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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 the pre-season top prospect has returned to the minors, one low-level prospect keeps charging and every pitcher in the top 10 has frontline potential.  Three pitchers are also a new category, Shut Down, for different reasons.  Additionally, I have selected the top three top pitching prospects from the 2014 draft to discuss.

 

Note: All statistics are current through Sunday, August 24.

 

Updated top-10

 

Updated July 8 Pre-Season Name MLB Team MiLB Team
1 MLB 2 Taijuan Walker Mariners Tacoma (AAA)
2 3 8 Lucas Giolito Nationals Hagerstown (Low-A)
3 1 3 Noah Syndergaard Mets Las Vegas (AAA)
4 4 4 Archie Bradley Diamondbacks Mobile (AA)
5 2 6 Jon Gray Rockies Tulsa (AA)
6 7 24 Andrew Heaney Marlins New Orleans (AAA)
7 6 N/R Hunter Harvey Orioles Delmarva (Low-A)
8 5 12 Dylan Bundy Orioles Aberdeen (SSA)
9 8 19 Kohl Stewart Twins Cedar Rapids (Low-A)
10 10 17 Julio Urias Dodgers Rancho Cucamonga (High-A)

 

Shut Down

 

Updated July 8 Pre-Season Name MLB Team MiLB Team
2 3 8 Lucas Giolito Nationals Hagerstown (Low-A)
7 6 N/R Hunter Harvey Orioles Delmarva (Low-A)
8 5 12 Dylan Bundy Orioles Aberdeen (SSA)

 

For Lucas Giolito, the results have backed up the frontline stuff, as he put up a 2.20 ERA, 1.000 WHIP and 10.1 K/9 over 98 innings across 20 starts for Low-A Hagerstown.  Giolito has the highest potential of any pitcher in the minor leagues, as he has true No. 1 potential packed into his small forward-sized frame.  He will likely spend 2015 in High-A, and is unlikely to have sufficient innings to reach the major leagues until the end of 2016 at the earliest.

 

For much of the season, Hunter Harvey was the other high-ceiling right-handed pitching prospect in the Low-A Southern Atlantic League. The 19-year old put up a 3.18 ERA, 1.129 WHIP, and 10.9 K/9 over 87 2/3 innings before being shut down with a strained flexor mass in his pitching elbow.  It’s not good news, but an off-season’s worth of rest should have him ready to go by spring training.  Much like Giolito, Harvey will likely spend 2015 in High-A, and make his major league debut toward the end of 2016.

 

Dylan Bundy’s return from Tommy John surgery was uneven, but as soon as he seemed to be turning a corner his season ended with a strained latissimus dorsi muscle.  His injury occurred while running in the outfield between starts.  Bundy only threw 41 1/3 innings during 2014, and should return to the major leagues in 2015.  It would have been better for Bundy to log more than 60 innings, but 20 innings won’t be a huge impediment.

 

Superb performance

 

Updated July 8 Pre-Season Name MLB Team MiLB Team
10 10 17 Julio Urias Dodgers Rancho Cucamonga (High-A)

 

Over his last seven starts, Urias has held opposing batters to a .154/.261/.240 line with a 13.9 K/9 and a 0.923 WHIP.  Over the course of the season, Urias has done the seemingly impossible, taming the offense-friendly California League, putting up a 2.50 ERA, 1.161 WHIP and an 11.4 K/9 while turning 18 in mid-August.  He does not have No. 1 potential, but he could be a solid No. 2 pitcher who becomes the first pitcher to make his debut as a teenager since Felix Hernandez in 2005.

 

Holding serve

 

Updated July 8 Pre-Season Name MLB Team MiLB Team
1 MLB 2 Taijuan Walker Mariners Tacoma (AAA)
3 1 3 Noah Syndergaard Mets Las Vegas (AAA)
4 4 4 Archie Bradley Diamondbacks Mobile (AA)
5 2 6 Jon Gray Rockies Tulsa (AA)
6 7 24 Andrew Heaney Marlins New Orleans (AAA)
9 8 19 Kohl Stewart Twins Cedar Rapids (Low-A)

 

At first blush, it appears that Taijuan Walker’s season has been a letdown.  Despite making just three starts for the Mariners, there have been a lot of good signs in 2014.  While his ERA in Triple-A has increased from 3.61 in 2013 to 4.57 in 2014, and his K/9 has dropped from 10.0 to 9.1, his BB/9 has gone from 4.2 to 3.1 and his H/9 has gone from 8.3 to 7.9, which have combined to lower his WHIP from 1.413 to 1.224.  He still profiles as a solid No. 2 who could be a No. 1 during his peak.

