In this series we are taking a look at some of the best prospects in the majors this season. While the list certainly isn’t as comprehensive as might be possible, these are some of the guys that we see who are worth watching and should make an impact in 2013 or maybe just slightly down the road. Think of them as some guys you should keep an eye on.
While most of the hurlers I focus on project as starters, it doesn’t mean that roles won’t change or that someone totally off the radar will turn into the next big star, either as a part of someone’s rotation or bullpen. So here are some of my National League impact pitcher prospects for 2013.
Shelby Miller (RHP, Cardinals): The Cardinals are loaded with pitching, and I mean loaded. Three, possibly even four, of them will be ready to pitch in the big leagues by the end of 2013. Miller, along with Trevor Rosenthal, made the jump to the bullpen late last season and helped the Cardinals in their playoff run. It opened the door for both of them to make the roster out of spring training. While Rosenthal was sent back to the bullpen, Miller took the last starting spot in the rotation following a solid spring. That said, expect some bumps in 2013 since Miller’s only real plus pitch is his 95 mph fastball, which comes in both the two- and four-seam varieties. He’s got a decent enough curve and an OK change, but neither are really much better than average pitches at this point.
Jose Fernandez (RHP, Marlins): The Marlins are throwing 20-year-old rookie Jose Fernandez into the fire and using him as their No. 5 starter. He’s never thrown above Class A ball in this country, but he’s faced the best that Cuba has to offer. While he was impressive at A ball, projecting just what he can do at the Major League level is a guess as MLE’s for pitchers aren’t exactly an accurate predictor. However his 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings at A ball is almost certainly going to drop. Personally I expect a rough rookie season, but things could get much better going forward provided the Marlins don’t ruin him by pushing too far too fast. Scouts say his fastball and breaking ball are his two best pitches, but it’s the fact he throws strikes consistently, that is his very best asset.
Zack Wheeler (RHP, Mets): Even before the loss of Johan Santana for the year it seemed inevitable that Wheeler would make his impact in the majors this year. Now it might be sooner rather than later that Wheeler will make an appearance. He’s a classic power pitcher who tops out between 97-99 mph on the fastball, possesses a plus curve and a slider that may be evolving into an out pitch. His change is the only offering at this point which appears to be ordinary. In truth some time at Class AAA would probably be in his best interest. This 23 year old would benefit more from instruction than being tossed into the rotation, but the Mets might not have the luxury of that much time.
Gerrit Cole (RHP, Pirates): Cole was the No. 1 overall pick back in 2011 and he projects out to be a monster starter. That said, he’s only had a single game at the AAA level so any expectations for this year should probably be more on the modest side and not of the Cy Young contender type. Still he’s rated by most as one of the top 10 prospects in the game by many of baseball’s top prognosticators. He’s a big guy in the Curt Shilling-type of range -- standing about 6-feet-3 and weighing better than 230 pounds. His fastball is high 90s, he’s already got a plus slider, and he has a solid curve and changeup that are improving almost day by day. He has ace written all over him.
Michael Wacha (RHP, Cardinals): There are other arms I was tempted to include here, but after seeing the 6-feet-6 Wacha this spring it’s hard to not take this guy seriously. His spring training numbers were absurd: 28 strikeouts, 24 2/3 innings pitched, no earned runs. Prior to that he’d only pitched in college (Texas) then last year he ran through three levels -- low A, high A and AA, throwing a grand total of 21 innings with a 0.86 ERA with 40 strikeouts, a 0.57 WHIP and a 17.1 strikeout-to-nine-innings-pitched ratio. He’s forcing the Cardinals to put him on the fast track and should open the season at AAA, but if he continues at this pace expect to hear a lot more about him before the season is done. In terms of stuff, control is his very best asset followed by his fastball, which tops out at about 95, and is complimented by a wicked changeup. The rest of his pitches are works in progress, and his arsenal includes a slider and curve. If one of them can become a plus pitch he looks likely to have a good career. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it starts this year.
Kyuji Fujikawa (RHP, Cubs): The top closer in Japan has come over to play for the Cubs and he has replaced Carlos Marmol already. His record in Japan was based on a high dominance rate, but pitching to the strike zone here could get him in trouble if his stuff doesn’t translate well to the majors. That said, he’s got a fastball that tops out in the high 90s, a forkball, curveball and two lesser pitches. If either the curve or forkball are plus pitches it should be enough for him to survive as a closer.
Julio Teheran (RHP, Braves): Teheran may finally have reached down and found the magic that made him the Braves' top prospect in 2011. Coming off a big spring, he’s landed the No. 5 spot in the Atlanta rotation and has the potential to make him a big impact player in 2013. His best pitch is the changeup, which he sets up with a fastball that can top out in the low to mid 90s. Over the last season and a half he spent a lot of time experimenting with breaking pitches and can now throw a curve and slider that, if not quite plus pitches, are at least average ones. Because of that and his age he’ll hit some rough spots, but overall he should be a very solid pitcher in his career. Expectations that he’ll turn into an ace type pitcher are high, but to be honest at this point I just don’t see it. His low strikeout rate in the minors and his slight frame (6-feet-2, 160 pounds) seems rather frail for a guy who projects as an ace one day.
Also on the radar: Casey Kelly, Jameson Tallion, Hyun-Jun Ryu, Wily Peralta, Tyler Skaggs