Top 5 Pitching Prospect Duos

The two things everyone loves about the off-season are hot-stove rumors and prospect lists. The beginning of Spring Training marks the end of hot-stove season — outside a very lonely Kyle Loshe — and gives us our first glance at the young phenoms we spend the off-season debating. Today, let’s look at teams that have the best one-two pitching punches coming down the prospect pipeline.

Please note that all videos have sound.

#1 Dylan Bundy, Kevin GausmanOrioles

If you aren’t going to fork out money to compete with the American League East’s big spenders, you have to draft and develop players. The Orioles haven’t. In the past decade, Baltimore has had a top 10 selection in every Rule 4 draft — except 2005 when they selected 13th — and the team’s picks yielded two above-average players: Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters. But, after a more than a half-dozen failures, Baltimore’s past three picks have all-star upside. Dylan Bundy — who has been labeled by FanGraphs’ Mike Newman as the “human pitching machine” — is known for his free-and-easy mechanics, exceptional command and unwavering work ethic. Bundy features a mid-to-high-90s fastball, a knee buckling 11-5 curve and a changeup. His best pitch, a mid-90s cutter, was controversially scrapped by the team. Kevin Gausman isn’t merely Bundy’s sidekick, the fourth-overall selection in June’s draft has big upside. The former Louisiana State University standout is a tall and lanky right-hander with plus-plus velocity and a nasty straight-change that baffled collegiate hitters. His over-the-top delivery is unique and funky, which gives Gausman’s arsenal deception and a downward plane. If both develop as expected, they’ll anchor the Orioles’ rotation for the better part of a decade.

Dylan Bundy video by Jeff Reese,
Kevin Gausman video by Evan Rentschler,

#2 Gerrit Cole, Jameson TaillonPirates

Once a proud franchise, the Pittsburgh Pirates went into a steep decline when Barry Bonds left following the 1992 season. But the team’s fortunes could change if Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon overcome their enigmatic inconsistencies. Cole features three plus-pitches, but has yet to harness his command or show a feel for pitching. He often relies too much on his upper-90s heat, instead of working in his other pitches. Cole should reach the majors this year, but he may need to adjust his approach to fulfill his promise. Taillon also has been inconsistent, despite his plus stuff. At his best, he locates his fastball well and then punishes hitters with a nasty curveball. While Taillon has two plus pitches, he lacks anything resembling a third offering. Without a serviceable changeup, he’s forced to throw his fastball in hitters’ counts or risks falling further behind by deploying his curve. Both Cole and Taillon have outstanding, unteachable tools — but they’ll need to get past these obstacles if they want to develop further.

Gerrit Cole video by Jeff Reese,
James Taillon video by JD Sussman, his full report.

#3 Taijuan Walker, Danny HultzenMariners

The Mariners’ farm system has been highly ranked for several years, but prospect production has been unimpressive at the major-league level. Now, though, the Mariners’ potential rotation is promising. In addition to Felix Hernandez, Seattle could add Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton before the season’s end. Walker, a 20-year-old from California, was considered a high-upside pick when the Mariners drafted him out of high school in 2010 (video). Despite a statistically unappealing year, the Mariners couldn’t be happier with how he’s developed. Mike Newman has an excellent report that details Walker’s two plus-pitches, a mid-90s fastball and a tight curveball that projects as a true major league out-pitch. Reports out of Mainers’ camp are that Walker has replaced his previous curve with a “spike curveball.” The development of the new offering — and his changeup — should be monitored closely this season. Mariners supporters, desperate for offense, were ready to stage a coup when the organization drafted Danny Hultzen and passed on Anthony Rendon. After Rendon suffered another injury last year, Mariner fans should be ecstatic the team took the left-handed starter from Virginia. Hultzen attacks hitters from a low-three-quarter arm slot with a low-90s fastball that touches higher with arm-side run. Working off his fastball, Hultzen keeps hitters off-balance with his best pitch: a low-80s changeup. His third pitch is an inconsistent slider that profiles as average in the majors. Keep an eye on his command in 2013, as it escaped him last year.

