Farm system rankings: Pitchers (20-11)

Keller ready to make impact with Bucs; Jays more than big bats

Mitch Keller struck out 57 over 52 1/3 innings in the International League to end last season. (Joe Santry/MiLB.com)

By Rob Terranova / MiLB.com | February 19, 2019 11:00 AM

With the 2019 season rapidly approaching, MiLB.com is looking at the state of all 30 farm systems over the next month and ranking them in several different ways. After looking at position player prospects (30-2120-1110-1), the second installment, broken into three parts, focuses on pitchers and considers the quality and quantity of top talent in each system. The rankings, 20-11:

 20. Minnesota Twins

The Twins may only have one pitching prospect in MLB.com's Top 100 -- right-hander Brusdar Graterol (68) -- but that doesn't mean there's a shortage of quality arms in the pipeline for Minnesota. Yes, the 20-year-old flamethrower out of Venezuela possesses a plus-plus fastball that can touch triple digits on a radar gun, but lefty Stephen Gonsalves had an impressive 2018 campaign that has him knocking on the door of The Show. The 2013 fourth-rounder posted a 2.96 ERA over 100 1/3 innings at Triple-A Rochester before getting the bump to Minnesota for the first time in late August. Jorge Alcala, Lewis Thorpe, Zack Littell, Tyler Jay and 6-foot-8 righty Tyler Wells will all open the season at Double-A or higher and could provide internal reinforcements. And in the lower ranks, hurlers Blayne Enlow, Jhoan Duran and Jordan Balazovic could move quickly through the system.

 19. Cincinnati Reds

Few arms can light up a radar gun like 2017 second overall pick Hunter Greene. The right-hander, who began his professional career as a two-way player, turned his focus to the mound and an 80-grade heater that regularly reaches 100 mph. Cincinnati will be patient with the 19-year-old, who experienced elbow issues in 2018. Greene could have the stuff to lead a Major League staff if his above-average slider and average changeup continue to improve. Righty Tony Santillan appears primed to make an impact with the club at the big league level after vastly improving his secondary pitches last season. Beyond that fearsome twosome, righties Keury Mella and Jimmy Herget could also get the call to Cincinnati in 2019, and Vladimir Gutierrez is another option after reaching Double-A in his second full season.

Video: Dayton's Greene throwing heat

 18. Miami Marlins

Two weeks ago the Marlins would not have appeared in this slot, nor in this section of the pitching rankings. However, acquiring a talent like Sixto Sanchez changes things quickly. Baseball's No. 27 overall prospect, and now Miami's top gun, was the centerpiece of the deal with the Phillies for All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto. The 20-year-old has electric stuff that projects him as a front-end Major League starter, but injuries have slowed the development of the hard-throwing righty. Sanchez is likely to open the season with Double-A Jacksonville, but because he was limited to 46 2/3 frames last season, the rebuilding Marlins will take things slowly with him. Still, there is a lot to be excited about for the future in Miami as righty Sandy Alcantara earned a victory in his first ever big league start last season, 2016 first-rounder Braxton Garrett will look to bounce back from Tommy John surgery, Jordan Yamamoto climbed three levels and followed that up with an impressive Arizona Fall League performance, and youngsters Jorge Guzman, Trevor Rogers and Edward Cabrera will be looming.


Review farm system rankings: Pitchers 30-21 | 10-1


 17. Kansas City Royals

The Royals had three first-round picks last year and used them all on pitchers. Righties Brady Singer (18), Jackson Kowar (33) and left-hander Daniel Lynch (34) are all among the organization's top 10 prospects. Singer, the top Royals prospect and No. 54 overall in baseball, helped lead the Florida Gators to the 2017 College World Series and then won the Dick Howser Trophy in 2018 as the top player in college baseball after posting a 12-3 record with a 2.55 ERA. Kowar was not only Singer's teammate at Florida but also roomed with the righty for three years. The 22-year-old attacks hitters with a power fastball and changes speeds with a deceptive changeup. Kowar started nine games at Class A Lexington last year and posted a 3.42 ERA with 22 punchouts over 26 1/3 frames. Lynch ended his first professional season with Kowar in the South Atlantic League and dominated with 47 strikeouts and a 1.58 ERA over 40 innings. Also, watch out for 2018 40th overall pick Kris Bubic, who sports a plus changeup coming out of Stanford. The Royals have big plans for this Class of 2018, and with all four coming out of college, it's possible they won't be in the Minors long.

