Farm System Rankings: Pitchers (10-1)

Wright, Soroka keep Braves on top; Padres gain momentum

Kyle Wright held opponents to a .186 average in nine starts across two levels last season. (Cliff Welch/MiLB.com)

By Kelsie Heneghan / MiLB.com | March 7, 2018 10:00 AM

With Spring Training underway and the 2018 season almost upon us, MiLB.com will look at the state of all 30 farm systems over the next couple weeks and rank them, according to certain changing criterion with each edition. After looking at position player prospects (30-21, 20-11, 10-1), this edition focuses on pitching prospects and considers the quality and quantity of top talent in each system in its current state. Here are the rankings, 10-1:

 10. Houston Astros

It's set to be an exciting year for the reigning World Series champions, but part of that excitement will have to wait 50 games. Forrest Whitley, MLB.com's No. 9 overall prospect who reached Double-A at 19 last year, has to put his much-anticipated third season on hold after violating the Minor League drug program. Filling in for the Astros' top prospect are right-handers J.B. Bukauskas and Jorge Alcala, who both sport well-above average fastballs, as well as Cionel Perez, who advanced to Double-A in his pro debut last summer. Corbin Martin, Hector Perez and Jairo Solis provide depth from the lower levels. David Paulino is set to shake off suspension and elbow surgery to return to Houston, while Rogelio Armenteros could be first in line if there's an opening in the Astros' stacked rotation.

 9. Los Angeles Angels

The Angels went from zero Top-100 prospects since trading Sean Newcomb to the Braves in 2015 to having the No. 1 overall prospect in two-way player Shohei Ohtani. He's got an 80-grade fastball on the 20-80 scale along with two other above-average pitches in a slider and splitter. Since Ohtani likely will never throw a pitch in the Minors until a potential rehab appearance, let's focus on the top arms that are still in the pipeline. Los Angeles is high on Chris Rodriguez and his four-pitch mix, although his numbers in the Pioneer and Midwest leagues did not reflect that last season. Left-hander Jose Suarez and righty Jose Soriano did well at those levels, while Jaime Barria advanced to Triple-A. Jesus Castillo was able to settle in with the Angels after starting his career with the D-backs and Cubs. Castillo and Barria should join Ohtani in Anaheim at some point this season and 2017 second-round pick Griffin Canning will make his pro debut this year.


Review farm system rankings: Pitchers 30-21 | 20-11


 8. Los Angeles Dodgers

If things keep going the way they're progressing, the Dodgers could have some exciting rotation options next season; first, they're primed for a taste of the Majors in September. Each of the system's top-five pitching prospects saw time with Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga last year, led by Walker Buehler. MLB.com's No. 12 overall prospect utilized his well-above average fastball and plus curveball to advance from the California League to the National League, mostly as a starter. Mitchell White battled past a broken toe to compete at Double-A, where he was joined by Dennis Santana and Yadier Alvarez, who made it to the Texas League in his first full season. Rounding out the group, Dustin May was stingy in a limited Cal League stint at the end of the summer.

 7. St. Louis Cardinals

Cardinals, assemble. After a suspension delayed his 2016 season until the end of May and Tommy John surgery erased his entire 2017 campaign, Alex Reyes is ready to return to the mound. Before the surgery, the No. 17 overall prospect was showcasing his 75-grade fastball in the Majors, where he posted in 1.57 ERA over 46 innings between the rotation and the bullpen. If he gets off to a strong start with Triple-A Memphis, he'll return to Busch Stadium sooner rather than later. Joining him could be Jack Flaherty, who earned trips to the All-Star Futures Game and The Show; Dakota Hudson, who advanced to the Pacific Coast League in his first full season; and Ryan Helsley, whose cutter and four-pitch arsenal also earned him time with the Redbirds last year. Down the depth chart, Jordan Hicks and Junior Fernandez showcased 70-grade fastballs in the Florida State League, while Austin Gomber overcame a tough start to the season to post dominant numbers at Double-A.

Video: Hudson alley's McKay gets his fourth strikeout

 6. Tampa Bay Rays

There's no doubt the Rays have a promising future on the mound, with two of the Minors' most exciting names in Brent Honeywell and Brendan McKay. Honeywell, MLB.com's No. 18 overall prospect known for his screwball, continued fooling hitters in Double-A and Triple-A last year, tying for fourth in the Minor Leagues with 172 strikeouts over 136 2/3 innings. And of those top five hurlers, no one had fewer walks than Honeywell's 35. While the 22-year-old never got "the call," it felt imminent. But Honeywell will miss all of 2018 after undergoing Tommy John surgery last month. Still, his ceiling boosts this system into the top 10 for pitching, especially when you add this next young phenom. Drafted fourth overall last June, Brendan McKay has lived up to lofty expectations, especially on the mound. The two-way player notched a 1.80 ERA with 21 punchouts and five walks over 20 innings for Class A Short Season Hudson Valley. Along with those two potential big league aces, the Rays have Austin Franklin, who will compete with McKay as they climb the ladder together, and Anthony Banda, a near-Major League-ready arm who came over in the three-way trade with the Yankees. And last year, the Triple-A Durham rotation -- featuring Honeywell, Ryan Yarbrough, Jake Faria, Yonny Chirinos, Blake Snell and Michael Roth -- set the single-season Minor League strikeout record with 1,421.

