Baseball BeatAugust 23, 2006
Screening for Pitching Prospects: A Recap
By Rich Lederer

Part One (Double-A and Triple-A)
Part Two (Single-A)

On Monday and Tuesday, I screened ten different minor leagues covering 120 teams and over 1,000 pitchers to develop a list of 48 pitchers (10 x 5 with two pitchers qualifying twice) with high K/9 and low HR/9 rates. I am in no way suggesting that these pitchers are the top four dozen prospects in baseball, but--after reviewing the names--I am confident that this approach was effective in separating the wheat from the chaff.

Interestingly, there were 16 LHP and 32 RHP. There is also a good mixture between pitchers drafted out of high school and college. From a team perspective, the Milwaukee Brewers lead the way with five of the 48 pitchers. The Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, and Texas Rangers each have four, while the Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians, and Houston Astros have three apiece. On the opposite end of the ledger, the Arizona Diamondbacks, Florida Marlins, Kansas City Royals, Washington Nationals, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, and Seattle Mariners have no representation whatsoever.

Homer Bailey and Yovani Gallardo were the only pitchers who made the lists for two different leagues. In their cases, it just so happened that they both pitched in the Florida State and Southern Leagues. There are other pitchers, most notably Matt Garza, who have succeeded at more than one level, but they may not have thrown the requisite 50 innings at each stop.

Twelve pitchers have graduated to the major leagues or had the opportunity to perform at the highest level.

PITCHER          TEAM  W L   ERA   G  GS    IP    H   R  ER  HR  BB  SO 
Jered Weaver      LAA  9 0  1.95  12  12  78.1   53  18  17   4  20  65 
Chad Billingsley  LAD  4 3  3.19  13  13  73.1   65  30  26   7  49  52 
Edinson Volquez   TEX  1 2  4.02   3   3  15.2   17   7   7   1   8   8
Matt Albers       HOU  0 1  4.35   3   1  10.1   11   5   5   0   6   8
Jamie Shields     TB   6 6  4.74  16  16  95.0  110  52  50  11  31  83 
Mike Pelfrey      NYM  2 1  5.48   4   4  21.1   25  14  13   1  12  13
Boof Bonser       MIN  2 4  5.51  10  10  50.2   59  34  31  12  16  42
Carlos Marmol     CHC  5 6  5.65  15  13  71.2   64  47  45  12  55  52
Rich Hill         CHC  3 6  6.44  10   9  50.1   52  39  36  11  29  38
Dana Eveland      MIL  0 3  8.13   9   5  27.2   39  25  25   4  16  32
Dustin McGowan    TOR  1 1  9.78  12   1  19.1   27  24  21   2  18  19 
Matt Garza        MIN  0 2 11.74   2   2   7.2   13  10  10   2   4   7 

Dana Eveland, Rich Hill, Dustin McGowan, and Edinson Volquez also had a cup of coffee in the majors last year. None of them have found their footing yet.

Jered Weaver is, by far, the most advanced pitcher among those who have made it to the bigs. He also has the best numbers and would make an easy choice for A.L. Rookie of the Year in a more normal year. However, 2006 may end up being known for the number of quality first-year pitchers it produced (Francisco Liriano, Jonathan Papelbon, Justin Verlander, and Weaver) in a manner similar to the 1983 NFL season when John Elway, Jim Kelly, and Dan Marino all made their debuts.

There are several pitchers not listed in our screens who I would prefer over those who may have made the grade. That said, I am going to stick my neck out and choose a Top Ten from the pool of 48 pitchers. The following list is based on a discounted present value of the future returns (like they do in the financial world) of each pitcher's career. The closer the expected returns, the higher the value.

 1. Jered Weaver      LAA   He's in the big leagues now and producing in a big way.
 2. Chad Billingsley  LAD   Permanent fixture in the starting rotation for years to come.
 3. Homer Bailey      CIN   Might have the highest ceiling of 'em all.
 4. Philip Hughes     NYY   The total package.  Stuff and command.
 5. Matt Garza        MIN   From A to AA to AAA to the majors in one year.   
 6. Mike Pelfrey      NYM   Ultimate success will be a function of his secondary pitches.
 7. Yovani Gallardo   MIL   He has matched Bailey at both stops this year.
 8. Humberto Sanchez  DET   Can't leave him off the list but weight and elbow concern me. 
 9. Scott Elbert      LAD   Arguably the best LHP in the minors.
10. Brandon Erbe      BAL   Lights up the radar guns.  Doesn't turn 19 until Xmas Day.

In due time, pitchers such as Luke Hochevar, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, and Andrew Miller might have something to say about who belongs in the Top Ten. (I didn't include pitchers who haven't completed 50 innings of professional ball in my objective or subjective rankings.) Weaver and Chad Billingsley will lose their rookie status so most prospect lists this winter will probably include at least a couple of the above first-year pros in their Top Tens.

Age. Stuff. Command. They all factor into prospect evaluations. But eventually it comes down to performance. In other words, when it's all said and done, you gotta deliver the goods. Potential is nice but actual performance rules once you get to the Show.


Incredible insight and journalism. I loved this series.

Great list. I had one question though and that is in regards to Jeff Niemann. His return to health has been followed by dominate numbers at AA. With a continued strong showing will he make a case for this list?

Jeff Niemann fell short of being among the 48 pitchers due to a K/9 rate (9.68) that put him outside the top five in the Southern League. He has the size and stuff to be a force at the major league level and his numbers (4-5, 3.00 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 66 IP, 49 H, 6 HR, 22 BB, 71 SO) this year finally back up that claim.

Love the analysis (and I love your explanation today - that this doesn't necessarily represent the best minor league pitchers)...

I think Cesar Carillo belongs in the discussion as well. Not among the best of the best, but as one of the better prospects. Missing most of this year obviously hurt.

I like Carrillo too. Can anyone shed some light on his injury status? I thought maybe he would play in the AFL, but he's not on the Saguaros roster.

Carrillo injury status:

Would the two Orioles that just missed their lists (Loewen and Penn) have a shot at your overall top ten?

Many thanks for the update Bobingi.

Sorry to everyone else for butting into this thread.
And good luck to Chan Ho Park, while I'm at it.

Re Loewen and Penn, I am more partial to the former than the latter. Big LHP who can miss bats and induce GB. I saw him up close in person when he made his second big league appearance (vs. the LAA on 5/27). Former first-round draft pick, the highly regarded 22-year-old is coming off the best start of his MLB career. The only thing holding Loewen back has been a lack of control as evidenced by high BB, HBP, and WP totals throughout his MiL career.

If not in the Top Ten, Loewen and Penn are certainly in the team photo.