Recently, I have noticed a trend of young pitchers with command/sequencing profiles over raw stuff; coming up to the MLB and absolutely dominating. Not just dominating, but dominating almost immediately! Guys like Chris Paddack, Shane Bieber and Zac Gallen are great examples.
What makes them stand out even more is that these arms came seemingly out of left field without tons of pedigree and could be had very cheaply in actual MLB deals or had for free in dynasty fantasy leagues. Now, all of these arms had upticks in their raw stuff that contributed, but those reports took awhile to come out.
So I decided to dig in and try to identify this data set so I could filter players who were breaking out before they were household names, while also seeing which pedigree prospects are more than just overpowering stuff.
What I settled on was a swinging strike (SwStk) % of 13% or higher, a non-BIP strike rate of 34% or higher, a total strike % of 65% or higher, 70 plus IP and 3+ distinct pitches. All while reaching full season ball levels. Under the age of 25. These pitchers are poundin’ the zone, showing durability, a viable starters mix to turn the order over multiple times, and most importantly getting strikes swinging and looking at high enough rates to generate high K rates.
MLB names who fit this filter in 2019 are: Shane Bieber, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Yu Darvish, Stephen Strasburg, Matthew Boyd, Jacob Degrom, Zac Gallen and Lucas Giolito. Pretty damn elite company! Names that just missed were Chris Paddack, Charlie Morton, Jack Flaherty and Walker Buehler. This just enforces the concept to me.
All in all, I wound up with 20 names to highlight that fit my criteria. Here it goes.
6-1 185, RHP, Rays
Joe Ryan is a curious case. Arguably the most dominant pitcher in the minors in 2019, Ryan lives off a 4 seam fastball that he throws over 70% of the time. Ryan’s FB lives 92-95 topping off at 96 with roughly average spin rates. However, Ryan’s water polo background in his ¾ slot throwing motion creates mass deception and late movement that creates swing and miss from even the best contact hitters (Wander Franco included). Despite his massive fastball usage, Ryan mixes in 4 distinct pitches. His slow curve is above average pitch that should create swing and miss. He also mixes in a changeup and a cutter with enough movement to pass as a slider at times; but both pitches are currently below average. A 7th round pick out of D2 Cal St. Stanislaus, Ryan has serious reliever risk. This is especially true considering his two average or better pitches, smaller frame and FB usage. However, the 4 pitch mix and insane success give hope that he can overcome this risk.
Conclusion: Ryan is a name to monitor closely going forward and add in deep leagues. The RP risk is very real and opportunity to earn starts in the pros will be tough. But if either the cutter or change makes a jump, Ryan could be MLB ready by late 2020.
6-2 205, RHP, Phillies
Spencer Howard is one of my personal favorite prospects in the game and my 36th ranked prospect overall. A 2nd round sophomore signing out of Cal Poly in 2017, Howard’s stuff took a massive jump in late 2018 and has held throughout 2019 when his command jumped as well. Howard throws 4 pitches that all show above average or better potential, highlighted by a FB that sits 94-95 and has touched 100 MPH. With this heat, he mixes a plus changeup, nasty curve and a distinct slider, all 4 of which can be swing and miss pitches. Howard’s durability is the only question mark I have about him and he did miss time this year. That being said, he has durable frame and has avoided serious injuries. Should he put it all together, I think Howard has a genuine ace ceiling and a high floor as well. Extremely underrated as a prospect.
Conclusion: Howard is a must own player who (given health) has one of the deceptively high ceilings in the minors.
6-0 182, RHP, A’s
The story with Jefferies has always been health. Jefferies, a college standout at Cal, was a late first round pick in 2016 despite a shoulder injury, then missed 2017 and 2018 with 2 Tommy John surgeries. Finally healthy, Jefferies’ FB was up to 95-96 (living 92-93) with an exceptional changeup and fringe cutter/curve combo. The A’s were careful with Jefferies to nobody’s surprise but the results were extremely good. Jefferies likely hit his innings cap while bringing back his full arsenal and absolutely pounding the zone. It’s worth noting he essentially reached AA in his first full pro season and held his own. He draws plenty of Sonny Gray comps, which is exciting again in 2019.
Conclusion: Jefferies checks a lot of boxes for this data set. 4 clear pitches, a plus or better offering and truly extreme strike peripherals. However, his size and injury history are red flags. I don’t expect Jefferies to ever be a workhorse and he does have RP risk. That being said, he seems like a guy who could put up good stats over 125 IP a year in the pros.
