Ten Underrated Pitching Prospects Impressing Early In 2023
The early weeks of the season are a great time to dig into which players have shown improved skills. That can often come in the form of recent draftees, or lower-level prospects that have added or improved their abilities over the offseason.
Here we examine 10 pitching prospects showing improved stuff or command over the opening month of the season. Many of these players were off the prospect radar entering the season, with some not even ranking among their organization’s Top 30 Prospects. Pitchers, unlike hitters, can often change their arsenal by adding new pitches, adjusting grips on their current pitches or by adding velocity across their mix. Many of the names listed below have done just that.
Nick Frasso, RHP, Dodgers: Acquired by the Dodgers in the trade that sent Mitch White to the Blue Jays, Frasso looks like the next Dodgers breakout pitching prospect. The case can be made that Frasso has already broken out. Over his first five appearances in 2023, Frasso has allowed just three earned runs across 22 innings, striking out 30 batters and walking five. Frasso’s pitch mix consists of an upper-90s fastball that has touched 100 mph, an upper-80s gyro slider, a changeup in the mid 80s with heavy arm-side run and a cutter. He mixes a four-seam and sinker variation but a majority of his fastball usage comes from the four-seamer. A high-octane arm who can flourish in a variety of roles, after an injury plagued start to his professional career, Frasso is showing signs he might be a viable starting pitching prospect.
Justin Jarvis, RHP, Brewers: It’s taken a handful of years for Jarvis to trend upward, but the early returns point to an improved pitcher in 2023. Jarvis was drafted in the fifth round of 2018 out of Lake Norman High in Mooresville, N.C. and slowly matriculated through the minor leagues, reaching Double-A at the end of 2022. Jarvis had a strong but not overly impressive season in 2022 and showed no reason to be considered a potential breakout prospect heading into 2023. However, after four starts Jarvis is flashing improved stuff and performance. He’s allowed just four earned runs over 23 innings so far this season, striking out 32.6% of batters he’s faced while walking just 6.7%. This is all good enough for a 1.57 ERA and a 3.29 xFIP. The stuff is up this season for Jarvis as he’s seen a velocity bump of at least one mph across his entire arsenal. He’s throwing a splitter now in lieu of the more standard changeup he threw in 2022 and it’s slowly morphed into his go-to secondary. His fastball is showing increased ride, an area that was already plus in 2022, but some of the added ride and spin efficiency could be the product of the Southern League’s pre-tacked baseballs. Despite this concern, Jarvis already averaged at or near 20 inches of induced vertical break coming into the season, but his recent jump into elite territory certainly has helped drive strong early season results. His velocity bump and improved offspeeds are noteworthy.
David Sandlin, RHP, Royals: Sandlin is an Oklahoma native who went the Juco route at Eastern Oklahoma State JC before transferring to Oklahoma prior to his junior season. Signed for just under $400,000 in the 11th round by the Royals in 2022, Sandlin has been one of the best performing pitchers on a talented Low-A Columbia roster in 2023. Across his first four appearances Sandlin has struck out 41.3% of the batters he’s faced while walking 8% of the opposition. Despite the strong underlying numbers Sandlin has actually underperformed his 2.45 xFIP, giving some credence to the idea that this is a legitimate breakout for the righthander. Sandlin uses four pitches but is primarily reliant upon his combination of a four-seam fastball and slider. His fastball sits 93-95 mph, touching 97 mph at peak with above-average ride, while his slider sits in the mid 80s with around six to eight inches of horizontal break. It’s not quite a sweeper but it does have a strong combination of velocity, movement and spin rates in the 2,600-2,700 rpm range. Both his fastball and slider grade out as above-average pitches according to Stuff+, each earning a score of 112. Sandlin also uses a low-80s curveball with two-plane break and a changeup that breaks like a splitter. Sandlin has had a very intriguing combination of stuff and results early, making him a name to watch in the coming months.
Justin Lange, RHP, Yankees: A helium pick in the 2020 draft, Lange had seen his prospect stock plummet over the last few seasons. The Padres dealt Lange for Luke Voit last season and reports post trade tended to be pessimistic. He had shown little to be impressed with heading into 2023, but so far this spring Lange seems to be scratching the surface of the talent that earned him an early selection just three years ago. So far this season Lange is showing increased velocity on his fastball, sitting 95-97 mph and touching 98 mph at peak, while using a high-80s cutter, changeup and sweepy slider in the 81-83 mph range. He’s had three strong starts and one bad outing so far this season, and the command can come and go, but it’s legitimate stuff in a starter’s body.
