Farm System Rankings: Pitchers (20-11)

Reds duo nearing big leagues; Nationals, Red Sox slip after trades

A.J. Puk made 10 starts after going to the Athletics with the sixth overall pick in last year's Draft. (Rick Nelson/MiLB.com)

By Tyler Maun / MiLB.com | February 28, 2017 10:15 AM ET

With Spring Training underway and the 2017 season almost upon us, MiLB.com looks at the state of all 30 farm systems and ranks them, according to certain changing criteria with each edition. This week we focus on pitching prospects and consider the quality and quantity of top talent in each system. Part I of these rankings can be found here. The 20-11 rankings:

 20. Toronto Blue Jays

Though he'll be just 21 for the bulk of the 2017 season, Sean Reid-Foley, the club's lone top-100 pitching prospect at No. 64 on MLB.com's list, will likely spend a hefty part of the year at Double-A New Hampshire. The right-hander put up a combined 2.81 ERA in 21 Class A and Class A Advanced starts a year ago and boasts 280 strikeouts in 234 career innings. Conner Greene was a step higher on the ladder in 2016, using a strong stretch at Dunedin to jump to New Hampshire and making 27 total starts. Former Missouri State ace and 2015 first-round pick Jon Harris has tools that all grade around Major League average but employs them effectively. The righty went 11-4 with a 2.71 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 24 starts between Class A Lansing and Dunedin last year. Keep an eye on southpaw Ryan Borucki, who responded to a demotion from Dunedin with a dominant 20-start showing for Lansing.

 19. Washington Nationals

Ranked fifth a year ago, the Nationals decline due in large part to the haul they sent to the White Sox in exchange for big league outfielder Adam Eaton. Washington parted with Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, but thanks to right-hander Erick Fedde, there's still some luster in the system. Healthy after 2014 Tommy John surgery, MLB.com's No. 60 overall prospect posted a strikeout-to-walk ratio of over 4-to-1 last season while pitching in 23 games (22 starts). Austin Voth gets rave reviews for durability, tossing 157 innings in 27 games (25 starts) for Triple-A Syracuse last season. Koda Glover and A.J. Cole saw action with the big club in 2016. Glover worked 40 games out of the bullpen in the Minors at three levels -- Class A Advanced through Triple-A -- and posted a 2.25 ERA, while Cole finally conquered Triple-A to make his big league debut.

 18. Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox also dealt two of their top talents last year, Anderson Espinoza and Michael Kopech, to thin their ranks and drop from No. 14 a year ago. Once considered a potential 1-1 pick in last year's Draft, No. 41 overall prospect Jason Groome (above) fell to Boston with the 12th overall pick and showed promise in a brief Minor League bow. The 18-year-old allowed just three hits and struck out 10 batters in his first 6 2/3 professional innings. Just a year older than Groome, Roniel Raudes went wire-to-wire in Class A and was tabbed as a South Atlantic League All-Star and Boston's Minor League Pitcher of the Year. After pitching just two frames in his debut season in 2015, Travis Lakins spent his first full year with Class A Advanced Salem and flashed some of the best stuff in Boston's system. Reliever Jake Cosart combined to strike out 104 batters in just 70 2/3 innings between Class A Greenville and Salem last year.

 17. Cleveland Indians

Last season's American League champions are led on the farm by one of their youngest arms. No. 57 overall prospect Triston McKenzie ascended to the Class A Midwest League at age 18 last season after going to Cleveland with the 42nd overall pick in 2015. The lanky right-hander struck out nearly five batters for every walk and fanned 104 total hitters in 83 1/3 innings. Brady Aiken remains a tantalizing question mark. The southpaw and former first overall pick was roughed up en route to a 7.13 ERA in nine Rookie-level Arizona League outings in his return from 2015 Tommy John surgery. He fared better when he moved up to the Class A Short Season New York-Penn League, going 2-1 with a 4.43 ERA in five starts for Mahoning Valley. A former teammate of Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer at UCLA, Adam Plutko joined them in the big leagues for two outings last year. Shane Bieber put up a paltry 0.38 ERA and 0.50 WHIP in nine games (eight starts) after Cleveland landed him in the fourth round out of UC Santa Barbara in June.

 16. Minnesota Twins

Stephen Gonsalves (above) proved his breakout 2015 season was no fluke with a nearly identical 2016. The lefty punched out 155 batters in 140 innings and put up a 2.06 ERA in 24 starts between Class A Advanced Fort Myers and Double-A Chattanooga and now slots in at No. 92 overall on MLB.com's prospect list. Showing Minnesota's depth here, two former first-rounders were also part of those rotations last year. Tyler Jay spent most of his time with Fort Myers and was named a Florida State League All-Star before his promotion. Kohl Stewart's command ebbed in Double-A (47 strikeouts and 44 walks), but he limited the damage with a 3.03 ERA. Fernando Romero made up for lost time after missing all but three games in 2014-15 due to an elbow injury and Tommy John surgery. The righty made 16 starts for Class A Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers, went 9-3 with a 1.80 ERA and could be a candidate to sneak into the top 100 by season's end.

 15. Oakland Athletics

Last year's first-round pick and current No. 69 overall prospect A.J. Puk has future rotation-leading stuff but needs to prove his inconsistent final college season at Florida was just a temporary glitch. The big lefty started down that road with 10 steady starts for Class A Short Season Vermont, recording a 3.03 ERA but a 1.93 FIP in 32 2/3 innings. The A's acquired No. 85 overall prospect Grant Holmes from the Dodgers at the trade deadline and are high on his stuff despite lackluster results with Class A Advanced Stockton after the deal. Another acquisition from Los Angeles, Frankie Montas only pitched 16 innings last year due to a rib injury but opened eyes with a healthy trip through the Arizona Fall League, where he touched 101 mph. In a short debut with the Rookie-level Arizona League Athletics, Daulton Jefferies, last year's 37th overall pick, struck out 17 while walking only two in 11 1/3 innings. Ranked No. 6 in the system, Jharel Cotton is still considered a prospect but has a good shot to crack the Oakland rotation, where projections believe he should contribute right away.

 14. Texas Rangers

Southpaw Yohander Mendez rocketed to the Majors last year by starring at three levels. With stops at Class A Advanced High Desert (seven starts), Double-A Frisco (10 starts) and Triple-A Round Rock (seven games/four starts), MLB.com's No. 56 overall prospect posted identical 4-1 records with each club and ERAs of 2.45, 3.09 and 0.57. Panamanian righty Ariel Jurado doesn't register flashy numbers but climbed to Double-A, where he turned in a 3.30 ERA in 43 2/3 innings. Brett Martin sparkled during High Desert's run to a California League title in its final season. The lefty fanned 15 batters over seven hitless innings during the Cal Finals to cap off his year. Taken out of high school with the 30th pick in June, left-hander Cole Ragans only worked 7 2/3 innings in his professional bow but has high upside that draws comparisons to another Cole with Texas ties -- four-time All-Star and Rangers starter Hamels.

 13. New York Yankees

The Yankees topped our 2017 position player rankings and make the biggest pitching jump of any organization ranked so far after finishing at No. 25 a year ago. Justus Sheffield (above), MLB.com's No. 79 overall prospect, is a big reason for the climb after coming over from the Indians as part of the Andrew Miller trade in July. The lefty impressed immediately with his new organization, going 3-1 with a 1.73 ERA in five Class A Advanced starts before a late-season promotion to Double-A enabled him to see action in the Eastern League playoffs. Flamethrower Domingo Acevedo pitched 93 innings for Class A Charleston and Class A Advanced Tampa last year, more than his first two professional seasons combined, and struck out 102 while walking 22. Former UCLA standout James Kaprielian was the highest-drafted college pitcher in Yankees history when New York nabbed him with the 16th pick in 2015, but an elbow injury limited him to three starts for Tampa last year. He showed impressive velocity during a trip to the AFL and now slots in at No. 58 overall ahead of what New York hopes will be his first fully healthy pro season. Dillon Tate went 12 picks ahead of Kaprielian to the Rangers in 2015 but never broke out with Texas. The Yankees saw encouraging returns after trading for him last summer and moving him to the bullpen.

 12. New York Mets

Mets fans could've taken a short trip to Brooklyn to see two of their team's top pitching prospects last summer. Boston College product Justin Dunn put up a 1.50 ERA in 30 innings after New York picked him 16th overall in June, and his rotation mate for part of the season was lefty Thomas Szapucki, who showed signs of harnessing an impressive arsenal of pitches with a 1.38 ERA in nine starts between Rookie ball and Class A Short Season. Robert Gsellman found new power behind his fastball and added a solid slider, riding that arsenal to a 2.42 ERA over eight appearances in the Majors. Don't sleep on P.J. Conlon. The lefty from Northern Ireland doesn't have dominant stuff but has been brutal on hitters in his pro career, going 12-2 with a Minor League-best 1.65 ERA in 24 starts between Class A Columbia and Class A Advanced St. Lucie in 2016.

 11. Cincinnati Reds

The two biggest names in the Reds' pitching ranks are the closest to impacting the Major League club on a regular basis. No. 66 overall prospect Amir Garrett is a terrific athlete who left college basketball to focus on his baseball career and parlayed a dominant 12-outing stay in the Southern League into a promotion to Triple-A. The lefty held opponents to a .192 average in 144 2/3 innings across two levels. Robert Stephenson, who checks in at No. 87 overall, has scuffled a bit over his past two seasons but made his Major League debut in 2016 and still possesses a 70-grade fastball. The Reds haven't seen Vladimir Gutierrez in a Minors game yet, but the Cuban signee was the Serie Nacional Rookie of the Year in 2013-14. Tyler Mahle ruled the Florida State League for 13 starts, pushing his way to Double-A Pensacola for his final 14 outings. Acquired from the Marlins in the deal that sent Dan Straily the other way this offseason, Luis Castillo should have every chance to climb with his new club in his age-24 season, thanks to a high-90s fastball and an above-average slider. 

Tyler Maun is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @TylerMaun. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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