Starting pitching is deep. That applies not only to the majors, but also to the minors. So as not to lose my mind, I’ve set an arbitrary cut line. Only the top ten ranked pitchers by league, per my top-100 fantasy prospect list over at The Hardball Times, will be highlighted below. That means a lot of talent missed out on being featured, but it also means that this is the cream of the crop.
American League Starting Pitchers
Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays, 22 years old
Matt Moore is in a class of his own as a pitching prospect. He is a southpaw with plus stuff, and silly numbers to back it up. He strikes out batters at a rate that would be deemed exceptional from a relief pitcher (12.32 K/9), and he showed the best control of his professional career (2.68 BB/9). His innings pitched have been gradually built up, and because of that, he won’t be on an innings limit in 2012.
Moore throws multiple plus pitches, starting with two fastballs (four-seam and two-seam) that averaged over 96 MPH in his limited major league time per Brooks Baseball. Scouting reports have him sitting a smidge lower than that in the 93-95 MPH range. PITCHf/x credits him with throwing both a curveball and change-up in addition to his premium heater. The differential in velocity between Moore’s change-up and fastballs is outstanding (approximately 10 MPH). The pitch earns plus grades but is only his second best secondary pitch according to most reports. His curveball is downright lethal and earns plus-plus grades. Moore also throws a slider that earns high marks. One couldn’t ask for anything more from a pitching prospect. Moore already strutted his stuff in the majors handcuffing the eventual American League champion Rangers in the AL Divisional Series opener. Expect big production right out of the gates.
Dylan Bundy, Baltimore Orioles, 19 years old
Bundy was the top high school pitcher selected in the 2011 amateur draft. He’s considered quite polished for a prep arm, but it is his high ceiling and power arsenal that really excite people. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and can hit triple digits frequently; he can also take a few ticks off it and sink it to induce groundballs. Bundy’s fastball is backed by a plus curveball, a very good cutter, and a developing change-up for which he already shows a good feel. He’s expected to begin the year in Low-A and could move through the minors rapidly.
Jacob Turner, Detroit Tigers, 20 years old
Turner began spring training with a decent shot to win the Tigers fifth starter gig. It’s now looking more like he’ll marinate further in Triple-A. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Turner has blown through the minors since being drafted in the first round of the 2009 draft. He has exhibited outstanding control for a power pitcher, but his strikeout rates have been merely good, not great in his professional career. I expect his strikeout rate to improve with experience and the opportunity to stay at a professional level for an extended period of time.
Turner throws both a four-seam and two-seam fastball in the low-to-mid-90s. He has used the two-seam fastball to successfully induce more groundball outs than flyball outs in his minor league career. His secondary pitches include a high-70 MPH swing-and-miss curveball and an average change-up that projects to be a potential future plus pitch. Expect to see Turner force his way into the Tigers rotation by the summer if elbow tendinitis, as reported by Marty Noble of MLB.com, doesn’t slow him down.
Taijuan Walker, Seattle Mariners, 19 years old
Walker has been everything the Mariners could have hoped for and more since drafting him in the supplemental first round of the 2010 amateur draft. He was a multi-sport high school athlete, a star basketball player in addition to having elite baseball skills. In his first year of full season minor league ball last year, he managed to earn the Mariners’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year award. His 3.63 BB/9 rate could use some refinement, but he’s already showing the ability to miss bats, with a 10.52 K/9 clip in 2011. When batters are making contact, Walker has been able to coax them into recording more groundball outs than flyball outs (1.54 GO:AO).
He throws a heavy sinking fastball with mid-90s velocity and has the ability to reach back for some upper-90s heaters. Walker uses a hammer curveball to strike batters out, and also throws a developing change-up that is currently useable and should become better than that with repetition. He has front-of-the-rotation potential, but it is unclear at what level of the minors he’ll begin the year developing his skills. The normal linear development path would have him starting the year in High-A, but there is some thought that he may bypass that level and begin in Double-A. Each minor league level would provide their own unique challenges, as the Mariners’ High-A affiliate, the High Desert Mavericks, are a member of the hitter friendly California League. Conversely, a jump beyond High-A would leave Walker facing more advanced hitters. If Walker is able to improve his control and make gains with his change-up, he should reach the majors by 2014.
Martin Perez, Texas Rangers, 20 years old
The Rangers’ young southpaw has yet to dominate in the minors but has managed to reach Triple-A before his 21st birthday. After struggling at the Double-A level in 2009 and 2010, he finally broke through in 2011. Gains made to his walk rate, while maintaining a very good strikeout rate, helped him record a 3.46 FIP in 88.1 innings in Frisco. His walk rate remained the same in Triple-A as it was in Double-A after his promotion, but his strikeout rate dropped from 8.46 K/9 to 6.80 K/9. Perez has thrown two innings in spring training for the Rangers, and there were whispers of him being carried in the big league bullpen as a left-handed option for manager Ron Washington. That’s looking increasingly unlikely, and he’ll more likely begin the year in Triple-A, where he can continue his development as a starter.
