Kansas City's Aaron Crow has been a vital part of the team's bullpen.
Young, talented pitching is what wins ballgames these days.
For two examples, look at Cleveland and Oakland.
The Indians have jumped out to the best start in team history, thanks to amazing performances from the young pitching staff. Fausto Carmona, the staff ace, is only 27 years old. No other member of the rotation exceeds the age of 26.
Over in Oakland, the A's have maintained a solid start, and appear to be built for the long haul, thanks to their solid, youthful rotation that includes Brett Anderson (23), Trevor Cahill (23), Gio Gonzalez (25), Brandon McCarthy (27) and rookie Tyson Ross (24), who's filling in for the injured Dallas Braden (27).
I'll say it again—young pitching is the name of the game.
It took the Rays to the World Series a few years ago, and made world champions out of the Giants last season.
It is primarily why teams are placing a renewed focus on finding great, young pitching talent wherever they can, whether it be through the draft, trades or the international signing market.
What I present to you is the power rankings, from bottom to top, of every major-league team's pitching depth, including both starters and relievers.
Thanks to his upper 90s fastball and his experience, Mark Rogers is the best pitching prospect in the Brewers system.
The Brewers trade to get Zack Greinke this offseason certainly bolstered the team's rotation for the foreseeable future, but it also had negative consequences on the team's farm system.
The trade not only cost the Brewers their starting shortstop (Alcides Escobar) and a talented outfielder (Lorenzo Cain), but also two of the team's best pitching prospects, Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress.
With those two high-ceiling pitchers now in Kansas City, the Brewers' top arm is 25-year-old minor-league vet Mark Rogers. Rogers has great stuff, but has had troubles staying healthy over the years. He missed all of 2007 and 2008 due to shoulder injuries, and is actually on the DL right now with carpal tunnel syndrome. There's no real timetable for him to get back on the field, much less on the mound, leaving the Brewers with the worst pitching system in all of baseball.
In a system this bleak, there are actually some bright spots.
Wily Peralta, for example, is a hard-throwing right-hander who has looked dominating when healthy. He's been 100 percent this season and he's shown what he's capable of, striking out 36 batters in 31.1 innings at Double-A Huntsville.
Cody Scarpetta, one of the team's best pitchers last season, has struggled with a promotion to Double-A, posting an ERA over six and issuing way too many walks to be successful.
Tyler Thornburg, the team's third-round pick from last year, has been a pleasant surprise, posting a 1.80 ERA in five starts, striking out 32 batters in just 25 innings. Thornburg can reach into the upper 90s with his fastball, but profiles more as a reliever than a starter.
With the glaring weakness in the Brewers system, however, he's just one of a number of pitchers who are going to be pitching out of the rotation for the time being.
Milwaukee's 2009 first-round supplemental pick Kyle Heckathorn falls into that same category. He would probably be in the majors already if it wasn't for the team's insistence on having him start. Pitching in High-A, he's actually been solid, posting a 3.26 ERA in seven starts with 34 strikeouts in 38.2 innings.
Without a doubt, the Orioles pitching depth is the team's greatest weakness.
Thanks to the recent graduations of Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman, Brad Bergesen and Zach Britton this season, the system is threadbare.
In terms of starting pitching, they have a few promising pitchers who could turn out to be mid-rotation guys, like Ryan Berry, Bobby Bundy, Chorye Spoone and Wynn Pelzer.
They're in much better shape in the bullpen, where they have some pretty interesting pieces, like 2010 third-round pick Daniel Klein, who many thought would make the transition to starting this season, but who has remained in the bullpen in order to keep his innings down. He's thrived in the role, earning a promotion to Double-A.
Injuries have decimated the Orioles pitching over the past few seasons. Their top pitching prospect once upon a time, Spoone, had to undergo Tommy John surgery, as did one of their top relief arms, Luis Lebron.
Hard-throwing talent Brandon Erbe was struck with a labrum injury, which required surgery and will sideline him until 2012.
They also lost 2009 first-rounder Matt Hobgood to a wide array of ailments. Hobgood has struggled when he's been on the mound due to poor conditioning, and has yet to make his 2011 debut.
Down the farm a ways, the O's do have some promising talent, most of it from their 2009 and 2010 drafts. Million-dollar man Cameron Coffey is finally healthy after missing almost his entire senior season of high school and his first year with the Orioles. Last year's picks Parker Bridwell and Clayton Schrader throw hard, but only Schrader has made it to full-season ball.
All things considered...the Orioles are in pretty terrible shape in terms of pitching depth.
They've been decimated by injuries, and have seen most of their top pitching talent graduate, leaving them in pretty terrible shape.
With the No. 4 pick in this year's draft, they could stand to add a top-notch pitcher, and they'd be wise to spend a good amount of later picks on pitching as well.
While the Reds might make out like bandits in team rankings of position player talent, they don't fare too well in the pitching department.
In fact, according to Baseball America's top-30 ranking of the Reds system, only one pitcher ranked in the top nine spots, that of course being Aroldis Chapman, who has since graduated to the big leagues for good.
After Chapman, Cincinnati does have some talent, but the majority of it is far, far away from being big-league ready.
Kyle Lotzkar, the team's first-round supplemental pick back in 2007 has loads of potential, but thanks to a run-in with Tommy John surgery, he's yet to reach full-season ball, where he looked very good back in 2008.
Drew Cisco might have the highest ceiling of any of the team's remaining pitchers, but he hasn't made his pro debut after signing late last season as the team's sixth-round pick.
Donnie Joseph is arguably the most seasoned of the bunch, having reached Double-A at the age of 23. He's been shelled pitching out of the bullpen this year, but has a solid K-to-BB ratio and two saves.
And then there's Brad Boxberger, the polished righty from USC, who was scooped up in the first round of the supplemental draft back in 2009. He has also reached Double-A and has looked really good pitching in relief, although many thought that he was destined for the rotation after pitching poorly out of the 'pen last season. His value is strong, but drops considerably if he sticks in a relief role.
Right-handers Daniel Corcino and Jonathan Correa, as well as lefty Ismael Guillon are all still in Low-A or below.
The graduation of Pineda has hurt the M's pitching depth at the minor league level.
The Mariners, like so many other teams on this list (Orioles and White Sox), have witnessed a steep decline in their minor-league pitching depth due to the promotion of their top arms.
In the Mariners' case, it was Michael Pineda who left a gaping hole in their system, leaving a bunch of minor-league veterans and promising young talents behind.
In the minor-league vet family, we have Mauricio Robles, a wild lefty who can touch the high 90s and was brought over from Detroit in the Jarrod Washburn deal. Robles has great potential, but he was very homer-happy last season, and has very poor control.
