The 50 Best Pitching Prospects in All of Baseball

Doug Mead@@Sports_A_HolicCorrespondent INovember 23, 2011

The 50 Best Pitching Prospects in All of Baseball

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    It seems like each year, Major League Baseball is filled with the promise of young pitchers who have designs on making their mark in the sport. In 2011, prospects indeed showed their stuff, and while some of the successful debuts were expected, others came literally out of nowhere.

    From Craig Kimbrel to Henderson Alvarez, pitchers who weren’t expected to be huge contributors for their teams turned out to surprise many, including the scouts who drafted them.

    Bleacher Report will take a look at these young prospects and attempt to rank them accordingly. The criteria will include pitchers who made their debuts late in the 2010 or during the 2011 season, as well as pitchers still in the farm system who could likely make an impact in the coming year and beyond.

Honorable Mention: Zach Stewart: Chicago White Sox

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    When the Chicago White Sox shipped Edwin Jackson and Mark Teahen to the Toronto Blue Jays for Jason Frasor and 24-year-old prospect Zach Stewart, they know they were getting a pitcher in Stewart who showed great potential and would impact the starting rotation going forward.

    Apparently, GM Kenny Williams thinks enough of Stewart that he’s willing to listen to offers for John Danks and Gavin Floyd, giving Stewart a golden opportunity to land in the Sox rotation full-time for the 2012 season.

50. Gerrit Cole: Pittsburgh Pirates

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    When the Pittsburgh Pirates selected UCLA pitcher Gerrit Cole with the first overall selection in the 2011 MLB Draft, they knew they were getting a flamethrower with untapped potential.

    Cole showed some of that promise in the recently-completed Arizona Fall League, compiling a 3.12 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 15 innings of work, although he did give up five earned runs in 2/3 of an inning in the Rising Stars game. Still, Cole could experience a rapid rise through the Pirates system if he can learn to control his fastball and keep it low in the zone.

49. Danny Hultzen: Seattle Mariners

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    Even more impressive than Gerrit Cole in the Arizona Fall League was Danny Hultzen, the Seattle Mariners’ top draft pick in the 2011 MLB Draft.

    Hultzen, in six starts, posted a 1.40 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 19.2 innings and showed excellent command of a mid-to-high 90s fastball and solid secondary pitches. Like Cole, Hultzen could easily be impacting the Mariners roster by 2013.

48. Casey Crosby: Detroit Tigers

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    After Tommy John surgery and other arm problems, the 2011 season was a beacon of light in many ways for Detroit Tigers pitching prospect Casey Crosby. A fifth-round pick in 2007 by the Tigers, Crosby has already endured a spate of injuries, so his 25 starts in 2011 was a ray of hope for the future for both Crosby and the Tigers.

    Crosby was added to the 40-man roster and will be invited to the big league for the first time this spring, where the southpaw power pitcher can continue to raise the eyes of coaches. Crosby will likely start the season at Triple-A, but the experience in spring training should add a big boost to a player who has already endured quite a bit of hardship in his young career.

47. Andy Oliver: Detroit Tigers

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    Young 23-year-old southpaw Andy Oliver is another prospect in the Detroit Tigers organization who give Detroit great hope for the future. The young trio of Oliver, Casey Crosby and Jacob Turner could very well prove to be great additions to a Tigers rotation that already features Cy Young Award and MVP Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello.

    Oliver was 8-12 in 26 starts with a 4.71 ERA for Triple-A Toledo in 2011, striking out 143 batters in 147 innings. Oliver has seen brief September showings for the Tigers over the past two seasons and will be given a serious look once again in the spring.

46. A.J. Cole: Washington Nationals

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    The Washington Nationals already have two pretty good young pitchers in Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann who figure to take the Nationals well into the decade at the top of the starting rotation. However, another youngster could be joining them sooner rather than later.

    A.J. Cole, a flamethrowing 19-year-old right-hander, just completed his first full season of professional baseball, compiling a 4-7 record and 4.04 ERA in 18 starts with Single-A Hagerstown, striking out 108 against just 24 walks in 89 innings of work.

    Cole was recently selected as the fourth-best prospect in the Nationals system by Baseball America, behind Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Brad Peacock, and some consider Cole a better prospect than Peacock.

