Future Minor League Callups? Triple-A Starting Pitcher K% Leaders — AL

Last week, I discussed the Triple-A hitter wOBA and HR/FB rate leaders and their chances of a recall to the Majors over the near term. Already, several of them have graduated only days after publishing my articles. Now let’s turn to starting pitchers, or those who have amassed the majority of their innings in such a role. For minor league pitchers, all I really care about is strikeout rate. Obviously, I don’t want to see a 15% walk rate, but the strikeouts are my primary concern. So let’s review the starting pitcher strikeout rate leaders in American League organizations first. On the hitter side, I included who the MLB incumbent(s) is/are because they could create a real roadblock to near-term fantasy value. I’m not going to do that for pitchers as the path to a rotation spot or even a spot start is much easier and could come at any time due to injury. Finally, any names currently in the Majors will be excluded from these lists.

AL K% Leaders
Name Team Age IP 2021 Org Rk K%
Drew Anderson TEX 27 23.1 37.5%
Joe Ryan TBR 25 25.2 18 35.6%
Stephen Gonsalves BOS 26 29.1 34.6%
Jacob Waguespack TOR 27 26.1 31.3%
Ryan Hartman HOU 27 27.2 31.2%
Mike Wright CHW 31 36.2 29.6%
Jake Faria LAA 27 31.2 29.5%

Drew Anderson hasn’t been ranked as a prospect since 2018 and signed with the Rangers as a non-roster invitee in early January. With strikeout rates below 20% during each of his minor league stints since 2017 (except for 6.2 innings at Triple-A in 2017), clearly not a whole lot was expected of him this year. This year, his strikeout rate has more than doubled from his 2019 Triple-A mark and actually leads all Triple-A pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched. That performance has come out of nowhere! His SwStk% has surged to 16.9%, which is an elite mark and certainly mostly justifies that huge strikeout rates. He did make two relief appearances and recorded a massive 45.8% strikeout rate in that role. However, he has also posted a 34.7% strikeout rate as a starter, though he’s only gone as far as five innings and went just four innings twice. Something has definitely changed here and he could be worth a look in AL-Only leagues if he gets the call to make a start with the Rangers.

Unlike Anderson, Joe Ryan has been a legitimate prospect with the results to back it up. His 35.6% strikeout rate is actually his lowest mark since his Low-A debut in 2018…where he still posted a 34.7% rate! He has also shown improved control since his 9%+ walk rates at both Low-A and Single-A in 2018 and 2019, but a FB% consistently over 40% means home runs could be an issue if his strikeout rate can’t translate. As a Rays pitcher, you never know how the team will treat him once promoted. But he has surely shown the skills to be worth rostering no matter his role. I would imagine if he’s capable of striking out 30%+ batters as mostly a starter, the sky’s the limit if limited to just one or two relief innings each appearance!

Stephen Gonsalves was a one-time top prospect, but injuries and control issues resulted in him jumping from team to team. It’s great to see his strikeout rate back above 30%, but it’s come with only a 13.6% SwStk%, and a ton of walks. That 18.1% walk rate is absurd and likely means he won’t see the Majors anytime soon unless he improves that control.

Jacob Waguespack appeared with the Blue Jays in 2019 and 2020, but posted weak skills and results. This year, his strikeout rate has skyrocketed to its highest mark since Low-A all the way back in 2015. His SwStk% has also shot up suggesting something changed for the better here. Of course, his ERA sits at an ugly 4.78, so you never know if teams, and the Jays in particular here, pay more attention to the surface results or the underlying skills when deciding who to promote. If he does get starts in the future, I would wait to see if anything changed with his velocity or repertoire versus 2019 and 2020 before rostering him.

Ryan Hartman hasn’t seen much of a jump om SwStk%, and yet his strikeout rate has jumped above 30% for the first time. It makes me skeptical that the strikeout rate surge is real. As an extreme fly ball pitcher, he needs all those strikeouts, otherwise he’ll end up suffering from gopheritis, which has already happened during his time in Triple-A in 2019 and this year thanks to HR/FB rates hovering around 20%.

Mike Wright 라이트 pitched a year in the KBO in 2020 after a string of weak skills with the Orioles and then Mariners. He had never posted good strikeout rates in the minors so I’m not sure why he even earned a promotion to the Majors in the first place, but hey, it’s the Orioles. This year, his skills have actually improved that he may actually be deserving of a recall for the first time. However, that 29.6% strikeout rate is backed by a meh 10.4% SwStk%, so he hasn’t exactly improved his ability to make batters swing and miss. Not that I expected anyone to jump on him if he was recalled, but consider this confirmation not to bother!

Wow, remember Jake Faria, former top prospect with the Rays? His minor league career dates all the way back to 2011, and yet he’s still just 27! After a solid Rays debut in 2017, the wheels fell off in 2018 and he was jettisoned to the Brewers where he continued to pitch poorly. This season has been more or less the same as past years — a good strikeout rate supported by a solid, albeit unspectacular SwStk%, a double digit walk rates, and a fly ball tilt. The SwStk% isn’t strong enough to expect an elite MLB strikeout rates, so when combined with the walks and fly balls, it becomes an unappealing skill set.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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