The 2012 class of MLB prospects is deeper in elite-level pitching talent than previous classes. Taken at the top of a pitcher’s draft last season, Gerrit Cole (selected number-one overal) and Trevor Bauer (number three overall) were teammates at UCLA, and both need little more than a season’s worth of minor league ball before they assume their posts as franchise players for their respective ballclubs. Signed out of the Pacific League (Japan) for $60 million, Rangers righty Yu Darvish is widely regarded as one of the most gifted pitchers in Nippon Professional Baseball history. Rays’ southpaw Matt Moore, this year’s top pitching prospect, has what it takes to become the American League’s most dominant lefthanded starter since Randy Johnson was pitching for the Mariners back in the early 1990′s.
Below are brief scouting reports on the MLB’s top six pitching prospects for 2012. All six of these pitchers, graded “A+” overall on our Top 101 MLB Pitching Prospects Rankings Spreadhsheet. Generally, only 3-4 pitchers receive “A+” grades. The fact that six pitchers are this highly regarded is a testament to how electric this crop of arms is. Each of these young pitchers has ace-level potential and a polished repertoire filled with above-average and plus-plus pitches. They’re all well-rounded, intelligent and blessed with confidence and poise. In the day of the injury-shortened pitching career, these prospects are a much safer bet than their counterparts to meet expectations and pitch atop a big league rotation.
Left-Handed Starting Pitcher
Born: July, 1989
Weight: 190 LBS
Ground-Out/Fly-Out Ratio: 1.5
Career Minor League ERA: 2.64
Fastball (Present/Future): 65/70, 92-97 MPH
Sweeping Curveball: 65/70, 79-86 MPH
Changeup: 55/65, 84-88 MPH
Mechanics, Delivery: 50/60
After leading the minor leagues in strikeouts for two consecutive seasons, Moore took his career to a new level last season. Previously considered a pure-power southpaw with iffy control, Moore used last offseason to hone his mechanics and get in shape. As a result, he’s become a more complete pitcher. Beginning the season in the Southern League, Moore absolutely dominated his competition– striking out nearly twice as many batters (131) as he allowed hits (68). After a promotion to the International League and 9 more phenomenal starts with AAA Durham, Moore convinced Joe Madden and Rays management to give him a long look in September. Though Tampa front office is notorious for moving their prospects along slowly, the twenty-two-year-old Moore’s polished feel for pitching and impressive command over his 92-97 MPH fastball, knockout sweeping curve, and solid-average changeup was more than enough to garner him a spot on the Rays’ postseason roster. In the ALDS, Moore once again managed to outperform lofty expectations. He left his coaches, teammates and spectators in awe by picking apart the Texas Rangers’ lineup of sluggers to the tune of 0.90 ERA through ten innings pitched.
Sitting in the 93-96 MPH range and touching 98-99 MPH, Moore’s fastball is the best among lefthanded pitching prospects. His athleticism and improved delivery allow him to spot his heater with precision to both sides of the plate. Blessed with long arms and a powerful trunk, Moore’s smooth mechanics generate easy mid 90′s fastball velocity and he has little trouble maintaining his effectiveness into the later innings of his starts. Though his heater doesn’t feature a ton of movement, he is adept at cutting it with steep angles and busting right-handed hitters in on the handle.
Moore’s offspeed pitches are nearly as impressive as his fastball. His low 80′s sweeping curve has sharp lateral break and comes out of the same arm slot as his other pitches. He’ll tinker with the pitch’s velocity to alter the break and can throw it a bit harder as a tight power-slider. His high 80′s MPH changeup has grown in to another plus offering, and not only shows great velocity separation but also nasty 2-seam sink and tail. He sometimes has trouble keeping his change out of the dirt, but generally does a nice job of commanding it.
Moore is well-prepared to assume his post atop Tampa’s rotation this Spring, and he could compete for a Cy Young Award immediately. He recently signed a five-year $14 million deal with the Rays and he will open the season in the team’s rotation behind David Price, James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson.
Right-Handed Starting Pitcher
Born: August, 1986
Weight: 195 LBS
Strikeout/Walk Ratio: 4.9
Career Pacific League ERA: 1.73
Fastball (Present/Future): 65/65, 90-95 MPH
Cutter: 60/60, 89-93 MPH
Power Curveball: 60/65, 78-84 MPH
Changeup: 45/50, 82-86 MPH
Mechanics, Delivery: 60/60
The top free agent on this offseason’s international market and one of most talented players in Nippon Professional Baseball history, Darvish has the makings of a big league ace. Once the Nippon-Ham Fighters posted him at the beginning of the winter, a number of MLB clubs took up arms in a bidding war. The Rangers eventually won negotiation rights for a $51.7 posting fee, and Darvish signed a $60 million contract with them at the beginning of January.
By the ripe old age of twenty-five years old, Darvish has already packed his trophy case with numerous awards and accolades. Besides the team-level titles and accomplishments he contributed to, he also owns two Pacific League MVP awards, a Best Nine Selection and a prestigious Eiji Sawamura Award. Though he’s never thrown a pitch in the big leagues, he proved he could shutdown MLB hitters with a stellar performance in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
Utilizing Tim Lincecum-esc drop-and-drive mechanics, Darvish generates incredible spin and movement on his pitches. He uses his legs and core to generate tremendous arm speed and torque, attacking hitters with pure electricity. His 90-95 MPH fastball plays up due to the explosive life his delivery generates, and the pitch was often untouchable during his career pitching in the Pacific League. His low 80′s curve is another plus pitch, diving at the plate with razor-sharp break. He’ll mix up the velocity and grip of his curveball, morphing it into a mid 80′s slider and occasionally snapping it off as a looping low 70′s convential hook. His splitter, cutter and change are all solid offerings as well, but it’s Darvish’s unflappable nerve and competitive drive that sets him apart from many other flashy arms.
Though he’s set to take the place of the departed CJ Wilson as the face of the Rangers’ young pitching staff, Darvish will probably face an innings limit in his MLB debut. Listed at 6’5″ 220 pounds, his slender frame and power-delivery will probably make him less durable than his listed height and weight suggest. Though his mechanics are relatively smooth, his delivery does show near maximum-effort. His high innings totals in Japan were largely a product of his efficiency and the Pacific League’s thinner talent pool.
Right-Handed Starting Pitcher
Born: May, 1991
Weight: 205 LBS
Ground-Out/Fly-Out Ratio: 1.43
Career Minor League ERA: 3.36
Fastball (Present/Future): 60/70, 90-95 MPH
Curveball: 60/65, 77-83 MPH
Changeup: 55/65, 83-87 MPH
Mechanics, Delivery: 55/60
After opening eyes with a star-studded performance in the 2009 AFLAC All-American Game, Jake Turner was selected by the Tigers with the 9th overall pick in the 2009 Draft. He signed a $5.5 million dollar contract, including a club-record $4.7 million bonus. Like other recent Tigers pitching prospects, Turner flew through the minor leagues on an accelerated time-table– though he still managed to dazzle along the way. After two full seasons in the minors, Turner made his big league debut at the trade deadline last summer. While there was speculation that the Tigers were looking to trade him in exchange for an impact-level veteran, Detroit couldn’t let go of Turner’s ace-potential, and sent a package of less exciting prospects to the Mariners in exchange for Doug Fister instead.
Blessed with an ideal pitcher’s frame, Turner generates easy velocity with long levers and strong legs. He’s a solid athlete and he stays balanced throughout his simple, fluid delivery. His fastball already reaches 95-96 MPH and sits comfortably in the 91-94 MPH range. Though his arm-slot is just below classic-overhand, he does a nice job of keeping his fastball low and staying behind it. What makes his heater a future plus-plus offering is the pitch’s hard cutting and riding action, which he’ll add to induce tons of ground-outs and weak contact.
Turner’s offspeed pitches are big league-ready strikeout offerings. His curveball has developed into a late-breaking knock-out punch. Clocking between 77 and 82 MPH, his curve hisses with buzzsaw spin and has classic, tightly wound 12-6 break. He has great feel for the pitch and can snap it into the strikezone for a knee-buckling called strike as effectively as he can get sluggers to wipeout and swing over it. His high 80′s changeup is nearly as nasty, coming out of his hand with fastball armspeed and diving away from lefties with splitter-like break.
While he’ll still open up at times, his mechanics are clean and particularly advanced for his age. Though he’s just twenty years old, Turner pitches beyond his years and he doesn’t need much more minor league seasoning. He could force his way in to the Tigers’ rotation by mid-summer 2012.
Right-Handed Starting Pitcher
Born: January, 1991
Weight: 170 LBS
Ground-Out/Fly-Out Ratio: 1.8
Career Minor League ERA: 5.96
Fastball (Present/Future): 60/65, 91-95 MPH
Curveball: 60/70, 79-84 MPH
Slider: 50/60, 83-86 MPH
Splitter: 45/50, 84-89 MPH
Changeup: 55/60, 82-86 MPH
Feel, Intangibles: 60/65
Pitching in front of Gerrit Cole in UCLA’s rotation, Bauer managed to outperformed the most highly touted amateur pitcher in 2011. Cole would eventually be selected ahead of him in the ’11 Draft, but Bauer had a far better season. He capped off his immense Bruins career by leading the nation in innings pitched, strikeouts and numerous statistical categories. Named the Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year and the recipient of the 2011 USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award, Bauer went 12-2 last season and he set program records in career wins (34) and strikeouts (460). Selected third overall by the D’Backs, Bauer inked a big-league deal at the end of July, early enough to make his pro debut in the California League.
