Last year’s attempt to identify relatively unknown pitchers experiencing strong starts was fruitful, so I’ll return with an effort to introduce players who were generally not considered among their respective organization’s top five prospects before the season started. All of these pitchers are off to good starts and could be among their organization’s top pitching prospects by the end of the year.
LHP | Arizona Diamondbacks | 19
Anderson, a second-round pick of the 2006 draft, has been a bright spot on an otherwise underachieving South Bend team.
YEAR LVL G IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA 2007 A 7 41.1 34 13 8 0 5 50 1.74
He will probably always need to answer the questions that accompany a finesse lefty as he progresses through the professional ranks, but the early results are exceptional. He is striking out 10 times as many batters as he is walking while inducing more ground balls than anyone else in the Midwest league. That combination of skills is going to result in success at any level of baseball.
RHP | Milwaukee Brewers | 24
The Brewers have the best pair of prospects in the minor leagues right now in Ryan Braun and Yovani Gallardo. They also have another guy who is flying under the radar and could contribute to the back of the Brewers rotation as soon as this year:
YEAR LVL G IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA 2007 AAA 7 40.1 45 16 15 2 9 23 3.35
Dillard’s fastball velocity is underwhelming and he probably won’t ever exceed 100 strikeouts in a season, but he has everything he needs to overcome his modest velocity; durability, excellent control, and an effective sinker. Nearly 60% of batted balls allowed by Dillard have been hit on the ground, and he has only allowed 12 home runs in his last 200 innings pitched.
RHP | Atlanta Braves | 20
A draft and follow from the 2005 draft, Hanson’s young career has been nothing but successful.
YEAR LVL G IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA 2007 A 7 36.0 24 12 9 1 10 59 3.83
He is already striking out over one-third of opposing batters, and the 6-foot-6 righthander has size and youth on his side.
RHP | Baltimore Orioles | 22
Hernandez fell to round 16 of the 2005 draft due to concerns about his signability, but the Orioles lured him into the organization with a generous signing bonus. While teammate Brandon Erbe is getting a lot of attention, Hernandez has gone relatively unnoticed despite striking out nearly one quarter of all opposing batters as a professional.
YEAR LVL G IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA 2007 A+ 8 40.0 38 19 17 4 12 42 3.83
Hernandez just celebrated his 22nd birthday last weekend, so he is succeeding versus age-appropriate competition. Inconsistent control and slight flyball tendencies will limit his effectiveness, but he could be a solid starting pitcher for the Orioles if he continues to get batters to swing and miss in the upper minor leagues.
YEAR LVL G IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA 2007 A 7 43.0 28 10 9 2 5 46 1.88
It’s important not to get too excited by these numbers, as college-trained arms typically don’t have much trouble competing against Single-A hitters. It will be important to see how Manship handles hitters in the Florida State League and Eastern League over the next two years, but for now he’s doing everything he should be and more with a 10/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in Beloit.
RHP | Tampa Bay Devil Rays | 22
Mason’s strong start in 2006 was overshadowed when his strikeout rate dipped, his control faltered, and he started leaving the ball up in the zone and surrendering too many fly balls during the final two months of his first full professional season. He appears well-rested and has bounced back with another great start this year:
YEAR LVL G IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA 2007 AA 7 38.0 40 16 12 2 8 36 2.84
RHP | Tampa Bay Devil Rays | 23
The durable innings-eater continues to get batters to swing and miss by changing arm angles and effectively locating his secondary pitches and underwhelming fastball.
YEAR LVL G IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA 2007 AAA 8 52.2 35 14 12 5 9 57 2.88
This is Sonnanstine’s second year on the list, and everything I said last year is still true.
RHP | Minnesota Twins | 21
I first started to learn more about the 21-year-old Venezuelan when Hardball Times co-founder Aaron Gleeman reported that Ron Gardenhire mentioned Sosa as a candidate for the Twins rotation six months ago. One month later, Bryan Smith nominated Sosa as the minor league’s most underrated talent in January. Sosa has not disappointed:
YEAR LVL G IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA 2007 A+ 7 33.0 36 14 13 1 10 31 3.55
Over the past couple years, Sosa has added velocity to a fastball that has enough sinking movement to induce an above-average proportion of ground balls. He could earn a promotion to Double-A New Britain in the near future, but the Twins have enough young pitching to avoid rushing him to the major leagues before 2008.
RHP | Cincinnati Reds | 21
Thompson came to the Reds as part of the much-maligned Austin Kearns trade. He was a high risk/high reward acquisition; his stuff was excellent before he experienced the kind of shoulder troubles that most pitchers struggle to return from. So far, it looks like his recovery is going well:
YEAR LVL G IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA 2007 A 5 28.0 16 3 3 1 2 24 0.96
The 0.96 ERA overstates his ability to some extent, but his control has impeccable and he has not been very hittable during the first six weeks of baseball. Thompson recently earned a promotion to the Florida State League, and he could emerge as the Reds’ top minor league pitching prospect in a few months if Homer Bailey moves to Cincinnati.
RHP | Detroit Tigers | 24
YEAR LVL G IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA 2007 AAA 7 40.2 40 15 13 4 10 50 2.88
While he has always demonstrated consistency in throwing strikes, Vasquez has always been too hittable to project as a major league starter. In his second time through the Double-A Eastern League last year, he posted a 3.73 ERA and struck out about 18% of opposing batters. That wasn’t bad, but he also wasn’t inspiring much interest as a prospect. That all changed last November, when he was one of the few effective pitchers in the hitter-dominated Arizona Fall League. He finished the fall league regular season with 24 consecutive scoreless innings, and picked up where he left off in Triple-A Toledo this year. His strikeout rate jumped to 30% and he earned a spot start in Detroit. He was hit hard in his major league debut, and Vasquez needs to maintain his surprisingly strong strikeout rate to overcome his vulnerability to home runs at the next level.