In Major League Baseball, scouts for each team scour the world far and wide for that one special pitcher who can throw bullets at opposing hitters. The ability to blow batters away is an art form, and to do it with consistency is a rare find indeed.
Each team has pitchers in their farm systems waiting for their one big chance at stardom, and they believe they have the “right stuff” to get them to their desired place in life—the starting rotation for a major league ballclub.
However, it’s the blazing fastball that is the money shot, so to speak, and if a prospect has the right cheese—and can command the cheese with precision—their ticket to the majors will be punched that much faster.
In our two-part series, we will look at the top power-pitching prospects today for the first 15 MLB teams listed alphabetically from the Arizona Diamondbacks to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
On Thursday, we will preview power-pitching prospects for the Milwaukee Brewers through the Washington Nationals.
Right-handed pitcher Jarrod Parker was forced to sit out the entire 2010 season due to reconstructive Tommy John, but that hasn’t seemed to slow down his velocity much.
Coming back strong in 2011, Parker was 11-8 with a 3.79 ERA and a 112/55 K/BB ration in 131 innings.
For much of the season, Parker was throwing his hard-sinking fastball between 93-95 MPH, often touching 97.
Parker’s surgery obviously went well, and while his ascension to the majors was set back by a year, he could very well find himself in Phoenix sometime in 2012.
Right-handed pitcher J.R. Graham, a fourth-round pick by the Atlanta Braves in the 2011 MLB draft, started out in the Braves’ organization out of the bullpen, where many assumed that his high-90s fastball and underwhelming secondary pitches might be best suited.
Graham certainly did well in the bullpen at the outset, posting a 1.46 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP while striking out 13 over 12.1 relief innings to start his career with rookie league team Danville.
The Braves then moved Graham to the starting rotation, where he finished the season with a 5-1 record, a 1.79 ERA, and a 1.06 WHIP in 45.1 innings over eight starts and ended up winning the Appalachian League ERA title with a 1.72.
The Baltimore Orioles have several good pitchers in their farm system, but last year’s fourth-overall pick in the MLB draft, Dylan Bundy, may be the most gifted in terms of sheer power.
Bundy will likely start next season either in extended spring training or possibly in Delmarva, where he will continue to develop his secondary pitches.
But it’s his mid-to-high 90s fastball that has O’s management buzzing, especially given the movement that Bundy adds to his signature pitch.
The Boston Red Sox have assembled a collection of pitchers that feature fastballs that touch the low-to-mid 90s, but none of them would be looked at as pure power pitchers.
However, Kyle Stroup just could be the one pitcher who could be that guy.
Stroup missed the 2010 season with a torn ACL but came back strong in 2011 at Single-A Greenville, posting a 3.67 ERA in 21 starts.
At 6'6" and 235 pounds, Stroup has the frame to throw heat, and while his fastball currently touches 95 MPH, scouts believe he can build his velocity even higher.
There is no doubt that new Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has already started diving into the massive workload already on his desk, and part of that workload is examining his minor league prospects.
One particular prospect who could give him pause for hope is Ben Wells.
Wells, selected by the Cubs in the seventh round of the 2010 MLB draft, was an expensive pickup for the Cubs, who paid him a $530,000 to keep him from committing to the University of Arkansas.
However, they were so impressed with Wells’ pitch offerings that they considered the money well-spent.
Wells features a mid-90s fastball that scouts say will develop into the high-90s, and he already has a slider that buckles the knees of right-handed hitters.
The Cubs will take their time with Wells, who spent the 2011 season at Single-A Boise, making 15 starts with a 4.66 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 77.1 innings.
Drafted in the eighth round of the 2009 draft by the Chicago White Sox, Ryan Buch has two outstanding pitches—his mid-90s fastball and a devastating 12-6 curveball.
White Sox scouts are hoping that Buch can continue development on harnessing his command, as they believe his fastball has knockout stuff.
The Cincinnati Reds have done an outstanding job with scouting on the international level, and with right-handed pitcher Daniel Corcino, they may have found a gem.
Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2008, Corcino had a dominant season in 2011 at Single-A Dayton of the Midwest League, posting an 11-7 record, a 3.42 ERA and 156 strikeouts in 139.1 innings.
Corcino features a fastball that sits in the 91-93 range and touches 96 at its peak.
He also has a sharp slider that sits at 75-78 mph and has legitimate plus potential. He is working on a changeup as well.
Scouts believe that Corcino has the frame and makeup to throw consistently at 95-97 MPH at the major league level.