Considering his mixture of physical gifts and intangibles, Bauer is as close to a sure-thing as pitching prospect can get. Confident and mentally strong, Bauer is a premium athlete and a tireless worker. With an exhausting work-out regimen he’s developed workhorse stamina to go with his arsenal of nasty pitches. Employing fluid, efficient drop-and-drive mechanics, Bauer takes a long stride toward the plate and generates 91-95 MPH fastball velocity with his legs. Though his less than ideal size limits his projection a bit, Bauer’s fastball is already a plus pitch due to its above-average velocity and heavy riding action. His command can waiver a bit due to his max-effort delivery and the head whip in his mechanics, but he generally does a nice job of keeping his fastball on the edges of the strikezone.
Bauer’s pitching IQ, delivery and fastball make him a future star, but it’s his ridiculously deep arsenal of offspeed pitches that makes him truly unique. He boasts an array of weapons, with his already-plus high 70′s 12-6 curve being the most advanced. His curve is a hard downer, rolling off the table with hard, tightly-wound break and good depth. He’ll backdoor it on the outside corner to freeze lefthanders and can generally work it to both sides of the plate. He also throws both a slider and a backdoor (screwball) slider, a hard splitter, a harder version of his deep curveball and a solid-average circle-change. He throws his curve and other offspeed pitches out of the same tunnel as his fastball, making it extremely difficult for opposing batters to read the pitch and react accordingly. His coiled mechanics and long stride adds plenty of deception, further minimizing a hitter’s reaction time.
Bauer’s amateur career gives the baseball world a glimpse of what he’s capable of. In three years at UCLA, he totaled 460 strikeouts and he posted a 2.73 ERA through 373.1 innings pitched. He broke Mark Prior’s single-season PAC-10 strikeouts record and ranks behind only Tim Lincecum for most career K’s in conference history. Though his approach and style is unconventional, Bauer is a polished competitor with a veteran feel for pitching. He looks the part, and he profiles as a Tim Lincecum-lite number-one starter in the MLB.
Right-Handed Starting Pitcher
Born: March, 1991
Weight: 200 LBS
Ground-Out/Fly-Out Ratio: 1.36
Career Minor League ERA: 3.02
Fastball (Present/Future): 55/60, 90-94 MPH
Sweeping Curveball: 50/55, 79-84 MPH
Changeup: 60/65, 82-86 MPH
Mechanics, Delivery: 60/65
Yet another product of the Yankees’s expansive scouting efforts in Latin America, Mexico-native Manny Banuelos signed with the bombers back in March, 2007 when he was just sixteen years old. Since making his professional debut in the Gulf Coast League in 2008, the little southpaw has steadily improved his stock throughout his minor league career, and has grown in to the best young lefty the Yankees’s farm system has produced since Andy Pettitte. Though he posted immense stat-lines in 2009 and during his injury-shortened 2010 campaign, Banuelo’s small stature kept many scouts from rating him as a top prospect in previous eyars. This past season however, Banuelos showed up to camp with much more muscle on his frame and a few more ticks of velocity on his fastball. Despite being much younger than his competition, Banuelos pitched quite well in the Eastern and International League in 2011, totaling a 3.75 ERA and 125 strikeouts through 129.2 innings pitched overall. He improved his groundball/flyball ratio to more than 2:1 and impressed Eastern League managers enough to make the League’s Midseason All-Star team.
Generously listed at 5’11″ and 155 LBS by 2011 MLB Media Guides, Banuelos’ short, stocky build is closer to 5’9″ and 180 LBS. Since coming to the Yankees as an undersized, baby-faced teenager fives years ago, Manny has grown into his frame and has added considerable muscle along the way. He’s built like a bowling ball; barrel-chested with developed shoulders and a low center of gravity. His body is a far cry from the long, lean high-wasted prototype that scouts look for in pitching prospects. His appearance had scared many scouts from rating him as a first-rate prospect in the past, but his athleticism and undeniable talent has quieted doubters. Besides, his small size actually affords him advantages over his taller counterparts. Banuelos’ best attribute is polished command over three average or better pitches. His ability to stay compact and repeat his simple mechanics allows him to spot his fastball and offspeed pitches with precision and with remarkable consistency. His square build and stocky, powerful legs provide a sturdy base and he remains balanced– almost perfectly– throughout his fluid delivery. Further, his large hands and broad shoulders help generate power-pitcher torque and spin on all of his pitches.
