by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
We’ve seen some tremendous pitching prospects emerge in recent years and there could be many more arms joining them in the not-so-distant future. Who are the best pitchers coming through the pipeline? Who could explode onto the scene and quickly emerge as one of the elite in the game? Let’s kick off our starting pitcher prospect rankings with #1-10:
1) Lucas Giolito – Washington Nationals
#1 prospect for Nationals
Grade – A
Giolito is one of the premier prospects in the game, not just one of the premier pitching prospects. He split time between High-A and Double-A last season (117.0 IP) compiling a 3.15 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. Of course it shouldn’t be a surprise to see the metrics regress, at least a little bit, as he moved to Double-A:
- High-A – 11.1 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 1.36 GO/AO
- Double-A – 8.6 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 1.28 GO/AO
At 6’6” and 255 lbs. he has the size teams look for and he certainly matches it with the stuff. Over his minor league career he owns a 10.0 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and 1.48 GO/AO and reading into the “regression” at Double-A would be a mistake. There’s going to be a learning curve and, as it is, no one is going to complain. The fact that he could do so much more speaks volumes.
It’s just a matter of time before Giolito slides into the Nationals rotation, forming a formidable 1-2 punch at the top with Max Scherzer. His presence certainly played into the decision to allow Jordan Zimmermann to walk in the offseason.
2) Alex Reyes – St. Louis Cardinals
#1 prospect for Cardinals
Grade – A
Reyes reached Double-A last season and while he’s going to need a little bit more time to develop, there’s little question about how high his upside is. He showed significant strikeout stuff last season, though he has yet to truly find his control (strikeout rate // walk rate):
- High-A (63.2 IP) – 13.57 // 4.38
- Double-A (34.2 IP) – 13.50 // 4.67
With a fastball that routinely reaches triple digits and a curveball that’s lights out, it’s just a matter of Reyes developing his third offering as well as finding consistency in the strike zone. It should happen, and fairly quickly. It’s not impossible that he makes a significant impact this season, though in 2017 may be much more likely.
3) Julio Urias – Los Angeles Dodgers
#2 prospect for Dodgers
Grade – A
The southpaw pitched most of ’15 as an 18-year old, reaching Triple-A, and likely would’ve arrived in the Majors had he not missed time for a pre-planned procedure. In 13 starts at Double-A he showed just how good he could be, with a 2.77 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 9.75 K/9 and 1.98 BB/9. Throw in a 1.05 GO/AO and what’s not to like?
One of the only things would be his delivery, which is unconventional, but we’re splitting hairs. The fact that he threw 80.1 innings last season could ultimately keep him out of the Majors in ’16, though don’t rule it out.
4) Tyler Glasnow – Pittsburgh Pirates
#1 prospect for Pirates
Grade – A
One of the premier prospects in the game, Glasnow accumulated a 2.39 ERA and 1.10 WHIP over 22 starts across three levels (including 8 at Triple-A) in ’15. At 6’8” he’s an imposing figure on the mound so the concern would be that he’d struggle with his control, something that’s common for young, taller pitchers. To an extent, he’s not immune to the issue (BB/9):
- Single-A (5.1 IP) – 3.4
- Double-A (63.0 IP) – 2.7
- Triple-A (41.0 IP) – 4.8
Overall he owns a 4.2 BB/9 in the minors, so it will be something that we’ll have to monitor. If he can find consistency in his delivery, even if it’s just at his overall 3.5 BB/9 from ’15, his stuff will play up as an ace. He’s posted an eye-popping 11.8 K/9 in the minors, including a 10.5 mark at Triple-A last season.
At 22-years old and with experience at Triple-A he’s a near lock to arrive in ’16 and could hit the ground running. It’s all about harnessing his stuff, something that should come before long.
5) Blake Snell – LHP
#1 prospect for Rays
Grade – A
Was there any prospect who raised their stock more than Snell in 2015? While he ultimately fell short of reaching the Majors, he posted a 1.41 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 163 K over 134.0 IP across three levels in the minor leagues. It’s hard not to fall in love with those numbers, especially when you add in his 1.28 GO/AO.
There are two “concerning” numbers, with a 3.56 BB/9 and 91.3% strand rate, though would anyone really expect him to replicate his video game like numbers in the Majors? Pitching in the AL East alone will bring risk, especially with the lineup the Blue Jays can run out there, but the sky is truly the limit. He will ultimately face an innings limit in 2016 (probably around 165-170), but it’s likely that he arrives before long.
