Check out the first segment of BaseballNewsHound.com’s Top MLB Pitching Prospects for 2012 here:
On Wednesday, we posted scouting reports on the best six pitching prospects– those that grade A+– from this year’s Top 101 (See Below). Today, we’re going to take a look at the best of the second tier– prospects with “A” overall grades. These prospects grade just a notch below the top six due only minor flaws/downgrades. These pitchers are still premium prospects and rate just below the absolute best due to factors that either lessen their potential slightly (like a lack of athleticism) or increase their stock’s risk slightly (like a recent Tommy John Surgery). All pitchers rated in this range have frontline starter potential and are expected to undertake high-leverage roles on their Major League Ball club’s pitching staff.
2. Yu Darvish
3. Jacob Turner
4. Gerrit Cole
5. Trevor Bauer
Tier 2 (Grade A) 1/28/11
9. Zack Wheeler
10. Julio Teheran
Right-Handed Starting Pitcher
Born: November, 1988
Weight: 180 LBS
Career Minor League ERA: 3.49
Career Ground-Out/Fly-Out Ratio: 1.57
Selected ninth overall out of Norwell high school (Indiana), by the Diamondbacks back in the ’07 Draft, Parker has been considered a top-shelf pitcher for quite some time. A favorite of former D’Backs GM Josh Byrnes, Parker dazzled Arizona’s scouts as an amateur. In his senior year at Norwell, he posted a ridiculous 0.73 ERA and struck out 70 batters in 116 innings while leading his team to the Class 3A State Championship. Following the season he was named Indiana’s Mr. Baseball and he took home honors as the ’07 Louisville Slugger State High School Player of the Year and the Gatorade Player of the Year. His packed trophy case and immense high school career garnered a $2.9 million deal from Arizona, and in his early professional career he’s managed to live up to expectations. In ’08 and ’09, he shutdown the low minor’s most hitter friendly leagues and he improved both his homerun and groundball rates. Though he did miss all of 2010 recovering from elbow surgery, Parker resumed his climb toward stardom in 2011 while pitching in the Southern League. He seemed to improve with every month of the season, catching fire by mid-summer. He made a promising big league debut in September and even though the D’Backs traded him to the Oakland A’s following the season, he remains one of the top young arms in the game.
Parker’s best attribute is his lack of weakness. He’s smart with an advanced understanding of the trade and a Major League-ready four-pitch repertoire. He approaches every batter with a plan and effectively pitches off his plus fastball. He’s no finesse pitcher however. His straight-but-firm four-seamer hits 96-97 MPH and can be flat-out overpowering. His low 90′s MPH 2-seamer is developing into a righty-jamming weapon. Though his lack of height makes his fastball prone to flattening out, his quick arm and simple, smooth delivery adds deception and extra life. His 2-seamer is relatively new to his repertoire, but he’s does a nice job of staying on top of it and adding weight to it.
A gifted athlete with an inherent feel for the game, it’s no surprise that Parker has developed a polished arsenal of secondary offerings. Previously a pure fastball/slider pitcher, Parker has added an above-average changeup– with plus potential– to his repertoire. His change shows classic fade and tumble and he he throws the pitch with great arm speed. Though the D’Backs encouraged him to rely more heavily on his fastball and changeup since he returned from injury, his low 80′s slider still shows the sharp two-plane movement it featured prior to his elbow surgery. When he needs to mix his routine up a bit, he’ll also mix in a slower, more slurvy breaking ball that has nice sweeping movement.
Right-Handed Starting Pitcher
Born: October, 1990
Weight: 210 LBS
Career Minor League ERA: 3.69
Career Ground-Out/Fly-Out Ratio: 1.19
After posting a 10-2 record with 153 strikeouts and 1.90 ERA through 77 innings of work in his senior season at Brownwood High School in Texas, Shelby Miller was selected 19th overall by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2009 MLB Draft. The first high school righty to get drafted with the Cardinal’s top pick since Brian Barber back in ’91, Miller broke the trend and inked a lucrative $2.9 million deal later that summer. Since opening his pro career with the Quad Cities River bandits in the Midwest League two years ago, Miller has dominated the low minors. During his fullseason debut in 2010, he struck out 140 batters in 104 innings pitch and was selected to the All-Star Futures Game. Following the season, the Cardinals honored him as their Minor League Pitcher of the Year. While splitting his 2011 season between the Florida State and Texas League, Miller managed to improve his stock even further. Through twenty-five starts and 140 innings pitched he posted a 2.77 ERA and struck out 170 batters. He made his second Futures Game, added a couple more league All-Star selections to his trophy room and was awarded the Cardinals’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year for the second consecutive season.