Both videos by Chris Blessing,

#4 Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard – Mets

Sandy Alderson’s record with the Mets is far from unimpeachable, but two trades gave fans some hope. His first major acquisition, Zack Wheeler, took the mound Saturday against the Nationals and showcased his elite stuff during two shutout innings. Wheeler is known for having a deep set of offerings including a 90s fastball — which holds its velocity deep into starts — two breaking pitches and a changeup. All are considered above average, and the fastball is a true plus-plus pitch. While Wheeler has almost completely developed, he’ll need to work on his fastball command and the consistency of his other pitchers. Recently, Alderson acquired Noah Syndergaard whom we discussed last week. The two give the Mets a formidable duo to add to a young rotation that already includes Matt Harvey and Jon Niese.

2011 video by Steve Fiorindo,
#5 Shelby Miller, Trevor RosenthalCardinals

The Cardinals’ farm system is easily the best in baseball. It’s filled with an abundance of upper-minor-league talent. With such depth, one can make a persuasive argument to pair one of the Cardinals’ other pitchers  — Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha or Joe Kelly — with Miller. But Trevor Rosenthal has the best combination of present stuff and has the ability to start. Of course, the Cardinals’ depth may force Rosenthal to the bullpen — but that’s outside his control and doesn’t affect his prospect status. Ultimately, Rosenthal’s success as a starter might be tied to the development of his changeup, which he’ll need if he wants to contain left-handed hitters. Then of course, there’s Shelby Miller. The past season was rough for Miller, but he ended it well with six shutout innings against the Cincinnati Reds. Miller’s best pitch is his curveball, which has tight rotation and is thrown consistently for strikes. He sets the pitch up with a well-commanded, low-to-mid-90s fastball. Like Rosenthal, if Miller wants to reach his ceiling, he’ll need to continue to make strides with his changeup.

2011 video by Steve Fiorindo,

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Formerly of Bullpen Banter, JD can be followed on Twitter.

84 Responses to “Top 5 Pitching Prospect Duos”

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  1. Zach says:

    I’ll take Miller/Rosenthal over the rest

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    • stan says:

      I’m kind of surprised they weren’t #1. I think if you were to aggregate the various rankings of pitching prospects some combination of Miller/ Rosenthal/ Martinez would grade out higher than any of the four pairs of pitchers above them.

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      • Will says:

        That’s actually really easy to accomplish. I’m surprised you didn’t do it yourself.

        You’ll also find that this article isn’t entitled “Top 5 Pitching Prospect Trios,” so no one cares about Martinez in this discussion.

        Here’s a quick calculation:

        Player (BA ranking, ranking, average of two)
        Bundy (2, 2, 2), Gausman (26, 37, 31.5) = average ranking of 16.75
        Cole (7, 9, 8), Taillon (19, 15, 17) = avg of 13.5
        Walker (18, 5, 11.5), Hultzen (29, 18, 23.5) = avg 17.5
        Wheeler (11, 8, 9.5), Syndergaard (54, 29, 41.5) = avg 25.5
        Miller (6, 25, 15.5), Rosenthal (39, 43, 41) = avg 28.25

        It fits perfectly in line with the Sussman’s ranking.

        In sum: No, your Cardinals pitchers do not grade out higher than any of the four pairs above them.

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        • Anon says:

          You’ll also find that this article isn’t entitled “Top 5 Pitching Prospect Trios,” so no one cares about Martinez in this discussion.

          Actually, Martinez ranks higher in most rankings I have seen (including the two you used). Rosenthal would be left out if that is the measure you prefer.

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        • Izzy Hechkoff says:

          Though, I think it’s important to remember than the difference between the ranks is smaller as you go down the list. The difference between number one and number 11 is a lot bigger than between 11 and 21.

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        • Ben says:

          That’s actually not generally true in most years, if Jason Parks and Kevin Goldstein in their podcast were to be believed. They often said there were clear #1 or #2 guys, but after that, you could reasonably reorder the entire top 10.

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        • semperty says:

          That’s with Miller being ranked unbelievably low in the MLB rankings. None of the other prospects vary so much.

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        • matt w says:

          You could bump Miller’s ranking all the way up to #6, and the Cards duo would only leapfrog the Mets’.

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    • Steve says:

      Dylan Bundy outshines both players by himself.

