Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

Farm System Rankings: Pitchers

Braves rebuilding on strength of arms; Dodgers close behind at No. 2
February 29, 2016

With Spring Training opening and the 2016 season almost upon us, looks at the state of all 30 farm systems and ranks them, according to certain changing criterion with each edition. This second edition focuses on pitching prospects and considers the quality and quantity of top talent in each system in its current state. So, without much further ado, the rankings:

 30. Los Angeles Angels

As has been written so many times -- here and elsewhere -- the Angels farm system is rather barren after the trade that landed shortstop Andrelton Simmons from the Braves, and that's especially so on the pitching side following the departures of their top two prospects in left-hander Sean Newcomb and right-hander Chris Ellis. No potential high-ceiling studs remain, and the hope for pitchers Victor Alcantara, Nate Smith and Joe Gatto is that they can work out their issues to become back-end rotation options. Smith, who had a 2.48 ERA at Double-A that jumped to 7.75 over his first 36 innings at Triple-A, might be the best bet.

 29. Seattle Mariners

Staying in the AL West, the Mariners don't have any elite arms, either, but there's some nice potential upside there. Edwin Diaz is likely headed to Triple-A Tacoma as a 22-year-old after his peripherals (3.22 FIP, 8.9 K/9, 3.2 BB/9) looked a lot better than his 4.57 ERA over 104 1/3 innings at Double-A Jackson. Nineteen-year-old left-hander Luiz Gohara has drawn praise for a plus fastball but is coming off a season in which he averaged 5.4 BB/9 and posted a 6.20 ERA and 1.84 WHIP over 53 2/3 innings at Class A Short Season Everett. Righty Nick Neidert also should be one to watch in his first full season after being drafted 60th overall last June. Again, there's not a lot to write home about yet, but if some dramatic development occurs, the Mariners are not anchored to this low, low spot.

 28. San Diego Padres

The Padres are here because they have Colin Rea, and neither of the teams below them have anyone similar, i.e. a pitcher with Major League experience who looks like a good bet to be a solid Major League option going forward. The 25-year-old right-hander made six starts for the big club last August and September, going 2-2 with a 4.26 ERA, after starting the season with a dominant run at Double-A San Antonio (1.08 ERA, 0.81 WHIP in 75 innings). The system got a little deeper in pitching this offseason by adding No. 9 prospect Logan Allen, No. 14 Enyel De Los Santos and No. 21 Jose Torres in trades with the Red Sox, Mariners and A's, respectively, and although he won't feature in the Minors for the Padres, 2015 Futures Game selection/No. 12 prospect Luis Perdomo made for an interesting addition via the Rule 5 Draft. There are some pillars on which to build here, even if the pitching can't come close to rivaling the position player talent in the system.

 27. Miami Marlins

Tyler Kolek, the No. 2 pick in the 2014 Draft, is the closest thing the Marlins have to a top 100 prospect, thanks to a 70-grade fastball that features lots of sink. But he possesses no other plus pitches and had serious control problems (5.1 BB/9) without any impressive strikeout numbers (6.7 K/9). Still only 20, he can put himself back on track to reach his high ceiling with some major improvements this summer. Elsewhere, lefty Jarlin Garcia and righty Kendry Flores are on the 40-man roster and could help the big club sometime in 2016, even if neither has a ceiling higher than the back end of a rotation.

 26. Toronto Blue Jays

The Jays are one of the five systems without a pitcher ranked in the top 100 lists compiled by, Baseball Prospectus, ESPN's Keith Law and Baseball America, even though there's some nice depth at the top of the system's rankings. Conner Greene saw a big jump, not only in level (going from Class A to Double-A) but in stuff (his fastball, curve and changeup all grade out as average to plus) in his second full season after being drafted out of high school in the seventh round in 2013. He turns 21 on April 4 and could be poised for another big jump if the development continues. Righty Jon Harris was the team's first-round pick last June after an impressive career at Missouri State and there are some evaluators who believe 2014 second-rounder Sean Reid-Foley is a better prospect after he fanned 125 Class A batters over 96 innings in his first full season.

