1) Taijuan Walker – The Seattle Mariners selected their top prospect with the 43rd overall pick in the 1st round of the 2010 MLB Draft. I don’t know what teams were thinking with the 42 picks before that. When Walker made his major league debut on August 30th 2013, he became the 5th youngest starting pitcher in team history. Mike Rosenbaum from Bleacher Report recently noted, “After an up-and-down 2012 season at Double-A, Walker’s command and overall execution of his electric arsenal has developed rapidly during his second tour of the level. Beyond the obvious improvements in his stuff and command, the right-hander’s ability to make adjustments this season has separated him from every other pitching prospect.” Walker has a very explosive fastball that constantly reaches the mid-90’s, and the ball is said to jump out of his hand with late movement. Pitching in Safeco will only help improve this pitching prospects fantasy numbers, and Walker has as good a chance as anyone to be this year’s Jose Fernandez.
Future Fantasy Comp: Felix Hernandez
2) Dylan Bundy – After being diagnosed with a partial tear in his right elbow ligament, Bundy underwent Tommy John surgery on June 27th, 2013. The date of his surgery puts the status of the Orioles top pitching prospect in jeopardy for the upcoming season. He could start to throw in February, if everything stays on track. Depending on his progress, Bundy could return to the mound anytime from May to August. Although there is a chance that he could come back and help the Orioles and fantasy owners in the 2nd half of the season, it might be smarter to take the more conservative approach and not expect much from the stud prospect until 2015. But if Bundy can fully recover from his surgery and get back to pitching at the level that earned him his top prospect status, fantasy managers won’t mind using a prospect spot for another year on the Orioles future fantasy ace.
Future Fantasy Comp: Zack Grienke
3) Mark Appel – The Astros selected this young gun with the 1st overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft. In high-school, Appel was used as a relief pitcher, because other pitchers on his high-school squad were perceived as being more talented. Appel proved the doubters wrong by earning a scholarship to play at Stanford. By his sophomore year, Appel was the star pitcher and Friday-night starter for the Stanford Cardinals. Appel can already hit the mid-90’s with his fastball, and his excellent control allows him to keep the ball around the zone, even when he is not as his best. In 2012, the Pirates selected him with the #8 overall pick, but Appel chose to return to college for his senior year. The Astros are lucky he did so, as they were able to stake claim to the young fire-baller, and the team is hopeful that he will develop into the future ace that the ball club is searching for. The Astros expect Appel to move quickly through the minors, with an outside shot of getting his call to the majors sometime during the upcoming season.
Future Fantasy Comp: Mat Latos
4) Kevin Gausman – The 2nd Orioles prospect to make this list, Gausman was just barely able to hang onto his rookie status for the 2014 season. The Orioles haven’t done the best job of developing their young pitchers in the past, but Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman should give the team a chance to reverse that streak. Gausman split time between the rotation and the bullpen after his call-up, with mixed results. His 5.66 ERA in 2013 was nothing to write home about, but we can take the 49 K’s in 47.7 IP as a positive sign that this young hurler can develop into a very valuable strikeout pitcher for fantasy owners. It will be interesting to see if the Orioles hand Gausman a spot in the starting rotation and let him run, or if he will find his way back into the bullpen to begin the year. Either way, Kevin Gausman will be in the Orioles rotation in the near future, teaming with Dylan Bundy to give the O’s the best 1-2 pitching punch they have had in a long time.
Future Fantasy Comp: Matt Cain
5) Kohl Stewart – The furthest away from the majors on this list, Stewart was the top high-school arm selected in the 2013 MLB Draft. The pitching prospect was recruited by Texas A&M to play quarterback , but Stewart opted to sign with the Twins and focus on his baseball career. When Twins management decided to use the #4 overall pick in the draft on Stewart, the ball club stated that they were focused on drafting skills, tools, body, competitiveness, and attention that will project well once 22-to-23 years old, and Stewart fit that mold perfectly. Stewart should develop the repertoire to rack up strikeouts in the future. In 2013, during his final year of high-school, Stewart pitched 40 innings for a stat line of 5-1, 0.18 ERA, and 59 K’s. The Twins believe the young hurler’s long-term make-up and outlook far out-measured everyone else that was still available in the draft. Kohl Stewart will spend the next few seasons developing in the minors, but he projects to give the Twins a front-of-the-rotation starter capable a putting up nice strikeout totals down the road.
Future Fantasy Comp: Max Scherzer
Honorable Mention: Kyle Zimmer (KCR), Yordano Ventura (KCR), Matt Barnes (BOS), Henry Owens (BOS), Alex Meyer (MIN).
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