A little over a month ago now I released a post detailing some of minor league baseballs hottest hitters to start the season based on our Blueberry Rankings in the age category of 2o years or younger. It consisted of several names who have seen continued success and praise from a large population of baseball fans. No one has been mentioned off that list more than Juan Soto who has seen 3 promotions this year and is playing in the majors after starting at A ball this year. We definitely don’t need another Soto love piece though. So what do we need?
Just as we did for the hitters back in April its about time to do the same for the pitchers in May. Innings pitched have started to approach the 50+ range for starters and guys are intent on making a name for themselves in this 2018 season. Across the minors we are having some fantastic pitching performances. From guys like Garrett Whitlock (0.92 ERA), Brendan McKay (0.39 WHIP), and Shane Beiber (61 Ks to 3 BBs and getting his MLB Debut Thursday 5/31) we are seeing some special stuff. Similar to our hitters piece lets take a look at our top Blueberry Rankings for pitchers within the age category of 20 or lower. The first thing that immediately jumps off the page is the amount of players in this category are much fewer than the hitters we looked at. The first 19 year old we see on the list is Sixto Sanchez with a Blueberry Ranking of 7|8|6|7|8|7 and if we take a look at the below table we can compare that to the other starter
Note: Top 5 Blueberry Ranked Pitchers 20 or younger
Remember the numbers shown in the last column display the players percentile ranking in that category compared to all pitchers throughout the minor leagues. Notice how not one 19 year old makes the top 5 list here and Sixto, who is our top 19 year old so far, is a size-able gap behind even the next 5 guys after what is shown above. Now, 20 years old is quite the arbitrary number I’ve set on this search criteria. Maybe it’s just because I like nice round numbers, but to me seeing a guy showing production at a young age when measured against all of their peers is when I tend to take notice. Of the five players above there is range of skill and experience. Take notice of how A ball to AAA is showcased here and lets take a look at what these guys have to offer.
Tommy Romero, RHP, TB
Just this past Friday, March 25th, the Tampa Bay Rays acquired Tommy Romero from the Mariners in a deal that consisted of Alex Colome and Denard Span being sent to Seattle for Romero and Andrew Moore. Romero was drafted in the 2017 draft this past June in the 15th round by the Mariners. While his career is obviously young, Romero has shown some flash in his professional career. The 6’2″ right hander has continued his ability to get swing and misses after his college days at Eastern Florida State. Thus far in 2018 he is sporting a 2.28 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and has racked up 58 Ks in 47.1 IP. Romero pitches from a higher 3/4 arm slot and has a very quick repetitive delivery on the mound. He can certainly improve on his velocity but has solid command which is displayed in his ability to generate strikeouts. At the end of the day though 2018 is his first full professional season and he has plenty to work on.
Bryse Wilson, RHP, ATL
Bryse Wilson was drafted in the 2016 June draft by the Braves in the fourth round and after his first full season in 2017 he is making a name for himself. In 2017 across 137 IP he was able to rack up 139 Ks with a 2.50 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP. 2018 has been more of the same for Wilson seeing a 1.86 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, with 48 Ks. Wilson has seen a bit of a regression to normality since being promoted to AA after starting in High A this year. However his xFIP in A-Adv this season sat at 3.10 and it is now at 3.82 while pitching at AA so maybe his sub 0.5 ERA at A-Adv this year was a bit misleading! One thing to note since his promotion is his GB% has dropped by almost 10% and he has mainly seen an increase in LD%. Wilson relies heavily on inducing GBs from hitters so as he adjusts to the higher levels we should hopefully see his percentages adjust back and in turn his ERA as well. One thing that is certain for Wilson is he has shown the ability to pitch deeper into games than we see on average so he certainly profiles best as a mid rotation starter.
