Top 20 Right-handed Pitching Prospects

 

When discussing minor league pitching prospects, the emphasis is on starting pitchers. Though it is certainly possible that relief pitchers will have blossoming careers, the starting pitcher is of greater value. A pitcher with 180-200 innings has more impact on a team's success than a pitcher with 45, 50 or even 80-100 innings. Therefore, teams will generally want their best pitching prospects to remain as starters for as long as possible until they are forced to go to the pen. Besides, it's likely that a rough estimate of 80% of major league relief pitchers were minor league starters.

 

For right-handed pitching prospects, the emphasis is usually on power. For the guys who throw hard, it's easier to develop a repertoire of pitches around a good fastball than it is for pitchers with a mediocre fastball. That said, many of these right-handers throw with the velocity that attracts radar gun readings with movement and command also important factors.

 

This year's number one prospect is head and shoulders above the rest. More in question is the battle for #2.

 

 

1. Felix Hernandez -- Seattle Mariners

Age 2004 level ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR
19 AA 3.30 57 47 21 58 1.19 3
A-high 2.74 92 85 26 114 1.21 5

 

Hernandez is the best pitching prospect baseball has seen since Josh Beckett and Mark Prior both exhausted their rookie eligibility in 2002. Despite being only 18 years old, Hernandez pitched in Double-A with success and could end up being better than either Beckett or Prior.

 

Hernandez already throws in the mid-90s with excellent command. At 6'3" 170 lbs, he should get stronger as he fills out. His curveball is as good as his fastball and he also has a plus changeup. All three pitches are capable of getting major league hitters out right now. To avoid unnecessary strain on his precious arm, the Mariners won't let him use his slider yet, which might even be his most effective pitch.

 

The Mariners will continue to keep his workload down before he receives the inevitable call up to the Major Leagues, which could happen by midseason. When he does get that call, he'll be an immediate impact on the Mariners rotation. 

 

2. Matt Cain -- San Francisco Giants

Age 2004 level ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR
20 AA 3.35 86 73 40 72 1.31 7
A-high 1.86 73 58 17 89 1.03 5

 

Though Cain ranks second on this list, he is a distant second behind Hernandez. In fact, Cain headlines the "next best" group of power arms where the pitchers ranked two through four are, for the most part, interchangeable.

 

Selected in the first round of the 2002 draft, Cain was limited to consecutive seasons of short-season leagues to preserve his young arm. Even so, he was still a teenager when given his first exposure to a full season in 2004. Cain responded well. Not only was he skipped past low-A to start the year, but he excelled in the hitter-friendly California League and held his own against much older competition in Double-A.

 

Cain has two plus pitches. His mid-90s fastball and his power curve are complimented by an improving changeup. He is said to have tremendous makeup and a great willingness to improve and learn.

 

Starting 2005 back in Double-A is likely and so is a big league debut before the season ends.

 

3. Chad Billingsley -- Los Angeles Dodgers

Age 2004 level ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR
20 AA 2.98 42 32 22 47 1.29 1
A-high 2.35 92 68 49 111 1.27 6

 

Billingsley resembles Cain in several ways. Both were first round selections out of high school (Billingsley 24th overall in 2003, Cain 25th overall in 2002). Both turn later 21 this year. (Though Cain became a professional a year earlier, he was only 17 at the time of being drafted.)

 

Both jumped from short-season ball in 2003 to high-A in 2004 with a mid-season promotion to Double-A. Further, both throw regularly at about 94 mph and top out at 97 while possessing tremendous makeup.

 

Like Cain, Billingsley should return to Double-A. However, a major league call up for Billingsley may not happen until 2006.

 

4. Adam Miller -- Cleveland Indians

Age 2004 level ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR
20 A-high 2.08 43 29 12 46 0.95 1
A-low 3.36 91 79 28 106 1.18 7

 

Miller was selected seven picks after Billingsley in 2003. Miller's fastball is similar to that of Cain and Billingsley, though Miller may even be the most likely of the three to touch triple-digits. Miller throws the hardest breaking pitch of the three, a heavy slider that he throws 87-88 mph.

 

Power pitchers are likely to suffer the occasional base on balls. The most impressive statistic considering Miller's arsenal is the minimal number of walks allowed. Though his 2004 stats may look better than Cain and Billingsley, Miller ranks below the others because he performed a level lower while at the same age. But the differences between the three are like splitting hairs.