In the same category, we also have Dan Cortes, who was just recently called up by the big-league squad. Cortes came over from the Royals last season after an ugly incident that ended with him being arrested for public intoxication. Cortes throws in the mid-to-high 90s and has the ability to touch 100 mph, but his control is also lacking.
Josh Lueke also fits that same description. Lueke came over to Seattle in the Cliff Lee deal, and had performed well enough that the M's gave him a big-league bullpen spot. He was terrible, pitching to a 17.05 ERA, and despite his high-90s fastball, he's likely destined to spend the majority of the season at Triple-A.
In the promising, young talent, we have 2010 first-round supplemental pick Taijuan Walker. Walker is incredibly raw, but touched 98 mph before the draft. He's a lanky fellow who has a great curveball, but will need at least three or four seasons in the minors in order to hone his command. He's only made one appearance in 2011, and got shelled.
Stephen Pryor, Jordan Shipers and Erasmo Ramirez also fall under that category, leaving the Mariners in a world of hurt.
With the big-league club headed nowhere in 2011, it might make the most sense for them to try to deal not only Felix Hernandez, but also Ichiro, and see what kind of pitching they could get in return. They're already in pretty good shape with Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley and Nick Franklin in the pipeline. Now all they need are the arms. Pineda is a good start, but they're going to need a whole lot more than that.
The main reason the Giants minor-league pitching depth is so bad is the same reason that the team won the World Series last year.
Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Jonathan Sanchez and Dan Runzler.
Each of those players had huge years in 2010, and keyed the team's championship run, along the way leaving a gaping hole in the system that has gotten worse over the past few seasons.
Now the top arm in the system is 2009 first-rounder Zack Wheeler. The right-hander was drafted before Matt Purke, Tyler Matzek, Jacob Turner and Shelby Miller that year, and has been hard at work justifying the Giants decision. This year he's off to another strong start (4.00 ERA, 34 K in 27 IP), showing the same 94-to-97 mph velocity.
Although lefty Eric Surkamp has been arguably the top pitcher in the organization this season, posting a 1.65 ERA in Double-A, while striking out a system-leading 51 batters in just 32.2 innings. Batters are hitting .190 off of him, which is incredibly impressive, considering his fastball barely touches 90 mph. He has a great curveball/changeup combo and has impressive command over all three pitches, making him very tough to hit.
Most of the Giants' other arms are either very young or very inexperienced, or a combination of both.
Jose Casilla is only 20 and has been terrible in High-A ball, showing his inexperience. Last year's sixth-rounder Mike Kickham has yet to make his 2011 debut. Jake Dunning is a converted position player who is on a strict innings limit after pitching sparsely over the past few years.
The surprise of the season so far has been last year's fifth-round pick Heath Hembree, who has allowed only one run in 12 innings so far, getting 22 strikeouts in 13 outings. His ERA is a microscopic 0.75, and he has nine saves.
Jhan Marinez has electric stuff, but has yet to throw strikes consistently enough to warrant a big-league look.
Few teams have been able to reap the rewards of their farm system as much as the Marlins over the past few seasons, especially in the pitching department.
Josh Johnson has flourished, as have Anibal Sanchez (signed by Boston in 2001) and Ricky Nolasco (drafted by the Cubs in 2001), creating one of the best semi-homegrown trios in baseball. And definitely the most underrated.
Unfortunately, the Marlins don't have too much in the works down on the farm.
They have plenty of talented pitching, but very little in terms of elite or even near-elite prospects.
Chad James, the team's 2009 first-rounder, carries the weight of the system as the organization's only former first-round pitcher in Baseball America's top 30. James had a solid season in 2010, but was undone by walks and way too many base hits. He's struggled again this season, allowing 41 hits in 32.1 innings, and has developed a tendency for the long ball, serving up one more this season than he did in all of 2010.
Still, with mid-90s heat and a sensational curveball, he represents the best of the best for the Marlins.
Mostly, the system is full of intriguing talents, with very high risks or very low ceilings.
In the high-risk department we have Jhan Marinez, who has excellent stuff but poor makeup; Jose Ceda, a flamethrower with poor conditioning and frequent bouts of dismal control; and Dan Jennings, who was busted and suspended 50 games for testing positive for a banned substance.
In the low-ceiling group we have Brad Hand, the team's next best starter after James, who gives away way too many at-bats with walks and has issues with home runs. There's also Rob Rasmussen, the team's second-round pick who will likely end up in the bullpen. Tom Koehler, who despite his 16-2 effort last season, still profiles as a No. 4 or 5 starter, if not a reliever. And Elih Villanueva, who went 14-4 last season in the same rotation as Koehler, but has even less projection.
As a result, the Marlins end up with a pitching staff that ranks near the bottom third of baseball.
Ross has been shelled in his first few starts, but is going to be a major piece of the team's future.
The A's have created one of the most impressive young rotations in baseball, building around Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson.
Down in the minors, they have a solid, although not entirely impressive, group of pitchers that will be great additions to fill in around their current staff, hopefully allowing them to challenge for a Wild-Card spot and even a division title in the next few seasons.
The big-league club has already added Tyson Ross, the hard-throwing right-hander who struck gold after making the switch back to starting late in the 2010 season. Ross has been hit hard, but has shown some flashes of brilliance.
Behind Ross in the pipeline is 2009 seventh rounder Ian Krol, who has yet to make his 2011 debut after a very successful campaign last season, that saw him finish the year in High-A, where he's likely to pitch most of this season.
Further back are a pair of former trade targets, Fautino de los Santos and Trystan Magnuson. De los Santos has incredible velocity and has already earned a promotion to Triple-A, where he has been flawless in two outings. For the season, he has 17 strikeouts in 11.1 innings, pitching out of the bullpen. Magnuson came over from the Blue Jays in the Rajai Davis deal, and has been sensational pitching in relief, also in Triple-A. He has 19 strikeouts in 17.1 innings and three saves, to go along with his 1.56 ERA.
In terms of starters, the A's have a couple of young, talented arms in Jonathan Joseph, who has yet to make his 2011 debut, and Michael Ynoa, the former top international signee, who the A's inked for a record $4.25 million back in 2008. Ynoa is going to miss the entire 2011 season after having TJ surgery last summer.
Lucas Harrell has performed well in his one big-league stint, but showed very poor command.
Losing Chris Sale to the majors definitely hurt the White Sox pitching depth, leaving them without any elite pitching talent.
Losing Gregory Infante, the team's current top arm, whenever he is eventually called upon, will hurt even more, leaving the Sox with one of the worst minor-league pitching staffs in baseball.
After those two guys, the next promising young talent is right-hander Jacob Petricka, who has been clocked at 100 mph. Petricka would likely be suited best, as most 100 mph pitchers are, coming out of the bullpen, but with the White Sox lack of starting depth, he's going to remain in that role for at least the next few seasons.
