St. Louis RHP Shelby Miller ranks among the game's top pitching prospects, in addition to taking top team honors.
Great pitching beats great hitting every time.
Just ask the highly offensive Texas Rangers and they'll tell you that's most certainly the case. Despite having one of the most fearsome offenses in recent memory, the Rangers have fallen victim to superior pitching in back-to-back World Series'. First, it was Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner who shut them down. This year it was Chris Carpenter.
Regardless of the opponent, the truth holds the same.
As such, pitching prospects are somewhat of a valued commodity in the baseball world. Just look at what Jaime Garcia did last year. Or what Michael Pineda did in 2011.You can't put a price on the kind of attention and excitement that Pineda brought to an otherwise depressing year for the Mariners.
As such, there is no better time to evaluate the top pitching talent in the minor leagues, one pitcher for each team.
Take into account, also, that these are rankings based on my own feeling, so if you feel that Gerrit Cole is better than Jameson Taillon, you have every right to.
Let the debate begin!
He may not be the most polished. That would be Trevor Bauer. He may not be the closest to the majors. That would be Tyler Skaggs. But Archie Bradley, without a doubt appears to have the highest ceiling of the terrific trio of pitching prospects that the Arizona Diamondbacks have at the top of their farm system.
In any other year, Bradley would have gotten tons of love as one of the top high school prospects ever. Instead, he spent the entire season, save for a few days, playing second fiddle to fellow Oklahoman Dylan Bundy, who ended up going three picks before Bradley in the 2011 draft.
Like Bundy, Bradley features amazing velocity. After watching Bundy get tons of love for hitting triple digits, Bradley pulled the feat off himself during the state championship game, in which his Broken Arrow HS squad defeated Bundy's Owasso High. He likely won't hit 100 mph on the radar gun too often as a professional, but throwing in the mid-to-high 90s should be plenty good enough.
Another thing Bradley has going for him is incredible athleticism. Again, Bundy may have gotten all the attention for his YouTube worthy workout routine and his heroics at the plate (on his off-days he played first base), but it was Bradley who was a top-15 quarterback with a full ride to Oklahoma, where he likely would have backed up Landry Jones this season.
In addition to his stunning velocity and sensational athleticism, Bradley features two secondary pitches (curveball and changeup) that have above-average potential. Toss in the fact that he has the perfect pitcher's frame (something Bauer lacks) and Bradley gets the slight nod over the other two.
The Braves have been sensational at finding and developing international talent over the past few years, and nobody represents that better than right-hander Julio Teheran.
Teheran joined the organization as a 16-year-old and has made stunning progress in just four years, rising from rookie ball to the majors, needing just 69 starts to do so. And as good as Teheran was in 2010, you can make the case that he was even better this year, winning 15 games, good for second in all of the minor leagues.
His strikeout total dropped, in part due to spending a few starts in the majors and in part due to the fact that he learned how to be more of a pitcher and less of a thrower. Fortunately, he's good enough as a slightly polished product to dominate Triple-A and perform as well as a 20-year-old can be expected to perform in the big leagues.
There's no denying that Teheran's stuff is as good as any pitcher in the minors. His fastball is electric, his changeup is quietly developing into one of the best of its kind in the minor leagues and he's developing into the staff ace that the Braves were hoping he would become when they plucked him out of his native Venezuela.
Bundy arrived at just the right time in Baltimore.
Thanks to promotions (Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton) and some failed draft choices (Matt Hobgood, Cam Coffey), the pitching depth of the Orioles ranks near the bottom of all 30 teams.
Now that Bundy has arrived, however, the Orioles have one of the top young pitchers in all of baseball. In addition to his mid-to-high 90s heat, his three potential above-average secondary pitches and stunning athleticism and work ethic, Bundy is in fact so poised that many scouts and experts considered him on par with many of the college pitchers when it came to big-league readiness.
If all goes according to plan, Bundy is expected to race through the minors in record time, arrive in Baltimore and lead the O's rotation for the next decade.
Barnes was arguably one of the most underrated college pitchers of the 2011 season. As UConn's staff ace, Barnes went 11-5 with one of the lowest ERA's in NCAA (1.95). He also struck out 117 batters in 121 innings and threw a career-high three complete games.