With the recent trades carried out by the Cleveland Indians that brought in pitchers Derek Lowe and Ubaldo Jimenez, the Indians' one-time outstanding crop of pitching prospects has been severely depleted.
However, there is still one arm in their system that can throw bullets—right-hander Bryce Stowell.
Stowell's fastball is positively electric—he posted K/9 rates of 13.6 and 13.3 in his last two minor league seasons, with his power pitch occasionally reaching triple digits.
Stowell's out pitch is a devastating slider, so the Indians project using him as a possible closer in the future.
Despite elbow injuries that have slowed his progress over the past two seasons, Colorado Rockies left-handed pitching prospect Christian Friedrich is still considered one of the top Rockies pitching prospects.
He has a mid-90s fastball that occasionally touches 97-98 MPH, a big 12-6 curve and a sharp-breaking slider, all of which scouts believe are already major league-caliber.
Friedrich made 25 starts last season at Double-A Tulsa, so his elbow concerns could be behind him.
The Rockies are hoping that Friedrich can continue to mature, and a debut for the Rockies in the 2012 season is not out of the realm of possibility.
The Detroit Tigers believe that 20-year-old Venezuelan right-hander Bruce Rondon has the stuff to be an elite closer in the majors, and based on his numbers thus far, they seem to be correct in their opinion.
In his last two minor league seasons, Rondon has been lights out—posting a 2.02 ERA, 19 saves and 61 strikeouts in 40 innings last season for Single-A West Michigan.
Rondon features a mid-90s fastball that occasionally touches 98 MPH and runs in on right-handed batters with sink action.
While Jose Valverde is currently the talk of the town in Motown, Rondon could very well be the successor that will have fans talking as well.
As the 14th-overall selection in the first round of the 2011 MLB draft, Florida high school pitcher Jose Fernandez is certainly a long way from being rescued off a boat from Cuba just a few years ago.
Fernandez, who posted a 13-1 record with a 1.35 ERA and 134 strikeouts for Alonso High School in his senior season, has an electrifying fastball that already touches 96 MPH and figures to only improve with time.
Fernandez will likely be given time by the Marlins to develop, but with his overpowering repertoire of pitches, that time may not be very long at all.
When the Houston Astros selected Jack Armstrong Jr. with their third-round pick in the 2011 MLB draft, they knew they were getting a pitcher with a great pedigree—his father pitched for seven seasons in the majors.
Armstrong comes with a bit of baggage—back and elbow issues were a concern during his career at Vanderbilt University—however, his stuff is nothing to sneeze at.
Armstrong's fastball touches 96-98 MPH and features late movement.
The Astros will take their time with Armstrong, building up his stamina and working on drills to alleviate health concerns, but in time, Armstrong could turn out to be stronger, faster and better than his father.
In 2011, 20-year-old Kansas City Royals pitching prospect Yordano Ventura registered his first full season beyond extended spring training and rookie league ball, pitching for the Single-A Kane County Cougars.
Ventura posted a 4.27 ERA in 19 starts, striking out 88 batters in 84.1 innings.
What impresses the Royals most about Ventura is his blazing fastball that sits consistently at 96 MPH and will occasionally touch 98-99 MPH.
While fans might be worried about Ventura's small frame (5'11", 150 pounds), the Royals are confident that Ventura can add some weight and maintain his consistency.
The Los Angeles Angels gave up some pretty decent prospects in recent trades (Dan Haren, Alberto Callaspo), so the minor league system was fairly depleted of top pitching prospects.
However, one particular pitcher is still in the system that has scouts raving about his abilities—22-year-old fireballer John Hellweg.
Hellweg, pitching at Advanced Single-A Inland Empire last season, posted a 6-4 record with a 3.73 ERA in 28 appearances—14 of them starts—striking out 113 batters in 89.1 innings.
With a fastball that sits in the mid-to-upper 90s, Hellweg has the stuff to blow batters away. However, his control is still somewhat at issue.
If Hellweg can harness that control, 2013 wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility to see him in Anaheim.
It's hard to say at this point what the Los Angeles Dodgers are going to do with 22-year-old pitching prospect Ethan Martin at this point in terms of either starting or relieving, but one thing is for sure—Martin's fastball is special.
Martin split time last season between Advanced Single-A and Double-A ball, making 37 appearances, 12 as a starter.
Martin had an outstanding K/9 rate of 9.6, but command is still a concern—Martin issued 66 walks in 95.1 innings.
Martin's fastball regularly sits at 96-97 MPH, so if he can develop better command of the strike zone, he certainly has the stuff to be a formidable power pitcher.