Banuelos’ fastball velocity has improved from the 87-90 MPH he showed in previous years to consistently clocking in at 91-94 MPH this past season. His clean arm action fires quality heat with surprising ease and he’s thrown as hard as 96-97 MPH in some of his starts. He works both sides of the plate, showing immense feel for his craft. Though his performance waivered a bit from start to start last season, his command and control have taken a firm step forward. He has become adept at keeping his fastball on the black, and he’s doing a better job of forcing batters into taking uncomfortable swings. Though his heater still doesn’t show a ton of movement, he’s capable of getting decent arm-side run on his 2-seamer and his delivery creates much sharper downward angles than most short pitchers. He also shows good feel for a cut fastball and the Yankees will probably help him develop the pitch so he can better neutralize right-handed batters.
Banuelos’ offspeed stuff is already solid-average and both his changeup and curveball have plus futures. His changeup is his best secondary offering at present, sitting in the low 80′s with nice fade and tumble. Like his fastball, Banuelos has impressive feel for his changeup and commands it to both sides of the plate. He is even comfortable throwing it back-to-back (sometimes back-to-back-to-back) in hitter’s counts. His sweeping curveball (often more slurve than curve) shows above-average break, though he’s still prone to hanging it a bit too often. If he does a more consistent job of staying on top of it, his curve should be a third plus pitch to go with his phenomenal command.
The presence of C.C. Sabathia and the Yankees’ deep pockets will keep Banuelos in the middle of New York’s rotation, but he has the tools to develop in to a Ricky Romero-type front-end starter.
Right-Handed Starting Pitcher
Born: September, 1990
Weight: 220 LBS
Fastball (Present/Future): 70/75, 93-99 MPH
Slider: 65/75, 83-88 MPH
Changeup: 55/65, 84-87 MPH
Mechanics, Delivery: 50/60
Pitching IQ/Polish: 50/60
Taken by the Pirates with the first overall pick in last June’s MLB First Year player Draft, Gerrit Cole boasts a superstar ceiling. His amateur career at UCLA is star-studded and he leaves the prestigious baseball program ranking second in career strikeouts (376), fifth in career innings pitched (233.1) and he’s the first player in school history to record three straight 100 strikeouts seasons. He helped pitch the Bruins into the College World Series and was named the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team’s top prospect by Baseball America in both summers he pitched on the international stage.
Before he was a teammate of D’Backs top prospect Trevor Bauer at UCLA, Cole was drafted by the Yankees in the first round (28th overall) out of high school back in 2008. Cole would turn down the Yankees big-money contract offer to attend UCLA, but it’s a testament to his phenomenal talent that he was drafted in the first round twice in three years.
Blessed with an ideal pitcher’s build, premium athletic ability and one of most intimidating pitch arsenals in professional baseball, Cole has the tools to become an annual All-Star and franchise player. On the mound, he’s intelligent, confident and remarkably poised. Though the NCAA’s metal bats kept his power repertoire from blossoming statistically, Cole’s fastball already rates among the best in professional baseball. His heater sits firmly in the 94-97 MPH range and lights up radar guns at 98-100 MPH regularly. While his four-seamer is his best pitch, his two-seamer also rates as plus-plus, with nasty riding life in-on-the-hands of righthanded batters. His athleticism, powerful legs and core, and strong shoulders help him generate incredible torque and easy velocity, and he places his fastball with surprising efficiency– particularly impressive for a young power pitcher.
Cole’s offspeed stuff was arguably the best his draft class had to offer and both his power breaking and changeup grade as future 7′s on the 2-8 scouting scale. His slider is often unhittable, lighting up radar guns at 84-88 MPH and featuring razor-sharp two-plane break. Considering its velocity, the pitch has uncanny break, leaving his hand on the same plane as his fastball and diving away from right-handed batters as it crosses the plate. He’ll occasionally throw his breaking ball a bit slower, with more natural over-hand curve movement, and he could develop a second knee-buckling breaking ball by his big league debut.
Yet another knock-out weapon, Cole’s changeup has graded better than his breaking ball in many of his starts. He whips his changeup with fastball effort and arm speed, and his grip causes his release to appear nearly identical to that of his fastball. Clocking between 85-89 MPH, his chang has hard sinking action and screwballs away from lefties. Like his other pitches, his changeup is heavy and should be difficult for wood bats to loft.
Blessed with a surplus of baseball athleticism and a muscular build, it’s not surprising that Cole has a clean delivery and the makings of above-average command and control. He’s built like a workhorse and while his delivery is prone to getting a bit top-heavy, he easily maintains his fastball velocity into the late innings of his starts and he should be a durable staff anchor.