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Prospect Positional: SP

by Mike Rosenbaum
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

The rankings for pitchers are broken into two parts: the top 15 prospects in order and the next 15 prospects in alphabetical order. As always, these rankings are done from a scouting perspective but with fantasy baseball in mind, generally focusing on standard 5x5 league categories – though other statistics (e.g., K/9, BB/9 and K/BB) are considered – and long-term, dynasty-league value.

 

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The Top 15:

 

1. Lucas Giolito, RHP, Washington Nationals

2016 Opening Day level: Harrisburg Senators (AA)

 

Giolito opened the 2015 season at the Nats’ complex before heading out to High-A Potomac in early May, where, unsurprisingly, the 21-year-old right-hander made quick work of the Carolina League en route to a promotion to Double-A Harrisburg in late July. On the season, the 6-foot-6, 255-pounder posted a 3.15 ERA and struck out a career-best 131 batters while also eclipsing the 100-inning mark (117 IP) for the first time. Giolito has the highest ceiling for a pitcher in the minors, displaying ace potential with two double-plus pitches in a mid-to-upper-90s fastball and a curveball with extreme depth and tight spin. He’ll begin 2016 back at Harrisburg where he’ll work on refining his changeup – a third plus pitch – command and improving his feel for pitching with runners on base. But given his ceiling as one of the best starters in baseball, it might not be more than a few months before the Nationals decide to turn him loose against big league hitters.

 

Impact categories: W, K, ERA, WHIP

 

2. Steven Matz, LHP, New York Mets

2016 Opening Day level: MLB

 

Matz made up for time lost due to Tommy John surgery in 2009 with a quick ascent of the Mets’ system, culminating with an impressive showing in the major leagues in 2015. The left-hander breezed through his 14 starts at Triple-A Las Vegas to earn a big league callup in late June. He missed most of July and August with a partial tear of the lat muscle in his left side but returned in September and made the Mets’ postseason rotation. Matz misses bats and generates a lot of ground balls with his heavy, low- to mid-90s fastball, while his curveball and changeup each have the potential to be at least above-average with further refinement. After a dominant performance (5 IP, 0 H, 6 K) against the Cubs in his final spring start, Matz appears poised for big things in 2016 as he opens the season as the Mets’ No. 4 starter.

 

Impact categories: W, K, ERA, WHIP

 

3. Julio Urias, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers

2016 Opening Day level: Oklahoma City Dodgers (AAA)

 

Far and away the youngest pitcher in Double-A to start the 2015 season, Urias continued his surge toward the Major Leagues with a strong showing at Tulsa, only to miss two months in the middle of the season after undergoing cosmetic surgery to remove a benign tumor from his left eye. The precocious southpaw wasn’t as sharp when he returned to the mound in July, but that didn’t deter the Dodgers from promoting him to Triple-A Oklahoma City for a pair of late-season starts. Urias’ stuff and feel for his craft are uniquely special (and not just in context of his age), highlighting his ceiling as a potential ace, and even though his 2015 campaign didn’t unfold as expected, the youngster did make strides with his command by walking only 2.0 batters per nine innings in Double-A. Though he’s ticketed for Triple-A in 2016, don’t expect the Dodgers to rush Urias to the big leagues. That said, it would be a surprise if they didn’t call on him to contribute in some capacity later in the year.

 

Impact categories: W, K, ERA, WHIP

 

4. Alex Reyes, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals

2016 Opening Day level: Suspended

 

Reyes carved up hitters in the Florida State League during the first half of the season, posting a 2.26 ERA and 96 strikeouts across 63 2/3 innings. He still walked 4.4 batters per nine innings in that span, but his overwhelming success inspired the Cardinals to promote him to Double-A Springfield in late July. Reyes’ dominance carried over to the Texas League as hoped, as he registered a 3.12 ERA and struck out 52 batters in 34 2/3 frames. Control and command has been an issue for Reyes early in his career, but his combination of pure stuff – highlighted by a fastball that can hit triple digits and a filthy, 12-to-6 curveball – and bat-missing ability (career 11.9 K/9) is among the best in the Minor leagues. The hard-throwing righty projects as a potential No. 2 starter at maturity given his combination of athleticism, size and power arsenal, and his second-half success in Double-A suggests he might be ready to debut as soon as mid-to-late 2016. However, he’ll begin the season on the restricted list after testing positive for marijuana while playing in the Arizona Fall League.