 

Noah Syndergaard has had a better season than his 4.85 ERA and 1.504 WHIP would indicate.  He has increased his innings from 117 2/3 in 2013 to 124 1/3 so far in 2014.  He has maintained his strikeout rate, putting up a solid 9.8 K/9 while experiencing an increase in his walk rate and hit rate due to the hitter friendly parks in the Pacific Coast League, most notably Cashman Field, his home park.  Syndergaard still profiles as a solid No. 2 starter, and should make his major league debut in early-2015.

 

It has been somewhat disconcerting that Archie Bradley did not return to Triple-A Reno after returning from a flexor strain to his throwing elbow.  However, it appears that Bradley may make his major league debut in September, as the Diamondbacks may not want to send him back to one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks and leagues in baseball.  Bradley has true No. 1 potential, but has struggled to put up a line similar to his spectacular 2013 season.  If he does not make his debut in September, he should be up in early-2015.

 

Jon Gray was put on the disabled list over the weekend in order to allow the Tulsa Drillers to skip his start before making another start during the Texas League playoffs.  Gray’s line has not been eye-popping, but a 3.91 ERA and 1.190 WHIP, coupled with his 8.2 K/9 in his first professional season demonstrate a great first step in his career.  There were rumors that Gray would make a mid-season major league debut, but with Gray’s inability to dominate Double-A and the Rockies far below .500, there is no reason to rush their top prospect.  Gray profiles as a No. 2 pitcher who shows flashes of a No. 1 in his peak, and should make his major league debut in 2015.

 

Andrew Heaney’s lines with Double-A Jacksonville and Triple-A New Orleans were solid, but not spectacular, as he put up a combined 3.17 ERA, 1.112 WHIP and 9.6 K/9.  Heaney struggled in the major leagues, getting knocked around after a solid first start against the light-hitting Mets.  He still profiles as a solid No. 2, and should return to the major leagues to start 2015, if not shortly thereafter.

 

Kohl Stewart’s season has been more solid than spectacular, as he has put up a 2.59 ERA and a 1.138 WHIP to go with his 6.4 K/9 in the pitching-friendly Midwest League.  He has shown improvements in his pitches over the course of the season, and has continued to pitch well as the Twins have decreased the frequency of his starts in order to control his innings.  He has logged 87 innings in 2014, and should be in the major leagues in mid-2016.

 

New Draftees (listed alphabetically)

 

Pre-Season Name MLB Team MiLB Team
Draftees Aaron Nola Phillies Reading (AA)
Draftees Tyler Kolek Marlins GCL (Rookie)
Draftees Carlos Rodon White Sox Charlotte (AAA)

 

*Note: If the Astros and Brady Aiken had been able to reach an agreement, he would have been on his list, expanding it to four pitchers.

 

Aaron Nola is a great athlete whose fastball sits in the mid-90s and can touch 96 when necessary.  He has great command of his fastball, but has struggled with his change-up and slider.  Both of his secondary pitches have the potential to be above average in short order.  The Phillies have aggressively pushed Nola through their minor league system, and he has already made four starts in Double-A.  He has yet to dominate Double-A hitters, but has looked the part of a Double-A pitcher and top prospect.  Nola will battle with J.P. Crawford to be the top prospect in the Phillies system, and he has the potential to be a solid No. 2 pitcher who will fit between Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee.

 

Tyler Kolek is the size of many NFL tight ends, as he is officially listed at 6’5” and 260 lbs.  He was a defensive end in high school, but only played baseball as a senior in order to improve his draft stock.  Kolek’s fastball regularly sits 98-99, and has hit 102, which is unprecedented for a pitcher.  His fastball has a good downward plane and displays heavy sink, giving it the potential to be a true elite fastball.  Kolek also throws a mid-80s slider that has the potential to be above average.  He also throws a curve ball and a change-up, but both are works in progress.  He has the potential to be a true No. 1, and will likely be pushed quickly, as is consistent with the Marlins organizational philosophy.

 

Going into the draft, Carlos Rodon was the presumptive first overall pick but slid to third overall due to a step back in performance.  Rodon is a lefty with a mid-90s fastball and a mid-80s slider with two-plane movement that’s near the same class as Craig Kimbrel’s dive-bombing masterpiece.  He also throws an average change-up that has the potential to improve with increased repetition.  The knocks on Rodon are twofold.  First, that he has below-average command which may never improve sufficiently to make him more than a fringe No. 2 pitcher, and may make him into a No. 3.   Second, he threw an immense number of innings and pitches in college, totaling 346 innings over three years and frequently exceeded 100 pitches in starts, including multiple starts over 130 pitches.  If Rodon can hold up, a major question given the state of injuries to pitchers, he has the potential to be a true No. 1 pitcher giving the White Sox the best lefty-lefty punch outside of Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.  Rodon may make his major league debut in September, and is a near-lock to be in the major leagues before May 2015.

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