Top 54 Starting Pitching Prospects

When it comes to pitching prospects, I look for improving strikeout and walk rates, as well as a general skills improvement with each step up the ladder. FanGraphs finally has some data for minor leaguers that are helpful in evaluating performance, such as BABIP, LOB%, and FIP — these stats didn’t used to be available for minors players, and I’m glad they are now. I’d also like to point out that although Tommy John surgery is more common and there are better results, any injury that shuts down a pitcher for a year makes that player risky moving forward. Not everyone recovers well, and they can lose development time. Bundy may very well be the best pitcher on this list, but without seeing him come back from his surgery, I wouldn’t take him over someone like Walker.

  1. Taijuan Walker – Consistent BB/9 that never got worse as he moved up the ranks, though it never got better, either. Still, strong strikeout potential and good MLB debut bodes well for future.
  2. Jameson Taillon – Spent most of 2013 at AA, but got some time in at AAA and held his own. Some people have liked his upside more than Cole’s.
  3. Noah Syndergaard – Had an impressive season with still amazing control. Get him now before his price becomes even higher.
  4. Archie Bradley – His ERA and WHIP were still stellar when he moved up to AA, but his K/9 and BB/9 took a hit. He is still at least a year away; I’d like to see a year at AA and a year at AAA.
  5. Dylan Bundy – He still has great potential, but I like to see players actually come back from TJS before I simply assume everything will go back to the status quo.
  6. Kevin Gausman – At 48 IP he still qualifies as a rookie. Great K/BB in high minors; only bad mark on his record is some gopheritis in his MLB debut, but he’s a solid investment.
  7. James Paxton – His K/9 has come down some, but so has his BB/9, so might simply be a matter of learning to pitch instead of throw. Had a nice MLB debut and should be a reliable #3 SP behind Felix and Walker.
  8. Jake Odorizzi – He’s ready to start, but I worry he may end up in Tampa’s bullpen due to their plethora of SP. If he wins the #5 slot, he’s got immediate value.
  9. Kyle Zimmer – Ignore the slightly high ERA in high-A; he took a step forward, skills-wise.
  10. Robert Stephenson – Touched three levels but wasn’t ready for AA just yet, or he simply tired. Still a bright future, but probably needs a full year at AA and at least a partial season at AAA.
  11. Danny Hultzen – Could miss significant part of 2014, if not all of it, but for those who are willing to wait, he has huge potential.
  12. Mark Appel – As long as you don’t expect Strasburg-type strikeouts, you’ll be happy with a polished pitcher on the fast track to the majors.
  13. Trevor Bauer – Has struggled with control, and drop in strikeouts a small concern. Still a good long-term investment, but not for 2014 value.
  14. Matt Barnes – A dominant AA season marred only by slight rise in BB/9 and some back luck LOB% and BABIP. He’s nearly ready to be a #3 SP in the majors.
  15. Aaron Sanchez – Drop in strikeouts at high-A a concern, and he’s still working on his control. He’s a long-term project, though the potential is still high.
  16. A.J. Cole – Skills held in transition from high-A to AA in 2013. He seems nearly ready for the majors and could be a mid-season call-up.
  17. Allen Webster – Got his BB/9 back to an acceptable level, and at AAA. Could be starting for Boston any time now.
  18. Yordano Ventura – His short debut wasn’t exciting, but the skills he demonstrated between AA and AAA in 2013 bode well for his future. The Royals could use him in 2014.
  19. Jonathan Gray – Got his feet wet in the minors with a ridiculous K/BB. He could easily be up by 2015.
  20. Zach Lee – Improved with full season at AA. He could compete for a rotation spot in 2014, but I prefer he gets a full season at AAA, too.
  21. Max Fried – He’s still very young, and still developing. As such I give him a mulligan on his worse K/9 and BB/9 compared to 2012. A high-ceiling pitcher, especially if he stays with San Diego.
  22. Henry Owens – Had a great split between high-A and AA. Walk rate is a little high for my liking, but he could be a huge strikeout contributor as early as 2015.
  23. Alex Meyer – Lost his BB/9 gains from 2012’s high-A stint, but another year in the high minors should have him ready to debut in 2015 at latest.
  24. Lucas Sims – I really like this kid for some reason. Skills held in 2013 and bode well for the future if he isn’t rushed.
  25. Taylor Guerrieri – One suspension is bad enough, but he’s got two strikes. Potential still high, but he’s far more risky. There are plenty of prospects out there, so I wouldn’t reach for him.
  26. Luis Heredia – The only reason he wasn’t ranked high before 2013 was due to his youth (only 17 in 2012, at low-A ball). Now he’s proved that he’s legit and will be getting more attention. The BB/9 is high but he has plenty of time to get it under control.
  27. Matt Wisler – Skills held well as he climbed the ranks. May only need half a season at AAA before he’s ready. He could have some sleeper value due to San Diego obscurity.
  28. Kyle Crick – DL stint couldn’t slow him down. Amazing strikeout rate in 2013, but he needs to get the walks down.
  29. Lucas Giolito – Still young and likely a few years from the majors, but if he can hold onto his good BB/9 in his few low-A starts, he’ll be on the fast track.
  30. Roberto Osuna – Horrible strand rate ballooned his ERA, but everything else looked good. He’s still young but has a very high ceiling.
  31. Lance McCullers – Did well enough at A-ball in 2013, but still at least two years away from the majors, unless they decide to make him a closer, in which case he could be in the Houston bullpen by 2015.
  32. Anthony Ranaudo – Had a great season at AA, and when he moved up to AAA his BB/9 improved, though he lost some strikeouts. Still, he’s nearly ready for the majors.
  33. Jesse Biddle – Had a high BB/9 in 2011, improved it in 2012, but gave it all back and more in 2013, finishing with a 5.3 mark. He has to get his control to an acceptable level to be effective.
  34. Kohl Stewart – The early results in 2013 are promising, with great control.
  35. Clayton Blackburn – Performing well at each stop in the minors. Still likely two full years away from the majors, but I love young pitchers that retain a BB/9 well below 3.0
  36. Mike Foltynewicz – Struggled with control in 2013. If he pairs career-high K/9 in 2013 with his former walk rates, he could be a nice pick-up.
  37. Nick Tropeano – A great walk rate complements his above-average strikeout ability. Closer to the majors than McCullers but with less high-impact upside.
  38. Eddie Butler – Covered three levels in 2013 and got better every time. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him up in 2014 after half a season at AAA.
  39. Joe Wieland – Another TJS victim who should be recovered and competing for SD’s rotation in 2014. Had great control before injury and pounded strike zone, which can work in the NL West.
  40. Eduardo Rodriguez – Ended in AA at the age of 20, and three years of improving K/9 across three levels.
  41. Alex Colome – Three years of improving K/9, and his 2013 BB/9 was the best in the last three years. He’s ready for the MLB, but he may end up in the bullpen.
  42. Marcus Stroman – His AA season at age 22 was a resounding success. Toronto will be happy to have him in the rotation by 2015 at latest.
  43. Andrew Heaney – Large drop in K/9 from high-A to AA in 2013 is cause for concern in terms of fantasy value. Could be a valuable bench pitcher for your team, but don’t expect more unless the strikeouts return.
  44. Rafael Montero – The PCL is known to be a hitters league, and he held his own with a great ERA, WHIP, and K/BB.
  45. Daniel Norris – Spent all but one start at A-ball, so still a few years away. His walk rate needs some improvement before he could be considered for a fast track.
  46. Luke Jackson – Slowly improving BB/9 indicates he’s progressing well. A full year each at AA and AAA would have him ready by 2016. Upside isn’t a #2 SP but could still be helpful to your fantasy team.
  47. Tyler Glasnow – Another Pirates pitcher with high upside. The walks are high, but he has time to learn how to pitch instead of throw.
  48. J.R. Graham – Shoulder strain may be partly to blame for his K/9 drop, but he improved his walk rate. Only knock against him is that he isn’t necessarily young for his level.
  49. Jose Berrios – Young arm did well enough at A-ball. Still has several years in the minors before he’s ready.
  50. Julio Urias – Only 16, so there’s a lot of waiting (and risk) to deal with. However, he posted an amazing K/BB at A-ball.
  51. Trevor May – He’s stalled, with two years at AA and not much improvement in skill stats. Ceiling may still be high, but chance of reaching it is shrinking.
  52. Chris Stratton – Took great strides in his BB/9, which could fast-track him to the majors. Lacks high ceiling but could contribute to San Diego and to your team.
  53. Jimmy Nelson – Finished 2012 with a high BB/9 in AA. Got that under control in 2013 and then moved to AAA, where it jumped again. Still, he could be in the Brewers rotation in 2014.
  54. Justin Nicolino – Looks to be a control-first pitcher, given his 6.0 K/9 over two levels in 2013. That caps his fantasy upside to something like your #5 SP, but if he can get anywhere near his strikeout rate from 2012 (8.6), his ceiling would be higher.


