We all know the risks when it comes to pitching prospects, as you just never know when the next highly regarded pitcher will go down due to Tommy John surgery (or another issue). Among the Top 30 there are some players currently working their way back (and while we want to assume that they will return just as good as they were before, is it really guaranteed).
|21||Kyle Wright||B||Atlanta Braves|
|22||Triston McKenzie||B||Cleveland Indians|
|23||Michael Kopech||B||Chicago White Sox|
|24||Ian Anderson||B||Atlanta Braves|
|25||Grayson Rodriguez||B||Baltimore Orioles|
|26||Jordan Balazovic||B||Minnesota Twins|
|27||Brailyn Marquez||B||Chicago Cubs|
|28||Nick Lodolo||B||Cincinnati Reds|
|29||Jackson Kowar||B||Kansas City Royals|
|30||Logan Gilbert||B||Seattle Mariners|
21) Kyle Wright – Atlanta Braves
ETA – Already Arrived
Wright pitched to an 8.69 ERA over 19.2 innings in the Majors, and while his 4.17 ERA over 112.1 IP at Triple-A isn’t going to impress you the underlying metrics are there:
- Strikeouts – 9.29 K/9
- Control – 2.80 BB/9
- Groundballs – 47.2%
He’s consistently shown control (3.1 BB/9 over his minor league career), and he’s been solid over his 141.0 IP at the level over the past two seasons (2.74 BB/9). He also has regularly shown an ability to generate groundballs, with a minor league GO/AO of 1.43. Couple those two things with an 11.9% SwStr% at Triple-A and what’s not to like? His struggles in the Majors should not impact his overall outlook, with the size (he’s listed at 6’4”) and stuff to thrive in the Majors.
22) Triston McKenzie – Cleveland Indians
Grade – B
McKenzie entered 2019 considered one of the top pitching prospects in the game, but a pair of injuries ultimately sidelined him for the entire season and re-enforced the questions about his durability. He has avoided significant injuries throughout his career, but minor ones have continued to be there and limit his time on the mound. Considering that the Indians have already been cautious with their handling of him, due to his size (he’s listed at just 165 lbs.), his ability to hold up for an entire season isn’t going to disappear.
There’s no questioning McKenzie’s pure stuff and if he can recover and get back on the mound he has the potential to rise back into elite status. For now the questions drag him down and he’ll need to be watched closely.
23) Michael Kopech – Chicago White Sox
Grade – B
Kopech was sidelined for all of 2019 due to Tommy John surgery, though expectations are that he’ll be ready for Opening Day. There’s no questioning the strikeout stuff, but there are questions regarding both his control and ability to keep the ball in the ballpark (career marks):
- Control – 4.41 BB/9
- Groundball Rate – 41.4%
With the missed time both of those things could become bigger issues in the short-term. It’s fair to wonder if a ticket back to Triple-A is in his 2020 future, and when he is on the mound how many innings will he be able to throw? There were going to be questions even if he hadn’t missed time.
24) Ian Anderson – Atlanta Braves
ETA – 2020
Anderson split time between Double and Triple-A last season, and the numbers took a hit after his promotion:
- Double-A – 111.0 IP, 2.68 ERA, 11.92 K/9, 3.81 BB/9
- Triple-A – 24.2 IP, 6.57 ERA, 9.12 K/9, 6.57 BB/9
He’s generally struggled with his control throughout his minor league career, and there also is going to be concern that home runs continue to plague him as he advances. While they weren’t an issue at Double-A (0.65 HR/9), he allowed 5 HR at Triple-A while watching his groundball rate take another step backwards (44.7% to 38.6%). Obviously it’s a small sample size but it will be worth monitoring.
It would be easy to argue Anderson as having the highest upside of any of Atlanta’s pitching prospects, though he also has a lot to prove.
A first round pick in 2018 (11th overall), Rodriguez has the potential to emerge as he continues developing his stuff with four pitches that can be above average or better. Pitching the year at Single-A he showed signs of all three skills we look for from a pitcher:
- Strikeouts – 12.35 K/9 (15.1% SwStr%)
- Control – 3.45 BB/9
- Groundballs – 43.8%
Reports have all of his secondary pitches improving as the season progressed, including his fastball which topped out in the 96-98 mph range. At 6’5” and 220 lbs. he has the size that can hold up to a full workload and it’s easy to envision him taking another significant step forward in his development as he likely moves up to High-A. Keep a close eye on him, as now may be the ideal time to buy low.
