Projecting the Most Dominant MLB Rotations 5 Years from Now

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistFebruary 26, 2019

Projecting the Most Dominant MLB Rotations 5 Years from Now

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    Atlanta Braves left-hander Kolby Allard
    Atlanta Braves left-hander Kolby AllardMichael Reaves/Getty Images

    Which team will boast MLB's best starting rotation in 2019? That's an open question. Who will have the best starting corps five years from now?

    That requires us to polish our crystal ball.

    Obviously, this is a subjective exercise featuring ample speculation and guesswork. But in prognosticating the 10 most dominant rotations a half-decade hence, we considered:

    • Controllable starters: This means strong young arms who've already debuted at the highest level and are under club control through at least 2023.
    • Top prospects: When gazing into the future, prospects matter. Here, we're considering top prospects, per Bleacher Report's latest rankings.
    • Spending power: Speculating on specific future free-agent signings is a fool's errand, but teams' payroll muscle and flexibility or lack thereof play a role.

10. Cincinnati Reds

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    Cincinnati Reds right-hander Luis Castillo
    Cincinnati Reds right-hander Luis CastilloAssociated Press

    Top Cincinnati Reds pitching prospect Hunter Greene has already battled an elbow injury and may end up a hitter rather than a pitcher.

    The Reds have added veterans such as Sonny Gray and Alex Wood. Wood's contract doesn't run through 2023, but the Reds have a club option that season on Gray. Most essentially, they'll still control Luis Castillo in five years.

    Yes, the 26-year-old right-hander's ERA rose from 3.12 in 2017 to 4.30 last season, but he remains an intriguing, high-upside hurler.

    Add guys like right-hander Tyler Mahle and the Reds' clear willingness to take on contracts and expend resources with risk to contend, and this is a rotation to watch.

9. Houston Astros

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    Houston Astros right-hander Forrest Whitley
    Houston Astros right-hander Forrest WhitleyChristian Petersen/Getty Images

    The Houston Astros might not employ the likes of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole in five years. But their starting rotation could be in good hands regardless.

    Right-handed prospect Forrest Whitley has legitimate ace-level potential. Right-hander Josh James is poised for a breakout after averaging 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings in a 23-frame big league audition.

    Add right-handers J.B. Bukauskas and Francis Martes (recovering from Tommy John surgery) and the 'Stros have the makings of a strong homegrown rotation, forget whatever free-agent additions they might make in their current win-now window.

8. Tampa Bay Rays

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    Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Tyler Glasnow
    Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Tyler GlasnowMichael Reaves/Getty Images

    The Tampa Bay Rays will have to open the wallet if they want to extend reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell beyond 2022, after which he's set to hit free agency. Given their small-market profile, that's unlikely.

    Still, the Rays boast enough up-and-coming arms to pick up the slack.

    Brent Honeywell was a top prospect on the doorstep of MLB stardom before Tommy John surgery threw a wrench in the works. Barring any setbacks, he should break through this season.

    Right-hander Tyler Glasnow, acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Chris Archer trade last summer, and left-hander Matthew Liberatore could also feature prominently in the Rays rotation.

    And then there's two-way southpaw prospect Brendan McKay, who might toe the rubber and swing for the fences in the Shohei Ohtani mold.

7. Chicago White Sox

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    Chicago White Sox right-hander Michael Kopech
    Chicago White Sox right-hander Michael KopechAssociated Press

    Michael Kopech's Tommy John surgery put his MLB ascent on hold. Assuming he recovers, he'll be slinging triple-digit heat past big league hitters soon.

    Toss in Dylan Cease, who has surpassed Kopech in the ChiSox's prospect rankings, and you've got something special brewing on the South Side.

    Right-hander Dane Dunning adds another high-upside arm. And the White Sox have the fifth-least committed payroll this season, per Spotrac, meaning they've got the cash to add an ace or two via free agency in the coming years.

6. Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Walker Buehler
    Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Walker BuehlerAssociated Press

    Clayton Kershaw's generational run of dominance won't last forever. Spring training shoulder discomfort doesn't bode well for the ace left-hander as he enters his age-31 season.

    Anyway, Kershaw is only signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers through 2021.

