Top 30 Pitching Prospects: #1-10 (Preseason 2018 Edition)

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

There are numerous impressive young pitchers who have already reached the Majors, and there’s another class coming that could be even better.  While you could argue that the “top” option is there by default, there’s no questioning the upside of Shohei Ohtani.  Who rivals him at the top of these rankings, though?  What surprising names are included here?  Let’s take a look:


1) Shohei Ohtani – Right-Handed Pitcher/Outfielder
Grade – A
ETA – 2018
Los Angeles Angels #1 Prospect

We all know the story and you can argue that his inclusion on this list is more technicality than anything.  He comes to the U.S. after impressing in Japan, with the intrigue coming as to how he’ll produce spending time as both a hitter and pitcher.  There’s no questioning the upside, as he could be a Top 10 starter as soon as this season, though there’s obviously some risk involved as we’ve seen pitchers struggle upon transitioning before.


2) Forrest Whitley – Right-Handed Pitcher
ETA – 2019
Grade – A
Houston Astros #2 Prospect

The 17th overall selection in the 2016 draft, Whitley pitched across three levels last season (92.1 IP, including 14.2 at Double-A) and flashed enough of the skills we look for:

  • Strikeouts – 13.94 K/9 (17.7% SwStr%)
  • Control – 3.31 BB/9
  • Groundballs – 38.1%

The most notable number is the walks, considering he pitched the year as a 19-year old and stands 6’7”.  Typically it takes taller pitchers time to find their control, but Whitley actually got better as he advanced (2.59 BB/9 at High-A, 2.45 at Double-A).  Considering the way Houston appears to be pushing him it’s not unthinkable that he arrives late in ’18, but 2019 is far more likely.  Either way he is looking like a top of the rotation starter with ace potential.

Note – The early season suspension dampers the upside, at least a little bit, but it doesn’t eliminate it.


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3) Mitch Keller – Right-Handed Pitcher
Grade – A
ETA – 2018
Pittsburgh Pirates #1 Prospect

Keller is among the best pitching prospects in baseball, though he doesn’t get the attention he deserves.  That’s all going to change, especially with the potential that he reaches the Majors in ’18 after making six starts at Double-A and throwing 116.0 impressive innings overall.  The 21-year old showed off all three skills we look for from any pitcher:

  • Strikeouts – 9.00 K/9
  • Control – 2.48 BB/9
  • Groundballs – 51.5%

You could argue that we’d like to see more swing and miss stuff (9.6% SwStr%), and that’s fair.  He’s not a flamethrower who is going to rack up a 10+ K/9, instead he knows how to pitch, throws strikes and has the stuff to produce a 7.5-8.5 K/9.  There’s nothing wrong with that and it shouldn’t be discounted.  Maybe the recent Pittsburgh pitching prospects (Tyler Glasnow, for instance) have overshadowed Keller, but that’s not going to last much longer.  While others have struggled, Keller has the makeup to hit the ground running and make an instant impact in the Majors.


4) Brent Honeywell – Right-Handed Pitcher
Grade – A
ETA – 2018
Tampa Bay Rays #1 Prospect

There were cries for Honeywell to be promoted last season, but the Rays opted to keep him in the minors (mostly at Triple-A) where he thrived:

  • Double-A (13.0 IP) – 2.08 ERA, 0.62 WHIP, 13.85 K/9, 2.77 BB/9, 47.4% GB%
  • Triple-A (123.2 IP) – 3.64 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 11.06 K/9, 2.26 BB/9, 41.2% GB%

He brings a deep and diverse arsenal, though he’s best known for his screwball, clearly can get swings and misses (15.0% SwStr%) and throw strikes.  You could argue that he could be prone to home runs in the Majors, though that’s not a significant red flag.  A poor WHIP at Triple-A?  It’s easy to point towards a .365 BABIP.  No one is going to argue against Honeywell as one of the elite pitching prospects in the game and there’s little doubt that he’ll get his opportunity at the highest level early in ’18.

Note – Honeywell drops a little bit due to the news of Tommy John surgery, but he remains one of the elite pitching prospects in baseball his arrival is simply delayed


5) Hunter Greene – Right-Handed Pitcher
Grade – A
ETA – 2021
Cincinnati Reds #2 Prospec

The second overall selection in the 2017 draft, many viewed him as the top talent available.  Touching triple-digits, the high school pitcher has the size (6’4”) and is projectable.  No one is going to question the potential and he could ultimately develop into one of the elite arms in the game, but it’s going to take time and we all know the risk of investing in young pitchers given the rash of injuries.

Of course Greene isn’t your typical pitcher, and he also has the fallback of being thought of as a potential first round pick for his bat as well.  That gives him a bit of a safety net from a prospect perspective.


Order Rotoprofessor’s 2018 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide for just $7.50!!  Click here for the details, but don’t miss out on the best bargain in fantasy baseball preparation.


6) Alex Reyes – Right-Handed Pitcher
Grade – A-
ETA – Already Arrived
St. Louis Cardinals #1 Prospect

It’s easy to forget about Reyes, after he missed all of ’17 due to Tommy John surgery.  Obviously that adds a few more questions, as there’s never a guarantee that he will return to 100% (as much as you want to believe that he will).  That said there’s no questioning the upside he possesses.