Hailing from the Lone Star state, Miller is a Texas gunslinger with an electric fastball, a broad-shoulder frame and a fierce competitive drive. A two-sport star in both football and baseball at Brownwood, Miller is a premium athlete with immense hand-eye coordination. He generates easy velocity with simple, easy mechanics and an optimal stride. Endowed with great body control, he uses his core and legs to generate power and torque, and his low-maintenance delivery transfers energy efficiently. He seamlessly transfers his weight while staying balanced and compact. His arm action is fairly clean and fluid– he gets great extension– though his follow-through can get a little bit short for some scouts. A favorite of (former) Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan, Miller is a smart pitcher with a ballsy, competitive demeanor and he receives instruction well.
Miller’s fastball is his best pitch and rates as one of the best in the minor leagues. He throws both a four-seamer and two seamer and he has a polished feel for both pitches. His four-seamer sits comfortably in the 93-95 MPH range and can hit 97-98 MPH when he’s loose. He spots his heater to both sides of the plate and all eye levels efficiently and is becoming adept at jamming left-handers. Both his two-seamer and four-seamer have immense arm-side run, with his 2-seame showing good sink as well. His hand strength generates so much natural spin on his pitches that his four-seamer shows visible rise.
Because he’s been able to rely on his plus to plus-plus fastball so heavily, Miller’s secondary offerings aren’t quite as advanced. Both his curveball and changeup have plenty of potential, however, he really just needs to improve his command and feel for them. His mid-to-high 70′s curve features big, sharp 11-5 break and comes out of a true overhand arm-slot. When he’s at his best, Miller’s curve rates as plus and is a legitimate put-away pitch. Miller is far more confident in his changeup after refining it last offseason, and the pitch’s development is largely responsible for his success against left-handed hitters. He throws his change in the 84-87 MPH range with good arm speed. Like his fastball, his changeup has heavy 2-seam movement.
A future ace, Miller’s combination of stuff, command and intangibles makes him a premium pitching prospect. He’s no more than a season away from the big leagues and he could makes his Cardinals debut when rosters expand in September.
Right-Handed Starting Pitcher
Born: May, 1990
Weight: 180 LBS
Career Minor League ERA: 3.52
Career Ground-Out/Fly-Out Ratio: 2.41
Selected by the Giants with the sixth overall pick in the 2009 Draft, Wheeler was handed a franchise-record $3.3 million dollar signing bonus to pitch professionally. The young righthander has long been considered a premium prospect, and the Giants drafted him in front of other top shelf talents like Mike Minor, Jacob Turner, Mike Leake, Drew Storen, Shelby Miller. In his senior season at East Paulding high school (Georgia), Wheeler went 7-0 with a 0.54 ERA and he struck out a school record 149 batters (to 20 walks) in 76 innings. After tossing a no-hitter in the Class 5-A state playoffs, Wheeler was named the 2009 Gatorade Georgia Player of the Year and he was honored by the Baseball Coaches of America as a First-Team All-American en route to BCA Player of the Year.
Though he missed much of his pro debut in the South Atlantic League due to nagging injuries, Wheeler recovered in 2011 and put together a promising sophomore campaign. Early-on last season, while pitching in the hitter-friendly California League, he performed well enough to convince Sandy Alderson and the Mets that he was a future star. Vying for a playoff spot down the stretch, the Giants swapped him for Carlos Beltran in a straight-up trade last July. He caught fire while pitching for the St. Lucie Mets in the Florida State League following the trade. He posted a 2.00 ERA and a videogame 1.68 FIP (fielder-independent pitching)– good for first in the league among pitchers who tossed as many innings.
Wheeler’s ceiling rates as one of the highest in the minors, and his game begins with his nasty heater. Coming out of a low three-quarters arm slot, his hard fastball features well-above-average tail– darting to his arm side and vanishing low-and-away from left-handers. His full-extension, slinging-arm action and long fingers add natural screwballing movement. The pitch often shows violent break, bouncing with spring-like recoil across the plate. Now that he’s ironed-out his mechanics, his fastball consistently clocks between 92-94 MPH and can reach 96-97 MPH when he uses his core to generate torque.
As good as Wheeler’s fastball is, his breaking ball is actually his best pitch. Generally sitting around 75 MPH, the pitch moves like a textbook slurve– with late, wide, two-plane break. Flatter and more tightly-wound than a curve but with more depth than a slider, Wheeler’s slurve is already one of the best breaking pitches in the low-minors and it could grade as a 70 or even 75 once he learns to command it better and maintain it’s break from inning to innings.
Wheeler added a cutter to his arsenal and improved his changeup last season– now both pitches show above-average potential. Featuring good angle and tight boring action, his high 80′s cutter should be a nice mix-in offering at the very least. His changeup grades as below-average at this point, but it shows plenty of movement and could develop in to a solid third pitch.