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      • Ty says:

        Bundy hardly outshines both by himself. Albiet he is better than either of the other two, not by that much. When healthy Miller showed he’s still just as dominant of a starter as any prospect in baseball, and Rosenthal let his stuff shine well all season and into October.

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        • Jarrod Saltalamacchia says:

          No. Mike Newman is not the only person to sat Bundy maybe the best pitching prospect they’ve ever scouted. Bundy is definitively better than Miller ever has been.

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        • brian says:

          Healthy Miller isn’t “as dominant of a starter as any prospect in baseball”. Accepting that Bundy is much better of a prospect is the first step to understanding the article.

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      • JoeJohnson says:

        What a dumb thing to say.

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    • johnorpheus says:

      Maybe not over the first two pairs, but certainly over Walker/Hultzen and Wheeler/Syndergaard. Miller/Rosenthal are really right now. Most of these players have to really develop just to reach that level. Can’t imagine any GM in baseball would trade that kind high-ceiling, mlb ready talent for either of the above mentioned pairs.

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    • ThirteenOfTwo says:

      So I see we’ve got some Cardinals fans in here. That’s cool

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    • Ty says:

      I’m not sure I’d take Miller/Rosenthal above the rest, but I’d definite take them above 3 of the other 4. The only pair I’d consider first would be Bundy/Gausman. I also would the the M’s pair over the Bucs. I’d probably go:

      1. Bundy/Gausman
      2. Miller/Rosenthal
      3. Walker/Hultzen
      4. Cole/Taillon
      5. Wheeler/Syndergaard

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  2. Ryan says:

    Nice write up.

    Out of curiosity, were the Reds close to making the list, with some combination of Stephenson/Cingrani/Corcino?

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  3. dbake005 says:

    I don’t know enough about Syndergaard to fully make this claim, but that duo topping walker/hultzen wouldn’t shock me.

    Good piece. Bringing it!

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  4. tommy says:

    and pitt has luis heredia also, granted he is further away than cole/taillon but has just as much, if not more, upside as them. could be a really really nice rotation one day.

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  5. Jimmy D says:

    Looks like a 3-way tie for first to me.

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  6. soamx says:

    From everything I’ve read, the way these duos rank in my head i’d move Wheeler/Syndergard and Miller/Rosenthal up 1 spot each and drop Walker/Hultzen to 5th.
    Maybe a case to be made for Skaggs/Bradley as well.

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  7. Dillon says:

    If Syndergaard had still been in the Jays system would he and Sanchez have made the list? What about Sanchez/Osuna? Top 10 at least? I know they’re further from the majors than most of the duos listed and I imagine that’s a factor here but talent wise how might they stack up?

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    • Sylvan says:

      Doubtful. Wheeler’s really pulling most of the weight in the Wheeler/Syndergaard pairing, and Sanchez is around the same level as Syndergaard.

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  8. Nick says:

    This is a really cool list. It would be great to see for all teams. How far down would the Twins be with Meyer/Gibson/May/Berrios. I have to think they would have been last a year ago with Gibson going down with TJS and really nobody behind him.

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    • JD Sussman says:

      Thanks! No where close, really. Those are bucket 3 guys for me, low ceiling close to the majors.

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      • Todd Akin says:

        Not sure if Alex Meyer has a “low ceiling.” As your colleague Reed pointed out before the draft, “Possessing arguably the highest ceiling of any player in this year’s draft, Kentucky right-hander Alex Meyer shouldn’t last long come draft day.” Sure he’s raw but “he has the size and stuff to be an absolute force in a big-league rotation.”

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        • JD Sussman says:

          He isn’t a likely to be a starter, so his ceiling is low. But, he has the highest upside of the group.

          (btw, it’s “Reese”)

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        • Jeff Reese says:

          I like Meyer more than JD does. His stuff is excellent, and he has steadily improved his control/command as he’s gotten more comfortable with his huge frame. I don’t know if he’ll ever have enough command to be a top of rotation arm, but I’m more hopeful than I was when he was at Kentucky.

          I wouldn’t classify him as having a low ceiling; a low percentage to reach his ceiling, perhaps, but again, I think that percentage is at least on the rise. I see late inning reliever as being a reasonable, non-injury induced floor for him.

          With that said, he’s not in the same class as most of the rest on JD’s list. I would only take him over Rosenthal, and the Twins don’t have anyone on the same level as Shelby Miller.

