Click to see other top preseason prospect rankings:
Headlined by potential opening day options in the top 12, the youth movement in pitching is in full force. The biggest question marks are how well Tanaka adjusts to major league hitters, if Gray and Appel will reach the majors this year, and how well Bundy returns from Tommy John surgery. The most fascinating prospect may be Julio Urias, who made Midwest League hitters look silly as a16-year old, and how well he will develop when the Dodgers let him rack up more innings.
|18||Marcus Stroman||Blue Jays|
|20||Henry Owens||Red Sox|
|21||Aaron Sanchez||Blue Jays|
1. Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees (Pitched in the Japan Pacific League in 2013)
In one of the most predictable stories of the off-season, the Yankees signed the best available free agent pitcher for more years and more money than any other team would offer. However, Tanaka has the pure stuff to make the Yankees front office look smart, as he has great control of his low-to-mid 90s fastball, hard-dropping split-fingered fastball, and snapping slider. Tanaka will mix in an occasional curveball as a fourth pitch, but it is little more than a show-me pitch. While Tanaka lacks the size and velocity of Yu Darvish, he should be able to put up a low-3 ERA with 170-180 strikeouts and few walks. His stat line should be slightly better than his fantasy comparable, Hiroki Kuroda, who also features a low-to-mid 90s fastball, split-fingered fastball and snapping slider.
2. Taijuan Walker, Mariners (Finished 2013 in Major Leagues)
Already with four starts in the Major Leagues, Walker projects as a top of the rotation arm, as he possesses a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and a nasty cutter. His curveball is average and works well as a third pitch, but will need to improve if he is to reach his ceiling. Walker struggles with command at times, and may never develop average command, which will hold him back. If everything clicks, he could rack up 230 strikeouts each year with a sub-3 ERA, but could have a high WHIP due to command woes. Still only 21, Walker projects to have upside similar to Max Scherzer, but reached the majors while four years younger than Scherzer. Command issues could turn him into A.J. Burnett, which is a very good floor.
3. Noah Syndergaard, Mets (Finished 2013 in AA, likely to open 2014 in AAA)
Ever since he was drafted in the supplemental first round of the 2010 draft, Syndergaard has consistently dominated at every stop, striking out more than 10/9IP with a 1.110 WHIP in his minor league career. While he does not have the upside of a true ace in the mold of similarly-sized Justin Verlander or Roy Halladay, his 6’6” 240-pound frame combined with a mid-to-upper 90s fastball with above average command, a hard breaking curveball and an average curveball will make him an innings-eating top of the rotation workhorse for years to come. Syndergaard projects to have a sub-3 ERA with 250 strikeouts and a solid WHIP. His fantasy comparable is Shelby Miller with more strikeouts.
4. Archie Bradley, Diamondbacks (Finished 2013 in AA, likely to open 2014 in AAA)
Once the second-best right handed pitching prospect out of Oklahoma (behind Dylan Bundy), Bradley’s prospect status has consistently risen to become one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. Bradley has the potential to become a true ace, as was shown during his 21 starts in AA, striking out 119 batters and allowing just 93 hits in 123 innings despite being the second youngest pitcher in the league (Taijuan Walker is three days younger). Bradley’s command needs to improve before he can reach his potential, as he has walked 4.7 batters per 9 IP during his minor league career. Bradley could open the season as the #5 pitcher for the Diamondbacks, where he could have a season similar to Shelby Miller’s 2013 campaign. His overall potential projects him as an elite pitcher who puts up 240 strikeouts each season with an ERA around 3, similar to his fantasy comparable, Justin Verlander.
5. Kyle Zimmer, Royals (Finished 2013 in AA, likely to return to start 2014)
Zimmer’s 2013 was a tale of two seasons, as Zimmer had a 5.92 ERA over his first 65.1 innings in 14 starts. After that, he made the Carolina League look silly, as he struck out 36, allowing only 14 hits and three walks, with a 1.78 ERA over 25.1 innings in four starts. Zimmer was promoted to AA, where he continued to dominate over his next three starts before being shut down due to “minor shoulder stiffness.” Zimmer is a low-risk option that projects as a solid #2 or #3 in the mold of Anibal Sanchez, though he may pick up more strikeouts.