 

Impact categories: W, K, ERA, WHIP

 

5. Blake Snell, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays

2016 Opening Day level: Durham Bulls (AAA)

 

Arguably the top pitcher in the minors in 2015, Snell opened the season with 46 consecutive scoreless innings – a majority of which he logged in the Double-A Southern League – and ultimately paced all qualified starters in the minors in ERA (1.41) while also finishing fourth in strikeouts (163). The left-hander put a bow on his campaign at the end of the year with a strong performance at Triple-A Durham, where he posted a 1.83 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 57/13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 44 1/3 innings (nine starts). This, of course, came after dominant stops at High-A Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery. The 6-foot-4, 180-pound southpaw has all the makings of a frontline starter with a fastball that touches the mid-90s, an above-average breaking ball and a changeup that has double-plus potential, and he displayed better command last season in spite of all the challenging assignments. With a strong start to his season back in Triple-A, Snell could be one of the first big-name pitching prospects to debut in the Major Leagues in 2016.

 

Impact categories: K, ERA, WHIP

 

6. Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates

2016 Opening Day level: Indianapolis Indians (AAA)

 

Glasnow dominated during his respective 2013 and 2014 campaigns in the South Atlantic and Florida State Leagues, combining for a stellar 1.96 ERA, .158 opponents’ batting average and 12.3 K/9 over 234 2/3 innings. However, since he also posted a 4.5 BB/9 in that span, many within the baseball industry expected the right-hander’s below-average command to be exposed in Double-A. Instead, Glasnow made considerable progress at the more advanced level, as his improved strike-throwing ability and changeup led to immediate success in the Eastern League. Though his command regressed following a late-season promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis, he still managed to post an impressive 2.20 ERA and notch 48 strikeouts in 41 innings. A 6-foot-8 right-hander, Glasnow boasts an explosive fastball in the mid- to upper-90s and couples it with a plus curveball, and he’s able to miss bats with relative ease with both offerings even when his command is off. Based on how Pittsburgh has handled other high-profile pitching prospects in previous years, Glasnow will likely spend most of 2016 at Triple-A Indianapolis but could be in the mix for a call-up during the final months of the regular season.

 

Impact categories: K, ERA

 

7. Jose Berrios, RHP, Minnesota Twins

2016 Opening Day level: Rochester Red Wings (AAA)

 

Berrios hit the ground running in 2015 with a dominant first half at Double-A Chattanooga. His success continued following a promotion to the International League, where the 21-year-old right-hander went 6-2 with a 2.62 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 83/14 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 75 2/3 innings across 12 starts for Triple-A Rochester. Berrios improved the quality of his strikes with his fastball while also making developmental strides with his slider and changeup as he learned to throw both pitches for strikes with greater frequency. On the season, the Puerto Rico native led all minor league hurlers with 175 strikeouts. With little left to prove in the minor leagues, Berrios will bide his time at Triple-A Rochester as he awaits an inevitable callup.

 

Impact categories: W, K, ERA

 

8. Anderson Espinoza, RHP, Boston Red Sox

2016 Opening Day level: Greenville Drive (A)

 

The Red Sox knew they were getting something special in Espinoza when they signed him for $1.8 million during the 2014 international signing period – but what he did during his 2015 professional debut surpassed all reasonable expectations. Espinoza made only four starts in the Dominican Summer League before the Red Sox decided he was ready for a greater challenge. They sent Espinoza stateside to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League where he was nothing short of dominant, posting a 0.68 ERA and 0.83 WHIP with 40 strikeouts in 40 innings (10 starts). He then capped his season with one start at Low-A Greenville, which is almost unheard of for a 17-year-old pitcher. Though he’s somewhat undersized at 6-feet, 160 pounds, Espinoza showcases elite arm strength with an effortless, mid- to upper-90s fastball that reportedly crept into the triple digits as the season progressed. The 18-year-old right-hander has good feel for his curveball, a future above-average offering thrown with tight spin and he’s already adept at mixing in his changeup. As if that weren’t enough, he also demonstrates advanced control and command of his three-pitch mix. He’s years away from the big leagues, but, man, is this kid’s future bright.