45. Chad James: Miami Marlins

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    There has been much talk already about the Miami Marlins and their aggressive pursuit of free agents Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle. However, the Marlins will also be looking to make a splash via the trade market as well, and no doubt that teams willing to talk to the Marlins will be asking about 20-year-old southpaw pitching prospect Chad James.

    James struggled to a 5-15 record in 27 starts at Advanced Single-A Jupiter in 2011; however, his 3.80 ERA was encouraging, and James continues to display a terrific moving fastball and developing curve and changeup that has scouts and coaches salivating.

44. Dillon Gee: New York Mets

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    There probably weren’t a whole lot of people who expected the type of season that New York Mets starting pitcher Dillon Gee provided in the 2011 season. Gee was more than a pleasant surprise, finishing with a 13-6 record and 4.43 ERA.

    Gee doesn’t have overwhelming stuff, with a fastball that barely touches 90 MPH, a good but not great changeup and a decent curve. However, Gee managed to keep hitters guessing, and his stuff resonates well at pitcher-friendly Citi Field.

43. Trey McNutt: Chicago Cubs

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    Chicago Cubs top pitching prospect Trey McNutt battled through a tough 2011 season, dealing with nagging injuries and posting a 5-6 record and 4.55 ERA in 22 starts at Double-A Tennessee.

    McNutt showed flashes of brilliance in the Arizona Fall League, however, and his mid-to-high 90s fastball and better-than-average breaking ball are still works in progress, but nonetheless gives the Cubs hope for a bright future.

42. Zach Wheeler: New York Mets

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    When the New York Mets dealt right fielder Carlos Beltran to the San Francisco Giants, they knew exactly who they wanted in return—21-year-old prized pitching prospect Zach Wheeler.

    Wheeler was 9-7 with a 3.52 ERA in 22 starts with the Giants and Mets at the Advanced Single-A level, striking out 129 batters in 115 innings. Wheeler made adjustments to his pitching mechanics this year, going back to his old form, and the results showed. Wheeler could very well be in the Mets rotation by 2013.

41. Anthony Ranaudo: Boston Red Sox

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    When the Boston Red Sox traded for Adrian Gonzalez and gave up top pitching prospect Casey Kelly in the process, 22-year-old right-hander Anthony Ranaudo ascended to the top of the Red Sox’ prospect list.

    Ranaudo had a solid but unspectacular year at Advanced Single-A Salem in 2011, posting a 4.33 ERA in 16 starts. Ranaudo will need to work on endurance in 2012, throwing only 81 innings last season. However, the Sox love his upside, and he could have a chance to compete for a starting spot in 2013 if he makes significant strides next season.

40. Tanner Scheppers: Texas Rangers

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    When the Texas Rangers selected right-handed power pitcher Tanner Scheppers in the first round of the 2009 MLB Draft, they were unsure about using him as a starter or reliever. Scheppers was used primarily as a reliever in 2011 between Double-A and Triple-A, and although he has battled injuries and inconsistency with command, the Rangers are still high on his potential and abilities.

    Scheppers was impressive in the Arizona Fall League, posting a 0.69 ERA and holding opposing batters to just a .122 average. Scheppers could very well impact the Rangers bullpen sometime in 2012.

39. Jake McGee: Tampa Bay Rays

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    When the Tampa Bay Rays drafted 17-year-old high school pitcher Jake McGee in the fifth round of the 2004 MLB Draft, they envisioned McGee as a future starter, and that’s how they proceeded with him for the first several years of minor league career.

    However, in 2011, McGee worked primarily as a reliever, and the results were certainly good enough to propel him to the Rays bullpen for good in the second half of the 2011 season. McGee will likely continue in that role in 2012 for the Rays.

38. Tyler Chatwood: Los Angeles Angels

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    When Tyler Chatwood made his major league debut early in 2011, the 21-year-old right-hander impressed many with his ability to work out of trouble, and his mid-90s fastball with movement was equally impressive.

    The maddening part to Chatwood’s game was the walks. Chatwood issued 71 free passes in 142 innings, and his 1.669 WHIP meant that he had to work out of jams more often than that.

    Still, the Angels feel that if Chatwood can trust his stuff and command the strike zone, he can be an effective pitcher at the major league level. Chatwood will be competing for the back end of the starting rotation along with Garrett Richards and Jerome Williams this coming spring.

