Opportunities abound for starting pitchers. Injuries, ineffectiveness, and general volatility make it an absolute must for those in both keeper and redraft to have a deep knowledge of close-to-ready minor league pitching. Over the next two weeks I will take a team by team approach, looking at those rookies who may get an opportunity to join a MLB rotation in 2012.
The Orioles were quite deep in upper-level minor league pitching, but have recently graduated much of that to the MLB level with varying degrees of success. While Dylan Bundy may be on the fast track to the Majors and has three-plus pitches and ace-level potential, he is still in his teens and is unlikely to get anything beyond a September call-up at best. Oliver Drake is the perhaps the most realistic candidate to get a MLB promotion even though there are several others with higher upsides in the system. The 24-year old will begin 2012 in the Triple-A rotation, has a history of fair control and command, and has done a fair job of maintaining his strikeout rates as he has climbed the minor league ladder. His stuff and repertoire, however, is not that deep, mostly relying on a sinker/slider combination and it remains to be seen if he is adept enough at changing speeds to be an effective MLB starter.
Boston Red Sox
Alex Wilson, 25, is an older prospect who first reached Triple-A in 2011. Nevertheless, we are talking about a former second round pick out of Texas A&M. Wilson owns a power arm with a fastball and slider that suggests “future reliever”. To his credit, he does indeed know how to throw strikes with these offerings and sported a 3.0 BB/9 at two minor league levels in 2011. He is your classic power-pitcher, can he develop a changeup type and is someone with #3 starter or late-inning reliever potential. Most likely, he ends up a setup man.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox acquired Nestor Molina from the Blue jays in a straight up exchange for Sergio Santos. The 23-year old has just 5 starts of experience above A+ ball and could easily end up in Double-A to start the season. That would push him towards being more of a late-season call-up. In A+ ball he displayed tremendous command, striking out over 9 batters per inning pitched while walking just 1.2 per nine innings and allowing even fewer walks upon his Double-A promotion. Right now he is a two-pitch pitcher, though his splitter does work as a off-speed/vs. lefty-offering. While I would like to see him refine his curve and change a bit more, he could still be in the Majors before the end of the season.
The White Sox acquired another potential starter in Simon Castro from the Padres. Castro endured a somewhat injury plagued and inconsistent season and ultimately found himself demoted to Double-A where he got things back together. When on his game Castro has a plus-fastball/slider combination as well as a workable changeup. His Double-A 7.4 K/9, 1.6 BB/9 was encouraging, but now Castro has to take that resurgence back up to Triple-A and show he can be more consistent.
Charlie Leesman will be 25 before opening day. The lefty spent the entire 2011 season in Double-A where he posted an unimpressive 4.03 ERA/4.9 BB/9. He may get a few spots starts and could be a back end of the rotation type, but I doubt his ability to stick given a mediocre repertoire and control. Perhaps he can find use as a situational lefty.
Dylan Axelrod got a late-season call-up with the White Sox in 2011 and far from embarrassed himself. Though his stuff across the board is pretty much average, Axelrod generally has complete command of all his pitches and a very good understanding of pitching. He will need to translate his command to the Majors a bit better (typically around the 2.0 mark) to have any success. His upside is as a fifth starter though given a lack of a decent off-speed offering, he may have difficulty against lefties in the long run.
The Indians are not particularly deep in upper-level/high end arms. What they have is a quantity of potential back-end of the rotation candidates.
Zach McAllister had a comeback as a prospect in 2011. His strikeout rates had fallen off to the 5’s the previous two seasons, but the change of scenery from the Yankees to the Indians did him some good as they discovered and corrected flaws in his game that let him get back to the 7+ K/9 level at both Triple-A and in the Majors. He is a four-pitch pitcher with a good history of control (1.8 BB/9) in Triple-A last year, but is also not a high-ceiling pitcher by any means. He could crack the back end of the rotation again in 2012, but is seen as an innings-eater at best.
Austin Adams will ascend to Triple-A this year after producing an 8.7 K/9 over 26 Double-A starts. His power arm could get him to the Majors, but needs to improve his control and command and to refine his secondary pitches. While he is old to first be getting to Triple-A, it should be noted that he is a converted infielder and is still very much still learning his craft. I like him more as a potential reliever.
Scott Barnes has a little more upside than McAllister or Adams and is coming off a fairly decent 15-start experience in Triple-A where he posted a 9+ K/9 and 3.5 BB/9. He has four decent pitches, though his fastball gets very varied reviews. He will be coming back from surgery to repair a torn ACL, so do not be surprised by a slow start to the season.
T.J. Macfarland and Matt Packer are two fringy lefties who could earn Triple-A rotation slots this spring. Packer is the harder thrower and has a better changeup, but MaCarland has better movement and generates more groundballs (though Packer is no slouch in that department either). While both pitchers technically have four pitches, they are not fully developed.
The Tigers have a rather more exciting crop of young pitchers who could make an impact in 2012. Jacob Turner enters spring training with a rotation spot. At age 19-20, Turner was able to dominate Double-A and Triple-A ball, showing superior control and command while actually improving his strikeout rates upon promotion to Triple-A (10.4) The righty is a power ground-ball pitcher with a plus-fastball, curve, and a MLB-ready change. His first step in the Majors was a rough transition (8.53 ERA and sub 6.00 ERA), but what do you want from a 20-year old? Turner has upper end of the rotation potential and should make progress there this season, but do not be surprised if the going is slow at first. Keep in mind his age and his grand total of six starts of experience above Double-A.
Drew Smyly does not have Turner’s upside, but the 22-year old has had a quick climb up the minor league ladder after being selected in the second round of the 2010 draft. He has at least 4, if not 5 pitches, with at least average MLB potential, good mechanics, and keeps the ball on the ground. In other words, Smyly is pretty much at or close to his ceiling already. Smyly is unlikely to carry the 10+ K/9 to the Majors, but he has enough stuff, control, and skill to be an effective middle of the rotation pitcher.
Casey Crosby, meanwhile, is something of Smyly’s opposite. He is a power-throwing lefty who misses bats and gets strikeouts, but has difficulty with his consistency and command. He has a #2 starter’s ceiling, but carries a lot more risk with him than the lower-upside Smyly.
Andy Oliver is yet another lefty in the Detroit organization and he has been to the Majors twice. Like Crosby he is a very hard throwing lefty and gets plenty of swings and misses, but he has power command of that power and has unrefined and inconsistent secondary pitches. He will likely get another opportunity in the Majors this season, but has a lot of work to do before he can be considered a viable MLB or fantasy option.
Kansas City Royals
Mike Montgomery made 27 starts at Triple-A as a 22-year old. He produced a 7.7 K/9, but is still not quite a finished produced as his BB/9 climbed to over 4.0 and his overall ERA sat at 5.32 (though his skills suggest it should have been a full point lower). Despite his struggles, he still has an excellent fastball/changeup combination, but struggles with the consistency of his command and mechanics and could use a little more time in the minors. A good start, however, could have him in the Majors by mid-season.
Jake Oderozzi, Chris Dwyer, and William Smith could all be joining Montgomery (provided Montgomery doesn’t have a great spring training and makes the Majors) in Triple-A this season. Oderozzi was acquired as part of the Zack Greinke deal and is coming off a solid season spent between A+ and Double-A where he maintained a sub 3.0 BB/9 and solid K/9’s. He has at least two-plus pitch potential and a four-pitch average arsenal and decent enough command to be a middle of the rotation guy long-term. Chris Dwyer has a higher ceiling, but is coming off a frustrating season and 5.60 Double-A ERA and 5.0 BB/9. He has a power fastball/curve combo that would look good in the pen, but does also have a decent change. Like Montgomery, his troubles stem from mechanical issues. Smith, meanwhile, falls far lower on the talent depth charts, but at least can say he performed well with a 6.0 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 over 27 starts. His total package of pitches, however, is average at best and closer to fringy, meaning his strikeout rates won’t likely translate well to the upper levels and Majors and his command will have to be that much better. He’s a fifth starter at best.
Los Angeles Angels
Garrett Richards made it to the Majors in 2011, skipping Triple-A in the process. In 2012, he will receive his first Triple-A experience. The 23-year old is a durable hard-thrower who also has a decent slider and change. His 6.5 K/9 at Double-A was a disappointment when contrasted against the quality of his stuff and speaks to a need to improve the consistency of his secondary offerings. Overall, he throws plenty of strikes and still has at least middle of the rotation potential.
Trevor Reckling and Orangel Arenas may also advance to Triple-A this season and could make their MLB their MLB debuts in 2012. Reckling is a soft-tossing lefty coming off of an elbow injury and may be best off in a situational role. Arenas slipped to a 4.1 K/9 (with a 2.4 BB/9) in Double-A. I’ve seen this before as Arenas does have a plus, sinking fastball and he can throw it consistently for strikes. Unfortunately, he really does not have a strong complimentary pitch beyond it to generate swings and misses. If he can develop a change or split-finger fastball, he might make it. I’m not too optimistic at the moment.