 

In Spring Training 2005, Miller was shut down with a strained elbow and not expected to return to action until June. The Indians will most certainly be cautious and patient with Miller, likely sending him back to high-A with a promotion to Double-A a reasonable expectation. Assuming he recovers well from his elbow discomfort, a target for Miller's major league debut could be late 2006.

 

5. Gavin Floyd -- Philadelphia Phillies

Age 2004 level ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR
22 Majors 3.49 28 25 16 24 1.46 1
AAA 4.99 31 39 9 18 1.29 4
AA 2.57 119 93 46 94 1.17 5

 

Floyd ranks a notch lower than the power arms of Cain, Billingsley and Miller. Floyd, however, is the only one ranked in the top 5 who has appeared in the major leagues and is the most likely to make a 2005 impact at the big league level.

 

Floyd does not throw as hard as those ranked above him but his curveball is one of the best around. He will probably be the odd man out for the 2005 Phillies rotation on Opening Day, but he'll be the first call up if and when a rotation spot opens.

 

6. Jose Capellan -- Milwaukee Brewers

Age 2004 level ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR
24 Majors 11.25 8 14 5 4 2.38 2
AAA 2.51 43 33 15 37 1.12 0
AA 2.50 50 53 19 53 1.44 1
A-high 1.94 46 27 11 62 0.83 0

 

Capellan was Braves property for 6 years before being shipped to Milwaukee in the Danny Kolb trade. After only three starts in 2001, Capellan required Tommy John surgery. He missed all of 2002 and came back in time to pitch 64 innings in 2003 at the Rookie and low-A levels. Continuing to monitor his return from surgery, the Braves were willing to allow Capellan to resume at the high-A level. As soon as he proved himself sharp and showed overpowering stuff, the Braves moved him on the fast track to the majors. In the process, he allowed only one homerun in 139 minor league innings.

 

Capellan throws harder than anyone else on this list, working comfortably at 94-97 and he is more able to touch 100 than even Adam Miller. Because of his electric fastball and the fact that he is still working on both his curveball and changeup, it is likely than Capellan will be moved to the bullpen where he profiles as a frontline closer. Once either his curveball or changeup becomes an average or better pitch, it would be wise to scrap the other and take his fastball to the pen where he could be effective right away.

 

Though Capellan had a couple rough outings as a Brave to close the 2004 season, it is not out of the question that he could make an immediate impact in the Brewers bullpen. However, the Brewers will likely keep him as a starter for now and have him begin 2005 in Triple-A to continue to work on his secondary pitches.

 

7. Jeff Niemann -- Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Age 2004 level ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR
22 None

 

Drafted 4th overall in 2004, Niemann didn't sign until January so he has yet to make his professional debut. One of the famed Rice University trio, the 6'9" 260 lbs. power pitcher is the highest ranked college pitcher on this list.

 

Niemann throws hard with a mid-90s fastball and a devastating slider, stuff reminiscent of another lanky power pitcher, Randy Johnson. He will start 2005 all the way up in Double-A ball, a rather lofty level to start his pro career. He could be a fast move through the system and pitching as a Devil Ray in September is not out of the question.

 

8. Edwin Jackson -- Los Angeles Dodgers

Age 2004 level ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR
21 Majors 7.30 25 31 11 16 1.68 7
AAA 5.86 91 90 55 70 1.59 4

 

Jackson entered 2004 as the best pitching prospect in the game, best known for beating Randy Johnson on his 20th birthday in his September 2003 major league debut. A year later he's not even the best pitching prospect in the Dodgers system. Despite a struggling 2004 season when he battled nagging injuries, Jackson still ranks as a top prospect.

 

At his best, Jackson's fastball resembles that of Cain and Billingsley. His slider and offspeed pitches require more consistency. His control needs to come back to form, walking 55 in 91 Triple-A innings compared to walking 53 in 148 Double-A innings in 2003. If he is able to regain his previous form, Jackson will join Billingsley at the front of the Dodgers rotation for years to come.

 

Jackson will be hard pressed to crack the Dodgers rotation out of Spring Training, though he could be the first called up when a spot opens up.

 

9. Homer Bailey -- Cincinnati Reds

Age 2004 level ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR
18 Rookie 4.38 12 14 3 9 1.25 0

 

Bailey, drafted 7th overall in 2004, certainly has a long way to go from Rookie ball to the Major Leagues. But his stuff is good enough that if he proves himself in the next year or two, he could easily rank near the top of this list. Bailey has the potential to add his name to the premier list of hard-throwing Texas righthanders; Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Kerry Wood and Josh Beckett. One day Homer Bailey may have the torch passed to him and have his name be next in line.