37. Garrett Richards: Los Angeles Angels

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    Speaking of the Angels, 23-year-old Garrett Richards was another prospect who showed great promise. After posting a 12-2 record and 3.15 ERA in 21 starts at Double-A Arkansas, Richards got his shot with the big club, going 0-2 with a 5.79 ERA in three starts.

    Richards was thrown into the mix in an emergency situation late in the season for the Angels, so while the numbers weren’t spectacular, the Angels saw enough to believe that Richards could possibly be a fit in the starting rotation in the 2012 season.

36. Matt Harvey: New York Mets

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    In Matt Harvey’s first professional season with the New York Mets in 2011, it can only be described as encouraging. In 26 starts between Advanced Single-A and Double-A ball, Harvey was 13-5 with a 3.32 ERA, striking out 156 batters in 135.2 innings.

    The Mets are very high on Harvey; however, it’s likely he won’t make an impact on the big club until 2013. Still, Harvey’s tremendous first season certainly shows promise of good things yet to come.

35. Deck McGuire: Toronto Blue Jays

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    Right-handed pitcher Deck McGuire’s first professional season in the Toronto Blue Jays organization was a huge success. McGuire was 9-5 with a 3.02 ERA in 21 starts between Advanced Single-A and Double-A ball, striking out 124 batters in 125.1 innings.

    McGuire will likely start the 2011 season in Double-A New Hampshire; however, the Jays feel that McGuire could be close to major league ready at some point next season.

34. Alex White: Colorado Rockies

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    When the Colorado Rockies shipped Ubaldo Jimenez to the Cleveland Indians for prospects, they received in return two pitchers who could impact the starting rotation in 2012 and beyond—Drew Pomeranz and Alex White.

    White showed promise in his big league debut early in 2011 for the Indians, but injuries derailed his season, and his return to Colorado wasn’t exactly stellar.

    However, with injuries to both Jorge de la Rosa and Juan Nicasio, White will be given every opportunity to crack the Rockies starting rotation along with Pomeranz in spring training, and coming back fully healthy will be a huge lift for White.

33. Drew Pomeranz: Colorado Rockies

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    Drew Pomeranz was the centerpiece of the deal for the Colorado Rockies in sending Ubaldo Jimenez to the Cleveland Indians, and his first professional season was a huge reason why the Rockies were so intent on trading for Pomeranz.

    In 20 starts between Advanced Single-A and Double-A, Pomeranz posted a nifty 1.78 ERA and 1.050 WHIP and struck out 119 batters in 101 innings. In four September starts with the Rockies, Pomeranz certainly showed enough of his tremendous plus pitches to warrant a shot at the starting rotation in 2012.

32. Jameson Taillon: Pittsburgh Pirates

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    The Pittsburgh Pirates spent $6.5 million on Jameson Taillon after drafting him with the second overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, and thus far, Taillon is still developing, but certainly shows promise.

    In Taillon’s first professional season, he posted a 3.98 ERA and 1.198 WHIP in 23 starts for West Virginia in the South Atlantic League, with 97 strikeouts in 92.2 innings, issuing just under one walk per outing.

    Taillon’s curveball is regarded as one of the best of any prospect, and together with 2011 top draft pick Gerrit Cole, Taillon and Cole could very well be pitching in the Pirates rotation full-time in 2013.

31. Danny Duffy: Kansas City Royals

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    Young 22-year-old left-hander Danny Duffy was thrown from the frying pan into the fire in 2011 for the Kansas City Royals, and while the results may not look altogether impressive, there’s plenty of reason for optimism.

    Duffy, who in four-plus years in the minors posted a nifty 2.65 ERA with 407 strikeouts in 350 innings, posted a 4-8 record and 5.64 ERA in 20 starts with the Royals after his call-up in mid-May. Duffy battled control issues with the big club; however, GM Dayton Moore considers Duffy to be among the core of the rotation in the future for the Royals.

30. Shelby Miller: St. Louis Cardinals

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    In 2011, right-handed pitching prospect Shelby Miller certainly showed the St. Louis Cardinals why he is one of the most highly regarded pitching prospects in all of baseball.