6-0 192, RHP, Padres
Is there anyone who doesn’t love Patino? That Patino could check every strike peripheral box, with his raw stuff, at his age... At these levels, it’s truly unreal. He was someone I’ve always loved but didn’t realize he was pounding the strike zone more than teammate Macknezie Gore. Patino stole the show at the Futures Game and hasn’t looked back since. Patino attacks hitters with a fastball that looks capable of triple digits but lives 93-96 with explosive life and rare extension for a shorter arm. He keeps hitters honest with a nasty plus slider, an occasional curve that flashes average or better and a changeup that will flash plus at times and fringe at times. Patino already has one of the higher ceilings in the minors, but should that changeup command come... Look out.
Conclusion: Just 19, Patino has elite stuff and already controls it well. With command...the ceiling is scary. He’s likely already owned in your league, but his peripherals make him look capable of being a top 5 overall prospect next year. It might be the last chance to buy at all.
6-5 215. RHP, Giants
So who the eff is Matt Frisbee? The 2018 15th round pick from UNC Greensboro isn’t exactly a name that has spent much time in the spotlight. But that may be changing. Frisbee was drafted to be an RP, but with Zaidi taking over as GM, he was moved back to his college position as a starter to start the 2019 season. The move paid big dividends. Frisbee has a 3 pitch mix with a mid 90’s fastball, a surprising plus slider and a fringy change. He gets good extension out of his 6-5 frame and looks to be able to handle a starter’s workload. Frisbee tunnels his FB and SL well, using it to generate heavy whiffs, and amplifies that by consistently throwing strikes. Despite his size, there is RP risk with his fringy third pitch. But there is also upside in him being fairly new to getting serious coaching attention from an MLB org.
Conclusion: Frisbee is a deep name to monitor IMO. The results are truly awesome, but the stuff isn’t electric enough to turn MLB lineups over multiple times without an average or better third pitch. That said, this is a profile that can make jumps in their third year.
6-3 215, LHP, Brewers
Ethan Small may not have technically have hit my 70 plus IP threshold, but I made an exception since he threw 102 IP in dominant fashion in the tough SEC and since he had the highest SWSTK and Non-Bip strike rates I came across in this search. Most reports on Small list an 88-92 FB but that’s not what I’ve seen. I’ve seen Small more in the 91-93 range and touching 94-95. Small has incredibly long arms and big hands, and with deception and extreme extension, the perceived velo is closer to the high 90’s for hitters. Small rounds out his arsenal with an average curveball and tick above average changeup that plays up due to his extension as well. Small, the Brewer’s 2019 1st round pick, was arguably the most dominant pitcher in college ball last year, coming off a 2018 TJS when his velocity was closer to 96/97. So there is hope for more velo in the tank. Where Small really shines is his command and sequencing. He’s one of the best tunnelers I have seen for his level. He’s going to keep hitters off balance and guessing at every level IMO.
Conclusion: Small has an incredibly high floor as a backend starter who produces swing and miss but there is some untapped potential there as well. Factor in that he is looking like a workhorse and he is someone I expect to be on the rise in 2020.
5-11 185, RHP, Mariners
The second “Who?!” player on the list. Devin Sweet was an undrafted righty out of NC Central for the Mariners in 2018, but has really jumped since entering the system. A high 80’s pitcher this time last year, Sweet now sits 91-94 with a thin frame that could still add weight. Sweet’s bread and butter is a disgusting changeup that he tunnels well with his FB to generate surprising swing and miss. But the real late season surprise was the development of a decent slider that he displayed in a dominant high-A cup of tea to end the year. This makes him a viable starter and the stats are overwhelmingly good. He also seems to have taken to analytics and will benefit greatly from having a rockstar young pitching dev. coordinator in Max Weiner.
Conclusion: Sweet is a name to keep an eye on but the consistency of his slider will be what determines if he has an MLB future or not. If it sticks he has potential to be a backend starter.
6-1 190, RHP, Dodgers
The ascension of Josiah Gray has been as fast as it has been impressive. Gray was a SS at D2 Le Moyne College until the 2017 Cape Cod League. 2018 was his first full season as a pitcher, but he pitched well enough to get drafted in the 3rd round and his stuff has continued to improve since. The athletic righty is essentially in his 2nd full year as a full time pitcher, but is already succeeding in AA. Coming out of Le Moyne in 2018, Gray showcased an above average fastball and a slider. Both are now plus pitches. The heater runs left to right with good movement and carry, living 93-95 and touching 97. The slider is his best out pitch, but he’s developed a curve and changeup that flash average and give viability to the starter profile. Like many names on this list, Gray is smaller for a starter but has excellent athleticism, a fast arm and has held up very well with little mileage on his arm for his age and level. The Dodgers are among the best at developing arms, which further lends credence to the idea Gray is just scratching the surface of his potential.
