MLB Prospects Update: Hottest, Coldest Pitchers at Every Minor League Level
The 2014 Minor League Baseball season began last Thursday, and there already have been countless standout performances by top prospects across all four full-season levels.
For those familiar with our weekly hot/cold lists that appeared on Prospect Pipeline during the previous two seasons, you’ll be happy to know that we'll be doing the same thing this year. The series' first installment, where we looked at some early-season offensive performances, appeared Tuesday.
With most teams having played roughly five-to-seven games since Thursday, it’s important to acknowledge the role of small sample sizes when evaluating players’ statistics, especially when it comes to pitchers. That being said, it's still worth recognizing some of the young arms that have been on display early this season.
Here are the hottest and coldest pitchers at every minor league level to begin the 2014 season.
Edwin Diaz, RHP, Seattle Mariners
2014 Stats: 9.2 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 13 K (2 GS)
Diaz, 20, was named the Appalachian League pitcher of the year in 2013, after the right-hander posted a 1.43 ERA and a 79-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 69 innings (13 starts). Making his second start of the season on Wednesday for Low-A Clinton, Diaz allowed a pair of hits and walks with eight strikeouts in five shutout innings.
Hunter Harvey, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
2014 Stats: 6 IP, 4 H, 5 K (1 GS)
Harvey’s first full-season start on Friday couldn’t have gone better, as the 19-year-old right-hander allowed four hits in six scoreless innings while striking out five batters. The No. 22 overall pick in the 2013 draft, Harvey has the potential to move quickly through Baltimore’s system, just as some of its other highly touted arms have in previous years.
Pat Light, RHP, Boston Red Sox
2014 Stats: 6 IP, 4 H, ER, 10 K (1 GS)
23-year-old Pat Light was a supplemental first-round pick in 2012, but injuries limited him to only 34.1 total innings last year in what should have been his full-season debut. Seemingly making up for the lost time, Light dominated in his season debut last Friday, striking out 10 batters in six innings.
Tyler Danish, RHP, Chicago White Sox
2014 Stats: 5 IP, 4 H, 2 R (0 ER), 2 BB, 6 K (1 GS)
Danish is one of the more intriguing wild-card prospects in the minors, as he works from an unorthodox arm angle and lacks projection. However, the 19-year-old has a plus sinker and knack for pounding the strike zone, and he’s drawn rave reviews for his mound presence and poise.
While he’s not a second coming of Chris Sale, Danish is the type of young pitcher the White Sox could conceivably push to the major leagues at an accelerated pace.
Andrew Thurman, RHP, Houston Astros
2014 Stats: 4.2 IP, 11 H, 9 ER, 3 BB, 5 K (2 G)
Thurman, 22, was selected by Houston in the second round of the 2013 draft, and he had a solid pro debut at Short-Season Tri-City, posting a 3.86 ERA and a 43-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 39.2 innings. His full-season debut thus far has not been solid, however, as the right-hander failed to complete the first inning in his outing on Tuesday.
*Video courtesy of YouTube user dmhmt.
Vince Velasquez, RHP, Houston Astros
2014 Stats: 8 IP, 2 H, ER, 3 BB, 12 K (2 G)
Of all the promising arms in the Astros’ system (Mark Appel, Mike Foltynewicz, Lance McCullers), I think I’m most excited about Velasquez. The 21-year-old missed the entire 2011 season recovering from Tommy John surgery and then logged only 45.2 innings at Short-Season Tri-City in 2012.
Fully healthy last season, Velasquez posted a 3.54 ERA and a 142-41 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 124.2 innings between both Class-A levels.
After striking out seven batters and allowing one run over four innings in his season debut last week, the right-hander one-upped himself on Monday, tossing four no-hit frames with five strikeouts.
Ben Lively, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
2014 Stats: 6 IP, H, ER, 7 K (1 GS)
Selected by the Reds in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, Lively, 22, was impressive last summer in his professional debut, posting a 0.88 ERA and 56-13 in 41 innings between Rookie-level Billings and Low-A Dayton. The right-hander lacks overpowering stuff; however, his deceptive delivery and ability to mix four pitches make him tough on opposing hitters.