6) Steven Matz – New York Mets
#1 prospect for Mets
Grade – A
He would’ve joined Syndergaard and Conforto on the highly impressive graduated list, but injuries helped to suppress his time in the big leagues (he made six regular season starts). That said, when people talk about Matz he’s included at nearly the same level as the other three Mets starters (Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey & Syndergaard). That alone should tell us how high his ceiling is.
Matz showed strikeouts and control at every level he pitched last season, backing up the somewhat meteoric rise from the southpaw (showing only levels he pitched at least 30 IP):
- Triple-A – 9.37 K/9, 3.09 BB/9 over 90.1 IP
- Majors – 8.58 K/9, 2.52 BB/9 over 35.2 IP
He showed more groundballs at Triple-A (1.73 GO/AO), which would truly give him the total package (especially pitching in the NL East). With a minor league career 9.3 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 and success on the biggest stage, there’s no questioning how high of an upside he possesses.
7) Kyle Zimmer – Kansas City Royals
#1 prospect for Royals
Grade – A-
The fifth overall pick in 2012 got a late start to the season thanks to shoulder issues, but once he arrived he showed that he has the makings of an ace starter. Splitting time between High-A and Double-A, Zimmer only threw 64.0 IP but compiled a 2.39 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 10.13 K/9 and 2.81 BB/9. Over 216.2 IP in the minors he has demonstrated all of the skills we look for from a starting pitcher:
- Strikeouts – 10.78 K/9
- Walks – 2.83 BB/9
- Groundballs – 1.41 GO/AO
If he can simply stay healthy it’s clear that he can make a significant impact. It will be interesting to see how many innings the Royals allow him to throw in 2016, but with a strong start he should arrive in Kansas City before long.
8) Jose Berrios – Minnesota Twins
#2 prospect for Twins
Grade – A-
He’d be the top ranked prospect in most systems, but the presence of Buxton knocks him down to #2. That said he has proven that he can bring all the skills to the table that we look for from a starting pitcher as he split time between Double and Triple-A:
- Strikeouts – 9.47 K/9
- Walks – 2.06 BB/9
- Groundballs – 0.96 GO/AO
Sure you can argue for more groundballs, but potentially elite strikeout stuff helps to offset that. The supporting numbers led to a 2.87 ERA and 1.05 WHIP over 166.1 innings.
The Twins ignored the cries for him to try and help the Major League team down the stretch and there are concerns that he may not be able to hold up to a full workload thanks to his size (6’0”, 185 lbs.). Time will tell, but he has little left to prove and shouldn’t face much of an innings limit, if any, in the coming season.
9) Jose De Leon – Los Angeles Dodgers
#3 prospect for Dodgers
Grade – A-
In most organizations De Leon would be the top prospect, but in LA he’s a distant third. That speaks more to the two players ranked above him than anything. He split time between High-A and Double-A last season, showing both strikeouts and control at each stop:
- High-A – 13.86 // 1.91
- Double-A – 12.33 // 3.40
With 163 K over 114.1 IP he clearly brings potentially elite strikeout stuff. The question is going to be if he can keep the ball in the ballpark, considering his GO/AO of 0.77 and having allowed 12 HR last season. Pitching in the PCL is going to be a big challenge, but if he conquers that it’s not impossible that he arrives late in ’16.
10) Sean Newcomb – Atlanta Braves
#3 prospect for Braves
Grade – B+
The key to the Andrelton Simmons trade, the southpaw racked up 168 K over 136.0 IP across three levels. While he needs to work on his control, including a 6.00 BB/9 at Double-A, his ability to generate strikeouts and groundballs (1.36 GO/AO) certainly puts him on the map. He also brings the size teams look for, at 6’5” and 245 lbs., so there’s little reason to think that he won’t stick in the rotation. It sometimes takes bigger starters a little bit more time to find their control, so fantasy owners will have to be patient. If he makes the adjustments, which seems very likely, he has the upside of a true ace.
Grading System (still in development):
Grade A – Elite Prospects (aka potential future perennial All-Stars)
Grade B – Above Average Prospects (aka above average Major Leaguers, could develop into a potential All-Star)
Grade C – Average Prospects (aka solid, though unspectacular)
Grade D – Nothing More Than Roster Filler
Grade F – Move On
Make sure to check out all of our Top 10 Prospect Lists: