Ray Butler’s 2020 Prospect Obsessions: Pitchers

Written by: Ray Butler

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We are living in unprecedented times.

When it was originally announced that the start of Major League Baseball’s regular season would be rightfully pushed-back, my original plan was to stockpile content and release it closer to delayed Opening Day. With no meaningful baseball in sight (a June or July Opening Day is a fair estimate, if the 2020 season doesn’t get canceled altogether), page views across the industry have plummeted as the sport gets (understandably) placed on the back-burner throughout the country. Delaying meaningful releases make sense.

However, I’ve decided that if our articles can simply take your mind off the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic for ten seconds, it’s entirely worth it to continue publishing our preseason content. So that’s what we’re going to do.

The infield and outfield portions of my 2020 prospect obsession list have already been published (infield portion here and outfield portion here). They’re fantastic preludes to the extensive list you’re about to read.

The composite of my 2020 top-200 prospect list was recently released, but the link at the end of each write-up below will take you to the original post for said prospect on my 2020 list. As you know, most of the write-ups you’ll read below are child’s play compared to the write-ups on my prospect list, so make sure you supplement the information below with additional data recently published on the site.

No, this is not a breakout prospect list consisting of players who are set to explode throughout the upcoming season (I already published that article earlier this offseason). Instead, the players within my prospect obsession list are simply interesting. Perhaps I believe there’s a current market inefficiency that’s suppressing the value of a prospect in dynasty leagues. Perhaps I have a reason(s)—birthed from a previous live look or an organizational contact—to believe we’re bound to witness a statistical evolution within a prospect’s profile in the near future, and I’ll be monitoring these prospects more closely than others this season due to that information.

Oh, and while this certainly isn’t a breakout list, I’d be lying if I said I don’t expect several of the names mentioned below to drastically improve their stock this season. Last season, the position player portion of this list included Dylan Carlson, Kristian Robinson, Marco Luciano, Drew Waters, George Valera, Geraldo Perdomo, Mauricio Dubon and Heriberto Hernandez amongst others. Take that for what it’s worth.

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Shane Baz, SP, TB. Age: 20

Baz is one of the most-hyped pitching prospects in the sport heading into the 2020 season, but I outlined in my prospect list how he could easily hit a wall in his ascension. As the preseason has progressed, several different industry sites have also expressed their concerns regarding Baz’s future role. Of course, I predicted the right-hander would eventually overcome those concerns, leaving him as one of the best overall prospects in baseball and destined for a spot in the Rays’ big league rotation. He’ll be under a microscope in the Florida State League this summer, and I’m here for it. Be on the look out for reports on mechanical repeatability this season and beyond. #P365Top200Rank: 46

Sam Carlson, SP, SEA. Age: 21

Before last season, I published an article outlining several pitching prospects who had the chance to be Chris Paddack reincarnate (a pitching prospect who exploded onto the scene ‘out of nowhere’ following a long-term injury). Had I published a similar article this offseason, Carlson would have been one of the few names on the list. A second round pick in 2017, the right-hander has thrown a grand total of 3.0 IP as a professional thanks largely to an elbow injury that led to Tommy John surgery in July 2018. He’ll return this season with a chance to debut on my prospect list by midseason. #P365Top200Rank: Not Ranked

Roansy Contreras, SP, NYY. Age: 20

I’ll keep it simple: Contreras is on the list because I believe he possesses a bit of strikeout upside we haven’t seen yet. 19-years-old in the South Atlantic League is much more difficult than 20-years-old in the Florida State League. I believe we’ll see growth in the swing-and-miss department this summer and beyond, especially since the arsenal is solid analytically. #P365Top200Rank: 176

Tucker Davidson, SP, ATL. Age: 24

Davidson was added to the 40-man roster this offseason, and he’ll begin the season at Triple-A Gwinnett; these facts leave him one call away from Atlanta. And it’s completely flying under the radar, but the 24-year-old could easily find himself higher on the pecking order than a pitcher like Bryse Wilson or perhaps even Kyle Wright, depending on the situation. I’ve been adamant the southpaw profiles as a starting pitcher at the sport’s highest level. He’ll officially begin proving me right this season. #P365Top200Rank: 162

