MINORS: 2017 Top starting pitching prospects

Photo: Jharel Cotton (RHP, OAK)

We continue our annual review of the top prospects in baseball by position. Between now and Opening Day, we'll examine one position a week by looking at both those rookies ready to contribute in the big leagues now, as well as the top long-term prospects at each position. New this year is that our topic schedule will mirror the position covered in Market Pulse that same day, to give you a complete look at the position.

This week, we look at starting pitchers. Projecting playing time for starters is difficult because so many things can change. For one, some pitchers could see action out of the bullpen in 2017, though the starting rotation is their long-term role. Injuries play a huge part and some pitchers not expected to make their debuts until 2018 or later could be summoned quicker than anticipated. It is all about opportunity and many of the pitchers listed below are poised to emerge in 2017.

This position is often well-represented on the HQ100and this season is no exception. There were a total of 41 starting pitchers on the exclusive list with another 22 receiving votes. The depth of pitching prospects in the minors is quite astounding and it is almost certain that some—or several—could be converted to relievers at some point. 

You will notice that Alex Reyes (RHP, STL) is still listed as the top pitching prospect in baseball despite his Tommy John surgery in mid-February 2017. The HQ100 was generated well prior to that news. Even if the HQ100 was formulated after the surgery, Reyes would still be among the top prospects at his position.

The top long-term prospects are ranked based solely upon the results of the HQ100, which was a cumulative effort of six BHQ minor league writers. Please remember that individual writers conducted the analysis and rankings on the organizational reports.

The dollar ranges listed below represent projected values for 2017. See a more detailed scouting report on each player by following the link to his team's organization report or PlayerLink page.

$6-$10
Jharel Cotton (RHP, OAK)
Robert Gsellman (RHP, NYM)
Tyler Glasnow (RHP, PIT)
Luke Weaver (RHP, STL)

Considered a frontrunner to win a prominent spot in the Athletics rotation, the 25-year-old Cotton is winning praise from the organization for his ability to deceive and retire hitters on a consistent basis. He led the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in strikeouts in 2016 and he throws with excellent control. In five starts with Oakland at the end of the 2016 campaign, he posted a 2.15 ERA while fanning 23 in 29.3 innings. 

In all likelihood, Gsellman will win the #5 spot in the Mets rotation to begin the season. The length of his leash, though, could be short if he gets off to a slow start. He was a significant surprise in 2016 when he surfaced in the majors and was scintillating. He posted a 2.42 ERA, 3.0 Ctl, and 8.5 Dom in 44.2 innings. His upside isn't as high as others on the top prospect list, but he works with four usable pitches.

The 23-year-old Glasnow is battling to win the 5th starter spot with the Pirates and even if he loses out in spring training, he is expected to pitch significant innings in the majors in 2017. He has worked to clean up his delivery and made modifications to his change-up. If both work in his favor, he could end up even more dominant than he's been in the minors. The lack of control is the only thing keeping him from reaching his true potential at this point.

Weaver recently left an exhibition game with back spasms and his return right now is up in the air. That injury may push him back in his attempts to win the #5 spot in the Cardinals rotation to begin the season. The 23-year-old could use some time in Triple-A as he zoomed from Double-A to the majors in 2016. Regardless, he'll pitch with St. Louis at some point during 2017 and could be a consistent presence in the rotation.

$1-$5
Lucas Giolito (RHP, CHW)
Carson Fulmer (RHP, CHW)
Reynaldo Lopez (RHP, CHW)
Ty Blach (LHP, SF)
Jose De Leon (RHP, TAM)
Steve Brault (LHP, PIT)
David Paulino (RHP, HOU)
Matt Strahm (LHP, KC)
Chad Green (RHP, NYY)
A.J. Cole (RHP, WAS)
Erick Fedde (RHP, WAS)
Josh Hader (LHP, MIL)
Alex Meyer (RHP, LAA)
Robert Stephenson (RHP, CIN)
Amir Garrett (LHP, CIN)
German Marquez (RHP, COL)

The White Sox terrific triumvirate of Giolito, Fulmer, and Lopez will likely begin 2017 in the minors, but that is to be expected. All three have things to work on and there is no need to rush them. Fulmer pitched out of the bullpen with Chicago in 2016, though the White Sox are committed to him as a starter going forward. Both Giolito and Lopez were acquired from the Nationals in December and both have something to prove. Giolito, who is the #2 ranked starting pitching prospect in baseball, seems to have lost some of his luster after he was on the minors to majors shuttle in 2016. His pure stuff is as good as any young pitcher around. Lopez has dynamic stuff and could pitch as a reliever or starter. 

