Top 100 Prospects: Risk Factors

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    Wild Things Will Need To Add Control To Succeed
Three pitchers who cracked the Top 100 Prospects list walked more than five batters per nine innings last season at the low Class A level. Yet power righthanders Archie Bradley (No. 25 pictured above), Aaron Sanchez (65) and Kyle Crick (66) all catch scouts' attention with double-plus fastballs and curveballs that could be consistent put-away pitches with improved consistency.
Year Name Org Age Team Lge Lvl IP BB/9 SO/9
2012 Archie Bradley ARI 19 South Bend MWL Lo A 136 5.6 10.1
2012 Aaron Sanchez TOR 19 Lansing MWL Lo A 90 5.1 9.7
2012 Kyle Crick SF 19 Augusta SAL Lo A 111 5.4 10.3

How optimistic should we be about Bradley, Sanchez and Crick cutting back on free passes as they climb the minor league ladder? Below are nine righthanders of recent vintage who had trouble finding the plate in the low minors but went on to make at least 30 career big league starts. To qualify, a pitcher must have been between the ages of 18-20 while finishing with more than 5 BB/9 and more than 8 SO/9 in a season at one Class A level (min. 60 innings).

The Homer Bailey and Kerry Wood comparisons jump off the page because both were touted power righties from the high school ranks who piled up strikeouts and walks galore during their full-season debuts in Class A. Note that the Cubs jumped Wood directly to high Class A.

Year Name Org Age Team Lge Lvl IP BB/9 SO/9
2005 Homer Bailey CIN 19 Dayton MWL Lo A 104 5.4 10.9
1996 Kerry Wood CHC 19 Daytona FSL Hi A 114 5.5 10.7
1989 Pat Mahomes MIN 18 Kenosha MWL Lo A 156 5.8 9.6
1997 Matt Kinney BOS 20 Michigan MWL Lo A 117 6.0 9.4
1991 Paul Byrd CLE 20 Kinston CAR Hi A 63 5.2 8.9
1990 Pat Mahomes MIN 19 Visalia CAL Hi A 185 5.7 8.6
2009 Tyler Chatwood LAA 19 Cedar Rapids MWL Lo A 116 5.1 8.2
1995 Jaret Wright CLE 19 Columbus SAL Lo A 129 5.5 7.9
2004 Charlie Morton ATL 20 Rome SAL Lo A 117 5.2 7.9

    Breaking Bad

Throwing a plus fastball is practically a requirement for righthanders to make the Top 100 Prospects. Another unifying factor is a plus breaking ball, something with hard biting action away from righthanded batters. Just four righties among the Top 100 did not receive at least a 55 grade (solid-average) for either a curveball or slider: Kevin Gausman (No. 26 pictured above) Julio Teheran (44), Michael Wacha (76) and Jake Odorizzi (92).

Others who could be in the danger zone because they don't have a plus (60) breaker: Trevor Rosenthal (39), Allen Webster (49), Noah Syndergaard (54), Robert Stephenson (56), Daniel Corcino (94) and Bruce Rondon (95).
Is it pure coincidence that three of those players—Odorizzi, Webster and Syndergaard—all were traded in 2012? Don't scoff. The downside risk for a righthander without a big breaking ball could be a career along the lines of Mike Pelfrey (No. 20, 2007), Alex White (47, 2011) or Dewon Brazelton (57, 2002). If the fastball is explosive enough, a career in the bullpen could await, a la Neftali Feliz (No. 9, 2010).

    Cuban Revolution

Rey Ordonez debuted with the Mets in 1996, becoming perhaps the godfather of modern major league shortstops from Cuba. Though the shortstop pipeline would one day flow freely, it sputtered to life at first, producing only Yuniesky Betancourt (2005) in the decade after Ordonez's debut. In recent years, Yunel Escobar (2007), Alexei Ramirez (2008), Jose Iglesias (2011) and Adeiny Hechavarria (2012) have joined the party.

Cuban pitchers have been equally well represented with the likes of Livan Hernandez (17 seasons in the big leagues), Orlando Hernandez (nine), Vladimir Nunez (nine), Dannys Baez (10), Jose Contreras(^) (10) and Aroldis Chapman (100 mph).

But until recently, major league organizations had not received many contributions from non-shortstop position players from Cuba. That has changed in the past four seasons, as Kendrys Morales smacked 34 homers for the '09 Angels and Dayan Viciedo smacked 25 homers for the White Sox last year. But no Cuban success story has emboldened clubs quite like Yoenis Cespedes, who signed with the Athletics for $36 million last March and made a seamless transition to the big leagues, batting .292/.356/.505 with 23 homers.

On deck for 2013: A trio of talented Cuban hitters who signed big-money deals and made this year's Top 100. The Cubs' Jorge Soler (No. 34; signed for $30 million pictured above) and the Dodgers' Yasiel Puig (47, $42 million) could develop along the lines of Cespedes with double-plus power and pure right-field profiles, while Leonys Martin (97, $15.6 million) could earn a share of center field for the Rangers.

    Control Freaks

Quality big league starting pitchers typically do two or three things well: They strike out batters, they limit walks and/or they keep balls in play on the ground. We can get a rough idea of a prospect's level of dominance by considering the percentage of outs he records via strikeout and groundout. A pitcher (like Wily Peralta pictured above) with a high groundout-plus-strikeout percentage can still have a low ceiling based on a high walk rate, but generally a high GOSO% pitcher will be a safer bet because his opponents will struggle to put together extended rallies.

Let's break out the top performers in this category by classification (min. 200 batters faced), with the idea that it's easier to rack up strikeouts and groundouts at the lower levels, where hitters have much less discipline.

