Starting Pitcher Prospects: Looking Forward (and back)

Each week I will look back at my prospect rankings from last year and examine the top performers, as well as those who did not live up to my lofty expectations. In every case, it’s not my rankings that were wrong, but the player who did better or worse than they should have. I’m kidding of course; I’ve got my share of hits and misses, but this series is really about looking forward and what players to target and who to cash in on if you can.

One third of last year’s top 30 starting pitcher prospects have graduated, and have done pretty well for the most part. There are the obvious studs (Syndergaard, Roden, Severino), but there were a lot of positives to take out of performances from Norris, Owens, E. Rodriguez, and Nola. Overall, this group was largely successful, adding to the vast depth of talented major league starting pitchers. What’s amazing is, with the incredible minor league talent still on the board, we could do even better next year. It would, however, take some very good fortune to have the 2016 SP Rookie Class do as well as last year’s group. 

The Graduates (2015 rank in parenthesis)

(3) Daniel Norris, Tigers: Ranking Norris ahead of Rodon and Syndergaard even slightly, looks like a poor call last year, but it’s too early to call it a mistake just yet. Norris finished the year in Detroit, where he went 2-1 with a 3.68 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP. Take out 1 rough start against Texas and he had a 3.34 ERA with a 0.88 WHIP. His BAA was just .213, and while Keuchel and Arrieta led the field in lowest Hard Hit %, Norris would have ranked 9th in the majors had he qualified. The first chapter of Norris’ big league career may have finished, but if you can buy him low, this is the time.

(4) Carlos Rodon, White Sox: It seemed to me that Rodon was outstanding in his 2015 debut, but I may have fallen victim to some recency bias. For a rookie, I don’t really think there’s much wrong with that though. In Rodon’s final 8 starts, he rang off 8 straight QS, going 5-2 with a 1.81 ERA. In fact, he never allowed more than 2 earned runs in any game during that dominant stretch. I ranked Rodon as the 18th best starting pitcher to own in dynasty leagues, so if anyone is nervous about the high walks or the 4.03 xFIP, he makes a perfect target. With a 47% GB rate to go with his 23% K rate, Rodon should find himself among baseball’s very best starting pitchers very soon.

(5) Noah Syndergaard, Mets: What Norris and Rodon have in huge promise, Syndergaard has already delivered. Last year in 150 major league innings, Syndergaard had a 27.5% K rate, 5.1% BB rate, to go with a 46.5% GB rate. These are elite numbers and put Syndergaard among baseball’s most promising young pitchers. With an average fastball velocity of 97.4 mph (topping out at 101.4), Syndergaard really brought the heat in his rookie campaign. I’m even more impressed with his devastating curve ball, though. Take a look, courtesy of

(11) Luis Severino, Yankees: Severino went 5-3  with a 2.89 ERA in his first taste of the majors in 2015. He had a 22% K rate to go with a 51% GB rate, while walking a respectable 8.6%. He went 6 innings in 8 of his 11 starts (all of them quality), and if you took out one bad game, he had a 2.10 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. The Yankees held tight to their prized young SP at the trading deadline and they were wise to do so. They would have been hard pressed to get better results from any of the big-name arms traded even in the short-term. I ranked Severino as the 43rd best pitcher for dynasty leagues, but even with the incredible depth of pitching in baseball it feels like I should have ranked him higher. 

Other Graduates: (30) Eduardo Rodriguez, Red Sox, (18) Aaron Sanchez, Blue Jays, (24) Andrew Heaney, Angels. (28) Aaron Nola, Phillies, (29) Chi Chi Gonzalez, Tex. 

The Risers

(16) Jose Berrios, Twins: I was aggressive, ranking Berrios at #16 last year, but he exceeded my expectations and will find himself among the top 5 SP prospects in baseball in this year’s ranking. Berrios split last year between AA and AAA, ending the year with 83 K and just 14 BB in 75 AAA innings. At just 21 years old, he has a bright future ahead of him, giving the Twins the top of the rotation arm they’ve lacked for many years. 