Though Blach is competing with Matt Cain for the #5 spot for the Giants, he isn't expected to beat out the veteran and could move to the bullpen or Triple-A. He has a back-end profile due to his limited strikeout ability, but his savvy and pitchability will allow him to succeed in any role. Another starter who could begin the year in the bullpen if he doesn't win a spot in the rotation is Marquez, an impressive 22-year-old with the Rockies. He didn't fare well in his major league debut in 2016, but he owns a plus curveball that allows him to miss bats.

The 25-year-old Cole has seemingly been a prospect for years, but don't sleep on him. He's shown higher velocity in the spring and he could win a starting job in Washington if Max Scherzer isn't ready. He's a solid, athletic pitcher, but has yet to develop a true swing-and-miss pitch. 

The Yankees have a number of options they can slide in to the back-end of their rotation and the 25-year-old Green will be given a legitimate opportunity, especially after his surprising campaign in 2016. He dominated Triple-A (1.52 ERA, 9.6 Dom) before he impressed with the Yankees (4.73 ERA, 10.4 Dom) in 45.2 innings. He allowed far too many HR in the majors, but he has the skill set to be a potent starter.

The Reds have openings in their rotation and both Stephenson and Garrett are competing for a job. They are working against the likes of Cody Reed and Tim Adleman to win a spot. Stephenson has been disappointing the last few seasons, particularly with his lack of command. He has an outstanding fastball and curveball and the hope is that the former first round pick realizes his potential and becomes a #2-3 starter. Garrett has yet to pitch in the majors, though he's nearly ready. He gave up college basketball to concentrate on pitching a few years ago and his ascent has been quicker than anticipated. He will likely begin the season in the minors, but expect for him to seize a spot fairly quickly.

After initial reports seemed to indicate that Strahm was in line to be a starter in 2017, reports now suggest that he'll pitch out of the bullpen to start the year. He was terrific in 22 innings with the Royals in 2016. He has four solid offerings in his repertoire and he's forcing his way into the Royals plans very quickly. He may not have a similar ceiling to some of the flamethrowers on the long-term list, but he knows how to pitch and sequence his offerings.

 

Long-term Top Starting Pitching Prospects
1. Alex Reyes (RHP, STL)
2. Lucas Giolito (RHP, CHW)
3. Tyler Glasnow (RHP, PIT)
4. Anderson Espinoza (RHP, SD)
5. Brent Honeywell (RHP, TAM)
6. Francis Martes (RHP, HOU)
7. Reynaldo Lopez (RHP, CHW)
8. Jose De Leon (RHP, TAM)
9. Michael Kopech (RHP, CHW)
10. Amir Garrett (LHP, CIN)
11. Jeff Hoffman (RHP, COL)
12. Josh Hader (LHP, MIL)
13. Kolby Allard (LHP, ATL)
14. Jason Groome (LHP, BOS)
15. Sean Newcomb (LHP, ATL)

16. Carson Fulmer (RHP, CHW)
17. David Paulino (RHP, HOU)
18. Mitch Keller (RHP, PIT)
19. Riley Pint (RHP, COL)
20. Brady Aiken (LHP, CLE)
21. Braxton Garrett (LHP, MIA)
22. Tyler Jay (LHP, MIN)
23. A.J. Puk (LHP, OAK)
24. Robert Stephenson (RHP, CIN)
25. Sean Reid-Foley (RHP, TOR)
26. Matt Manning (RHP, DET)
27. James Kaprielian (RHP, NYY)
28. Erick Fedde (RHP, WAS)
29. Luis Ortiz (RHP, MIL)
30. Phil Bickford (RHP, MIL)

