12 Minor League Starters to Monitor

The starting pitcher ranks have been absolutely devastated early in the season with three of the top 10 on the DL (Madison Bumgarner, Noah Syndergaard, and Corey Kluber) and three others haven’t quite been ace-like: Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and Johnny Cueto. All of that opening the door for the likes of Dallas Keuchel, Ervin Santana, Jason Vargas, and Mike Leake to ascend into the top 10. Meanwhile, not even the ranks of the top 10 are safe as James Paxton found himself at #8 with a bullet before hitting the DL for a fourth straight season.

Looking at the top 75 SPs drafted in the NFBC, we’ve seen 21 hit the DL (28%). It’s not like the 54 who haven’t been hurt are perfectly expectations, either. In short, the need for starting pitcher is real and seems to be hitting every league size. We’re all turning over every rock for potential production and as these injuries pile up, teams will have to get deeper into their reinforcements making the minor leagues a giant rock to flipped.

I perused the leaderboards of Double- and Triple-A in hopes of identifying some names who could contribute this year. Some are known prospects, others are guys putting up big numbers thus far. Here are 12 names I’m keeping tabs on:

Jose Berrios | Twins

While he’s no longer a true prospect as he exceeded his rookie limits last year, Berrios is still one of the most intriguing arms in the minor leagues. He really struggled in 58.3 innings last year with the Twins (8.02 ERA, 5% K-BB rate), but he still dominated Triple-A (2.51, 21%). He’s been great at Triple-A again this year (1.13, 17%) and now just waiting for his chance to tackle the majors again. I’m not sure if the Super-2 deadline plays a role in Berrios’ call-up anymore after the time he had in the majors last year, but that date will be passing soon meaning there shouldn’t be any other impediments in getting him to the majors. Well, outside of super roadblock Nick Tepesch.

Luke Weaver |Cardinals

I actually picked Weaver as my NL Rookie of the Year sooooo maybe chill Cody Bellinger? Weaver’s only made three starts because he was DL’d with a back issue on April 10th, but he’s looked brilliant in the two outings since returning with 13 shutout innings, allowing just seven hits, zero walks, and fanning nine. There’s not an obvious opening in St. Louis, even with Adam Wainwright toting a 6.30 ERA, but he should be the first one up if (or when… let’s be honest, it’s when) something happens.

 

Mike Clevinger | Indians

Clevinger came up for a start on Sunday and dropped 5.7 scoreless, one-hit innings on the Royals, though he did walk four. Right now, he’s in for Corey Kluber, who is out with lower back discomfort, though I’ve yet to see a timetable. Even after Kluber returns, neither Trevor Bauer (7.36 ERA) and Josh Tomlin (7.12) are exactly dialed in right now so there could still be a spot for Clevinger.

Tomlin has rebounded after two nightmares to open the season (4.13 in his last four), but Bauer hasn’t been able to string two good starts together. Clevinger has a deep arsenal and the stuff to be successful, but he needs to stop walking batters, especially he regularly gets ahead with career 61% first-pitch strike rate.

 

Jorge Lopez | Brewers

Lopez flashed some promise in a 10-inning stint back in 2015, but completely fell apart a year later when the Brewers shifted their Triple-A affiliate to Colorado Springs. There Lopez posted a 6.81 ERA with 101 hits and 55 walks in 79.3 innings of work. That environment is hell on pitchers and Lopez showed the worst of it. This year they sent him straight to Double-A to avoid the Colorado Springs nightmare and he’s toting a 2.97 ERA and 23% K-BB. I was eyeing him as a deep league sleeper last year and I’ve kept him on my radar since even after that ugly 2016. It shouldn’t be hard for Milwaukee to find some time for him in the rotation eventually.

