The Padres have one of the best minor league systems in all of baseball. Leading their list? MacKenzie Gore. His 2018 season was plagued with blister issues but he returned this year in full force. He had an impressive 38.2 K% and 16.8 SwStk% to go along with his 1.02 ERA and 0.71 WHIP in his 79.1 innings at Advanced-A. He has an extreme leg kick but that adds to his deception and creates great extension. Gore already has a four-pitch mix: fastball (that sits in the low to mid-nineties range), slider, curveball, and changeup. All signs point to Gore becoming a number one pitcher and the Gore-Paddack-Patiño combo is going to be a three-headed monster in the NL West very soon.
Jesus Luzardo probably would not have been on this list if a rotator cuff strain hadn’t delayed the start to his season and a lat strain prolonging his absence. He made his major league debut for the A’s late in the season out of the bullpen and looked fantastic. As a starter, his fastball sits in the mid-nineties and has an above-average curveball and changeup. At every single stop in the minors, Luzardo has been able to limit walks while maintaining high strikeout rates. I’m a bit concerned with his health going forward as he already has a TJS on his resume and unsure if his 5’11” frame can withstand his pretty violent delivery.
3 Matt Manning – RHP – Detriot Tigers
Some might think that I have Matt Manning too high. They are wrong. Kidding (not kidding) aside, Manning has the makings of being a back-end number one/ high number two starter for years to come. He spent the entire year dominating Double-A. While his strike percentage fell slightly, his command, which was the knock on him previously, greatly improved and a 28% CSW is nothing to sneeze at. What I love most about Manning is his confidence on the mound. Even when things start to spiral out of control, he remains calm and collected. Manning, unlike most of the Tigers prospects, has never dealt with any major injury. He should begin the season, whenever that is, in Triple-A and should be in Tiger Stadium in no time.
We all saw what Dustin May could do last year both as a starter and a reliever. He had an impressive 2.82 ERA in his four starts but only a 19.1 K% which is a little mind-boggling when you watch him hit the upper nineties consistently. He has both a four-seam and two-seam fastball but he uses the sinker more frequently and it is pretty obvious why. His sinker averaged 96 MPH with 16.8 inches of horizontal break which induced a ground ball 55.7% of the time and batters hit a measly 0.229 on the pitch. Because May uses his sinker, which generates a bunch of soft contact, don’t expect him to rack up a bunch of strikeouts for your team. However, he will be excellent for your ratios and great number two pitcher behind Walker Buehler.
Going into the last season, Whitley was the number one pitching prospect in all of baseball and was knocking on the door on a rotation spot for the Astros. However, he struggled with injury and poor command and he only threw 55.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. The Astros changed his delivery and where he started on the mound but nothing seemed to help. Before the shutdown this spring, he said he was going back to his high school delivery. Whitely has a five-pitch mix with some pretty impressive spin rates on his curve and change. His fastball sits in the mid-nineties, a cutter in the low-nineties, a sharp slider, a loopy curve with impressive spin rates, and a changeup that just falls off the table by the time it reaches home plate. If returning to the old delivery brings back his command and control, he is easily a number one starter, if not he should settle as a number three.
I’m torn when it comes to Pearson. He throws heaters like Mario with Flower Power but starter’s elbows with that amount of velocity have typically blown out. However, he threw a professional career-high 101.2 innings in 2019 and was looking great in Spring Training before things shut down. He has a true 80-grade fastball with an above-average slider and changeup which he will use to get lefty batters to swing and miss. I will give the Blue Jays credit, they have some really intriguing pitchers and have been able to draft and trade for elite talent so maybe Pearson will continue the trend. If the season begins, there is a non-zero chance he will begin the season with the team and if he can stay healthy he will rack up plenty of strikeouts.
Don’t let Keller’s debut last year scare you away with his 7.13 ERA over 48 innings as he is much better than he showed. His fastball sits in the mid-nineties with some late sink to it. His slider might be his best overall pitch which is interesting as he added it to his arsenal this year. Keller should begin the year in the Pirates rotation and with all of the new pitching coaches and analytics they brought in, Keller has the potential to reach his number two ceiling.
