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Prospect Positional: SP

by Matthew Foreman
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:09 pm ET

This week’s Prospect Positional will cover starting pitchers, a position in which there have been four graduations, one of the hottest pop-up prospects in all of baseball, and a bunch of prospects whose teams may be waiting until mid-June to make a promotion.

 

Note: All statistics are current through Sunday, May 18.

 

Updated top-15

 

Updated Pre-Season Name MLB Team MiLB Team
1 3 Noah Syndergaard Mets Las Vegas (AAA)
2 6 Jonathan Gray Rockies Tulsa (AA)
3 8 Lucas Giolito Nationals Hagerstown (Low-A)
4 4 Archie Bradley Diamondbacks Reno (AAA)
5 5 Kyle Zimmer Royals N/A
6 N/R Trevor Bauer Indians Columbus (AAA)
7 12 Dylan Bundy Orioles N/A
8 10 Robert Stephenson Reds Pensacola (AA)
9 7 Mark Appel Astros Lancaster (High-A)
10 24 Andrew Heaney Marlins Jacksonville (AA)
11 11 Max Fried Padres N/A
12 N/R Hunter Harvey Orioles Delmarva (Low-A)
13 19 Kohl Stewart Twins Cedar Rapids (Low-A)
14 14 Eddie Butler Rockies Tulsa (AA)
15 17 Julio Urias Dodgers Rancho Cucamonga (High-A)

 

Graduates (Pre-season rank)

 

Rank Name MLB Team
1 Masahiro Tanaka Yankees
2 Taijuan Walker Mariners
13 Yordano Ventura Royals
18 Marcus Stroman Blue Jays
N/R Kevin Gausman Orioles
N/R Rafael Montero Mets

 

58 strikeouts, 7 walks, 42 hits, and 1 hit batsman in 39 innings for Masahiro Tanaka. A 2.57 ERA and 1.000 WHIP.  He’s not this good, but he’s the real deal.

 

Taijuan Walker’s shoulder problems are not a great sign, but he has been slowly progressing toward a return.  He threw a 55-pitch bullpen session on Saturday, May 17.  Keep holding; he’ll be back.

 

Yordano Ventura has done very well through 11 starts in 2013 and 2014, and has all the stuff to be a front line starter.  I underestimated him.

 

Back-to-back terrible appearances torched Marcus Stroman’s line with the Blue Jays.  He was used as a reliever in the major leagues, but the goal is to let him learn from his successes and failures to turn into a potential front-line starter.  He is back in the minor leagues, and will likely return to the major leagues later this year as a starter.

 

Kevin Gausman was off the original list because he is no longer a rookie (he has 71 days on the active roster), but he spent the first six weeks of the season in Triple-A Norfolk.  He was on a pitch count and had a pair of clunkers, but he turned three consecutive very good outings into a promotion.  He got knocked around against Detroit, but he’s a good long-term bet.

 

When looking at prospects in the Dominican Republic (or anywhere outside of the US, Canada and Puerto Rico), 18 year olds are considered old.  Rafael Montero did not sign until he was 20, but three years later, he has gone from being 20 in a league filled with 16 and 17 year olds to pitching very well against the Yankees.  If he has a successful major league career, Disney should pick up the rights to his story.

 

Small sample size

 

Updated Pre-Season Name MLB Team MiLB Team
5 5 Kyle Zimmer Royals N/A
7 12 Dylan Bundy Orioles N/A
11 11 Max Fried Padres N/A

 

Kyle Zimmer is currently pitching in extended spring training with the goal of pitching for Double-A Northwest Arkansas in late May.  He has the potential to be a solid #2 pitcher, but recurrences of shoulder soreness and stiffness are worrisome.

 

Dylan Bundy threw batting practice last week and is on track for a return to the Orioles around the All-Star break.  He is scheduled to throw one inning in extended spring training on Tuesday, May 20.  His rise is due to the fact he is progressing on schedule to return to the major leagues.

 

Max Fried has been throwing for about two months and should make his 2014 debut by the end of May.  He will go to Low-A Fort Wayne, then to High-A Lake Elsinore.  He projects as a solid #2 pitcher from the left side, and is the best pitching prospect in the Padres organization.

 

Superb performance

 

Updated Pre-Season Name MLB Team MiLB Team
2 6 Jonathan Gray Rockies Tulsa (AA)
3 8 Lucas Giolito Nationals Hagerstown (Low-A)
6 N/R Trevor Bauer Indians Columbus (AAA)
10 24 Andrew Heaney Marlins Jacksonville (AA)
12 N/R Hunter Harvey Orioles Delmarva (Low-A)
13 19 Kohl Stewart Twins Cedar Rapids (Low-A)

 

Jonathan Gray started the season with two poor starts, but has turned it on as of late with Double-A Tulsa, holding opposing hitters to a 1.26 ERA and a .460 OPS across his last six starts.  Gray’s fastball/slider/changeup combination makes him look like a perennial 200-strikeout pitcher who has an ERA around 3.

