Every year, the MLB Futures Game is one of the most exciting days for prospect evaluators because numerous great prospects are practicing and playing together under one roof. Robbie has an excellent piece breaking down the pitchers from the World side here, so we’ll be taking a look at the stacked US side in this piece.
The US side includes the following pitchers: Matt Barnes, Trevor Bauer, Dylan Bundy, Gerrit Cole, Danny Hultzen, Alex Meyer, Jake Odorizzi, Jameson Taillon, Taijuan Walker and Zack Wheeler. The first six on that list were drafted in 2011; all ten are surefire top 100 prospects unless they lose prospect eligibility before the end of 2012.
With the exception of Taillon, the entire group is striking out over a batter an inning, and Taillon didn’t miss by much, fanning 62 in 68 innings. All but Meyer are pitching at least in Advanced A.
The best prospect of that group is up for debate, but for my money, I’d take Dylan Bundy. While he’s currently only at Hi-A Frederick, he’s also the only member of the 2011 draft class that didn’t come from college. He went his first 30 innings without allowing an earned run, and he’s walked just 8 batters through 48.2 innings this season. He’s a plus athlete, he’s got amazing command for someone his age, he’s got a fastball that can touch 100 at it’s best and he’s got at least two other plus pitches (a low 90’s sinking fastball and a mid-70’s curveball). All that and he won’t turn 20 until after the season concludes.
Cole, Bauer and Hultzen make up the next group of 2011 draftees that show tremendous upside and are much closer to the majors. There was some argument about where they would go in the draft, but all three were top five selections. Cole, who went number one to Pittsburgh, has the biggest ceiling and the best stuff. He’s got three plus pitches, including a fastball that can touch 100 and a wipeout slider, but he may need the most work refining his mechanics of the three. Bauer (Arizona) has tremendous swing and miss stuff as well, and went to UCLA with Cole, but he’ll need to work on his command (43 walks in 85 innings) if he’s to be successful as a starter long-term. Hultzen (Seattle), the lone left-hander, has the least amount of pure “stuff” of the three, as he relies on deception and command as much as a low 90’s fastball and solid secondaries; he’s the most likely to be a starting pitcher for years on end of the three, but he doesn’t have the ceiling of the others, either.
Matt Barnes and Alex Meyer are the two other pitchers on the team from that vaunted 2011 draft, and both have had dominating performances at the Lo-A level. Meyer has a premium arm, as good as anyone else in the minors, but he’s struggled with command and mechanics for quite some time. He turned down 2m out of high school in 2008 from Boston, and accepted it in 2011 with the Nationals. He possesses (see a trend here?) a fastball that he can dial to 100 and a wipeout slider. He’s still battling walks (3.58 BB/9 currently in Lo-A) and is old for his level, but he’s still missing a tremendous amount of bats and has huge upside; he’s also the most likely to pull an Andrew Brackman on us and fall apart completely. Barnes also fell in the draft, and it had a lot to do with the feeling that he was “too hittable” in college and that he lacked deception in his delivery; well, he’s had no problem with that in 2012. He posted a 42 strikeout:4 walk rate in 26 innings with Lo-A Greenville (Red Sox) before moving to Hi-A Salem and fanning 53 (while walking just eight) in a 46 inning sample. He doesn’t have the advanced secondaries that some of the other pitchers on this list have, but as a cold-weather arm (drafted out of UConn) there’s a chance coaching can get more out of his velocity and his secondaries; we may be seeing that now with his performance.
Of the non-2011 pitchers, Taijuan Walker of the Mariners and Jameson Taillon of the Pirates pack the most upside. Walker’s 2011 transition solely to pitching after focusing mostly on basketball previous to being drafted makes his current performance in AA nothing short of incredible. Much like Dylan Bundy, he’s not even 20 yet, and unlike Bundy, he’s already at AA, having skipped Hi-A entirely. He was skipped mostly because High Desert is death on pitchers, but the jump to AA is a big one and he’s had no problem. In addition to his terrific strikeout rate, he has maintained his walk rate and kept the ball in the park. He’s already hitting 95 and has tremendous athleticism and an ideal frame, so as he matures, there’s likely more there, and as he learns how to pitch more, his improving change and curve will continue to grow with him. Walker’s been so remarkable, in fact, that Taillon has been a perceived disappointment, unjustifiably so. The Buccos have been super protective of him, limiting his pitch count to 75 pitches in 2011 and limiting the amount off-speed pitches he can throw, so he hasn’t had the chance to shine like Walker, but his ceiling is still immense. He’s got an elite fastball and curve, and projects as a #1 starter.
The last two prospects, Zack Wheeler and Jake Odorizzi, represent both the longest tenured prospects in the minors and the only two pitchers on this list that have been traded to make the US roster. Wheeler, traded from the Giants at the deadline for 2 months of Carlos Beltran, has the better stuff. He has dominated at AA Binghamton for the Mets to the tune of a 1.88 ERA and just 43 hits allowed in 71 innings; his command still needs work, as evidenced by his 29 walks, and it limits his ceiling a bit. He should still be able to yield a front of the rotation starter, however, which is tremendous return for renting Carlos Beltran. Odorizzi came over in the Zach Greinke trade along with Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain, and has better command and control than Wheeler, but less stuff. He has a fastball that sits in the low 90’s and he couples it with three average offerings. He’s a safe bet to make his major league debut by the end of 2012, though he’ll likely settle in as a competent middle of the rotation starter.