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Kevin Jebens

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Fantasy baseball player since 2000; winning leagues ranging from 12-team H2H to 18-team experts 5x5. Has written for various baseball blogs, including the 2013 Bleed Cubbie Blue Annual.

6 thoughts on “Top 54 Starting Pitching Prospects”

  1. Nice list Kevin….
    I’m a big Gioloto fan, might have him inside my top 5. Urias, Crick are others I really like.
    With the risks associated with all minor league arms, using a cautious approach with younger guys probably is the way to go though 🙂 thanks, that’s a lot of good young arms.

  2. I do like Giolito, too, but yeah, given the number of arms in AA and AAA, there are plenty of “safer” options if you’re building a new minors system full of SP. In terms of long-term upside, guys like Giolito, Urias, and Heredia are great grabs if you’re patient.

  3. The fact that Bundy has gotten his Tommy John surgery out of the way at a young age makes me like him a little more. It seems, at least in the short term, that TJ actually improves some young pitchers and 2 years after the surgery they are better than they were before. Granted thier shelf life is cut down but what a nice run they can give you before you dump them on an unsuspecting owner. I’d buy Bundy cheap and then sell high in 5-6 years.

    1. Jim, I do prefer that pitchers have TJS earlier in the career rather than later. But like I said, I want to see him come back first, in some way. Some pitchers may be improved by it, pitching without pain/issue, but again, not everyone comes back great, or comes back at all. If he can jump right back to where he was, then he’s #1 or #2 on this list, easy. I just want to see him start pitching before I fully buy into him. See Luebke and Beachy for two young, talented arms who didn’t come back from injury in the perfect, shortest time table and stay healthy.

    1. Sampson’s awesome first half of 2013 was repeating 2012’s AA. The struggles at AAA indicate he’s got some roadblocks. That awful K/9 and BB/9 wasn’t just in 2-3 starts, it was in 9 at AAA. He also benefited greatly from a very low BABIP and a high LOB% in 2013 AA. And although at AAA he did have bad-luck LOB%, I again look at the awful strikeouts and walks. Unless he was pitching hurt, or was totally exhausted, I’m still holding off on touting him for my lists.

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