After earning several rave reviews and even garnering some top-five consideration, Barnes slipped all the way to Boston at pick No. 19. The right-hander now represents the cream of the crop in Boston's system.
Nobody said the top pitcher in the system had to be a starter right?
The Cubs pitching situation is a mess. Trey McNutt had an awful year, Hayden Simpson went 1-10 with an ERA over 6.00 and Chris Archer is now pitching in Tampa. As such, Tony Zych is easily the most talented pitcher in the system. He's so good in fact, that the 2011 fourth-round pick might end up pitching out of the big league squad's bullpen by the end of the 2012 season.
He'll likely get an invite to spring training after a sensational college career in which he blossomed into one of the nation's top closers. He had the misfortune of playing for a terrible team, but he still shined, especially in a stint in the Cape Cod League in the summer of 2010. His performance there all but locked up a spot in the top five rounds.
Zych is a beast on the mound, firing 96-99 mph bullets with relative ease.
In Zych, Cubs fans are looking at Carlos Marmol's heir—or his future setup man.
Petricka flew under the radar this season, especially for someone who ranked among the top 10 prospects in Chicago's system according to Baseball America.
In addition to having a very fine season (7-8, 3.65 ERA, 99 K in 113 IP), Petricka continued to impress with his awesome velocity. He touched 100 mph a few times during instructional league in 2010 and showed consistently this past season in the mid-to-high 90s.
Petricka would likely be a triple-digit threat as a reliever, but with the White Sox farm system being in the shape that it is (lacking quality starting pitching), they're likely to keep Petricka and his sensational fastball in a starting role.
I was very high on Stephenson and loved that the Reds were able to snag him with the 27th overall pick in this past draft.
After all, the youngster threw back-to-back no-hitters to start the 2011 high school season. Not even uber-prospect Dylan Bundy could make that claim. Like Bundy, Stephenson has excellent velocity, sitting consistently in the mid-90s.
He's very Trevor Bauer-like in that he throws a whole slew of pitches, including a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball, a cutter, slider and curveball. Rumor has it, he's working on a changeup too.
The Reds will likely have the right-hander scrap at least a few of those and focus on a select few. If he can master those, he'll rank among the top right-handers in the game.
The Indians didn't do their farm system any favors in 2011. For starters, they lost one of their top prospects, Jason Knapp, to another arm injury which will keep him sidelined until 2012...at the soonest. Then they made a rash decision and dealt their two most recent first-round selections, Drew Pomeranz and Alex White, to Colorado for Ubaldo Jimenez.
The season ended, and they were out of the playoffs and lacking three of their top pitchers.
As such, they made a concerted effort to replenish the stock, taking pitchers with 14 of their top 20 selections. The best of the bunch is native Arkansan Dillon Howard, who gained some momentum as a potential first-round pick just before the draft. The right-hander ended up sliding down to the Indians second pick at No. 67.
Howard has been clocked as high as 98 mph, throwing both a two- and a four-seamer. His slider is very good, although it gets very slurvy at times. His changeup has above-average potential as well, and one of his coaches calls that offering, and not his high 90s fastball, his best pitch.
Howard has good command of all of his pitches, and unlike most others, has no injury history to be concerned with. His delivery is easy, and his mechanics appear to be pretty sound. Howard has front-of-the-rotation stuff if he can bring along his changeup.
From the team that drafted Pomeranz to the team that now calls him their top pitching prospect.
It was an eventful year for the fifth overall pick in the 2010 draft. He began the season pitching for the Indians High-A club in Kinston and ended it pitching in the Rockies rotation. Make no mistake, he absolutely dominated in the minors, posting a 1.78 ERA and racking up 119 strikeouts in just 101 innings. None of this was a surprise to either Cleveland or Colorado, as he was seen as one of the most big league ready draft prospects back in 2010.
After being dealt, Pomeranz ascended to the big leagues, finishing out the season with the club and making four starts. He was hit hard, as are most rookies but managed to finish the season on a winning note, tossing 5.2 innings of three-run ball, issuing no walks.
