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The Saber's Edge: Flying Under the Radar

Jeff Zimmerman

Zimmerman writes analytics-focused baseball and football articles for RotoWire. He also handles scouting and reporting for and contributes to, and Jeff is also a two time FSWA award winner, including the 2016 Football Writer of the Year award.

Carlos Carrasco was the headline piece the Indians got back in trade from the Phillies for Cliff Lee. Baseball America ranked him the second best prospect in the Phillies system and the 52nd best in the majors. He struggled in his first three seasons with a 4.93 ERA before needing Tommy John surgery. He continued to struggle after returning until the middle of the 2014 season when he really turned it on. Over the past calendar year, he has the 8th most strikeouts in the majors to go with a 3.11 ERA. Carrasco always had the pitches to make it and he finally pulled it all together. Today, I am going to look at some pitching prospects who may be off the radar.

Last week I looked at hitting prospects who have yet to establish themselves as MLB regulars and have been sent to and from minors. This week it is the pitchers' turn to be in the spotlight. Scouting a toolsy pitcher is fairly easy, but they never seem to put it all together. Generally, these pitchers get the "frustrating" label placed on them. Some are never are able to put it together. But others do and can become staff aces.

When looking at pitching prospects, a person must remember that almost 99% of the prospects are coming up to the majors as starters. Rarely does a relief pitcher get a prospect ranking. Many failed starters do end up as great relievers (see Andrew Miller). While the player and team may think the pitcher has failed to live up to expectations, I won't today. If a pitcher is making a successful transition to the bullpen, like Toronto's Aaron Sanchez, he won't be considered. I want to focus on those pitchers who have not been able to fill a MLB role.
For this study, I looked at pitchers who were in the last five Baseball America's top 100 prospect lists and have no yet reached 60 games started. Also, I will add one to the total for every two relief appearances (RA). Looking over the list, not as many pitchers stick out, compared to the hitters, because failed prospects get quickly moved to the bullpen. Another common theme among these pitchers are injuries slowing down their development. Here are a few names who stick out.

Dylan Bundy (#2 Overall on Baseball America's 2013 ranking): It will be just interesting to follow Bundy from now until the start of the 2016 season. Bundy is currently dealing with some shoulder pain and also had Tommy John surgery in 2013. He has just not been healthy. While normally teams would just leave him in the minors to work out his issues, the Orioles can't. When they drafted Bundy, he was giving a major league contract and 2015 is his last option year. Bundy will need to be on the 25-man roster next season or pass through waivers to go back to the minors for conditioning. When the 22-year-old has thrown, it has been great. He had a 10.2 K/9 in 22 innings of work this season in AA before going on the DL. I think he will be a nice bench option at the end of 2016 drafts.

Matt Moore (#2 Overall in Baseball America's 2012 ranking): Moore's games started are just over the 60 limit, but I still feel he deserves a look. I have never been a fan of Moore. After an amazing nine innings in 2011, he skated by with some horrible core stats which were disguised by a high win total (11 in 2012 and 17 in 2013). Here are his stats from 2011 to 2014 showing his decline

Year: K/9, SwgStr%, Fastball Velocity (mph), BB/9
2011: 14.5, 14%, 95.7, 2.9
2012: 8.9, 12%, 94.4, 4.1
2013: 8.6, 10%, 92.4, 4.6
2014: 5.7, 7%, 91.5, 4.5

It is never a good sign when pitcher's strikeouts are going down and walks are headed up. Moore then had Tommy John surgery in 2014. When he returned, he really struggled and put up similar walk and strikeout numbers compared to 2014, but with a higher home run rate. After six starts he was sent back to the minors. Well, he made some huge improvements in seven minor league starts with a 12.9 K/9 and a 2.7 BB/9. He has some issues with the long ball (1.4 HR/9), but most encouraging is his velocity being up to 93-95 mph. If he is throwing that hard, he could be back to 2012 to 2013 level of production. Good, but not great. Keep an eye on how he finishes the season and if he gets a call back to the majors to get some Pitchf/x velocity readings.

