This is the final snapshot of this year’s current crop of prospects at each position relative to how they were ranked a year ago. I’ve examined the top performers – those who did not live up to our lofty expectations, and the key graduates. Our rankings last year were compiled by Andy Germani and myself, and I know we have our fair share of hits and misses. The point of this exercise, though, was to highlight players to target heading into 2017, as well as those to look at moving while they still have name value.
With ten graduates from last year’s Top 25 Starting Pitcher Prospects there will be a lot of new faces on next year’s list, coming out in the new year. Of the ten, most did exceptionally well and/or are on the verge of solid if not excellent major league careers. With the high volatility in pitching prospects, I would say last year’s crop was a booming success.
(2016 rank in parenthesis)
(2) Julio Urias, Dodgers: Urias did the unspeakable last year, debuting at just 19 years of age. He more than held his own, going 5-2 with a 3.39 ERA and a 25% strikeout rate. Not bad for a teenager! The sky is the limit for Urias; he even posted a 1.99 ERA and a 49% GB rate from August on.
Yesterday our crew ranked him as the 27th best SP (I had him 20th) over the next 5 years. He’ll be 25 years old at that point – just imagine what he will have accomplished already by then. I’m all-in here as I suspect everyone else is.
(11) Kenta Maeda, Dodgers: Another Dodgers rookie, albeit one 8 years older. Maeda really solidified the Dodgers rotation last year among all of their injuries. In his state-side debut, Maeda went 16-11 with a 3.48 ERA and a 25% K rate. The question for Maeda is how or even if he can be dominant late into games.
He held batters to a .188 average the first time through the order, .214 the second, and .333 the third. He never got anyone out the fourth time through (only one at bat). Some of this could be an adjustment coming from Japan where they have more days between starts. We may see Maeda improve in this area moving forward, or it could be that he’s just a 6-inning arm. He’s certainly valuable just the way he is, but if he wants to move up a tier in the SP ranks, he’ll need to boost those counting stats by going deeper in games.
(24) Jameson Taillon, Pirates: So many great arms among these ten graduates, but Taillon might be my favorite. I love the command, and I am a strong believer that his strikeout rate is going to go up. As is, he threw 165 innings last year at 24 years old, two years removed from any professional innings. He walked just 23 hitters to go with 146 strikeouts. His fastball, curve, and changeup all ranked among the league’s best last year, which makes me believe that he’s certainly not going to get worse in his second season back from 2 lost seasons due to injuries. A heavy groundball tilt, incredible control, and 3 top pitches – what’s not to like here?
Other Graduates: Steven Matz, Mets (4), Jose Berrios, Twins (6), Sean Manaea, Athletics (12), Archie Bradley, Diamondbacks (16), Jake Thompson, Phillies (18), Dylan Bundy, Orioles (19), Jon Gray, Rockies (25)
(17) Brent Honeywell, Rays: Honeywell has a plus fastball and a devastating screwball, but can also throw a curve and a change. He put up some big numbers last year, going 7-3 with a 2.34 ERA between High A and AA. He put up a respectable K rate in AA, but saw his GB numbers take a steep decline.
Overall, with the number of graduates and the solid showing last year Honeywell should slip into the top ten minor league arms heading in to next year. His final three starts and his All-Star appearance in the AFL this year really put an exclamation point on the fine season he had and the fine arm he has.
(14) Francis Martes, Astros: I was ridiculously high on Martes heading into last year, ranking him as my #9 SP prospect. He went ahead and made me look good here, striking out 131 in 125 AA innings with a 2.73 FIP. He did all of that playing the whole season at just 20 years of age. Martes has a ridiculous fastball/curve combination, to go with a developing change. If he can have all three working, he’s a top of the rotation type arm.
It’s too late to target him in dynasty formats, and while he may get a taste of the majors in 2017, he likely won’t have any value in redraft leagues.
(21) Josh Hader, Brewers: Hader was zooming along, dominating AA to the tune of a 33% K rate and a 0.95 ERA before things got ugly for him in AAA. In fairness, this was a very tough pitcher’s park in Colorado Springs in the PCL, but the problem with Hader is his lack of command. He has a devastating fastball and slider, and the .241 that opponents hit off him in AAA is the highest he has allowed anywhere in his professional career. He is downright filthy when he is on, but he won’t find success walking players at a 12% rate.
I’m still all in on Hader who is extremely close to making his big league debut. I would gamble on him in redraft leagues, as he’s surely gone in any dynasty format. He has as high of a ceiling arm as you are going to find with his unhittable stuff, but with his lack of command he may never come close to that potential.
(13) Robert Stephenson, Reds: It wasn’t just the 6.08 ERA or the K %-BB % of 7.1 from his big league debut that was troubling; it was the fact that he wasn’t really any better in AAA. His control has yet to improve since 2012, averaging a 12% BB rate throughout his minor league career. Unfortunately for Stephenson, his strikeout rate has fallen nearly every season as well. At just 23 years old it’s too early to write him off, and there may even be some value here in seasonal formats. I’ve seen enough to knock him off my top 25 pitching prospects, though.
(T14) Kyle Zimmer, Royals: Zimmer pitched 5 innings in May before thoracic outlet syndrome ended his season. This is just the latest in a long line of injuries for the right-hander who has thrown 222 innings in 5 minor league seasons. His numbers are fantastic over that time (270 strikeouts, 3.24 ERA), but he’s now 25 years old having thrown less than 50 innings above A ball. I want to believe in this arm, but I can’t justify ranking him this high after another completely lost season. If you can buy low on him, maybe he’s worth holding on to for another year based on his stuff alone.
The New Faces
Yadier Alvarez, Dodgers: Just 20 years old, Alvarez had what one might call a successful stateside debut. Of course that would also be the understatement of the year. Alvarez, with his 100 mph fastball, threw 59 innings striking out 81, posting a 2.12 ERA. His control got better as the year went on, and in A ball he posted a 35% K rate with a much more reasonable 7% BB rate. His delivery is smooth and has a slider that can be excellent as well. He’s still young, and there’s the huge inherent risk associated with young arms, but I’m not sure there are many pitching prospects that have his upside. I really like the job fangraphs did with this video of Alvarez:
Michael Kopech, Red Sox: A PED suspension that ended 2015, then a broken hand suffered in a fight with a teammate to start 2016. Not a great way to skyrocket the prospect rankings. However, there’s something about that fastball – even touching 105 mph this year – that makes Kopech a highly intriguing arm regardless of potential character issues. In High A, Kopech struck out a whopping 40% of all batters over 52 innings, holding them to a .146 batting average. The walks are a huge issue, but even at 14% we saw a K% – BB% of 26. These are just staggering numbers; he was basically unhittable this season. He continued that success in the Arizona Fall League, striking out 26 in 22 innings, posting a 2.01 ERA . There is certainly risk here, but the upside is tremendous.
Kolby Allard, Braves: Finally, I’m surprised we didn’t rank Allard last year, but he was barely 18 years old and already had some back injury concerns. He’s still awfully young to get excited about when you consider the risks involved with young arms, but he’s got some serious swing-and-miss stuff going on. As one of the youngest players in the Sally, Allard posted a 25% strikeout rate in 60+ innings of work. My friend John Calvagno of Notes From The Sally did a nice write-up of Allard that sums up his repertoire as well as some of the risks involved. If you’re going to invest in 19-year-old arms, he’s as good as any you’re going to find. Whether you should or not is a different discussion.
That concludes the movers and shakers series for this year. Andy Germani and I will start our rankings and be ready to start rolling them out in the new year.
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