When he's on his game, Pomeranz confounds hitters with a low 90s fastball and a stellar knuckle-curve that would make Mike Mussina proud. He has excellent control of his body, and therefore, excellent control of his pitches, especially his fastball. He also throws a changeup. He has the perfect pitcher's frame (6'5", 230 lbs) and should be an inning-eater at the big league level.
"Advanced" seems to be the word that comes to mind most often when discussing Turner and his performance since signing as the ninth overall pick in the 2009 draft.
Still just 20 years old, Turner has already breezed through every level of the minors and made three big league starts. And while his performance in the majors (8.53 ERA, three HR allowed in 12.2 IP) shouldn't come as a total shock, his utter dominance at Double-A and Triple-A should.
In three Triple-A starts last season, Turner struck out 20 batters, walked just three and posted a 3.12 ERA. He'll likely start back there, as one of the league's youngest pitchers, and there's a good chance he could end the year pitching out of the Tigers bullpen, even if they're in contention. He's that good.
Fernandez quietly ranked fifth among high school pitchers on Baseball America's top 200, and snuck into the first round thanks to the Florida Marlins, who selected the former Cuban defector 14th overall.
Hernandez was viewed as a top prospect in the draft due to his outstanding size and physicality (some say he already has a big league body) as well as his outstanding stuff. His fastball is electric, sitting in the mid 90s and capable of touching 98 mph. He complements his fastball with a solid curveball that is downright nasty when he has solid command of it.
Aside from Chad James, Fernandez doesn't have much competition for the honor of top Marlins pitching prospect.
In addition to having arguably the best velocity in the Astros organization, Mike Foltynewicz is also the team's top pitching prospect.
Drafted back in 2010, the right-hander has shown enough in one-and-a-half seasons to warrant the top spot. Despite a poor showing in 2011 (5-11, 4.97), the 20-year-old kept battling all season long and kept returning to the mound every five days.
He wound up making 26 starts for Low-A Lexington, all as a 19-year-old, and as hard as it is to believe, he actually improved dramatically as the season wore on. He's obviously going to have to cut down on the walks (51 in 134 IP), but Foltynewicz has all the makings of a future ace, including great velocity, more than one potential above-average breaking pitch and fantastic composure.
The Royals began the 2011 season with a dream team of sorts in their farm system. They had at least five pitchers with big league starter potential and numerous big bats. As always is the case, fate found a way or sorting out the strong from the weak, with John Lamb lost to Tommy John and numerous other players having subpar seasons.
Mike Montgomery was one of those who put together an otherwise unspectacular campaign, his fourth as a professional. He lost 11 games, posted an ERA over 5.00 and walked a career-high 69 batters.
Fortunately for K.C. it wasn't all bad with Montgomery. For starters, he rebounded with a strong finish. Second, he pitched a career-high 150.2 innings—a solid sign for a guy with some minor injury troubles. Most of all, you have to take into account that Montgomery was pitching in Triple-A as a 21-year-old.
Without a doubt, he has the talent to rank among the top lefties in the game (Matt Moore, Martin Perez, etc.).
The Angels pitching depth isn't what it used to be. Thanks to some promotions and a couple of trades, the club's farm system is lacking in big league ready starting pitching.
Garrett Richards is one exception. The three-year pro and former Oklahoma Sooner has put together back-to-back 12-win campaigns and has held down a very respectable 3.14 career ERA. As good as he was in 2010 (12-5, 3.52 ERA), he was even better in 2011. He lost only two games (12-2), posted a 3.15 ERA and tied a career high with 143 innings.
Thanks to a burly frame and decent control, Richards should be an innings-eater at the big league level. He's already tossed five complete games in his career, three of which came this past season.
Richards doesn't have frontline stuff, and as a result, is likely a No. 3 or No. 4 starter in the majors, but he offers plenty of stability for a team looking to get back to the top of the American League West.
Whether Frank McCourt is responsible or not, the Dodgers farm system simply ain't what it used to be. Gone are the days of Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw.
Nowadays, the system comprises of many mediocre former first-round pitchers and talented but flawed position players. One standout is 2010 first-rounder Zach Lee. Lee garnered $5.25 million in a bonus last year, which could be interpreted as yet another poor financial decision by the McCourts, but so far, he's proven to be worth every one of those 525 million pennies.