Eddie Butler (#24 Overall on Baseball America's 2014 ranking): I having problems finding anything positive to say about the 24-year-old Butler. Well maybe his strikeout rate was higher than walk rate this year (5.0 K/9 vs 4.8 BB/9) barely. His last decent season was on 2013 in AA. Since then he has struggled. According to the Baseball America's 2014 Prospect Handbook, Butler's fastball was at 95-96 mph touching 99 in 2013. He is now at 93-94 mph touching 96. He is just not the same pitcher and he is going to have to make some significant changes to be a good major league starter. Maybe he can cut it in the bullpen.

Marco Gonzales (#50 Overall on Baseball America's 2015 ranking): The 23-year-old Gonzales was making the climb up Cardinals depth charts and then the 2015 season happened. In 2014, he had 7.7 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9 in AAA. This season those numbers are 6.3 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9. On Tuesday night, he made his first MLB start this season and lasted less than three innings and gave up four runs on seven hits.

Looking at his stats, two items stick out which could make him seem very hittable. The first his 36% GB% puts him in the bottom 25% of the league making him a fly ball pitcher. The second issue is he doesn't even average 90 mph on his fastball. A high number of squared up fly balls are going to lead to a lofty home runs rate. Here are his home run rates over the past two seasons.

Year (level): HR/9
2014 (AAA): 1.4
2014 (MLB): 1.0
2015 (AAA): 1.3
2015 (MLB): 3.4

Right now I am not interested in him until shows a significant improvement in a couple facets of his game.

Andrew Heaney (#50 Overall on Baseball America's 2015 ranking): The 24-year-old Heaney looks to be having a nice breakout season with a 3.11 ERA compared to a 5.83 ERA in 2014. The truth is he is about the same pitcher. His K/9 (6.1 vs 6.2) and BB/9 (2.1 vs 1.7) are similar. The big difference is his 1.8 HR/9 in 2014 and 0.8 HR/9 in 2015. The key will be to determine where his true talent lies. Right now, I think splitting the difference is the correct choice. Even his MLB ERA estimators agree. He has a career 4.14 FIP, 4.21 xFIP, and 4.13 SIERA to go with his 3.90 ERA. Those values (6 K/9, 2 BB/9 and 4.00 ERA) compare to the stats put up by Jered Weaver, Rick Porcello, and Tim Hudson over the past two seasons. I would not be surprised to see his owners be disappointed in 2016 as he gets overvalued.

Here is a list of the players who make the above criteria of an untracked prospect.

Dylan Bundy 2 22 1
Masahiro Tanaka 4 26 39
Jose Fernandez 5 22 43
Trevor Bauer 9 24 60
Archie Bradley 9 22 8
Taijuan Walker 11 22 36
Noah Syndergaard 11 22 20
Jonathan Gray 12 23 5
Carlos Rodon 15 22 21
Daniel Norris 18 22 6
John Lamb 18 24 4
Mike Montgomery 19 25 16
Kevin Gausman 20 24 48
Martin Perez 24 24 45
Eddie Butler 24 24 19
Yordano Ventura 26 24 55
Aaron Sanchez 27 22 32
Manny Banuelos 29 24 6
Andrew Heaney 30 24 18
Casey Kelly 31 25 6
Tyler Matzek 32 24 25
Steven Matz 33 24 2
Kyle Gibson 34 27 45
Matthew Wisler 34 22 13
Luis Severino 35 21 5
Aaron Nola 39 22 8
Arodys Vizcaino 40 24 22
Matt Barnes 40 25 15
Henry Owens 40 22 5
Alex Meyer 45 25 1
Allen Webster 49 25 24
Jarred Cosart 50 25 49
Lance McCullers 50 21 16
Marco Gonzales 50 23 9
James Paxton 52 26 27
Matt Harvey 54 26 60
Brandon Finnegan 55 22 11
Raisel Iglesias 58 25 14
Mike Foltynewicz 59 23 25
Eduardo Rodriguez 59 22 17
Zach Lee 62 23 1
Erik Johnson 63 25 10
Anthony Ranaudo 67 25 10
Rafael Montero 68 24 12
Trevor May 69 25 36
Taylor Jungmann 70 25 15
Michael Wacha 76 24 56
Tony Cingrani 82 25 47
Brian Johnson 82 24 1
Chad Bettis 86 26 38
Justin Nicolino 86 23 7
Andrew Oliver 87 27 2
Alex Gonzalez 89 23 9
J.R. Graham 93 25 18
Bruce Rondon 95 24 29
Jimmy Nelson 96 26 43
Joe Ross 96 22 12