On Pitching Prospect Depth

As the dust begins to settle from the house-clearing trade deadline deals, it fell of course to Ross Atkins to explain, justify, defend, and expand upon his rational for the deals he made. The most prominent theme, apart from how much the team apparently loves the potential of CF Derek Fisher, is their obsession with building out pitching prospect depth and how these moves fit into that. For all the criticism from the peanut gallery, it’s a fair concern.  The most salient feature of pitching prospects as a group is an incredibly high attrition rate.  Consider these highly regarded pitcher prospects heading into the 2011 season:
Drew Hutchinson, Nestor Molina, Noah Syndergaard, Justin Nicolino, Daniel Norris, Aaron Sanchez, Roberto Osuna, Chad Jenkins, Asher Wojceichowski, Sean Nolin – all ranked as top 30 prospects that spring.  Want to roll with a five man rotation from that crew in any year over the last 3-4 seasons?

So it is both true that you need a LOT of guys with MLB potential and that on any list, most if not all of them will fail to live up to anything close to their ceiling. The goal then is to have enough that even if 3/4 fail you can still develop a rotation that can support the success of your team overall. It’s also worth noting that it’s an incredibly rare thing for a highly successful team to be running a rotation that is made up predominately of pitchers drafted/signed by that team (or traded for well before they reach the majors) and developed into , lets say, 2 WAR or better major league starters. Two of the current 10 best rotations on Fangraphs list can fairly be described that way. Conversely, it is also true that sometimes the guy you didn’t think was going to be a (relatively) long term contributor and was not on any industry top-prospect list ends up being a key component. This too testifies to the benefit of having a lot of guys who have some reasonable level of potential.

So, if we’re going to review the inventory and see just what we’ve got, you kinda need a baseline. I mean not even Atkins believes that all 30ish guys on his full season minor league squads are ever going to be major league contributors, particularly as starters. So, let’s set some paramaters. let’s list guys, assigned to whatever team, who will be 26 or less for at least some part of the 2020 season (with the singular outlier exception of Julian Merryweather who’s a somewhat special case because of health issues) and who can reasonably be argued to be at least as good – potentially – as Jacob Waguespack judged by statistical results (who’s better than you think he is, his minor league performance before he got to AAA was perfectly reasonable. Not the sort of thing that gets you on the Top 100 list but comparable to plenty of guys who turn out to be at least average MLB starters). For the purpose of this exercise, I’ll only mention short-season guys if they are either already on someone’s top 30 list or having pretty dramatic success.

So what does the list look like? Well, there’s a number of ways to do this. You can do it by age, which has limited value because there’s so many variables. You can do it by prospect ranking which only applies to the dozen or so guys who appear on someone’s top 30 list. Or you can do it by ETA. I’m going to do it that way, and note the birthday and age and note rankings in the comments where it applies. Understand that this is highly subjective and more so as you get further from the majors. Injuries and performance can certainly affect these, and some special-case issues (Pearson’s lack of IP for example) also factor in. This is not “best case” estimations but it’s “good case” if no major positive/negative factor shifts the timeline.

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Opening Day 2020 (if not before):
Ryan Borucki – 3/31/94
Trent Thornton – 9/30/93
Thomas Panone – 4/28/94
Jacob Waugespack – 11/5/93
Sean Reid-Foley – 8/30/95
David Paulino – 2/6/94
Anthony Kay – 3/21/95
TJ Zuech – 8/1/95
Julian Merryweather – 10/14/91

Nine candidates here, Merryweather will be 28 (he reached AAA by 25 but Tommy John surgery has kept him in limbo since 2017) but everyone else is 26 or less including six who’ve pitched in the majors. Opinions will vary about the projection of, say, Thornton or Pannone – or Kay or Zuech – but all these guys are on Atkins list and some of these, health permitting, will eventually see more success in relief than as a starter if/when their better arrives. Kay can probably fairly be described as something between as good as Borucki (seems to be) or as ordinary as Panonne. Paulino has great stuff and can’t stay healthy. Kay is currently ranked as high as #5 in the system, just graduated but was in the top 10 on a couple of the mid-season update lists. Zuech is as high as 12 on one list (Fangraphs) and Paulino has been ranked in the MLB top 100 in the past.

Second half of 2020:
Patrick Murphy – 6/10/95
Nate Pearson – 8/20/96

Arguably Merryweather fits better here because you could argue he needs his feet under him at AAA (and time is running out to do that this year) but he could prove different in the spring. Murphy will be turning 25 mid-season, if he hadn’t had that business with his delivery change (and subsequent injury) he’d likely already have been in AAA and have a shot at opening day next year. He’s at #16 on the BA list and arguably would be higher but for an extensive early injury history. Pearson could probably be an above average SP in the majors today, but you can’t completely ignore his lack of innings. Conservatively he goes into the next group but as a guy who can fairly be called one of the top 2 or 3 RHP prospects in baseball, conservatism might not come into play.

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Opening Day 2021:
Hector Perez – 6/6/96
Yensy Diaz – 11/15/1996
Joey Murray – 9/23/96
Zach Logue – 4/23/96

Every one of these guys are considered variously as having marginal potential as a starter and solid potential to succeed out of the ‘pen. None can be counted on or dismissed from a future rotation. Perez, like SRF, has VERY good stuff and not remotely satisfactory command of it on a consistent basis (though he’s had stretches of better work in that regard this year). Diaz is challenged by lack of consistency, he can alternate between dominance and ugliness from outing to outing.  Murray just arrived in AA after dominating the FSL and Logue pitched quite well until recently. Results wise, a Pannone comp would not be crazy. Perez and Diaz rank in the mid-20’s and Murray just climbed onto the Pipeline Top 30 list.