8 Casey Mize – RHP – Detriot Tigers
Casey Mize was easily the best player available in the 2018 draft after dominating the SEC at Auburn University. He began the season in High-A, a level he shouldn’t have started at, and dominated the competition. He was quickly promoted to Double-A Erie, where he threw a nine-inning shutout in his first start. His season went downhill from there and he missed some time during the season due to a barking shoulder. Mize has plus command and a lethal splitter that has amazing late life in the zone. If he stays healthy, I think he will be an excellent complement to Matt Manning and Tarik Skubal but his past injuries in college and first full season gives me pause.
A relative unknown before moving into the rotation at Cal Poly and adding a couple of ticks of velocity, Howard is one of the best pitching prospects in baseball and might be in the Phillies rotation if baseball starts their season later this summer. Not only does he have a starter’s build, but also the confidence which is evident by watching a few of his starts last year. His fastball sits in the mid-nineties and his plus changeup is deceptive and might be his best offering. He repeats his delivery well and has impeccable command. He does have a slight injury on his ledger, he missed some time last year with shoulder stiffness, but hopefully, that was just a blip and not something to worry about going forward.
Just like MacKenzie Gore, Patiño split his time between High-A and Double-A and made the Futures Game roster, and yes…he did learn that exaggerated leg kick from Gore. Patiño is extremely explosive and athletic on the mound and the amount of arm speed he has is insane. His fastball sits in the mid-nineties with a devastating slider in the upper-eighties. He still as some work to do on his curveball and change and once he masters that the Padres will have a number two starter as their number three, behind Gore and Paddack. There is a slight reliever risk based on his size and development of a third pitch but even if that happens, Patiño will be lights out in that role.
Do not let McKay’s 49 innings in the major leagues last year scare you away, he should be an excellent number two starter for Tampa Bay going forward. McKay has flown through the Rays system since being drafted fourth overall back in 2017. He was drafted as a two-way player but his pitching is much further along than his hitting and unfortunately, he will be a full-time pitcher, especially keeping in mind the depth of hitting in the Rays major and minor league roster. I hope that Tampa Bay will let him go more than five innings per start as they did in the minors but knowing the way Tampa Bay plays the game, I’ll take the under.
Michael Kopech was on his way to moving off this list when he made his debut with the White Sox in 2018. However, only after four starts, he was placed on the injured list and underwent TJS. He did not pitch in a professional game last year but was throwing towards the end of the season in the Arizona Instructional Leagues. If he can stay on the mound, he should be an excellent third starter behind Lucas Giolito and Dylan Cease. Don’t be scared off when you look at his season-long BB% from 2018. He made an adjustment by slowing down his mechanics just slightly so he doesn’t overthrow some of his pitches. He looked great in spring and was firing 100 MPH fastballs to batters, so he retained his velocity after his surgery.
13 Tarik Skubal – LHP – Detriot Tigers
There is not a single pitcher in the minor leagues that bumped up his stock more than Tarik Skubal last year. He fell to the Tigers in the ninth round in 2018 after he returned from TJS and a poor senior year at Seattle University. He began the year in High-A, wherein 80 innings he had a 2.58 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and struck out 97 batters, He was then promoted in Double-A and stuck out another 82 batters in 42.1 innings. Skubal has a mid-nineties fastball, a great slider, and an above-average curveball. The Tigers might have the best potential 1-2-3 in the minors with Manning, Mize, and Skubal.
After being drafted in the first round in 2018, Grayson Rodriguez was assigned to Low-A to begin 2019 and absolutely destroyed the league. He struck out 129 batters in 94 innings and his 34.2 K% was the highest in the South Atlantic League out of a minimum of 90 innings pitched. He has made great progress on his curveball during the year and should be above-average at its peak. In the GIF below, he gets the batter looking on the first pitch and the guy behind home plate cannot believe it. He is easily the top pitching prospect in the Baltimore organization and should be making his way to Camden Yards in the next few years.