Perez throws three pitches that are all plus at times. His fastball is a low-90s offering, and he backs it with a curveball and change-up. Lack of consistency has hurt him more than lack of stuff. Consistently harnessing his stuff will give him the weapons necessary to get even the best hitters out. The Rangers official website reported that Perez has been working on a two-seam fastball, adding yet another tool for retiring batters to his arsenal. The Rangers have no shortage of rotation options, so the most likely scenario for Perez seeing big league time this year would be making a cameo appearance in September, or getting an MLB introduction out of the bullpen.
Manny Banuelos, New York Yankees, 21 years old
Banuelos walk and strikeout rates took a step backwards in 2011. That said, he did reach Triple-A and still has plus stuff when he’s at his best. He just recently turned 21, and thus is plenty young for his level. Banuelos is a left-hander with a low-90s fastball that can hit the mid-90s, an above average curveball, and an above average change-up. Control hasn’t historically been a problem in his professional career. If he’s able to straighten out his walk issues, he could be an asset to the Yankees during the summer.
Danny Hultzen, Seattle Mariners, 22 years old
Hultzen was a bit of a surprise pick by the Mariners at number two overall in last June’s draft. He had a fantastic college career at the University of Virginia, and parlayed that into a big league contract with the Mariners. He made his professional debut in the Arizona Fall League (AFL). Hultzen was outstanding in six starts spanning 19.1 innings (not including a gem in the AFL Rising Stars game).
He is a polished pitcher that is getting a shot at the Mariners fifth starter spot in spring training. The Mariners have enough starting pitching options that it is unlikely they’ll pull a Mike Leake with him and have him bypass the minors entirely. Hultzen is a left-hander with plenty of velocity, sitting in the low-to-mid-90s with his fastball. He uses a good slide, and a devastating change-up to keep hitters off balance. Hultzen pounds the strike zone with all three pitches, and should be able to strike batters out while keeping his walk rate extremely low. He’ll begin the year in the upper minors, and likely finish it with the Mariners.
James Paxton, Seattle Mariners, 23 years old
That’s right, yet another Mariners starting pitcher. Paxton had a scintillating affiliated-ball debut, striking out batters in bunches and rediscovering the stuff that once made him the 37th overall pick of the Toronto Blue Jays. After failing to sign with the Blue Jays, he was declared ineligible to return to the University of Kentucky due to adviser Scott Boras negotiating directly on his behalf. Paxton spent time in an independent league, where his stuff wasn’t as sharp. The Mariners drafted him in the fourth round of the 2010 amateur draft, and he made his organization debut this past season.
Paxton is a power lefty with a 91-95 MPH fastball that can reach as high as 98 MPH. He also throws a plus curveball and an improving circle change-up. His control wasn’t very sharp in Low-A, as he walked 4.82 batters per nine innings, but it improved dramatically to 3.00 BB/9 in Double-A. Paxton has joined Hultzen in Mariners camp and has two spring training innings under his belt. He’ll begin the season in the high minors, and could be in a race with Hultzen to reach the majors.
Jarrod Parker, Oakland Athletics, 23 years old
The Oakland A’s were busy this offseason, and one of the orders of business was sending Trevor Cahill to the Diamondbacks in return for a package that included Parker. Parker made his major league debut last year in a season in which he returned from Tommy John surgery. He proved his good health, and most reports indicate his plus stuff returned post injury.
He throws a mid-90s four-seam fastball that can scrape the upper-90s. Jim Shonerd reported in his Baseball America Prospect Handbook write-up for Parker that he added a two-seam fastball in the second half of last season. He throws two above-average secondary pitches, and a third average one. The first above-average pitch is a change-up that sat in the low-80s during his lone MLB start. The second is a slider that was considered a true wipeout pitch prior to Parker going under the knife and regained more of its bite as the season wore on, according to Baseball Prospectus’s Kevin Goldstein. His third off-speed offering is a curveball. With surgery in his history, and a career high of 137 innings pitched in a season (his 2011 mark), there is some reason to question whether he can hold up for 200 innings. Questions aside, he has a front-line starter ceiling and will start for the A’s at some point this year. He has been effective the spring but struggled with walks, walking six in just 7.1 innings. Regardless of where he begins the year, I expect him to finish it as a member of the A’s rotation.
Brad Peacock, Oakland Athletics, 24 years old
In a separate deal from the one I discussed above, the A’s acquired yet more high-ceiling prospect pitchers. Amongst those arms was Peacock. The former National broke out in a big way in 2011. After posting excellent walk and strikeout rates in 2010 only to end up with a mid-4s ERA, it all came together in 2011. Peacock toyed with Double-A Eastern League hitters before earning a promotion to Triple-A, and ultimately the majors. His control waned a bit in Triple-A and the majors, but all-in-all, it was an excellent year for Peacock.
He throws a 91-94 mph fastball that had a max speed just under 96 MPH in his brief time in the show. His best off-speed pitch is a 12-to-6 curveball that he’s capable of throwing for strikes. Perhaps his biggest advancement as a pitcher came in improving his change-up. It remains inconsistent, but he gained confidence in throwing it last year. He has been pummeled in the spring, and will probably begin the year in Triple-A before earning an in-season promotion.
Josh is a graduate of SUNY Cortland's Sport Management program, and an aspiring fantasy writer. You can catch up with Josh in the Cafe Forums where he posts as B-Chad. You can also follow his work at The Hardball Times and follow him on Twitter (BChad50).
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