    Miller, in 25 starts between Advanced Single-A and Double-A ball, posted an outstanding ERA of 2.77, striking out 177 batters in 139.2 innings. Miller will likely be given a nice long look in spring training by the Cardinals, and while he’s likely to start the season at the Triple-A level, he could be contributing for the big club sometime in 2012.

29. Tyler Skaggs: Arizona Diamondbacks

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    There is plenty of reason for optimism in Arizona for the future of the D-Backs starting rotation, and young left-hander Tyler Skaggs is one of the reasons for that optimism.

    Skaggs, who was obtained by the D-Backs in 2010 in the trade that sent Dan Haren to the Los Angeles Angels, posted a 2.96 ERA in 27 starts between Advanced Single-A and Double-A ball in 2011, striking out 198 batters in 158.1 innings and showing great command with only 49 walks and a 1.105 WHIP.

    Skaggs could actually contend for a starting role in spring training, competing with Pat Corbin for a back-end spot in the starting rotation.

28. Pat Corbin: Arizona Diamondbacks

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    While Tyler Skaggs was one of the prized pieces in the trade that sent Dan Haren to the Los Angeles Angels in 2010, left-hander Pat Corbin was also highly regarded by the Arizona Diamondbacks, and his great repertoire of pitches is the reason why.

    Corbin’s fastball isn’t blazing, registering between 89-92 MPH, but has tremendous fastball, and together with a plus slider and changeup, Corbin will be alongside Skaggs in spring training competing for a role on the roster for the D-Backs in 2012.

27. Jarrod Parker: Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Twenty-two-year-old right-hander Jarrod Parker made a successful return from Tommy John surgery that shelved him for the entire 2010 season, posting a 3.79 ERA in 26 starts for Double-A Mobile in 2011, earning him a start on the second-to-last day of the regular season for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

    Parker’s debut was impressive, allowing just four hits and no runs in 5.2 innings, and the D-Backs will no doubt take a long look at Parker during spring training before deciding where he’ll start the 2012 season.

26. Trevor Bauer: Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Rounding out the quartet of great Arizona Diamondbacks pitching prospects is Trevor Bauer, the D-Backs third overall selection in the 2011 MLB Draft.

    Bauer’s 5.96 ERA in seven starts between Advanced Single-A and Double-A may not look all that impressive. However, it was a small sample size (seven starts), and Bauer’s 43 strikeouts in 25.2 innings certainly showed he has the stuff to be overpowering.

    Bauer will certainly get a look in spring training; however, it’s likely the D-Backs will want Bauer to get more seasoning before bringing him up to the big club. Late 2012 is certainly a possibility for Bauer to impact the big league roster.

25. Jordan Walden: Los Angeles Angels

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    When the Los Angeles Angels opened the 2011 season, Fernando Rodney started as the closer. However, after showing to be ineffective, manager Mike Scioscia turned over the closer’s role to 23-year-old flamethrower Jordan Walden.

    Walden, who impressed Scioscia in 2010 with 16 appearances and a 2.35 ERA, ended up with 32 saves for the Angels, posting a 2.98 ERA and striking out 67 batters in 60.1 innings.

    However, Walden also blew 10 saves during the season, and while he finished in the top five in Rookie of the Year balloting, Walden will need to fine-tune his herky-jerky delivery and develop better command of his changeup if he is to continue on in that role.

24. Jordan Lyles: Houston Astros

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    After starting the 2011 season at Triple-A Oklahoma City, 20-year-old right-handed pitching prospect Jordan Lyles found himself thrust into the starting rotation for the Houston Astros in late May.

    While the results were mixed (15 starts, 2-8 record, 5.36 ERA, 1.415 WHIP), Lyles will no doubt be in the rotation mix for the 2012 season, and his experiences in 2011 can only serve him well moving forward.

23. Randall Delgado: Atlanta Braves

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    The Atlanta Braves certainly thought enough of their young pitching core that they sent Derek Lowe packing, shipping him off to the Cleveland Indians two weeks ago. With the collection of arms in the Braves system, however, it stands to reason that someone had to go. And young prospect Randall Delgado could get his chance to shine in 2012.

    Delgado received spot starts for the Braves in both June and August before being called up in September when rosters expanded to 40 players. Delgado made the most of his chance, posting a 2.83 ERA in his seven starts.

    Delgado will clearly have an opportunity to crack the starting rotation in 2012; however with Tim Hudson, Tommy Hansen, Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor and Jair Jurrjens in front of him, Delgado still has a tall task ahead of him.