The same can be said for Addison Reed and Lucas Harrell.
It seems that just about every arm that the Sox do have is best suited for relief.
Anthony Carter has grown into a very fine reliever, but only after he bombed out as a starter. Ditto for Santos Rodriguez.
In fact, the only true starting pitching prospect in Baseball America's top 15 for Chicago is Charlie Leesman, a seasoned lefty formerly of Xavier, who has four solid pitches that should help him stick in the rotation.
The White Sox, more than any other club, could stand to add some quality pitching depth, but they'll be hard-pressed to find it in this year's draft, having surrendered their first-round pick to Washington in the Adam Dunn signing process.
McNutt is the Cubs top pitcher, and the only starter worth a darn within two levels of the Majors.
Entering the season, the Cubs didn't have the greatest collection of pitching talent, and only a few arms really stood out, like Chris Archer, Trey McNutt and Rafael Dolis.
The team did itself no favors by selecting an unknown with its first pick in last year's draft. Hayden Simpson very well might turn out to be a steal, but as of right now he's struggling with his command and a tendency for the long ball in Low-A ball.
The Cubs hurt their cause even more by dealing their top pitcher, Archer, to Tampa in order to get Matt Garza.
Now the Cubs pitching depth, if you can call it that, begins with McNutt, a 21-year-old right-hander from the Cubs' 2009 draft crop. For a 32nd-round pick, McNutt has been fantastic, exceeding all expectations and reaching Double-A in just two seasons. He's been very effective so far, repeating the level this season.
Next on the list is Chris Carpenter, but not that one. This Carpenter is only 25, and he is a starter-turned-reliever. He too has been solid so far this season, striking out 16 batters in only 14 innings out of the bullpen.
Rafael Dolis is arguably the pitcher with the highest ceiling in their system thanks to his high-90s velocity out of the bullpen. In a system as weak in starting pitching as Chicago's, the Cubs have kept him in the rotation in order to get him as many innings as possible in the hopes that he'll figure it out as a starter. He too has been very good this season, but has struggled with his control.
After McNutt, Carpenter and Dolis, the Cubs primarily have a large group of minor-league vets who have yet to break through—guys like Jay Jackson, Alberto Cabrera and Kyle Smit.
Lyles has No. 1 starter stuff, and could make his debut sometime during the 2011 season.
Thanks to some pretty solid drafting, the Astros have much better pitching depth than you would think, especially coming out of one of the worst minor-league systems in baseball.
The team lucked out with Jordan Lyles, a supplemental first-round pick in 2008. Lyles rocketed through the minors last season, blowing straight past High-A to Double-A, where he looked dominant at times, striking out 115 batters in 127 innings, posting a solid 3.12 ERA as a 19-year-old.
He even made a late-season cameo in Triple-A, becoming the only teenager to play in that level during the 2010 season.
Lyles has "ace" written all over him, and he has once again looked much more poised than his age in seven starts at Triple-A this season.
The next-best bet after Lyles is 2010 first-rounder Mike Foltynewicz, who has great velocity (93-97 mph) and an excellent bevy of breaking pitches. His changeup looked like a plus pitch during his debut last year, and his curveball has looked very good this year, despite his 0-6 record and 6.63 ERA.
The Astros have also benefited from the progress of many of their 2009 and 2010 draftees.
Tanner Bushue (2009) has emerged as a legit prospect with a mid-rotation future, Vince Velasquez (2010) has great stuff and a hammer curve, R.J. Alaniz (2009) has rebounded nicely from an injury bug that cost him some time in high school, and Dallas Keuchel (2009) has mid-rotation potential as well.
The team is also betting hard on a bounce-back season from Ross Seaton, a former top prospect who got hit hard in the Cal League last year, serving up 22 homers and finishing with a 6-13 record and an ERA over 6.50. He's been a bit better this year, but has still been hit pretty hard (41 H in 33.1 IP).
Mejia was supposed to play a part in the team's plans this season, but will now miss the rest of the year, and a good chunk of 2012.
Coming into the season, the Mets had grand hopes for their minor-league pitching.
Jenrry Mejia was finally going to be groomed as a starter, Matt Harvey was finally going to make his debut and they were hoping for bounce-back seasons from Brad Holt and Jeurys Familia.
Looking back, it may have been asking for a little too much.
Harvey has been even better than advertised, cruising through six minor-league starts (before hitting some trouble on Tuesday), to the tune of a 2.97 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 36.1 innings.
And Holt has been solid, putting in some pretty good performances for the team's Double-A affiliate. He currently has an ERA of 2.59 and has only given up one home run.
Familia has been outstanding, and may be the best of the bunch. He posted a 1.49 ERA in six High-A starts, striking out 36 in the same number of innings, before receiving a promotion to Double-A on Tuesday. He made his debut for Binghamton and pitched seven innings of two-hit ball, striking out six.
Mejia, however, was recently told he's going to need Tommy John surgery, which will put him on the shelf until mid-2012.
Beyond those four, the Mets have an interesting combination of seasoned veteran prospects, like Robert Carson (class of 2007), Dillon Gee (2007), Mark Cohoon (2008) and Armando Rodriguez (2007), and a bunch of unproven youngsters like Juan Urbina (48 career IP coming into 2011), Erik Goeddel (one IP) and Steve Matz (zero IP).
Gee, a 21st-rounder in 2007, has made three starts for the big-league club this season, and is going to fill the hole created by Chris Young's season-ending injury, leaving the team very thin at the starting position in the minors.
Once upon a time a star pitcher for Team Cuba, Yunesky Maya is only months away from earning a big-league job in D.C.
With the promotion of Stephen Strasburg last season, the Nationals pitching depth at the minor-league level went from extraordinary back to ordinary.
Nowadays, the system is clogged up with either minor-league vets (a group that includes Cole Kimball, Brad Peacock, Brad Meyers, Adam Carr and Hassan Pena) or fresh faces like 2010 signees A.J. Cole, Sammy Solis, Yunesky Maya and Robbie Ray, as well as 2009 picks Danny Rosenbaum and Trevor Holder.
Of that bunch, the most promising are Solis—the team's second rounder from last season, who has yet to make an appearance this season—and Cole, the team's fourth rounder from 2009. Cole was projected to be a first-round pick that year, but slipped due to concerns about his signability. The Nats happily scooped him up and dished out a record $2 million to get him to sign.
Both could be fixtures near the top of the Nats rotation, and both should be pretty quick to the majors, especially Solis, who dominated his sophomore season at San Diego with a lethal three-pitch combo that now lays claim to being the best in Washington's system.
Behind Cole and Solis, the Nats have several arms who have gotten off to very impressive starts this season.