 

Bailey's fastball easily goes in the mid-90s and he throws it with good command. Standing 6'4" at 185 lbs., he has plenty of room to grow and fill out as his body matures into that of a man. His curveball is already considered a plus pitch while his changeup needs improvement.

 

The Reds will be slow and careful with Bailey, who won't even turn 20 until May 2006. If he develops as planned, an estimated time of arrival to reach the majors would likely be mid-to-late 2007.

 

10. Brandon McCarthy -- Chicago White Sox

Age 2004 level ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR
21 AA 3.46 26 23 6 29 1.12 2
A-high 2.08 52 31 3 60 0.65 3
A-low 3.64 94 80 21 113 1.07 10

 

Drafted out of junior college in the 17th round in 2002, McCarthy, who stands 6'7", has tallied more strikeouts than innings pitched at every level of his professional career. At his height, weighing only 180 lbs. indicates he could use some strengthening, though he already throws 90+.

 

McCarthy's strikeout-to-walk ratio of 202-30 was phenomenal. It's no one-year fluke, as his 2003 numbers in 101 Rookie-level innings were 125-15. He know what he's doing around the strike zone and doesn't give up a lot of hits in the process. His WHIP in the high-A Carolina League is off the charts.

 

McCarthy is a long shot to made the White Sox out of Spring Training, but he has impressed them to this point. It's not out of the question that he could secure the 5th starter position, though Sox management might want to make him hungry for it by sending him in the minors to start the year.

 

11. Anthony Reyes -- St. Louis Cardinals

Age 2004 level ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR
23 AA 3.03 74 62 13 102 1.01 3
A-high 4.40 31 32 7 36 1.26 3

 

Injuries have been a nagging concern for Reyes. His stuff make him a first-round quality pitcher. However, multiple injuries in college caused him to slip to the 15th round in 2003 and he missed the early portions of 2004. Once he got back into action, he showed his dominant stuff with outstanding control.

 

Reyes throws his fastball in the low-to-mid 90s. His slider and changeup have good potential as well. His command, however, is what makes him all the more special, walking only 20 in 105 innings while tallying 138 strikeouts.

 

Reyes will start 2005 at one of the higher levels of the Cardinals system. If he is able to stay healthy, the Cardinals would be happy to add him to their rotation later this year or next.

 

12. Kyle Davies -- Atlanta Braves

Age 2004 level ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR
21 AAA 9.00 5 5 3 5 1.60 0
AA 2.32 62 40 22 73 1.00 9
A-high 2.63 75 55 32 95 1.16 3

 

In his four-year career, Davies has had success at every level possible in the Braves system as he has worked his way up. Triple-A is the next, and final, hurdle for Davies as he continues his push to the Braves rotation.

 

His plus fastball, solid curveball and very good changeup give him a three-pitch approach that won't keep him in the minors for too much longer.

 

13. Philip Humber -- New York Mets

Age 2004 level ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR
22 None

 

Humber is the most polished of the Rice trio, one of the most polished collegians in the 2004 draft class. His upside is not as high as others, but he should be a quick move through the system with three pitches that are already quality offerings. His fastball easily works in the low-90s, but his best pitch is his curveball. He adds a splitter to round out his arsenal.

 

Humber will make is professional debut this year, likely starting at high-A. With his polish, it shouldn't take much for him to warrant a promotion.

 

14. Thomas Diamond -- Texas Rangers

Age 2004 level ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR
22 A-low 2.05 31 18 8 42 0.84 1
A-ss 2.35 15 13 5 26 1.20 0

 

Diamond was the 10th overall selection in 2004. The former collegian ate up inferior competition in his professional debut. his first true test will be in 2005 when we likely starts in high-A ball.

 

Strong and broad-shouldered at 6'3" 230 lbs., he throws low-to-mid 90s and has the physical capabilities of being a work horse. As indicated by his strikeout-to-walk ratio, he has good command as well. His changeup is ahead of his breaking pitch, which is not typical; usually the changeup is the last pitch a pitcher needs to develop.

 

Diamond gives hope to a Rangers team that has been desperate to try to find quality pitching from within its system. He and lefthander John Danks provide the best examples of hope for Texas.