Pitcher Team Org Lge GO SO Outs GOSO
Trevor Bauer Reno ARI PCL 81 97 246 72.4%
Wily Peralta Nashville MIL PCL 175 143 440 72.3%
Chris Archer Durham TB IL 129 139 384 69.8%
Danny Hultzen Tacoma SEA PCL 36 57 146 63.7%
Shelby Miller Memphis STL PCL 96 160 410 62.4%
Pitcher Team Org Lge GO SO Outs GOSO
Allen Webster Chattanooga LAD SL 158 117 365 75.3%
Carlos Martinez Springfield STL TL 102 58 214 74.8%
Trevor Bauer Mobile ARI SL 41 60 145 69.7%
Gerrit Cole Altoona PIT EL 63 60 177 69.5%
James Paxton Jackson SEA SL 103 110 319 66.8%
Pitcher Team Org Lge GO SO Outs GOSO
Gerrit Cole Bradenton PIT FSL 78 69 201 73.1%
J.R. Graham Lynchburg ATL CAR 155 68 308 72.4%
Tony Cingrani Bakersfield CIN CAL 47 71 170 69.4%
Yordano Ventura Wilmington KC CAR 60 98 229 69.0%
Jose Fernandez Jupiter MIA FSL 50 59 165 66.1%
Pitcher Team Org Lge GO SO Outs GOSO
Noah Syndergaard Lansing TOR MWL 125 122 311 79.4%
Aaron Sanchez Lansing TOR MWL 109 97 271 76.0%
Archie Bradley South Bend ARI MWL 158 152 408 76.0%
Alex Meyer Hagerstown WAS SAL 87 107 270 71.9%
Justin Nicolino Lansing TOR MWL 148 119 373 71.6%

    Missing Bats

Pitchers tend to lose velocity as they age, and as a rule their strikeout rates decline as they climb the professional ranks. So minor league pitchers with high strikeout rates tend to be the best bets for sustained success in the big leagues. A list of this year's Top 100 Prospects who finished with red flag-worthy strikeout rates (fewer than 7.5 SO/9) in a meaningful sample (200 batters faced at one level) highlights seven players. Their inability to miss bats could lower their ceilings.

Perez (pictured above) is making his fifth appearance on the Top 100, and Teheran his fourth, and both 21-year-olds have struggled to get over the Triple-A hump and have seen their strikeout rates regress. Both added new pitches in 2012, so they can be forgiven for some of the backslide. Pitchers like Graham and Martinez excel at keeping the ball on the ground. Odorizzi could run into trouble without more strikeouts or more groundouts—he allowed a 0.42 groundout-to-airout ratio with Omaha.

Pitcher Org Age Team Lge Lvl IP SO SO/9
Martin Perez TEX 21 Round Rock PCL AAA 127 69 4.89
Luis Heredia PIT 17 State College NYP SS 66 40 5.43
J.R. Graham ATL 22 Lynchburg CAR Hi A 103 68 5.96
Julio Teheran ATL 21 Gwinnett IL AAA 131 97 6.66
Jameson Taillon PIT 20 Bradenton FSL Hi A 125 98 7.06
Carlos Martinez STL 20 Springfield TL AA 71 58 7.32
Jake Odorizzi KC 22 Omaha PCL AAA 107 88 7.38

    Swing And A Miss

The major league strikeout rate continues to rise each season as teams pack more pitchers with swing-and-miss stuff into shorter outings. Last season, 17 batting title qualifiers struck out in at least 25 percent of plate appearances. Ten years ago, just seven did. Still, making contact is an important skill for prospects. That's why the following Top 100 Prospects have been flagged for excessive swinging and missing (in a sample of 200 PA at one level), which if unchecked could cut into their upside potential at the upper levels.

Batters Pos Team Org Lg Lvl SO PA SO%
Bubba Starling CF Burlington KC APP R 70 234 29.9%
Slade Heathcott CF Tampa NYY FSL Hi A 66 243 27.2%
George Springer CF Lancaster HOU CAL Hi A 131 500 26.2%
Miguel Sano 3B Beloit MIN MWL Lo A 144 553 26.0%
Mike Olt 3B Frisco TEX TL AA 101 421 24.0%
Jonathan Singleton 1B Corpus HOU TL AA 131 555 23.6%
Nick Franklin SS Tacoma SEA PCL AAA 68 296 23.0%
Gary Sanchez C Charleston NYY SAL Lo A 65 289 22.5%
Wil Myers CF Omaha KC PCL AAA 98 439 22.3%
Nick Castellanos RF Erie DET EL AA 76 341 22.3%

A high strikeout rate in the minors is hardly a kiss of death for a developing slugger, however. The following big league stars (ranked by career OPS) fanned more than a quarter of the time in at least one minor league season of 200 or more PA. (Of course, the list is also littered with multiple seasons by sluggers like Russell Branyan, Jack Cust, Wily Mo Pena, Josh Phelps and Ruben Rivera, who didn't quite live up to expectations.)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             
Year Player Age Aff Tm Lg Lvl SO PA SO%
2003 Joey Votto 19 CIN Dayton MWL Lo A 64 233 27.5%
1997 David Ortiz 21 MIN New Britain EL AA 78 285 27.4%
2004 Ryan Howard 24 PHI Reading EL AA 129 433 29.8%
2009 Giancarlo Stanton 19 FLA Jacksonville SL AA 99 341 29.0%
1992 Jim Edmonds 22 LAA Midland TL AA 83 289 28.7%
1998 Travis Hafner 21 TEX Savannah SAL Lo A 139 484 28.7%
2004 Mike Napoli 22 LAA R. Cucamonga CAL Hi A 166 584 28.4%
1996 Derrek Lee 20 SD Memphis SL AA 170 575 29.6%
2005 Curtis Granderson 24 DET Toledo IL AAA 129 503 25.6%