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  9. Mr Midnight says:

    How the tigers duo of Cosby and Below doesn’t top this I will never know.

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  10. Long Live '86 says:

    I love the Mets young pitching – Niese, Harvey, Wheeler, Syndergaard, Fulmer, Montero, Matz, Tapia, maybe Familia / Meija and a few others who’ve got a decent chance at producing on the big league level (most likely out of the pen).

    Some really good arms on the farm, some of which are getting close to joining Niese and Harvey in the majors.

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  11. kdm628496 says:

    you seem to have forgotten biddle/morgan.


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  12. dbake005 says:

    Cole/Healthy Giolito may eventually be on a list like this.

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    • Well-Beered Englishman says:

      The Nationals are an interesting study because, as you may recall, 3-4 years ago they had a great duo of their own: Jordan Zimmermann and Cory VanAllen. Both were exciting AA phenoms; then VanAllen went down with injuries and never returned to his former potential. Jordan Zimmermann, of course, became the back half of another pitching prospect duo shortly thereafter, and is now part of an elite youngster quartet.

      If Cole and Giolito are on a list like this, it’ll likely be in 2015.

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  13. Spit Ball says:

    How far down the list would the Red Sox be. Barnes/Webster/Owings?

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  14. rotowizard says:

    I think the differences between these 5 prospect tandems is so incredibly small that there is no ‘wrong’ choice. Even as a Pirates fan I wouldn’t mind having any of these top 2 guys as the gems of my prospective staff. That being said… LETS GO BUCS!

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  15. chiefglockandhummer says:

    teheran/graham is probably like 8th or 9th?

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  16. jwise224 says:


    Not that they belong in the top five, but where would you rank Skaggs and Bradley for the Diamondbacks? Top ten? Top eight? Thanks for all the great prospect work!

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  17. STEALTH says:

    Fernandez and Heaney? Obviously they’re not Top 5 material, but I’d be interested to see where you’d rank them as a duo.

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  18. greenfrog says:

    As a Jays fan, I’m hoping to see Sanchez/Osuna on this list two years from now.

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  19. Matty Brown says:

    Curious where Sanchez and Syndegaard would place before the trade.

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  20. The Rajah says:

    Did anyone consider Tippecanoe and Tyler too for this list?

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  21. Jake says:

    Biggest knock on Cole/Taillon has a lot to do with pitch selection. I know they Bucs put some pretty serious emphasis on fastball command in the minors. Some pitchers are only allowed to throw say 20 off-speed pitches an outing. How much of this do you think is a result of that?

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    • E-Dub says:

      Depending on the pitcher, and their pitch count/innings limits, 20 off-speed pitches might actually be quite a lot. I wouldn’t be surprised if most young pitchers threw their FB 75%-80% of the time, and with pitch counts at 90-100 on the high end…

      I’d take it a step further and question how may times each secondary is thrown. J.D. was concerned that Taillon only threw five changeups when he saw him last season, as that’s by far Taillon’s least developed pitch as he notes above. If he threw 20 non-FB pitches and 15+ were curves and only 5 changeups, that would definitely be a developmental issue. Now, Taillon was supposed to be throwing 20 changeups a game once he was promoted, which doesn’t jibe with J.D.’s report, so something is awry.

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  22. MajorDanby says:

    if bauer was still with the dbacks, where would bauer/skaggs be ranked?

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  23. Brett Bochy says:

    Hey JD, Great article, any chance that Crick and Blackburn/Stratton could sneak into the top 10? I would imagine they’d make top 15 but wanted to hear your opinion.

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  24. mlbfan23 says:

    They might lack huge upside, but I think the dan straily and sonny gray combo could be a top 10 combo. Production wise straily was off the charts in 2012 and with a nice 3 pitch mix with control he should be good. Sonny Gray had a learning curve, but going from a 2 pitch guy in college to now having 4 pitches is nice progress. There wasnt another 2011 sp prospect that was moved as aggressively as him to start off in AA after being drafted

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  25. Jesse says:

    Cool article. It will be interesting to see if any if these pairs become 1 2′s in the bigs in two three years

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  26. ALEastbound says:

    Carson Cistulli clearly makes an appearance at the Dylan Bundy game at 5:38 into the video.