Logan Gilbert, SP, SEA. Age: 22

If for no other reason, Gilbert deserves to be on this list due to the fact his extension is worthy of stashing under the bed or in the closet so your parents or significant other doesn’t find it. The stuff is really good too, so we might see the 22-year-old debut later this season despite pitching for a team that will be a cellar dweller in the AL West in 2020. Four scoreless innings pitched during Spring Training certainly set the mood for an awesome, upcoming campaign. #P365Top200Rank: 53

Luis Gutierrez, SP, SD. Age: 17

When the GOAT Jason Pennini says Gutierrez shares a lot of traits with Adrian Morejon, you take notice. Not that the latter is any longer considered a star in the making, but Gutierrez likely wouldn’t make the top-500 on most prospect lists right now. The 17-year-old isn’t physically overwhelming and strikes me as a pitcher who will be more known for his polish and pitchability than an explosive arsenal, but there’s still value to be found here; you should look to take advantage before the summer leagues begin. #P365Top200Rank: Not Ranked

Adam Kloffenstein, SP, TOR. Age: 19

This inclusion is all about velocity. Kloffenstein’s fastball currently sits at 90-92 despite the fact the right-hander currently stands at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds. Smart money is on the velocity ticking-up as the right-hander matures, which would really make this profile pop. Kloffenstein was destined to top 100 IP in a single season for the first time as a professional in 2020 before the start to the regular season was delayed. #P365Top200Rank: VIP

Dean Kremer, SP, BAL. Age: 24

I know it’s Camden Yards and the hellacious AL East, but Kremer is an intriguing, under-the-radar prospect who might hold a bit of redraft value in 2020. The right-hander has a long track record of strikeout success despite possessing only one legitimate plus pitch, though the entire arsenal plays-up thanks to the unique angle Kremer creates when he strides. If it all comes together, the 24-year-old will become a mid-tier SP4 who always strikes out more hitters than his stuff says he should. #P365Top200Rank: 185

Jimmy Lewis, SP, LAD. Age: 19

First year pitchers who don’t pitch the summer they’re drafted are always underrated around the prospect world the following season. Los Angeles slow-played the right-hander’s mild labrum tear last summer, but he’s destined to debut in the Midwest League in 2020. The profile strikes me as more ‘ball of clay-ish’ than what is being published elsewhere, but this is the Dodgers we’re talking about here. The projection alone makes the 19-year-old worth monitoring this season. #P365Top200Rank: Not Ranked

Matthew Liberatore, SP, STL. Age: 20

Last summer, a scout told me watching 2019 Liberatore was the equivalent of a teenager getting behind the wheel of a Ferrari. He/she may not wreck it, but they won’t fully appreciate the power at their fingertips. Once the 20-year-old fully realizes how elite his stuff is, the strikeout numbers will fly through the roof. Now a member of the Cardinals—an organization that continues to get the most from its pitching prospects without a heavy reliance on technology—we could witness Liberatore’s ascension beginning this season. #P365Top200Rank: 63

Brailyn Marquez, SP, CHC. Age: 21

Marquez has quickly become one of the most electric pitching prospects in the minor leagues, but he needs to answer some questions in the Carolina (and Southern) League this season. The fastball has reportedly topped out at 101 in-game, but a below average spin rate and reports of unintentional cutting worry me in terms of swing and miss viability at the top of the zone against advanced hitters. Both the slider and changeup made strides last season (the former is a true swing-and-miss offering), and a repeat performance of his 29.2 K% last season would likely make Marquez a consensus top-100 prospect by midseason. #P365Top200Rank: 116

Corbin Martin, SP, ARI. Age: 24

This is simply a ‘don’t forget about him’ inclusion. Martin underwent Tommy John surgery in July, likely sidelining him until Opening Day 2021. The stuff is elite; the command is not. Now a member of the Diamondbacks after being dealt by the Astros in the Zack Greinke trade, the 24-year-old should play a workload-restricted role in the desert next season. Now’s the perfect time to buy low or draft discounted in dynasty leagues. #P365Top200Rank: Not Ranked

Shane McClanahan, SP, TB. Age: 22

Don’t know whether or not I’ll make this an official prospect bold prediction, but there’s a non-zero chance McClanahan is more highly regarded than Brendan McKay around the baseball world by the end of the 2020 season. The 22-year-old checked every box last season, and the stuff is good enough for the southpaw to emerge as a viable arm even in the crowded Rays organization. #P365Top200Rank: 124