Second half 2021:
Maximo Castillo – 5/4/99
Kyle Johnson – 7/17/96
Nivk Allgeyer – 2/3/96

At this point I might be fairly accused of drifting a bit in the direction of “aggressive” in terms of timing, but with all of these lists, it’s more “any of these guys could maybe be on the cusp at this point” more than “all these guys will be backing up needing a job.” You’d need steady success with no setbacks. Castillo has a full year of success in Dunedin, if he can carry that over to AA (he’s notably younger than the league where he is now) then you can at least envision he might not need a full season at each level. A lot of the buzz says Johnston is eventually for the ‘pen more than likely, but you could see a Gaviglio type track in which he arrives as a SP and then is not as good as other candidates – but he has a 3.02 ERA in his last 15 starts and he’s ranked #30 by Pipeline as of this writing. Allgeyer has stumbled some lately (take away the first three starts in July and you drop 1.23 off his current ERA (down to 2.93) and the other results support that level of success. I’m not yet hearing a lot of chatter on him, maybe AA will expose him…or maybe not.

Opening Day 2022:
Simeon Woods Richardson – 9/27/00
Elvis Luciano – 2/15/00
Josh Winckowski – 6/28/99

In the case of SWR, who’s ranked in the organizations Top 10 prospects on all three major lists (#5 by Fangraphs), if he’s as good as Atkins thinks he is he could move maybe a bit faster than this but an age 21 debut wold be really impressive so I think this is more reasonable. Elvis having garnered major league experience could be helped by that or hindered by missing development time. I think it’s fair to suggest this is as aggressive as is reasonable and he could certainly be moved one full level per year and belong in the next group below instead.  Wincky isn’t spectacular or getting a lot of prospect watcher buzz but he succeeds (there’s a reasonable comp between his results and these lower levels and Waguespack’s in fact). Even if he, or some of these other less highly praised guys, don’t prevail into a rotation spot you might see not just a Gaviglio type from the group but a Ryan Tepera type of career from one or more.

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Opening Day 2023:
Alek Manoah – 1/9/98
Eric Pardinho – 1/5/01

If you figure him for less than a full season per level, Manoah might come even faster. Pardinho will surely be given the full season track given his age though, unless he’s the sort of guy who ends up in the Top 20 prospects in the league in a couple of years (which I can’t rule out!).

Adam Kloffenstein – 8/5/00
Kendall Williams – 8/4/00

Mentioned because they are both top 20 prospects in the system. Kloff if he had no setbacks at all would theoretically be around a year behind Pardinho, and Williams a year after that but the variables get insanely high this point. The former is as high as #8 on one list, the latter is at #12 on another.

So that’s 25 names in all, with two of them reasonably considered established as major leaguers and over half of the rest appearing on Top 30 lists from some respectable publication. Again I’ll repeat, most of them will ot end up playing a significant role in the majors, most of the rest will make most or all of their contributions out of the bullpen, and it’s near impossible to say for sure who ends up in what group. I can, and you can and we should, lust after the idea that SWR joins Pearson and Murphy and Borucki and Thornton in 2022 to form a brilliant young rotation. Probably some of those folks fail, recall the 2011 list, but why be a fan if you’re going to assume your team will fail? Maybe SWR stumbles – but Maximo keeps being impressive, maybe Thornton doesn’t take a next step but SRF or Perez figure out their command, there are a plethora of possibilities. But Ross is not exaggerating about the number of arms with MLB potential.  Bookmark this post and check back from time to time to see how these comments turned out over the next, say, five years.

  • McNamee’s Beer Can

    I’m going to ask about Maese again, since I haven’t seen anything. Has he started throwing yet? What would a reasonable timeline for his ETA be? Thanks, and I enjoy reading the prospect updates.

    • The Humungus

      Maese made 3 appearances (1 start) in the GCL (June 25, July 3 and 6). The numbers were ugly, and maybe Tammy watched and can give a better word on the stuff and how he looked. He’s on the 7 day IL right now.

      • McNamee’s Beer Can

        Thanks, and sheesh. I was living in El Paso when he was drafted. I remember people saying that was a steal in the 3rd round. Hopefully he gets healthy and can climb the ranks.

      • Tammy Rainey

        you can’t really watch a GCL game except in person, but I take the extended period of inactivity as a bad sign. I still believe he has potential with health – and Murphy proves you can’t just write a guy off – but I figured if I included him here I might appear overly optimistic on that outcome. If he made it back to action next stpring, he still needs 2.5-3 years of development at least so plug him into the timeline accordingly.

    • Tammy Rainey

      he got just the one Gulf Coast appearance and then apparently was shut down again so I have assumed he had a setback (not unlike Merryweather’s season). The original injury was the shoulder so… reasons to be worried.

  • Dexxter

    Give the young guys a chance to step up next year. Grad a couple veteran starters and see what happens.

    Promote Pearson for 2021. Pair him with whoever shows well this year and a big FA signing. That’s when contention will really start.

    Then waves of young high upside pitchers start reaching the majors. It’s going to be fun to watch.