Brad Peacock has been sensational for Double-A Harrisburg, posting a 4-1 mark with a 2.29 ERA. He has 42 strikeouts (and only six walks!) in 35.1 innings. He has yet to complete a start without six or more strikeouts.
Peacock's former rotation-mate, Brad Meyers, was also incredible during his six Double-A starts before his promotion to Triple-A. He went 3-2 with a 2.48 ERA and an impossible 38-to-0 K-to-BB ratio.
Former Cuban national team pitcher Yunesky Maya has also had a solid campaign up at Triple-A. He's made six starts and has a 3.55 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 38 innings.
Ray, only 19 years old, made his 2011 debut a few nights ago in Low-A, allowing only one hit in five shutout innings, striking out six.
Doubront is very talented, but faces the same fate of most minor leaguers coming up in Boston.
Boston made a killing in the 2010 draft, going "over slot" to sign Anthony Ranaudo and Brandon Workman, bringing them into a fold that was dramatically weakened by the Adrian Gonzalez deal that sent top prospect Casey Kelly packing for San Diego.
Not surprisingly, Ranaudo ranks as the team's top pitcher now. Aside from one poor start, he has been worth every penny of the $2.55 million that the Sox shelled out for him. His fastball has been excellent, as have his curveball and changeup. He's pitched to a 2.30 ERA and has 30 strikeouts in 27.1 innings. And he has yet to surrender a home run.
Drake Britton, the team's top pitcher before Ranaudo signed, hasn't been so lucky. In his first exposure to High-A, he has been hit pretty hard. He's given up 18 runs in 23 innings and has served up four home runs. He's had control issues too, walking 12 batters in six starts. Still, Britton has arguably the organization's best fastball and curveball, so he should be able to recover.
As always, the Sox have a good number of minor leaguers who have had a little taste of the majors, but because they follow the Yankees formula, and fill the big-league staff with free agents, it's hard to break in to the club.
Felix Doubront fits that bill, as does Junichi Tazawa.
Stolmy Pimentel is a promising young starter from the D.R., but he too has been hit very hard this season.
After that group, it's mostly a bunch of filler for the Sox, with a few promising candidates like Alex Wilson and Madison Younginer thrown in.
Parker was one of the top pitching prospects in the minors, but has struggled coming back from Tommy John surgery.
While the Diamondbacks haven't seen anywhere near the production from their minor-league pitching, they still have plenty of talent, and look to be a huge part of the team's rebuilding process.
A huge piece of that process is right-hander Jarrod Parker.
Parker burst onto the scene, forcing his way to Double-A in just his second pro season. Then he hurt his elbow, had to have Tommy John surgery and has worked his way back rather quickly. In fact, maybe too quickly. Parker has struggled greatly with his command, which, once upon a time, was a strength for him, and has been shelled repeatedly this year.
But Parker isn't the only one who's struggling.
Tyler Skaggs, the centerpiece of the Dan Haren deal, has been awful, although there is a positive in the fact that he currently leads all minor leaguers in strikeouts. Skaggs emerged as a guy who had front-of-the-rotation stuff during his final season with the Angels, and that was the main reason the D-Backs were so insistent about getting him.
Wade Miley should also be a huge part of the team's future, although he's spent a good amount of the season on the DL with a strained rotator cuff.
And Pat Corbin, another member of the Haren trade, has also struggled, especially with the long ball. He's given up three already, after serving up only 10 all of last season.
After those four, the D-Backs have plenty of question marks. They have some high-risk/high-reward guys in the system, like Tyler Green and J.R. Bradley, but they balance out nicely with the safer college guys that the team has drafted over the past few years.
That group includes Chase Anderson, Kevin Munson, Eric Smith and Mike Belfiore.
Overall, the status of this system rests heavily upon the progression of Jarrod Parker's return from Tommy John surgery.
Chatwood has struggled with his control in the Majors, but still figures to be a major part of the team's rotation for years to come.
The Angels used the 2010 draft to add a lot of high-ceiling pitching talent to their system, pushing it into the upper half of baseball's rankings.
They scooped up Cam Bedrosian in the supplemental draft's first round. Bedrosian, the son of former big leaguer Steve, who won the Cy Young in 1987, has three solid pitches, which should give him a chance to stick in the rotation long term. His fastball sits in the low 90s, but he has pretty good command.
In the second round, Los Angeles selected Daniel Tillman, from Florida Southern. Tillman was one of the top strikeout pitchers in college baseball in 2010, racking up Ks out of the closer's spot at a record pace. He looked even better in his pro debut, striking out 50 in just 32 innings, racking up 10 saves and a 1.95 ERA in 22 outings. The Angels have moved him into the rotation for 2011, and he's still been very good, striking out 31 batters in 26.1 innings, and posting a 3.42 ERA in four starts.
Already in their system, the Angels have a couple of potential front-line starters in Tyler Chatwood, who has rocketed all the way to the big leagues in fewer than three years after signing out of high school, and Garrett Richards, who has gone through his share of struggles in Double-A this season, but has excellent stuff.
Other great arms in their system include Fabio Martinez, who can throw in the upper 90s, but has yet to make his 2011 debut, and Trevor Reckling, who has struggled to maintain any kind of consistency since his breakout season in 2009.
The Twins have an underrated, very impressive collection of pitching talent.
It starts with Kyle Gibson and trickles its way down to the lower levels of rookie ball, where the Twins are consistently the best at finding and developing international talent.
Gibson, the team's first-round selection back in 2009, has rebounded nicely from the arm troubles that plagued him before that year's draft, and has established himself as one of the top starting pitchers in Triple-A. He was sensational last year in three appearances, and in six starts this year he's been incredible, allowing batters a .226 average against, and issuing only five walks, true to his duty as a Twins pitcher.
Gibson should be in the big leagues at some point this season, and should be up for good.
After Gibson, it's a mishmash of pitchers from all different places, with all different talents.
Liam Hendriks, from Australia, has been a great find. He throws in the low 90s and has gotten results wherever he's been, including Double-A this season. He's 2-1 with a 3.33 ERA and a 28-to-5 K-to-BB ratio in 27 innings.
Adrian Salcedo, signed out of the D.R. back in 2007, has finally reached full-season ball and has looked as good as advertised, pitching to a 2.50 ERA in six starts, with 31 strikeouts in 36 innings.
Carlos Gutierrez, signed out of Miami in 2008, has taken nicely to relieving after starting for his first two seasons as a Twin. He's worked his way up to Triple-A, and despite battles with control, has been great.
Dakota Watts has emerged as one of the hardest throwers in baseball this season, getting consistent 99-mph readings. He's saved six games for the club's High-A affiliate and has 12 strikeouts in 15.1 innings. Watts could move really fast if he keeps up his stellar play.