Luis Medina, SP, NYY. Age: 20

It’s a cherry-picked starting point, but I’ll let Medina’s last eight starts last season explain why he’s on this list: 45.2 IP, 1.77 ERA, 2.02 FIP, .177 BAA, 26.8 K-BB%, 0.96 WHIP. Those numbers are unfathomably good. Of any pitching prospect outside my current top-100, Medina has the highest ceiling. #P365Top200Rank: 105

Francisco Morales, SP, PHI. Age: 20

Francisco Morales is Luis Medina without the hype. Sure the latter has a bit more fastball velocity, but it’s the former with better spin rates on both his heater and primary breaking ball. It’ll likely be the development of his changeup and the increase in repeatability and smoothness of his mechanics that will keep Morales in the rotation long-term, but he’ll be one of the more exciting pitchers in the Florida State League this season. #P365Top200Rank: 106

Yohanse Morel, SP, KC. Age: 19

A huge discrepancy between Morel’s ERA (6.02) and xFIP (3.93) thanks to a .370 BABIP masked a solid full season debut last season. Leaning heavily on a sinker/changeup combination means the ceiling here isn’t gigantic, but there’s backend rotation potential within this profile. Morel was discussed further in Six Man Rotation’s Connor Kurcon’s introduction to the Sparkman projection system for minor league pitchers. #P365Top200Rank: Not Ranked

Nick Neidert, SP, MIA. Age: 23

Despite his horrendous 2019 campaign in the Pacific Coast League, Neidert still possesses back-end potential. The performance and evaluations bounced back in the Arizona Fall League, and the 23-year-old will likely make his big league debut sometime this season. The arsenal here reminds me a bit of the Great Value version of Chris Paddack, and the K/9 will likely hover between 8 and 9 at the big league level. #P365Top200Rank: Not Ranked

Luis Oviedo, SP, CLE. Age: 20

Sitting behind home plate at a Lake County Captains game the day before last summer’s Futures Game, Oviedo was assigned to sit behind home plate and chart the Captains’ pitcher. By July, the big right-hander’s velocity had plummeted from 92-95 to 88-90, and there was widespread speculation that Oviedo was pitching thru an injury (looking at him, that was the only logical conclusion). The 20-year-old was eventually shut down down the homestretch of the 2019 season with a lower back injury, and his velocity has since returned according to reports from minor league Spring Training. Oviedo is still listed at 170 pounds, but I’d wager that number is actually closer to 200 pounds. Pair that with the fact he’s 6-foot-4 and athletic, and it’s easy to understand the intrigue within this profile. Our Adam Tulley published a puff piece on the 20-year-old last preseason; with Oviedo reportedly back to full health, there’s a fairly clear path for the article to come to fruition in 2020. #P365Top200Rank: Not Ranked

Luis Patiño, SP, SD. Age: 20

Patiño is already one of the best pitching prospects in baseball; we don’t have to worry about him notching that achievement. But I’m curious on just how high he can climb amongst pitching prospects before he debuts in San Diego. If the Padres are anywhere near contention this season, the right-hander should make his debut sometime this summer. He checked every box that was placed in front of him in 2019, now I want to see if he’s capable of ascending to ‘best right-handed pitching prospect in baseball’ before he graduates from prospect lists. I lay awake at night thinking about the front leg post-up in the video below. #P365Top200Rank: 24

Quinn Priester, SP, PIT. Age: 19

As I said in my prospect list, there’s just something about Priester. There’s pedigree, projection and explosive stuff all within this profile. As the Pirates’ organizational and R&D philosophy shifts, I can’t help but think Priester, Tahnaj Thomas (also discussed in this article) and newly-acquired Brennan Malone may become the faces of developmental progress throughout the fanbase. A solid full-season debut in 2020 would go a long way to fulfilling that notion. #P365Top200Rank: 196

Chris Rodriguez, SP, LAA. Age: 21

I can’t stop you, Chris Rodriguez. After fighting back ailments for north of a calendar year, the 21-year-old went under the knife and hasn’t pitched since April of last season. With that struggle now seemingly in the rearview mirror, the right-hander should now be able to focus on ascending to a standing worthy of his explosive stuff. I would say Rodriguez possesses ‘Paddack-like’ comeback qualities, but I already made that claim last season. #P365Top200Rank: VIP

