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February 21, 2012

Future Shock

Top Nine High-Ceiling Prospect Rotations

by Kevin Goldstein

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It's a cliché, but it's true. Everyone needs pitching. Even the richest of the rich need pitching.  The Yankees added Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda this off-season, while the Red Sox have scrambled to improve their rotation and will try reliever Daniel Bard there this spring. In the prospect world, there is nothing more valuable—and therefore nothing more rare—than a self-grown elite starter, with those who are merely good quickly entering untouchable territory in trade talks. Which teams are most likely to develop these valuable commodities? To find out, I generated a five-prospect rotation for each team based solely on prospect status (as opposed to closest to the big leagues) and found nine collections that stood out.

Star-Studded Department
Arizona Diamondbacks:
Trevor Bauer, Archie Bradley, Andrew Chafin, David Holmberg, Tyler Skaggs
The Diamondbacks had the third and seventh overall picks in the 2011 draft, and they made them count when it came to arms. Bauer could be in Arizona as early as this year, and while the high schooler Bradley will certainly take longer, some feel he eclipses Bauer in terms of upside. Skaggs was acquired in the Dan Haren trade, and his stock exploded in 2011, going from a projectable pitcher to one that is starting to tap into his potential; some scouts believe he has a shot at becoming a true ace. It's a big drop after the top three, but Holmberg is a high-floor player who should slot into any rotation, while Chafin is an intriguing pick from last June who just needs to stay healthy.

Atlanta Braves: Randall Delgado, Sean Gilmartin, Zeke Spruill, Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino
While the Braves have just three studs, it's quite a tribute to their trading ability (Vizcaino) as well as their wide reach when it comes to international scouting; Teheran is from Colombia, and Delgado was signed out of Panama. Don't worry about Teheran's mediocre big league showing in 2011, as there were pitchers in A-ball last year that everyone got excited about who were older than he was. He could be the team's top starter by 2013, with Delgado fitting somewhere in the middle. As for Vizcaino, the glut of young pitching could have him set in the bullpen for now, but plenty of scouts still want to see what he can do in a starting role.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Colton Cain, Gerrit Cole, Luis Heredia, Kyle McPherson, Jameson Taillon
The point of scouting and players development is to find players with star potential, and the Pirates have done just that. Number-one pitchers are the rarest of rare, and even prospects with the mere potential to be that are hard to find, yet the Pirates have three of them in Cole, Taillon, and Heredia. Of course, having a top pick in each of the last two drafts helps. No three players could play a bigger role in a hopeful turnaround for Pittsburgh, but the risk is considerabl; Heredia will be 17 years old nearly all season, Taillon has thrown fewer than 100 innings as a pro, and Cole has yet to consistently translate his remarkable stuff into remarkable performance.

Seattle Mariners: Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez, Victor Sanchez, Taijuan Walker
When the Mariners traded Michael Pineda to the Yankees, they did so from a position of strength; not only do they have three elite pitching prospects, but two of them are close to the big leagues. The second overall pick in the 2011 draft, Hultzen is so advanced that a big league debut in 2012 is not just possible but expected, while Paxton had a breakout year in 2011 and could also be lined up for a September debut. Walker is much further away and will be a 19-year-old in the California League this season, but he has better stuff than either of them. Ramirez is a back-end starter, and while few have heard the name of Sanchez, he was one of the better international arms on the market last summer.

Five Prospects Deep
Kansas City Royals:
Jason Adam, Chris Dwyer, John Lamb, Mike Montgomery, Jake Odorizzi
I wrote last week about the challenges the Royals will face in their search for the pitching they need to become playoff contenders. The good news is that they have plenty of prospects, but the bad news is that Odorizzi is the only player in the quintet to have taken a legitimate step forward in 2011. The Royals need just a forty percent hit rate from this list to move into contention, but at a realistic rate of prospect attrition, that's more difficult than it might sound.

Oakland Athletics: Raul Alcantara, A.J. Cole, Sonny Gray, Jarrod Parker, Brad Peacock
Here's how to do a rebuild the right way, as four of the five players here were not in the organization on the final day of the 2011 season. The five players are also spread out in terms of development; Parker and Peacock could get significant big league innings this year, while Alcantara will simply be making his full-season debut. That can be both a blessing and a curse. While it hopefully creates a consistent flow of talent, it makes lining up for a specific window of contention a far greater challenge.

San Diego Padres: Robbie Erlin, Casey Kelly, Joe Ross, Keyvius Sampson, Joe Wieland
The Padres have the deepest system in the minor leagues—and it's not even close—especially in terms of pitching. Much like the team's prospects on the positional side, where there are an incredible number of future big leaguers, the stars aren't so easy to find. Still, assurances can be as valuable as potential, and with Erlin, Kelly, and Weiland all ready for Triple-A, dividends are almost guaranteed at this point.

Tampa Bay Rays: Alex Colome, Taylor Guerrieri, Matt Moore, Enny Romero, Alex Torres
Without Matt Moore in their minor league system—which has an excellent chance to be the case come Opening Day—the Rays don't make the list. The reason for this isn't that Rays lack an impressive collection of power arms, but hard-throwers like Colome and Romero might just be starters in name only; their combination of shallow arsenals and inefficiency seems destined for the bullpen. Then again, considering the cornucopia of young starters Tampa has at the big league level, you almost have to need to be a Moore-esque talent to avoid a bullpen move.

Dream A Little Dream Of Me
Toronto Blue Jays:
Adonys Cardona, Kevin Comer, Justin Nicolino, Daniel Norris, Noah Syndergaard
To be clear, this is not Toronto's top five pitching prospects. Drew Hutchinson would belong on that list, and Deck McGuire would certainly deserve consideration. The point is that the Blue Jays have amassed a collection of young, high-ceiling arms that is the envy of baseball, and the list of deserving candidates doesn’t end with these five; Aaron Sanchez and Joe Musgrove could easily slot in as well. None of them can legally drink, none of them have tasted a full-season of professional baseball even, but all of them have star potential. Of course, some of them won't make it and some will transition to bullpen roles, but the Blue Jays are sitting back with seven lottery tickets when most teams are happy to have just one such prospect.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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