WTNYNovember 08, 2004
Tops
By Bryan Smith

So, we have already established the lack of a great left-handed pitching prospect, despite the noticeable depth there. Instead, it is their right-wing counterparts that encompass at least the top five spots in the pitching depth chart. None yet old enough to order a drink, there is a lot of hope invested in these five right arms.

Three of them came as no surprise to their organizations, who selected them in the first-round of a draft. Chad Billingsley and Adam Miller were chosen within six picks of each other in the 2003 amateur draft, Matt Cain is a 2002 bonus baby. The 2003 draft, the first after the release of Moneyball, allowed Billingsley and Miller to be just the third and fourth high school pitchers selected, in the 24th and 31st positions respectively. While John Danks and Jeff Allison looked like the sure picks, it has been the Logan White and Mark Shapiro selections that are second to no other pitchers.

Our final two were not chosen in any draft, but instead signed from the land below the United States, a.k.a. Venezuela. A new hotbed of talent, Felix Hernandez and Yusmeiro Petit hope to add two more names to the countrys growing reputation. No one could believe that a seventeen-year-old could do so much when Hernandez burst on the storm last year, tearing up both the Northwestern and Midwest Leagues. But it was his follow-up, encore performance at 18 that has validated his status as the games best pitching prospect. For Petit, it was a deadline trade and the New York spotlight that got his name out in the open.

But enough about where they came from, lets talk about where they are now. Ive already hinted towards who is first on the list, but you knew that anyway. Now lets look at why.

First, lets go through the rate stats for the year. This alone shows the flaw that evaluating prospects solely on statistics presents. Yusmeiro Petit, the most unknown of the group, led the fivesome in H/9, K/9, BB/9 and K/BB. By the same token, Felix Hernandez was the groups worst in H/9, and failed to lead in any category. He was second or third across the board, narrowly trailing Billingsley for the HR/9 lead.

Lets not be too harsh though, they do have quite a purpose. I would never have guessed that Matt Cain would be the only pitcher to not have a K/9 over ten, registering at just 9.13. The combination of the second highest H/9 and BB/9 is a bad combination as well. Throw that in with the highest HR/9, and Cain has left me more unimpressed than I started. Yes, he has played in hitters parks, but Billingsley shows a lot more raw potential, and Miller seems to be more refined.

So, how do we go from Felix being one of the statistics worst- and Petit being the best- to a complete switch? First of all, age. While everyone but Miller closed out the season in AA, Hernandez was the only pitcher who did so during his age 18 season. This dominance at such a young age has been the spark of Doc Gooden comparisons that have plagued Hernandez since pitching in Everett of the short-season Northwest League.

The rest of em just completed their final teenage season, but Petit does have a couple features that separates him from the group. At 6-0, 230 pounds, Petits stature is unlike any other pitcher on this list. Baseball America started the Sid Fernandez comparisons this year, which seem quite apt a year later. His inability to light up a radar gun is what costs him points in the prospect department, no matter how much higher his K/BB is above the rest of the group. Mediocre stuff combined with New York lights dont add up great, ask Aaron Heilman.

We have first and last, how does the middle of the pack go? Its extremely close, but right now I would say Billingsley, Cain, Miller. Ask me in a week, and Ill give you a completely different order. The Dodger has drawn comparisons to Kerry Wood for his great fastball-curveball combination, as well as his problems with control. Billingsley has a chance to hit the Majors next year, not even two years after Logan White made the gutsy choice. And thats why this guy should get some big bucks.

If you had asked me before I plugged the numbers and sat in front of my computer, I would have told you Matt Cain would be before Billingsley. Someone I respect, though I cant remember who, once referred to Cain as a manchild. He was the best pitcher in the California League, including King Felix, before some peripheral struggles in Double-A. His timetable is a bit longer than Billingsley, and he already has a year on him. Anyway, lets hope the two will be in some great match-ups for much of their careers.

Can you imagine the NLCS in 7 years with Jerome Williams, Jesse Foppert and Matt Cain vs. Edwin Jackson, Greg Miller and Chad Billingsley? Me too.

Finally, we have Miller, who I wrote about back in this comparison with John Danks a few weeks ago. No other prospect, barring maybe Chuck Tiffany, closed out the season better than Miller. While playoff statistics dont show up in end of the season totals, the Texan was the star of the Carolina League playoffs. His numbers are great across the board, and he was apparently up in the high-90s at years end.

So, there you go, the top five pitching prospects who closed the season in the minor leagues:

1) Felix Hernandez
2) Chad Billingsley
3) Matt Cain
4) Adam Miller
5) Yusmeiro Petit

Now when you throw in Francis, Kazmir and Capellan it might make a difference, but not a huge one. Come on Deloney, pony up and give me your top ten. Yall do it.

Comments

When you mentioned Cain's timetable being longer than Billinglsey, was that taking into consideration that Cain is younger than Chad? It seems, in certain portions of this article, that you think Cain is older because he was drafted a year earlier, I apologize if I am interpreting your words incorrectly.

I'm not in a position to do a top ten right now, but I'd have Miller and Hernandez 1-2 easily. Miller is the best pitching prospect I've seen in a few years.

Cain is only 2.5 months "younger" than Billingsley. Considering that they were drafted a full year apart, Billingsley got to Double A a lot quicker than Cain, and he did better than Cain once he got there. That would seem to be the reason for saying that Cain looks to be working his way to the majors on a longer time-table than Billingsley.

That's a good list. It's tough to put a top 10 list together. A player that could possibly be put in the top 10 is Brandon McCarthy (CWS). Between low-A, high-A, and AA, 172 IP, 134 Hits, 30 BBs, and 202 Ks. Only 21 yrs old.

I think something that should be considered is that part of the reason Billingsley is where he is is that the Dodgers promote players very quickly. If Cain were a Dodger he probably would have ended last year in A+ and started this year in AA, despite the injury that shortened his season. I don't have much of a problem with who's considered the better prospect, as both guys are pretty even I think.

I'm curious where Ervin Santana sits at this point. I think he is solidly in the top 10 and could crack the top 5 if he comes back strong from his down year with injuries.

Petit's numbers are (so far) waaaayyyyyy better than Heilman's. That's not really a fair comparison.

I'd definitely take Hernandez and Francis ahead of Petit. I'm not completely convinced of the rest... although Cain and Billingsley are obviously good looking pitchers. But what is it about Miller that you'd definitely place him ahead of Petit?

1. Felix
2. Miller
3. Cain
4. Billingsley
5. Capellan

I dont think Brandon McCarthy should even make the top 20.

That's Adam Miller not Greg Miller. We'll take one healthy pitcher at a time.