There are numerous young starting pitchers that are impressing around baseball, with a whole new crop seemingly on the cusp of joining them. Who is the best of the group? Let’s take a look at how things stack up:
10. Dylan Bundy – Baltimore Orioles – 20 years old
Widely regarded as the top pitching prospect in baseball, Bundy reached the majors out of the bullpen late in 2012 (his first professional season) making two appearances. While it doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s ticketed for the majors in 2013, it clearly is a step in the right direction.
Bundy dominated two levels of Single-A, with 106 K vs. 20 BB over 87.0 innings of work. He wasn’t quite as dominant in three Double-A starts, with a 13-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 16.2 IP.
The sky is the limit for Bundy, who likely will open the season back at Double-A. Once he proves he can routinely get upper-level minor leaguers out he should return to Baltimore, where he has a chance to impress. The question is, will that be in 2013 or 2014?
9. Matt Moore – Tampa Bay Rays – 23 years old
Can he harness his control? That’s the one thing standing between Moore and superstardom. In his first full season in the Major Leagues he posted a 3.81 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and nearly a strikeout per inning (175 K over 177.1 IP).
Over his minor league career he posted a 13.42 K/9 and 3.84 BB/9. While his control was better at the upper levels (2.47 BB/9 in 18 Double-A starts and 3.06 in 9 Triple-A starts), it clearly didn’t translate last season. That said, his 3.59 BB/9 in the second half is certainly good enough to lead to tremendous success.
Time will tell if he can put it all together in 2013, but with a fastball that averaged 94.4 mph last season and the potential to lead the league in strikeouts he could easily progress to the upper echelon.
8. Matt Harvey – New York Mets – 23 years old
The numbers upon his major league debut were impressive, with a 2.73 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 10.62 K/9 and 3.94 BB/9. We can dissect them and find reasons to be concerned (like a 24.5 percent line drive rate or an 81.3 percent strand rate), but it was a small sample size.
What Harvey brings to the table appears to transcend the numbers. He demands perfection from himself and clearly isn’t happy with anything but that. For one example, check out this quote courtesy of Mets Blog (click here to view)
"I don’t make those decisions on who’s the ace, who’s not the ace,” he said. However, “In the long run, that’s where I want to be. … Every time I take the mound, I don’t want to lose. I take the mound fighting for every single pitch. I take anger to the mound, I take a lot of aggression. That’s the fight that I have to win.”
He has the talent and he clearly has the drive. Don’t be surprised if Harvey takes a major leap forward on this list one year from now.
7. Madison Bumgarner – San Francisco Giants – 23 years old
If it wasn’t for a late-season fade, Bumgarner likely would’ve been viewed a little bit higher (5.47 ERA in September). That said, he posted a 3.37 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in his second full season as a starting pitcher.
In 534.0 innings in the major leagues he has shown tremendous control (2.09 BB/9) as well as a solid strikeout rate (8.06 K/9) and groundball rate (46.7 percent). Throw in pitching in a pitcher's park and there is an awful lot to like long-term.
6. Mat Latos – Cincinnati Reds – 25 years old
The concern over leaving Petco Park in favor of Great American Ballpark proved to be fruitless as Latos continued to show how good he was in 2012. With a 3.48 ERA (his third consecutive season under 3.50) and a 1.16 WHIP (third straight under 1.20), what’s not to like?
He would be higher on this list, especially given his control (career 2.80 BB/9), but there are a few red flags. For one, his strikeout rate has actually regressed for three straight seasons:
- 2010 – 9.21
- 2011 – 8.57
- 2012 – 7.95
He also did struggle with the long ball last season, with a 1.07 HR/9. That said, he has a long track record of success and should continue to be among the better starters in the game.
5. Aroldis Chapman – Cincinnati Reds – 25 years old
Is he a starter or a closer? The Reds can’t seem to decide (though it’s hard to imagine them moving him out of the closers role). Regardless of the role, however, what we know is that he is among the dominant arms in the game.
As long as he keeps his control (2.89 K/9), his 100 mph fastball (he averaged 97.7 mph last season) is more than enough. In 71.2 innings last season all he did was whiff 122 batters. Yes, he’s that good.
It will be interesting to see how he fares if the Reds do in fact stick him in the rotation, though time will tell. Regardless, his arm is elite and, if he remains closer, he could be among the best to ever fill the role.
4. Chris Sale – Chicago White Sox – 24 years old
While the White Sox briefly moved him back to the bullpen last season, it is clear that his future lies in the starting rotation (he’s already been named the Opening Day starter). In his first season starting in the major leagues, Sale showed how good he was, going 17-6 with a 3.05 ERA and 1.14 WHIP.
Throw in that the strikeouts were there (192 K over 192.0 IP), as was the control (2.39 BB/9), and what’s not to like? Of course you can question if there was some luck involved (23.0 percent line drive rate, 80.0 percent strand rate), but to an extent that’s nitpicking. While we could see a regression in his second full season as a starting pitcher, there is no doubt that he is among the best young pitchers in the game.
3. Craig Kimbrel – Atlanta Braves – 24 years old
He’s a closer, so some people may want to discredit him a little bit. But is there currently anyone better in the game at what he does? All he did last season was post a 1.01 ERA, 0.65 WHIP, 16.66 K/9 and 2.01 BB/9.
Over 160.1 innings in the major leagues he has 283 K vs. 62 BB (as a relief pitcher he has back-to-back 100-plus strikeout seasons). In 2012 he blew just three saves in 45 opportunities. In other words, when he came in you basically knew the game was over.
Closers tend to come and go, but with a fastball that averaged 96.2 mph last season Kimbrel should have staying power. While he’s not among the elite of all time yet, in another few years he could force his way into that type of consideration.
2. Clayton Kershaw – Los Angeles Dodgers – 25 years old
You can easily argue that this should be a 1 and 1a situation. How could Kershaw not be sitting atop this list? Over the past four seasons he has posted:
- A sub-3.00 ERA each year
- A sub-1.25 WHIP each year (including marks of 0.98 and 1.02 the past two seasons)
- Over a strikeout per inning each season
Control, which was once a major issue, has become among the best in the league (BB/9 of 2.08 and 2.49 the past two seasons). If you want to slot him at the top spot I couldn’t argue. That said, even with how good he’s been (and he has been truly amazing) he falls just short…
1. Stephen Strasburg – Washington Nationals – 24 years old
That’s because Strasburg has the ability to be a once-in-a-generation starting pitcher. There was a major debate last season over the Nationals' handling of him, as they played it cautious in his first year back from Tommy John surgery.
That said, you wouldn’t have known there was an issue given his performance. Over 159.1 innings he posted a 3.16 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 11.13 K/9 and 2.71 BB/9. Imagine what he might do over the course of an entire season.
Strasburg’s pure ability is unmatched and, if he can stay healthy, you have to think that he’s going to be the dominant starting pitcher in baseball for the next five to 10 years.
Honorable Mention – Gerrit Cole – Pittsburgh Pirates; Tyler Skaggs – Arizona Diamondbacks; Trevor Bauer – Cleveland Indians; Zack Wheeler – New York Mets; Shelby Miller – St. Louis Cardinals
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