6. Jonathan Gray, Rockies (Finished 2013 in High-A, likely to open 2014 in AA)
The 3rd overall pick in 2013, Gray enticed Rockies fans with his potential, putting up a 12.3 K/9 and allowing only eight runs over 37 innings. Already a massive at 6’4” and 255 pounds, Gray looks the part of the innings-eating ace. Though his fantasy value takes a hit due to his future home at Coors, Gray’s fastball/slider/changeup combination seems to be the recipe for success at elevation. He may need to sacrifice some strikeouts for ground balls, but he still projects as a perennial 200-strikeout pitcher who has an ERA around 3. His fantasy comparable is Yovani Gallardo.
7. Mark Appel, Astros (Finished 2013 in A, likely to open 2014 in AA)
Appel, one of the few players to be drafted twice in the first round, #8 in 2012 by the Pirates and #1 by the Astros in 2014, possesses a mid-90s fastball, a nasty slider and an above-average changeup. Though he possesses the potential to become a #1, the more likely result is a solid #2 starter who logs innings and strikes out 180-200 batters per year with a sub-3 ERA. While it is possible that he opens the season as the Astros 5th starter, he is more likely to come up in mid-June, similar to Gerrit Cole or Zack Wheeler. His fantasy comparable is Gerrit Cole, both immediately and long-term.
8. Lucas Giolito, Nationals (Finished 2013 in short-season A, likely to open 2014 in High-A)
After straining elbow ligaments in high school, Giolito slid from a potential #1 overall pick to the 16th pick in the first round. After pitching two innings in his first start, Giolito removed himself from the game due to elbow pain, finally needing Tommy John surgery to repair his UCL. In his return to the mound, Giolito dominated, striking out 39 batters over 36 innings, while allowing only 28 hits and 14 walks. Giolito, whose best pitch is a mid-to-upper-90s fastball, has the upside of a true #1 pitcher who can strike out 240+ batters with a sub-3 ERA. His fantasy comparable is Chris Sale, though he does not have Sale’s odd delivery.
9. Jameson Taillon, Pirates (Finished 2013 in AAA, likely to return in 2014)
Though substantially overshadowed by the player drafted ahead of him in the 2010 draft (Bryce Harper), Taillon is knocking on the door to the major leagues and is likely to be a mid-season call-up. While he lacks the pure upside of many of the pitchers ahead of him, he has the stuff to be a solid #2 starter with the floor of a #3 starter. With a mid-90s fastball, and the potential for an elite curve and an above average changeup, he could log innings as the #2 behind Gerrit Cole for years to come. It is unlikely Taillon will have elite strikeouts, and will more likely have 180 strikeouts per season with a solid ERA around 3 and a 1.25 WHIP. His fantasy comparable is Rich Harden, if Harden were able to stay healthy for an extended period of time.
10. Robert Stephenson, Reds (Finished 2013 in AA, likely to return in 2014)
The Reds’ first round pick in 2011, Stephenson rocketed from A to AA in 2013, putting together a combined 136 strikeouts in 114 innings. Stephenson is a great athlete with a mid-90s fastball and a curveball that has a hard downward break. Stephenson’s undoing may be his command woes. While he did not walk many batters in 2013, he often struggled to hit his spots, which may result in more substantial struggles in the major leagues; if his command improves, he could be a dominant #2 pitcher who puts up a 180 strikeouts per season with an ERA around 3. His fantasy comparable is Josh Johnson.