With Kyle Gibson lost for the season due to Tommy John surgery it leaves Liam Hendricks as the Twins closest to the Majors/best option to get a call-up in 2012. A 23-year old right-hander, Hendricks made 4 starts for the Twins late in the year, posting a respectable 6.2 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9. His command and control in the minors have been ridiculous, walking 0.6 batters per nine innings pitched in Triple-A last year and often being around the 1.0 mark through his career. At the MLB level I would not be surprised by sub 6.0 K/9 long-term as Hendricks is a pitch-to-contact, sinker/slider/change guy who likes to rely on his defense. Looks like a viable inning-eater to me long-term in the middle of the Twins’ rotation.
New York Yankees
Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances is the Yankees power lefty/righty combo. Both pitchers pitched at Double-A and Triple-A (Betances got a small taste of the Majors). Both continued to generate fantastic strikeout rates. Both also struggled to throw strikes consistently. However, they look nothing alike. Banuelos is a slight 155, 5’1l lefty and Betances is a hulking 6’8” 260 pounder.
Keep in mind that Banuelos turned just 20 in March of last year and is still a rather raw product, but does still have three-plus pitch potential. Right now it is all about becoming more of a pitcher and gaining some consistency. He has time on his side and while he is technically close to the Majors, his upside says “don’t rush him”.
Betances is a bit older and will be 24 before the start of the season. Like Banuelos he has multiple plus-pitches, but as per his BB/9, he has difficulty repeating and getting them over for strikes consistently. I would not be surprised if Betances ends up in relief. Given his arsenal, though, he will likely get at least one more chance to stay in a starting role.
Adam Warren and D.J. Mitchell are the Yankees low-risk, lower-ceiling upper level options. Warren has a higher ceiling of the two with a fastball that can touch the mid-nineties and a workable second pitch or two. He profiles as a back-end of the rotation type without a standout pitch. I suspect he might do better as a reliever in an effort to add some velocity and better utilize his slider. Mitchell’s stuff is more average or fringy across the board and has slightly weaker command, but he does a better job of keeping the ball on the ground.
The A’s, dealt starters Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez and came away with three starters in two separate deals that are close to, if not already MLB ready in Jarrod Parker (AZ), Brad Peacock (WAS), and Tom Milone (WAS). All three are competing for opening day rotation spots. Parker has the highest upside. A 23-year old righty, Parker came back from Tommy John surgery last year and has regained his previous velocity and more importantly his control and command. Parker has a fairly deep repertoire and at least two plus pitches that make him upper end of the rotation material.
Peacock does not have Parker’s power-pitching upside, but has three pitches of average to plus quality and commands them all very well. In Double-A he produced an 11.2 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9. While I believe the strikeout rates will probably dip to the 7 or 6 range in the Majors, he still has at least middle of the rotation potential and be a more than adequate replacement for Cahill in the long run.
Milone, 25, made 5 starts with the Nationals late last season. He profiles more as a fourth or perhaps fifth starter. He’s your crafty lefty who throws in the mid to upper eighties, but throws a ton of strikes and spots his pitches exceedingly well and is quite a depth at changing speeds and has enough weapons to handle righties and lefties alike. Milone has inning-eater potential and of these three acquisitions has the least left to prove in the minors.
All these acquisitions place less pressure on 2011 1st round draft pick Sonny Gray to climb through the system. He made it all the way to Double-A after a single rookie-ball appearance and handled himself admirably over 5 starts with an 8.1 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9. It is possible that the A’s could challenge him and move him up to Triple-A immediately, but there is not a rush here. The 22-year old understands his crafty, but his changeup is still a work in progress and some extra minor league time would do him some good.
A.J. Griffin, 24, is a bit outside the MLB picture at the moment and could be passed over given the higher-potential arms in the organization. Nevertheless, the 6’5” righty is not to be dismissed. He cruised through four levels of minor league ball in 2011 and has a solid 4-pitch package that he commands fairly well. He could be a solid back-end of the rotation starter, though part of me wonders whether this former college closer might be better off in that role. He certainly has the size to possibly add a few mph to his fastball if used in a short-role and given how good his changeup it is, it would create even greater separation between the two pitches.
2nd overall pick Danny Hultzen was one of the reasons the Mariners were comfortable moving Michael Pineda this off-season. A polished college product, he performed well in his first exposure to pro-ball in the AFL (a noted hitter’s league), showing swing and miss stuff with three plus-pitch potential and good command of all. He may start the season in Double-A, but should move up quickly and could be up as soon as mid-season. Taijuan Walker rates higher in upside to Hultzen, but Hultzen is probably the safer bet of the two.
