Starting pitching is so deep in the minors that I ultimately decided to break them into two separate columns. As I mentioned in the American League starting pitcher piece, only the top ten pitchers from each league, per my top-100 fantasy prospect list, were included. The bar is set high for a prospect starting pitcher to stand out from the pack, and the group highlighted below are a talented bunch.
Trevor Bauer, Arizona Diamondbacks, 21 years old
Sometimes it feels as if Bauer’s talent is lost amidst talk of his unorthodox training and pitching routine. Make no mistake, Bauer is an outstanding pitching prospect, funky routines, or not. He was college teammates of last June’s number one pick Gerrit Cole, and he out-pitched him. The former UCLA Bruin missed bats in his pro debut, striking out 43 batters in 25.2 innings split between High-A and Double-A. Bauer has pitched lights out in his first spring training. He has thrown in four games, totaling 10 innings, striking out nine, and allowing just one walk.
He has a deep arsenal that all works off a plus fastball. His heater sits in the mid-90s and can hit 97-98 MPH. In addition to his fastball, he features four other pitches! His best being a filthy 12-to-6 curveball. He also throws a plus slider and an above average changeup, and he’ll toss in a splitter for good measure. With so many looks to offer opposing hitters, and most grading as above average or better, it’s easy to see how he is so dominant. As with most strikeout artists, he could be a bit more efficient with his pitch counts. That said, he hasn’t had problems with control, and his walk rates were very good in his three years at UCLA. Bauer was recently sent down to Double-A minor league camp, but he should reach the majors this year. The Diamondbacks rotation is full, but advanced metrics and underwhelming stuff suggest Josh Collmenter is in line for serious regression, and Joe Saunders simply isn’t more than an innings eater. Eventually, Bauer should supplant one of the two.
Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves, 21 years old
Those that are disappointed by Teheran’s play in 2011 should take a deep breath, relax, and think about things a bit more critically. Sure, he didn’t have an impressive major league debut, but he pitched excellently as a 20 year old in Triple-A. The fact he was able to reach the majors before his 21st birthday trumps what he did when he got there. Teheran has struggled at times in the spring, and the highlight, or perhaps lowlight, came in his first start. He allowed seven earned runs on six home runs to the Tigers. He has since settled in, and pitched better, though, not spectacularly.
Teheran commands a 93-95 MPH heater that can touch 97 MPH. His best offspeed pitch is a plus changeup that has great velocity separation from his fastball. His inconsistent curveball has been a big part of the reason he didn’t post a gaudy strikeout rate in Triple-A and struggled against major league hitters. The pitch reportedly shows promise, even flashing plus, but it needs more refinement. He is in the mix to break camp in the Braves rotation as an injury fill in for Tim Hudson. It’s tough to envision him being a fantasy asset this season, but long term, he’ll be just fine.
Tyler Skaggs, Arizona Diamondbacks, 20 years old
Skaggs has been everything the Diamondbacks could have hoped for, and more, since they received him in trade for Dan Haren. He made minor league hitters in High-A and Double-A look silly last year, striking out 198 in 158.1 innings (11.25 K/9). Skaggs combined his big strikeout rate with a stellar walk rate (2.79 BB/9). He joined Bauer in spring training with the Diamondbacks, but unlike Bauer, remains there. His first appearance was a rough one, but he has been very good since allowing just one run in five innings pitched while striking out six and walking none.
Skaggs is a tall, 6-foot-4 southpaw that saw his game elevate to another level last year after adding a few ticks to his fastball. He now sits in the low-90s more consistently. Because he is still skinny, there is talk he could add a bit more velocity as he continues to fill out. His curveball is a weapon whether he is throwing it for strikes, or using it as a chase pitch. His changeup improved last year, and is an average offering now. Skaggs is unlikely to break camp with the Diamondbacks, and should start the year in Triple-A. It will be a race between Skaggs, Bauer, and possibly Patrick Corbin to reach the majors.
Shelby Miller, St. Louis Cardinals, 21 years old
After an impressive season in Low-A in 2010, Miller picked up where he left off in 2011 against more advanced competition in High-A and Double-A. The 2009 first rounder has a 11.4 K/9 in over 50 minor league starts. He struck out better than a batter per inning in Double-A for a 9.2 K/9, and sported a passable walk rate of 3.43 BB/9.
This big Texas bred right-handed hurler follows in the foots of many a flame thrower from the Lone Star state, and packs heat himself throwing his fastball in the mid-90s. The fastball is a swing-and-miss pitch but not his only one, as his curveball is devastating as well. His average changeup gives him a third pitch to retire batters with, and it has plus development potential. He was a non-roster invite to spring training, and he pitched in two games for the Cardinals this spring. He has since been optioned to minor league camp, but could reach the majors this year. With an uncertain timetable to return to pitching hanging over Chris Carpenter’s head, the door to a rotation spot could open up sooner to Miller than initially expected.
Jameson Taillon, Pittsburgh Pirates, 20 years old
Taillon was handled with kid gloves in 2011 as the Pirates kept him on a very restrictive pitches and innings limit. They also had him primarily throw fastballs so as to improve his control and command of the pitch. With that in mind, his numbers become all the more impressive. His strikeout rate is already very good at 9.42 K/9 but could elevate to another level as he’s allowed to use more of his repertoire regularly.
