In his weekly "On-Deck Circle" exclusively at BGFS, Matthew Selz gives you the skinny on prime MLB Pitching Prospects that could be at the show soon. Follow him on Twitter @theselzman
The minor league season hasn’t gotten underway just yet, however that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start taking a look at who’s on the mound in the lower levels that could make an impact this season on their respective major league teams.
Some of the bigger names were already mentioned in Ron’s spring training pieces this season, and his analysis was quite good. So I won’t break down Michael Kopech or Walker Buehler and with Brent Honeywell now out for the season with TJ surgery he needs no mention either. The 50-game suspension for Forrest Whitley takes him out of the conversation for the time being as well.
That being said, Mitch Keller is a guy worth talking about right now. He is the 15th-ranked prospect overall and the number one guy in the Pirates system. The 22-year-old righty was drafted in 2014 out of high school but has battled some injuries since then with a forearm strain costing him the 2015 season and then a back issue costing him part of 2017. Overall however, when on the mound, it’s clear to see why he’s one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. His 3.03 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and .202 BAA in 116 innings pitched across three levels from the New York Penn League up through Double-A Altoona. He also had a solid 116:32 K:BB ratio giving him a healthy 9.0 K/9 from his three-pitch mix starting with a 93-96 mph fastball, an 11-to-5 curve, and an improving changeup. Keller is set to start the 2018 campaign at Double-A for a bit more seasoning before jumping to Triple-A Indianapolis. There is a chance that he is up with the big league club this year given the volatility in the newly refashioned rotation.
Another pitcher who is closing in on the bigs this year is A.J. Puk who was made the sixth overall pick in the 2016 MLB draft out of Florida and since then he has put together some confounding stats in a way. Last year, Puk had the best K/9 rate of any pitcher in the minors with a mark of 13.2 but put up a 4.03 ERA in 125 innings across two levels. His WHIP of 1.25 wasn’t terrible and his rate of 48 walks to 184 strikeouts is beyond elite. So how is the ERA so high for a guy who sets down that many hitters and features the devastating arsenal that he does? In 61 innings of High-A ball his ERA was 3.69 compared to a FIP of 2.24 and in 64 innings at Double-A a 4.36 ERA gives way to a 2.35 FIP. So questionable defense has hurt his line more than his pitching has. Once he gets to the upper levels and gets better defenders around him, his ERA and WHIP should come back down to where it should be, ace-caliber. A 6’7” southpaw with a 97 mph fastball, upper-80s slider, a developing curve and change is a menacing sight on the mound.
Lost amongst the other talented prospects in the Yankees system is their sxth-ranked prospect in Chance Adams. The past season was his real breakout year with 27 starts between Double- and Triple-A for a total of 150.1 innings. The righty went 15-5 with a 2.45 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 135 strikeouts, 58 walks, and a .193 BAA. His four-pitch mix plays well with his ability to change speed and mix pitches to keep batters off balance, but the stuff is good too. A 92-94 mph fastball is his base pitch and it’s more of a control offering as a plus-pitch. His slider sits mid-80s and has tight break as a 60-grade pitch and Adams has good feel for his curve and change, both offerings miss bats. Adams has the makings of a number-three starter at this point simply because his K/9 and overall package of pitches aren’t at ace-caliber. The Yankees still have questions in their starting rotation and Adams could fill a void at some point this year.