    If rumors ring true about the Braves shopping Jurrjens, Delgado could have that opportunity.

22. Dellin Betances: New York Yankees

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    As one half of the anointed “Killer Bees” for the New York Yankees, Dellin Betances has been so highly regarded that he has constantly been mentioned in trade rumors over the course of the past year.

    Betances posted a 3.70 ERA in 25 starts between Double-A and Triple-A ball in 2011, striking out 142 batters in 126.1 innings. Betances made two appearances in September for the Yankees, and if he is not dealt during the offseason, will likely get a long look during spring training.

21. Manny Banuelos: New York Yankees

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    The other half of the anointed “Killer Bees” for the New York Yankees, Manny Banuelos, much like his nickname namesake Dellin Betances, did little to dissuade optimism for his future in 2011, posting a 3.75 ERA in 27 starts between Double-A and Triple-A ball, striking out 125 batters in 129.2.

    Banuelos has been the subject of just about as many trade rumors as Betances; however, if Banuelos and Betances are still a part of the Yankees organization come spring training, then both will be receiving long looks at big league camp.

20. Lance Lynn: St. Louis Cardinals

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    The 2011 season for St. Louis Cardinals right-handed pitching prospect Lance Lynn was a complete whirlwind, starting at Triple-A Memphis and ending in late October with a World Series ring on his finger.

    Lynn, who has been groomed as a starter in the minors by the Cardinals, was called up in June to help out a struggling bullpen. However, in early August, Lynn suffered an oblique injury that left him sidelined for the rest of the regular season. When he was finally healthy, Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa activated Lynn for both the NLCS and World Series, and Lynn was a key figure in the bullpen for the Cardinals.

    Lynn will no doubt have a presence in the Cardinals bullpen in 2012, and will also serve as a fallback for the starting rotation should he be needed in that role.

19. Martin Perez: Texas Rangers

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    With the Texas Rangers recently signing closer Joe Nathan to a two-year contract, it’s all but certain that they have given up on signing C.J. Wilson and that last year’s closer, Neftali Feliz, will now move to the starting rotation to join Colby Lewis, Alexi Ogando, Matt Harrison and Derek Holland, with Scott Feldman in the mix as well.

    All of this means that prospect Martin Perez will likely have to wait one more year before making his debut in the Rangers rotation; however, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Perez struggled last year after being promoted to Triple-A Round Rock.

    Perez posted a 6.43 ERA in 10 starts following his promotion, and with the Rangers’ latest move, they will give Perez time to hone his skills before throwing him into the mix in Texas.

18. Casey Kelly: San Diego Padres

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    The San Diego Padres were more than happy with the return of prospects they received from the Boston Red Sox in the Adrian Gonzalez trade last year, and right-handed pitcher Casey Kelly was the main reason why.

    Kelly instantly became the top prospect for the Padres after the trade, and in 2011, he posted an 11-6 record and 3.98 ERA in 27 starts at Double-A San Antonio. Kelly still needs to develop better command of the strike zone.

    However, considering the state of the Padres, he will certainly get a long look in spring training.

17. Arodys Vizcaino: Atlanta Braves

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    Dominican 20-year-old right-handed pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino jumped three levels in 2011, starting out at Advanced Single-A Lynchburg before ending the season with the Braves.

    Vizcaino was called up in early August, making 17 relief appearances with a 4.67 ERA, striking out 17 batters in 17.1 innings.

    With a young corps of pitchers that includes Vizcaino, Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor, Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran, the future in Atlanta indeed looks bright.

16. Julio Teheran: Atlanta Braves

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    Julio Teheran literally made a mockery of the International League in 2011, posting a 15-3 record and 2.55 ERA for the Gwinnett Braves. Teheran received a couple of spot starts for the Braves in May before his recall in September as well.

    With Derek Lowe now gone, Teheran will have an opportunity to crack the starting rotation for the Braves. However, with Randall Delgado, the competition will indeed be tough.

15. Cory Luebke: San Diego Padres

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    Cory Luebke may have been one of the bigger surprises of the 2011 season in terms of rookies, posting a 3.29 ERA in 46 appearances, 17 of them starts. Luebke struck out 154 batters in 139.1 innings, and his 1.067 WHIP showed a strong command of the strike zone.