Conclusion: That Gray has made so many jumps and shown so much polish for how long he has been pitching is amazing. There is some RP risk with Gray, although he would have closing potential in that role. Gray is now a top 100 guy on most lists and could continue to rise next year.
6-6 225, RHP, Mariners
Logan Gilbert has looked like a man among men all year. The 6-6 monster repeats his mechanics absurdly well for a man of his size. Missing his 2018 debut with mono after going 14th overall in the draft, Gilbert was late to start the 2019 season as he caught up on his conditioning. He quickly made up for lost time. Gilbert was nothing short of dominant in 2019, showcasing a 93-95 MPH fastball that touched 98, a two seam that lives 91-94 with movement, both a slider and curve that flash above average and an average changeup to keep lefties honest. Built like a bull, Gilbert is still growing into a 6-6 frame that allows plus extension and should help him handle a 200 IP workload in the future. Additionally, Gilbert fully embraces analytics and spent parts of this year throwing specific pitches to specific zones to develop and it’s possible his stats could have been even better had he been solely focused on winning.
Conclusion: Gilbert is the presumptive future ace of the Mariners, but more realistically projects as a solid 2. He checks about every box , but lacks a truly dynamic 2nd pitch. Should one jump to plus he could have even more ceiling. An easy top 100 prospect and my personal #37 overall.
6-2 180, RHP, Diamondbacks
If you’ve read my work, you know I’m a big fan of Matt Tabor and wrote him up in depth last year. So naturally I was excited to see him near the top of this list. Tabor was a 3rd round pick out of HS in 2017 who grew 6 inches the summer between his Jr. and Sr. year vaulting himself into 1st round consideration and signing a big bonus. The D-Backs have been cautious with Tabor, easing him into and out of the 2019 season, his full season debut. A good decision, as Tabor seemed to wear down a bit towards the end of the season. That being said Tabor upped his innings from 60 to 95 this year while staying injury free. But during the middle of the season he was nothing short of dominant: before tiring his SWSTK rate was up to 18% and his K/BB was over 12. Tabor, who still has room to fill out his lean 6-2 180 frame can reach 95-96 with his fastball that lives 91-94 and attacks all 4 corners of the zone. He tunnels very well off of his FB with a plus changeup that is his best pitch. Tabor also mixes in a slider and occasional curve that both flash average or better. Tabor has good size, a solid pitch mix, some untapped upside, plus control and good athleticism.
Conclusion: This is the last chance to buy low on Tabor. As of now, Tabor looks to be a low 3, high 4 type starter in the future. That being said, with his mix and untapped upside, he could easily jump into an SP ⅔ type. My only concern here is durability. In 2020 the innings limit should be higher. I love this kid.
6-3 215, LHP, Tigers
Gotta stroke my own ego with Skubal as I was likely the highest in the community on him coming into 2019. It helped that I saw him in 2017 at Seattle U pre-TJS when he had first round buzz. Still, even I didn’t expect Skubal to do this. Of players who pitched 70 IP or more of full season ball, Skubal had the highest SWSTK rate. He was simply dominant all year. It’s worth noting he pitched in some pitcher friendly environments, but still. I do have some concerns with Skubal’s arm speed on his changeup, but it hasn’t seemed to stop hitters swinging through his stuff. Skubal’s bread and butter is his mid 90’s FB that touches 97 with late life, but he mixes both an above average curve and average slider as well. The movement on Skubal’s changeup plays but as mentioned he slows his arm as he throws it. In order to continue his ascension against MLB hitters, that will have to change or he will have to switch to a split change. Still, it’s hard to argue about the results Skubal has had when fully healthy.
Conclusion: With Skubal becoming a fringe top 100 prospect a year after being a 9th round pick, now isn’t the time to buy low on Skubal. Skubal doesn’t have frontline stuff, but these numbers tell me Skubal’s numbers are legit and he is more likely a starter in the pros than an RP.
6-3 220, LHP, Royals
Similar to Skubal and Joe Ryan, Bubic was an interesting arm whos stats exploded in 2019 but long term questions linger. Bubic lives 90-93 with his FB but lives off of an 84-86 MPH changeup that plays up beyond the velo difference due to quick, short arm speed and a funky delivery that throws hitters off balance. Bubic also has a curve that flashes average, but needs consistency. Despite the funky delivery, Bubic has always thrown strikes and that trend continued in 2019.