Dylan Baker, RHP, Cleveland Indians
2014 Stats: 6 IP, 4 K (1 GS)
Baker, 22, struck out six batters in his perfect season debut but was only allowed to work six innings after reaching his pitch limit. The right-hander was considered one of the top junior college prospects available in the 2012 draft coming out of Western Nevada, and the Indians made him their fifth-round pick.
In his full-season debut last year, Baker posted a 3.63 ERA and a 117-62 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 143.2 innings at Low-A Lake County.
Jake Thompson, RHP, Detroit Tigers
2014 Stats: 5 IP, 2 H, 2 BB, 7 K (1 GS)
Thompson, 20, had an under-the-radar good full-season debut last year at Low-A West Michigan, as the right-hander posted a 3.13 ERA and a 91-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 83.1 innings. If his eye-opening season debut over the weekend was a sign of things to come, Thompson could be in store for a breakout campaign at High-A Lakeland.
And don’t be surprised if he ranks as the Tigers’ top pitching prospect headed into the 2015 season.
Daniel Norris, LHP, Toronto Blue Jays
2014 Stats: 5 IP, 5 H, ER, 5 K (1 GS)
Norris put things together in a big way last year during the second half of the season after making a mechanical adjustment, and the 20-year-old left-hander has been money ever since. At his current pace, Norris could find himself at Double-A New Hampshire in short order.
Jed Bradley, LHP, Milwaukee Brewers
2014 Stats: 4.1 IP, 9 H, 7 ER, BB, 4 K (1 GS)
The Brewers expected Bradley to move quickly through their system after popping him with the No. 15 overall pick in the 2011 draft. However, that just hasn’t happened, as the 23-year-old is back at High-A Brevard County for the third consecutive season. In 190 innings at the level, Bradley has posted a 5.16 ERA and a 122-83 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
*Video courtesy of YouTube user Anthony Boyer.
Henry Owens, LHP, Boston Red Sox
2014 Stats: 12.2 IP, 6 H, 2 BB, 18 K (2 GS)
As you can tell by his stats, it was a pretty good first week of the season for Henry Owens. The 6’6” left-hander opened the year by registering nine strikeouts in a rain-shortened, six-inning no-hitter; he followed it up on Wednesday with another nine punchouts and 6.2 scoreless frames.
Nick Kingham, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
2014 Stats: 6 IP, 3 H, 3 BB, 6 K (1 GS)
With Jameson Taillon out for the year following Tommy John surgery, Kingham, 22, now ranks as the Pirates’ pitching prospect closest to the major leagues. However, given the development path of both Taillon and Gerrit Cole in previous years, the right-hander seems more likely to finish the year in Triple-A than Pittsburgh’s starting rotation.
Eddie Butler, RHP, Colorado Rockies
2014 Stats: 12 IP, 9 H, 3 ER, BB, 12 K (2 GS)
As expected, Butler has been impressive out of the gate this season in Double-A Tulsa’s starting rotation, posting a 2.25 ERA and a 12-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in two starts, and it’s hard to imagine the 23-year-old not reaching the major leagues before the All-Star break.
Michael Lorenzen, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
2014 Stats: 7 IP, 4 H, 6 K (1 GS)
The Reds have remained steadfast with their development of Lorenzen—the No. 38 overall pick in the 2013 draft—as a starting pitcher and challenged the 22-year-old with an Opening Day assignment to Double-A Pensacola. Lorenzen’s season debut on Monday was easily the best performance of his brief professional career, as the right-hander scattered four hits and struck out six in seven shutout innings.
Robert Stephenson, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
2014 Stats: 5 IP, H, BB, 11 K (1 G)
Stephenson, 21, was absolutely awesome in his season debut for Double-A Pensacola, allowing a hit and walk with 11 strikeouts in five innings. Exactly how dominant was he? Well, the hard-throwing right-hander struck out 10 of the first 13 batters he faced.
Jesse Biddle, LHP, Philadelphia Phillies
2014 Stats: 10.1 IP, 15 H (2 HR), 8 ER, 3 BB, 11 K (2 GS)
Biddle had a respectable 2013 campaign at Double-A Reading, posting a 3.64 ERA with 154 strikeouts in 138.1 innings, but his control and command regressed against more advanced hitters and resulted in a career-worst 5.3 BB/9. The 22-year-old will look to get back on track this season while repeating Double-A.
