Season Recap: Pitching Prospect Tools
Yesterday, I took a look at the best tools among position players, covering tools such as best athlete, best hitter and fastest base runner. Today, in part two of this three part season recap, I look at the best pitching tools I saw all season. As I mentioned in the article yesterday, I saw over 35 minor league games in person, spread across three different classes. This year was certainly stronger for pitchers than hitters. I missed some good pitchers though. Guys like Trevor Bauer, Jose Fernandez & Dylan Bundy all pitched in leagues that I regularly cover. However, I missed each one of them before they were promoted. Despite that, I got to see some pretty good pitchers pitch this season. This article is a good compilation of the best-of-the-best from 2012.
Best Pitching Prospect: Mariners Prospect Taijuan Walker
I had the opportunity to see Taijuan Walker pitch twice this season, first in May and then again in the Southern League playoffs. The now twenty year old features two pitches that are plus, a Fastball and a 12-6 curveball, and a changeup that has improved with the potential of being an above average offering.
Honorable Mention goes to fellow Mariners prospect Danny Hultzen. While his stuff wasn’t as good as I thought it would be, Hultzen features three pitches that would be above average offerings right now, including a plus changeup that was just deadly.
Best Fastball: Mariners Prospect Taijuan Walker
Taijuan Walker combines low to mid 90s velocity with some of the best natural sink you’ll find in the game. When he is able to command this pitch to both sides of the plate, look out. The fastball looks deceptively faster from behind home plate. There were reports that his velocity was down as the season went on. I can report that his velocity was in line with what was reported earlier this season.
Honorable mention goes to another Mariners prospect. This time it’s reliever Carter Capps. I saw him toss an inning in May. He peppered the corners with several 98 MPH fastballs, dominating hitters with pin point accuracy and plus velocity.
Best Curveball: Diamondbacks Prospect Tyler Skaggs
Skaggs’ curveball is the best I have ever seen in the minor leagues. Not one comes close. It’s a big, 75-77 MPH 12-6 curve that can put a batter in a prolonged slump. He combines two things that make this pitch plus, with the potential of being a plus-plus offering, good command and deception. Out of his hand a batter can’t tell if it’s a fastball or the curveball coming towards him. It’s truly a knee-buckling pitch. I saw a lot of good curves this season with good potential but none of them came close to Tyler Skaggs. I can’t say that enough.
For the purpose of naming an honorable mention, I’ll name a slew of guys like the aforementioned Mariners prospect Taijuan Walker, fellow Mariners prospect James Paxton, Giants prospect Kyle Crick and Reds prospect Kyle Lotzkar.
Best Slider: Marlins Pitcher Nathan Eovaldi
No longer a prospect (too many big league innings) and no longer a member of the Dodgers farm system, Nathan Eovaldi is in the process of establishing himself as a major league pitcher. Eovaldi’s slider is the best slider I’ve seen from a hard thrower in a while. He stays on top of the pitch and is able to generate some downward depth to it, making it a weapon to get lefties out as well as righties. While I’m not as high as some on Eovaldi being a starting pitcher, I think that his Fastball/slider combo will be dominating enough to close out ball games in the future.
Dodgers prospect Chris Reed is my honorable mention for the second best slider I’ve seen this year. I will note that during his last game of the season, I thought the pitch wasn’t as promising as the pitch I saw earlier in the year. I proclaimed it to be a plus pitch at the time but now feel it needs some tuning before it’s totally refined. Ultimately, it’s an above average offering with the potential of becoming plus.
Best Change Up: Mariners Prospect Danny Hultzen
As I mentioned before, Danny Hultzen features a change that can be deadly to opposing hitters at times. He combines a deceptive delivery with plus arm action, good drop and a ten MPH variation from his fastball to devastate hitters. While his other stuff wasn’t as fantastic as I thought it would be, this pitch was as-advertised. The Change up in general is dying right now in the minors. I’m seeing so few pitchers even flash average offerings.
If I were to choose an honorable mention, I’d go with either the popular Mariners prospect Taijuan Walker or Dodgers prospect Matt Magill as the next best change. Just know, that the change is the third pitch in either pitcher’s arsenal and their changes are average offerings at the moment.
Best Control: Mets Prospect Rafael Montero
Rafael Montero walked 19 batters in 122 innings before being shut down by the Mets because he reached his innings limit for 2012. Montero is hardly a control specialist, soft tosser type. He sits in the low 90s with a good fastball, his slider is getting better every time out and didn’t feature his change in the games I saw him pitch in. Reports out of the Florida State League though indicate a changeup being used in games, one of which some observers are calling plus.
Honorable mention goes to another Sally League Hurler with fewer walks and more innings pitched than Montero. Giants prospect Clayton Blackburn walked 18 in 131.1 South Atlantic league innings. Armed with a high 80s fastball, an above average curveball and a change that flashed potential but was mostly a weak offering, Blackburn featured superior command. Blackburn’s your common left handed command and control type that dominates lower level competition. Only problem is, he’s not Left handed.
Best Reliever: Mariners Prospect Carter Capps
I’m not a 100% sure how many games or days spent on the big league roster Carter Capps needs to accumulate before losing his prospect status. For now, we’ll refer to him as a prospect. As I mentioned above, the Capps fastball I saw was a high 90s fastball which he was able to command immaculately. He also features a nice slider that will help make him a good closer someday.
Honorable mention goes to Mets prospect Jack Leathersich. Leathersich combines a low 90s fastball with a strong slurve that helped him post a 14.1 strikeout per nine ratio. For Leathersich, it’s all about deception, as you can see in the video posted below.
I went back and forth with this selection, mainly because of Kyle Lotzkar has difficulties with command. The stats don’t lie, though. Lotzkar is a strikeout pitcher to the tune of 123 strikeouts in 112.2 innings. Lotzkar combines a low 90s fastball with a good, hard curve. He also mixes in a change up in that flashes average potential. The major failing with Lotzkar this season is his command. He walked 5 batters per nine innings. I also worry about additional injury concerns as well. He’s already dealt with his good share of injuries.
Kyle Crick was one of my favorite prospects to report on this season. Crick is still very much a work in progress but has an upside greater than anyone listed in this article, with the exception of Taijuan Walker and Dylan Bundy, who were mentioned in the introduction. Like Lotzkar, Crick struggled with command, walking 5.4 per nine innings. The night I saw him, he was in fine form. Using a mid-90s Fastball on par with Taijuan Walker’s and a Curveball that needs a bit of sharpening up, but he dominated the playoff-bound Rome Braves like, according to one R-Braves season ticketholder, “no other pitcher has done to them at home this season”. In my scouting report on him, I pointed towards consistency within his delivery and tempo as two things Crick needs to work on as he moves up through the Giants farm system and reaches the ceiling of a top end starter.
Best Groundball Pitcher: Boston Red Sox Prospect Allen Webster
Allen Webster isn’t your prototypical groundball pitcher. When I think of a groundball pitcher, I think of a pitcher possessing a heavy sinkerball like Brandon Webb or Derek Lowe. Webster’s two seam fastball doesn’t really fall into the sinkerball category for me. What makes him a pitcher who registers more groundballs than most is the downward movement on most of his secondary stuff. When Webster throws a pitch other than his four seam fastball, it’s going to come with some sink.
Honorable mention goes to Mariners prospect Taijuan Walker who, if you haven’t figured out by now, is a pretty awesome prospect.