MLB Prospects Update: Hottest, Coldest Pitchers at Every Minor League Level
The minor league season is now in full swing and countless prospects are making strong impressions, for one reason or another, at each of the four full-season levels.
With most pitchers having made roughly three or four starts since Opening Day (April 4), it’s important to acknowledge the role of small sample sizes when evaluating a player's success using statistics. However, it's impossible to ignore there’s still a large contingent of young arms that have either opened the season on a tear or struggled to get things going.
Here are at the hottest and coldest hitters at every minor league level three weeks into the 2014 season.
*All stats courtesy of MiLB.com and reflect games through Monday, April 21.
Hunter Harvey, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
2014 Stats: 21 IP, 0.86 ERA, .162 BAA, 9 BB, 23 K (4 GS)
Harvey, 19, has struck out at least five batters and allowed no more than four hits in all four starts this season. The right-hander failed to complete five innings for the first time Tuesday, as five walks and an unearned run forced him to leave the game after four inconsistent frames.
Alex Reyes, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
2014 Stats: 12.1 IP, 2.19 ERA, .200 BAA, 13 BB, 16 K (3 GS)
One of the more high-ceiling pitching prospects in the low minors, Reyes is making his full-season debut this year and already missing bats with his overpowering stuff. That being said, success hasn’t come easy for the 19-year-old right-hander, as shaky control has resulted in 13 walks in only 12.1 innings.
Braden Shipley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
2014 Stats: 5 IP, 5 H, BB, 4 K (1 GS)
Shipley, 22, made his season debut last Thursday, striking out four batters in five scoreless innings. The right-hander looked good after dealing with a minor case of biceps tendinitis in the spring and shouldn’t be long for the Low-A level.
Edwin Diaz, RHP, Seattle Mariners
2014 Stats: 19 IP, 1.42 ERA, .229 BAA, 8 BB, 20 K (4 GS)
Speaking of exciting young pitching prospects making their full-season debuts, the 20-year-old Diaz is off to a great start at Low-A Clinton, with a 1.42 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 19 innings.
Aaron Blair, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
2014 Stats: 24.2 IP, 3.28 ERA, .172 BAA, 7 BB, 31 K (4 GS)
Blair, like Shipley, is a product of the Diamondbacks’ 2013 draft (No. 36 overall), and, like Shipley, is entirely too good to spend much time this season at Low-A South Bend. The 21-year-old right-hander currently leads the Midwest League with 31 strikeouts.
Dace Kime, RHP, Cleveland Indians
2014 Stats: 14.1 IP, 11.30 ERA, .408 BAA, 6 BB, 9 K (4 GS)
Kime, a third-round pick last June out of Louisville, had a productive professional debut last summer in the New York-Penn League. However, the right-hander has been shelled this year in his full-season debut, allowing 29 hits (.408 BAA) in 14.1 innings.
Jairo Labourt, LHP, Toronto Blue Jays
2014 Stats: 9.2 IP, 9.31 ERA, .286 BAA, 15 BB, 9 K (4 G/2 GS)
Labourt, 20, put himself on the prospect radar last season by posting a 1.92 ERA and 45/14 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 51.2 innings in the Rookie-level Appalachian League. Unfortunately, the control he showed last year has carried over into his full-season debut at Low-A Lansing, as the left-hander has issued 15 free passes (against nine strikeouts) in 9.2 innings.
Ben Lively, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
2014 Stats: 23 IP, 0.39 ERA, .105 BAA, BB, 33 K (4 GS)
Lively arguably has been the best pitcher in the minors to open the season, as the 2013 fourth-rounder has allowed just one run and posted a 33/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio through 23 innings. He’s already received a lot of Tony Cingrani comparisons with his hot start at High-A Bakersfield, and with good reason; through Cingrani’s first four starts at Bakersfield in 2012, the left-hander allowed one earned run and posted a 28-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 23 innings. So, technically, Lively’s performance this season actually is better than Cingrani’s.
Jed Bradley, LHP, Milwaukee Brewers
2014 Stats: 21.1 IP, 3.80 ERA, .250 BAA, 2 BB, 20 K (4 GS)
Yes, I’m referring to the same Jed Bradley who posted a 4.95 ERA in 185.2 innings at High-A Brevard County over the last two seasons. Well, the 24-year-old left-hander is back at Brevard County this year and showing some signs of putting things together; last three starts: 17 IP, 11 H, ER, BB, 16 K.
Vincent Velasquez, RHP, Houston Astros
2014 Stats: 21 IP, 1.29 ERA, .108 BAA, 7 BB, 23 K (5 G/3 GS)
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. He posted a 3.54 ERA and a 142-to-41 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 124.2 innings last season between both Class-A levels. On Saturday, Velasquez turned in his third scoreless outing of the year, allowing one hits in five innings against High Desert.
Matt Boyd, LHP, Toronto Blue Jays
2014 Stats: 23 IP, 0.39 ERA, .195 BAA, 5 BB, 25 K (4 GS)
Boyd has continued to surpass expectations as a starter after making the transition from the bullpen during the 2012 Cape Cod League. The 23-year-old left-hander allowed his first earned run of the season Saturday but also struck out a season-high nine batters in the game.
Daniel Norris, LHP, Toronto Blue Jays
2014 Stats: 15 IP, 0.60 ERA, .204 BAA, 3 BB, 17 K (3 GS)
Between Norris’ six starts last August and three this season, the 20-year-old left-hander owns a 0.61 ERA and 47-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 44 innings. Now you can see why I went out of my way to include Norris in this year’s top 100.
