Baseball BeatAugust 21, 2006
Screening for Pitching Prospects
By Rich Lederer

I screened all of the minor league statistics to determine the top five starting pitchers in each league, sorted by K/9 with 50 or more IP and a HR/9 rate of less than 0.9 (or one home run per ten innings pitched).

The stats have not been adjusted to normalize league and home ballpark context. I have also not attempted to combine MiLB totals for those pitchers who have appeared at more than one level.


Pacific Coast League

PITCHER              TEAM  W-L   ERA  WHIP    K/9
Rich Hill         IOW/CHC  7-1  1.80  0.83  12.15
Jered Weaver      SLC/LAA  6-1  2.10  0.95  10.87
Chad Billingsley  LVG/LAD  6-3  3.95  1.26  10.00
Dana Eveland      NAS/MIL  4-4  2.32  1.05   9.90
Edinson Volquez   OKL/TEX  6-6  3.21  1.31   9.73

Rich Hill's minor league stats look like Sandy Koufax's run from 1962-1966. But his career major league numbers (3-7, 7.68 ERA, 1.69 WHIP) tell a different story. He strung together a couple of excellent starts vs. Arizona and Pittsburgh earlier this month, then got lit up in Colorado in his next outing. After holding Houston scoreless in a two-inning relief appearance last week, Dusty Baker is giving the 6-foot-5 southpaw another chance to start tonight against Philadelphia. At the age of 26, he is neither too young to look the other way or too old to write off. A change of scenery--or a new manager--might be the best medicine for one of baseball's biggest enigmas.

International League

PITCHER             TEAM   W-L   ERA  WHIP    K/9
Marty McLeary    IND/PIT   2-4  2.88  1.25  10.02
Jamie Shields    DUR/TAM   3-2  2.64  1.08   9.43
Dustin McGowan   SYR/TOR   4-5  4.73  1.44   9.23
Hyang-Nam Choi   BUF/CLE   8-5  2.50  1.22   8.81
Boof Bonser      ROC/MIN   6-4  2.81  1.19   8.68

Marty McLeary is not a prospect in the true sense of the word. First of all, he is 31 years old. Secondly, the 6-foot-5 right-hander has been around since 1998. Thirdly, he has thrown 99.5% of his professional innings in the minors. His MLB experience consists of 3 2/3 IP with San Diego in 2004. Correction, 3 2/3 awful IP. In other words, there is nothing in McLeary's background that would suggest he has what it takes to pitch at the big league level. At best, the journeyman is a "AAAA" pitcher, a veteran to keep around just in case the need arises to recall him if no other options exist.


Eastern League

PITCHER             TEAM   W-L   ERA  WHIP    K/9 
Humberto Sanchez ERI/DET   5-3  1.76  1.03  10.87
Matt Garza       NBR/MIN   6-2  2.51  0.94  10.72
Philip Hughes    TRE/NYY   8-3  2.46  0.96  10.53
Mike Pelfrey     BIN/NYM   4-2  2.71  1.30  10.48
J.A. Happ        REA/PHI   6-2  2.47  1.21  10.30

Humberto Sanchez was the starting pitcher for the World in the Futures Game last month. He retired the side in order while striking out two batters. The 6-foot-6 right-hander has major-league stuff but still lacks a bit of polish. However, at 23, Sanchez is still young enough to improve his command. Humberto's weight raises concerns longer term. His tender elbow raises concerns shorter term. He was promoted to Triple-A Toledo in June but hasn't pitched in nearly three weeks.

Southern League

PITCHER             TEAM   W-L   ERA  WHIP    K/9
Dan Smith        MIS/ATL   3-6  2.98  1.23  13.31
Carlos Marmol    WTN/CHC   3-2  2.33  1.16  10.40
Homer Bailey     CHA/CIN   5-0  1.26  1.09  10.26
T.J. Nall        JAX/LAD   9-6  2.98  1.07  10.23
Yovani Gallardo  HUN/MIL   4-2  1.44  0.99  10.00

Dan Smith is a reliever-turned-starter who has been extremely effective in his new role this month. After striking out six in two scoreless innings of relief on July 28, the 6-foot-5 left-hander has thrown 21 2/3 frames over four starts while allowing just 13 hits, eight walks, and two earned runs (0.83 ERA). Smith has K'd 93 batters in 62 1/3 IP on the year (split between High-A and Double-A), giving up just three HR. An undrafted free agent, the soon-to-be 23-year-old was signed by the Braves in 2003 and has worked his way through the system almost exclusively in relief until getting a chance to start three weeks ago.

Texas League

PITCHER             TEAM   W-L   ERA  WHIP    K/9
Ubaldo Jimenez   TUL/COL   9-2  2.45  1.21  10.59
Mitch Talbot     COR/HOU   6-4  3.39  1.36   9.59
Juan Morillo     TUL/COL  10-8  4.70  1.54   8.35
Paul Kometani    FRI/TEX   5-5  5.60  1.56   7.95
Matt Albers      COR/HOU  10-2  2.17  1.23   7.37

Ubaldo Jimenez pitched so well in Double-A early on that he was promoted to Triple-A at the end of June. The 6-foot-2 right-hander has struggled at Colorado Springs (3-2, 6.07 ERA, 1.58 WHIP). To his credit, Jimenez has continued to keep the ball in the high-altitude park (5 HR in 59 1/3 IP) but his strikeout and walk numbers (1.36 K/BB ratio) have suffered. It's way too early to give up on the 22-year-old from the Dominican Republic although he will need to exhibit better command before getting a shot at the big leagues.

We'll take a similar look at the Class-A Leagues tomorrow (while skipping the short-season Class-A and rookie leagues). In the meantime, feel free to discuss any of the above pitchers as well as those who may not have made today's screens in the comments section below.


It continues to fascinate me how some guys can kill a AAA league but have a tough time being better than average once they make the majors. A lot of it is proably nerves and just the idea that they've finally made it there.

Yet, some guys like Jered Weaver, just keep playing like they're not at the top level of skill yet. Really puts Weaver into perspective for me.

Any system that has Andy Sonnanstine not being in the top 5 of the Southern League has a flaw.

I'm guessing this was strictly based on K/9, but to say these are the top 5 pitching prospects is erroneous.

Thanks for your feedback. For the record, the screens weren't intended to identify "the top 5 pitching prospects" in each league. I don't think you can do that without establishing a more comprehensive statistical formula, taking into consideration scouting reports, and paying attention to age relative to the level of competition. Instead, the article was simply meant to uncover pitchers who have high K/9 and relatively low HR/9 rates.

Perhaps I should have used the words "based on" rather than "sorted by" in the opening sentence (although it is true that the lists were *ranked by* K/9). I'm quite certain--nor surprised--that many worthy pitching prospects didn't make the cut. In the meantime, I like the fact that these lists include several high-profile prospects as well as some less-known pitchers.

Understood. In that case, thanks for the list.

I'm actually surprised at how dominant Jimenez was compared to the rest of the Texas League. I knew he put up some good lines this year but wow.

I went to Rotowire for some research on Dan Smith, and "their" Dan Smith with the Mississippi AA Braves was born 9/15/75.

With respect to Rotowire, I don't believe that information is correct. Here is the information from Mississippi's roster (direct from

Num  Name      Pos B T  Ht  Wt Age    DOB  
52   Dan Smith  P  L L 6-5 250  22 09-09-1983

I'm rooting for Boof Bonser to make it to the majors on name value alone.

1) Bonser is in the Twins rotation.

2) The reason some guys fail at the major league level is because major league baseball is really a different game. In the minors you are playing against your peers and most of them will never see the major leagues. And the major league game is a couple steps faster. The average players is faster, arms are stronger and plays are quicker.

There is a reason the players are in the minor leagues. The hitters chase bad pitches, can't hit curve balls, can't get around on a major league fastball without "cheating". The pitchers don't have major league pitches, can't locate them or don't throw them when behind in the count. There aren't extensive scouting reports and players often have seen one another only a handful of times. Sometimes the flaws that will show up in the major leagues are obvious and not fixable. Other times players just need some major league time to learn the new game.

Then they get to the major leagues. Players still have weaknesses but they have learned to compensate for them or they wouldn't be there. The guy who throws his fastball isn't going to get away with just fastballs no matter how hard he throws. Batters aren't going to chase pitches they would in the minors. Hitters who can't hit a curvball will never see a fastball. Guys who can'g get around on a fastball over the inside half of the plate are facing pitchers who can and will throw nothing but fastballs over the inside half of the plate until they show they can hit them.

In short, you move from a game where a few players may have major league skills to a game where almost everyone does.

There have been I think 3 Dan Smiths in recent memory. The one born in 1975 is simply another guy who happens to have the same name and play (or played?) in the same organization as the one mentioned above who was born in 1983

I think the k/9 and HR/9 are important for relievers (maybe substitute SLG against for HR/9) but for starters WHIP is important with an emphasis on w/9 if you put batters on your raising your pitch count and keeping batters off the bases is nessicary.

I respectfully disagree that WHIP and BB/9 are more important than K/9 and HR/9 at the minor league level. I think it is a given that the most important individual stat for predicting future value is K/9. Control is important but a lot of young pitchers struggle with it in the early part of their careers.

Finding pitchers with a high K/9 and low HR/9 and BB/9 rates is the best formula of 'em all. That said, I would rank the ability to miss bats #1 when it comes to evaluating prospects.

I think it is a given that the most important individual stat for predicting future value is K/9.

The problem is that there are a lot of pitchers who have good k/9's but never develop into major league pitchers. There are also a lot of pitchers who don't strike out a lot of batters who do develop into major league pitchers. So, if you are looking at a team's players, its more likely that the guys with the high k/9's are good prospects. But some of them aren't. And some of the players with lower k/9's are.