Let’s begin here: The following is not anything like a prospect ranking. It simply recognizes the top 10 single-game pitching performances—as measured by game score—by minor league starters this season, so long as the pitcher in question is not older than the average player in his league.
The average ages by classification are 26 at Triple-A; 24 at Double-A; 22 at high Class A; 21 at low Class A and the short-season leagues; and 20 at the Rookie levels. Only pitchers in domestic minor leagues were considered.
1. Andres Santiago, rhp, Dodgers
Club: Double-A Chattanooga (Southern) • Site: Chattanooga • Date: Aug. 28 • Age: 24
Though he went just 6-8, 4.47 while allowing 1.1 home runs per nine innings in his second full season at Double-A, Santiago balanced the ledger somewhat by firing a nine-inning no-hitter against Tennessee on the final Thursday of the season. The Smokies lineup that day was fully stocked, with top Cubs prospects Albert Almora and Addison Russell batting second and third (and Christian Villanueva and Rubi Silva batting fifth and seventh). Santiago has pitched professionally since signing as a 16th-round pick out of high school in Puerto Rico in 2007, and he intrigued the Dodgers enough that they re-signed him following the 2013 season rather than let him test minor league free agency. What will the two parties decide this fall?
2. Jharel Cotton, rhp, Dodgers
Club: high Class A Rancho Cucamonga (California) • Site: Lake Elsinore • Date: July 29 • Age: 22
Born in the U.S. Virgin Islands and selected by the Dodgers in the 20th round of the 2012 draft from East Carolina, Cotton put together a big year in the Cal League. Not only did he rank among the league leaders in ERA (4.05), strikeouts (138) and WHIP (1.16), but he pitched one of the finest games in the minors this season on July 29, when he shut out Lake Elsinore on two hits while striking out 11.
3. Mike Montgomery, lhp, Rays
Club: Triple-A Durham (International) • Site: Durham • Date: April 26 • Age: 24
Evan had Montgomery recorded the final two outs in this gem, he would have registered a 95 game score and still would have ranked behind Andres Santiago for the top spot. As it played out, the wayward southpaw hit his early-season pitch count with one out in the ninth, prompting the Bulls to call on Brad Boxberger to finish the combined no-hitter. Despite leading the International League with 11 wild pitches, Montgomery made real progress in 2014, showcasing his best ERA (4.29), WHIP (1.31) and SO/BB ratio (2.0) in his fourth try at Triple-A.
4. Tim Cooney, lhp, Cardinals
Club: Triple-A Memphis (Pacific Coast) • Site: Memphis • Date: May 29 • Age: 23
Though Cooney’s control improved dramatically in the second half, he actually turned in his finest start of the season at the end of May, when he came within one out of firing a no-hitter against Iowa. He had to settle for a one-hit shutout that day, but on the season Cooney proved to be one of the more durable and effective starters in the Pacific Coast League, ranking first with 14 wins and among the leaders in ERA (3.47) and innings (158).
5. Daniel Missaki, rhp, Mariners
Club: Rookie-level Pulaski (Appalachian) • Site: Bluefield • Date: June 26 • Age: 18
Missaki signed with the Mariners for $150,000 in 2013 out of Brazil, and he really performed this season in the Appalachian League as a strike-throwing righthander with an 87-91 mph fastball and feel to pitch. He went 6-3, 2.76 and ranked among the league leaders with 62 strikeouts and a 1.06 WHIP.
6. Rafael Montero, rhp, Mets
Club: Triple-A Las Vegas (Pacific Coast) • Site: Sacramento • Date: Aug. 5 • Age: 24
Though Sacramento is one of the best pitcher’s parks in the Pacific Coast League, Montero hasn’t required a cozy home park to find success in an extreme hitter’s league. In parts of two seasons with Las Vegas, he has logged a 3.39 ERA in 16 home starts. (Keep in mind the 51s as a team have a 4.66 ERA this season.) The Mets called up Montero following his eight-inning one-hitter, but he’s now back with Vegas for the PCL playoffs.
7. Jose Berrios, rhp, Twins
Club: high Class A Fort Myers (Florida State) • Site: Fort Myers • Date: June 1 • Age: 20
The 2012 supplemental first-rounder logged a season-high 13 strikeouts in this June 1 start, which counts as a complete game one-hitter because it occurred during a doubleheader. Berrios shined at Fort Myers, but found the going tougher at Double-A and Triple-A, logging a 4.53 ERA in nine starts. Even so, he has the stuff to rival any pitcher on this list.
8. Parker Bridwell, rhp, Orioles
Club: high Class A Frederick (Carolina) • Site: Frederick • Date: May 13 • Age: 22
Wildly inconsistent in his first year at the high Class A level—he went 7-10, 4.45 in 26 starts—Bridwell nevertheless turned in two of the finest starts of 2014 for Frederick. Only one of them counts for this exercise, however, because Bridwell had turned 23 by the time he fired eight one-hit innings with 13 strikeouts (93 game score) on Aug. 25—and turning 23 made him older than the high Class A average.
9. Tyler Mahle, rhp, Reds
Club: Rookie-level Billings (Pioneer) • Site: Billings • Date: July 13 • Age: 19
The 2013 seventh-rounder from high school in Westminster, Calif., signed for $250,000 and took the Pioneer League by storm in his second pro summer. Mahle ranks among the league leaders in ERA (3.87), strikeouts (71), innings (77) and WHIP (1.24) despite being a teenager in a decidedly hitter-friendly league. Even if Billings does offer the only comparatively safe haven for pitchers in the PL, throwing a three-hit shutout, as Mahle did on July 13, is impressive in any context.
10. Mark Appel, rhp, Astros
Club: Double-A Corpus Christi (Texas) • Site: Corpus Christi • Date: Aug. 26 • Age: 23
Even more unlikely than Bridwell’s dual gems in the Carolina League, Appel fired eight two-hit innings at Frisco on Aug. 26, doing so in the same season in which he logged a 9.74 ERA and 1.92 WHIP in 12 starts for high Class A Lancaster. Even at his worst, Appel flashed quality stuff, so perhaps this penultimate start from his Texas League time can serve as a building block for 2015.
Six other age-appropriate starters tied with Appel and Mahle with an 87 game score, and one could argue for any of their inclusion on the above list.
• Double-A Richmond RHP Clayton Blackburn (Giants) at Portland on Aug. 16.
• Triple-A New Orleans LHP Andrew Heaney (Marlins) at home on Aug. 17.
• Triple-A Iowa RHP Kyle Hendricks (Cubs) at home on May 15.
• Low Class A Lexington RHP Jake Junis (Royals) at home on May 18.
• Rookie-level Johnson City LHP Ian McKinney (Cardinals) at home on July 4.
• Triple-A Norfolk RHP Mike Wright (Orioles) at Durham on Aug. 21.