Prospects are so enticing. Man do they ever look nice on a list with a shiny number next to them. And when your team needs help in the lineup, or in the rotation, it always seems like there’s a prospect that’s ready to take the league by storm. So many of us in redraft leagues like to reach for them. Instant salve for your rotation wounds! Coming up any day now!
More than half of the best pitching prospects in baseball bust.
Even if you’re talking a top ten pitching prospect, their bust rate is close to 60%. Sure, a quarter of them become superior, and that’s better than any other portion of pitching prospects (the superior rate drops under ten percent after the top 30 pitching prospects), but almost two in three bust. Some may head to the pen, some may spend their time on the Quad-A shuttle, some may end up losing out to the surgeon’s scalpel, but so many pitching prospects never work out.
So you, in your redraft league, you may want to reconsider having too many pitching prospects on your redraft team. Consider Archie Bradley, who’s now looking at missing time due to elbow woes and just a week ago looked like he might be in the D-backs rotation any day now. Really, you’d have to have four of those guys on your roster to assure yourself of value this year.
Or just get lucky.
Let’s use these closer rankings to take a look at the top pitching prospects that are MLB-ready and assess their ability to help this year. Remember, this isn’t about keeper leagues, where you can wait a little longer and have a little more patience. This is about how likely a guy is to come up and help you, this year, right now, when your rotation needs it most.
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Tier 1: Elite (4) (AKA: The “Taijuan Walker” Tier.)
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox
According to Baseball America, the only top 10 pitching prospect that isn’t up in the big leagues yet is Archie Bradley. But with the elbow news we’ll dock him a point or two. Taijuan Walker came in 11th on the list, and though that means that his bust rate officially climbs over 60%, he’s in a good position to succeed. A great home park, a team that needs pitching, and a decent amount of adjustment behind him. Dude has 95 mph gas and a wicked breaker and it looks like the change should be good. Then again, he’s coming back from a shoulder problem and has as many command problems as Archie Bradley.
Craig Kimbrel only has one possible Kimbrel this year — three strikeouts and no base runners in a save situation — but it wasn’t in a save. So no Kimbrels for The Namesake. That and the aching body parts are is enough to keep him out of the top spot, just because Kenley Jansen is so filthy. If you owned both of the top closers, you’d have 47 strikeouts in 24 1/3 innings, so you’d already be twenty strikeouts ahead of the average closer. Awesome. Holland and Jansen also have a Kimbrel each, for what it’s worth.
Tier 2: Rock Steady (6) (AKA: The “Kevin Gausman“ Tier.)
Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals
Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins
Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants
David Robertson, New York Yankees
Addison Reed, Arizona Diamondbacks
Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals
Kevin Gausman is behind some pitchers — Noah Syndergaard and Dylan Bundy most notably — but he’s ready to go right now. His mid-nineties gas and two brands of change-up are exciting, and he’s shown plus command in the past. By peripherals, he wasn’t overmatched in his first go-around in the big leagues, but the ERA results weren’t exciting. That’s fine. Nobody in the Orioles’ rotation right now is killing it consistently — ok Chris Tillman has been good — and any of them could be replaced by the kid with ace-like upside. If the Orioles’ fans were already talking about needing Gausman like the Mariners’ fandom is demanding Walker, you might see Gausman in the top spot. He’s absolutely exciting.
Glen Perkins, Sergio Romo, Addison Reed — these guys are all good, all have above-average strikeout rates, and good control, with no obvious flaws or setup men biting at their heels. But for my money, it’s Trevor Rosenthal that has the stuff to jump up into the elite tier. He’s still striking everyone out at least. And though Kevin Siegrist and Carlos Martinez are good, they are both used against same-handed hitters. Rosenthal has seen some control woes recently, but he doesn’t have a history of bad command. And his first strike rate is league average — and that’s the most predictive walk rate peripheral. Paradoxically, the Cardinals’ closer is having trouble getting batters to reach. Reaching turns a ball into a strike, so there’s your problem. But with no real erosion of his stuff, there’s little reason to think he can’t find a way to entice batters t reach again.
There was some question about whether David Robertson should jump right into this tier if healthy. It was my contention that he’s been groomed for this role and has had the strikeout rates of a closer his entire career. Robertson is sitting 93 and closing games since he returned, and everything looks dandy. I just wrote the word dandy.
I’ve been down on Rafael Soriano, but it’s time to give him a little due. Last year, his velocity was down, but more damning was the fact that his slider was getting below-average whiffs and his overall line was very un-closer like. Well, now he’s throwing the sinker less, throwing the slider more, and the pitch has an average whiff rate once again. A lot of breakers and fewer sinkers mean an eleven-year high in whiff rate for Soriano and a good strikeout rate and pristine number so far. It’s worth mentioning that his velocity is down again, but that happens to all pitchers and it’s nice to see him adapting at least.
Tier 3: Okay Options (7) (AKA: The “Alex Meyer” Tier.)
Joe Nathan, Detroit Tigers
Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins
Joakim Soria, Texas Rangers
Fernando Rodney, Seattle Mariners
Tommy Hunter, Baltimore Orioles
Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
Francisco Rodriguez, Milwaukee Brewers
Alex Meyer was only rated 45th, and there are plenty of arms on the list above him. Some — like Andrew Heaney and Eddie Butler — might be ready to come up right now. But the Twins have the worst rotation in baseball by ERA right now, and yet they’re keeping their head above water to some extent. They might feel some pressure to bring up the kid with mid-90s velocity, a good breaker, and a change that he just tweaked into plus territory. I saw Meyer in the fall and came away hugely impressed and think this callup might happen fairly soon.
Steve Cishek blew a save and Joe Nathan hasn’t been scored upon in his last four outings (six strikeouts, three base runners), and that’s enough to flip flop them at the top. But with both showing career-low velocity, neither is breaking down the door for the tier above. It’s particularly interesting for Cishek, who’s won of the pitchers throwing the biggest drop and has seen his radar gun reading drop below 90 mph, but is currently showing the best strikeout rate of his career. Might be a good time to sell high, strikeout rates in ten innings or less are not particularly stable.
Let’s give Joakim Soria some love. With all of his setup men falling apart, injured or starting, he’s all alone on closer island in Texas. And for five straight appearances, he’s come out and gotten one strikeout without any base runners. It’s a remarkable game log. Well done!
Perhaps I was hard on Francisco Rodriguez. I still don’t like his career-worst velocity (below 90!) and the fact that he’s resorted to throwing the change-up at a career-high rate. Strikeouts minus walks are the best predictor of in-season success for a pitcher, but it’s still only been 16 innings of work for K-Rod. It doesn’t make much sense to point to past saves totals in-season and say that he’ll continue to get saves at that pace, unless you believe the surprising Brewers will continue to outscore the rest of their division. I’ll bet on the field and say that his crazy pace will slow, hitters will sit on the change-up, and things will change. But with Jim Henderson still not throwing in the eighth, and Will Smith a lefty without blazing velocity, there isn’t really a challenger that should make him too nervous. He’s safe even if I’d be selling high on him.
Take a look at the more volatile closer situations on the next page.