Five Fast-Rising Pitching Prospects To Watch in 2023
If you want to identify a breakout young pitcher for the coming season, look no further than a college draftee rising quickly through the minors.
Spencer Strider surged from Low-A all the way to the majors in his pro debut in 2021 and blossomed into a record-setting rookie in 2022. Alek Manoah jumped from short-season Vancouver straight to Triple-A coming out of the coronavirus shutdown and needed only three starts for Buffalo before getting called up to the majors. Shane McClanahan raced to Double-A in his first full season, got called up for the 2020 postseason and was in the Rays rotation for good the following year.
Having stuff, experience and the ability to quickly adapt to upper-level competition all bodes well for major league success. Increasingly, clubs are moving pitchers who possess such traits faster through the minors to help the big league team, sometimes with great success a la Strider, Manoah and McClanahan.
Here are five, non-Top 100 pitching prospects who moved quickly in their first full seasons last year. If recent history is any indication, one or more of them will likely make an outsized impact for their teams in the coming season and beyond.
Pitchers are listed in alphabetical order.
Sean Burke, RHP, White Sox
A third-round pick out of Maryland in 2021, Burke flew up three levels to Triple-A in his full-season debut and led the White Sox organization with 137 strikeouts while showing improved control from college. The former high school basketball star missed his freshman year after having Tommy John surgery and had his sophomore season canceled by the coronavirus pandemic, but he’s improved rapidly as he’s gotten consistent mound time. The 6-foot-5 Burke now features a plus fastball that has ticked up to sit 94 mph and touch 98 with riding, tailing life, a borderline plus curveball with tight, downward break and a slider and changeup that both show average potential. Most importantly, he’s improved his strike-throwing and learned to command the ball down to both sides of the plate. With his stuff, athleticism and improved control, Burke has solidified himself as one of the White Sox’s best pitching prospects and put himself in position to make his major league debut in 2023.
Robert Gasser, LHP, Brewers
The Padres drafted Gasser in the second round in 2021 out of Houston and kept him at High-A, but after being traded to the Brewers at the deadline as part of the Josh Hader deal, Gasser flourished and quickly climbed to Triple-A in his new organization. An athletic, 6-foot-1 lefthander, Gasser features a deep arsenal with a four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter, curveball, changeup and slider and is a threat to throw them all at any time. His fastballs sit 91-93 mph and top out at 95 and he’s not overpowering, but all of his pitches play average or better. He generates good angle out of a low slot, throws strikes and effectively works both sides of the plate to keep hitters from getting comfortable. He projects to be a solid No. 4 starter, but like fellow Padres-turned-Brewers lefthander Eric Lauer, he has taken a jump under Brewers pitching instruction and could exceed expectations.
Gordon Graceffo, RHP, Cardinals
The Cardinals selected five players before they picked Graceffo in the fifth round out of Villanova in 2021, but the 6-foot-4 righthander already looks like the prize of their draft class. Graceffo surged quickly to Double-A in his full-season debut last year and posted the best strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.96) in the system while showing premium stuff that played against upper-level hitters. Graceffo’s fastball has ticked up from 89-94 mph in college to 94-99 mph as a pro without any loss of command, his tight, upper-80s slider has jumped forward to become a plus pitch and his changeup has become more consistent to grow into an above-average pitch that neutralizes lefties. Importantly, Graceffo has maintained his plus control and feel to pitch through his velocity gains and isn’t afraid to challenge hitters or pitch inside. He’s now a polished pitcher whose stuff keeps getting better, which bodes well for his future as a likely member of the Cardinals rotation.
Griff McGarry, RHP, Phillies
McGarry was a top draft prospect in high school and showed electric stuff at Virginia, but he also walked nearly a batter per inning and never showed much improvement over the course of his college career. The Phillies took a shot on his pure stuff in the fifth round in 2021, and McGarry subsequently improved his control enough to rapidly climb the system to Triple-A in his first full season in 2022. McGarry features explosive stuff with a high-spin, 95-99 mph fastball, a plus slider that racks up swings and misses, a new cutter with elite spin rates that gets more whiffs and a curveball and changeup that are both at least average potential pitches. McGarry has cut his walks significantly as a pro, but his control remains below-average and he has issues staying on line to the plate. He has a remote chance to remain a starter if he makes another substantial leap with his control, but in the more likely event he ends up in the bullpen, he throws enough strikes in short stints to be a potentially shutdown late-game reliever.
Chase Silseth, RHP, Angels
Silseth got rocked for a 5.55 ERA as Arizona’s top starter in 2021, but the Angels took a shot on his arm strength in the 11th round and gave him an overslot bonus to sign. After revamping his pitch mix, improving his fitness and placing an emphasis on execution, Silseth surged to unforeseen heights in pro ball and improbably became the first player from the draft class to reach the majors when the Angels called him up in May. He spent most of the season at Double-A Rocket City and went 7-0, 2.28 in 15 starts to win Southern League pitcher of the Year. Silseth features plenty of stuff with a lively, 95-99 mph fastball that misses bats, a curveball and slider that have both improved dramatically after he reshaped them and a new, hard splitter that has been the final piece of the puzzle for his arsenal. He has outstanding poise and mound presence and stays around the strike zone enough to remain a starter. Silseth throws with some effort and faces doubts about whether he can hold his stuff deep into games, but he made strides by lasting at least six innings in six of his final seven starts to end last season. If he proves he can keep holding his stuff late into games, he’ll be back in the majors before long as part of the Angels rotation.