And then there's Alex Wimmers, the team's first-rounder from last season. Wimmers had a great debut last year, posting very strong, very Twins-like numbers. He only lasted one appearance this season, however. He was shelled, giving up four runs without recording an out or giving up a hit. He walked six batters and picked up the loss before leaving the game. He hasn't made an appearance since.
As usual, the Twins have built up a system of guys who throw strikes, keep the walks down and get ground balls.
With Kyle Drabek in the Majors, Deck McGuire is now the top pitching prospect in Toronto.
Now that Kyle Drabek has ascended to the majors for good, you can sum up the Blue Jays pitching depth in three words: McGuire, Wojciechowski and Sanchez.
Strangely enough, all three arms came to Toronto courtesy of the 2010 MLB draft. Deck McGuire was the team's first-round pick after a sensational junior season that followed a sophomore season that saw him named ACC Pitcher of the Year. The right-hander tosses in the low-to-mid 90s and has three solid complementary pitches.
The Jays scooped up Asher Wojciechowski from Citadel with the team's first-round supplemental pick. The right-hander finished second to Chris Sale in 2010 with 155 strikeouts in just 126 innings. Like McGuire, he can touch the mid-90s with his fastball. Wojciechowski has the best slider in the system.
And seven picks before Asher came off the board, the team snatched high schooler Aaron Sanchez, who has as much potential as any pitcher in the system. A lanky right-hander, Sanchez has been clocked as high as 96 mph and has a great curveball.
After the "Big Three," the Jays have a lot of lower-level, projectable pitchers like Griffin Murphy, also drafted last year; Chad Jenkins, the team's 2009 first-rounder, who is pitching in High-A ball this season; Henderson Alvarez, also pitching at High-A Dunedin; and Adonis Cardona, a member of the Jays' 2010 international signing class.
Other sleeper prospects include Justin Nicolino and Noah Syndergaard, both from last year's class as well. Both are high schoolers with enormous upside.
Adding Brothers to a bullpen that includes Matt Lindstrom, Franklin Morales and Huston Street would give the Rox one of the best young pens in the league.
They Rockies don't have the sexiest minor league pitching depth, but it is a made up of a very strong group of pitchers, who will likely fill various roles for the big league club over the next few seasons.
What began with Jhoulys Chacin last season should continue with Rex Brothers this year.
Brothers is one of the top relief prospects in the minors, and has been sensational pitching in Triple-A for the first time. He has 30 strikeouts in only 16.1 innings, spanning 15 appearances and has only surrendered one home run all season. Brothers is the Rockies' future closer, and he could make the jump into a relief role as early as the All-Star break.
The next piece to arrive should be Juan Nicasio, a talented starter out of the D.R. who can reach the high 90s with ease. The right-handed Nicasio should add even more international flavor to a rotation that includes Ubaldo Jimenez (Dominican Republic), Jorge de la Rosa (Mexico) and Chacin (Venezuela). Pitching in Double-A, Nicasio has looked dominating, striking out 47 batters in 35.2 innings, while issuing only six walks. He's 5-1 with a 2.02 ERA.
Behind Nicasio, there is a plentiful group of powerful arms, led by 2009 first-rounder Tyler Matzek, who is pitching at High-A Modesto this season. Matzek has struggled, issuing three more walks (24) than strikeouts (21) in 18.1 innings, but he's also one of the top pitching prospects in the minors.
The Rockies also have 2010 supplemental first-rounder Peter Tago, who was one of the most polished high school arms out of the draft crop that year. Tago has yet to make his pro debut, but he can touch 98 mph with his fastball and has a great curveball.
Christian Friedrich is a big, hard-throwing righty who had enormous success in 2009, backtracked in 2010, and has seen the wheels fall off here in 2011. Pitching at Double-A Tulsa, he's given up four homers already and has an ERA of 6.16.
One of Colorado's most pleasant surprises this season has been 2010 second-rounder Chad Bettis. Bettis didn't get a lot of attention, but has been the organization's best pitcher besides Nicasio, striking out 47 batters in 40 innings, spanning seven starts in High-A.
Kelly got a good look in spring training and should be a part of the big-league rotation come 2012.
Thanks to the Adrian Gonzalez trade, the Padres now have one of the deepest minor league systems in baseball, and that includes the pitching department.
Picking up Casey Kelly will give an extra boost to any system, but one like San Diego's, where the majority of the pitching prospects are either big league-ready or light years away from making an impact, especially appreciates the depth.
Kelly has No. 1 stuff, and has looked good wherever he's pitched, which right now happens to be in Double-A. He's 3-0 with a 3.43 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 39.1 innings. Kelly has the system's best curveball and has been clocked as high as 97 mph.
Beyond Kelly, there's another high-ceiling arm in Simon Castro. Castro has looked nothing in 2011 like he did during a breakout season last year. His ERA currently sits north of 10.00, and he's had immense struggles with throwing strikes. He's also given up five home runs already. Castro has one of the best fastballs in the organization, and the sink on the pitch makes it very tough to hit...usually.
Matt Lollis checks in next, as one of the organization's best pitchers so far in 2011. The 6'9", 250-pound behemoth has 39 strikeouts in 36.1 innings, but has given up one more HR (six) than Castro. His fastball reaches the mid-90s and he has two solid breaking pitches—a slider and a knuckle curveball.
The team lost Cory Luebke, one of the best starters in the system, to the big league bullpen, leaving them a bit short in the rotation. But they do have a wealth of young guns, mostly from the international market, who are hoping to fill that hole, including Jose DePaula, Juan Oramas and Adys Portillo.
The biggest surprise of the season for San Diego has been the resurgence of 2009 fourth-round pick Keyvius Sampson, who has been a revelation pitching in Low-A ball. He's 5-1 with a 2.25 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 36 innings. He's only given up one long ball, and batters are hitting .161 off of him.
Worley looked great in two big-league starts for the Phillies.
The Rockies and Phillies have very similar organizations, but while Colorado has one ace (Tyler Matzek) to place most of the pressure on, the Phillies have a trio of guys.
Brody Colvin, Jarred Cosart and Trevor May are the future of Philly's rotation. I have no clue where the team is going to find a home for them in a rotation that houses Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, but given their talent levels, the team will have to work something out.
The Phillies lost so much talent over the past few seasons, dealing for both Lee and Halladay. Those deals alone cost them Kyle Drabek and Jason Knapp, which if they were still around, would have catapulted Philly's pitching depth to the top of baseball.
Luckily, they were able to hang on to the minor league version of the Big Three.
Colvin is a very impressive pitcher, who has a great arm that can touch the mid-to-high 90s. He has two other offerings that have amazing potential, and has decent command. He's grown up a lot since a series of arrests last year. The former seventh-round pick has been limited to just two innings this season due to some back issues.
