Notoriously unpredictable, pitching prospects are amongst the most difficult of commodities to remain patient with. Our opinions and values, at least on a general consensus level, fluctuate frequently on pitchers, major leagues or minors, based on recent performance. So, what better way to celebrate our recency blinders than to discuss the top breakout hurlers of the first half in the minor leagues. Some of these guys have some pedigree, others came into the year a little more obscure, but all are worthy of our attention, and perhaps an add in the right format. The road to major league stardom is often not a straight line, and while I have no data behind this, it feels like a breakout by a pitcher is a little more telling of long term success. The reason I say this is, more often than not, these breakouts are derived from a tweak or change to mechanics, grips, or other small developments. No two players develop the same, and while Top 100 lists are great, they don’t do a very good job of projecting future value between Lucas Giolito and Jacob Faria. That’s not to say we don’t nail one every so often, but the majors these days are a different
ball world. So sit back and enjoy it while I breakout heads, ribs, $100 bills…(3).
Mahle entered the year as an after thought in the Reds system, a back of the rotation, fringe major league type. Fast forward a few months and on April 22nd he threw a perfect game on just 88 pitches. This burst him on to the dynasty radar at least some what, but the sustained success in the first half of the campaign has generated some buzz. I’m not saying Mahle is a future ace, but he locates all of his pitches, and commands his low to mid 90’s fastball as well as anyone. If strike throwers that can work both sides of the plate are your thing then add Mahle.
A Cuban born righthander that signed with the Astros back in 2014, he took some time to marinate in the lower minors, but some encouraging production in 2016 led to a full fledged breakout this season. He throws four pitches for strikes with his accentuated overhead delivery. He gets deception on his pitches from hiding the ball well in his windup. This allows his lower velocity fastball (sits 89-92) to play up. He mixes in a 12-6 curve that sits mid-high 70’s, a slider low 80’s slider with armside break, and a changeup with some glove-side run. He’s a master of generating whiffs, checking in with a 13% SwStr%, the second highest in the Texas League. At a few days from his 23rd birthday he’s a little older, but he’s in AA, and a promotion to AAA is more than likely right around the corner.
It’s somewhat unusual that a first round high school arm, with a track record of success in the pros, flies under the radar. But that’s the case with the Tigers Beau Burrows. After starting the year in phenomenal fashion at Lakeland of the Florida State League, he’s struggled a little in AA through 4 starts. He mixes a plus mid-90’s heater, with a curveball, a slider, and an 84-87 mph changeup with deceptive movement. Prior to promotion he led the Florida State League with an 18.1% SwStr%, so the stuff is there.
While the strikeouts haven’t followed the Cards righty to AA, at least he’s held his own with a 3.04 ERA through his first 24 innings. Prior to his promotion earlier this month, Gallen was dominating Florida State League competition, mowing down batters at a strikeout per inning clip, coupled with a sub 5% walk rate. I wouldn’t be expecting an ace by any means, but a back end of the rotation type that’s great for deeper leagues is what I see.
Part of a talented pitching staff that features 2016 first rounders Cal Quantrill and Eric Lauer, Lucchesi pitches with a chip on his shoulder. After being passed over in the draft, despite being eligible, following his junior year, Lucchesi returned for his senior campaign and led the nation in strikeouts. He has the ability to repeat his quirky delivery, and command three of his pitches well, in and out of the zone, setting up hitter after hitter. Lucchesi might be my favorite breakout on this list. There’s some injury and pen concerns due to the delivery, but you have to love the strikeout upside as a starter should he stick in the rotation long term.
Pitched a little for team Colombia in the WBC, and has been excellent during his time in the minors. Crismatt offers an an above average mid 90’s fastball with average curveball and change offerings. Technically this break out started last season in short season ball, with Brooklyn on the New York-Penn League, but through 81 full season innings in the Florida State League Crismatt has been an impressive performer. A SwStr% of 13.1%, shows he gets whiffs, and he does a good job of limiting hard contact.
Another underrated pitching prospect on the list, that’s never given us a reason to underrate him. His fastball is only average, but his secondaries are plus, and his command of his arsenal is elite. This helps him move his fastball all over the zone, despite lower 90’s velocity, though he’s added a few ticks this year. His changeup is his best secondary with some nice fading movement. While his slider is his best swing and miss offering, which is especially hard on righties.
After missing a large portion of 2016 with elbow soreness Allen has returned strong in 2017. A mid 90’s fastball, with a projectable curveball and change, Allen could have three plus pitches by the time he’s done developing. One day I think we’ll discuss Allen as the steal of the Craig Kimbrel trade. He throws his fastball on a great plane, and gets good movement on all his offerings. He has the body of an innings eater, as long as that elbow holds up. I think there’s an off chance he develops into a real life number two starter, but most see him as a mid-rotation type.
When a player puts up good numbers in the hitting friendly PCL people take notice. When it comes from a 27 year old journeyman, people react two ways. They cast a doubtful eye and a furrowed brow, or they run toward the light buying all of the breakout they can get their hands on. I lean more the former than the latter, but that doesn’t mean I ignore that there’s something here. His fastball velocity is just average and nothing looks special in particular, but you can see he has some deception in his delivery. Will his fastball continue to play should he get the chance to face major league hitters? That’s a question I can’t answer with any certainty.
A fourth rounder out of St. Mary’s in California last season, Burnes has been on fire this season. While he’s been missing bats (11.7% SwStr%), his ability to limit hard contact, and barrels in general is his strongest asset. He mixes a low-mid 90’s heater he can ramp up to 97, with a plus change, above average hard slider, and a fringe curve. He made a mechanical change to square him self up to the plate more to begin his delivery and it’s allowed him to use his legs more to drive off the mound. The tweaks have added some ticks to his fastball, as well as some adding cutting action. He’s a vocal and articulate student of the game, with a fiery desire to succeed on the mound.
A third rounder out of Rice at year, Duplantier has been one of the standout starters of the minors this season. Promoted to High-A Visalia on Thursday, the righty already dominated the talented Mid-West league, at one point reeling off 21.2 consecutive scoreless professional innings before allowing a run. He mixes a fastball that touches 97 with a plus curveball, and solid change. He’s done a good job of commanding all his pitches this year, and his athleticism shines through in his delivery. What Duplantier does at the next level will tell a lot.
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