2012 MiLB Season Retrospective: Best Pitching Tools
As you know, Chris Blessing wrote a pair of pieces last week detailing the players with the best tools that he had seen this year. I quite liked the idea and decided to steal it for my own use. Chris generally saw a higher level of baseball than I did in 2012 as I focused most of my attention on the NY-Penn League. So the top names that I did make it out to see rightfully dominate these lists. I’ll start with the pitchers and move onto the hitters next week. Enjoy!
Best Athlete: Dylan Bundy, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
This should not come as much of a surprise; the pitcher with the legendary workout regimen & long toss program is given the title of best athlete. One of the few (only?) knocks against Bundy coming out of high school was how little projection remained in his frame. He stands only — only!? — six-feet-one with a well developed lower half built for power. He shows tremendous body control throughout his delivery — I believe Mike Newman called him a ‘human pitching machine’ and that seems like a fair characterization to me. No one else was close to being awarded this title as I did not have an opportunity to see one of the raw former two-sport athletes like a Taijuan Walker or Tyrell Jenkins.
Honorable Mention(s): Taylor Guerrieri, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Best Fastball: Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
When someone consistently throw fastballs in the 97-99 MPH range over the course of multiple innings, it’s going to be difficult to award anyone else the award for best fastball. Gerrit Cole has electric arm speed that produces a fastball that explodes out of his hand with some late arm side run. Command of the pitch can still waver, causing more contact than would typically be expected from a weapon this big. Dylan Bundy warranted serious consideration for this category as well; if the Orioles would allow him to unleash the cutter — he threw one for me by accident that was absolutely nasty — this outcome may have been reversed.
Honorable Mention(s): Dylan Bundy, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
Best Fastball Movement: Taylor Guerrieri, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
What one lacks in raw velocity can be covered up — to a point — with exceptional fastball movement. Taylor Guerrieri did not flash the mid 90s heat that he reportedly had during high school, but the natural sink and run on the pitch is significant. My look at him was limited to only an inning during the NYPL All-Star Game, but it was easy to see that the movement on the fastball can wreak havoc on hitters trying to square him up or even make contact in the first place. There’s a decent amount of swing and miss potential along with the ability to paint corners for called third strikes.
Best Curve Ball: Dylan Bundy, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
Bundy only threw a few of them during his 5 innings at Hagerstown, but that was enough. In the first inning of that game, he struck out Cutter Dykstra with a knee-buckling 12-6 curve ball that had sharp break and significant depth. It was the most startling pitch that I saw this year. Both Araujo and Guerrieri deserve a mention here as well: Araujo’s curve ball is more slurvy, sitting in the low 80s with late 2-8 break; and Guerrieri has a similar power breaker with hard 11-5 movement.
Honorable Mention(s): Elvis Araujo, LHP, Cleveland Indians; Taylor Guerrieri, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Best Slider: Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Like with the fastball, the raw velocity is hard to truly wrap your head around. Gerrit Cole throws 90 MPH sliders. Not only are they faster than some pitchers’ fastball, it features late 10-4 break and a surprising amount of depth. It’s more of a chase pitch out of the zone at this stage than one which he’ll throw for strikes. Continued improvement command the pitch will turn it into a true weapon.
Best Changeup: Luis Heredia, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Quality change-ups were difficult to come by in short season. Those that possess them can typically dominate the underdeveloped, overly aggressive hitters at that level. A handful of players threw solid changes, but none were truly on another level, making this was the most difficult tool to award. It ultimately came down to Heredia or Cole, and I gave Heredia the nod since he used it most effectively as an out pitch. Heredia keeps good arm speed and the same arm slot as his fastball when throwing the change. It has nice late fade and sink when thrown well and had hitters flailing at it out of the zone.
Like the rest of Cole’s arsenal, his change-up is thrown hard and features good late movement (in this case fade and sink). It’s a good weapon that has a bit more utility than his slider. Stoppelman’s change features a ton of horizontal movement and mirrors his 2-seam fastball very well. Elvis Araujo, Gabriel Ynoa, Mason Hope, and others than I’m likely forgetting all showed ability with their changes as well.
Honorable Mention(s): Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates; Lee Stoppelman, LHP, St. Louis Cardinals
Best Knuckleball: Justin Ennis, LHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
OK, ‘best’ is probably the wrong adjective to use here, but how could I not find a place for my first minor league knuckleballer? It’s not exactly a good pitch at this point; in fact, I didn’t even realize it was a knuckleball until I started editing the video. At the time I was wondering why he was pitching off of his changeup! Ennis throws his knuckleball from an arm slot that’s a tick below 3/4 and features some arm side fade and sink. Control of the pitch was mostly absent, and he went to multiple full counts during the inning of work that I saw. Still, it’s a knuckleball in the minor leagues!
Honorable Mention(s): None
Best Command: Dylan Bundy, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
This was another difficult category to award a winner, and it ultimately came down to sample size. I got to see five innings from Bundy, only one from Guerrieri. Bundy located his fastball very well down in the zone, moved it around at will. He painted the inside corner with the curve ball that I mentioned above for a called third strike, and generally just seemed in complete control throughout the outing. Guerrieri meanwhile was able to spot his fastball to both sides of the plate and have the fastball run back over the corners for called strikes. From internal discussions with JD it seems likely that this would have continued if he had been given the opportunity to throw more than one inning.
Honorable Mention(s): Taylor Guerrieri, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays; Luis DeJesus, RHP, Cleveland Indians
Best Pitchability: Luis DeJesus, RHP, Cleveland Indians
Luis DeJesus is not blessed with the raw stuff that accompanies most of the names on this list. His fastball generally sits in the high 80s; his change is below-average but usable in game; and he has a dependable breaking ball that works as an out pitch. Still he was among the most dominant starters in the NYPL this season, finishing the season with a sparkling 2.02 ERA — good for fourth best amongst starters. Command of the arsenal is mostly a mark in his favor, and he shows the ability to both vary his sequence & move pitches around the zone. This is another award that could easily have gone to Dylan Bundy.
Honorable Mention(s): Dylan Bundy, RHP, Baltimore Orioles; Josh Turley, LHP, Detroit Tigers