.2 innings.
For the record, Alex Reyes' name isn't there by mistake.
He technically is still a prospect, and one who's still worth getting excited about. The 23-year-old teased extraordinary potential when he debuted in the majors in 2016. With Tommy John surgery now a year in the rearview mirror, he should be back on his way to superstardom in no time.
Jack Flaherty, 22, is a less explosive yet plenty capable pitcher who's MLB-ready right now. And once Adam Wainwright's contract comes off the books this winter, the Cardinals should be able to afford to extend Michael Wacha past 2019.
The Rotation: Martinez, Reyes, Weaver, Wacha, Flaherty
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
Controlled Through 2022: RHP Kenta Maeda, LHP Julio Urias, RHP Ross Stripling, RHP Brock Stewart
Tier 1 Prospects: RHP Walker Buehler, RHP Mitchell White, RHP Yadier Alvarez
The big question here is how much longer Clayton Kershaw will be a part of the Los Angeles Dodgers rotation.
His $215 million contract runs through 2020 but has an opt-out at the end of 2018. Assuming he stays healthy and otherwise does typical Clayton Kershaw things this season, that opt-out can be a ticket to riches far greater than any pitcher has ever garnered on the open market.
However, it's hard to picture a scenario in which the three-time Cy Young Award winner actually leaves Los Angeles. Kershaw confirmed to reporters (including MLB.com's Ken Gurnick) that the two sides are keeping an "open dialogue" on an extension. Even if something doesn't get done, the Dodgers would be on a short list of suitors in free agency.
Mind you, Kershaw will be 34 in 2022. That's old for a pitcher. But if Justin Verlander could be an ace at 34 in 2017, then so can Kershaw in '22.
Kenta Maeda is a crafty enough pitcher to also still be useful at 34. The Dodgers won't need him to be anything more than a No. 5, anyway, as between him and Kershaw will be several outstanding young arms.
A strong recovery from shoulder surgery will make Julio Urias a budding ace again. Walker Buehler has a right arm that's equal parts electric and precise. Mitchell White and Yadier Alvarez also have elite arms, although the former has the more complete starter's profile.
The Rotation: Kershaw, Urias, Buehler, White, Maeda
1. New York Yankees
Controlled Through 2022: RHP Luis Severino, LHP Jordan Montgomery, RHP Chad Green, RHP Luis Cessa
Tier 1 Prospects: RHP Chance Adams, LHP Justus Sheffield, RHP Domingo Acevedo, RHP Albert Abreu
This time last year, it wasn't entirely clear who was supposed to be the ace of the future for the New York Yankees. Then Luis Severino happened.
The right-hander posted a 2.98 ERA in 31 starts that spanned 193.1 innings. His primary weapon was an MLB-high 97.6 mph fastball that, amazingly, actually gained velocity as the year went along. And he did all this at just 23 years old, with his 24th birthday coming just last week on Feb. 20.
Severino has plenty of veteran company at the moment, but not for long. CC Sabathia is a free agent after 2018. Sonny Gray will hit the market after 2019. It'll be Masahiro Tanaka's turn after 2020.
The Yankees won't have any trouble filling their spots, however.
Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield are talented and advanced enough to break through this season. Domingo Acevedo could as well if he manages to tone down his violent delivery. Albert Abreu is a year behind these three but has upside that goes just as high.
These being the Yankees, it's likely that an expensive outsider will be thrown into the mix at some point. The smart money is on Gerrit Cole, who was once drafted by the Yankees and has seemingly never left the organization's radar, joining the team as a free agent after 2019.
The Rotation: Severino, Cole, Adams, Sheffield, Abreu