Farm Futures: Southern League Pitchers

Farm Futures: Southern League Pitchers

This article is part of our Farm Futures series.

Each Tuesday I will be profiling a standout performer from a recent game and then I will provide a snapshot of the success and failure of notable players in a specific league. This week I checked out 22-year-old southpaw Blake Snell's first game after getting promoted to Double-A Montgomery followed by a look at what some other notable pitchers have been up to in the Southern League through four weeks of play.

Blake Snell, Double-A Montgomery
Six shutout innings with one hit, one walk and eight strikeouts on May 1 at Double-A Mississippi

Snell features a mid-to-low 90s fastball that has been sitting in the 92-to-94 mph range to start the season. He also has a cutter, a changeup and a curveball. The majority of Snell's strikeouts in this game came off his curveball, which he can throw in any count. The 6-foot-4 lefty is able to create good arm angles to locate in all quadrants. He was locating particularly well in his Double-A debut, especially with his fastball, and while he was peppering the zone with stuff that could get hit, he did an excellent job of keeping hitters off balance. There was a bit of a generous strike zone, but that tends to happen when a pitcher is pitching as well as Snell. His delivery is easy and fairly repeatable, and he should be able to do a good job of controlling the running game as a lefty with a quick delivery.

Daniel Castro had a

Each Tuesday I will be profiling a standout performer from a recent game and then I will provide a snapshot of the success and failure of notable players in a specific league. This week I checked out 22-year-old southpaw Blake Snell's first game after getting promoted to Double-A Montgomery followed by a look at what some other notable pitchers have been up to in the Southern League through four weeks of play.

Blake Snell, Double-A Montgomery
Six shutout innings with one hit, one walk and eight strikeouts on May 1 at Double-A Mississippi

Snell features a mid-to-low 90s fastball that has been sitting in the 92-to-94 mph range to start the season. He also has a cutter, a changeup and a curveball. The majority of Snell's strikeouts in this game came off his curveball, which he can throw in any count. The 6-foot-4 lefty is able to create good arm angles to locate in all quadrants. He was locating particularly well in his Double-A debut, especially with his fastball, and while he was peppering the zone with stuff that could get hit, he did an excellent job of keeping hitters off balance. There was a bit of a generous strike zone, but that tends to happen when a pitcher is pitching as well as Snell. His delivery is easy and fairly repeatable, and he should be able to do a good job of controlling the running game as a lefty with a quick delivery.

Daniel Castro had a really good at-bat in the first inning to get a hit, but then Snell held Mississippi hitless over the next five-plus innings. He threw everything in an impressive 10-pitch at-bat to Mallex Smith in the bottom of the third and eventually got him swinging on what appeared to be a changeup on the outer third of the plate. There was another memorable at-bat when he battled back from being down 3-0 to strike out Kevin Ahrens to end the fourth inning.

It was so impressive to see a guy do this in his first start at Double-A, as many pitchers try to do too much initially upon a promotion. Snell has yet to allow a run while notching 35 strikeouts through 27 innings at High-A and Double-A. Lefties with four pitches, plus command and plus velocity don't come along too often, and in leagues where more than 50 prospects are owned, Snell should be rostered by now. He has the realistic projection of a No. 3 starter on contender, with the upside to be a No. 2. We rarely see guys force their way to the major leagues in the same year that they start the year at High-A, but Snell has been about as good as he can possibly be so far. There is little doubt at this point that he is the top pitching prospect the Rays have in the minors, and he is one of the top left-handed pitching prospects in baseball.

For those who have not seen Snell yet, he will make his second start at Double-A on Thursday against Birmingham.

Minor League Roundup: Southern League Pitchers

Braden Shipley, Double-A Mobile
2.55 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 18 K through 24.2 innings

Shipley had not allowed more than one run in any of his first four starts of the year with Mobile, one of which was cut short by rain. He then gave up five earned runs Sunday at Biloxi, allowing two home runs and walking three over six innings. That outing alone raised his ERA from 0.96 to 2.55. The Diamondbacks have allowed him to throw 90-plus pitches in three of his five outings, so he is easily on pace to eclipse the 126 innings he notched between three levels last season. The one concern with Shipley is that his K-rate is down from 22 percent at Double-A last season to 18.8 percent this season, and his walk rate remains about the same. Keep tabs on this trend as the season progresses, but as of now he is still firmly a top-50 prospect in dynasty leagues.

