Relief Efforts: Picking A Dozen Top Bullpen Prospects
Minor league relievers can be a little tricky to evaluate.
Scouts might get only one inning during a series to evaluate a reliever, maybe two innings if it's a long series or the player pitches early in the series. Pro scouts will get to see an affiliate multiple times over the course of a season, but even then there's only a handful of scattered innings available for analysis.
Beyond that, the best pitching prospects almost always come through the minors as starters—even if an organization's ultimate plan is to move a guy to the bullpen in the major leagues—to expose them to more batters and expedite their development. Still, there are other pitchers who are immediately shuffled into relief work who are more than just organizational filler, often in the form of a power arm with command issues or so-so secondary pitches.
So today we highlight 12 of the more intriguing relief pitching prospects in the minor leagues. We're not going to consider players moved temporarily to the bullpen, such as the Reds' Aroldis Chapman, or players who started the year in the bullpen but are transitioning to starting, such as Cardinals righthander Joe Kelly or Dodgers righthander Rubby de la Rosa. Righthander Tanner Scheppers is in a different boat altogether, but as the No. 25 prospect in baseball
, you're probably already familiar with the Rangers' flamethrower.
1. Diego Moreno, rhp, Pirates (high Class A Bradenton):
With 95-98 mph gas, Moreno's fastball has earned 80 grades on the 20-80 scale from multiple scouts. A 24-year-old out of Venezuela, Moreno backs up his heat with a solid changeup and a sweepy slider. Even with high-octane stuff, Moreno has a solid idea of how to locate his stuff, and between Bradenton and Double-A Altoona he has a 2.35 ERA and a 59-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 38 1/3 innings. About the only negative that's come this season for Moreno was when the Pirates suspended and demoted
him back to Bradenton last month for unprofessional conduct.
2. Tim Collins, lhp, Royals (Triple-A Omaha):
Collins' career as a member of the Braves organization lasted just eight innings, but he left for the Royals in the Rick Ankiel trade
after making an impression on Southern League observers. One talent evaluator who saw Collins with Double-A Mississippi said he had the best breaking ball he had seen out of anyone in the Southern League, a sharp curve that, along with an 89-93 mph fastball, has helped him rack up 88 strikeouts in 53 2/3 innings this year.
3. Gregory Infante, rhp, White Sox (Double-A Birmingham):
With a 94-98 mph fastball, Infante has one of the best pure arms in the organization. His curveball needs to be more consistent—at times it's a knockout, swing-and-miss pitch in the low-80s, other times he loses the tight rotation and leaves them out as hangers. With 57 strikeouts in 48 2/3 innings between high Class A Winston-Salem and Birmingham, Infante has the stuff to pitch key innings in a big league bullpen once he refines his secondary stuff and tightens his control.
4. Josh Fields, rhp, Mariners (Double-A West Tenn):
It's the same old story for Fields, who has two excellent pitches but not-so-excellent control. With a 92-96 mph fastball and a wipeout curve, Fields, 24, has the stuff to miss bats but his max-effort delivery is difficult to repeat, which is why he has 28 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings but also 18 walks.
5. Jordan Walden, rhp, Angels (Triple-A Salt Lake):
Moved into a bullpen role this year, Walden has one of the minors' better fastballs, which he'll take with him to Triple-A Salt Lake after the Angels promoted him from Double-A Arkansas yesterday. He throws 94-98 mph, but aside from the plus-plus velocity he also gets heavy sink on the pitch. Walden hasn't missed as many at-bats as you might expect given his arm strength, partly because of the ground balls he gets and partly because of an inconsistent slider, at times an average offering with a lot of variance in quality.
6. Scott Mathieson, rhp, Phillies (Triple-A Lehigh Valley):
The Phillies drafted Mathieson out of high school eight years ago and he made his major league debut four years ago, but Mathieson is still a prospect and still working his way back to the big leagues after making one brief appearance in June. Elbow surgeries have held him back, but Mathieson still throws 94-98 mph with a solid slider that has late break. His command could be a bit sharper, but with 64 strikeouts in 50 1/3 innings, the 26-year-old has the ability to become a solid bullpen arm.
7. Danny Moskos, lhp, Pirates (Triple-A Indianapolis):
Could the Pirates could have done better with the fourth overall pick in 2007 draft? Sure, but Moskos still has a big league future. Moved to the bullpen full time, Moskos has shown a 92-95 mph fastball and flashed an average slider for Triple-A Indianapolis, though he still needs throw more strikes before he's ready for a major league role.
8. Eduardo Sanchez, rhp, Cardinals (Triple-A Memphis):
With Sanchez and righthander Francisco Samuel in Memphis, the Cardinals have two homegrown bullpen arms who could help the Cardinals' bullpen as soon as next year. Sanchez peppers the bottom of the strike zone with a heavy 90-96 mph fastball that helps him get an abundance of grounders. The Cardinals have never signed and developed a player out of Venezuela who made his big league debut with the organization, but Sanchez, 21, could become the first.
9. Dan Cortes, rhp, Mariners (Double-A West Tenn):
Last month the Mariners finally did what seemed to be inevitable with
Cortes, moving the 23-year-old to the bullpen after his struggles as a
starter continued this year. He's taken well to the switch early on, with
a 12-3 K-BB mark in 7 2/3 relief innings, showing an outstanding fastball
that's been up to 98 mph with good life and a breaking ball that can be
an out pitch at times. If Cortes returns any value whatsoever from last
year's deal that sent Yuniesky Betancourt to the Royals
, it's a win
for the Mariners.
10. Jose Ortega, rhp, Tigers (Double-A Erie):
Ortega spent two years in the Rookie-level Venezuelan Summer League
before making his U.S. debut with short-season Oneonta last year, but
he's pushed his way through three levels of full-season ball this season.
Ortega, 21, is a 5-foot-11 righty who throws 92-95 mph and can reach 98
at his best. The ball explodes out of Ortega's short arm action, and
while scouts describe his breaking ball as a power slurve, it can be a
11. Billy Bullock, rhp, Twins (Double-A New Britain):
A second-round pick out of Florida in '09, Bullock gets good angle to the plate with a fastball that usually tops out in the mid-90s with sink and tail from his 6-foot-6, 225-pound frame. Bullock doesn't fit the typical Twins' strike-throwing mold (he's walked 35 batters in 56 innings), but he's been able to miss bats (76 strikeouts) and keep the ball on the ground to avoid damage.
12. Philippe Valiquette, lhp, Reds (Double-A Carolina):
Valiquette is one of the hardest-throwing southpaws in baseball with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s with late sink and has reached 100 mph this year. The problem is that Valiquette is mostly a one-pitch guy whose delivery leads to issues with command. If the 23-year-old can ever repeat his release point with more frequency and bring along a below-average slider, he should be able to carve out a major league role, but that same caveat has applied for years.