    The future is elsewhere, possibly in the form of hard-throwing right-hander Walker Buehler and lefty Julio Urias. Right-hander Dustin May is another interesting, controllable prospect.

    Mostly, we know the Dodgers aren't afraid to spend and will do so as needed to keep their starting five top-notch in the impending post-Kershaw era.

5. Philadelphia Phillies

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    Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola
    Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Aaron NolaRich Schultz/Getty Images

    The Philadelphia Phillies signed ace Aaron Nola to a $45 million extension with a club option for 2023 on Feb. 14.

    With that, they locked up the frontman of what should be an excellent rotation in five years.

    Yes, the Phillies gave up a piece of the future when they included electric righty Sixto Sanchez in the trade that netted catcher J.T. Realmuto. Right-hander Adonis Medina remains a prospect to watch, however.

    As they sit on the doorstep of inking superstar outfielder Bryce Harper, we know the Phils are willing to spend "stupid" money, as owner John Middleton told Bob Nightengale of USA Today in November.

    If that includes adding a stud or two to their stable, they should be in excellent shape.

4. St. Louis Cardinals

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    St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Alex Reyes
    St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Alex ReyesAssociated Press

    News of Carlos Martinez's spring shoulder issues isn't excellent for the St. Louis Cardinals. Injuries have kept Alex Reyes' flight to MLB stardom stalled on the tarmac.

    Plus, the Cards sent Luke Weaver to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Paul Goldschmidt trade.

    Still, under a best-case scenario, the five-years-hence Redbirds could feature a rotation fronted by Martinez and Reyes along with righties Dakota Hudson and Jack Flaherty. The Cards could also add ancillary pieces via free agency (they aren't huge spenders, but they are willing to spend) or from their perennially fertile farm system.

3. Detroit Tigers

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    Detroit Tigers right-hander Casey Mize
    Detroit Tigers right-hander Casey MizeMark Cunningham/Getty Images

    The Detroit Tigers are in the beginning phases of what should be a protracted rebuild. That said, they've got the makings of a superlative future rotation.

    Right-handers Casey Mize and Matt Manning both check in as top-50 prospects. Fellow righties Franklin Perez, Alex Faedo and Beau Burrows could fill out an all-homegrown rotation.

    That probably won't happen because not all prospects pan out. But when the time comes, the Tigers will be ready to spend. Detroit isn't afraid to hand out massive contracts. Just ask Miguel Cabrera, who will earn $30 million or more every season through at least 2023, when he'll be 40 years old.

    The point is, Detroit has burgeoning arms in the pipeline and the ability to open its wallet when the moment is right...a potent combination.

2. San Diego Padres

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    San Diego Padres left-hander MacKenzie Gore
    San Diego Padres left-hander MacKenzie GoreAssociated Press

    Left-hander MacKenzie Gore looks like an ace in the offing. Right-hander Chris Paddack also rates as a top-50 prospect. Lefty Adrian Morejon and right-hander Luis Patino are on the horizon. Righty Cal Quantrill is close to MLB-ready.

    All of this is good news for the San Diego Padres.

    Want some better news for the Friars and their fans? The Pads just shelled out $300 million over 10 years for superstar infielder Manny Machado. Clearly, the Padres are ramping up to contend and spend what it takes to do so.

    That could mean luring any number of free-agent hurlers to pitcher-friendly Petco Park. With a stacked farm system and a suddenly open checkbook, San Diego could soon build a starting five capable of bringing home the first title in franchise history.

1. Atlanta Braves

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    Atlanta Braves right-hander Ian Anderson
    Atlanta Braves right-hander Ian AndersonAssociated Press

    The Atlanta Braves boast an embarrassment of pitching riches in their farm system, which could make their surprise 2018 National League East title merely the beginning of a nascent run of excellence.

    Left-hander Sean Newcomb has arrived on the scene and should soon be followed by the likes of righties Ian Anderson, Kyle Wright, Touki Toussaint, Mike Soroka and Bryse Wilson and lefty Luiz Gohara.

    Other than Anderson, all of the above sipped their MLB cups of coffee last season. The Braves may not need to sign a big-ticket free agent to field a strong starting five, but they could look to trade from their surplus of arms at some point to acquire one.

    Either way, Atlanta is operating from a position of strength now and into the future.


    All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.