Just like his teammate, Jesús Luzardo, A.J. Puk has struggled with injuries in his career. He missed most of this season recovering from TJS but his electric stuff remained after the surgery. The 6’7″ southpaw still has to build up his innings as he only surpassed 100 innings pitched once and that was in 2017, before his surgery. We saw him come out of the pen for the Athletics late in the season and fastball/slider combo that held right-handed batters to a 0.172 AVG. He should have a rotation spot locked up with the A’s whenever baseball starts again, but I see him as a reliever long-term. His fastball/slider combo could make him Hader-esque or maybe I’m thrown off with the hair and body type or maybe he only threw out of the pen in the minors and majors
16 Jose Urquidy – RHP – Houston Astros
Who would have guessed that Urquidy would be the Houston Astros pitching prospect to step into the rotation and throw five scoreless innings in Game 4 of the World Series? After returning from TJS in 2017, he began his season in Double-A and added a slider and a couple of ticks of velocity. He quickly moved up to Triple-A and then Houston. Urquidy has four pitches in his arsenal and his changeup might be his best offering. Batters hit 0.160 with a 13.6 SwStk% and a perfect 10 MPH slower than his four-seam fastball. While Urquidy will not wow you with his stuff, his ability to command will keep him a viable starter for the next couple of years.
Nick Lodolo was drafted by the Reds this past summer with the seventh overall pick. His fastball sits in the mid-nineties with a curveball that just falls off the table. His changeup is his worst offering but projects to be an average pitch as time goes on. I’m excited to see what Kyle Boddy and the Reds development staff has in store for Lodolo and all of the Reds pitchers. Since Lodolo is an advanced college arm with a three-pitch mix, he should move through the very system quickly.
The Seattle Mariners got a gift in the 2018 draft after Logan Gilbert was available to them with the 14th overall pick. He made the other teams look silly in 2019 after he moved from Low-A to Double-A in one year and the highest ERA he posted was 2.88 in 50 innings in Double-A. He fell in the draft as he lost velocity late in his junior year which rebounded last year. Gilbert has plus command and adding that to his above-average fastball/curve/slider mix, we are looking at the Mariners ace of the future.
The Atlanta Braves decided to rebuild in the offseason of 2014 and instead of focusing their rebuild on hitters they pulled a 180 and focused on young pitching. Other than Mike Soroka, things have not worked out on the pitching front except for their first-round pick in 2016, Ian Anderson. His biggest bugaboo has been his tendency to walk too many batters but he made strides this season. From mid-May to the end of July, Anderson struck out 100 batters while only walking 19 in 75.1 innings, which equaled an 11.9 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9. His fastball sits in the low to mid-nineties, with a mid-eighties changeup that projects to be an above-average pitch. He was a candidate to fill the fifth starter’s role in the Braves rotation this spring, so he should make his debut very soon.
Ranking Cabrera ahead of his teammate Sixto Sanchez is a hot take, but the more I’ve watched both, the more I like Cabrera. Cabrera is a 6’4″ righty signed with the Marlins during the 2015 J2 period and has consistently moved up the ranks due to the progression of his breaking ball. His fastball sits in the mid-nineties that has some pretty nasty sinking action. His breaker sits in the low-eighties that he throws down and away to righties and generates swings and misses. His changeup is average but very effective to left-handed batters. Cabrera has a combination of the stuff progression you like to see in a young pitcher and lack of injury that makes him a very exciting prospect.
While he is a bit undersized, Gray is very athletic on the mound, with quick arm speed. He is a drop and drive pitcher and his mechanics are not overly smooth, but it works for him. His fastball mostly sits in the low to mid-nineties and fastball that can work well up in the zone. He is also able to keep his velocity throughout the game. His cutter has a bit of a slow-slurvey action to it but has been effective as his put-away pitch. Gray has been a fast mover in the Dodgers system, moving from Low-A to Double-A last year. What I have been most impressed with his he has kept his strikeout rate above 25%, while keeping his walks around 5%, and keeping the ball in the yard. Gray was named the Dodgers Pitcher of the Year for 2019 which is pretty good for a Division II, two-way player from a cold-weather state like New York. Managers and scouts alike have praised his makeup so I feel confident the Dodgers will work their magic and he will settle in as a mid-rotation starter within the next few years. The time to grab him in your league is closing so make a trade offer before the hype raises his price too high.