Thomas Harrington, RHP, Pirates: Drafted in the supplemental first round by the Pirates last July, like fellow Campbell Camel Zach Neto, Harrington is enjoying his first run through pro ball. Over four appearances and 18.2 innings Harrington is showing skills that should translate to a starting role long term. He’s struck out 19 batters to just six walks over those 18.2 innings and is flashing a potentially plus slider. His fastball sits in the low 90s with heavy bore, generating above-average ride and arm-side run, and he pairs that with his slider, a low-to-mid-80s sweeper with spin rates in the 2,600-2,700 rpm range and on average 15 inches of horizontal sweep. His changeup is his third pitch but has shown well in a smaller sample, generating heavy arm-side run and keeping hitters off balance. Thanks to a projectable pitch mix and feel for the entirety of his arsenal, the early results for Harrington are no fluke.
Dodgers' Nick Frasso Continues To Progress
Fastball-heavy Nick Frasso sees results after better mixing his pitches with Double-A Tulsa after joining the Dodgers in a 2022 trade.
Shane Drohan, LHP, Red Sox: A strong performer over the first two years of his professional career, Drohan’s performance has taken a significant step forward in 2023. A fifth-rounder out of Florida State in 2020, Drohan has added two mph of velocity on his fastball and introduced a cutter into his repertoire with tight gyro shape that sits in the mid 80s. So far this season the changes have resulted in strong performance for Drohan. Over four starts Drohan has a 0.78 ERA, 26 strikeouts to four walks across 23 innings and has held batters to an average of .163. A combination of an improved fastball and a new slider to go with an already above-average changeup and average curveball has allowed Drohan to take a sizable step forward in 2023.
Josh Stephan, RHP, Rangers: A nondrafted free agent out of South Grand Prairie High in Grand Prairie, Texas back in 2020, Stephan has quietly dominated over his first three starts with High-A Hickory. Over 18 innings in 2023 Stephan has a 0.50 ERA, 3.32 xFIP, 33.8% strikeout rate to a 6.2% walk rate and a 51.4% groundball rate. After a solid performance over 103.1 innings in 2022, Stephan has continued to produce results well above his pedigree. Stephan doesn’t have standout stuff, but he commands his primary trio of pitches and relies on advanced sequencing and an optimized pitch usage profile. Stephan has thrown his slider 58% of the time this season, mixing in a two-seam fastball and changeup. His slider and fastball are both up two mph in 2023, and that’s allowed him to continue getting results. Stephan’s slider is above-average but his two-seam fastball and changeup are both fringe offerings. There’s some skepticism around Stephan’s ability to find continued success as he moves up the minor league ladder but there are no questions surrounding his pitchability.
Pat Monteverde, LHP, Marlins: Few pitchers have performed as well as Monteverde has over the early part of the season. Across his first four starts Monteverde is sporting a 0.35 ERA, a 2.54 xFIP and a 37.8% strikeout-to-walk rate. He’s stifled Southern League batters throughout the season despite being one of the few pitchers in the league that hasn’t seen a significant gain on his four-seam fastball's vertical movement. Monteverde has been a strong performer throughout his professional career with a 2.69 ERA, a 3.42 FIP and a 29% strikeout rate, so success isn’t new to Monteverde. Despite the success there’s a legitimate question as to whether or not Monteverde’s stuff is good enough to find success one day in the major leagues. His fastball sits 88-91 mph with above-average ride, and he pairs it with a cutter, changeup and curveball. While Monteverde has found success, only his changeup grades out as an above-average pitch per Stuff+. Whether Monteverde will translate his early professional results to success in the major leagues remains to be seen.
Steven Zobac, RHP, Royals: It’s hard to think of a pitcher having a better start than Zobac to the 2023 season. Over 11 innings spanning four appearances Zobac has struck out 23 batters to just one walk and four hits. In fact, Zobac struck out the first 10 ten batters he faced as a professional, a streak that spanned his first two appearances with Low-A Columbia. Zobac relies heavily on a mid-90s four-seam fastball with above-average ride. His fastball this year boasts a better than 40% whiff rate and is leading the charge behind his early success. Zobac’s secondaries are a question mark, however. He has a low-to-mid-80s slider with moderate sweep, a curveball and a changeup that both grade out as fringe-average. Used exclusively in longer relief outings so far, Zobac’s future likely lies in the bullpen but it will be interesting to see how he’s stretched out.
Noah Cameron, LHP, Royals: Few names have generated the breakout buzz that Cameron has through his first five starts this season. After a strong debut season in 2022 split primarily between the Royals' two Class A affiliates, Cameron returned to High-A Quad Cities in 2023. Cameron has struck out 44.2% of the batters he’s faced across five appearances and 24.2 innings of work this season. While Cameron lacks power in his arsenal he has a trio of strong pitch shapes that have driven success. His low-90s fastball averages 19 inches of induced vertical break, and he mixes in a low-80s changeup with good vertical separation off his fastball, as well as a curveball with pedestrian spin rates but over a foot of negative induced vertical break. He shows the ability to attack north to south as well as east to west with his primary trio of pitches. While added power could enhance Cameron's prospect status, his current mix allows him to baffle High-A hitters.