Cosart has had no such injury issues, and has made all seven of his starts in High-A ball, where he has been solid, but not spectacular. He's got 27 strikeouts and a solid ground-ball ratio in 39 innings and has an ERA just over 4.00. Cosart has excellent velocity (up to 98 mph) and has No. 1 starter potential.
May has actually out-pitched both Colvin and Cosart for most of their young careers, and he's on the verge of surpassing them in terms of development. While his ERA has remained high (4.38), May has been a strikeout machine, racking up 43 Ks in 37 innings in High-A ball.
The Phillies added another talented arm in last year's draft in the form of Jesse Biddle. Biddle reminds many of Matt Hobgood, a former first-rounder with the Orioles, in that they both have big league bodies already, with very little physical projection left. The lefty looked sharp in his debut last year, but has been hit pretty hard in his first taste of full-season ball.
Beyond those four, the Phillies have a bunch of minor league vets like Vance Worley, Antonio Bastardo and Scott Mathieson, each of whom has seen time with the big league club this season.
Phillippe Aumont is a very intriguing prospect who has been shuffled back and forth from the bullpen to the rotation for most of his career, but has finally found his niche as a reliever.
Jon Pettibone and Justin De Fratus also both offer a mixture of solid experience and decent upside.
On the surface, the Cardinals pitching depth looks like it's a one-trick pony, with that one horse being Texas fire-baller Shelby Miller.
And while Miller certainly represents the best of a relatively weak system, the Cardinals have a lot more depth than it appears.
It starts with Miller, but not far behind is the next big superstar pitcher from the Dominican Republic, Carlos Martinez. The scrawny right-hander awed scouts and opponents with his high-90s fastball that reaches 99 mph with consistency.
Beyond Martinez, there's a duo of former Arizona State aces, Seth Blair and Jordan Swagerty. Blair has struggled so far this season, but Swagerty has been lights-out pitching in Low-A. It shouldn't be long before he works his way up to High-A, and once Blair figures things out he shouldn't be too far behind.
After Blair and Swagerty, there's a steady stream of experienced arms like Lance Lynn, and Eduardo Sanchez, who recently made the leap to the majors, where he's been incredibly successful.
The Cardinals have made a living out of drafting primarily college pitchers, and as such, there's a good amount of middling guys in their system. Some, like John Gast and Joe Kelly, look very promising and could have something to offer the big league club in just a few years, while others, like David Kopp and Blake King look like organizational guys.
In all, the Cards have a pretty solid system. They have at least one or two key guys at each level, and a good number who will be ready to contribute as early as the end of this season.
While Oliver may not offer the upside of Jacob Turner, he should be a capable mid-rotation starter.
The Tigers have also quietly assembled a very talented group of pitchers in their minor leagues.
It begins with Jacob Turner, one of the top right-handed starters in the minors. Turner is a future stud who projects as the No. 2 guy behind Justin Verlander. He has excellent velocity (up to 97 mph), throws both a two- and a four-seamer, and complements them both with a curveball that made great strides last year.
Turner has amazing polish and could make his big league debut before the end of this year. He's already proven capable of carving up Double-A hitters, to the tune of a 2.58 ERA and 32 Ks in 38.2 innings.
After Turner, the Tigers have a capable starter in Andy Oliver. Oliver made a few starts with the big league club last season and got hit pretty hard, but he has rebounded nicely in 2011, posting a 3.19 ERA in six Triple-A starts. It's only a matter of time before he rejoins the rotation for good.
The Tigers also have Casey Crosby, one of the more talented lefties in the game. After a stellar 2009 season, Crosby was felled with pain leftover from his TJ surgery back in 2008. He made only three starts in 2010, but has bounced back to make six already in Double-A. He's performed OK but rarely flashed that same killer instinct that made him so un-hittable a few years ago.
The Tigers have one of the top relief prospects in 2010 supplemental first-rounder Chance Ruffin. The 22-year-old figured to be a quick fix for the big league bullpen and he's on the verge of a promotion to Triple-A after only 11 pro outings. He's got a 0.90 ERA and has nine Ks and three saves in 10 innings. Ruffin has the chance to be the Tigers' long-term answer at closer.
Drew Smyly was the team's second-round pick last June, and has been serviceable in his pro debut, giving up too many hits, but posting solid strikeout numbers.
Beyond their top 10, the Tigers have Jose Ortega, a talented Venezuelan who can crank up his fastball to 98 mph. Ortega has worked his way to Triple-A, but is currently on the DL. They also have Adam Wilk, a seasoned starter who has worked his way to Toledo in fewer than two full seasons. He's been great in six starts and may earn his way to Detroit come September.
They also have flamethrower Bruce Rondon, who was sensational in the closer's role for the Tigers' GCL squad last year. He made the jump directly to High-A and has been just as brilliant, getting 21 strikeouts in 13 innings, along with three saves.
Duane Below, Matt Hoffman and Lester Oliveros give the Tigers solid depth while Kyle Ryan and Cole Nelson, two 2010 late-round picks, provide a bit of upside.
Last but not least, the Tigers have gotten a huge boost from 2007 fourth-round pick Charlie Furbush. The lefty has regained some velocity since having TJ surgery back in 2008, and has flourished, reaching Triple-A and pacing the squad with 41 strikeouts in 33.1 innings. He already has two complete games to his name, one of which came with seven shutout innings of one-hit ball and nine strikeouts.
De la Rosa exploded onto the scene in 2010, racking up strikeouts and radar gun readings in the triple-digits.
While the Dodgers' collection of pitching talent isn't quite on par with the stacked deck the organization had a few years ago, it's still pretty good, and has as much upside as any other system in the National League, and maybe all of baseball.
They have covered all their bases, including:
The Future Ace
Last year's first-rounder Zach Lee was a beast to get signed, but when the dust finally settled, the Dodgers had done it, inking the high schooler for $5.25 million. Luckily he happens to be one of the top pitching prospects in the minors, combining mid-90s heat, a great curveball and an advanced changeup with poise beyond his years. He's already dominating Low-A ball and could be in line for a midseason promotion.
The 100-mph Mystery
Rubby de la Rosa seemingly emerged from nowhere last season, lighting up radar guns and racking up strikeouts. In the end, he improved his prospect status greatly and is now seen as one of the top pitchers in the minors. At Double-A this season he's been touching triple digits consistently and already has 44 strikeouts in 34.1 innings.
The Wild Card
The Dodgers thought they were getting Zach Lee when they shelled out $1.35 million to Chris Withrow, the 20th pick overall in 2007. Instead, they've gotten mixed results and a pitcher who has yet to take the next step. Withrow got hit hard in Double-A last season, and has looked shell-shocked again in four starts back there. There is cause for excitement however. Withrow can pitch up to 98 mph, and he already has two nine-K performances this season.