He had an exceptional year, posting a 3.47 ERA, winning nine games and striking out 91 batters in 109 innings. Furthermore, he impressed scouts, fans and coaches alike with his sensational poise on the mound. He pitched more like a 28-year-old than a 20-year-old.
Lee's stuff is easily the best of any pitcher in the system. His fastball, while not as impressive as Rubby de la Rosa's or Chris Withrow's, is electric, and he complements the 91-95 mph pitch with two great breaking balls.
Lee's mature approach on the mound should allow him to move quickly
The Brewers sacrificed their farm system in exchange for a playoff berth, and as a result, had to use the 2011 draft to restock their pitching depth. They did so in a big way, getting two top college pitchers who should move relatively quickly through the minors.
And while Taylor Jungmann was the one getting all the press, left-hander Jed Bradley is actually the superior prospect.
Bradley had a breakout season for Georgia Tech and parlayed his success into a top-15 selection and a $2 million signing bonus.
He was already a known name in college baseball circles, but the steps he took this past year not only cemented his spot in the first round, but also had many questioning whether he was the top overall pitcher from the college ranks.
It's easy to think that, with his polished approach and his repertoire that includes a low 90s fastball that can touch 95 mph. He also has an above-average changeup and a potential above-average slider.
In addition, Bradley's fastball has some natural sink on it, making him a better bet to succeed since he won't be chasing the strikeouts like some of the other top pitchers with better velocity.
With top Twins prospect Kyle Gibson facing Tommy John surgery, it's time to start thinking about what else the Minnesota system has to offer, namely Australian Liam Hendriks.
Hendriks has quietly put together three fantastic seasons, making his mark as a control pitcher. He's never walked more than 21 batters in a single season and has a career-high of just five home runs allowed.
He doesn't get as much love as Gibson because his stuff isn't as good, but he's consistently provided great results, and with Minnesota's starting rotation in poor shape, it's likely he'll get his chance sooner than later.
Wheeler, a former first-round pick back in 2009, was the darling of the Giants system, but became expendable when the big league squad put together one of the most fearsome rotations in the majors en route to winning the 2010 World Series.
Wheeler improved upon his debut campaign of 2010, winning nine games this season, while posting a 3.52 ERA and racking up 129 strikeouts in 115 innings. He was especially good after coming over to New York, posting a 31-to-5 K:BB ratio in 27 innings, while holding down a 2.00 ERA.
The Mets coveted Wheeler for his mid-to-high 90s fastball and his two potential above-average pitches.
Banuelos began the year as one of the youngest pitchers in the Eastern League and performed incredibly well, striking out a batter an inning and holding batters to a .263 average. He earned a spot on the Eastern League midseason All-Star team and likely would have earned a spot on the postseason squad as well had he not been advanced.
The Yankees aggressively promoted the 20-year-old to Triple-A, where he more than held his own, posting a 4.19 ERA in seven starts and showing the ability to compete at the highest level of the minors against players several years older.
Banuelos has some of the best stuff in the Yankees' system, despite being one of its least imposing (5'11", 155 pounds) players. His fastball sits in the mid-90s, and he complements it with an impressive curveball.
With the success of unproven rookie Ivan Nova, who not only locked down a spot in the New York rotation, but went 16-4 helping the Yankees to the American League East title, Banuelos could find himself pitching out of the big league rotation before the team breaks camp next spring.
The A's have to be incredibly thankful that Sonny Gray came along. Without the first-round pick, their pitching depth is quite possibly the worst in the league.
Luckily Gray is a top-notch prospect and easily the class of the Oakland system. He signed quickly after a sensational year that wrapped up a sterling college career at Vanderbilt, quickly enough to make it all the way to Double-A before the end of the season.
It could have been a sign of things to come or maybe just that he was rolling from the momentum, but he looked fantastic in five Double-A starts, posting an ERA of 0.45 while striking out 18 batters in 20 innings. Either way, it's likely that Gray will be pitching out of Oakland's rotation by the end of 2012.