 25. New York Yankees

The Yankees took James Kaprielian with the 16th overall pick last June and the UCLA product instantly became their top pitching prospect. The right-hander, who turns 22 on Wednesday, will get a chance to show his average-to-good four-pitch mix for the first time in full-season ball this year. Outside of him, 21-year-old righty Domingo Acevedo is the only true standout with a 100-plus mph fastball, even if it means he's likely headed to the back end of a bullpen someday in the Majors. Speaking of relievers, Jacob Lindgren shouldn't need much longer to prove he's capable of being another lefty out of the big league pen.

 24. San Francisco Giants

For a system without a pitcher in any top 100 overall ranking, the Giants have a desirable amount of depth on the farm. Recent first-rounders Tyler Beede (2014) and Phil Bickford (2015) top the system and can be flipped any way you want for the No. 2 prospect position behind shortstop Christian Arroyo. Although he won't crack the top five in most rankings, Clayton Blackburn handled the Pacific Coast League well with a 2.85 ERA and 1.29 WHIP over 123 innings for Triple-A Sacramento and doesn't have much growth left in the Minors with his four average offerings. Chris Stratton, Ty Blach and Adalberto Mejia also should make for an intriguing Triple-A rotation, while Kyle Crick, Josh Osich, Steven Okert and Derek Law should help out of the bullpen at the Minors' highest level. There's no future Madison Bumgarner here, but there's a lot of arms who could help.

 23. Chicago Cubs

If the Cubs have a weakness anywhere in the organization (big leagues included), it's their lack of high-end pitching prospects. liked Duane Underwood enough to rank the 21-year-old right-hander No. 77 overall, but that seems to be an outlier, with no other site placing him among the top 100. (Perhaps they were thrown off by his fairly low 5.9 K/9 rate at Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach.) Dylan Cease, a sixth-round pick who underwent Tommy John surgery in his 2014 Draft year, could pass him as the system's top pitching prospect once he proves his health and shows his 70-grade fastball and 60-grade curveball can dominate the lower levels. Pierce Johnson could be headed to the bullpen if he doesn't move past two injury-plagued seasons at Double-A, and former top prospect Carl Edwards Jr. is already there, where his plus fastball and curveball have come with control issues. Of the club's five projected Major League starters, only Kyle Hendricks came from within the system -- and even he was acquired in a 2012 trade with the Rangers -- and it might be a few years before that trend changes.

 22. Kansas City Royals

There is no doubting that recent Minor League Baseball podcast guest Kyle Zimmer has the right stuff to be a good Major League starter with two legitimate plus pitches in his fastball and curveball. However, concerns about his durability after being limited by shoulder, lat and elbow injuries mean he's thrown more than 100 innings once in what should have been three full Minor (or Major) League seasons. Because of that, there's a decent chance he takes his killer stuff to a bullpen for Kansas City in the future, if he can't establish his health. The Royals also have a bevy of young arms taken in the top two rounds of the last two Drafts in Ashe Russell, Nolan Watson and Scott Blewett who will try to prove themselves at the lower levels. Right-hander Miguel Almonte --'s No. 4 Royals prospect -- made his Major League debut during September call-ups last season and could be emergency option much earlier, especially if he pitches closer to his Triple-A FIP (3.90) than his ERA (5.40).

 21. Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles could be much higher on this list if their top two pitching prospects didn't have such injury concerns. Hunter Harvey hasn't pitched in a game since July 25, 2014 due to issues with his right elbow, and former top five overall prospect Dylan Bundy was limited to 22 innings at Double-A Bowie and two appearances in the Arizona Fall League due to shoulder and forearm issues. (Bundy also underwent Tommy John surgery in 2013.) The two have high ceilings, but there's plenty of hesitancy in projecting them meeting those lofty goals. That's particularly true of Bundy, who is out of options and is likely shackled to the bullpen if he's going to stick in Baltimore. Outside of that duo, Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson both pitched for the O's last year without stellar results, while righty Mychal Givens is the most likely to meet his ceiling, even if it's as a pretty good reliever.

 20. Cleveland Indians

Those who like southpaws should be fans of the Indians' pitching prospects. The Tribe nabbed former No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken with the 17th overall pick last June, making him the most talented arm in the system. The 19-year-old southpaw has yet to suit up for Cleveland after undergoing pre-Draft Tommy John surgery, but if he can return to form with three plus pitches by the end of the season, it'll look like the Indians got a steal. That's what many thought they got when they picked up 21-year-old lefty Rob Kaminsky for a struggling Brandon Moss. With a 2.22 career ERA, Kaminsky has pitched well at every stop he's made, even as reports had his stuff tailing off at times in 2015. Finally, 2014 first-rounder Justus Sheffield has a fastball to dream about and the results to match, with a 3.31 ERA and 138 strikeouts over 127 2/3 innings at Class A Lake County in his first full season. Add in 2015 sandwich pick Triston McKenzie and Double-A thrivers Mike Clevinger and Adam Plutko, and there are some nice pieces here. Just not the top, top talent you'll find below.

 19. Chicago White Sox

No. 8 overall pick Carson Fulmer was the subject of last week's Toolshed and, as covered in that piece, your view of him should determine your view of the White Sox pitching prospects. If you think he'll one day take his place in the rotation alongside first-round success stories Chris Sale and Carlos Rodon, then you're high on the system. ( and Baseball America fall into this group, placing Fulmer at No. 38 and 70 in their respective rankings.) If you think the 6-foot-1 right-hander with a high-energy delivery is ticketed for the bullpen, then you might think the system deserves to be lower. (Keith Law and Baseball Prospectus both kept Fulmer off their rankings.) Jordan Guerrero (148 strikeouts over 149 innings) and Spencer Adams (18 walks in 129 1/3 frames) showed promise at lower levels, but without any big-time talent, it really does come down to Fulmer here.

 18. Oakland Athletics

There's a somewhat similar story in Oakland with lefty Sean Manaea, although there's a consensus with most evaluators agreeing he has a place among the top 100 prospects. Acquired from the Royals for Ben Zobrist, the 24-year-old has always shown swing-and-miss stuff with a 10.8 K/9 over his first two pro seasons. He'll need to show continued health in 2016, though, after abdominal and groin injuries limited him to 74 1/3 innings last season. Casey Meisner and Dillon Overton are the best of the rest with back-end rotation ceilings.

 17. Detroit Tigers

The Tigers system got a whole lot better, specifically in this department, at last year's trade deadline when they added Eastern League Pitcher of the Year Michael Fulmer from the Mets in the deal for Yoenis Cespedes. While topping 100 innings for the first time since 2012, Fulmer impressed with his fastball and slider while posting a 2.24 ERA and 125 strikeouts over 124 2/3 innings last season. He was an easy addition to the 40-man last November and checks in right in the middle of most top 100s. First-rounder Beau Burrows gives Detroit another intriguing arm with a mid-90s fastball and will have a chance to climb if he can establish his other offerings. Lower in the system, Kevin Ziomek needs to show he can thrive outside the pitcher-friendly Florida State League with average stuff and Joe Jimenez will work to show his fastball and slider alone are enough to make him one of the game's best relief-only prospects.

 16. Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers' rebuild of their farm system has been done on the backs of position players, but there are a few arms to like as well. Jorge Lopez made a big jump last season by winning Southern League Pitcher of the Year honors after compiling a 2.26 ERA and 137 stirkeouts over 143 1/3 innings at Double-A Biloxi. He parlayed that into a pair of Major League starts in September, is widely ranked in the back half of top 100s and is well within Milwaukee's plans. Josh Hader, the 21-year-old sidearm-throwing lefty acquired from the Astros at the deadline, also jumped into the top 100 discussion with plus grades on his fastball and slider. Because of the funky delivery, some aren't big believers in his future as a starter and believe he'd make a great reliever. Either way, he's a good addition. Zach Davies, who has 128 1/3 innings of Triple-A experience, is the most Major League-ready hurler in the system and will likely start the season as the sixth starter/first option at Triple-A Colorado Springs. High picks Kodi Medeiros, Devin Williams and Cody Ponce are further down in the system

 15. Arizona Diamondbacks

The D-backs system took a noticeable hit this offseason, but if there is a strength left, it's in pitching. Braden Shipley has pitched up to his status as the 2013 15th overall pick and has put himself on the brink of a big league callup with a season at Triple-A Reno coming up. Archie Bradley has some work to do to restore his status as one of the Minors' most promising arms after a season in which he struggled in the Majors and was limited to 65 innings due to shoulder tendinitis and a head injury. But he still appears on most top 100 lists. Lower in the system, lefties Alex Young and Cody Reed look to build on solid campaigns at Class A Short Season Hillsboro, while Wei-Chieh Huang will try to work on the momentum he built at Class A Kane County, where he had a 2.00 ERA and 0.97 WHIP over 76 2/3 innings. The D-backs would be much higher if Aaron Blair was still around.

 14. Boston Red Sox

As with the position players in their system, the Red Sox's best pitching prospects are likely years away from Fenway Park, but there's some considerable talent there. Anderson Espinoza landed on the scene by showing a high-90s fastball and plus curveball and changeup in his stateside debut at the age of 17. As a teenager for two more seasons, he'll likely follow the Julio Urias model and the Sox would love if his ceiling is just as high as he continues to climb the ladder. A 2014 first-round pick, Michael Kopech got some back-end top 100 love this offseason for his plus-plus fastball, even if he only got to show it over 65 innings last season due to a suspension for amphetamines. Southpaw Brian Johnson dropped off top 100 lists following an elbow scare, but after putting up a 2.53 ERA in 18 starts at Triple-A Pawtucket, he should be a good depth option in 2016.

 13. Houston Astros

Francis Martes was one of many breakout stars in a big season for the Astros system as he posted a 2.04 ERA with 98 strikeouts and 28 walks over 101 2/3 innings from Class A Quad Cities to Double-A Corpus Christi. His fastball and curveball both earn plus grades, and Baseball America ranked him as high as No. 20 on its top 100 list. Pretty good for a player who looked like a throw-in in a 2014 trade deadline deal with the Marlins. Righty Joe Musgrove posted an incredible 0.7 BB/9 across three levels in his first full and healthy season. David Paulino looks like a potential climber with his plus fastball but will need to show last season's 2.81 ERA and 9.6 K/9 weren't small-sample mirages. With Michael Feliz, Chris Devenski and Jandel Gustave also in the system, it's a deep one for pitching, even if there's not a lot of high-ceiling talent outside perhaps Martes.

 12. Texas Rangers

As much as has been made about the Rangers' big three bats, they have a pair of potential impact arms in Dillon Tate and Luis Ortiz. As the fourth overall pick, Tate was the first pitcher taken last June out of UCSB and is poised to move fast as he continues to accilimate to being a starter, thanks to a plus fastball and slider combo. Ortiz, a 2014 first-rounder, showed similarly promising stuff as a 19-year-old at Class A Hickory, even though he was limited to 50 innings with a strained flexor muscle. Keep an eye on 2015 third-rounder Michael Matuella, the 6-foot-6 right-hander who dropped following Tommy John surgery but was dominant at Duke.

 11. New York Mets

This all comes down to Steven Matz, who still has rookie eligibility for the reigning National League champions. The 24-year-old southpaw, who's ranked among the top 20 prospects on most lists, is expected to be another part of arguably baseball's best rotation after making six regular-season and three postseason starts last year. Injuries have been a problem throughout his pro career, but his talent and big league success alone are enough to put the Mets just outside the top 10. Not that they need more rotation depth, but if fans are looking for it, they could look at Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman and [further down the system] Marcos Molina as other options in the pipeline.

 10. Philadelphia Phillies

Unlike that of their NL East counterparts, the Phillies' system is built more on depth than top-heavy talent. They picked up their top pitching prospect, Jake Thompson, from the Rangers in the deal for Cole Hamels and added another top 100 arm, Mark Appel, in the Ken Giles trade. Thompson is typically the higher ranked of the two and, with his 6-foot-4 and 235-pound frame, gets the term "workhorse" thrown around a lot. Appel's struggles have been well-documented, but he has a chance to show results to back up his impressive stuff during the Phillies' rebuild. Beyond them, there's hope for a future consensus top 100 prospect in Franklyn Kilome, who brings a plus fastball to full-season ball as a 20/21-year-old. Back to the depth, Zach Eflin, Ben Lively and Alec Asher -- all acquired since 2014 -- have shown varying degrees of success at Double-A or higher, while 2015 second-rounder Thomas Eshelman boasts some of the best control of any pitcher drafted in recent history.

 9. Colorado Rockies

The Rockies got the top spot for position player prospects and land in the top 10 here as well. Jon Gray looks ready to move into a spot into the big league rotation for the long term and, if you're worried about his 4.33 and 5.53 ERAs at Triple-A and the Majors last season, pay more attention to his 3.88 and 3.63 FIP's, respectively, to see why so many are still high on the 2013 third overall pick. He may not be the best pitcher in the system, though, as Jeff Hoffman brings a plus fastball and curveball to his first full season since 2014 Tommy John surgery and his first full season in the system. Antonio Senzatela thrived in the hitter-happy California League last season and, while the results aren't quite there yet because of injury issues, Kyle Freeland has gotten positive reports for his stuff.

 8. Pittsburgh Pirates

It's tough to find anyone who's down on Tyler Glasnow, and that's for good reason. The 6-foot-8 right-hander has racked up strikeouts in his four seasons in the Minors. Last season was no exception as he thrived at Triple-A Indianapolis by fanning 48 and posting a 2.20 ERA over 41 innings. With a 4.8 BB/9 at the Minors' highest level, his control could use some work, and he'll get a chance to do that back in the IL, with a May or June promotion seeming likely. What really determines the strength of the Pirates' group of pitching prospects is how you view Jameson Taillon. The 24-year-old righty hasn't pitched since 2013 due to Tommy John surgery and an inguinal hernia. For those who still believe in Taillon, like and Baseball Prospectus, he gives the Bucs two top 60 pitching prospects. (Others find the injury woes tough to overcome.) If Taillon and Glasnow follow Gerrit Cole as drafted and developed big league arms, that's a solid foundation, even if the rest of the Pirates system is relatively light on pitching.

 7. St. Louis Cardinals

If the Cardinals had Alex Reyes alone, that might be enough to earn a spot in the top 10. The right-hander struck out 151 and posted a 2.49 ERA over 101 1/3 innings, mostly at Class A Advanced Palm Beach and Double-A Springfield, in his age-20 season. (We won't see Reyes go for more killer K numbers at the start of 2016 as he was suspended 50 games after testing positive for marijuana.) Righty Jack Flaherty, who turned 20 in December, has a desirable four-pitch mix and has been spotted in the back end of a couple top 100s. That said, lefties Tim Cooney and Marco Gonzales are the two prospects most likely to help the Cardinals defend their NL Central title at some point this summer, although they don't have the ceilings of Reyes and Flaherty. Also, Cards fans will want to see what happens to 2014 first-rounder Luke Weaver and his 1.62 ERA once he leaves the pitcher-friendly Florida State League.

 6. Minnesota Twins

In a system that was once the envy of every other organization, Jose Berrios has become almost as exciting a prospect as Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano before him. The 21-year-old righty posted a 2.87 ERA while fanning 175 and walking 38 over 166 1/3 innings at Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Rochester. Those are numbers that should have made him a Major Leaguer at some point last year, but for now, they make him a top 30 prospect. Minnesota added another talented arm in the Draft in Tyler Jay with the sixth overall pick out of the University of Illinois. There also remain believers in 2013 fourth overall pick Kohl Stewart, who averaged 4.9 K/9 last season, despite possessing two plus pitches in his fastball and slider.