Allan Webster was an afterthought as the team's 18th-round pick back in 2008. He's developed into one of the top arms in the system, combining a low-90s fastball with an above-average changeup and a solid curveball. He was the team's best pitching in 2010, giving up only six homers in 131 innings and posting a 2.88 ERA in Low-A ball. He's been even better in 2011, pitching in High-A, racking up 38 strikeouts in 34.1 innings and posting another 2.88 ERA.
The Old Guys
This group is comprised of all the pitchers who have shuttled back and forth between Triple-A and the big leagues over the past few seasons. Guys like Scott Elbert—who is trying his hand at relieving in Triple-A—and Kenley Jansen, who has been a strikeout king in the majors this season (25 K in 14.1 IP).
The Young Guns
This group is comprised of most of the rest of the pitchers in L.A.'s lower minor league levels. Garrett Gould, the team's second-round pick from 2009; Aaron Miller, their first-round supplemental pick from the same season; Ethan Martin, their first-rounder from 2008; and Nate Eovaldi, the team's 11th-round pick from '08.
This group, if developed properly (which has to be a serious concern right about now with this organization), could achieve great amounts of success in the majors.
No team has upgraded its system more over the past few years than Pittsburgh.
For the longest time it seemed like the organization valued quantity over quality, and that led the Pirates to engage in a large number of trades that brought them players like Tim Alderson, Daniel McCutchen and Jeff Locke.
That was all fine and dandy, but the Pirates still lacked true, front-of-the-rotation starters to lead them out of the cellar of the NL Central and into serious competition with the Cardinals, Cubs, Reds and Brewers.
That ideology changed somewhat with the addition of Frank Coonelly to the front office. Once in charge of making sure that MLB teams stuck to the not-so-rigid slotting system, Coonelly exploited the very same system to his advantage, picking up some premium talent through the 2010 draft.
First, the Pirates added top pitching prospect Jameson Taillon, who has looked as good as advertised in limited action so far this season. Taillon has excellent velocity (95-99 mph) and has two great pitches in a slider and a curveball. He has "future ace" written all over him, and has been compared to Josh Beckett.
Fifty picks later the Pirates picked up the pitcher with arguably the second-best velocity in the entire draft, next to Taillon, in high schooler Stetson Allie. Allie isn't as polished as Taillon, and might be better suited pitching out of the bullpen, but he gives the Pirates yet another high-ceiling arm.
The Pirates may have also scored their biggest coup of all by jumping into the international market with a huge splash, picking up 16-year-old right-hander Luis Heredia. Heredia was the top arm on the market, and is already 6'6" and 185 pounds. Like Taillon and Allie, he features mid-to-high-90s velocity and has a very good curveball.
And thanks to their early 2000s philosophy, the Pirates now have great depth, including right-handers Bryan Morris, Zack von Rosenberg and Victor Black, as well as lefties Colton Cain, Jeff Locke and Rudy Owens.
Alex White looked great in his ML debut and could be a major part of the team's plans in 2011.
Nobody expected the great start the Indians have gotten off to this season.
But they have, and a major reason for their having best record in the AL is the development of their pitching staff. Led by homegrown arms Fausto Carmona and Josh Tomlin, the Indians have jumped to the front of the AL Central and don't appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
Along with their major league revival has come a great improvement in their minor league pitching situation.
Recent top draft picks like Alex White and Drew Pomeranz have been incredibly effective, and both have the looks of pitchers who could play a role in the team's 2011 campaign. Both starters have No. 1 stuff and have shown excellent command and control so far this season—Pomeranz at High-A Kinston and White at Triple-A.
White just recently received a promotion and looked great in his major league debut.
The Indians are in pretty good shape beyond White and Pomeranz, with a great combination of seasoned minor league vets and high-upside youngsters.
They got a steal in Jason Knapp, who was the gem of the Cliff Lee deal. Knapp has high-90s velocity and is un-hittable when he's healthy. He missed most of last season with shoulder troubles and has yet to make his 2011 debut.
Joe Gardner, the team's 2009 third-rounder has looked poised beyond his years in fewer than two full seasons. He's already pitching in Double-A ball, and despite some struggles with his command, he's looked great.
The Indians have a top-notch reliever just waiting to be unleashed in Nick Hagadone, who has been amazingly dominating so far in 2011. He's struck out 20 batters in 17 innings and has yet to allow a run in Triple-A.
They have two great international arms in Felix Sterling and Hector Rondon, although the latter is sidelined until 2012 after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
And they have Kyle Blair, an underrated pitcher the team scooped up with their fourth-round pick last year. Blair throws four pitches, all of which rate out as at least average and he is an excellent athlete.
Betances is a big, big guy, who just might have a chance to make it as a homegrown Yankee starter...something unheard of.
Like the Rays, Braves and Royals, the Yankees have quite an impressive collection of pitching talent.
It starts with the Big Three, also known as the "Killer B's," Dellin Betances, Andrew Brackman and Manny Banuelos.
The pitchers couldn't be more different from each other, but together they have combined to bring back the long-forgotten "pitching prospect" in the Yankees system.
Betances and Brackman are both about as big as you can get, bringing new meaning to the moniker "Big Apple." Betances checks in at 6'8" and 245 pounds. He pounds (no pun intended) the strike zone with mid-90s heat, and complements his heater with a fantastic curveball and an ever-improving changeup.
Brackman is even bigger, at 6'10" and 240 pounds. He too throws in the mid-90s and is an incredible athlete who played basketball in college at N.C. State. He struggled greatly the past few years, and looked like he was on the verge of becoming a bust, but emerged with a strong finish to his 2010 campaign in Double-A. Now, he's only one step away from the majors.
Banuelos is a smurf compared to the other two. He's only 5'10" (that's being generous) and 155 pounds. That doesn't prevent him from having arguably the best velocity of the three, and without a doubt he has the best control and command. He throws strikes at a scary rate. He's also the furthest away from New York. He dealt with a couple of minor injuries already this season, and the Yankees will likely take it easy with him from here on out.
After the "Killer B's" it's not like the cupboard is bare. The Yankees have a number of seasoned vets like Hector Noesi, Adam Warren, David Phelps and Graham Stoneburner, but they also have some young, high-upside guys like Brett Marshall, Bryan Mitchell, Tommy Kahnle and Jose Ramirez.
You put it all together and you have a very deep, very impressive system.
Teheran has some of the most electric stuff in the minors, and he just might be good enough to usurp Tommy Hanson's role as the No. 1 starter of the future in Atlanta.
No team has seen a bigger push of their top prospects to the majors over the past few years, with Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Brandon Beachy, Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters and Kris Medlen playing huge roles.
And still, the Braves have one of the finest collections of pitching depth in baseball.