The Phillies got rid of two potential "can't miss" guys during this past season, sending Jarred Cosart and Jon Singleton to Houston in exchange for Hunter Pence.
That leaves their system with very little elite talent, save for Trevor May, who put together one of the best seasons of any minor league pitcher. He was one of only three players to crack the 200-strikeout mark.
Striking people out wasn't all May did well. He also contributed 151.1 innings and tossed three complete games, two of which were also shutouts. He held hitters to a .221 batting average and surrendered just eight home runs. Most of all, he emerged as a staff ace and a force to be reckoned with in coming years.
May has consistently ranked behind both Cosart and fellow prospect Brody Colvin, but 2011 seemed to be the year that he leapfrogged both, fully utilizing his low 90s fastball and potential-plus curveball.
Taillon's debut season certainly wasn't the most impressive put together by a first-round pick, but the Pirates don't care because they achieved their goal. They managed to stretch out the 19-year-old's right arm, capable of producing 99 mph fastballs, without any injury or trauma.
Heading into 2012, Taillon will be fully healthy and fully stretched out, fully capable of pitching into the sixth and seventh innings, something he didn't do once in 2011. Still, even without going deep into games, the right-hander put up some very fine numbers.
For starters, he struck out 97 batters in just 92.2 innings, walking just 22, a very impressive number for a pitcher as young as Taillon. In some contests, Taillon looked unhittable, alternating mid-90s fastballs with stunning breaking stuff. Even while he was getting hit, he was still managing to keep hitters off balance.
Taillon's season may have flown under the radar due to some pedestrian numbers in the ERA (3.98) and win-total (two) department, but make no doubt, he'll be poised for a breakout season in 2012.
Miller was just one of a number of talented high-schoolers taken in the first round of the 2009 MLB draft. The poise shown by this group as a whole has been outstanding, and Miller might just take the cake. The right-hander got off to a terrible start last year and was forced to head all the way back to instructional league, quite a humbling experience for a pitcher who was considered to be one of the most big-league ready of all the high school arms.
The move paid off, and when Miller returned to the mound, he began to pitch like one of the best pitchers in baseball. He carried that momentum over into the 2011 campaign, which he began in the High-A Florida State League. Miller showed uncanny ability, posting a 2.89 ERA and racking up 81 strikeouts in just 53 innings for Palm Beach and earned a speedy promotion straight to Double-A, where many foresaw him starting the year.
At Springfield, Miller was even tougher on hitters. He dropped his ERA to 2.70, won nine of 16 starts and added 89 more punchouts to his total, giving him 170 for the year. He proved to be just as stingy with the long ball, giving up just two after serving up the same number for Palm Beach. Combined, opposing batters hit a meager .219 off of him, down nearly 30 points from last year.
There's no doubt that Miller will crack the big-league roster some time next season, and he'll likely get a shot to win a rotation spot out of spring training.
Ross is the younger brother of current A's pitcher Tyson Ross, and the Padres first-round selection from the 2011 draft.
By all accounts, Joe offers a much higher upside than Tyson, thanks to a mid-90s fastball, an impressive curveball and an up-and-coming changeup. His control of all three pitches also appears to one-up his big brother. He features incredible polish for a high school prospect.
Ross garnered some late helium and managed to work his way into the first round, finding a home with a team in need of some elite starting pitching talent.
Surkamp largely hid in the shadows of fellow Giant pitcher Zack Wheeler, the team's top pitching prospect until he was dealt to New York this past season.
Now, Surkamp has all the attention to himself, and there couldn't be a better time. The left-hander had a dream season in 2011, posting one of the lowest ERA's in the minor leagues (1.94), winning 11 games and striking out 170 batters in a mere 148.1 innings.
His performance shouldn't have come as a surprise and definitely wasn't to Giants fans, who saw him go 11-5 with a 3.30 ERA in 2009, and then, post a 3.11 ERA while posting a 108-to-22 K:BB ratio in 2010.
Surkamp proved he can dominate at the Double-A level, so he's likely headed for Triple-A in 2012 after a rough late-season promotion to the big leagues where he got hit hard (5.73 ERA, 13-to-17 K:BB).