11. Max Fried, Padres (Finished 2013 in A, likely to open 2014 in High-A)
The top prep lefty in the 2012 draft, Fried is a highly projectable lefty with great athleticism. While he lacks the top of the rotation stuff of former high school teammate Lucas Giolito, Fried projects as a solid #2 starter whose low-90s fastball and hard-breaking curveball will make him a very valuable pitcher. He has struggled with fastball consistency, his changeup is far from being an average pitch and he will need to improve both to be successful in the major leagues. If he can improve, he projects as a solid lefty who strikes out 160-180 batters per season with a low-3 ERA. His fantasy comparable is Andy Pettitte.
12. Dylan Bundy, Orioles (Missed 2013 with Tommy John surgery, expected to return to the major leagues in mid-to-late 2014)
A healthy Bundy would have just completed his first season in the major leagues, leading Baltimore to one of the AL Wild Cards and picking up the AL Rookie of the Year award for his effort. Instead he had his right elbow’s ulnar collateral ligament replaced and followed it up with a grueling rehabilitation process with the goal of returning 366 days after his June 27, 2013 surgery. Before his surgery, Bundy threw a mid-to-upper-90s fastball, a low-90s cutter, a nasty hammer curveball and a solid changeup. If he can regain most of his arsenal and most of his control, Bundy could be a solid #2 pitcher. However, if he comes back close to where he was before his injury, he could be an ace heading into the 2015 season. If you like to gamble on upside and he’s available, Bundy is your guy. His fantasy comparable is Roy Oswalt with Tim Lincecum’s strikeout totals.
13. Yordano Ventura, Royals (Finished 2013 in major leagues)
With an upper-90s fastball, a nasty curveball, and a developing changeup, Ventura has the talent to become an upper echelon starting pitcher. Despite his talent, Ventura is surprisingly hittable at every stop, save his brief cameo in the major leagues. A 1.468 WHIP in AAA, possibly fueled by a .357 BABIP, leads to questions about his future. Additionally, he is 5’11” and 180 pounds, which is small for most starting pitchers, leading to questions as to whether he will be able to withstand the strain of 200 innings. If everything comes together, his comparable could be another 5’11” righty (albeit one with an additional 35 pounds on his frame), Johnny Cueto, who strikes out 170 batters per full season, though he frequently misses a few starts due to injuries.
14. Eddie Butler, Rockies (Finished 2013 in AA, likely to return to start 2014)
A supplemental first round pick in 2012, Butler projects as a solid #2 starter who will slot behind Jonathan Gray for the next decade. While he has no truly elite pitch, his mid-90s fastball, a heavy changeup and a developing slider could serve him well in the curveball-killing elevation of Coors Field. While he has struggled with his command, he has shown improvement through repetition and has become one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. He projects as a pitcher who can strikeout 180+ batters per year with a low-3 ERA and a few too many walks. His fantasy comparable is Gio Gonzalez.
15. Jessie Biddle, Phillies (Finished 2013 in AA, likely to open 2014 in AAA)
The 27th overall pick in 2010, Biddle is a projectable lefty starter with a fastball that sits 92-94, a nasty curveball that serves as his primary out pitch, and an above average changeup. He started 2013 very strong; putting up a 1.74 ERA across his first five starts, striking out 40 in 31 innings (11.6/9IP). He was diagnosed with whooping cough, and a post season MRI showed that he pitched the final month with plantar fasciitis. Despite these ailments, he finished the season with a solid 3.64 ERA over 138.1 innings with 154 strikeouts. Biddle profiles as a #2/#3 starter who has high strikeout and walk totals due to his good pitches and struggles with control. He projects to have an ERA around 3.2 with 180-200 strikeouts over 220 innings. Could take 3-4 years to reach peak, and he will not reach his peak if he does not improve his command. His fantasy comparable is Al Leiter.
Ten more worth noting: Tyler Glasnow, Pirates; Julio Urias, Dodgers; Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays; Kohl Stewart, Twins; Henry Owens, Red Sox; Aaron Sanchez, Blue Jays; Mike Foltynewicz, Astros; C.J. Edwards, Cubs; and Andrew Heaney, Marlins.