Though Wheeler’s long, lean 6’4″ build looks the part and his pure stuff rates with any pitcher in the minor leagues, his mechanics and command could keep him from reaching his ceiling as a frontline starter. His athletic ability and coordination have allowed him to make strides with his delivery– making notable headway last summer– but his mechanics still show a few red flags. He’s working on getting rid of some robotic movement in his delivery, but his arm still lags behind his body. Though his flexibility and lightning-quick arm helps compensate a bit he still loses efficiency and it could ultimately lead to reduced fastball velocity and elbow problems. He’s improved his timing of late by tweaking his leg kick and the placement of hands, and once he fills out he’ll probably do a better job of employing his base. On the bright side– he’s balanced, his hand-eye coordination helps him repeat his delivery and he does a nice job of staying centered throughout rotation. He gets nice extension and finishes with a complete follow-through.
Wheeler won’t turn twenty-two until the end of May and is still a ways away from the big leagues. With only one full pro season under his belt, he’ll spend the majority of 2012 in AA. Depending on the Mets’ performance in 2012, Wheeler has an outside shot of receiving a September call-up.
Right-Handed Starting Pitcher
Born: January, 1991
Weight: 170 LBS
Career Minor League ERA: 3.20
Career Ground-Out/Fly-Out Ratio: 1.27
Signed out of Colombia as a sixteen year old back in 2007, Julio Teheran needed less than four seasons to race through the minor leagues. Endorsed by Braves’ coaches and scouts as one of the most talented pitchers to ever don the uniform, Teheran has even drawn comparisons to a young Pedro Martinez. When he was signed back in ’07, he was considered an advanced, young power arm with huge upside, but also one with violent mechanics. After a shoulder injury shelved him for most of 2008, and nearly jeopardized his future, Teheran worked tirelessly with his coaches to clean up his delivery. For the next three seasons, he’s consistently improved with every promotion and has dominated at every level of the minor leagues. His trophy case is jam-packed with seven All-Star selections– including two to the Futures Game, an Atlanta Braves Pitcher of the Year Award, both an International League Most Valuable Player and IL Rookie of the Year, and an MLB.com Triple-A Player of the Year award. As the youngest player in the National League, at just twenty years old old, he made his big league debut last May.
Considering the Braves’ long history of success developing top-tier pitchers– brand-names like Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Kevin Millwood and Steve Avery– Teheran’s expedited time table and the praise he receives from the organization speaks volumes about his ability. Teheran’s best asset is his ideal baseball athleticism. He’s blessed with remarkable coordination and body control. He’s very receptive to coaching and now that he’s cleaned up his mechanics, Teheran is able to get every bit of velocity out of his lean 6’2″ 170-pound (more like 5’11″ 160 LBS) build. He stays compact and uses his legs and core to generate explosive fastball velocity. He uses an extra leg-kick as a timing mechanism, adding further deception to his pitches while also allowing his lightning-quick arm speed to sync-up with the rest of his body. Considering his age, he repeats his mechanics with impressive consistency and his fastball command is developing at a whirlwind pace.
Though he earn’s high praise for his advanced changeup, Teheran’s best pitch is his fastball. Sitting comfortably in the 91-94 MPH range and topping out at 96-97 MPH, Teheran’s heater is already a plus pitch. He gets on top of hitters quickly with a healthy stride and an arm-whip. His four-seamer, embodies the term “explosive” and even features some rise and hop. While he still has a ways to go, his fastball command has matured from fringy to solid-average throughout the past year. He generally does a nice job of working his fastball around the strikezone and hitting his targets.
Teheran’s aresenal of offspeed pitches includes a changeup with heavy screwballing movement, a tight slider and an inconsistent, big-breaking curveball. His changeup is largely considered his best secondary pitch, showing uncanny break and curl. Its sharp movement resembles more of a forkball than a classic changeup, and it rolls off the table and disappears to his arm-side. While his change has shown nasty movement for years, prior to to 2011 he would tip it by slowing down the front side of his delivery and abbreviating his arm action. He corrected these issues last offseason, and the pitch now grades as a legitimate big-league strikeout offering.
Teheran’s curveball still shows big break, but his trouble developing consistency and feel for the pitch has forced it to take a back seat to his new-and-improved slider. Disguised by the same arm-speed and only a slightly lower arm-slot to that of his fastball, his high 70′s slider is tightly wound with good tilt. He’s comfortable throwing the pitch when he’s behind in the count and generally uses it to get a swinging-stike against righthanders. With more experience and polish, his slider could develop in to a third above-average pitch.
Though he’s advanced for his age, Teheran will turn twenty-one in January and could use another season in the minor leagues. If the Braves handle him with care, he could develop in to their staff ace. Realistically, because his size is less-than ideal, Teheran may be better-suited as a closer. However, the presence of Craig Kimbrel in Atlanta pretty much scraps that alternative.