Tom Windle, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
2014 Stats: 17.2 IP, 5.60 ERA, .301 BAA, 6 BB, 16 K (4 G)
The Dodgers’ second-round pick last June, Windle opened the season by striking out 10 batters and allowing one earned run through 11 innings. Since then, however, things haven’t been as clean: 6.2 IP, 12 H, 10 ER, 6 BB, 6 K.
Luke Jackson, RHP, Texas Rangers
2014 Stats: 21.1 IP, 2.95 ERA, .192 BAA, 5 BB, 20 K (4 GS)
Jackson has struck out eight batters and allowed three hits in back-to-back starts without yielding a run. If we removed the 22-year-old right-hander’s ugly start on April 10 (3.1 IP, 7 H, 7 ER, 2 BB) from his season line, then he’d have an unblemished ERA and 17-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 18 innings.
Jesse Biddle, LHP, Philadelphia Phillies
2014 Stats: 21.1 IP, 3.80 ERA, .250 BAA, 6 BB, 28 K (4 GS)
Biddle, 22, gave up eight runs through his first two starts this season back at Double-A Reading, but since then the left-hander has posted a 0.82 ERA and 17-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 11 innings.
Andrew Heaney, LHP, Miami Marlins
2014 Stats: 24.1 IP, 1.48 ERA, .202 BAA, 3 BB, 25 K (4 GS)
After allowing three runs on a career-worst 10 hits in his season debut, Heaney has dominated in three consecutive outings and made a strong case for an early-season promotion: 19 IP, 8 H, ER, 2 BB, 22 K.
Dan Winkler, RHP, Colorado Rockies
2014 Stats: 24 IP, 0.75 ERA, .090 BAA, 8 BB, 27 K (4 GS)
Winkler still isn’t considered a notable prospect despite leading the minor leagues last season with 175 strikeouts. However, given the 24-year-old’s outstanding start this year at Double-A Tulsa, that might not be the case for much longer. Last two starts: 12.2 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 4 BB, 19 K.
Bryan Mitchell, RHP, New York Yankees
2014 Stats: 19 IP, 4.26 ERA, .237 BAA, 9 BB, 26 K (4 GS)
Mitchell turned in probably the best start of his career on April 14, firing six shutout innings with 12 strikeouts for Double-A Trenton. The 23-year-old spent part of last week chilling in the Yankees’ big league bullpen after he was recalled as a “just in case” depth option but never appeared in a game. On Tuesday he was back on the mound at Trenton and picked up where he’d left off the previous week, allowing one run in five innings with six strikeouts.
Taylor Jungmann, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
2014 Stats: 21 IP, 4.71 ERA, .293 BAA, 4 BB, 22 K (4 GS)
Each of Jungmann’s four starts this season has been progressively worse. On Tuesday, the 24-year-old right-hander (and 2011 first-round draft pick) allowed eight runs (five earned) on eight hits in four innings for Double-A Huntsville.
Mark Sappington, RHP, Los Angeles Angels
2014 Stats: 17.1 IP, 6.75 ERA, .328 BAA, 13 BB, 19 K (4 GS)
Sappington, 23, began the season terribly at Double-A Arkansas by allowing 10 earned runs on 16 hits and five walks in his first two starts. His last two outings have been better (9 IP, 6 H, 3 ER), but walks have remained a problem with the right-hander issuing eight free passes during that span.
Jimmy Nelson, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
2014 Stats: 25 IP, 1.80 ERA, .151 BAA, 7 BB, 25 K (4 GS)
Nelson flashed his potential last season as a September call-up, posting a 0.90 ERA and allowing just two hits in 10 innings that included one impressive start. The 24-year-old made it clear Monday that he’s ready to join the Brewers rotation (once there’s an opening), allowing two hits and a walk with nine strikeouts in seven shutout frames.
Jacob deGrom, RHP, New York Mets
2014 Stats: 23 IP, 1.57 ERA, .200 BAA, 6 BB, 21 K (4 GS)
DeGrom has been the most impressive starter this season in a Triple-A Las Vegas rotation that also features highly touted right-handers Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero. The 25-year-old right-hander has been scored on in two of four starts so far and allowed only 16 hits in 23 innings pitching in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League.
Tyler Matzek, LHP, Colorado Rockies
2014 Stats: 20.2 IP, 2.18 ERA, .137 BAA, 12 BB, 24 K (4 GS)
It’s taken four turbulent years in the minor leagues, but it appears as though Matzek—the No. 11 overall pick in the 2009 draft—might have things figured out. The 23-year-old southpaw, pitching in Triple-A for the first time this season, has been outstanding in his last two starts: 11.2 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 6 BB, 11 K.
Alex Meyer, RHP, Minnesota Twins
2014 Stats: 14 IP, 5.14 ERA, .280 BAA, 5 BB, 13 K (3 GS)
The 6’9” Meyer is considered the Twins’ top pitching prospect but hasn’t lived up to the title at Triple-A Rochester thus far. In his latest start on Friday, Meyer allowed a season-high five earned runs on five hits and four walks and was chased from the game after 3.2 innings.
Noah Syndergaard, RHP, New York Mets
2014 Stats: 20 IP, 4.95 ERA, .291 BAA, 8 BB, 15 K (4 GS)
Syndergaard has gotten off to a shaky start this season at Triple-A Las Vegas, as the right-hander has allowed at least two earned runs and five hits in all four outings. The 21-year-old right-hander turned in his shortest outing of the year Saturday, when he completed only four innings after yielding six runs (four earned) on six hits.