This week we take a look at potential impact minor league starting pitchers in the NL Central.
The Cardinals aren’t the only NL Central team with a Chris Carpenter.
The Cubs’ Carpenter is a 25-year old right-hander who is known mostly for the serious heat he generates, especially when utilized in relief, touching the upper 90’s. He has an average-to-plus slider, but his changeup needs work and could be one of the reasons he ends up in the bullpen in the long run. While he posted a 3.6 BB/9 in Double-A and he has shown an improved ability to throw strikes, his overall command can be erratic. He may end up starting 2011 as Triple-A Iowa’s closer.
Rafael Dolis will return to Double-A Tennessee this year, but after 12 successful starts there in 2010, he could be up to Triple-A with success in a few months, and could yet make his MLB debut in 2011. Like Carpenter, he throws plenty hard, gets ground balls, has an average slider, but may have more depth to his changeup in the long run, but it lacks refinement, and his overall control needs work too after posting BB/9 mostly in the mid to upper 4’s over the course of his pitching career.
Jay Jackson was not overly impressive in 25 starts for Triple-A Iowa last season, but still at least produced a 6.8 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9, and has a deeper, albeit not as standout, repertoire as compared to Carpenter or Dolis. He profiles as a middle to back end of the rotation inning eater type.
Sam LeCure made the Reds’ rotation out of spring training thanks to the injury to Johnny Cueto. The Reds Triple-A rotation this year is not all that inspiring and LeCure may be the best of the group. The righty is a college pitcher whose best asset is his pitchability. He throws strikes, mixes his pitches, and changes speeds fairly well, but that may not add up to a great degree of success at the MLB level as none of his pitches are considered true plus-pitches. At Triple-A last year he posted an 8.0 K.9 and 2.1 BB/9. He could be up and down with the Reds for much of the season.
The Astros almost had 20-year Jordan Lyles crack their opening day rotation. It is not that the 6-foot-4 right-hander has electric stuff, but it is more of a credit to how advanced he is as a pitcher at such a young age. Last year he advanced all the way to Triple-A where he continued to throw strikes (3.1 BB/9, though his K/9 dropped from 8.2 in Double-A to 6.3). He already changes speeds well and commands all of his pitches, handling both left-handed batters and right-handed batters alike. I am not sold on him being a star, but could be a solid #3 or perhaps even #2 starter at the MLB level.
Rule-5 pick Aneury Rodriguez, meanwhile, did indeed make the MLB club. Be prepared, however, for his playing time to be limited and his stats to possibly be ugly. In other words, he is likely to be used as a long-reliever, mop-up man, and spot-starter. His stuff rates as fairly average across the board and he profiles as a back-end of the rotation type in the long run.
Mark Rogers will serve as the ace to the Nashville Sounds to start this season. The former first round pick has a long injury history and missed more than two seasons due to a shoulder injury. He has since shown that his power stuff is back, posting a 9.3 K/9 in ’09 and a 9.0 in 2010 at Double-A. His control of his mid-nineties fastball and curve, however, is still quite erratic, failing to produce a sub 5.5 BB/9 at either of his two minor league stops last year. Though the Brewers are committed to keeping him as a starter at the moment, I suspect he will end up in relief given his control issues and lack of an effective off-speed pitch.
Amaury Rivas will serve as the Sounds’ No. 2 starter. Although he does not have Rogers’ ceiling, it is more likely he will remain in his role. Last year he produced a solid 7.2 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 for Double-A and continued to show the ability to throw his sinking fastball and mix in his best pitch, his changeup, and a slightly-below average to average slider. He’s probably a number five starter or long-reliever in the long-run, but again, I have a bit more faith he may have a better career than Rogers despite the far lower ceiling.
Rudy Owens is a Pirates pitching prospect worthy of note. He is a serious strike-thrower (has not posted a BB/9 above 1.4 at any level since 2008) who has not had much of a drop-off in his K/9 as he has advanced through the minor leagues including a 7.9 K/9 at Double-A in 2010. He is not quite in the class of the crafty-lefty either as someone can hit the lower-nineties. Triple-A will be interesting from the K/9 perspective as we will see how well his curve and change will hold up against more advanced hitters.
Jeff Locke, another lefty, has a more projectable fastball than Owens and also possesses above average control (sub 2.0 BB/9 since 2009 and 2010). While he posted a higher K/9 than Owens in Double-A, his overall stuff is just a notch below with no pitch really standing out, though he does have weapons to battle lefties in a cut-fastball and the ability to keep the ball on the ground. He profiles as a No. 4 or No. 5 starter.
Bryan Morris’ stuff rates higher than either Owens or Locke with a plus fastball/curveball combination. But like other power pitchers in this article, the lack of a third pitch could push him to relief. Like Locke, he will begin 2011 in Double-A. Morris has at least recovered from TJS and it has shown up in his control, posting a 1.4 BB/9 in Single-A and a 3.1 BB/9 in Double-A last year.
Justin Wilson joins Rudy Owens in Triple-A. Wilson is a power-throwing lefty with a mid-nineties fastball and two breaking pitches with plus potential. However, unlike his other fellow Pirates in this article, has a great deal of trouble throwing his pitches for strikes with BB/9 consistently above 4.0.
St. Louis Cardinals
Lance Lynn was unable to make the opening day rotation, but will be at some point as the Cardinals’ highest quality upper-level farmhand. In 29 Triple-A starts he posted a 7.7 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 and has little left to prove at that level. He has a good curve and can generate ground-balls at decent rates with his sinker, and can also throw a mid-nineties four-seamer. That said, none of his pitches are outstanding to the point where he can be labeled beyond a potential number three starter in the long run.
Next Up – The NL West.