31. Justus Sheffield (LHP, NYY)
32. Luke Weaver (RHP, STL)
33. Grant Holmes (RHP, OAK)
34. Yadier Alvarez (RHP, LA)
35. Yohander Mendez (LHP, TEX)
36. Triston McKenzie (RHP, CLE)
37. Ian Anderson (RHP, ATL)
38. Tyler Beede (RHP, SF)
39. Mike Soroka (RHP, ATL)
40. Dylan Cease (RHP, CHC)
41. Stephen Gonsalves (LHP, MIN)
42. Franklyn Kilome (RHP, PHI)
43. Forrest Whitley (RHP, HOU)
44. German Marquez (RHP, COL)
45. Touki Toussaint (RHP, ATL)

46. Sixto Sanchez (RHP, PHI)
47. Cory Sedlock (RHP, BAL)
48. Cal Quantrill (RHP, SD)
49. Jharel Cotton (RHP, OAK)
50. Conner Greene (RHP, TOR)
51. Domingo Acevedo (RHP, NYY)
52. Jacob Faria (RHP, TAM)
53. Adonis Medina (RHP, PHI)
54. Walker Buehler (RHP, LA)
55. Jack Flaherty (RHP, STL)
56. Thomas Szapucki (LHP, NYM)
57. Joey Wentz (LHP, ATL)
58. Adalberto Mejia (LHP, MIN)
59. Kyle Freeland (LHP, COL)
60. Luis Castillo (RHP, CIN)

61. Marcos Diplan (RHP, MIL)
62. Franklin Perez (RHP, HOU)
63. Luiz Gohara (LHP, ATL)
64. Frankie Montas (RHP, OAK)
65. Anthony Banda (LHP, ARI)
66. A.J. Cole (RHP, WAS)
67. Alec Hansen (RHP, CHW)
68. Justin Dunn (RHP, NYM)
69. Cole Ragans (LHP, TEX)
70. Matt Strahm (LHP, KC)
71. Josh Staumont (RHP, KC)
72. Sam Coonrod (RHP, SF)
73. Jon Harris (RHP, TOR)
74. Kyle Zimmer (RHP, KC)
75. Robert Gsellman (RHP, NYM)

Some of these top prospects could force their way to the majors in 2017 despite starting out at lower levels of the minors. It happens every year. Some prospect gets hot early and finds himself pitching on multiple levels throughout the season. That, obviously, is tough to forecast, but there are a number of prospects who are near-ready.

Honeywell split 2016 between High-A and Double-A and he may return to Double-A to begin 2017. He's been a consistent force in the minors and has four pitches in his arsenal, including a screwball. He's very athletic and could be a factor with the Rays as early as midseason. The Rays have stockpiled some solid young arms and Honeywell is as good as any in the organization.

The Astros will assign Martes to begin the season and his dominance could be valuable at virtually any time throughout 2017. If the Astros get off to a hot start and are in contention late in the year, it wouldn't be a shock to see him used as a power-armed reliever. His fastball command still needs work, but he has the potential of a #2 starter with high strikeout totals.

If you peruse this list closely, you'll see a large number of Braves prospects—seven to be exact. Because he's the oldest of Atlanta's top prospects, some forget about the 23-year-old Newcomb. He is among the top strikeout pitchers in the minors with his blistering fastball and knockout curveball. If he can upgrade his command and control, the sky is the limit. Expect him to pitch in the majors in 2017 despite never pitching above Double-A.

If you like sleepers, there are a number on this list as well. Keller had a breakout campaign in 2016 in Low-A and showed remarkable control despite his previous arm injuries. His lively fastball is a plus pitch and only needs to improve his change-up to give him three above average offerings. He can miss bats with his curveball as well. 

The 21-year-old Ortiz was obtained from Texas in 2016 and has two above average offerings in his fastball and slider. He generates plus movement to his heater with minimal effort and he controls the plate well. 

Despite begin a first round pick by the Orioles in 2016, Sedlock isn't talked about much as among the top prospects in baseball. He uses four pitches and has a heavy fastball that can miss bats or generate weak contact. He has the makings of a dependable and consistent #2 starter, though he'll likely pitch in the minors for two seasons. 


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.