 5. Washington Nationals

The Nationals were always going to be high on this list because they have Lucas Giolito, and no other organization does. The 21-year-old right-hander earned an 80 grade for his fastball and a 70 for his curveball from en route to being named the game's top pitching prospect, and those are two offerings of which special pitchers are made. Barring injury, he'll be in the Majors at some point this season and by 2017, he'll be talked about as baseball's next big pitcher. Giolito aside, it's tough to get some consensus on the rest of the Nationals pitching prospects. Erick Fedde and Reynaldo Lopez both earned some, but not much, top 100 consideration this offseason, and A.J. Cole will be the organization's starting depth option at Triple-A Syracuse, where he's put up OK not great numbers in the past. But again, if you have Giolito, you're doing just fine in the pitching department.

 4. Cincinnati Reds

The Reds will be one of the rebuilding teams this season, and they hope to enter the 2017 season with some promising pitchers in the Majors or right on the cusp. Part of that hope is that Robert Stephenson will lead the charge. The 23-year-old righty hasn't always had the results to back up his stuff, but with three plus pitches in his arsenal, he's always had the scouting reports of someone who could move to the front of a rotation someday. With a spot on the 40-man roster secured, that could be sooner than later. Lefty Amir Garrett took another big jump in the Florida State League in his second season away from basketball, and the Reds added another top 100 southpaw in Cody Reed in last year's Johnny Cueto trade. Add in Yankees pickup Rookie Davis, Giants addition Keury Mella and Major League-ready John Lamb, and Cincinnati has built some enviable depth in the pitching department.

 3. Tampa Bay Rays

The 2015 season had a great effect on how the Rays pitching prospects were viewed. Blake Snell was the MiLBY pick for Starting Pitcher of the Year after he posted a 1.41 ERA with 163 strikeouts over 134 innings across the Minors' top three levels. If there was any doubt, those numbers weren't soft with reports coming back that his stuff (fastball, cutter, slider, changeup) took a jump last season. Along with the southpaw, Brent Honeywell broke into the middle of top 100 lists while becoming known as more than just the guy with the screwball. Jacob Faria (1.92 ERA, 159 strikeouts over 149 2/3 innings) grew into a prospect with a dominant run at Class A Advanced Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery. Even Taylor Guerrieri returned from a suspension and Tommy John surgery to rebuild his prospect status. To put it simply, the Rays have a good chunk of starting pitching talent just about to work its way to the cusp of the Majors.

 2. Los Angeles Dodgers

These next two systems are so above their 28 counterparts when it comes to pitching talent that they should really have their own category. The Dodgers get the second spot on the strength of the big two -- Julio Urias and Jose De Leon. Urias is definitely the game's best left-handed pitching prospect and should be within a shout of the Majors, starting at Triple-A Oklahoma City in his age-19 season. (Yes, he's still a teenager with three plus pitches.) De Leon appeared in the 20s of three of the four major prospect lists after averaging 12.8 K/9 at Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Tulsa, and a late-season promotion can't be ruled out for him, either. With younger talent Grant Holmes, the injured Frankie Montas, Cuban talent Yadier Alvarez and 2015 first-rounder Walker Buehler, the Dodgers also have some nice depth in the system. It's just not quite the same depth as ...

 1. Atlanta Braves

If you want to rebuild and make pitching the backbone of that rebuild, this is how you do it. The Braves added top 30 overall prospect Sean Newcomb (as well as Angels No. 2 prospect Chris Ellis) last November in the deal for shortstop Andrelton Simmons and brought aboard another consensus top 100 prospect in right-hander Aaron Blair from the D-backs. With Tyrell Jenkins, Manny Banuelos, Lucas Sims, Touki Toussaint, Max Fried and Kolby Allard already in the pipeline, the Braves had enough pitching to dream about, at least in terms of legitimate future mid- to back-end rotation options. Now with a potential ace in Newcomb and a potential No. 3 starter in Blair, they boast more than enough options to build their future rotation from within. In a year when two starting pitchers received contracts worth more than $200 million, a cheap, controllable pitching situation like the one the Braves look to be building could become the toast of the league.

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.