 

15. Jesse Crain -- Minnesota Twins

Age 2004 level ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR
23 Majors 2.00 27 17 12 14 1.07 2
AAA 2.49 51 38 17 64 1.08 5

 

Crain is one of the rare top pitching prospects that is actually groomed as a reliever. A second round pick in 2002, the nation got a glimpse of what Crain could do last season by holding major league hitters to a .179 average.

 

Crain will bring his mid-90s fastball and his plus-plus slider to the Twins bullpen in 2005. He will setup for Joe Nathan until arbitration or free agency will force to Twins to let go of Nathan and rely on Crain as their closer.

 

16. Brandon League -- Toronto Blue Jays

Age 2004 level ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR
22 Majors 0.00 5 3 1 2 0.80 0
AA 3.38 104 92 41 90 1.28 3

 

A second round pick in 2001, League made 59 starts in the minor leagues before being moved to the bullpen mid-2004. His fastball works at 95-97 mph and a heavy slider at 87-89 mph.

 

League has established a changeup which may allow him to go back to the starting rotation at some point. However, his best bet to make the Blue Jays roster in 2005 is in the bullpen. After he gathers some experience at the major league level, a return to the rotation would be more intensely examined. If the Blue Jays are determined to keep him a starter, he'll probably start 2005 in Triple-A before he gets called up later in the year.

 

17. Yusmeiro Petit -- New York Mets

Age 2004 level ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR
20 AA 4.50 12 10 5 16 1.25 0
A-high 1.22 44 27 14 62 0.93 0
A-low 2.39 83 47 22 122 0.83 8

 

Petit doesn't have overwhelming stuff, but he has put up some overwhelming numbers. His fastball velocity is slightly above average. His slider and changeup are good. His command is his best asset but it is still a bit perplexing how he racks up so many strikeouts without a dominant out pitch.

 

He should start 2005 in Double-A and prime himself with a full minor league season looking to have a chance at the Mets roster in 2006.

 

18. Merkin Valdez -- San Francisco Giants

Age 2004 level ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR
23 Majors 27.00 2 4 3 2 3.50 1
AAA 7.20 5 6 4 5 2.00 0
AA 4.32 42 35 15 31 1.19 3
A-high 2.52 36 30 5 44 0.97 4

 

When Russ Ortiz was traded to the Braves, Damian Moss received the headlines regarding what the Giants got in return. But Moss was just a temporary replacement in the rotation while Valdez was the true gem. In just two years Merkin went from Rookie ball to the National League.

 

Valdez has the stuff of a top-notch relief pitcher with two dominant pitches, a scorching fastball and a power slider. If he is able to develop a third pitch of an offspeed variety, he will remain a starter. But ultimately his destination is likely the bullpen where he could make an immediate contribution before he settles in to a set-up role and then, with further experience, the closer position.

 

19. Mark Rogers -- Milwaukee Brewers

Age 2004 level ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR
19 Rookie 4.73 27 30 14 35 1.63 0

 

Just when it looked like Homer Bailey would be the first high school pitcher taken in the 2004 draft, Rogers came seemingly out of nowhere. The Brewers took Rogers with the 5th selection, just two ahead of where Bailey went to the Reds.

 

Rogers jumped into the scene by touching 97 mph on the radar gun. He's still quite raw, needing to work on his mechanics and secondary pitches. A full season at low-A will be a great experience for the teenager.

 

20. Ezequiel Astacio -- Houston Astros

Age 2004 level ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR
25 AA 3.89 176 155 56 185 1.20 12

 

Astacio is a late bloomer. He didn't have his first exposure to a full season until age 22. He's patiently advanced through the system a level a year and has gotten better each season.

 

His fastball has improved 5 mph in the past two years to allow him to throw in the low-90s. His curveball and split-finger are quality pitches.

 

Starting 2005 in Triple-A is inevitable to Astacio, but he could make his major league debut midway through the season.

 

 

Honorable mention (in alphabetical order):

Joe Blanton, Oakland A's

J. D. Durbin, Minnesota Twins

Richie Gardner, Cincinnati Reds

Angel Guzman, Chicago Cubs

Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado Rockies

Anthony Lerew, Atlanta Braves

Clint Nageotte, Seattle Mariners

Jon Papelbon, Boston Red Sox

Hayden Penn, Baltimore Orioles

Kyle Sleeth, Detroit Tigers

Huston Street, Oakland A's

 

 

 

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