 

Chad Green | Yankees

Green lost the fifth starter battle to Jordan Montgomery and Monty doesn’t seem like he’s going to give up his spot anytime soon. CC Sabathia is the only rotation arm really struggling so far and could be close to a phantom injury to get a breather and give Green another crack at the majors. Green showed solid skills in 45.7 MLB innings last year, though a major home run issue (2.4 per nine) kept his ERA inflated. He’s never shown that kind of HR trouble in the minors (0.5 in 424.7 IP) and I’m sure a gaudy 25% HR/FB rate played a major role. Keep an eye out for Green if a spot opens in NY.

 

Buck Farmer | Tigers

Farmer could be asked to help patch over the vomit-inducing bullpen in Detroit, but he’s looking great in the rotation at Triple-A Toledo and Jordan Zimmermann doesn’t right now thus far. The 26-year old has his best walk rate in any pro stop thus far at 4.7%. Maintaining that or at least holding some of the gains in the majors could be huge for him and his 12% career walk rate.

 

Lucas Sims | Braves

Sims was a big prospect a couple years back, but he’s fallen off Top 100 lists the last couple of seasons despite still being just 23 years old. The righty has been tremendous in his second tour of Triple-A with a huge improvement in his walk rate at 6%. He has a career 11% mark in 575.7 minor league innings. Eric Longenhagen has his delivery as the cause behind the poor control. I couldn’t find anything about delivery changes, only a commitment to sharpening the mental aspects of his game, so we’ll see how real this walk rate is, but don’t sleep on the former Top 100 prospect.

 

Miguel Almonte | Royals

I’m not entirely sure what to make of the live-armed Almonte. He can pump the mid-90s regularly, but he hasn’t developed his secondary stuff and the profile has started to look like that of a reliever. However, he has been starting in Double-A and dominating thus far with a 1.78 ERA and 26% K-BB rate. That said, he’s a 24-year old in Double-A for the third time. There should be ample opportunity for the Royals to put Almonte in the rotation to see if he’s got what it takes.

 

Jacob Faria | Rays

I’m generally cautious about Rays prospects coming to the majors because of their tendency to slow roast guys before calling them up, but I had to include Faria. He logged 67.7 innings at Triple-A last year so this is his second time through  and while the walk rate is still an issue at 11%, he’s missing tons of bats with a 35% strikeout rate, backed by a 14% swinging strike rate. There’s no room at inn right now as the Rays have their staff humming (all with sub-4.00 ERAs), but I think Faria would get the call ahead of Brent Honeywell.

 

Matt Cooper & Jordan Guerrero | White Sox

Cooper and Guerrero are both fringe prospects in the improved White Sox system and they are both cutting up Double-A Birmingham right now. At 25 and 23 years old, respectively, there aren’t ascending up the prospect rankings, but they’ve put up interesting skills. Cooper was Carson’s Guy in the White Sox list and Guerrero slotted 25 of the 27 listed. Cooper is toting a 35% strikeout rate through six starts after relieving all of last year. He has already made a Fringe Five, too, the highest of honors. Guerrero hasn’t gotten great results with 5.97 ERA, but his 32% strikeout and 26% K-BB rates suggest he’s been much better than that.

 

Wilmer Font | Dodgers

Font was a prospect of note with Texas years ago, but it never clicked. Even a move to the bullpen couldn’t spur Font. The 27-year old is starting again and posting some decent skills at Triple-A Oklahoma City. He still has a 5.16 ERA, but 10 his 17 earned runs have come in two starts. I have no delusion of grandeur here with Font, but the Dodgers seem to DL a starting pitcher every other day and Font is missing bats at an impressive clip. The Dodgers could be super-retread if they bypassed by Font and look to Jair Jurrjens or Justin Masterson, both of whom are also excelling in Triple-A for them.





Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

newest oldest most voted
asdruballs
Member
asdruballs

Eddie Butler is working on his stuff in AAA for the Cubs and might fill in for Anderson soon too

slappy jack
Member
slappy jack

Butler’s numbers have not looked good since 2013, and they don’t look good now either. FIP’s are not good, K% and K/9 are not good.
I wouldn’t call him up.