Yerry Rodriguez, SP, TEX. Age: 22

It’s all about durability for Rodriguez in 2020. There are three above-average-or-better-pitches, and both the fastball and curveball are Statcast darlings that led to a superb groundball rate last season. The right-hander hasn’t pitched since July following a big elbow scare (pair that with a PED suspension in 2017 and you quickly realize he’s only thrown 193.1 IP since debuting professionally in 2016), but it appears he’s avoided the worst of it for now. It’s not hyperbole to say this season will be paramount in shaping Rodriguez’s career path. Proving durability would likely mean the 22-year-old is a top-100 prospect a year from now; the tools are certainly there. #P365Top200Rank: 163

Tarik Skubal, SP, DET. Age: 23

Skubal is on this list because I’m well aware I need to nail down my views of the left-hander this season. Everyone who’s even generally interested in prospects knows about Skubal’s fastball, the pitch that served as the catalyst in the southpaw’s jaw-dropping 36.5 K% last season between the Florida State League and Eastern League. What you may not know about is Skubal’s heavy reliance on the pitch, to the point some scouts believe the disparity in usage will become a problem at the big league level. Both the slider and changeup have flashed promise, but I want to see the pair utilized more frequently before I become pot-committed on the left-hander. #P365Top200Rank: 86

Matt Tabor, SP, ARI. Age: 21

If I had to pick an under-the-radar pitching prospect to breakout this season, it would be Tabor. There’s already a track record of success here, and the stuff—both from an analytical and surface standpoint—is better than what is publicly recognized. The California League will be a challenging league for this breakout to occur, but it’ll make the impending performance all the more impressive. The 21-year-old was included amongst my breakout prospects for the 2020 season. #P365Top200Rank: 122

Tahnaj Thomas, SP, PIT. Age: 20

Thomas’ fastball/slider combination are what wet dreams are made of. Now we get to see the right-hander in full season ball, slated to wreck shop in the South Atlantic League this season. ‘An interesting ball of clay’ is a phrase I’ve read a few times regarding the 20-year-old. Thomas was a successful inclusion on this list last season, but he’ll have the chance to officially break out in 2020. #P365Top200Rank: 195

Alex Vesia, RP, MIA. Age: 24

A reliever? A reliever! You’d be shocked to see the amount of questions/DMs I receive each season about relief prospects to target. This season, my stock answer will be Vesia. The 24-year-old reminds me a bit of a left-handed Tommy Kahnle, and he could be the best reliever on the Marlins by the end of the 2020 season. The Spring Training success (prior to shutdown) was just a small taste of things to come: 6.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 5 K. #P365Top200Rank: Not Ranked

Blake Walston, SP, ARI. Age: 18

The words ‘left-handed projection’ always makes me feel something, especially when we’re talking about a pitcher. Walston is one of the highest-ceiling pitchers from last summer’s draft, and reports from the Arizona League make me drool a little bit envisioning his full season debut in 2020. Buy stock now. #P365Top200Rank: 177

Simeon Woods-Richardson, SP, TOR. Age: 19

You don’t have to squint too hard to believe last summer’s deal that included Marcus Stroman and Anthony Kay will eventually be known as the ‘Simeon Woods-Richardson Trade’. This is a young, polished pitcher with above average fastball spin and an arm slot that helps the curveball play-up. As I stated in my prospect list, the teenager could debut in the big leagues the same year he becomes legally able to purchase alcohol. That’s special. #P365Top200Rank: 99

Kyle Wright, SP, ATL. Age: 24

Rough stints in the big leagues have caused Wright’s stock to plummet, but the raw stuff is as good as any pitcher in the minor leagues. The 24-year-old is a fantastic spinner of the baseball, but finding ways to improve fastball command and spin efficiency will likely be the difference in the right-hander becoming a mid-rotation MLB starter and a high-variance reliever. At the current price, it’s hard to not be optimistic. I included Wright in this article about non-elite prospects who hold sneaky redraft value in 2020. #P365Top200Rank: 126


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Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365

Featured image courtesy of photographer Brian Westerholt and the Associated Press

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