With Tyler Thornburg, Jacob Turner and Chris Archer all getting recalled last week to start, you have to wonder which other pitching prospects sitting in the minor leagues could get an opportunity in the second half of the 2012 season. We’re not looking for players who could come up just to make one start or two, but instead players who can come up, take the ball every five days and make an impact for fantasy owners. Let’s take a look at our Top 12 (those currently in the Majors, like Turner, were left off this list as were players not considered prospects like Andrew Cashner):
- Trevor Bauer – Arizona Diamondbacks – RHP
The time has finally come, as word is he’ll be up to replace Joe Saunders in the rotation this week. He was impressive at Double-A to open the season (7-1, 1.68 ERA, 60 K over 48.1 IP) and has arguably been more impressive since being promoted to the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League (4-0, 2.82 ERA, 56 K over 44.1 IP). His control is something that needs to be monitored, having walked 48 batters in just 93.0 IP this season. You can get away with that in the minor leagues, but in the Majors it could quickly come back to haunt you. Still, with his strikeout ability he has more potential to overcome a few extra base runners.
- Danny Hultzen – Seattle Mariners – LHP
For awhile it seemed like the Mariners had simply banished Hultzen to Double-A with no hope of advancement. In 13 starts (75.1 IP) all he did was go 8-3 with a 1.19 ERA, 79 K and 32 BB. He also allowed just 2 HR and held left-handed hitters to a miniscule .094 average. Finally promoted to Triple-A, he’s now just a stones throw from giving the back of the Mariners rotation some much needed help. You can easily argue that he’s not the most talented pitching prospect in the Mariners system long-term (Taijuan Walker could be given that acclaim), but it appears like he will be the first one to arrive.
- Jake Odorizzi – Kansas City Royals – RHP
The Royals could use Odorizzi immediately, but they team is in no rush to get him to the Majors. He pitched well at Double-A (3.32 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 11.13 K/9, 2.37 BB/9 over 38.0 IP) and has been just as good in the PCL (2.72 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 8.62 K/9, 2.72 BB/9 over 39.2 IP). One of the key pieces of the Zack Greinke trade, sooner or later you would think he’s going to force the Royals hand. They have shown that they will be patient with their top prospects, however, so we may have to wait another month or so and then face him being shutdown early due to an innings limit (he threw 147 innings in ’11). Keep that in mind, but the talent is there with a minor league career K/9 of 9.62 and BB/9 of 2.70. With Felipe Paulino heading towards Tommy John surgery, the chances of him arriving becomes even more likely.
- Drew Pomeranz – Colorado Rockies – LHP
The Rockies need to get a fifth starter back in the mix so they can do away with this 75 pitch limit. With Pomeranz appearing to figure things out at Triple-A (2.51 ERA, 46 K in 46.2 IP in the Pacific Coast League), he is the likely option to join the mix. Possibly the most impressive number, though, is the 2 HR he’s allowed. Granted, he’s had his struggles in the Majors, but there is too much upside to think he is going to consistently fail.
- Jeff Locke – Pittsburgh Pirates – LHP
It’s going to be Rudy Owens or Locke who get a chance, and possibly both, as the Pirates try to stay in the NL Central race. Locke has been almost equally as impressive as Owens, with a 3.27 ERA and 72-to-18 strikeout-to-walk rate over 82.2 IP. With a minor league career 8.25 K/9 and 2.35 BB/9, there’s an awful lot to like. Let everyone else in your league ignore him due to his poor Major League debut in 2011 (6.48 ERA, 1.86 WHIP), as it will only help him this time around. He’s already felt the pressures of the Major Leagues and should be more equipped to handle it this time around.
- Julio Teheran – Atlanta Braves – RHP
Once considered the team’s biggest asset, the Braves starting rotation currently lies in shambles. Brandon Beachy is gone for the next year thanks to Tommy John surgery. Even at Triple-A Jair Jurrjens has looked awful (despite an impressive return, I wouldn’t get too excited). That should eventually lead to the return of Teheran to the Major Leagues. He has not fared well there thus far in his career (5.62 ERA, 1.42 WHIP) including allowing 4 ER in 4.1 IP earlier this season. He has been much more successful at Triple-A (3.50 ERA in 64.1 IP) and does have a ton of talent. However, I would tread cautiously with him. He hasn’t shown the strikeout stuff (6.58 K/9) and has also struggled with his control (3.64 BB/9). Opportunity puts him on this list, but it’s hard to imagine him excelling like some of the other names.
- Matt Harvey – New York Mets – RHP
The talk is that the Mets have set a specific number of innings that they want their young pitchers to throw in the upper minor leagues (Double & Triple-A) before they consider them for a promotion. That just means we are going to have to wait a little longer for Harvey, who has pitched well in 85.1 innings at Triple-A this season (3.69 ERA, 87 K). With a 3.09 ERA in his last 10 starts, it would appear like he’s getting close. With the Mets in the race, it is only a matter of time before he reaches Citi Field. The question for fantasy owners is if that opportunity will come in July or will it come in September? That question goes a long way in suppressing his potential value.