Not only do they have front-of-the-rotation pitchers like Julio Teheran, Mike Minor and Randall Delgado, but they also have built incredible depth with guys like Arodys Vizcaino, J.J. Hoover, Brett Oberholtzer, Carlos Perez and David Hale.
The Braves have made a killing not as much through the draft, but rather through the international signing process.
Their efforts in that arena have netted them Teheran (Colombia), Delgado (Panama), and Perez (Dominican Republic).
They've also lucked out in the trade process, picking up Vizcaino from the Yankees in the Javier Vazquez deal, and right-hander Erik Cordier from the Royals for T.J. Pena.
That's not to say they've been poor building through the draft. On the contrary, the Braves picked up Minor, and watched as his velocity increased. Now he's a No. 2 or No. 3 starter instead of a back-end guy. They also picked up Oberholtzer and Hoover in the eighth and 10th rounds, respectively.
With three-fifths of their starting rotation under the age of 26, the Braves won't need too much help from the system, but it allows them the opportunity if injuries arise to Hanson or Beachy, and should also allow them to go get any vital piece they need if they're in the position to make the playoffs.
It's hard to be in better shape than the Braves.
Quietly the Rangers have put together one of the finest collections of talented pitching in all of baseball.
Theirs is a system that could rival the Royals in terms of elite talent, and the Rays in terms of depth.
It all starts with their future ace, Martin Perez. Many had forgotten about Perez as he struggled to a 6-11 start with an ERA over 5.50 in his first 29 Double-A appearances. Keep in mind that all of those came before his 20th birthday. Back at Frisco for the second consecutive season, Perez is finding his footing. He's got 28 strikeouts in 27 innings, allowed only one home run and has a 3.33 ERA. He also tossed a rain-shortened no-hitter.
After Perez, you could go in any number of ways.
If you are looking for more lefty pitching, there's the talented Robbie Erlin, a control specialist who was sensational last year making the transition from relief to starter look super easy. This year it's been more of the same. Erlin has a 40-to-4 K-to-BB ratio and a 2.25 ERA through six starts.
In that same boat, there's also Michael Kirkman, who looked great last year in the big league bullpen. Kirkman has struggled this season, in the minors and during his big league call-up. Always a starter, Kirkman could find his niche out of the bullpen.
They also have two more talented lefties in Miguel de los Santos and Robbie Ross. De los Santos has worked his way to Double-A, while Ross has been busy dominating at High-A Myrtle Beach.
If you prefer more traditional right-handed pitching, they have that too. Tanner Scheppers emerged as one of the hardest throwers in the minors during the past two seasons, and would have been in the running for Neftali Feliz's closing duties had he not been injured during the final weeks of spring training.
There's also David Perez, a pitcher who has the talent to rival Martin, and the control of Erlin. He's still only 18 years old and has yet to make his full-season debut.
And don't forget about Joe Wieland, a very polished righty who has posted a 41-to-3 K-to-BB number in High-A.
And then there's a handful of other starters, like Roman Mendez, Wilmer Font, Justin Grimm, Luke Jackson and Barret Loux. Those last two were drafted last year, with Jackson taking the normal approach to signing, while Loux signed with Texas after his first-round deal with Arizona was revoked due to an undisclosed injury discovered during the signing process.
Torres has been the best Rays pitcher so far in 2011, and could join the big-league squad at some point.
For all of the talent that the Rays have graduated to the big leagues over the past few seasons, they still have some of the greatest pitching depth in the minor leagues.
The same system that produced David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, James Shields, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, Jake McGee and Andy Sonnanstine now has a new set of names to look forward to adding.
It starts with Matt Moore, the back-to-back reigning strikeout champion of the minors. The left-hander struck out 208 batters in just 145 innings last season, showing some wicked stuff. He has "future ace" written all over him, but that might not even be good enough for him to crack the rotation in Tampa.
After Moore there is Alex Torres. The 23-year old-Venezuelan has been the team's best pitcher so far this season, dominating Triple-A hitters, and garnering support as a guy who could help the team out of the bullpen later this season.
Next, there's Alex Colome, who despite being relatively close in age to Torres, is pitching down in High-A ball, and struggling. He's been a strikeout machine, but his command has been icky and he's been prone to giving up home runs.
The Rays have a trio of incredibly high-upside starters in Enny Romero, Nick Barnese and Jake Thompson. Romero, a 2008 international sign has been un-hittable in rookie ball the past few seasons and finally made the jump to full-season ball for the first time this season.
Barnese has worked his way to Double-A as a 22-year-old and has been hit pretty hard, but he has a solid track record that leads you to believe he'll figure out hitters at that level. Thompson joined the organization last year, as the team's second-round pick out of Long Beach State. He's seasoned and should move pretty quickly.
Beyond all those guys, the Rays still have talent. They have great starting depth with Alex Cobb, Joe Cruz and Braulio Lara, and solid bullpen options with Zach Quate and Scott Shuman.
From top to bottom, it's hard to find a deeper system than Tampa's.
Aaron Crow struggled mightily in the minors, but has been excellent as a reliever in the Majors.
It's not by chance that the Royals have not only the top farm system in all of baseball, but also the greatest collection of pitching talent seen in quite some time.
The Royals have been slowly building their historic depth since 2007, when they added the first piece to their system in talented lefty Danny Duffy. Duffy's story has been much heralded—how he left the game for no apparent reason after being so good at the beginning of last season, only to return in June and show All-Star form.
In 2008, Kansas City added a talented trio that would take this group from decent to very good. They picked up Mike Montgomery with their first-round supplemental pick and managed to sign him for an "over slot" deal worth close to $1 million. They snatched up right-hander Tim Melville in the fourth round and 30 picks later scooped up lefty John Lamb, who has quietly developed into the best of the bunch.
The next year saw them add Aaron Crow in the first round. Crow struggled as a starter for two seasons before moving to the bullpen and having a big league job handed to him. Amazingly, he's been one of the team's best relievers. In that same draft the Royals also picked up Chris Dwyer, who scared off many teams with his sophomore-eligible draft status. KC didn't hesitate in signing him to a $1.45 million deal.
The last few pieces of the puzzle have been added over the past two seasons. First, the team added prep right-hander Jason Adam in the June draft. Then they engineered a trade that brought them the diminutive Tim Collins, a hard-throwing reliever who put up video game-like numbers out of the bullpen.
And last but not least, this past offseason, they dealt Zack Greinke to Milwaukee and scored two more high-ceiling arms in Jake Odorizzi (arguably the best pitcher in the minor leagues so far this season) and Jeremy Jeffress, who like Crow has already broken onto the big league roster.
The Royals now have more arms than they know what to do with.
It's conceivable that no member of their 2011 rotation will still hold that same place in two seasons, with the greatest influx of pitching talent in baseball working its way toward Kansas City.