Conclusion: Bubic had a special 2019, but advanced lefties and arms with good changeups often dominate A ball in all facets. The average FB/CV combo makes me wary as does the funky delivery that can get out of sync. I’m rooting for Bubic, so I’d be happy to be wrong, but Bubic is a sell high candidate for me.
6-3 210, RHP, Blue Jays
Traded from the Mets to the Jays in the Stroman deal; Woods-Richardson, not Kay was the centerpiece of that deal. SWR looked reinvigorated upon the trade that saw him move to High A at just 18 years old and dominate. SWR touches 97 with an electric riding fastball that could still tick up as he matures and lives 93-95. He also throws a plus curveball with 12-6 movement and a raw changeup that could be an above average pitch if he gains consistency. SWR has special upside and the potential for two genuine plus pitches, an above average changeup, the ability to throw strikes and an ideal frame. Still younger than some 2019 first round draft picks out of HS, the fact that SWR was dominant in A+ says a lot about his natural talent and work ethic.
Conclusion: I’m buying everywhere I can. People may be scared off by the 3.8 ERA that doesn’t tell the whole story and is still amazing for his age. I expect SWR to make a huge jump up lists in 2020.
6-2 205, RHP, White Sox
Stiever, an arm I really liked when I saw him in the Cape Cod league in 2017, was a 5th round pick in 2018 by the Sox. Freakishly athletic, Stiever was an all state HS player both as a DB and WR in football but chose to pursue baseball at Indiana. The athleticism has translated onto the mound and late season, Stiever had a surge in his raw stuff and dominated after a promotion to A+. Stiever now touches 98 MPH on his heater that lives 93-96 with sinking action and downhill plane that should generate heavy GB. Adding to that GB and swing and miss profile is a sharp spike curveball that flashes plus and can be thrown with slider like movement when he wants to. Stiever’s changeup flashes average but needs consistency. While Stiever has good control, his command is growing and he has the ideal frame and athleticism for it to keep growing.
Conclusion: Stiever had a late midseason jump and not a ton of pedigree before it, so this is a nice buy low opportunity. The stuff is real now. While he doesn’t have ace stuff, he has the ability to be a 3 now and will be on a lot of 2020 sleeper lists.
5-11 210, RHP, Mariners
The Mariners are heavily were heavily represented in this list, which I think can be traced back to Max Weiner. Newsome is another analytically minded guy who had a mild jump stuff-wise in 2019. The minors K leader for much of the year, Newsome was the only guy who met the criteria while reaching AAA ball (where he K’d 10 in 5 ⅓ IP). Newsome went from a mid 80’s righty to sitting 90-93 touching 94. It’s an average fastball, but his go to out pitch is a nice slider that is his best pitch. He throws a curve and a changeup that are both fringe to below average offerings. That being said, he locates the ball insanely well, commands shape insanely well and understands how to sequence exceptionally well. He may not have the highest ceiling but he will get every ounce out of his potential.
Conclusion: Realistically Newsome’s ceiling is an SP5 and more likely a swing starter, but that’s still much better than what his ceiling seemed to be this time last year. Newsome isn’t a guy I’m owning in anything but extremely deep leagues, but the analytics say I might be wrong.
Efrain “The Embalmer” Contreras
5-10 210, RHP, Padres
Owner of one of the best nicknames in minor league baseball, Contreras is more than just a name. Again, a smaller righty with a mature body, Contreras doesn’t have the projectability most 19 year olds do and may have conditioning concerns. That being said, he pounds the zone and generates swing and miss at elite rates. Contreras throws in the 90-94 range with his fastball. Overall, it’s an average pitch. But he pairs with a changeup and power slider that both show above average. The Padres always interest me when they have a younger arm that throws strikes, has 3 good pitches and performs well at levels they are young for.
Conclusion: It’s probably too early to own Contreras, even though his nickname is fun. That being said, he’s a name to monitor closely as he has a profile that the Dads have had great success with in the past. He’s a sleeper heading into 2020.
6-5 220, RHP, Twins
Yet another pitcher from a D2 school, Vallimont was sent to the Twins from Miami at the trade deadline. Vallimont has an innings eater type frame, but his stuff was much better than I expected for a guy I wasn’t familiar with prior to this list. Vallimont mixes a plus heater that lives 93-95 and has touched 98 with an above average slider, decent power curve and an average changeup. Looking at the repertoire and frame, he looks like a lot like Logan Gilbert on the mound. The knock on Vallimont has always been his ability to throw strikes, which makes his inclusion in this data set so surprising. After being drafted in the 5th round of the 2018 draft, Vallimont walked more batters than he struck out in his debut. Vallimont might be the most interesting sleeper on this list with his raw stuff.