Jose Berrios, Double-A Chattanooga
3.54 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 37 K through 28 innings.

Berrios is the best pitching prospect in a loaded Twins farm system, and he has made a statement in the early going with the Lookouts. His 37 strikeouts lead all Southern League pitchers, and he has already surpassed the 28 strikeouts he notched in 40.2 innings at Double-A to close out 2014. Berrios turns 21 at the end of the month, and he could be knocking on the door of a promotion to Triple-A Rochester at the time of his birthday. Should the Twins believe their early-season record and consider themselves contenders, Berrios could get a taste of the big leagues before the end of the season.

Aaron Blair, Double-A Mobile
3.13 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 24 K through 31.2 innings

Blair has been very solid through five starts, notching four quality starts and getting over the 100-pitch threshold in each of his last three. The one thing that has not really been there is the strikeouts. After posting a 25.3 percent K-rate in 46.1 innings at Mobile last year, he is working with an 18.9 percent rate so far in 2015. The fact is, Blair may not be a big-time strikeout pitcher, even though he flashed that ability at times in the lower levels. He does not have one truly great pitch, and may just settle in as a solid No. 3 or No. 4 starter in the big leagues.

Robert Stephenson, Double-A Pensacola
8.31 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, 22 K through 17.1 innings

Stephenson's status as a top-50 prospect is very debatable at the moment, and without a big turnaround, he could be one of the biggest fallers when the top-200 list is updated in a couple months. He didn't make it out of the first inning in his last start, giving up six earned runs on three hits and four walks while recording just two outs. Southern League hitters are hitting .297 against the 22-year-old righty, and he has 11 walks in 17.1 innings through four starts.

Yoan Lopez, Double-A Mobile
2.22 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 20 K through 28.1 innings

The 22-year-old Cuban righty the Diamondbacks signed this offseason has relied a little on luck in the early going, but it's hard to argue with the results. While at 6-foot-3 he projects to have a big fastball, the strikeouts have not quite been there, but the run prevention has been. Lopez is a little under the radar in the Diamondbacks' system, given the other arms he is surrounded by in the BayBears' rotation, but he should make it to the big leagues in late-2015 or early-2016.

Trevor Williams, Double-A Jackson
4.44 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 20 K through 26.1 innings

Williams is never going to be a frontline arm, but a mid-rotation starter at Marlins Park in that division has plenty of value in fantasy. Of course, he could also end up being a No. 5 starter or swing man, but I see Williams' ceiling and floor as comparable to guys like Pirates prospect Nick Kingham or recently promoted Reds prospect Mike Lorenzen, but Williams should come cheaper in dynasty leagues. The nice thing about Williams is there should be no doubt about his ability to log a full season thanks to a sturdy 6-foot-3, 230-pound frame.

Francelis Montas, Double-A Birmingham
2.63 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 16 K through 13.2 innings

Montas has two excellent outings and one really rough performance through three starts. Save for his start Apr. 20 against Pensacola, Montas would have some of the best numbers in the Southern League. In that rough outing he walked six in five innings and just 44 of his 93 pitches went for strikes. However, in his other two starts, he has given up just one run while notching 12 strikeouts and just three walks over 8.2 innings. Montas is a guy I may have been a tad too low on before the season, and he is starting to look like a borderline top-100 guy. Command issues can be a common problem for guys who throw as hard as Montas, but if he can ever offer even just average command, this could be a frontline arm.

Tyler Danish, Double-A Birmingham
2.63 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 28 K through 27.1 innings

The 6-foot righty has given up one or fewer runs in four his five starts this season, and he has the look of a pitcher who could move fast to the big leagues either this year or for the start of 2016. It's not a top-of-the rotation profile, but he can be a mid-rotation starter thanks to plus command and three average or better pitches. Like fellow Barons starting pitcher Montas, Danish will be ranked higher on the top-200 in its next iteration.