Even before the injury there were questions (so, when coupled with the injury, he gets dropped a partial grade from an “A” last year).  Here’s what we said last year, as we will still be looking for answers to these:

Reyes arrived in the Majors in 2016 with much fanfare, and while he did spend some time pitching out of the bullpen (12 appearances, 5 starts) he showed off his electric stuff en route to a 10.17 K/9.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t questions, as he continually has struggled to find his control:

  • High-A (2015) – 4.38
  • Double-A (2015) – 4.67
  • Triple-A (2016) – 4.41
  • Majors (2016) – 4.50

Just 22-years old (he’ll turn 23 in August), there’s obviously still time for him to figure things out.  However we’d like to see some sort of growth, otherwise a move to the bullpen where he could emerge as an elite closer isn’t out of the question.  There was also the 50-game suspension to open the season for testing positive for marijuana, just adding another thing to keep an eye on.


7) A.J. Puk – Left-Handed Pitcher
Grade – A-
ETA – 2019
Oakland A’s #1 Prospect

When you look at his 4.03 ERA and 1.25 WHIP over 125.0 IP between High-A and Double-A you are going to be somewhat disappointed.  However a .361 BABIP and 63.6% strand rate show that there was a lot of poor luck behind the numbers.  Just look at these key numbers:

  • 13.25 K/9
  • 3.46 BB/9
  • 15.6% SwStr%
  • 44.5% groundball rate

The groundball rate is more than enough, especially getting to pitch half his games in Oakland.  The upside is there to be one of the elite starters in the game and it could come quickly.  There’s even a chance that he gets to make his MLB debut before 2018 is over, especially since he’ll turn 23 early in the season and has already spent significant time at Double-A (64.0 IP).


8) Sixto Sanchez – Right-Handed Pitcher
Grade – A-
ETA – 2019
Philadelphia Phillies #2 Prospect

He’s 19-years old, but there is no questioning the pure stuff and upside.  While he “stumbled” in 27.2 IP at High-A last season (4.55 ERA), that does little to change things.  The number that jumps out at you is his pinpoint control, especially pitching much of the year as an 18-year old, with a 1.71 BB/9 over 95.2 IP.  He showed enough groundball stuff, with a 45.4% groundball rate, though he showed more upside at Single-A (48.3%).  The bigger question comes from his size (he’s listed at 6’0” and 185 lbs.) and his strikeout rate.  The latter shouldn’t be an issue, considering his 11.2% SwStr% and we’ve seen Aaron Nola struggle with strikeouts in the minor leagues and develop as he matured.  As long as he proves he can hold up to a starters workload, he has the stuff to be among the elite.


Order Rotoprofessor’s 2018 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide for just $7.50!!  Click here for the details, but don’t miss out on the best bargain in fantasy baseball preparation.


9) Michael Kopech – Right-Handed Pitcher
Grade – A-
ETA – 2018
Chicago White Sox #2 Prospect

We all know he throws hard, hitting 100 mph often, the question is going to be if he can find a way to continually control his elite stuff.  Last season he spent the bulk of the year at Double-A (119.1 IP) before getting his feet wet at Triple-A (15.0 IP).  All told he compiled a 4.35 BB/9, and when you couple that with the potential for home runs to become an issue (40.1% groundball rate) there could be a few bumps along the way.  Of course opponents need to make contact for the latter to become a problem, and that’s something that just doesn’t happen very often (12.5% SwStr% in ’17).

If Kopech can’t find his control consistently he could easily be shifted to the bullpen, where he will likely emerge as one of the elite closers in the game.  While the White Sox will continue to try and develop him as a starter, given his upside potential, he should be an elite talent regardless of the role.


10) MacKenzie Gore – Left-Handed Pitcher
ETA – 2020
Grade – A-
San Diego Padres #2 Prospect

The third overall selection in the 2017 draft, Gore threw 21.1 impressive innings in Rookie Ball after being selected.  He flashed unbelievable swing and miss stuff (in an obviously tiny sample size), generating a 30.3% SwStr%, to go along with groundballs (68.3%) and control (2.95 BB/9).  Obviously we aren’t going to read too much into those numbers alone, but it’s the stuff he threw that garners our attention.

Reports have him already featuring an impressive four-pitch mix and he’ll pitch all of ’18 as a 19-year old.  He has ace stuff, with the size (6’3”) and ability.  Now he just needs to prove he can do it while taking the ball every five days, and that should happen in ’18.

Make sure to check out all of our 2018 Preseason Top 10 Prospect Lists:

AL EastAL CentralAL West
Baltimore OriolesChicago White SoxHouston Astros
Boston Red SoxCleveland IndiansLos Angeles Angels
New York YankeesDetroit TigersOakland A's
Tampa Bay RaysKansas City RoyalsSeattle Mariners
Toronto Blue JaysMinnesota TwinsTexas Rangers
NL EastNL CentralNL West
Atlanta BravesChicago CubsArizona Diamondbacks
Miami MarlinsCincinnati RedsColorado Rockies
New York MetsMilwaukee BrewersLos Angeles Dodgers
Philadelphia PhilliesPittsburgh PiratesSan Diego Padres
Washington NationalsSt. Louis CardinalsSan Francisco Giants

Order Rotoprofessor’s 2018 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide for just $7.50!!  Click here for the details, but don’t miss out on the best bargain in fantasy baseball preparation.

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