26) Jordan Balazovic – Minnesota Twins
Grade – B
Drafted in the fifth round in 2016, Balazovic will play the year at 21-years old and could put himself on the map. The Twins have been cautious in his usage, having been drafted at such a young age, as he hasn’t thrown more than 93.2 innings in a season (split between Single-A and High-A in 2019). However the stuff is clear with three solid offerings, including a fastball that he can run up into the upper 90s. Listed at 6’5” and 215 lbs he has the size teams look for from a pitcher, and his 12.40 K/9 (courtesy of a 12.4% SwStr%) and 2.40 BB/9 are going to open some eyes.
There are going to be questions as to whether or not he’ll generate enough groundballs (42.9% at High-A over 73.0 IP), but it’s not enough of a red flag. It could be time for the Twins to accelerate his progression, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see him arrive in the Majors late in ’20 (likely out of the bullpen, as the team has done with it’s top pitching prospects in the past).
27) Brailyn Marquez – Chicago Cubs
ETA – 2021
Marquez showed off his potential, splitting time between Single-A and High-A, though that doesn’t mean that there aren’t questions:
- Strikeouts – 11.11 K/9 (courtesy of a 17.8% SwStr%)
- Control – 4.34 BB/9
- Groundballs – 50.6%
The biggest question comes from his control, something that he is going to need to improve if he’s going to reach his full potential. He also needs to refine his changeup, giving him a third pitch to help him get through lineups multiple times. If neither of those things happen his big fastball (reports have him touching 102 mph) would play extremely well coming out of the bullpen, where he could develop into the next Aroldis Chapman-like closer. Either way he’s a prospect you want to own.
28) Nick Lodolo – Cincinnati Reds
Grade – B
To call his first taste of professional baseball impressive would be an understatement, as he had 30 K vs. 0 BB over 18.1 IP split between Rookie Ball and Single-A. There are questions about his ability to stick in the rotation, whether it’s his three-quarters delivery or the lack of a true third pitch (reports have his changeup sitting in the upper 80s, which doesn’t give the separation from his low 90s fastball). Time will tell if he can work out those issues, though the two-time first round pick (he had previously been selected by the Pirates, but opted not to sign) will certainly be given the opportunity to prove that he can handle it.
29) Jackson Kowar – Kansas City Royals
Grade – B
What’s interesting with Kowar is that he already has a devastating changeup, which by all reports is his best current pitch. Instead it’s his breaking ball that needs further development, and with any type of improvement there his three-pitch mix could entrench him as a solid starter at the highest level. Selected in the first round of 2018, he split his time equally between High-A and Double-A in 2019 and pitched well at both levels:
- High-A (74.0 IP) – 3.53 ERA, 8.03 K/9, 2.68 BB/9
- Double-A (74.1 IP) – 3.51 ERA, 9.44 K/9, 2.54 BB/9
He showed the same swing and miss stuff at each level (12.9% SwStr%), proving that his stuff plays against upper level hitters. The failure to develop his curveball could lead to a move to the bullpen, though thus far he’s shown enough to think that he’ll ultimately reach his potential.
30) Logan Gilbert – Seattle Mariners
Grade – B
The team’s first round pick in 2018, Gilbert pitched across three levels in 2019 (his first year on the field) and thrived with a 2.13 ERA and 0.95 WHIP over 135.0 IP. He showed impressive strikeout stuff (11.00 K/9 courtesy of a 14.6% SwStr%) and excellent control (2.20 BB/9), but the question is going to be if home runs ultimately plague him. Just look at the groundball rates by level:
- Single-A (22.2 IP) – 22.5%
- High-A (62.1 IP) – 45.0%
- Double-A (50.0 IP) – 32.8%
It wasn’t an issue yet, but it seems inevitable. His stuff and control make him an intriguing potential mid-rotation starter, though there are limitations to his ceiling.
Sources – Fangraphs, MILB.com, MLB.com
Make sure to check out all of our 2020 prospect rankings: