Pitching has become the dominant side of the hitting/pitching struggle at the moment, and this prospect list is a great example why. It is filled with hard-throwing pitchers with high strikeout rates, many of whom have the potential to be top of the rotation stalwarts, while some will find themselves at the back of the bullpen, shutting down games.
The rankings are broken into three parts: the top 10 prospects in order, the next 10 prospects in alphabetical order, a top international prospect signed in 2015 and some prospects who could provide some fantasy value in 2015 but are not among the top 15. As always, these rankings are done with fantasy baseball in mind, generally focusing on a standard 5x5 league, but other statistics (e.g., K/9) are considered.
Top 10 Prospects:
1. Lucas Giolito, RHP, Washington Nationals
Highest Level: Low-A Hagerstown (South Atlantic League)
2014 Statistics: 2.20 ERA, 1.000 WHIP and 10.1 K/9 in 98 innings with Low-A Hagerstown
Armed with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and can touch higher speeds, a 12-6 curveball, and a work-in-progress changeup, Giolito has the raw talent and work ethic to be the rare true #1 pitcher. The Nationals are being very careful with Giolito, who had Tommy John surgery in 2012, and he is unlikely to reach DC until late-2016 at the very earliest. He has the potential to be a 230-inning workhorse with a sub-2.50 ERA and a K/9 in excess of 9.
2. Noah Syndergaard, RHP, New York Mets
Highest Level: AAA Las Vegas (Pacific Coast League)
2014 Statistics: 4.60 ERA, 1.481 WHIP, and 9.8 K/9 in 133 innings with AAA Las Vegas
One of the two main pieces acquired by the Mets as part of the R.A. Dickey trade, Syndergaard had his worst statistical season as a result of the improved hitters in AAA and the offense-friendly environment in Las Vegas. Nicknamed Thor, Syndergaard uses his 6’6” 240-pound frame to combine his mid-90s fastball, hard-breaking curveball and average slider to be an innings-eating stalwart for years to come. He has the potential to be a 230-inning workhorse with a sub-3 ERA and a K/9 in excess of 9.
3. Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Highest Level: AAA Reno (Pacific Coast League)
2014 Statistics: 4.12 ERA, 1.482 WHIP, and 7.6 K/9 in 54 2/3 innings with AA Mobile; 5.18 ERA, 1.562 WHIP and 8.5 K/9 in 24 1/3 innings with AAA Reno
Bradley struggled in his introduction to AAA hitters, then missed nearly two months with a mild flexor strain in his right (throwing) elbow. After a rehab start in Rookie ball, Bradley went back to AA Mobile where he had an uneven season, logging innings in a league he thoroughly dominated in 2013. Bradley’s control and command seemed to take a step backward in 2014, and his velocity decreased, raising questions as to Bradley’s long-term potential. Diamondbacks GM Dave Stewart indicated that Bradley will open 2015 back in AAA Reno, but he should make his major league debut in 2015. Bradley has the ceiling of a 200-plus inning workhorse with a sub-3 ERA and a K/9 in excess of 9, but his effectiveness will depend on his ability to improve his control and command.
4. Jon Gray, RHP, Colorado Rockies
Highest Level: AA Tulsa (Texas League)
2014 Statistics: 3.91 ERA, 1.190 WHIP and 8.2 K/9 in 124 1/3 innings with AA Tulsa
Gray had a solid first full season as a professional, employing his fastball, slider and changeup to overpower AA hitters. Gray’s lack of a curveball works well with the Rockies’ belief that curveballs do not work properly at altitude, leading to the Rockies’ attempt to corner the market on pitching prospects with good sliders. Gray has the size of a workhorse, as he is listed at 6’4” and 235-pounds. He has the potential to rack up 200+ strikeouts while throwing 200-plus innings, but may opt to go for groundballs in an environment that is as offense-friendly as Coors field. He should make his major league debut in 2015.
5. Dylan Bundy, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
Highest Level: Baltimore in 2012 (American League)
2014 Statistics: 0.60 ERA, 0.867 WHIP and 13.2 K/9 in 15 innings with Short Season-A Aberdeen; 4.78 ERA, 1.557 WHIP and 5.1 K/9 in 26 1/3 innings with High-A Frederick
In 2012, Dylan Bundy looked like the best pitcher not in the major leagues, but he missed the entirety of 2013, eventually having Tommy John surgery in late-June 2013. Bundy was uneven in his return, where reports of diminished velocity were an unwelcome addition to his lackluster performance in the Carolina League, which he thoroughly dominated in 2012. Additionally, he was shut down early due to a strained latissimus dorsi muscle, which controls the shoulder as it rotates toward the body (as it does when a pitcher throws). He rarely had his full arsenal of pitches at the same time in 2014. If he can get it back together, he still has the potential to be an ace. Despite only being 22, 2015 will be a big year to determine if Bundy can regain his prior form.
6. Julio Urias, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Highest Level: High-A Rancho Cucamonga (California League)
2014 Statistics: 2.36 ERA, 1.106 WHIP and 11.2 K/9 in 87 2/3 innings with High-A Rancho Cucamonga
Urias wasn’t just the youngest player to play in the High-A California League in 2014, he was more than two years younger than the next-closest player in the California League and the youngest player in any full season league. While he did not turn 18 until mid-August, he possesses a low-to-mid-90s fastball, good curveball and an advanced changeup, Urias’ arsenal is advanced for his age and he projects as a solid #2 pitcher. Listed at 5’11” and 160-pounds, Urias continues to fill out as he matures, but his size could be an impediment to his durability. The Dodgers will be conservative with his development, but he could see the major leagues in 2016. Urias projects as low-walk, high-strikeout lefty who could provide value immediately.
7. Andrew Heaney, LHP, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Highest Level: Miami (National League)
2014 Statistics: 2.35 ERA, 1.081 WHIP and 8.7 K/9 in 53 2/3 innings with AA Jacksonville; 3.87 ERA, 1.171 WHIP and 9.8 K/9 in 83 2/3 innings with AAA New Orleans; 5.83 ERA, 1.330 WHIP and 6.1 K/9 in 29 1/3 innings with Miami
Heaney spent 2014 advancing from AA to the National League, ending the season back with the Marlins after spending two months back with AAA New Orleans. He was dealt to the Dodgers in the Dee Gordon trade before being flipped to the Angels for Howie Kendrick, resulting in his thanking the Dodgers for being a great organization during his one day as a Dodger. Heaney slots in as the fifth starter for the Angels, though he could be sent down to AAA Salt Lake when Garrett Richards is healthy. Heaney has the potential to be a solid #2 pitcher, striking out 170-plus batters while putting up a sub-3 ERA.
8. Mark Appel, RHP, Houston Astros
Highest Level: AA Corpus Christi (Texas League)
2014 Statistics: 9.74 ERA, 1.917 WHIP and 8.1 K/9 in 44 1/3 innings with High-A Lancaster; 3.69 ERA, 1.231 WHIP and 8.8 K/9 in 39 innings with AA Corpus Christi
Appel’s 2014 was a tale of five parts: his first four starts, where he struggled; his brutal fifth start where he allowed 10 hits and 10 runs while retiring only four batters; his next six starts where he continued to struggle, but pitched better and saw an uptick in his K/9; his final start in the California League and promotion to AA (complete with kerfuffle over comments after a bullpen session in Minute Maid Park); and his general success in AA and dominance in the Arizona Fall League. Appel’s fastball/slider/change-up combination employs all three of his above-average pitches to give him the potential of being a solid #2 pitcher. He has the potential to strikeout 170-plus with a sub-3 ERA, and could make his major league debut in late-2015, though 2016 is more likely.
9. Kohl Stewart, RHP, Minnesota Twins
Highest Level: Low-A Cedar Rapids (Midwest League)
2014 Statistics: 2.59 ERA, 1.138 WHIP and 6.4 K/9 in 87 innings with Low-A Cedar Rapids
Stewart’s first full professional season was more solid than spectacular, quietly logging innings and honing his craft while other Twins prospects generated more buzz. However, the former 4th overall pick’s solid season did not go unnoticed, as his mid-90s fastball and hard-snapping slider drew raves as pitches that were both already above-average, with the potential to significantly improve. Stewart is also working on a changeup and a curveball that are both below average, but have the potential to be average pitches. Stewart has the potential to be a solid #2 pitcher, striking out 170-plus batters with a sub-3 ERA.
10. Hunter Harvey, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
Highest Level: Low-A Delmarva (South Atlantic League)
2014 Statistics: 3.18 ERA, 1.129 WHIP and 10.9 K/9 in 87 2/3 innings with Low-A Delmarva
In 2014, Hunter Harvey, the son of former closer Bryan, gave numerous glimpses of his potential as a frontline starter. He had a 10-strikeout game in mid-May, and a four start stretch in June and July where he struck out 32 batters while allowing 14 hits, six walks and hitting one batter over 22 1/3 innings. His season ended a month early, when the Orioles shut him down with a strained flexor mass in his right (throwing) elbow. He did not need surgery and has said his arm “feels great” while participating in the Orioles off-season throwing program. Harvey has the potential to be a #2 with high strikeout totals due to a mid-90s fastball and a hammer curveball, but he may be held back by a lack of a third above-average pitch and command that is average at best.
Next 10 Prospects (Alphabetical Order):
Jose Berrios, RHP, Minnesota Twins (1.97 ERA, 1.052 WHIP and 10.2 K/9 in 96 innings with High-A Fort Myers; 3.54 ERA, 1.107 WHIP and 6.2 K/9 in 40 2/3 innings with AA New Britain; 18.00 ERA, 3.333 WHIP and 9.0 K/9 in 3 innings with AAA Rochester). After a solid five starts to open 2014, Berrios caught fire over his next 11 starts, striking out 89 over 71 1/3 innings, holding opposing batters to a .187/.245/.259 line. Berrios’s K/9 dropped after his promotion to AA, but he showed enough to be a potential #3 pitcher. On pure talent, Berrios should see time in Minneapolis in 2015, but is unlikely due to a full rotation as well as Trevor May and Alex Meyer waiting in the wings.
Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (1.74 ERA, 1.054 WHIP and 11.4 K/9 in 124 1/3 innings with High-A Bradenton). Glasnow possesses a mid-90s fastball that can hit 100, a 12-6 curveball and the makings of a serviceable changeup. He has the potential to be a true frontline pitcher with 200-plus strikeouts, but high walk totals may make the 6’7” righty into a shutdown closer. 2015 will be a big year, as AA hitters are more selective and could further expose Glasnow’s shortcomings.
Tyler Kolek, RHP, Marlins (2014 draft, 1st round, 2nd pick). Kolek, officially listed at 6’5” and 260-pounds, has the desired size and arsenal to turn into a solid #2 pitcher. Fastball sat in the upper-90s as an amateur, but more mid-90s as a professional. Secondary offerings are all projection at this point, and he is unlikely to reach Miami until 2018.
Sean Manaea, LHP, Kansas City Royals (3.11 ERA, 1.282 WHIP and 10.8 K/9 in 121 2/3 innings with High-A Wilmington). After a rough start, Manaea made some adjustments and dominated over his last 10 starts, holding opposing hitters to a .173/.265/.197 line with a 9.9 K/9, including a 7-inning, three hit, no walk, 10-K performance to end the season. Potential to be a #2 pitcher, Manaea looks like a steal as the 34th pick in the 2013 draft.
Aaron Nola, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies (2014 draft, 1st round, 7th pick). A great athlete who uses a mid-90s fastball, as well as improving secondary pitches. Has good fastball command and could be in the majors in 2015, especially given the Phillies’ lack of pitching depth at the major league level. Potential to be a solid mid-rotation starter, but could be a bit more.
Carlos Rodon, LHP, Chicago White Sox (2014 draft, 1st round, 3rd pick). Rondon has a major league-ready fastball that sits in the mid-90s as well as a nasty slider with two-plane movement that is one of the best in professional baseball. However, his command is well below average and may hold him back and there are concerns about his workload in college, where he routinely exceeded 100 pitches. Ace upside, but it hinges on his command; likely to reach majors in 2015, but could be as a reliever.
Braden Shipley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks (3.74 ERA, 1.248 WHIP and 8.1 K/9 in 45 2/3 innings with Low-A South Bend; 4.03 ERA, 1.293 WHIP and 10.1 K/9 in 60 1/3 innings with High-A Visalia; 3.60 ERA, 1.200 WHIP and 8.1 K/9 in 20 innings with AA Mobile). Shipley’s overall numbers don’t tell the whole story of his 2014, his early struggles at Low-A and High-A gave way to big steps forward in his performance and consistency. He has the potential to be a #3 starter with a fluid delivery, mid-90s fastball, changeup that seems to die when it reaches the plate and work-in-progress curveball.
Lewis Thorpe, LHP, Minnesota Twins (3.52 ERA, 1.367 WHIP and 10.0 K/9 in 71 2/3 innings with Low-A Cedar Rapids). As an 18-year old, Thorpe seemed to improve as the season went on, lowering his OPS against from 840 in June to 693 in July and 589 in August. The southpaw from Australia, Thorpe has the potential to be a solid #2, relying on a low-90s fastball and a changeup, curveball, and slider and all have the potential to be above-average.
Jameson Taillon, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (Missed 2014 – Tommy John Surgery; 3.67 ERA, 1.341 WHIP and 8.6 K/9 in 110 1/3 innings with AA Altoona; 3.89 ERA, 1.270 WHIP and 9.0 K/9 in 37 innings with AAA Indianapolis in 2013). Mid-90s fastball with the potential for an elite curveball and above-average changeup, Taillon has the ceiling of a #2 starter and the floor of an innings-eating #4. Looked as if he would reach the Steel City in 2014, now likely delayed until 2016.
Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Kansas City Royals (1.93 ERA, 1.929 WHIP and 9.6 K/9 in 4 2/3 innings with Rookie level Idaho Falls). Zimmer missed nearly all of 2014, making six appearances in rehab games in the Rookie level Pioneer League and three outings in the Arizona Fall League, totaling 14 1/3 innings. Zimmer has frontline potential, but after essentially missing an entire season and having a debridement procedure to repair his right (throwing) shoulder labrum and rotator cuff, his health and slowed development have led to more questions than his performance.
Special Case: International Prospects
Yoan Lopez, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks are going all-in on Cuban defectors this off season, giving Yoan Lopez an $8.25 million signing bonus and agreeing to a six-year $68.5 million contract with Yasmany Tomas. Lopez is a 6’3” 190-pound righty whose fastball sits in the low-90s, but there were reports of hitting 100 during workouts with MLB teams. Like many Cuban pitchers, he throws an array of pitches, including a curveball, slider, changeup and cutter. Despite throwing a variety of pitches, Lopez is viewed as many as being a reliever. Lopez is likely to start in A ball, and is unlikely to play in the majors in 2015.
2015 Fantasy Value (Alphabetical Order):
Matt Barnes, RHP, Boston Red Sox. Good fastball and size to be a major league pitcher. Needs to be more consistent with secondary pitches, but everything seemed to click in August and looks the part of solid #3 starter.
Marco Gonzalez, LHP, St. Louis Cardinals. 2013 draft pick made the jump from AA to the majors, making his debut when the Cardinals needed a pitcher. Best pitch is a changeup, but fastball is ordinary and limits overall ceiling to a #3 pitcher. Likely first pitcher called up in St. Louis.
Kendall Graveman, RHP, Oakland A’s. Currently penciled in as the #5 starter in Oakland, Graveman is a solid back of the rotation option. Lacks upside, but Billy Beane has had a lot of success with low-upside, MLB-ready pitchers. Threw a combined 172 innings in 2014, so an innings limit is unlikely.
Nick Kingham, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates. Threw 159 innings between AA and AAA. Mid-90s fastball, hard-breaking curveball and average changeup. Projects as a #3 pitcher; best pitching prospect of those who could see time in Pittsburgh before September cup of coffee.
Alex Meyer, RHP, Pittsburgh Twins. Despite a mid-to-upper-90s fastball that touches 100 and a power knuckle-curveball, Meyer projects as #3 at best due to below average command and control that often plagues taller pitchers. Blocked by the Twins’ suddenly full rotation, Meyer should be the first pitcher called up when they need an extra start.
Henry Owens, LHP, Boston Red Sox. Owens’ walk rate has dropped at each level from High-A to AA to AAA, and his strikeout rate remains robust, signaling he may be ready to pitch in Fenway Park. Concerns about a fastball that sits around 90 are common, but he will continue to rise as long as he keeps retiring hitters.
Anthony Ranaudo, RHP, Boston Red Sox. He received a $2.55 million signing bonus as the Red Sox felt he had frontline potential when he was drafted, but lackluster strikeout totals and pitches have made Ranaudo look more like a potential #5 starter who logs 200-plus innings. Ranaudo made seven starts for the Red Sox in 2014 and could be an up and down guy in 2015.