 

Lucas Giolito has been as good as advertised, holding allowing just 6.1 H/9 and 10 K/9 across 32 1/3 innings.  He has been on a strict pitch limit as he comes back from Tommy John surgery in 2012.  He has the pure stuff to average 230+ strikeouts and a sub-3 ERA.  He throws a mid-90s fastball, an inconsistent change-up, and a true 12-6 curveball.  If he can improve his command (3.9 BB/9) and his secondary offerings, he could turn into a true ace.  In terms of pure potential, he is the top prospect on this list, but is behind Syndergaard and Gray due to their proximity to the major leagues and Giolito’s innings cap.

 

Trevor Bauer is the most fascinating and frustrating pitching prospect in baseball.  From his unique warm up routine to his singularly intellectual view of pitching, he has the talent and the understanding of pitching to become a frontline starter.  He has done well in 2014, increasing his strikeout rate while decreasing his walk rate, and will start for the Indians on Tuesday.

 

When the injury to Jose Fernandez became public knowledge, speculation surrounding Andrew Heaney was rampant.  Alas, Heaney remains in Jacksonville, Florida, dominating Double-A hitters to the tune of a .239/.269/.302 with a 1.081 WHIP and an 8.7 K/9. Heaney projects as a #2/#3 pitcher with 170 strikeouts who has a few disaster outings each year.

 

There is a strong argument that Hunter Harvey should be ranked #4, behind Lucas Giolito.  He has the pure stuff to be a true ace, with a 92-94 mph fastball, a hard-snapping curveball, and a change-up with hard downward sink.  However, he needs more work on his secondary offerings than many of the pitchers ahead of him.  If you’re a fan of high risk, high reward prospects, Harvey could be your guy.

 

Despite being the top prep pitcher taken in the 2013 draft, Kohl Stewart has generated much less post-draft buzz than pitchers subsequently drafted, most notably Hunter Harvey.  All Stewart has done is put up a 2.34 ERA and a 0.952 WHIP over 34 2/3 innings across seven starts in 2014.  He has not put up exceptional strikeout numbers like Harvey, but he has more than held his own.  In a system that suffered injuries to their top two prospects, Stewart has maintained his ceiling as a fringe #1 starter with a mid-90s fastball, mid-80s biting slider, and above-average change-up and curve ball.

 

Holding serve

 

Updated Pre-Season Name MLB Team MiLB Team
1 3 Noah Syndergaard Mets Las Vegas (AAA)
8 10 Robert Stephenson Reds Pensacola (AA)
14 14 Eddie Butler Rockies Tulsa (AA)
15 17 Julio Urias Dodgers Rancho Cucamonga (High-A)

 

Nothing has changed for Noah Syndergaard this year, as he continues to use his mid-90s fastball with above-average command, a hard breaking curveball and an average change up to survive in Triple-A Last Vegas, one of the best hitting environments in professional baseball.  Syndergaard has the potential to be a #2 pitcher, which would cause him to slot between Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler – a great 1-2-3 punch.

 

Robert Stephenson has done very well in 2014, with a good-but-not-great ERA and a great K/9 rate.  However his walk rate has remained elevated in Double-A, and while it is not as high as it was in 2013 (7.0 BB/9), 4.1 BB/9 is far too high to receive a promotion.  He is a great athlete with a mid-90s fastball and a curveball that has a hard downward break who could turn into a solid #2 pitcher if he can improve his command.

 

Eddie Butler projects to be a solid #2 pitcher who uses a mid-90s fastball, a heavy changeup and a developing slider that could be a panacea for the curveball-killing elevation of Coors Field.  While his K/9 has taken a substantial drop from 2013, he has improved his command and could see time in Denver before the season is over.

 

Julio Urias’ season line may not be eye popping, but he is younger than most high school seniors and pitching in a league where the average age is roughly 23-years old.  He is the youngest player in the California League by nearly two full years, and would be the youngest player in any of the Low-A leagues.  Armed with a fastball that sits between 91-94, an advanced change-up, and a developing curve ball, Urias could see time with the Dodgers before the end of 2015.

 

Struggling

 

Updated Pre-Season Name MLB Team MiLB Team
4 4 Archie Bradley Diamondbacks Reno (AAA)
9 7 Mark Appel Astros Lancaster (High-A)

 

Archie Bradley did not have as good of a start as his agent would lead you to believe.  Despite good results in his first two outings, (eight strikeouts, seven hits, and four walks over 12 innings), he allowed five doubles and hit a batter.  After that, Bradley struggles were more easily perceived, as opposing batters hit .352/.455/.444 off him in his next three starts, as he allowed three doubles and a triple, and hit three more batters.  He went onto the disabled list with a mild flexor strain in his throwing elbow and played catch on Monday, May 19.  He still has the upside to be a true ace, but it would be nice to see him cut down on his walks before anointing him the savior of the Diamondbacks franchise.

