Seven Prospect Arms for 2018

I feel like the title is pretty straightforward about what you’re going to see in this piece so I’ll spare y’all a lengthy preamble. There are no doubt more than seven viable rookies for the upcoming season, but this is the group I’m currently focused on as potential contributors.

Brent Honeywell TBR (ADP 208) – I respect what the Rays do as far as pitching development goes, but how does Honeywell not even get a September look last year?! The 23-year old right-hander tore through Double- and Triple-A last year with a 3.49 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 30% K, and 6% BB in 137 innings. An absurd .396 BABIP through his first 14 Triple-A starts inflated the ERA (4.91 in that time), but when it smoothed out to .316 from July on, he put on a show: 1.79 ERA, 27% K-BB in 50 IP. He’s known for a true screwball that is nasty, but novelty of that can overshadow the fact that he has four other offerings in his repertoire and only the curve consistently grades below average among scouts.

I was really impressed with him during an Arizona Fall League outing I saw live in 2016. He’s seasoned with 24 starts Triple-A and has the stuff to handle both lefties and righties in the majors. He’s ready. I’m sure the Rays will leave him down for the first couple of weeks to manipulate the service time, but otherwise he should be in the majors. Outside of Shohei Ohtani (who is a rookie, at least technically), Honeywell will be the first pitching prospect I take in leagues. Alex Reyes will go higher, but I’ll bypass him and get Honeywell later.

Luiz Gohara ATL (ADP 294) – I don’t want to overrate a 29-inning September call-up, but Gohara was damn impressive in his five starts, capping off a four-level season that started in High-A. The 25% K rate was in line with his minor league work while the 7% BB rate was markedly better than what we’re used to from him (10% MiLB rate in 328 IP). The left-hander sits mid-90s with his heater, mid-80s with his slider, and upper-80s with changeup. He smothered lefties in a very limited sample (just 21 PA) and probably deserved a better fate against righties as a .418 BABIP overshadowed his 19% K-BB in 102 PA.

The Matt Kemp deal could keep him from a rotation spot out of camp as Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir are currently penciled in, though neither are paragons of health. While the two pitchers are different in many ways, I’m reminded of my overhyping of Jharel Cotton after a brilliant September and it helps keep my Gohara expectations in check. That said, a lefty who sits 95-96 with three reliable offerings is exciting.

Walker Buehler LAD (ADP 369) – Like Gohara, Buehler had a four-level season, but his sip of coffee didn’t go as well. He displayed strong raw stuff in nine relief innings (98 mph fastball, mid-80s knockout curve, and a show-me low-90s slutter), but a couple homers doomed the bottom line. Of course, that’s why we aren’t too hung up on nine-inning samples. Hell, samples five times as big aren’t exactly reliable. Buehler’s work en route to the majors definitely stood out: 3.35 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 35% K, and 9% BB in 89 IP. We didn’t see his changeup in September and it is easily his fourth-best pitch, but it’s a legit offering that can round into an MLB average weapon.

Buehler is one of the biggest prospect risers as it was essentially his pro debut after a post-draft TJ surgery in 2015 limited him to just five innings in 2016. He was a late Top-100 name, if he made the list at all and he’ll surge into the top 25 of most lists as one of the league’s best pitching prospects. He’ll likely be sent to Triple-A to tighten up the control and if he gets a shot a couple months into the season, he could be a game-changer. If he wasn’t in such a deep organization, I’d probably even roster him as a reserve in leagues as low 12 teams.

Jack Flaherty STL (ADP 378) – We didn’t see his usual command-and-control during the 21-inning call-up (11% BB, 1.7 HR/9), but his four pitches were on display and showed his substantial upside. His quality heater (93 mph) misses some bats and incudes groundballs at a strong clip while his curve and slider do most of the work generating his strikeouts. The changeup is a fringe show-me offering right now that could develop more. Even if it doesn’t, he still has enough to combat both righties and lefties while pushing toward his mid-rotation upside.

Michael Kopech CWS (ADP 334) – An electric season in Double-A that earned him a brief look at Triple-A as a 21-year old will likely skyrocket the flame throwing righty into the top 10 of most prospect lists. He’s no worse than a top 5 pitching prospect for sure and if he can trim the walks a bit in an extended Triple-A look this year, he could be up sometime after the first two months. There is no incentive for the White Sox to rush him as they’re not slated to contend just yet and burning the service time when he could learn just as much in a full tour of Triple-A just wouldn’t make sense. His fastball grades no worse than a 70, sitting 95-98 mph with regular triple digit showings and legit movement that makes it even more difficult on batters. He backs it up with a nasty slider that has fueled mid-teens or better swinging strike rates at every stop up the ladder.

Tyler Mahle CIN (ADP 411) – A quietly ascending prospect in a quietly solid farm system, Mahle now has five strong minor league seasons after 144 innings across the high minors in 2017. He parlayed that into a late-season call up where he posted a 2.70 ERA thanks to two shutout performances in his four starts. The supporting skills weren’t really there for such a gaudy ERA with a 1.50 WHIP and 3% K-BB rate in 20 IP, but the raw stuff was nice. He has a pair of quality fastballs with distinct four- and two-seamer offerings that sit 91-94 mph (with 95-96 bursts) backed by a sweeping mid-80s slider that did most of the work in his debut.

Even with two different fastballs, it’s essentially the same look making him a two-pitch guy right now as 91% of his pitches were fastballs and sliders. His lightly used changeup (7%) shows promise with the movement and will be necessary to combat lefties going forward as his 295-point platoon split indicates. He has the feel for a curveball, but threw just eight of them. Mahle wins on command and control. He had a high 12% walk rate in September that runs counter to the 5% he had as a minor leaguer, but it was more about working the edges and nibbling than a breakdown of his ability to hit spots. It’s a fourth-starter profile with elements that show a path to developing beyond that. He should be in the mix for a rotation spot out of Spring Training and makes for a nice NL-only speculation and mixed league watch list guy.

A.J. Puk OAK (ADP 544) – Puk rode a pair of plus pitches to a 35% strikeout rate as his high-90s fastball and high-80s slider devastated the competition. The 23-year old lefty is a bit under the radar in Oakland. He could make the majors before the All-Star break if he continues on 2017’s trajectory. His command certainly needs some work, but the elite swing-and-miss ability increases his margin for error substantially. Throwing strikes and staying ahead of batters will be his focus in Triple-A and that development will decide how quickly he’s able to get a look in the bigs. The 2016 first rounder could be one of the best rookie arms in 2018.

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

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4 years ago

“a show-me low-90s slutter”