We've reached the end of the minor league regular season, and with it we're also onto the last position from our offseason prospect rankings.
The (Brief) State of the Position
Overall, the numbers that make for a good fantasy starting pitcher have shifted in the past few seasons, as strikeouts have become more prevalent than ever before, and with it lower ERAs and WHIPs. Right now, we are trending to have the following amounts of pitchers to meet or exceed these amounts:
200+ strikeouts: 19 pitchers
250+ strikeouts: 5
300+ strikeouts: 1 (Kershaw at 301 pace)
Sub 2.00 ERA (min 150 IP): 1 (Greinke, 1.59)
Sub 2.50 ERA: 7 pitchers
Sub 3.00 ERA: 16
Sub 1.00 WHIP: 7 pitchers
Sub 1.10 WHIP: 17 pitchers
Sub 1.15 WHIP: 25 pitchers
Like many of the other positions, we're seeing a bit of a changing of the guard, as younger players and prospects are coming to the majors in large quantity and seeing immediate success. We've seen five of the top 10 prospects graduate this year, with Syndergaard establishing himself as a top 20 starter and Rodon and Heaney emerging as solid starting options for all formats. The next group could be even better, as we could see Lucas Giolito, Julio Urias, and Tyler Glasnow all reach the majors in 2016.
Preseason Top 10 with Current Level
1. Noah Syndergaard - Mets (MLB - Graduate)
What more could you ask for from Syndergaard as a rookie? He's thrown 122 innings in the majors, posted more than a strikeout per inning, has gone more than 6 innings in eight of his 20 starts, and has a 3.31 ERA with a 1.13 WHIP. There remains the potential for Syndergaard to be even better, as he can be a top 10 starting pitcher with improvements in ERA and WHIP.
2. Lucas Giolito - Nationals (AA)
Giolito has done very little to dissuade the notion that he will be a top of the rotation starting pitcher, reaching AA and pitching well there in 8 starts there. Overall, he's thrown 117 innings, notched 131 strikeouts with a 3.15 ERA between High-A and AA. I can see Giolito debuting in 2016, but he seems likely to spend most of the year between AA and AAA.
3. Carlos Rodon - White Sox (MLB - Graduate)
Rodon started the year in the minors, but was only down for a couple weeks before the White Sox brought up their top pick from a year ago. We've seen flashes of the top of the rotation starter that Rodon can be, including an 11-strikeout, seven shutout inning performance in August. It may take some more time for Rodon to develop toward that end, as he needs to improve on his walk total to reach that level.
4. Dylan Bundy - Orioles (Disabled List)
it's been a tough few years for a prospect that was expected to be a quick mover through the minors, debuting at the age of 19 in 2012, but not returning to the majors in the three years since. He has only managed to throw a total of 63 innings over the last three seasons, and it's going to force the Orioles into a difficult decision in 2016. He will be out of options, having signed a major league contract after being drafted in 2011, so he will need to stick on the major league roster or be exposed to waivers. This could lead to Bundy being moved to the bullpen potentially, drastically changing his long-term outlook and fantasy value.
5. Julio Urias - Dodgers (AAA)
Urias just turned 19 last month, but made his first AAA start last week. The Dodgers have pushed Urias aggressively, and he's met the challenge at each stop so far. He did miss a month during the season this year due to elective eye surgery, but is not expected to have any impact on his vision long term. Urias appears reasonably likely to debut in 2016, but given that he has not thrown more than 100 innings in a season yet as a professional, it may take him a couple years to build up to a full workload and a top 20 fantasy starter from year to year.
6. Tyler Glasnow - Pirates (AAA)
Glasnow split his year between AA and AAA, while also missing a month due to an ankle injury. His overall numbers were excellent (128 strikeouts, 2.47 ERA with 1.12 WHIP over 102 innings), although he did finish his season with a clunker of a start (0.1 IP, 6 ER, 5 BB). He'll also debut at some point in 2016, although the Pirates could also bring him along a bit slowly to build up his innings. His highest single season inning total was in 2014, at 143 innings between the regular season and the Arizona Fall League, so it could also take him a couple seasons to build up toward a 200+ inning workload.
7. Jon Gray - Rockies (MLB)
Gray spent most of the year at AAA Albuquerque before the Rockies called him up in early August. He's made six starts in the majors, with mixed results so far. Gray will head into 2016 with a shot at an Opening Day rotation spot, although it's not clear to me that he'll turn into the level of pitcher that was expected when he was the #3 overall pick in 2013.
8. Robert Stephenson - Reds (AAA)
Stephenson split the year between AA and AAA, but the struggles with walks have remained at both levels (4.8 BB/9 IP). There remains a ton of opportunity for Stephenson in 2016 if he has a good spring, as the Reds realistically only have Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani, and Raisel iglesias as locks for their rotation. There are going to remain concerns about WHIP with Stephenson, but the strikeout potential remains very high even with that.
9. Archie Bradley - Diamondbacks (MLB-DL)
Bradley debuted early on in the season, but has missed most of the year between being hit in the face by a line drive and then missing most of the rest of the year due to shoulder injuries. He's made two starts at AAA in the past week, so we could see Bradley return to the Diamondbacks once the AAA season ends this week.
10. Andrew Heaney - Angels (MLB - Graduate)
After being traded twice in the past offseason, Heaney spent the first two months at AAA before coming up to stay in mid-June. Heaney has been very good overall, although the strikeout potential has not kept up with his actual performance so far. He'll be in the Angels' 2016 rotation, and will be a top 50 starting pitcher who provides solid ratio stats to go with a good but not elite strikeout rate.
I'll take a look at the rest of the preseason top 25 on Wednesday, but I am anticipating the following prospects from the second half of the list moving into the top 10 during the offseason:
Steven Matz - Mets
Jeff Hoffman - Rockies
Alex Reyes - Cardinals
In addition, there were two other prospects in my midseason top 100 who will be in the top 10 among starting pitcher prospects this offseason who did not make my preseason top 25:
Jose Berrios - Twins - While the Twins' top pitching prospect won't be called up this year, he was dominant between AA and AAA, with 170 strikeouts against just 37 walks in 161 innings pitched. He should get a shot at a rotation spot in 2016, but with Hughes, Nolasco, Santana, and Gibson all likely to hold rotation spots, Berrios could end up the odd man out.
Jose De Leon - Dodgers - A change to where De Leon stood on the pitching rubber helped start his meteoric rise, as De Leon has been dominant over the past two seasons. He reached AA this year, and has posted 163 strikeouts over 114 innings this year, good for 4th in the minors despite being throwing between 20 and 50 innings less than the three pitchers in front of him.