Conclusion: Vallimont has the stuff to be a legitimate SP3. The strike rate is a new thing, so it will be interesting to see if he maintains it in 2020. That being said, the Twins player dev. is awesome and Vallimont displayed even more control post-trade to them. He could be an absolute steal with top 100 upside towards the end of 2020 if he continues what he was doing.
6-5 220, RHP, Orioles
While Gray-Rod didn’t technically meet the 65% strike rate demand, I felt it necessary to include him on this list with how close he was. Everyone knows Gray-Rod as a pure stuff guy, but most don’t think of him as a guy who pounds the zone. With only 16 names who truly qualified, Gray-Rod was the 2nd closest to qualifying, surprising for someone so young with such a massive frame, who throws as hard as he does. Rodriguez throws a sinking mid 90’s FB that can be dialed up to 96-97 when needed. He has an exceptional pitch mix featuring a plus slider, above average curve and a decent changeup. Everything about him screams SP2/3 with upside if his stuff continues to jump. Considering Gray-Rod was in A ball, it’s possible hitters were just so over matched that they were swinging at everything. But you can’t deny Gray-Rod’s stuff and the strike rate makes him even more interesting.
Conclusion: Gray-Rod is a top 50 guy on most lists (#31 on my personal) so he won’t come cheap, but this can make you feel better about paying up for him if you feel so inclined. He has one of the higher ceilings in the minors and could be a top 10-15 overall guy this time next year if he’s still throwing strikes like this as he advances.
6-5 222, RHP, Indians
Cody Morris literally could not have been any closer to meeting my criteria. Just 0.1% away from 65% strike rate and qualifying in all other categories. I had to throw him in. The former Gamecock righty has always had plus stuff, but like Vallimont, has always been known for a lack of command (as well as giving up the longball). So again, surprising he qualified. He also has the worst counting stats of anyone to make the list, although all peripherals suggested he was unlucky. Morris throws a mid 90’s FB that can touch 96 with extension, an above average power slider and solid to better than average changeup. The issues with Morris are in his ability to repeat due to a long arm action that allows hitter extra time to see the ball. Morris has always been said to have frontline raw stuff when he’s on despite his concerns.
Conclusion: Maybe this the breakout people have been saying Morris had in him since he began his college career in 2017. The stuff has been there and his peripherals all say he was better than his stats. But the high WHIP makes me nervous. I’m holding on Morris but watching him closely in 2020 as he has real breakout potential if he’s hitting the zone. But he also carries RP risk.
6-4 185, LHP, Cubs
The last player to make the list was Brailyn Marquez. Marquez failed to hit the requisite 34% Non-Bip strike rate, but made up for it with overall strike rate and an insane 17.9 whiff rate that was the 2nd highest qualified full season total I saw (behind Skubal’s 18.1). The big attraction with Marquez is the heat that lives 95-97 and has touched 102 MPH in 2019! From the left side, his FB dominates hitters and there is still room in his 6-4 frame for more. The secondaries, a fringe average curve and a fringe change lag behind the 70 plus grade heat, but show potential. Marquez hasn’t been known for his control, so seeing him on this list was surprising. His lower Non-Bip strike rate for his immense SwStk% tell me hitters are swinging at the fastball and either missing or putting it in play, so the secondaries will need to be used more in the zone and likely need to make jumps. And the strike rate could be a result of young hitters chasing. That being said, Marquez got better as the year went on and looked capable of continuing to improve. Plus, it’s hard not to see 102 from a 20 year old and not get excited.
Conclusion: Marquez could wind up anything from an RP to an SP2 without surprising me. He has a massive ceiling but a FB only RP floor. He’s showing every indication that he’s making strides and that’s all you can ask for him. My #85 overall prospect right now and it’s fun to chase upside.
Deivi Garcia just missed with his 15.2% SWSTK, 34.4% Non-Bip Strike% and 62.8% strike rate and had a case to make this list. My #41 overall prospect.
Daniel Espino is a personal favorite. Espino never played full season ball and only pitched 23 ⅔ IP but managed an insane 23.0% SwStk rate, 46.3% Non-Bip strike % and a 69.6% strike rate while reaching low A ball. Conservatively ranked as my #71 overall prospect, Espino will be a household name by the end of 2020.