Jesus Luzardo, LHP, OAK
Of all the players that made this list Jesus Luzardo is easily my favorite player, as well as my favorite to make an impact in the MLB the soonest. At High A this year Luzardo was striking out hitters at a 45.5% rate alongside a 0.75 WHIP and a 2.05 xFIP so it is no surprise at all that he saw an early season promotion to AA. Since joining the team in Midland, Luzardo hasn’t seen the same domination he did at High A but he is still rolling with a 3.56 xFIP compared to his 3.72 ERA. Now his K% has certainly dropped by quite the sum but his previous rate was godly. He now sits at a 26.7 K% which would be considered an excellent MLB K rate. Luzardo leverages both 2 seam and 4 seam fastballs which sit in the mid 90s while the 4 seamer can touch 98 if he needs it. He also sports a change and curve to mix up alongside his fastball offerings in order to keep hitters guessing. Kim Contreras (@Cu_As on twitter), who recorded the above video, is a fantastic resource on prospects in general but As prospects in particular. If you want more info on Luzardo or any other As prospects I highly recommend her as a resource! With Luzardo’s Tommy John surgery completely in the rear view mirror be on the lookout for him to continue his success throughout this 2018 campaign and potentially break into the MLB rotation later in the season.
Tyler Phillips, RHP, TEX
The first thing I notice when I see Tyler Phillips pitch is his size. The 6’5″ righty is a presence on the mound who can provide mid 90s speeds with his fastball. However, to say Phillips professional career has been anything but a rollercoaster would be an understatement. Take a look at his ERA and WHIP in his first four seasons across three different levels.
The biggest issue for Phillips thus far in his career has been his lack of command. If only STATS LLCs new Command+ statistic was provided for players in the minors we could take a look at how his command fairs from a statistical point of view. For now though we can look at his K and BB rates and see that in seasons when his ERA and WHIP are down he’s quite obviously striking out more and walking less. In his two 6+ ERA stints his xFIP encroached 4.00 and 5.00 respectively. Another piece of the puzzle to look at is his HR/FB rate. When Phillips is bad he is giving up a HR for almost 10% of FBs hit off of him clearly pointing to him missing with his pitches. However, this season lets start with his xFIP being lower than his ERA at 2.72. He also has 53 Ks to, wait for it, FIVE walks! For someone with command issues this is an incredible improvement. Lastly, his HR/FB rate has dropped to below 5 and now sits at 4.9%. All in all, Phillips seems to be benefiting from increased command thus far in his 2018 season. With his size and power, his fastball coupled with his changeup thats shows plus flashes alongside a solid curveball, Phillips has the potential to profile as a very solid mid rotation arm as long as his command continues to improve. Keep an eye out for the youngster as he progresses through the minor league levels.
Jose Suarez, LHP, LAA
The fact that Jose Suarez tops our Blueberry Rankings list and comes in above Tyler Phillips just makes me smile. Just look at the size difference of the two on the mound! Suarez is a stocky 5’10 LHP who releases from the 3/4th arm slot and has a very downhill delivery. His fastball sits in the low 90s but he has a plus change up to go alongside it. His curveball is considered average with some plus flashes here and there. The incredible thing about Suarez is his ability to command the ball. Unlike Phillips in our previous example, Suarez strikes out hitters at an incredible rate by putting the ball where they cant do damage. So far in 2018 Suarez has seen two promotions from when he started out in High A ball and is now pitching at AAA Salt Lake. In High A and AA he had a 48.7% and 39.8% K rate respectively. That’s absurd! He also didn’t give up a home run across those two levels. Prior to receiving the call up to AAA, Suarez saw back to back 11 K games in AA. In his first game at AAA however he was only able to strike out 3 while walking 4 and also gave up his first home run across 4 innings pitched. What will be interesting to see now is how Suarez holds up over the length of the season as he has never pitched more than 75 innings in a season. It would make sense for the Angels to continue to let Suarez develop at AAA this year but if his ability to generate strike outs and quality starts continues the show might be calling. At the end of the day, Suarez most likely profiles as a 4/5 starter with great command and lacking velocity. There are plenty of pitchers who are able to succeed with that as their calling card but in a day where the smallest mistake in location with a low 90s velocity could mean trouble you have to be careful.
So what do you guys think? Any of these 5 pitchers going to make an impact in the 2018 regular season or are we looking at 2019 and beyond? Who is your favorite? Maybe it’s Luzardo or Suarez, or maybe you fancy someone like Bryse Wilson, but whatever it may be let’s hear about it.