The "Kids On Parade" Watch List For 2013
Every year I compile a list of arms I want to monitor closely. Actually, the list never really goes away, it's just renewed and refreshed on an ongoing basis. Once a pitcher has established himself as a major league player (or shows me he is unlikely to do so), he is removed, and others who have caught my eye jump on. I'll admit, it's pretty exclusive company - some highly touted prospects never find their way onto my elite list.
This is something of a mixed bag with regard to qualifications. Most are players who spent 2013 in the minor leagues or have just been recalled with the expanded rosters, some will be recent draftees and a small number could even be pitchers still attempting to establish themselves after a few short visits to the major leagues, or perhaps following a significant injury that kept them out of the spotlight for an extended period. In the majority of cases they will be in the consideration set to break camp with the big team next spring while a few are more likely to be called up at some point after the season begins. Let's get started.
Put These Pitchers On Your Watch List
Jameson Taillon (PIT) - It's not often that a pitcher gets the top spot on my elite list two years in a row, but Taillon gets that honor - not because he needed to show me something more, but simply because he didn't make it to Pittsburgh this year. The Pirates, as they generally do, are moving him slowly, letting him get settled at each new level, but he will almost assuredly see the major leagues sometime next season. Having watched him pitch a few times, I am incredibly impressed with his stuff, and even more so with his mound demeanor. He split the season between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis, and looked comfortable at each stop. Every time I watch him I like him more. I realize I have been, and continue to be, a bit higher on him than most analysts, but he needs to be on your roster before he gets too much more exposure.
Noah Syndergaard (NYM) - Back when he was in the Toronto organization at Low-A he popped onto my watch list, and he has moved up steadily (and quickly) ever since. To give readers a measuring stick on my view of his ceiling, I have had him on a par with Matt Harvey, and I have both of a tick ahead of Zack Wheeler. Is that enough to get you interested? He spent most of 2013 at Double-A Binghampton where he was overpowering at times, and he made an impressive showing at the Futures Game this summer, so he isn't a very well-kept secret these days. Given his age and pro experience level, the Mets may decide to give him more seasoning early next season, and wait until later in the year to bring him up, but he clearly has the talent to push that timeline. The Blue Jays are likely to regret dealing him.
Kevin Gausman (BAL) - Gausman got a taste of the major leagues this year, both as a starter, and later in the season as a reliever. Don't worry, his future is definitely in the rotation, as the relief work was learning on the job while keeping his innings in check. The good news is - are you ready for this - his peripherals with Baltimore have been pretty ugly. He is 2-5 with a 1.38 WHIP and a 5.72 ERA in about 46 innings. How can bad stats translate into good news? It just means he might be available at a discount if you don't already own him in your keeper/dynasty league. I have watched him several times this season, and there has been nothing to suggest he won't be a frontline major-league starter once he gets settled in and comfortable. His fastball explodes, and he already has a major league quality change-up. His breaking pitches are still a little inconsistent, but they are coming. Again my optimism is a bit higher than many analysts, but given Dylan Bundy's health, I think I might actually take Gausman ahead of him.
Zach Lee (LAD) - Lee is another young, but very polished pitcher who just needs a little more time to develop and mature. He's very athletic, and should soon be adding his name to the long list of top-tier Dodgers pitchers. I don't think he has the ceiling of Clayton Kershaw, but he would slot nicely right behind him in the rotation. You can learn a lot about a pitcher's ceiling by evaluating demand in trade talks, and Lee is the first name mentioned by other organizations when the Dodgers go shopping. Unlike most elite prospect arms, Lee is not really overpowering. However, he can fully command four plus pitches, and given his level of experience, that is impressive. He spent his 2013 season at Double-A Chattanooga and posted solid numbers there, so he is likely to have a go at Triple-A Albuquerque to begin next year. The Dodgers like to let their young arms get comfortable and rarely push them, so at age 21, they aren't in any hurry.
Archie Bradley (ARZ) - I am guessing many were wondering when Bradley was finally going to show up on this list. Many consider him the top pitching prospect in baseball, and don't get me wrong, I like him a lot, but there are still some things I'd like to see from him. He has an electric arm, and a fastball that can be jaw-dropping when he hits his spots with it, and he has a very good curve, again when he throws it for quality strikes. However, his command is still inconsistent, and his change-up is somewhat a work in progress, so while there are those who believe he could be in Arizona as early as Opening Day next season, I question whether he is truly ready. He pitched at High-A Visalia and Double-A Mobile this year, and he generally overwhelmed opposing batters, but more advanced hitters are going to be more selective, and will be more likely to frequently lay off pitches out of the zone. That could be problematic for Bradley until he masters consistent command of the strike zone, so keep an eye on him, but don't get too excited just yet.
Taijuan Walker (SEA) - One of the youngest guys on the list, he is also one of the most talented, and he continues to move forward in his development. Walker had three starts at the major league level this year, despite being only 20 and having just a few Triple-A innings on his resume, and the results were pretty encouraging. I would caution, however, that two of those starts, the two best, were against what might be close to a Triple-A Houston Astros lineup. Walker has proven to be difficult to handle when facing less experienced players in the low minors, but his command, like that of many young pitchers, was a bit suspect when he faced more experienced competition. He definitely has all the tools, and should be a compliment to Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and perhaps Danny Hultzen fairly soon, especially pitching half of his games in Seattle's pitcher-friendly park. And, it might happen as soon as next April, but like Bradley, he may face some rougher stretches if he takes a regular turn too soon.
Mark Appel (HOU) - The top pitcher in this year's first-year player draft, Appel has made just 10 pro starts - at short-season Tri-City and Low-A Quad Cities - so an early 2014 appearance in Houston might be a bit presumptuous, but coming out of a very good college program, he is more experienced than other 2013 draftees. There is no question he has everything it takes to become a frontline starting pitcher, but the Astros are still in rebuilding mode, so there are few good reasons to move him to quickly. That said, he is a Houston-native, and their fans could certainly use something (or someone) to rally around, so a trip to Double-A to start the season, and a mid-year promotion if he fares well in the minors might be all it will take to get him called up. There is some talent in the Astros system, but most are position players, and Appel, along with decent arms like Jarred Cosart, will be the future of Houston baseball on the mound.
Alex Meyer (MIN) - I love his stuff - an upper-90s fastball with excellent movement, a wipe-out slider and a change-up that is progressing. However, at 6-foot-9, Meyer still has a lot of trouble keeping all the moving pieces in synch, so that is slowing his climb up the Twins pitching food chain. He also had some shoulder soreness during the 2013 season, and when the words shoulder and pitcher are used in the same sentence, yellow lights start flashing. He did return later in the season and was clocked at nearly 100 mph in a start at Double-A New Britain, so hopefully those shoulder woes were short term. Meyer is in a system that is virtually devoid of quality arms (other than 2013 draft pick Kohl Stewart who is probably at least a couple of years away), so if they can smooth out his delivery, and he can stay healthy, he could emerge to lead their rotation as early as sometime next season. He is high risk, but he could be very high reward.
Danny Hultzen (SEA) - Take away the shoulder problems he experienced earlier this season, and the added problems he just encountered with damage to his labrum, and Hultzen would be quite a bit higher on this list. He was on the fast track, and making quick work of it, until these shoulder concerns popped up, and limited him to just 35 innings in 2013. Those came at Triple-A Tacoma, so he is basically ready to contribute when deemed completely healthy, but he is now scheduled to see Dr. James Andrews, and that often means surgery is on the menu. Watch his status this offseason, but he has to be considered a very significant injury risk until he proves otherwise.
Anthony Ranaudo (BOS) - Some analysts have written off Ranaudo as he struggled to show consistency, primarily due to an assortment of injuries. However, he stayed reasonably healthy this season, and even progressed to Triple-A Pawtucket after a very strong showing in Double-A. He's a bit like Meyer, tall, with a lot of moving parts, and on again/off again work makes it difficult to get into synch. But, when he does have it all together, he throw a wicked fastball on an extreme downhill place, a power curve and a pretty good change-up, so there is projectability here. He's another in the high-risk category, but if healthy, he could see Boston by mid-season in 2014. Watch for it.
Honorable Mention - Here are a few more names I am monitoring (in no particular order). Some are borderline and just missed the top list, some have had injuries that sidetracked their development and a few are still fairly raw talent but have shown me enough already to be considered if they continue to move forward: Kohl Stewart (MIN), Marcus Stroman (TOR), Aaron Sanchez (TOR), Robert Stephenson (CIN), Dylan Bundy (BAL), Casey Kelly (SD), Max Fried (SD), Andrew Heaney (MIA), Kyle Crick (SF), Yordano Ventura (KC), James Paxton (SEA) and Jonathan Gray (COL).
That's my watch list. Who makes yours? There are certainly many names that could easily be added to this list, and I apologize if your guy isn't here - but I like to focus on a handful of arms I consider the most likely to have an impact, and these are the pitchers who populate the list today. Tomorrow, the list could, and probably will, change.