    Luebke will no doubt figure to be in the starting rotation for manager Bud Black in 2012 and should continue to excel, especially at pitcher-friendly Petco Park.

14. Zach Britton: Baltimore Orioles

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    Considering that the 2011 season was his first in the majors, 23-year-old left-hander Zach Britton turned in a pretty solid performance, posting an 11-11 record and 4.61 ERA in 28 starts for the Baltimore Orioles.

    Britton struggled at times with his command, and his 5.7 K/9 rate wasn’t overwhelming; however, the year’s experience should serve Britton and the Orioles well moving forward.

13. Chris Sale: Chicago White Sox

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    After making 21 appearances out of the bullpen in 2010 as a young 21-year-old, Chris Sale responded in 2011 with an outstanding season, posting a 2.79 ERA in 58 games and striking out 79 batters in 71 innings.

    GM Kenny Williams fully intends to move Sale to the starting rotation in 2012, and with his mid-to-high 90s fastball and solid secondary pitches, Sale’s development only figures to continue in a positive direction.

12. Jacob Turner: Detroit Tigers

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    It almost appears to be a given that 20-year-old right-handed pitching prospect Jacob Turner will be in the starting rotation in 2012 for the Detroit Tigers despite just three starts at the end of the 2011 season.

    Turner posted a 3.44 ERA in 20 starts between Double-A and Triple-A in 2011, striking out 110 batters against just 35 walks. With GM Dave Dombrowski saying that it’s unlikely that starter Brad Penny will be retained, Turner will certainly have his opportunity in spring training to show that he’s major league ready.

11. Josh Collmenter: Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Right-hander Josh Collmenter was more than a pleasant surprise in 2011 for the Arizona Diamonbacks, with a 10-10 record and 3.38 ERA in 24 starts. Collmenter proved to be stingy, giving up just 137 hits in 154.1 innings, and a 1.069 WHIP that showed a clear command of the strike zone.

    Collmenter figures to be the No. 3 starter for the D-Backs in 2012 behind Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson, and together with up-and-coming prospects Tyler Skaggs, Pat Corbin, Trevor Bauer and Jarrod Parker, pitching will be the least of the D-Backs’ worries for some time to come.

10. Kenley Jansen: Los Angeles Dodgers

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    If the Los Angeles Dodgers weren’t impressed with right-handed pitcher Kenley Jansen after the 2010 season (25 appearances, 0.67 ERA), they were even more impressed following a full 2011 campaign.

    Jansen posted a 2.85 ERA in 51 appearances, striking out a whopping 96 batters in just 53.2 innings, giving up just 30 hits and holding opposing batters to a .159 average.

    Jansen will likely serve as the closer for the Dodgers in 2012, and considering his start thus far, he will likely shine in that role full-time as well.

9. Mike Minor: Atlanta Braves

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    In 2011, left-handed pitching prospect Mike Minor had a disastrous start for the Atlanta Braves, being sent back to Triple-A Gwinnett after a poor start against the Milwaukee Brewers. After his demotion and subsequent spot starts in June for the Braves, Minor was back up to stay in early August, and it was his clear his time in Gwinnett greatly helped his confidence.

    Minor finished the season with a 5-3 record in 15 starts, with a 4.14 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 82.2 innings. Minor figures to be the No. 4 starter next year for the Braves in a rotation that will be among the youngest, and best, in the National League.

8. Henderson Alvarez: Toronto Blue Jays

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    The Toronto Blue Jays may not have opened the 2011 season thinking that young pitching prospect Henderson Alvarez would be a key contributor, but they’ll certainly head into the 2012 season with that frame of mind.

    Alvarez started the season at Double-A New Hampshire, posting an 8-4 record and 2.86 ERA in 14 starts. The Jays called Alvarez up in early August, and the results were indeed impressive. Despite a record of 1-3, Alvarez posted a nice 3.53 ERA in 10 starts, with 40 strikeouts against just eight walks in 63.2 innings.

    Alvarez will no doubt be in the rotation for the Blue Jays in 2012, and with his surprising development this year, his future certainly looks rosy.

7. Vance Worley: Philadelphia Phillies

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    Speaking of surprises, none may have surprised more than Philadelphia Phillies starter Vance Worley, who ended up the season placing third in the National League Rookie of the Year Award balloting.