Mark Sappington, RHP, Los Angeles Angels
2014 Stats: 8.1 IP, 16 H, 10 ER, 5 BB, 6 K (2 GS)
Sappington has power stuff and proved to be durable last year by logging 156.1 innings across two levels, but his lack of control and command could make it a long season for the right-hander in the hitter-friendly California League.
Andrew Heaney, LHP, Miami Marlins
2014 Stats: 5.1 IP, 10 H, 3 ER, BB, 3 K (1 GS)
Heaney had an impressive spring and enters the season as one of baseball’s top left-handed pitching prospects, but the 22-year-old had a season debut to forget last week, allowing three runs on 10 hits in 5.1 innings for Double-A Jacksonville.
Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP, Baltimore Orioles
2014 Stats: 10 IP, 13 H, 8 ER, 3 BB, 7 K (2 GS)
Rodriguez, who recently turned 21, can miss his share of bats and profiles as a solid mid-rotation starter in the major leagues, but he currently lacks the overall consistency needed to be effective on a regular basis.
*Video courtesy of Ron Shah.
Kevin Gausman, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
2014 Stats: 4.2 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 6 K (1 GS)
Everyone knows how good Gausman is and how good he can be. Unfortunately, the 23-year-old is currently biding his time in Triple-A awaiting an opening in Baltimore’s rotation. However, given the early-season struggles of Oriole starters, it might not be long until he gets the call.
Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
2014 Stats: 5 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 3 K (1 GS)
After struggling toward the end of spring training, Bradley, this year’s top-ranked pitching prospect, got back on track Saturday in his Triple-A debut. The 21-year-old is simply too good for an extended stay in the minor leagues—let alone the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League—so expect him to debut with the Diamondbacks sooner rather than later this season.
Tim Cooney, LHP, St. Louis Cardinals
2014 Stats: 6 IP, 4 H, BB, 9 K (1 GS)
Cooney had a breakout full-season debut in 2012, posting a 3.56 ERA and a 148-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 154.1 innings between High-A Palm Beach and Double-A Springfield. The 23-year-old left-hander doesn’t have much upside, but he’s a solid rotation candidate should something happen to a Cardinal starter.
Rafael Montero, RHP, New York Mets
2014 Stats: 11 IP, 10 H, 3 ER, BB, 14 K (2 GS)
Montero was stellar in his season debut last week, firing six shutout innings, but allowed three runs on six hits in five innings on Tuesday. Even though he was hit around a bit in the outing, the 23-year-old still recorded nine strikeouts compared to just one walk, which raised his strikeout-to-walk ratio this season to 14-to-1. Over the last two seasons, Montero owns a 260-54 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 277.1 innings.
Tyler Matzek, LHP, Colorado Rockies
2014 Stats: 5 IP, 2 H, ER, 2 BB, 11 K (1 GS)
Matzek, a first-round draft pick in 2009, has endured a slow and turbulent ascent through the Rockies’ system, but the 23-year-old has shown signs of figuring things out over the last year (including his time spent in the Arizona Fall League). In his Triple-A debut on Saturday, the left-hander fanned 11 batters against just two walks in five innings.
Nate Karns, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
2014 Stats: 7.1 IP, 11 H, 11 ER, 10 BB, 10 K (2 GS)
After coming up short in his bed to crack Tampa Bay’s Opening Day rotation, Karns has turned in a pair of ugly starts at Triple-A Durham. In his outing on Tuesday, the 26-year-old allowed six earned runs on eight hits in 4.2 innings but still posted a respectable 9-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio during that span. I’d say that is a step in the right direction after seven walks and one strikeout in his season debut.
Edwin Escobar, LHP, San Francisco Giants
2014 Stats: 4.2 IP, 10 H, 4 ER, BB, 4 K (1 GS)
Escobar struggled in his Triple-A debut on Saturday, as nine of the 10 hits given up by the left-hander came against right-handed batters.
*Video courtesy of MLB.com.