 

Since the major league baseball draft began in 1965, only 16 players have been drafted in the first round twice.  The 16th was Mark Appel, who was taken 8th overall in 2012 and 1st overall in 2013.  Appel struggled with the Astros “piggyback” system, with opposing batters putting up a .321/.356/.528 line against him.  He uses a mid-90s fastball, hard-breaking slider and an average change up, and profiles as a future #2 pitcher.

 

On the Bubble (listed alphabetically)

 

Pre-Season Name MLB Team MiLB Team
N/R Jose Berrios Twins Fort Myers (High-A)
15 Jesse Biddle Phillies Reading (AA)
16 Tyler Glasnow Pirates Bradenton (High-A)
N/R Casey Kelly Padres Lake Elsinore (High-A)
20 Henry Owens Red Sox Portland (AA)
21 Aaron Sanchez Blue Jays New Hampshire (AA)
N/R Lucas Sims Braves Lynchburg (High-A)
9 Jameson Taillon Pirates N/A

 

Jose Berrios has done very well for High-A Fort Myers, striking out nearly one batter per inning and decreasing his walk rate.  He has allowed only seven extra base hits in his first seven starts, and is holding opposing batters to a .248/.314/.338 line.  He projects as a solid #3 pitcher with a good fastball, curve ball and changeup, but below-average command.

 

Jesse Biddle has been remarkably inconsistent in 2014, with three bad starts, three decent starts and three good starts.  Despite his inconsistencies, opposing batters are hitting just .212/.296/.339 off him, and he has an Eastern League-leading 58 strikeouts in 50 2/3 innings.  Biddle uses his 92-94 mph fastball and his dive-bombing curve ball as his primary pitches, mixing in an average change up to keep hitters off balance.  If he can improve his command and limit his walks, he has the potential to be a solid #2/#3 pitcher.

 

The problem with Tyler Glasnow is simple: he has a fastball that often hits 100, but he lacks the command so make it nearly as effective as it should be.  He has the potential be a solid #2 pitcher with an above-average curve ball and changeup, but will need a substantial amount of time to become more consistent.  After missing the first three weeks of the season due to a minor back injury, he has alternated good starts with bad starts.  Opposing batters are hitting just .167/.320/.218 against him, which is highly impacted by his 7.0 BB/9 rate.

 

Casey Kelly was drafted in 2008, struggled in Double-A in 2010, was traded to the Padres after the 2010 season, strained his UCL, made his major league debut, hurt his UCL more severely in early 2013, and was forced to have Tommy John Surgery.  Despite all of this, he is still just 24, and projects as a #3.  He is currently pitching for Double-A San Antonio and should be back in the major leagues when he completes his rehab.

 

If walks truly did not matter, Henry Owens would be much higher on this list.  However, Owens sports a 4.5 BB/9 rate for 2014, which will severely limit his effectiveness unless he can throw more strikes.  Owens has three starts in 2014 where he allowed zero or one hits, but walked a total of 12 batters in those starts.  He projects as a solid #3 with the potential to be a #2 if he can improve his command.

 

Aaron Sanchez has truly elite stuff, but he struggles with his command (4.8 BB/9 for his career, 5.4 BB/9 in 2014).  He has the stuff to be a solid #2, but his poor command will likely make him into a backend starter who alternates between dominating brilliance and infuriatingly poor command.  He could make an appearance in Toronto by the end of 2014, but he will need to put together a string of good starts to do so.

 

Lucas Sims has the potential to be a solid #2 starter, with above-average fastball, curve ball and changeups.  His 2014 has been strange, as his strikeout rate has dropped to 5.5 K/9, while he has allowed as many home runs in eight starts as he allowed in 39 appearances (29 starts) in 2012 and 2013 combined (six).  He’s still a ways away from making his debut in Atlanta, but the Braves promote their pitchers when they are ready and when there is a need, so he could be in Atlanta by the end of 2015.

 

Jameson Taillon had a rollercoaster ride from mid-March until he had Tommy John surgery on April 10.  Despite the obvious set back, Taillon should be able to make his major league debut in mid-2015, when he will be 23.  If he can return close to what he was, he could be a solid #2/#3 pitcher to slot behind Gerrit Cole. If Taillon were healthy with an ERA below 4 and decent peripherals, he would be behind Dylan Bundy.

Matthew Foreman
Matthew Foreman is a baseball prospect writer for Rotoworld. He can also be found on Twitter.