While the Mariners await Walker, (not likely until 2013 or 2014) Erasmo Ramirez could be one young pitcher who could help fill the void. The righty has Triple-A experience and is the closest rookie to the Majors in the system. He is more of a back-end of the rotation or middle-reliever with a low-ceiling, but 4 pitches of average to slightly below average quality, but throws them all consistently for strikes.
Tampa Bay Rays
Unless you are in a redraft league, you will not be obtaining Matt Moore. The top rookie pitcher in all of baseball, Moore is a power-lefty with three true plus (or better!) pitches in his arsenal and the command to use them all. He has successfully been able to translate his strikeout rates from level to level, without issue and even managed a 14.8 K/9 over his tiny MLB sample. He is a lock for the opening day rotation. Do not be surprised to have to pay around $20 for this rookie in auction-style leagues.
Chris Archer was acquired from the Cubs in the Matt Garza deal and initially he struggled in Double-A, walking batters at a 5.4 rate in 25 starts. He performed better later in the season, maintaining his strikeout rates around the 8.0 level and gradually improving his command. Overall the 23-year old is still wild, but has a plus fastball/slider combination still. I think his long-term role is likely to be found in relief, but he’ll remain a starter in Triple-A for now. The Rays certainly have more than enough depth and a change in role for Archer would not hurt them in the least.
Alex Torres has been a starter throughout his minor league career with the Angels and Rays. When he received a late season call-up, however, he appeared entirely in relief and like Archer he may remain in that role. Also like Archer, Torres has struggled with his command and control throughout his career, regularly over 4.0, if not 5.0 with his walk rates. The lefty has at least 3 MLB quality pitches, the best of which is his changeup. Given that, he will likely return to Triple-A and remain a starter, trying to still refine his command of fastball and curve, but I sense he may end up a late-inning situation lefty in the long run.
Martin Perez made it to Triple-A as a 20-year old. That should tell you quite a bit in of itself. While he has multiple-plus pitch potential, it is far from surprising that Perez is still quite raw, is learning how to pitch, and how to repeat his mechanics consistently. The lefty is high risk for failure or injury risk, but a 6.8 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9 at Triple-A for a pitcher of his age, is quite impressive and makes him worthy of being a minor league draft pick.
Neil Ramirez, nearly 23, is a bit closer to MLB ready than Perez, and he was impressive as he made his climb up through three levels of the minors, keeping his K/9 above 10.0 at each stop. However, it did trend downwards with each change in level and his control grew worse as well in a reverse trend, ending at a 4.2 BB/9 over his 18 Triple-A starts. He did show better at Double-A and has potential to improve his command of his three MLB average to plus pitches.
Toronto Blue Jays
Former Georgia Tech Yellowjacket Deck McGuire got his first exposure to professional ball after being selected in the first round of the 2010 draft. McGuire is not a blazer, but uses his polish, savvy, and deep repertoire well. As typical for middle of the first round college picks, McGuire is not the highest of upside pitchers, but has multiple plus-pitches, good command, and mechanics. While I don’t think he’ll be posting a 9.6 K/9 in the minors, he should still end up a solid middle of the rotation pitcher and could be one of the relatively safer options to select in your minor league draft as pitchers go. A thin right-hander, Hutchinson has posted some impressive strikeout rates (greater than 1 per inning) along with impressive control numbers (2.0 BB/9 in A+ and 1.2 in Double-A at two stops in 2011).
Drew Hutchison and Chad Jenkins were McGuire’s Double-A teammates in 2011 and are set to join him in Triple-A to start 2012. Hutchinson has the higher upside of the duo. He changes speeds well and handles lefties and righties alike effectively, and spots his fastball well.
Jenkins is on the border of becoming a journeyman. He may be a former first round pick, but his stuff is pretty much average across the board. He does, however, command it well, throw stirkes, and gets some ground balls. He could make it in the back end of the rotation.
Potential Auction/Draft Day Candidates
Matt Moore, Jacob Turner, Jarrod Parker, Brad Peacock, Tom Milone
Potential Minor League Draft Candidates
Danny Hultzen, Mike Montgomery, Sonny Gray, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Nestor Molina, Simon Castro, Alex Wilson, Martin Perez, Drew Smyly, Liam Hendricks, Andy Oliver, Jake Odorizzi, Garrett Richards, Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, A.J. Griffin, Alex Torres, Chris Archer, Drew Hutchison
Potential FAAB Pick-Ups
Oliver Drake, Charlie Leesman, Dylan Axelrod, Orangel Arenas, Trevor Reckling, Adam Warren, D.J. Mitchell, Erasmo Ramirez, Chad Jenkins