The Giants' rotation lost Jonathan Sanchez, however, so Surkamp could see a large chunk of playing time in the majors.
Arguably the top pitcher available in the 2011 MLB draft, Hultzen was a surprise pick by the Mariners at No. 2 overall. It was rumored that Seattle preferred a position player, but GM Jack Zduriencik pulled the trigger on the former Virginia ace.
In Hulzten, the M's got one of the most polished arms to come through the draft in quite some time. If any pitcher could make the jump from college straight to the big leagues, a la Mike Leake, it would be Hultzen.
He's always been a pitcher with incredible polish and poise, but he benefited from an uptick in his velocity in 2011, and his breaking stuff looked better than ever.
He signed a big league deal so you know he'll be in the majors sooner than later, and he also garnered a spring training invite, so he could be there sooner than anyone expects.
Fans got to see why scouts and experts alike have been crazy about Matt Moore for years, when he dominated the Texas Rangers, one of the most elite offensive squads in Major League Baseball, for seven shutout innings during Game 1 of the American League Division Series.
That's just a taste of the potential Moore has to offer. He's cracked the 200-strikeout mark for two consecutive seasons in the minors and just narrowly missed out on his third consecutive strikeout crown.
Instead of finishing out the season to challenge for the title, he wound up pitching in the playoffs with the surprise Wild Card winning Rays.
Moore offers mid-to-high 90s velocity and complements his fastball with an assortment of pitches that some call the best repertoire in the minors. They were certainly good enough to keep the Rangers' bats silent, even if it was just for one night.
As good as Moore is, he's not guaranteed a spot in the Rays rotation for 2012. Such is life as a Rays pitching prospect. There's a good chance that he spends at least a month or two pitching in Triple-A, although he's as good a bet as any for the 2012 A.L. Rookie of the Year.
Perez has long been considered one of the top left-handed pitching prospects in the minor leagues, but it wasn't until this season that he began to perform at a level worthy of all the love and admiration.
As a 20-year-old, Perez carved up Double-A hitters, to the tune of a 3.16 ERA and 8.5 K/9 rate. This was coming on the heels of a dreadful 2010 campaign at the same level. Perez posted an ERA over 5.00 that season.
He needed only 17 appearances in Double-A before earning his way to Triple-A, where he finished out the season, winning four of his 10 starts while striking out 37 batters in 49 innings, a more than respectable total for one of the league's youngest pitchers.
Perez has no issues with velocity, consistently sitting in the low-to-mid 90s and combining a stellar fastball with some incredible secondary stuff.
As well as the Blue Jays have done with high school pitchers in the draft, they've really made their mark securing the rights of many talented college hurlers. The best of the bunch, going against the grain, is Asher Wojciechowski.
"Wojo" was a record-setter at The Citadel and parlayed his success there into a supplemental first-round selection and a $815,000 signing bonus. After making a brief cameo in Low-A ball in 2010, "Wojo" unleashed his full arsenal against the Florida State League this past season, and he proved quickly to be one of the circuit's best.
He won 11 games, posted a solid ERA and showed considerable grit and endurance tossing 130.1 innings. Overall, his stat line doesn't look as impressive as some other Jays farmhands, including Deck McGuire, but "Wojo" has a few legs up on the team's first-round pick from 2010.
For starters, he gets the edge in velocity, having been consistently clocked in the low-to-mid 90s. He also has the best slider in the entire system. "Wojo" might need a bit more seasoning that McGuire who reached Double-A this season, but my bet is he ends up higher in the rotation.
Peacock ranked 10th among Nationals prospects in the Baseball America Prospect Handbook before the 2011 season, so you can't really say he came out of nowhere to put together one of the finest seasons by any prospect in baseball: 15-3, 2.39 ERA, 177-to-49 K:BB ratio.
Also consider that he began the year pitching in Double-A and ended it pitching every five days in Washington.
Peacock has always had good stuff (make no mistake, he's no staff ace), so it wasn't a surprise that he had as good of a year as he did, but he's always struggled with consistency. He hit his spots more frequently in 2011, and as a result, had a career year.
And while he ranks as the Nats' top pitching prospect, don't expect him to be anything more than a No. 3 or No. 4 starter in the majors.