As promised, we’re right back at it with the Southern League’s top pitchers over the first month. Some obvious names are performing at a break neck level and some lesser knowns performing well. There’s also some elite prospects missing the mark in a category or two. So let’s take a quick look around and see what comes up. Here’s the SL pitchers.
The Arms Race
Kyle Heckathorn RHP Brewers – age 24 – Big hulking righty has always had the stuff to be dominant but never has fully put it together. But so far in 2012 he’s striking out almost a batter per inning and has just 7 walks in 32.2 IP. He isn’t hugely dominant but is finally looking like a future SP for the Brewers.
Tyler Thornburg RHP Brewers – age 23 – While Heckathorn isn’t the dominant front-end type, Thornburg has been mowing down hitters at every level and right now he’s at 30.3% while walking just 7 in 35 IP. He has the stuff to be a dominant front half of the the rotation starter and the 1.80 ERA supports that. But he will need to build the innings to 170+ this season to prove himself as a starter. He’s on target.
Pat Corbin LHP Diamondbacks – age 22 – Corbin has been called up to the big club and has made two starts. A 2-0 start with a 1.67 ERA gave him the spotlight to be the first of the trio in the Southern League for Dbacks called up. He has back of the rotation upside at this point and he’s ahead of schedule to the bigs.
Tyler Skaggs, LHP Diamondbacks – age 20 – Skaggs is striking out a whopping 34% of Southern League batters this season. To top it off he’s walked just 5%. The big lefty has front of the rotation stuff and should be on the short list of potential call ups for the Dbacks. He’s not long for the SL and we should expect to see his debut by midseason.
Matt Magill RHP Dodgers – age 22 – Magill is a less than heralded prospect, but he striking out 27.4% of hitters he faces. So it’s time to take notice when a 22 year old unknown dominates in Double-A. He isn’t putting it all together since he’s walking 12.4% and has a 4.50 ERA. But the 3.16 FIP says he’s been better than the results. One to watch.
Taijuan Walker RHP Mariners – age 19 – Walker is the one SP in the SL that has the upside to be one of the best RHP in all of baseball. At age 19, he’s dominating players older than him and he has the stuff to keep that going. He’s currently striking out 25.5% while walking just 7.3%. Good for a league leading 1.30 ERA. He’s 19. Did I mention that’s only 19?
Nestor Molina RHP White Sox – age 23 – Leading the SL in walk rate with just a 3.2%. He was the key piece to the Sergio Santos deal and will need to up the K rate some if he’s going to be that mid rotation starter the Sox hoped they were getting. He has excellent command of his pitch arsenal. Can he be dominant? One answer to many questions is that he is a SP long term. But where does he slot?
Jose Quintana LHP White Sox – age 23 – Another lesser known arm. This lefty has struck out 26 in 35.1 IP with a 3.03 ERA. The production is there for the southpaw and he’s walked just 7.3% of hitters. He’s bounced from the Mets to the Yankees and now with the White Sox he may be poised tos tep forward as a SP option.
Nick Struck RHP Cubs – age 22 – Stuck is pretty much an unknown to most, but he’s been a solid strikeout pitcher and is continuing that trend in 2012. His 18.8% K rate is strong but he missing the zone too often and is walking 10%+. But as a 39th rounder he could prove to be a back end starter or RP.
James Paxton LHP Mariners – age 23 – Paxton has been wildly effective so far this year. He’s struck out 36 in 28.2 IP but has walked 18 in those same innings. He does hold a 2.50 ERA and has the stuff to be a solid 2-3 starter. But he’s still refining his secondaries and needs some time before the M’s depend on him every fifth day. So while he has been dominant, he’s misfiring because our expectations are high for the duo of Paxton and Hultzen.
J.C. Sulbaran RHP Reds – age 22 – Sulbaran has a 4.05 ERA to this point and has lost half of his starts. But he’s struck out 40 in 33.1 innings and walked just 13. The dominance is there but he’s going to need to start working down in the zone and build up his command. He’s given up 35 hits and with such a high K rate that means he in the middle of the zone far too often.
Danny Hultzen LHP Mariners – age 22 – Hultzen, like Paxton, is walking a lot of batters with 11% thus far. But he’s still be dominant with a 27.8% K rate and just a 2.05 ERA. So I’m digging deep here for players under-performing. Hultzen has the chance to be a high K rate 2-3 starter and isn’t far off. He’s closer than Paxton and should get to Seattle at the end of 2012.
There is a lot of talented arms in the Southern League and that means they are knocking on the door to the majors. Each player on this list could be a staple in the respective clubs rosters with in the next 12 months and a team like the Mariners with the likes of Walker, Paxton and Hultzen should be very excited if they each make the transition to the next level.
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