22 Sixto Sanchez – RHP – Miami Marlins
Sanchez, who was the best prospect the Marlins received for JT Realmuto, already has a three-pitch mix. He has also had his fair share of injury scares, especially with elbow inflammation that limited him to only 46.2 innings in 2018. His fastball sits in the upper nineties and his secondary offerings of a mid-eighties change and slider that just falls off the table. Not only does he have high velocity but he also has an impeccable command of all his pitches, which has improved since he came to Miami. Even with his elite stuff, his SwStk% has sat between 8.5% and 13% and an 18% looking strike percentage gives me a bit of a pause. Maybe he is working on perfecting his breaking stuff and once he has the feel for those pitches, we will see the overall strike percentage creep up towards ace levels.
Just like another team in the rebuilding phase in the AL Central, the Tigers, the Royals have three excellent young pitching prospects that should be contributing to the team in the next few years. For the Royals, the three-headed monster is lead by Daniel Lynch, a left-handed pitcher from Virginia. Typically, pitchers who went to Virginia either break down or underperform, (pour one out for Danny Hultzen) but Lynch is different. While at school, he was a bit more vocal about how the team might be overworking him. He was drafted in the first round of the 2018 draft busted onto the scene by dominating AZL before moving up to Low-A to finish out his season. He started the season in High-A but was put on the injured list at the beginning of June with discomfort in his forearm. One he returned, he was a good as ever and finished on a high note in the AFL. Lynch has three-pitches with excellent control and bat missing stuff. He should start the season in Double-A and reaching the minors in no time.
Jhoan Duran was signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks in early 2015 for a $65,000 signing bonus and spent his first professional season in the DSL. As a 17-year-old, he threw 63.2 innings with a 3.25 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, and impressive 27.7 SwStk%. He came to the states in 2015 and unfortunately struggled during his time in the AZL. Even though he struggled from a numbers perspective scouts were impressed with his fastball and a projectable frame. He, and two other prospects, were acquired by the Twins in 2018 when the Diamondbacks traded for Eduardo Escobar.
Duran’s velocity has continued to increase the further along he has progressed in the minor leagues. During his first couple of seasons with the Diamondbacks, he was sitting in the low to mid-nineties range. Now, four-seam fastball sits in the upper-nineties and has touched 100 MPH at times. He also throws a nasty sinker in the low-nineties that drops hard out of the zone causing batters to swing-and-miss consistently. Duran put up impressive strikeout numbers last year between Advanced-A and Double-A. In 78 innings in Advanced-A he stuck out 95 batters, had a 29.9 SwStk% to go with a 52.4 GB%. Keep in mind that a league-average GB% is 43.4% for the Florida State League which is pretty impressive for a 21-year-old. Duran’s biggest issue for most of his professional career has been his command. His walk percentage dropped from 9.8% in Advanced-A to 5.9% in Double-A and hopefully, it shows some development in that area and not just small sample size noise. If the changes Duran has made is legit and the Twins want to be very aggressive, we could see Duran towards the end of the season, especially in a bullpen role. Keep in my I’m thinking from a full MLB standpoint here. I find it easier to convey how close someone is to the making the majors from a full season perspective, especially when no one knows what the season will look like, even if we have a season.
25 – Deivi Garcia – RHP – New York Yankees
Deivi Garcia had an impressive 2019 campaign that saw him go from High-A all the way to Triple-A mostly on the back of his wipeout curveball. He still has trouble commanding it along with his other offerings and I’m banking on him being a pretty lights-out reliever in the end. Not just because of his lack of control, but at 5’9″ it is a little uncertain if his body can hold up, especially with his high velocity. That being said, Garcia is a major leaguer and is a pitcher to roster in your dynasty league.
Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by J.R. Caines (@JRCainesDesign on Twitter and @caines_design on Instagram)