 

Impact categories: W, K, ERA, WHIP

 

9. Cody Reed, LHP, Cincinnati Reds

2016 Opening Day level: Louisville Bats (AAA)

 

A second-round selection by the Royals in 2013, Reed struggled for two seasons in the low minors before breaking out in 2015. The left-hander had always showcased a power arm and projectable talent, but it took an improvement to his delivery and control for things to finally click. Reed’s development caught the attention of the rebuilding Reds, who went on to acquire him along with lefties Brandon Finnegan and John Lamb in the Johnny Cueto deadline trade. At 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, Reed boasts two potential plus pitches in a mid-90s fastball and an upper-80s slider that has excellent, sharp tilt and late break. He also features a changeup that projects as above-average at maturity, and his entire arsenal plays up thanks to his deceptive arm slot and overall mound presence. Command will determine Reed’s ceiling, but there’s enough there presently to project him as at least a No. 3 starter. After he nearly cracked the Reds’ Opening Day rotation with an outstanding spring in big league camp (2.87 ERA, 15 2/3 IP, 16 K), Reed will begin 2016 with some needed Triple-A seasoning before a likely mid-season callup.  

 

Impact categories: K, ERA

 

10. Sean Newcomb, LHP, Atlanta Braves

2016 Opening Day level: Mississippi Braves (AA)

 

Other than Blake Snell, no left-handed pitching prospect was more impressive in 2015 than Newcomb, whom the Braves acquired from the Angels during the offseason in the Andrelton Simmons trade. The 22-year-old jumped on the fast track to the Major Leagues with his success across three full-season levels, making stops at Low-A Burlington and High-A Inland Empire before moving up to Double-A Arkansas. Overall, Newcomb posted a 2.38 ERA with 168 strikeouts in 136 innings. The 6-foot-5, 245-pound southpaw has a nasty four-pitch mix that includes a mid-90s fastball and swing-and-miss curveball, but he currently relies more on stuff than command – a notion supported by his shaky performance (1 2/3 IP, 6 ER, 6 BB) this spring in big league camp. and therefore will need further refinement before he’s offered a crack at the Major Leagues.

 

Impact categories: K, ERA

 

11. Robert Stephenson, RHP, Cincinnati Reds

2016 Opening Day level: Cincinnati Reds (MLB)

 

After struggling at Double-A Pensacola in 2014, Stephenson made strides last season in his return to the Southern League before moving up to Triple-A Louisville for the second half. Although his success carried over to the International League, the Reds opted not to call up the right-hander in September, instead turning to a host of other young arms. On the season, Stephenson registered a 3.83 ERA with 140 strikeouts in 134 innings between the two stops. Stephenson has one of the highest ceilings among pitching prospects, with the potential for three plus-or-better pitches. Though he dialed back some of his velocity in favor of more control and command, it didn’t impact his ability to miss bats – a testament to his outstanding stuff. Originally ticketed for a return to Triple-A in 2016, Stephenson was named to the Reds’ Opening Day rotation in the place of injured Homer Bailey. The 23-year-old righty will make his highly anticipated debut on Thursday against the Phillies.

 

Impact categories: K, ERA

 

12. Sean Manaea, LHP, Oakland Athletics

2016 Opening Day level: Nashville Sounds (AAA)

 

Manaea was a candidate to go No. 1 overall in the 2013 draft before a hip injury derailed his junior season at Indiana State. He ultimately fell down the board to No. 34, where he was selected by the Royals and subsequently signed for a supplemental first-round record $3.55 million. In July, he was shipped to the A's in the Ben Zobrist deal. The left-hander was nothing short of dominant after the trade, going 6-0 with a 1.90 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 42 2/3 innings across seven starts for Double-A Midland, the eventual Texas League champions. Manaea, 24, features a lively fastball at 90-96 mph that plays up due to his natural deception, and he pairs it with a slider that will flash plus as well as changeup that continues to improve. After answering concerns about his ability to hold velocity and overall durability with a strong 2015 campaign that carried over into the Arizona Fall League, Manaea should become a main cog in the A’s rotation in 2016. 