 16. Texas Rangers

Last year MiLB.com told you that the Rangers had a lot of strong arms, they were just a few years away. They made great progress in 2018 and that's why the organization's pitching ranking jumped 10 spots this year -- and drafting Cole Winn with the No. 15 overall pick didn't hurt. The 19-year-old is the 89th-ranked prospect in baseball and finished 2018 at No. 3 in Texas' system. The right-hander is equipped with three plus-pitches, including a mid-90s fastball, 12-to-6 curveball and wipeout slider. Jonathan Hernandez appeared in the Sirius XM All-Star Futures Game in July and finished the year making 12 starts at Double-A Frisco. Cole Ragans will also be looking to make a strong impression after missing all of last year recovering from Tommy John surgery and newcomer Brock Burke -- acquired from Tampa Bay in December -- could see a big league mound at some point this season. Hard throwers Taylor Hearn, Joe Palumbo and Hans Crouse also bring plenty of heat to the Texas system. Don't be surprised if this group rises even higher in 2020.

 15. Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers are no strangers to making a big splash in free agency or pulling the trigger on a blockbuster deal to help bolster their club for a deep postseason run. But the next big thing in Los Angeles may already be in the system. Right-hander Dustin May will get a good look this spring at big league camp after a breakout 2018 that ended with six starts in the Texas League. The 21-year-old has a four-pitch arsenal headlined by a plus-fastball with sharp, late life. The Dodgers also have recently acquired Josiah Gray, who came over from the Reds and will be looking to build on an impressive debut in the Appalachian League. Mitchell White, Yadier Alvarez and Tony Gonsolin will all start the season at the upper levels, and Dennis Santana will try to make it back after a shoulder issue knocked him out after his Major League debut last June. Last year's second-rounder Michael Grove will make his much-anticipated professional debut after recovering from Tommy John surgery last year.

 14. New York Yankees

The Yankees depleted their once-rich farm system with trades for Major League-ready talent over the past two seasons. Justus Sheffield, James Kaprielian, Jorge Guzman, Erik Swanson and Ian Clarkin all were dealt away. However, effective drafts and international free agent signings have helped New York maintain a strong crop of arms in its pipeline. Right-hander Jonathan Loaisiga, ranked No. 66 in baseball, made his Major League debut last year and performed well over nine appearances but struggled to stay healthy, a constant worry through his Minor League career. The 24-year-old has three above-average pitches and impressive control. The Yankees boast another hard-throwing right-hander in Albert Abreu, but like Loaisiga, he struggled to stay on the mound. If he can stay healthy, Abreu has the stuff to join a Major League rotation with his three pitches all potentially being above-average. The same can be said about Domingo Acevedo, who managed to get through a full season in 2017 but missed time in 2018 with blisters. Chance Adams had an up-and-down year after a dominant 2017, but he could reach The Bronx if there is an injury. Righty Michael King rose through three levels last season and dominated the International League with a 1.15 ERA in his six starts there. The Yankees also have youngsters with huge upsides at the lower levels like Luis Gil, Roansy Contreras, Luis Medina and Juan Then that could move through the system quickly. The most fun to watch of the group could be Deivi Garcia, who climbed three levels as a 19-year-old in 2018 and has a special fastball and curveball coming from his 5-foot-10 frame. There's a lot of risk in this group because of the youth and the injuries, but there's a high ceiling as well.