(20) Alex Reyes, Cardinals: I wrote up Reyes almost two years ago, predicting the 2015 break out, and he didn’t disappoint! Opponents failed to hit .200 against Reyes this year, as he struck out 36.5% of the batters he faced. He can hit 100 mph with his fast ball, but also has a devastating curve. Just 21 years old, Reyes will likely start the season in AA after he finishes off his suspension for marijuana use. Whether you count that against his character or not is a bigger discussion, but it was his second failed test for a product he knew he was going to be tested for. Hopefully he learns from this, but the “speed bump” as John Mozeliak called it, certainly will slow down his development for at least 50 games. 

(23) Sean Manaea, Athletics: Sean Manaea was always going to be one of baseball’s best pitching prospects, he just needed to deliver on his promise as he rose through the ranks. In 2015 he did just that, particularly after his trade to the Oakland Athletics. In those 7 AA starts, he went 6-0 with 1.90 ERA, striking out 51 batters in 42 innings. Throughout his career, both in college and in the lower levels, Manaea used his 6’5″ size and mid 90’s heat to strike out batters at incredible rates.

Year Level IP K
2011 NCAA 83.1 82
2012 NCAA 105 115
2013 NCAA 73.1 93
2014 A+ 121.2 146
2015 R->AA 100 123

Now 23 years old, Manaea is getting close to making an impact at the major league level. He’s in a fantastic situation with the Athletics and looks to be one of the next great big league southpaws. 

The Fallers

(6) Dylan Bundy, Orioles: Bundy had another injury setback in his third Arizona Fall League outing this month. He had made two earlier one-inning starts without incident. Those were his first bits of activity since he was shut down in May with shoulder soreness. With just 63 innings thrown since 2012, Bundy won’t find himself among the top pitching prospects in the game heading in to 2016. The interesting thing is that Bundy is out of options, meaning he’ll likely find himself on the big league roster this upcoming year. The most likely scenario though is that it will be as a reliever. 

(10) Alex Meyer, Twins: I don’t remember ever liking Meyer this much, but after 27 starts in AAA in 2014 with a 27.1% K rate, I suppose it can be forgiven. Fast forward one year and the Twins have converted Meyer to a relief pitcher. He still has the ability to miss bats and could be a part of a formidable bullpen in Minnesota. He won’t be on any Top SP Prospect lists heading into 2016 though.

The New Faces

Blake Snell, Rays: This year’s Minor League Player of the Year, Snell breezed through 3 levels putting up video game numbers.

A+ 3 0 0.00 21 10 11 27
AA 6 2 1.57 68.2 45 29 79
AAA 6 2 1.83 44.1 29 13 57

Snell was a first round pick in 2011 by the Rays, who have had a lot of success developing arms slowly in their system. It looks like they’ve done it again with another big arm, nearly ready for the major leagues. A tall left-hander, Snell can throw in the mid 90’s with a plus curve and change. His progress has been nothing short of remarkable, and should be on the radar of even those in redraft leagues in 2016. 

Jose De Leon, Dodgers: De Leon was the 724th pick of the 2013 draft, which might explain him not being ranked too aggressively heading in to 2015. He showed some promise in 2014 though, striking out 119 batters in 77 innings. He followed that up with 163 strikeouts over 114 innings last year. Here’s a look at 12 of them, courtesy of ieProSports.

With a mid 90’s heater to go with a plus slider and plus change-up, De Leon should be bringing his high strikeouts to the major leagues some time late in 2016. It’s probably too late to make a move for him in your fantasy league, but it won’t get any easier later. 

Steven Matz, Mets: Matz was outstanding in his big league debut this year, going 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA for the Mets. He is already a tough target in dynasty leagues and may even be drafted too early in seasonal leagues in 2016. What Matz apparently lacked heading in to 2015 (quality off speed offerings) is no longer a concern in the least. His curve ball was about league average last year, to go with a solid change-up. With 35.2 major league innings, Matz will be eligible for just one more prospect list; he’ll certainly make the most of it. Here’s a video of Matz from Baseball America:

Next week, along with Andy Germani, I will start working behind the scenes putting together our top prospect lists for 2016. They should be our best ever!


Prospects: Looking Forward (and back)
CatcherFirst BaseSecond BaseThird BaseShortstopOutfield

Fantasy Rundown BannerHead on over to Fantasy Rundown for more minor league prospect news, draft prep advice, off-season happenings, rankings, and tons of other baseball related links.

Paul Hartman

Written by 

Fantasy Baseball player since 1987. Creator of Fantasy Assembly, yet just fortunate enough to be a part of it.