    Worley became the Phillies fifth starter after an injury to Joe Blanton and never gave up the role. Worley was 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA in 21 starts, striking out 119 batters in 131.2 innings. With the Phillies unlikely to retain starter Roy Oswalt, Worley’s spot in the rotation is essentially sealed.

6. Brandon Beachy: Atlanta Braves

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    While there have been several pitching prospects already highlighted belonging to the Atlanta Braves, we would certainly be remiss if we didn’t include 25-year-old right-hander Brandon Beachy.

    In his first full season in Atlanta, Beachy was 7-3 with a 3.68 ERA in 25 starts for the Braves, striking out 169 batters in 141.2 innings and sporting a 1.207 WHIP.

    Beachy’s performance in 2011 certainly assures his presence in the Braves rotation for 2012 and beyond.

5. Alexi Ogando: Texas Rangers

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    The Texas Rangers had success moving one reliever to the starting rotation in 2010 with C.J. Wilson, so in moving Alexi Ogando to the rotation in 2011, the Rangers were certainly confident that lightning could strike twice.

    They were right—Ogando responded well to the transformation, with a 13-8 record, a 3.51 ERA and a 1.136 WHIP in 29 starts.

    Ogando’s successful transition to the rotation gives the Rangers a solid starting rotation, even with the absence of C.J. Wilson in 2012.

4. Michael Pineda: Seattle Mariners

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    Dominican pitching prospect Michael Pineda make such a good impression during spring training in 2011 for the Seattle Mariners that new manager Eric Wedge felt compelled to give Pineda a chance in the starting rotation. Wedge’s decision was certainly the right one.

    Pineda responded with a 3.74 ERA in 28 starts, striking out 173 batters in 171 innings, and finished fifth in the voting for the American League Rookie of the Year Award.

    At just 22 years of age, Pineda gives the Mariners another solid young arm to complement Felix Hernandez at the top of the rotation.

3. Matt Moore: Tampa Bay Rays

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    While two starts in the major leagues may certainly seem like way too small of a sample size to place young Matt Moore third on this list, it was what was seen out of those two starts that earned him his place on this list.

    Moore completely dominated at the minor league level in 2011, posting a 12-3 record and 1.92 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A ball, striking out an incredible 210 batters in just 155 innings.

    Earning a late call-up, Moore’s first major league start came against the New York Yankees on Sept. 22, allowing just four hits and no runs in five innings, striking out 11 to gain his first major league victory.

    On an even bigger stage  the following week, Moore faced off against the Texas Rangers in a surprise start in Game 1 of the ALDS, and Moore responded by holding the vaunted Rangers lineup to just two hits in seven innings, earning the victory in a 9-0 win.

    Whether or not Moore can crack the starting rotation in 2012 remains to be seen, as the Rays have five established young starters in James Shields, David Price, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann and 2011 Rookie of the Year Award winner Jeremy Hellickson. However, Moore clearly stated his case in just two starts.

2. Craig Kimbrel: Atlanta Braves

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    You can’t get off to a much better start than setting a rookie record and winning a Rookie of the Year Award. However, that’s exactly what Atlanta Braves closer Craig Kimbrel pulled off.

    Kimbrel posted 46 saves, striking out 127 batters in just 77 innings, and was the easy winner of the NL Rookie of the Yeear, with teammate Freddie Freeman coming in second.

    Kimbrel, along with set-up man Jonny Venters, was lights out for much of the season, faltering in the final weeks, giving up runs in four of his last eight appearances. However, “lights out” was exactly the phrase that many used to describe Kimbrel for much of the 2011 season.

1. Jeremy Hellickson: Tampa Bay Rays

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    For all of the great performances and accolades gained by many young pitching prospects on this list, Jeremy Hellickson of the Tampa Bay Rays topped them all.

    In his first full season in the majors, Hellickson captured the American League Rookie of the Year Award, going 13-10 with a sparkling 2.95 ERA in 29 starts for the Rays, giving up just 146 hits in 189 innings and holding opposing batters to just a .210 batting average.

    Pretty heady stuff for the 24-year-old rookie; however, it could be just the start of a magnificent career.

    Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle. Follow Doug on Twitter, @Sports_A_Holic.

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