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.
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, BullpenBanter.com
Kevin Gausman video by Evan Rentschler, BullpenBanter.com
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, BullpenBanter.com
James Taillon video by JD Sussman, his full report.
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.
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.
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, BullpenBanter.com