Today at the Prospect Stock Watch, we’re going to look at pitching because… well, who isn’t looking for quality pitching? The ability to identify good pitching has become even more important around Major League Baseball these days where the balls have more juice than the Kool-Aid Man.
As a fantasy baseball owner, you’re tasked with finding a significant number of arms to help your team navigate through a long season filled with injuries and disappointments. And in this new era of baseball, it can be even more difficult to find a good, reliable starter as many pitchers hit a wall in Triple-A and/or the Majors where the balls are different than the lower minors (Say hello to Justus Sheffield and Deivi Garcia, among others).
Below, we’re going to rank the Top 6 MLB organizations in terms of minor pitching depth and list the best arms within each organization. If we look at the next wave of arms heading towards the MLB, it’s interesting to see these six organizations possess the majority of the top arms in baseball.
The below ranking will help fantasy managers in redraft leagues prepare for 2020, and it will help fantasy managers in dynasty leagues prepare for the multiple seasons ahead. Some of the teams below with the best pitching depth might surprise you. And if the rankings below are any indication, the American League Central could soon become a powerhouse league to rival the AL East.
1. The Detroit Tigers
The Tigers rank first for two reasons. Firstly, they have three pitchers at the top that project to develop into No. 1/2 starters. Secondly, the organization could graduate five strong starting pitchers by the end of the 2020 season. The club also projects to completely makeover the starting rotation by 2021 which could push Spencer Turnbull to the bullpen and allow the Tigers to deal Matthew Boyd for help on the hitting side (Recent draft pick Riley Greene looks special but there’s not much else after that).
Projected 2021 Rotation: Matthew Boyd, Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Tarik Skubal, Spencer Turnbull
2. The Kansas City Royals
I won’t delve too much into this team because I’ve already written about the Royals’ outstanding 2018 draft but the team continues to see unprecedented results from the arms selected just over a year ago. The club could have a starting rotation made up entirely of arms selected in the 2018 draft by the end of 2021 — and some might even have to start out in the bullpen. Like the Tigers, the Royals organization could be very interesting in the next couple of years if it can get some hitting.
Projected 2021 Rotation: Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic, Jonathan Bowlan
3. The Atlanta Braves
The Atlanta Braves organization has the most MLB-ready arms with the likes of Wright, Wilson, and Weigel. And Anderson could end up being the best of the bunch. But don’t sleep on Wright after a rough start to the year. He has a 2.03 ERA over his last eight starts (53.1 innings) in Triple-A. Not all the arms will land in the starting rotation with Max Fried and Mike Soroka already looking like building blocks. Muller and Davidson could end up in the bullpen throwing high-leverage innings.
Kyle Wright, RHP, AAA, ETA: 2019
Ian Anderson, RHP, AAA, ETA: 2020
Kyle Muller, RHP, AA, ETA: 2020
Bryse Wilson, RHP, AAA, ETA: 2019
Patrick Weigel, RHP, AAA, ETA: 2019
Tucker Davidson, LHP, AAA, ETA: 2020
Projected 2021 Rotation: Mike Soroka, Kyle Wright, Ian Anderson, Max Fried, Bryse Wilson
4. The Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto organization is quickly building up an impressive stable of arms and I could have listed another four or five pitchers. The majority of the pitchers with the higher ceilings are in the lower levels of the system while most of the upper-level arms are more No. 4 starter types. As it stands right now, none of the pitchers in the Jays starting rotation look like locks to be there in two or three years. But by the end of 2021, the front of the rotation could include two hurlers already touching 100 miles per hour in Pearson and Manoah.
Nate Pearson, RHP, AA, ETA: 2020
Alek Manoah, RHP, A-, ETA: 2021
Simeon Woods Richardson, RHP, A+, ETA: 2021
Eric Pardinho, RHP, A, ETA: 2022
Adam Kloffenstein, RHP, A-, ETA: 2022
Anthony Kay, LHP, AAA, ETA: 2020
Patrick Murphy, RHP, AA, ETA: 2020
Josh Winckowski, RHP. A+, ETA: 2021
Kendall Williams, RHP, R, ETA: 2023
Projected 2021 Rotation: Nate Pearson, Alek Manoah, Patrick Murphy, Simeon Wood Richardson, Anthony Kay
5. The Minnesota Twins
The full impact of the pitching depth in the Twins system will take a few years to be fully felt. Thorpe doesn’t have a huge ceiling but he could settle into the rotation next year and provide a lot of innings. Graterol will be next and has the ceiling of a No. 1 pitcher. Duran has had some issues with Double-A but his ability to miss bats and induce ground balls could help him develop into a top arm. Admittedly, I remain higher on Vallimont than most.
Projected 2021 Rotation: Jose Berrios, Brusdar Graterol, Jhoan Duran, Jordan Balazovic, Lewis Thorpe
6. The Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays prospect depth has thinned out a bit recently as the club has enjoyed prospect graduations and also participated in some trades (such as flipping Jesus Sanchez to Miami for pitching depth). But the organization is known for developing pitchers and they still have some impressive arms with high ceilings. Honeywell is a huge wildcard. He was inches away from the Majors after an outstanding year in Triple-A in 2017 but he hasn’t pitched in two years. Will he be the same pitcher when he returns? Will he be able to throw his signature screwball when he returns? McClanahan is the best pitcher around that no one is talking about. Don’t sleep on him; the growth he’s shown with his control and command in 2019 is nothing short of amazing. And the Rays, of course, already have some impressive arms in the Majors (Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, and Brendan McKay) that likely aren’t going anywhere for the foreseeable future.
Projected 2021 Rotation: Blake Snell, Brendan McKay, Shane McClanahan, Tyler Glasnow, Brent Honeywell,
Just missed: San Diego and Miami
A quick observations: This is a very white list. Why are the majority of top starting pitchers coming out of college or high school programs? How can MLB organizations better identify and develop Latin and other foreign-born pitchers into top-shelf starters? Brusdar Graterol, Jhoan Duran and Eric Pardinho… along with the likes of Sixto Sanchez and Luis Patino make up a very small group of top pitching prospects who were born outside of North America.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.