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Farm system rankings: Pitchers, 10-1

Padres, Tigers, Dodgers battle it out for top spot on mound
MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patiño form a potent 1-2 punch atop the Padres' prospect rankings. (John Moore/Amarillo Sod Poodles)
February 19, 2020

With the 2020 season rapidly approaching, is looking at the state of all 30 farm systems over the next month and ranking them in several different ways. The second installment, broken into three parts, focuses on pitchers and considers the quality and quantity of top talent in each system.

With the 2020 season rapidly approaching, is looking at the state of all 30 farm systems over the next month and ranking them in several different ways. The second installment, broken into three parts, focuses on pitchers and considers the quality and quantity of top talent in each system. The rankings, 10-1:

 10. Houston Astros

The Astros find themselves back in the top 10, thanks in large part to the tantalizing promise of Forrest Whitley. Unfortunately for Houston and its top prospect, staying on the field has proven far more challenging than opposing hitters. After making eight starts in 2018, the right-hander was monitored closely in 18 appearances, including 15 starts, last season. Whitley threw 59 2/3 innings and while the strikeout numbers were there -- 86 punchouts -- he walked 44, contributing to an unsightly 1.75 WHIP. Jose Urquidy parlayed a strong season into a solid nine-outing, seven-start showing in the Majors. Another prospect, Bryan Abreu, joined Urquidy in Houston and was nearly unhittable in seven relief appearances. Pitching most of the year in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, 22-year-old Brandon Bielak put together a strong campaign and should be one of the first hurlers the Astros call upon when the need arises. One name to keep an eye on is Luis Garcia. The 23-year-old was dominant in his first full Minor League season, posting a 2.98 ERA and 1.07 WHIP while striking out 168 over 108 2/3 innings with Class A Quad Cities and Class A Advanced Fayetteville. His 38.1 percent strikeout rate was the highest among Minor Leaguers with at least 100 innings. Speaking of K's, Cristian Javier totaled even more (170) and finished with a 1.74 ERA in 113 2/3 frames across three levels. Whitley and Urquidy will get a lot of the ink this spring, but the Astros system goes a little deeper than those two upper-level names.

 9. Miami Marlins

Slowly but surely, the Marlins' latest rebuild is starting to bear fruit. The crown jewel of the system resides on the mound, where top-ranked Sixto Sanchez prepares for his second season with Miami.'s No. 22 overall prospect eclipsed 100 innings for the first time while posting a 2.76 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and nearly a strikeout per inning with Class A Advanced Jupiter and Double-A Jacksonville last year. Right-hander Edward Cabrera (No. 88 overall) marched in lockstep with Sanchez and put up arguably better numbers. Miami's fifth-ranked prospect fanned 116 in 96 2/3 innings while posting a 2.23 ERA across two levels. The well is far from dry after the Dominican duo. A pair of left-handers in Trevor Rogers and Braxton Garrett both impressed in 2019, with the former leading the organization with 150 punchouts. An injury-plagued season wiped out much of the first half for Marlins 2018 Minor League Pitcher of the Year Nick Neidert. The centerpiece of the 2017 offseason trade that sent Dee Gordon to the Mariners posted an 8.71 ERA in three starts before knee surgery cost him three months. Neidert returned in July and posted a 2.54 ERA in five August starts for Triple-A New Orleans before strong performances to the Arizona Fall League, where he had a 1.25 ERA, 19 K's and two walks in 21 2/3 frames. The Marlins placed 10th in position-player rankings, so this group just edges that in Miami's continued rebuild.
• Farm system rankings: Pitchers 30-21, 20-11 »

 8. Baltimore Orioles

The chicks in the Orioles' nest may not be ready to hatch, but they're getting close. Grayson Rodriguez spearheads the pitching for Baltimore, which watched the 36th overall prospect blossom last season. Rodriguez was superb from beginning to end with Class A Delmarva, proving his employers wise for taking him with the 11th pick in the 2018 Draft. Complementing the right-hander is southpaw DL Hall, who continued his march up the organizational ladder. Although his ERA spiked more than a full run from 2.10 to 3.46 with his move up to the Class A Advanced Carolina League, the No. 3 O's prospect was still one of the top left-handed hurlers in the Minors. Hall averaged more than a strikeout per inning and held opponents to a .189 average in 19 games, including 17 starts. Zac Lowther (13-7, 2.55), Alex Wells (8-6, 2.95), Michael Baumann (7-6, 2.98) and Bruce Zimmermann (7-6, 3.21) had strong years and possess the ability to miss bats, which is something badly needed at Camden Yards. Also keep an eye out for a fully healthy Dean Kremer -- the 2018 Minor League K leader who was limited by an oblique injury to 113 2/3 innings last season but has every chance to crack Baltimore's rotation this year.

 7. Oakland Athletics

Headlining the A's system are a pair of lefties who were recovering from injuries in 2019. Both Jesus Luzardo (No. 12 overall) and A.J. Puk (No. 60) were understandably brought along slowly. Puk, who missed all of 2018 following Tommy John surgery, made his big league debut and posted a 3.18 ERA in 10 relief appearances for Oakland. Likewise, Luzardo earned his first cup of coffee with the A's, despite missing the first eight weeks with a shoulder strain. Both are expected to slot directly into the A's big league rotation and, given their tremendous ceilings, could top it by season's end. Former top prospect James Kaprielian returned to competition for the first time since 2016 and showed little rust. The 25-year-old struck out 75 over 68 innings while compiling a 3.18 ERA across three Minor League levels. Similarly, Daulton Jefferies had a solid season at two levels in his full-time return from Tommy John surgery. After appearing in eight games from 2016-18, the right-hander pitched 26 times -- making 15 starts -- while carving out an impressive 93-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio. This group's makeup will look differently in a few months, when Luzardo and Puk inevitably graduate from prospect status, but for now, the combination of ceiling and Major League proximity gets this collection of A's arms into the upper echelon.

 6. Toronto Blue Jays

Perhaps no system made as significant a jump on the pitching side than Toronto. Already blessed with No. 8 overall prospect Nate Pearson, he of the 2.30 ERA and 119 strikeouts, the Jays added a pair of pitching prospects in a midseason trade with the Mets. Marcus Stroman returned home to New York and, in return, Toronto nabbed southpaw Anthony Kay and teenager Simeon Woods Richardson (No. 98 overall). The duo instantly added depth and promise to a pitching crop that already was on the upswing. The loss of Eric Pardinho to Tommy John surgery is definitely a blow, but there are more than enough arms to make up for it. Joey Murray led the system with 169 strikeouts and posted a 2.75 ERA across three levels, while Maximo Castillo, Yennsy Diaz and Josh Winckowski filled up the stat sheet -- and the depth chart -- for Toronto. As for what's next, first-rounder Alek Manoah has every chance to break into the Top 100 soon in his first full season. First and foremost, however, Jays fans should be excited about adding Pearson and his 80-grade fastball to the foundation of top talent north of the border.

 5. Atlanta Braves

Few teams have reached the point of Major League success only to have a host of promising prospects coming right around the corner. Atlanta is one of those clubs. The Braves are aiming for their third consecutive NL Eastern Division title, a goal in which their current and future crop of young pitchers will have a say. Ian Anderson (No. 37 overall) is coming off a season that saw the 21-year-old right-hander establish career highs in several categories, including strikeouts (172), innings (135 2/3) and starts (26). His 3.38 ERA with Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett, strong in and of itself, also was the highest of his four-year career, which shows how dominant he's been. Joining Anderson among Top 100 prospects is Kyle Wright (No. 52), who averaged more than a strikeout per inning with Gwinnett even though he couldn't quite stick in the Majors. Kyle Muller (7-6, 3.14), Tucker Davidson (8-7, 2.15) and Bryse Wilson (10-7, 3.42) are all at or nearing Triple-A, giving Atlanta several viable options from which to choose in 2020 and beyond. It'll be interesting to see how Atlanta sorts out the arms in terms of who will remain starters, who will take on relief roles and who could be valuable trade pieces.

 4. Tampa Bay Rays

What the Rays lack in payroll at the Major League level they more than make up for in Minor League talent. Even with Brent Honeywell Jr. -- who was ranked as high as the 12th overall prospect in 2018 -- missing the last two years after undergoing Tommy John surgery and fracturing his elbow while rehabbing, Tampa Bay is locked and loaded on the mound. Second-ranked Rays prospectBrendan McKay (No. 15 overall) was nearly unhittable during his time in the Minors. The southpaw posted a 1.10 ERA in 15 appearances, including 13 starts, at Double-A and Triple-A, including a 29-inning scoreless streak that ultimately earned him a promotion to the Majors. The list doesn't end there. Right-hander Joe Ryan surged through three levels with a 1.96 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in 24 appearances (22 starts). He fanned nine or more batters eight times, including a career-high 13 on Aug. 7. The 23-year-old's 183 strikeouts placed second in the Minors behind Kansas City's Kris Bubic. Shane Baz lit up the Midwest League to the tune of a 2.99 ERA and 87 punchouts in 81 1/3 innings, while 22-year-old Shane McClanahan put up a 3.36 ERA and 11.5 K's per nine innings while reaching Double-A. JJ Goss -- the 36th overall pick last year -- has every chance to make his own jump in his first full season, thanks to an above-average fastball and plus slider. This group's depth took a hit when Matthew Liberatore was traded to the Cardinals in January, but the fact that it can lose's No. 58 overall prospect and still place No. 4 in these rankings speaks to the overall strength and depth of the group.

 3. Los Angeles Dodgers

Six consecutive division titles and two World Series appearances hasn't slowed the continuous flow of prospects from the Dodgers system. It remains to be seen if No. 23 overall prospect Dustin May begins the year in the Majors, although there's little left to prove on the farm for the second-ranked Dodger. May averaged more than a strikeout per inning to go with a 3.38 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 20 starts for Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A Oklahoma City. He ended the year pitching in Hollywood, where he made four starts among 14 appearances. Josiah Gray (No. 67) was dominant across three levels in his second professional season. The 22-year-old had a 0.99 WHIP and 2.28 ERA and led the organization with 147 punchouts. The recent addition of Brusdar Graterol (No. 83) from Minnesota gives Los Angeles three Top-100 prospects and another who's all but certain to pitch at Dodger Stadium in 2020. Add Tony Gonsolin and his plus-plus splitter to that list, coming off a 40-inning stint with the big club in 2019. Even the struggles of Dennis Santana (5-7, 6.94) can't put a damper on a system flush with pitching. Edwin Uceta, Leo Crawford and up-and-comer Jose Martinez have the Dodgers in good shape moving forward.
• Farm system rankings: Position players 30-21, 20-11, 10-1 »

 2. Detroit Tigers

If there's a sliver of a silver lining for the Tigers' struggles in recent years, look no further than Minor League pitching mounds. When the two top prospects are Casey Mize and Matt Manning, No. 7 and 24 respectively, the future looks pretty bright. Add in No. 46 Tarik Skubal and Detroit has a triumvirate that is not only tantalizingly good but all within a year or two of Comerica Park. The trio combined for a 25-13 record, 2.51 ERA and 433 strikeouts over 365 2/3 innings last season, including Mize's no-hitter in his Double-A debut on April 29. Though not as heralded as their three Top-100 hurlers, 23-year-old Alex Faedo has shown the ability to generate swings and misses, while former Braves southpaw Joey Wentz appeared to right himself after a tough first half at Double-A prior to being dealt to the Tigers. That group of five all finished in the Eastern League, and at this time next year, it's possible all five could be candidates to impact the big league rotation, if they haven't already done so.

 1. San Diego Padres

The time is quickly approaching in San Diego. Already loaded with a host of top position prospects, the Padres might be even scarier on the mound. MacKenzie Gore,'s No. 5 overall prospect, was all but unhittable in the offense-minded California League with a 1.05 ERA, 0.71 WHIP and .137 opponents' average before a promotion to Double-A. Although the results weren't as electric, the 20-year-old is on the fast track to the Majors and is entrenched in the "can't-miss" column. Joining San Diego's top prospect is 27th-ranked Luis Patiño, who the organization hopes is as much of an ace from the right side as Gore will be from the left. Adrian Morejon earned a surprise promotion to the Majors, while Ronald Bolaños, who also reached the bigs, thrust himself into the picture with a 13-win campaign that included an organizational-best 142 strikeouts. The same can be said for Michel Baez, who took to his new role in relief and earned him a spot in San Diego, where he fashioned a 3.03 ERA in 24 relief outings and one start. Left-handers Ryan Weathers and Joey Cantillo add to the depth of the system, and Andres Munoz, who averaged 100 mph with his fastball in the Majors, is ready to impact the San Diego bullpen. Coming off a strong 2019, the Padres' top-tier pitching isn't going away anytime soon.

Michael Avallone is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @MavalloneMiLB.