A Dozen Pitching Prospects Who Control Their Controllables

Sixto Sanchez (Photo by Cliff Welch)

With their high-end velocity and bat-missing weaponry, power pitchers possess the ultimate equalizer: the strikeout. No other outcome is preferable for those clutch situations in which the opponent moves one or two runners in scoring position.

While many power pitchers are adept at escaping jams, some other pitchers steer clear jams in the first place by limiting walks, holding baseruners and avoiding home runs that can serve as fatal blows. Think of the pitcher who doesn't self-sabotage his efforts as a corollary to those position prospects who may not hit for a high batting average but who excel in the secondary phases of the game.

I calculated league percentile ranks for all minor league pitchers to find out which ones vow to do no harm to their bottom line by excelling at home-run prevention (per nine innings), control (walk rate per batter faced) and baserunner holds (the rate at which opponents attempt to steal). I found the harmonic mean between these percentiles and used that to guide the selection process.

Only pitchers who qualified for our League Top 20 Prospects lists were considered. Strikeout percentile is included to illustrate each pitcher's ability to generate swings and misses.


1. Felix Jorge | rhp | Twins

The 23-year-old Dominican led the Florida State League in ERA at the time he moved to Double-A, but his strikeout rate collapsed in the Southern League and he allowed home runs much more frequently. Jorge has such a small margin for error that he needs to address those deficiencies—and quickly—even if he maintains his excellent control and baserunner hold ability.

Team League
Lvl IP ERA SOtile Homers Control Hold
Fort Myers Florida State Hi A 93 1.55 75% 88% 97% 97%
Chattanooga Southern AA 74 4.12 1% 24% 97% 79%

2. Dustin May | rhp | Dodgers

A 2016 third-round pick and Texas prep, May appears to be the rare tall pitcher—he's listed at 6-foot-6—who throws consistent strikes and holds runners at a young age. He throws a high-spin fastball and slider that both project to at least above-average from his coordinated delivery.

Team League
Lvl IP ERA SOtile Homers
Control Hold
AZL Dodgers Arizona R 30 3.86 75% 100% 91% 96%

3. Zack Littell | rhp | Yankees

Of the dozen prospects traded by the Mariners this offseason, Littell looks like one of the more promising. The Yankees acquired the 21-year-old North Carolina prep in a straight-up trade for lefty reliever James Pazos. Littell brings a cerebral approach to the mound, which helps his high-spin fastball and above-average breaking ball play up.

Team League
Lvl IP ERA SOtile Homers Control Hold
Clinton Midwest Lo A 98 2.76 78% 57% 75% 70%
Bakersfield California Hi A 68 2.51 75% 94% 89% 86%

4. Fernando Romero | rhp | Twins

Romero missed most of 2014 and 2015 after having Tommy John surgery, but he sure looked sharp last season with his 6-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and one home run allowed in 16 starts. He has the elite fastball and sharp slider to gain wider acclaim if he can complete a healthy campaign in 2017.

Team League
Lvl IP ERA SOtile Homers Control Hold
Fort Myers Florida State Hi A 62 1.88 95% 99% 88% 83%

5. Matt Gage | lhp | Giants

A 10th-round pick out of Siena in 2014, Gage reached Double-A for the first time about a year after signing. He spent all of last season in the Eastern League, where he ranked among the circuit's best in terms of ERA and walk rate. A prototype crafty lefthander, Gage keeps the ball off the barrel and baserunners tethered to first base.

Team League
Lvl IP ERA SOtile Homers Control Hold
Richmond Eastern AA 136 3.38 61% 100% 76% 82%

6. Ty Blach | lhp | Giants

The 2012 fifth-round pick received a September callup last year and pitched effectively, albeit with few strikeouts, in 17 innings. Blach led the Pacific Coast League with 14 wins and 163 innings last year while recording a 3.43 ERA thanks to a proven ability to limit walks, home runs and stolen bases.

Team League
Lvl IP ERA SOtile Homers Control Hold
Sacramento Pacific Coast AAA 163 3.43 45% 92% 79% 84%

7. Sixto Sanchez | rhp | Phillies

Sanchez originally worked out for teams as an infielder, but the now-18-year-old Dominican has taken quickly to pitching, where he shows the clean mechanics required for sharp control and quick times to the plate. After making his U.S. debut last year, the Phillies' top pitching prospect could take another giant step forward this season.

Team League
Lvl IP ERA SOtile Homers Control Hold
GCL Phillies Gulf Coast R 54 0.50 69% 100% 76% 77%

8. Dillon Overton | lhp | Mariners

The Mariners traded for Overton this offseason, on the heels of what might be the worst big league debut by a pitcher in the past 50 years—he recorded an 11.47 ERA and allowed 12 home runs in 24 innings for the Athletics. Seattle could be intrigued by Overton's Triple-A performance, for his 3.29 ERA ranked fifth in the Pacific Coast League.

Team League
Lvl IP ERA SOtile Homers Control Hold
Nashville Pacific Coast AAA 126 3.29 70% 98% 76% 68%

9. Chih-Wei Hu | rhp | Rays

The 23-year-old Taiwanese righthander claimed the Southern League ERA title last year in a breakthrough season. While he doesn't have a dominating pitch profile, Hu throws a nifty changeup and exerts control over the smaller facets of pitching that he can control.

Team League
Lvl IP ERA SOtile Homers Control Hold
Montgomery Southern AA 143 2.59 50% 74% 65% 100%

10. Andrew Moore | rhp | Mariners

Moore zoomed to Double-A in his full-season debut while showing strong peripherals and recording a 2.65 ERA over 163 innings (plus 15 more in the playoffs). His pitching smarts and command—more than his raw stuff—will dictate how much success he experiences in the big leagues.

Team League
Lvl IP ERA SOtile Homers Control Hold
Bakersfield California Hi A 55 1.65 78% 99% 75% 54%
Jackson Southern AA 108 3.16 67% 31% 95% 67%

11. Brandon Woodruff | rhp | Brewers

Woodruff led the minors last season with 173 strikeouts, and the Brewers commend him for his improved mechanics and tempo, which keyed his breakthrough. A rare power pitcher on this list, he needs to focus on sharpening his control to take the next step.

Team League
Lvl IP ERA SOtile Homers Control Hold
Biloxi Southern AA 114 3.01 94% 89% 58% 71%

12. Trevor Oaks | rhp | Dodgers

An extreme groundball pitcher with excellent control, Oaks relies on pitch movement and weak contact to get outs because he lacks a swing-and-miss secondary pitch. The 23-year-old went 14-3, 2.74 in 24 starts at three minor league stops last season and could see big league time in 2017 if he continues to stick to his strengths.

Team League
Lvl IP ERA SOtile Homers Control Hold
Tulsa Texas AA  63 2.14 13% 98% 98% 42%
Oklahoma City Pacific Coast  AAA 63 3.00  60% 49% 95% 86%

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