 5. Philadelphia Phillies

The best pitchers in the Phillies system are in the heart of the Minors, led by Sixto Sanchez and Adonis Medina. Ranked 26th and 86th overall by MLB.com, they made their full-season debuts last season with Class A Lakewood. Sanchez and his 70-grade fastball advanced to Class A Advanced Clearwater, where he had a little bit of trouble adjusting as the season wound down. JoJo Romero, Ranger Suarez and Seranthony Dominguez also reached the Florida State League, while Franklyn Kilome took his well-above-average fastball to the Eastern League. The Phillies picked up Enyel De Los Santos, who ranked third in the Double-A Texas League with 138 strikeouts, from the Padres in December. Other options include Tom Eshelman, coming off the best year of his career, and Jake Thompson, whose made multiple trips to the Majors last season.

Offseason MiLB include

 4. New York Yankees

In the Majors, the talk is all about the Yankee boppers, but in the Minors, it's all about their pitchers. Eleven of New York's top 15 prospects are hurlers. Justus Sheffield stands above them all -- and not just because he's the only southpaw. MLB.com's No. 48 overall prospect battled a strained oblique last season but put up dominant numbers when healthy. He continued to develop his changeup while relying on a plus fastball and slider as he produced similar results in the prospect-heavy Arizona Fall League. Albert Abreu (No. 74 overall) also shoved in the AFL, while Chance Adams (No. 75 overall) dominated with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Because of near-ready arms like Sheffield and Adams, the Yankees edge the Phils in these rankings. New York also has well-above average fastballs in Luis Medina, Freicer Perez and Domingo Acevedo, while Dillon Tate found the stuff that made him a first-rounder in 2015. At the lower levels, Yankee fans will get their first real glimpses of 2017 picks Clarke Schmidt, Matt Sauer and Trevor Stephan this year. Jonathan Loaisiga returned from Tommy John surgery in June, with sharpened command and control as the Nicaraguan produced a silly 33/3 K/BB ratio over 32 2/3 frames.

 3. Chicago White Sox

You know it's a stacked system when Zack Burdi -- a recent first-rounder with an 80-grade fastball who started his first full season at Triple-A -- is ranked 13th. Of course, his big debut was truncated by Tommy John surgery in July, meaning he won't be back until the end of next season. Still, the White Sox have other well above-average arms in Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen and Dylan Cease. Kopech, MLB.com's 10th overall prospect, tied the aforementioned Honeywell for fourth in the Minors with 172 strikeouts as he finished the season with Triple-A Charlotte; Hansen advanced from Class A Kannapolis to Double-A Birmingham; and Cease missed almost a month with a leg injury before coming over from the Cubs but switched Class A leagues with ease. Dane Dunning, the system's fourth Top-100 arm, followed closely behind Kopech with 168 punchouts over 144 innings in his first full season. While 2015 first-rounder Carson Fulmer has slipped in the rankings, he pitched well during four stints in the Majors. He needs to cut down on the walks as he continues to develop secondary pitches around his cutter.

Video: Birmingham's Kopech records 11th K

 2. San Diego Padres

It's an exciting time in the Padres system with by far more top prospects than they've had in recent years, especially on the mound. San Diego boasts seven Top-100 pitching prospects, led by lefty MacKenzie Gore. The 2017 third overall pick was stingy over 21 1/3 frames in the Rookie-level Arizona League and will look to bring his signature leg kick to full-season ball this year. In his first full campaign, 2016 first-rounder Cal Quantrill earned a trip to the Futures Game and advanced to Double-A San Antonio, while 2016 signees Michel Baez and Adrian Morejon were promoted to Class A Fort Wayne in their debuts. Anderson Espinoza was acquired from the Red Sox in July 2016 but soon underwent Tommy John surgery, so 2018 will be the Padres' first good look at the right-hander who turns 20 this week. Logan Allen showed what he could do when healthy, averaging 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings across two Class A levels, while 2016 picks Joey Lucchesi and Eric Lauer posted dominant numbers in advancing to Double-A together. While the latter two could see Petco Park this September, it's likely the rest of these prospects will arrive in 2019 or 2020, meaning Padres fans will have to wait just a little bit longer for an All-Star rotation.

 1. Atlanta Braves

Like the Yankees, the Braves' top-15 prospects feature 11 pitchers. Unlike any team, however, Atlanta carries six Top-100 hurlers. Kyle Wright, the 2017 fifth overall pick, not only did well in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, he went on to make six starts in the Florida State League. Right-handers and 2015 first-rounders Mike Soroka and Kolby Allard cruised at Double-A Mississippi, while 2016 picks Ian Anderson, Joey Wentz and Bryse Wilson excelled with Class A Rome in their first full seasons. Kyle Muller, a 2016 second-rounder, stayed with Rookie-level Danville to continue to develop. The Braves are known for quickly advancing players, with Wright skipping two levels less than two months after the Draft and Allard pitching in Double-A before turning 20. Lefties Luiz Gohara and A.J. Minter know a lot about racing up the ladder -- the former used a plus-plus fastball to move from the FSL to the Majors last year, while the latter started the year in the South Atlantic League and ended it in the Majors as the Braves' top relief prospect. And there's southpaw Max Fried, who did not fare well at Double-A but was promoted and shoved at Triple-A and, eventually, the Majors before keeping it going in the AFL. Touki Toussaint also benefited from a promotion during a tough stretch, lowing his ERA after moving up to the Southern League. It's the third year in a row the Braves boast the top farm system, based solely on pitching.

Kelsie Heneghan is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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