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  27. bjs2025 says:

    I am partially drunk right now zoning out to Shelby Miller. Damn it feels good to be a gangster.

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  28. Hal Incandenza says:

    I don’t really understand all the flack people are getting for suggesting that Miller/Rosenthal could/should be higher up on the list.

    I’m not even going to use their time out of the Cardinals’ bullpen last year as an example, even though they both looked dominant; let’s just compare the year Rosenthal and Miller had in 2012 to some of the other pairs, and compare some of the 2013 projections for said prospects as well.

    Shelby Miller threw 244 innings in pro ball from 2009-2011 with a line of 3.24 ERA, 2.5ish FIP, 11.5 k/9, 3.24 b/9, 0.40 hr/9, 1.23 WHIP, 330ish BABIP and 73ish LOB%. Very consistent, very sweet, relatively young for each league.

    Miller in 2012, age 21 season at AAA (PCL; 4th youngest player in the league at the start of the season): 136 IP, 4.74 ERA, 4.48 FIP, 10.54 k/9, 3.29 b/9, *1.58 hr/9*, 1.38 WHIP, .322 BABIP and 73.2 LOB%.

    HMMM. Lots of similarities in the peripheral stats between the two chunks of time, except for hr/9. That’s 11 HR in the first 244 IP, 24 in the next 136; Perhaps it’s misguided, but I’m willing to bet that the 250% higher hr/9 he had in 2012 is more than a bit of an outlier; my belief is affirmed even more when I consider the PCL is notable for it’s inflation of offensive statistics, especially when it comes to HRs. With this is mind- instead of just looking his elevated ERA or buying into second and third hand reports of attitude problems- I still see Miller as the #2 pitching prospect in the game. That said, I’m not a big fan of his mechanics, so all dis shit may matter not if his arm takes a table bump off the cell.

    Rosenthal in 2012, age 22 season at AA-AAA: 108.2 IP (98.2/15), 2.98 ERA, 3.35ish FIP, 8.61 k/9, 3.48 bb/9, .58 hr/9, 1.095 WHIP, .243/.313 BABIP, 74.8/66.3 LOB%.

    Torched R and A ball earlier in his career (like most all these guys), good at AA in 2012 (though appeared to be a bit lucky), dominant in 3 starts at AAA (12 k/9, 4/1 kk/b). Age appropriate every league he’s been in. Solid broski here.

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    • Hal Incandenza says:


      So once again for formatting sake:

      >>Miller 2012, age 21, AAA PCL: 136 IP, 4.74 ERA, 4.48 FIP, 10.54 k/9, 3.29 b/9, *1.58 hr/9*, 1.38 WHIP, .322 BABIP and 73.2 LOB%

      >>Rosenthal 2012, age 22, AA-AAA Texas/PCL: 108.2 IP (98.2/15), 2.98 ERA, 3.35ish FIP, 8.61 k/9, 3.48 bb/9, .58 hr/9, 1.095 WHIP, .243/.313 BABIP, 74.8/66.3 LOB%.

      >> Danny Hultzen 2012, age 22, AA-AAA Southern*/PCL: 124 IP (75.1/48.2), 3.04 ERA (1.19/5.92), 2.84/4.29 FIP, 9.8 k/9, 5.44 bb/9, 0.29 hr/9, .207/.351 BABIP, 84.1/65.5 LOB%.

      Hultzen is 6 months older than Rosenthal, and their seasons at AA are very comparable; Hultzen appeared to perform a bit better, though it’s also clear a bit luck was involved re:ridic low BABIP and LOB%, even compared to Rosie’s low numbers. I should note that the Southern League featured a very low run scoring environment in 2012, both in comparison to the Texas and Southern leagues, and to it’s environments in the past; 4.25 rpg compared to an average of 4.49 from 2009-11. Texas league saw 4.47 rpg in 2012, and 4.73 on average from 2009-11. Hultzen seemed to have fallen off when he got called up to AAA PCL, at least control wise. 43 walks in 48.2 IP is enough to turn me off, or at least enough for me to give Rosenthal an advantage, especially considering Rosenthal actually seemed to *improve* after being called up to AAA.