Taillon is a big boy, 6-foot-6 and 226 pounds, and generates a big boy fastball. His heater sits in the 95-97 MPH range. Taillon’s curveball is a 12-to-6 strikeout weapon, and his slider is a solid second breaking ball. He didn’t need a changeup much in high school, and he didn’t work on it much in his first year in pro ball, but he shows feel for it according to most scouting reports. He’ll move up to High-A to start the 2012 season, and could move more quickly as the Pirates loosen the reins on him.
Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates, 21 years old
Cole had good results in college, but he became the number one pick in last June’s draft because of projection for so much more. He didn’t play in any minor league games after signing, but did go to the Arizona Fall League. He pitched well there in five games spanning 15 innings (not including his Rising Stars game start). In that time span he had a 9.60 K/9 and 2.40 BB/9.
His fastball is of the special 80 grade variety (80 being the top grade on the 20-to-80 scale used by scouts). It sits in the upper-90s and can hit triple digits. His slider is a wipeout pitch that earns plus to plus-plus grades, and his changeup is yet another plus pitch. All the seeds of a special pitcher are planted and ready to blossom. However, to date, he has yet to dominate in a way a pitcher with his electric collection of pitches should. It’s likely just a matter of time before his dominance in the stat line matches his stuff. Cole is expected to open the year in High-A, but could finish the year in the majors if everything clicks.
Drew Pomeranz, Colorado Rockies, 23 years old
Pomeranz was drafted in 2010 but already finds himself with his second major league organization. That speaks more to another team coveting him than his former employer finding him dispensable. He was the premier piece headed to the Rockies in return for Ubaldo Jimenez. Because the deal took place less than one calendar year after his signing, he was included as a player to be named later, and sat out two weeks waiting to be named in the trade. He did not pitch a professional inning in his draft year, but moved quickly in 2011, reaching the majors by season’s end. He was dominant in stops at High-A and Double-A. The only thing that could stop Pomeranz in his brief minor league career was an appendectomy. He recovered quickly enough to make four starts for the Rockies. In 20 minor league starts he totaled a 10.6 K/9 and a sub-2.00 ERA (1.78 ERA to be exact).
Pomeranz mixes three pitches. The first is a fastball that sat in the low-to-mid-90s prior to his appendectomy. The second is a swing-and-miss curveball, and the third is a developing changeup. He relied primarily on the fastball/curveball combination in the minors, and probably has a bit more work to do in reaching his ceiling than his dominant statistics would suggest. He has been outstanding this spring, and should open the year in the Rockies rotation. Expecting immediate fantasy stardom is wishful thinking. He is a young pitcher, pitching in an offensive friendly home ballpark. He could be useful in large mixed leagues and NL-only formats, but expect some hiccups along the way.
Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals, 20 years old
The artist formerly known as Carlos Matias made his stateside debut for the Cardinals this past season. He was lights out in Low-A, but struggled in High-A. He burst onto top prospect lists after dazzling in the Rookie level Dominican league in 2010. His play in Low-A was an extension of his dominance in the Dominican Republic, but struggles with his control and his general rawness as a pitcher caught up to him.
Martinez has one of the best fastballs in the minors, both because of his upper-90s velocity (he can hit 100 MPH) and movement. His sinker sits a few ticks below his four-seam fastball and helps him induce groundballs routinely. His curveball can be a wicked offering at times but lacks consistency. His changeup shows promise as well, but he can be guilty of throwing it too hard on occasion. Refining his secondary pitches will help him as he repeats High-A this season. There are questions about his ability to remain a starting pitcher, mainly because most outlets describe his delivery as being violent. Should he be forced to move to the bullpen, his fantasy stock would take a hit, but he’d have plenty of stuff to project as a future closer.
Zack Wheeler, New York Mets, 21 years old
The Giants may look back on July 27, 2011 regretfully in coming seasons. That was the day they officially dealt Wheeler to the Mets for Carlos Beltran. The team failed to make the playoffs and opted to allow Beltran to leave as a free agent. Meanwhile, Wheeler has continued to pitch like a blue chip prospect. He is a strikeout machine that came into the season needing to shore up his control. In the Giants system it was more of the same, but upon joining the Mets, his walk rate improved dramatically. In 27 innings for High-A St. Lucie he walked just five batters (1.67 BB/9). Matt Eddy of Baseball America credits his improved control to him reverting back to his high school pitching mechanics in July.
Wheeler throws a plus fastball that sits in the mid-90s and can reach the upper-90s. He backs it with a plus curveball, a promising changeup and a newly developed cutter (or slider). Improving his command and bettering his changeup will help him in his quest to reaching his high ceiling of a front line starter. He is ready to take on high minors hitters and will begin 2012 in Double-A pitching for the Binghamton Mets.
Matt Harvey, New York Mets, 22 years old
Harvey has a compelling case to rank ahead of Wheeler, and on many prospect lists he does. Point being, he is in the same class of prospect as his new teammate. Harvey toyed with High-A hitters and was much better than his ERA would suggest against Double-A competition. His 10.3 K/9 across both levels should get the attention of fantasy gamers, and his 3.11 BB/9 is quite good for a power pitcher.
Harvey, like Wheeler, sees his fastball reside in the low-to-mid-90s, touching the high-90s. He is able to use the pitch low in the strike zone to induce groundballs at a healthy rate and is able to miss bats using his 12-to-6 curveball or his slider. His changeup is a below average pitch currently, but he is working to change that. How much he’s able to improve the pitch will be key in determining his future value. Harvey made a good impression on Mets manager Terry Collins in the spring, but he will begin the season back in the minors. There is a good possibility he will get to further impress Collins as a member of the Mets later this season.
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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