- Rudy Owens – Pittsburgh Pirates – LHP
I was extremely high on Owens entering 2011, but a 66.7% strand rate helped him to fall flat in his first try at Triple-A. While I would like to see the strikeouts up a little but, Owens does appear to have rediscovered his pinpoint control this year and, with injuries building in the Pirates’ rotation, he should get his opportunity in the not too distant future.
- Martin Perez – Texas Rangers – LHP
The numbers aren’t quite what we’d have expected (4.59 ERA, 49 K, 38 BB over 84.1 IP), but he is just 21-years old at Triple-A. That said, it’s time for him to start to live up to the hype. Considering the Rangers have already pushed him to Triple-A, it wouldn’t be surprising if he reaches the Majors the next time the Rangers need a SP. He could also get his first taste in the bullpen, though time will tell.
- Manny Banuelas – New York Yankees – LHP
When it comes to the Yankees and prospects you always have to wonder if their debut will come in New York or because of a trade. With Phil Hughes struggling and other potential questions in the rotation, the Yankees could use an arm. Will they turn to Banuelas, though, or use him as trade bait? Having struggled at Triple-A and having not pitched since the middle of May, his best chance to make an impact in NY could be out of the bullpen in 2012. That said, stranger things have happened and, if he is dealt for a more established starting pitcher, it wouldn’t be surprising to see his new team give him a look.
- Casey Kelly – San Diego Padres – RHP
He made only two starts in the Pacific Coast League before getting injured, but they were awfully impressive with a 14:0 strikeout to walk rate. He is a name we have long heard about and, if he can get healthy, should get an opportunity in San Diego this season (though Andrew Cashner, who is not considered a prospect, will beat him to the Majors). Of course, he has been out with discomfort in his elbow, so we will have to wait and see. If he can get on the mound (he could return in June) and get healthy, he should get a chance to make an impact in late-August/September.
- Eric Hacker – San Francisco Giants – RHP
If Erik Surkamp were healthy (he’s been out with a strained flexor tendon since Spring Training, including a setback in May), he would definitely be the name that I put on this list. However, he’s not and there’s no word when he could return, plus Hacker is pitching well enough in the PCL (4.04 ERA in 84.2 IP). He’s made one start for the Giants this season and, with Tim Lincecum continuing to struggle and Barry Zito in the rotation, it’s only a matter of time before Hacker gets another chance. Of course he’s struggled lately (15 ER in 16.1 IP over his past three starts), but I would expect him to right the ship. He has good control (2.84 BB/9 over his minor league career and 3.28 at Triple-A). He’s not a high-level prospect, but it’s possible he becomes worth streaming.
Other names to keep in mind:
- Shelby Miller – St. Louis Cardinals – RHP – Prior to the season would anyone have predicted he would have a 6.00 ERA, despite 73 K, over his first 66.0 IP? The problems have been his control (31 BB) and HR (15). Until he gets these issues sorted out the Cardinals have no reason to consider him (especially with Chris Carpenter closing in on a return).
- Brad Peacock – Oakland Athletics – RHP – He was supposed to be under consideration for the fifth starter spot out of Spring Training. He didn’t win the job and has since struggled at Triple-A (5.99 ERA). Things have actually gotten worse, not better, with a 9.77 June ERA. He should right the ship before long, however, so don’t fall asleep on him.
- Tyler Skaggs – Arizona Diamondbacks – LHP – If he pitched in another organization I would be much more comfortable predicting his MLB debut in 2012. However, Bauer is ahead of him on the depth chart and Skaggs may have to wait until 2013.
- Nestor Molina – Chicago White Sox – RHP – Acquired from the Blue Jays for Sergio Santos, he has struggled at Double-A (110 hits in just 84.0 IP). It’s not impossible that he rights the ship and gets a look, but he may be more of a 2013 prospect at this point.
- James Paxton – Seattle Mariners – LHP – He’s currently on the DL with a knee injury and hasn’t pitched since late May. With the other young starters the Mariners have, thwemissed time could keep him from the Majors until September or 2013.
- Wily Peralta – Milwaukee Brewers – The Brewers would’ve loved for him to be pitching like he did a year ago (3.17 ERA, 157 K in 150.2 innings between Double and Triple-A). Unfortunately his first full season at Triple-A has been a disaster, with a 6.40 ERA in 15 starts. The team could use him, but unless he fixes things in a hurry he’s not going to get the chance.
- Taijun Walker – Seattle Mariners – LHP – He may be the most talented of the Mariners young starters, but he’s just 20-years old and has made 12 starts above Single-A. More seasoning is probably in order.