      >>Taijuan Walker 2012, age 19*, AA Southern: 126.2 IP, 4.69 ERA, 4.04 FIP, 8.38 k/9, 3.55 b/9, .85 hr/9, .316 BABIP, 68.6 LOB%.

      Youngest player in the Southern league…by about a year. Cot damn. Pretty impressive. Basically a comparable season to Hultzen and Rosie’s years at AA, only about 3 years younger than those guys. Fantastic to be sure, but with all of the info we have on Shelby Miller, especially focusing on from AA and above, it’s really not hard at all for me to give the nod to Miller. In 2011, Miller pitched in the absurdly high run environment of the Texas league (4.92 rpg) as a 20-year-old, just a year older than Walker this year, and his performance was amazing.

      So in conclusion, yeah, when the age is comparable, give me the guys who have shown more recent success at higher levels and in relatively unfriendly pitching environments. AKA Miller and Rosenthal.

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      • Hal Incandenza says:

        More yet:

        >>Zack Wheeler 2012, age 22, AA-AAA Eastern/Int’l: 149IP (116/33), 3.26/3.27 ERA, 2.80/3.65 FIP, 9.08/8.45 k/9, 3.34/4.36 bb/9, .24 hr/9, .299/.250 BABIP, 69.8/72.6 LOB%

        Wheeler is exactly one day younger than Trevor Rosenthal, and like Rosenthal he looked great at AA with very comparable production. Rosenthal performed better in his stay at AAA than did Wheeler, though both threw relatively few innings, so SSS etc. Not sure I see much a difference between these cats, call it a wash.

        >>Noah Syndergaard 2012, age 19, A Midwest: 103.2 IP, 2.60 ERA, 2.21 FIP, 10.59 k/9, 2.69 bb/9, 0.26 hr/9, .295 BABIP, 66.5 LOB%.

        Syndegaard had a monster year as a teenager in A ball, no doubt. In fact his year in 2012 is highly similar to Shelby Miller’s stellar year in 2010, also as a 19-year-old in A ball:

        104.1 IP, 3.71 ERA, 2.42 FIP, 12.08 k/9, 2.85 bb/9, 0.60 hr/9, .348 BABIP, 66.3 LOB%.

        Interesting comparison indeed. Maybe Syndegaard’s age 20 and 21 seasons will be similarly comparable to Miller’s, who knows? Again though, we *don’t* know how he’ll progress yet, and while it’s certainly enticing to ponder the upside, give me Miller, who has been there and done that already, and then some.

        Okay, so far, three gargantuan posts, for which I apologize; but from them I think it’s pretty clear that it’s not so loony to talk about Miller/Rosenthal deserving to be higher up on the list. The resumés speak for themselves.

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        • Simon says:

          The scouting matters too. You could legitimately argue that most of the other pairs have someone with #1 starter upside – Bundy, Cole, Walker certainly have that. Maybe Gausman and Wheeler too, but not Miller or Rosenthal for me.

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        • dovif says:

          The problem with this incomplete analysis is that it is completely stats base and included stats from very few AAA innings

          Firstly Wheeler has 4 above average pitches with a plus plus fastball, Rosenthal have two above average pitches and will need to improve his change up to get to a ceiling of a no 3. A better comparison would be Rosenthal to Synagaard because if their 3rd pitch does not develope, they are late inning pitchers

          Miller’s AAA performance left a lot to be desired, and I for one do not think he is the prospect that Wheeler is (BA would disagree) again he need to have a better change up to be successful in MLB, In my opinion, Wheeler’s 4 plus pitchers that he can command makes him a much better pitcher then Miller/Rosenthal, who only have 2 plus pitches

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  29. Would be interesting to me to see where Martinez/Wacha rank in the above. Martinez is supposed to have better stuff than Miller although in a small frame. Wacha needs a better cb which seems to be easier to develop than a change. Most of the pitchers on this list seem to need to develop an improved change to reach their ceiling. Wacha’s change is an amazing pitch, the best in the system.

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  30. According to some reports, Zach has 2 plus pitches and a developing slider and a below average change.

    Adam Foster (23 May 2011). “Zack Wheeler Scouting Report”.

    Perhaps you have some additional information to share.

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  31. Hal says:

    Anyone still have miller and rosie 5th best out of these lelz

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