 

Impact categories: W, K, ERA

 

13. Jose De Leon, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers

2016 Opening Day level: Tulsa Drillers (AA)

 

A 24th-round draft pick in 2013, De Leon put himself on the map in 2014 with an impressive full-season debut and then took an even bigger step forward last season at High-A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Tulsa. De Leon was one of the top performers in the minor leagues by all standards, as he finished the season with the second-best strikeout percentage (35.1%) and strikeout rate (12.8 K/9) among all qualified pitchers, while also ranking fifth in strikeouts with 163. The 23-year-old righty usually sits in the mid-90s with his fastball – though he operated more between 89-92 mph during spring training, concerning many scouts who saw him – and he pairs it with a plus slider that has excellent tilt and hard biting action. He also shows feel for a changeup that has solid-average potential, and he continues to make strides repeating his delivery and throwing strikes. Meanwhile, the fact that the Dodgers deemed De Leon untouchable at last year’s trade deadline – and once again this offseason during the Winter Meetings – is a strong indicator that the organization expects him to make an impact in the Majors in 2016. First, however, he’ll need to put his subpar spring performance behind him and get back on track in the Texas League.

 

Impact categories: W, K

 

14. Jeff Hoffman, RHP, Colorado Rockies

2016 Opening Day level: Albuquerque Isotopes (AAA)

 

Toronto grabbed Hoffman with the No. 9 overall pick in the 2014 draft, investing in the right-hander’s upside even though he had Tommy John surgery just months before the draft. He made his long awaited pro debut in late May at High-A Dunedin and was promoted to Double-A New Hampshire after only seven starts. In July, Hoffman was dealt to the Rockies in the trade that sent All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to the Blue Jays. The right-hander’s fastball was routinely clocked in the high 90s (and as high as 99 mph) during the summer and features late sinking action. Hoffman’s curveball is a hammer in the high 80s with tight spin that gives it downer action, and his changeup, though currently on the firm side, projects as at least average. He doesn’t generate as many whiffs as he should given his high-octane stuff, but the strikeouts should come in a hurry for Hoffman as he learns to attack hitters on the inner half and open up the plate. He stands to benefit from a full season in Triple-A, though his quick progress up the ladder so far suggests the Rockies might have trouble keeping him in the Minors.

 

Impact categories: W, K

 

15. Jake Thompson, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies

2016 Opening Day level: Lehigh Valley IronPigs (AAA)

 

A second-round pick of the Tigers in 2012, Thompson was dealt to Texas for Joakim Soria at the 2014 trade deadline. He was traded once more the following year, this time to the Phillies as part of the six-player package the Rangers used to land Cole Hamels. The right-hander offered the Phillies a glimpse of his potential following the trade, going 5-1 with a 1.80 ERA in seven starts at Double-A Reading. Thompson has legitimate swing-and-miss stuff, armed with a fastball in the low- to mid-90s as well as slider that has long been considered a plus pitch, but his command has suffered since he first reached Double-A in 2014, and he’ll need to thoroughly develop his changeup to reach his potential as a mid-rotation starter. The ceiling isn’t huge with Thompson, but there’s little doubt that he has the stuff and durability to become a quality big league as well fantasy starter by the end of 2016.

 

Impact categories: K, ERA

 

The Next 15 (Alphabetical Order):

 

Brady Aiken, LHP, Cleveland Indians (Extended spring training)

Kolby Allard, LHP, Atlanta Braves (Extended spring training)

Yadier Alvarez, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (Extended spring training)

Mark Appel, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies (Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs)

Aaron Blair, RHP, Atlanta Braves (Triple-A Gwinnett Braves)

Carson Fulmer, RHP, Chicago White Sox (Double-A Birmingham Barons)

Michael Fulmer, RHP, Detroit Tigers (Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens)

Jonathan Gray, RHP, Colorado Rockies (MLB – Disabled list)

Grant Holmes, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (High-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes)

Brent Honeywell, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays (High-A Charlotte Stone Crabs)

Francis Martes, RHP, Houston Astros (Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks)

Braden Shipley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks (Triple-A Reno Aces)

Jameson Taillon, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (Triple-A Indianapolis Indians)

Dillon Tate, RHP, Texas Rangers (Low-A Hickory Crawdads)

Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Kansas City Royals (Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals)