Baseball BeatJuly 30, 2007
Searching for Pitching Prospects
By Rich Lederer

Like most scouts and prospect analysts, I like to find pitchers who can throw strikes, miss bats, and keep the ball on the ground or at least in the ballpark. In this regard, I screened minor league starters in AAA, AA, and A for the following criteria:

  • K/9 > 9.0
  • K/BB > 3.0
  • HR/9 < 1.0

    Among qualified pitchers, nine made the cut, ranging in talent from Boston's Clay Buchholz to Chris Jones. As I noted last year when I ran similar screens, the following list is not meant to identify the best pitching prospects in the minors. As I warned a year ago, "I don't think you can do that without...taking into consideration scouting reports and paying attention to age relative to the level of competition." If nothing else, it is a good starting point to do more research.

    Last year, my screens uncovered a number of top-flight prospects, many of whom have graduated to the majors. I was a bit more generous last time around, taking the top five starters by K/9 in each league who also had low HR/9 whereas this year pitchers had to meet or exceed the rigid criteria shown above.

    Name             Team   Level  Lg   Age    K/9   BB/9   K/BB   HR/9   WHIP    ERA
    Matt Garza       MIN     AAA   IL    23   9.29   3.30   3.06   0.49   1.35   3.62  
    Clay Buchholz    BOS      AA   EL    22  12.05   2.28   5.27   0.42   0.89   1.77  
    Alan Horne       NYY      AA   EL    24   9.84   2.83   3.47   0.39   1.24   2.36
    Gio Gonzalez     CWS      AA   SL    21  11.08   3.36   3.30   0.70   1.17   3.04
    Jacob McGee       TB      A+  FSL    20  11.08   3.12   3.55   0.66   1.11   3.12
    Chris Cody       MIL      A+  FSL    23   9.07   1.48   6.13   0.10   0.93   1.77
    Kyle Ginley      TOR      A   MDW    20   9.73   2.98   3.27   0.79   1.51   4.86  
    F. de los Santos CWS      A   SAL    21  11.00   3.34   3.29   0.49   0.88   2.55
    Chris Jones      BOS      A   SAL    23   9.29   2.59   3.59   0.77   1.43   4.98

    Matt Garza showed up last year and once again this year. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound righthander was called up to the big leagues earlier this month and pitched his best game ever yesterday, allowing only one run while striking out 11 Indians over six innings. The 23-year-old out of Fresno State has a lot of upside and should be a permanent fixture in Minnesota's starting rotation for years to come.

    Clay Buchholz, the hurler every GM asks for when talking trade with the Red Sox, just may be the best pitching prospect in the minor leagues. In an interview conducted by Patrick Sullivan and me in February, Assistant General Manager Jed Hoyer told us that Buchholz had the best slider and changeup in the system. His fastball and curve are quality pitches as well. Baseball America reported that his heater, which sits in the low-90s, hit 95-97 in the playoffs last year. An outstanding athlete, the soon-to-be 23-year-old righthander may be faster than teammate Jacoby Ellsbury and possesses a top-notch pickoff move to first base. He is an untouchable.

    Alan Horne is one of many excellent pitching prospects in the Yankees system. The Cleveland Indians drafted Horne in the first round in 2001, but the big righthander opted to go to college (Mississippi, then Chipola JC in Florida, and finally the University of Florida where he led the Gators to the 2005 College World Series). He underwent Tommy John surgery a few years ago and has regained his low-90s fastball and power curve. Horne hasn't allowed more than two earned runs in any of his last 10 outings. At 24, he's on track to pitch in New York before Yankee Stadium is torn down.

    The 38th overall pick in the 2004 draft, Gio Gonzalez has struck out 534 batters in 457 minor league innings. Now in his second stint in the White Sox system, the 6-0, 190-pound LHP features a plus fastball and hammer curve that Baseball America calls his "go-to" pitch. His command has improved this year but is still short of where it needs to be. That said, I would be surprised if he doesn't receive a promotion to Triple-A before the season is out and is a good bet to find himself in Chicago's starting rotation sometime next year.

    As with Garza and Buchholz, Jacob McGee was featured in last year's screen. McGee is perhaps the #1 pitching prospect in a Tampa Bay system that is loaded with future big league hurlers. In fact, a case could be made that he is one of the best lefthanders in the minors. Like Gonzalez, McGee possesses terrific stuff but needs to refine his control and command. His 6-3, 190-pound frame may give him a bit more projectability than Gonzalez. He doesn't turn 21 until a week from today and is still three levels away from reaching the majors. But so far, so good.

    Keith Ginley is a bit of a sleeper. Toronto drafted him in the 17th round last year and signed him to a $155,000 bonus to keep the St. Petersburg (FL) JC righthander from attending Florida Southern. He started his professional career at Pulaski of the Appalachian League (Rookie) and struck out 42 batters in 27 innings. He received a late-season promotion to Auburn (NYP, Short Season) and allowed only 5 hits and 0 runs over 10 frames. Although his BAA, WHIP, and ERA won't turn any heads, the 6-foot-2, 225-pounder is throwing strikes, missing bats, and doing a decent job at preventing the long ball. After a rough start to his 2007 season, Ginley has turned it up a notch in his past four starts, allowing only 4 ER and striking out 23 in 20.1 IP. Keep an eye on him.

    Acquired by the Milwaukee Brewers from the Detroit Tigers on July 1, Chris Cody has put up some eye-popping numbers this year. Cody did his best work in Low-A as a 23-year-old so he's not nearly as good as what it might seem on the surface. The dimunitive southpaw (6-0, 180) is two weeks older than another smallish lefty by the name of Scott Kazmir. Discount Cody's stats for now but remember the name as he moves up the ladder to see if he has what it takes to get batters out in the upper minors.

    The pitcher who should be climbing up prospect lists is Tyler Herron. The St. Louis Cardinals farmhand is striking out a batter per inning while walking just 1.59 per nine The righthander turns 21 next Sunday. Herron was drafted in the first round of the supplemental draft in 2005 and pitched two seasons at Johnson City of the Appalachian League (Rookie) before getting one start at State College of the New York Penn (Short Season A).

    Ranked as the 18th best prospect in the STL system by Baseball America, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound RHP was assigned to Quad Cities of the Midwest League (Class A) where he dominated in relief in the early going this season (3-0, 1.75, .187 BAA with 0 HR in 25.2 IP). The sinkerballer was given another shot at starting, and he has performed admirably, chalking up a superb 6:1 K/BB ratio and HR/9 (0.44). He threw six scoreless innings on Sunday and has now walked only six batters in his last 10 outings. Throwing strikes and keeping the ball in the park is a formula for success at any level.

    Fautino de los Santos has given up 48 hits in 92.2 innings, equal to 4.66 H/9. The RHP out of the Dominican Republic was a South Atlantic League All-Star and pitched in the Futures Game earlier this month. In his last three outings, the 21-year-old has allowed only 4 H, 2 BB, and 0 ER while whiffing 15 over 12 IP. For more on de los Santos, be sure to read what Marc Hulet had to say three weeks ago when discussing Sleeper Prospects.

    Chris Jones surprised me that he qualified for this screen. Drafted out of Indiana State in 2005, the 6-3, 205-pound RHP pitched mostly at Lowell (Short Season A) that summer, then was assigned to Greenville of the South Atlantic League (Class A) last year where he enjoyed moderate success. Jones is repeating Greenville this year. The worst prospect on this list, the 23-year-old is likely to end up in the bullpen as a long reliever if he ever makes it to Fenway, which is far from a given.

    Although Clayton Kershaw didn't technically qualify, the lefthander is leading all minor league starters in K/9. The 2006 first-round draft pick is averaging 12.51 strikeouts per nine innings while pitching for the Dodgers Class A affiliate in the Midwest League. The downside is that he is also tops in the league in BB/9 (4.43). The 19-year-old has now struck out 181 batters in his first 128.1 MiLB IP while allowing only 3 HR. Kershaw is one of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball but is still four levels away from the big leagues.

    Jeff Samardzija is another pitcher who didn't show up on my screen. In fact, the richest fifth-round draft choice in baseball history is last in K/9 among all qualifiers in the Florida State League. The former Notre Dame All-America wide receiver has struck out 3.44 batters per nine innings this year. Jeff Albert discussed Samardzija's contract and analyzed his pitching mechanics in January. Suffice it to say, The Shark, who gave up 22 H and 10 ER in his last two starts covering 10.2 IP, has a long ways to go before sniffing the majors. A BAA of .331 and an ERA of 5.06 in High-A won't get the job done.

  • Comments

    Hey, where do you go to get your minor league stats? Do you have anything better than BA or ?

    I'd be interested in hearing what you thought of a guy who just makes the criteria after his last start yesterday (7IP 0R 3H 2BB 12K), Jack Egbert of Birmingham (Chicago AA).

    He's got a K/9 of 9.07, a K/BB of 3.72, and a HR/9 of 0.14. He's allowed just 4 HR in his last 300 innings pitched.

    A little old for his league, he probably should have been pushed to AAA already. How do you see him projecting in the majors?

    I think you missed on Wade Davis (combining his stats from A+ and AA).

    i think you might be missing joba chamberlain, who leads the minor leagues in K/9 at 13.34

    BB/9- 2.88

    I think you also missed Ian Kennedy. At 3 levels he has 10.35 K/9, 3.3 K/BB and .27 HR/9.

    Thanks for the comments. Going down the line, I actually used FanGraphs for these stats. The site had the stats I was looking for and they are all sortable.

    I like Jack Egbert. You captured him well. He throws strikes, misses bats, and induces ground balls. The only negative, as you pointed out, is the fact that Egbert is a bit old for his level of competition. To add some color to his numbers, in his last eight starts, he has allowed only 8 ER in 49 IP for an ERA of 1.47 while striking out 64 batters. At a minimum, I see him as an innings eater. But his SO and GB rates make me think he could be something better than that. I would rank him about in line with Alan Horne, another 24-year-old pitcher in AA who fared well in this screen.

    I didn't really "miss" on Davis, Chamberlain, or Kennedy. I should have been more explicit in mentioning that I didn't combine multi-level stats. I screened "qualified" pitchers only by league. Had I combined stats, all three starters would have stood out as each of you noted.

    Chamberlain is on the verge of pulling a Matt Garza 2006 by starting in High-A and working his way up one level at a time all the way to the majors. Don't be surprised if the Yankees call him up as a set-up man in August for the stretch run. Peter Abraham, in fact, reports on his LoHud Yankees Blog that Joba (pronounced Ja-Buh, not Joe-Ba) "made his bullpen debut today," striking out the side. He threw 13 pitches, 10 strikes, and "touched 99 with his heater."

    I've seen his teammate Kennedy pitch many times (including his first collegiate game vs. Jered Weaver in 2004 and a head-to-head duel vs. Tim Lincecum last year) while he was playing for USC. Unlike Chamberlain, I don't think he will get the call this year. However, I see him in the rotation no later than next summer and believe he will be a quality addition to New York's staff.

    Davis put himself on the radar screen in 2005 and has followed up that season with similarly outstanding campaigns in 2006 and 2007. Things are looking up in TB with Kazmir and Shields plus Niemann, Price, Davis, and McGee (among others) on the horizon. The starting rotation could go from being the worst to one that may rank in the top half over the next two or three years.

    There may be others who met the criteria I established but, like Davis, Chamberlain, and Kennedy, didn't qualify at any single level. It wasn't my intention to leave these pitchers out. Instead, it was just a matter of expediency.

    Oakland's got a guy that almost makes this list (and does if you remove his one relief appearence)

    Trevor Cahill as a starter (19yo in Low-A)
    67 IP 73k/24bb/3hr, 3.36 ERA 1.80 GO/AO

    His first appearence of the year was a 1.2 IP relief appearence where he walked 3 and k'd 0. Other than that he's been very, very good.

    Other than that he's been very, very good.

    ...and performing well at a home ballpark that is generally more kind to hitters than pitchers.

    James McDonald (LAD, High-A/AA) is another pitcher who qualifies. He has a fantastic K rate, an excellent BB rate, and an OK HR rate (just underneath our ceiling).

    Please feel free to chime in if there are others.

    who else besides joba and kennedy would be on this list if you included multiple leagues?

    What do you think about Manny Parra's long term success in the Majors? Just shy of a K per inning pitched at AAA and has been solid in a small sample size for the brew crew. I have never read much about him as a prospect. Thoughts?

    Parra looks like he could be a good one. He has pitched well in AA, AAA, and MLB and, in fact, qualifies for this screen in both the minors and on a combined basis (MiLB and MLB). LHP. Draft-and-follow pick in 2001 who signed just before the deadline in May 2002. Received first-round money ($1.55M) despite being selected in the 26th round. Turns 25 in October. Pretty good size (6-3, 200). Throws a two-seam and a four-seam fastball with the latter reportedly touching 94-95 on occasion. Also has a splitter, curve, and the makings of a changeup. Seems to be all the way back after shoulder surgery in 2005, which caused him to spend most of 2006 in High-A after reaching AA at the end of 2004.

    Size, stuff, and a good track record of throwing strikes and missing bats. I would take my chances on him.