 13. Cleveland Indians

Triston McKenzie followed up a 2017 campaign where he led the Carolina League with 186 whiffs and finished with a 1.05 WHIP by moving up a level and continuing to miss bats. The 21-year-old spent the season with Double-A Akron and fanned 87 in 90 2/3 innings while sporting a 2.68 ERA and 1.00 WHIP over 16 starts. Sam Hentges returned to action after missing a large chunk of 2017 recovering from Tommy John surgery, and the 6-foot-6, 245-pounder was effective with three plus-pitches at Class A Advanced Lynchburg. The southpaw could be on the fast track to The Show if he can stay on the mound. Cleveland also selected couple of righties with a pair of sandwich picks in last year's Draft: Ethan Hankins (35) and Lenny Torres (41). Hankins had shoulder problems during his senior year in high school that affected his effectiveness on the mound and Draft status. However, when healthy, the 18-year-old has an 80-grade heater to go along with three other solid pitches. Torres just turned 18 in October and is a hard thrower with a slider and a changeup to complement it. James Karinchak is another name to keep an eye on -- the 2017 ninth-rounder climbed through three levels last year and could find himself in Cleveland's bullpen soon. It should also be fun to watch what 19-year-old right-hander Luis Oviedo can do over a full season after he finished 2018 with a 2.05 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 57 innings. It's good to have a headliner like McKenzie, but don't sleep on the other arms here.

Video: Akron's McKenzie seals gem with a K

 12. Pittsburgh Pirates

Speaking of headliners, Mitch Keller could be as good as any in the Minors. MLB.com's No. 19 prospect has been on a steady climb through the Pirates system since being taken in the second round of the 2014 Draft. Coming off an impressive Arizona Fall League showing at the end of 2017, Keller finished last season with Triple-A Indianapolis, where he will most likely open this year. The 22-year-old needs to refine a third pitch to go along with his smooth high-90s fastball and 11-to-5 curveball to thrive in the Majors. Pittsburgh also has a nice crop of promising hurlers in the lower levels but have the potential to make an impact in the bigs: Luis EscobarSteven Jennings, Braxton Ashcraft, Gage Hinsz, Travis MacGregor, Cody Bolton and Santiago Florez. Keller's advantage over McKenzie gives the Bucs the edge over the Indians, but Pittsburgh will need a few more top pitchers to break into the top 10, especially if Keller graduates from prospect status this season.

 11. Toronto Blue Jays

With all the talk surrounding the Blue Jays' Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, the fact that Toronto also has quality arms in its system can be overlooked. Lefty Thomas Pannone made it through three levels in 2018 and finished the season with Triple-A Buffalo, where he whiffed 40 and walked seven over 36 2/3 innings. Trent Thornton logged 124 1/3 frames in the Pacific Coast League and finished with 122 punchouts before being dealt from the Astros in November for Aledmys Diaz. Toronto saw continued improvement from T.J. Zeuch and Sean Reid-Foley in the upper levels, with the latter finishing the year in the Majors. The Blue Jays acquired Hector Perez and David Paulino from Houston at the trade deadline for Roberto Osuna. Eric Pardinho made his professional debut with 11 starts in the Appalachian League and struck out 64 while walking 16 over 50 frames. Nate Pearson had a back injury delay the start of his season and then he lasted just 1 2/3 innings with Class A Advanced Dunedin before getting hit by a line drive and suffering a fractured right forearm. As MLB.com's No. 76 prospect, he has the highest ceiling of the group, thanks to his triple-digit fastball, but could move to the bullpen. Last year's third-rounder Adam Kloffenstein will look to build on a brief debut in the Gulf Coast League. Pearson and Pardinho are the biggest pitchers to watch here, but the Major League readiness of Thornton, Zeuch, Reid-Foley and Paulino gives this group an extra kick.

Rob Terranova is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RobTnova24. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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