Jaime Schultz, Double-A Montgomery
3.16 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 36 K through 25.2 innings

It is about time that Schultz starts to get some recognition as a guy who is going to make the big leagues, and has the potential to make it as a starter. He's just 5-foot-10, which was one of the reasons he went in the 14th round of the 2013 draft, and it is one of the reasons he has remained off prospect radars, but he just keeps producing. Only Jose Berrios has more strikeouts in the Southern League than Schultz, and he has noticeably cut down on his walks relative to his stint at High-A to finish 2014 when he was walking hitters at a 14.7 percent rate and only striking them out at a 20.6 percent clip. He's even enjoying this early-season success despite a .351 BABIP, so there's reason to think his numbers could get even better as the season goes on. Schultz has a mid-90s fastball and a big curveball, which is enough to get Double-A hitters out, but with really just two pitches, the questions about his ability to stick as a starter will remain. Even if he ends up moving to the bullpen, I think the stuff would play up to the point that Schultz could be a late-innings arm. He may not be worth rostering yet in most dynasty leagues, but it's a name that most prospect hounds need to be aware of at this point.

Jorge Lopez, Double-A Biloxi
3.52 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 19 K through 23 innings

Fast forward to summer 2016 when the Brewers are in full-on rebuild mode and both Lopez and Tyler Wagner could be the guys eating innings in the big-league rotation. Lopez does not miss enough bats to get much prospect recognition, but there are some who feel he projects to add a bit of production in that department down the road. There's nothing flashy about his profile, but he will be a starter in the big leagues at some point in the not-so-distant future, so it's worth remembering his name.

Tyler Wagner, Double-A Biloxi
1.86 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 21 K through 29 innings

Wagner could be in the big-league rotation before the end of the year, assuming the Brewers are willing and able to trade away all of their veteran arms. Given the lack of impact starters close to the big leagues, there is no reason Wagner cannot stick in the rotation for a few years. A converted closer, deception is a big part of Wagner's profile, but he does not have the raw stuff to be much more than a No. 4 starter if everything goes right.

C.J. Edwards, Double-A Tennessee
3.86 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 13 K through 11.2 innings

Edwards' transition from starter to relief pitcher has not been all that smooth in the early going, as he has 10 walks in 11.2 innings. The Smokies are typically deploying him in two-inning bursts, and it would be fantastic if the Cubs followed that same blueprint, as Edwards could miss enough bats to be a relief ace even if he's not closing. Of course, the fact that they are typically using him in two-inning bursts opens the door for him to return to being a starting pitcher in the second half, as it could simply be a workload-managing tactic. However, this current usage supports my original hypothesis from before the season that Edwards will eventually end up as a high-leverage reliever due to his slight frame and durability concerns.

Tyrell Jenkins, Double-A Mississippi
5.04 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 14 K through 25 innings

The 22-year-old righty had a 2.33 ERA through four starts, but really got rocked in his last outing, giving up nine earned runs in 5.2 innings against Montgomery. Jenkins still seems like a good bet to end up as a reliever where he could ditch his changeup and just go fastball/curveball, letting his heater play up in the mid-to-high 90s where it could be a special bat-misser. It's understandable that the Braves want to see what they have in him as a starter after acquiring Jenkins from St. Louis as the smallest piece in the Jason Heyward trade. His 6-foot-4 athletic body does not scream reliever but his fringe command does.

Nick Burdi, Double-A Chattanooga
10.00 ERA, 2.56 WHIP, 10 K through nine innings

A second-round pick in 2014, Burdi has only ever been used as a reliever as a professional, and it has been a struggle for the 22-year-old this year. He's been unable to miss bats at the insane rates he managed in brief stays at Low-A and High-A last year, and he has 12 walks in just nine innings. Burdi still has the big fastball/slider combo, but fastball command issues appear to be a big problem at the moment. The one saving grace is that his velocity and health are fine. Owning relievers in dynasty leagues is typically not wise, even when everything is going well, but considering Burdi's early-season struggles, it's looking like he may need more time in the minors than originally anticipated.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
James Anderson
James Anderson is RotoWire's Lead Prospect Analyst, Assistant Baseball Editor, and co-host of Farm Fridays on Sirius/XM radio and the RotoWire Prospect Podcast.
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