On Friday, I covered three outfield prospects who could see a rise in their stock after posting strong numbers in 2017. In this article, three pitchers are begging for your attention after having similar successful seasons.
For the sake of clarity, these are names you might want to roster if you’re in a league with more than 200 prospects already owned. Otherwise, I suggest moving them high on your watch list and monitoring closely.
Corbin Burnes, RHP (MIL)
Admittedly, Burnes might be a tad bit more well-known than I’d like for this article, but I still don’t feel like he’s getting the credit he deserves. A fourth-round pick from the 2016 draft, Burnes has been nearly perfect all season between A+ and AA. Of pitchers with at least 100 IP, he is second in all of minor league baseball with a 1.57 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP and he’s showing it’s not just a fluke with a 2.28 FIP, best in MiLB.
He’s racked up 136 Ks in 137.2 IP to go with just 28 walks. He uses his plus slider and 92-95 mph heater to do most of the work for him, though he has a curveball and change too. Neither of the latter two can be considered a true third pitch yet.
As mentioned before, he’s now in AA and he’s been better there than in High-A. In 14 starts, he has a 9.2 K/9, 1.4 BB/9 with a 1.97 ERA (1.96 FIP). In terms of value, few pitchers in the minors have taken such a big step forward and in doing so, the soon-to-be 23 year old has elevated his ceiling to a mid-rotation starter. I expect Burnes to begin the year in AA next season with a June promotion to AAA. Remember that the Brewers’ AAA team is in Colorado, so don’t be discouraged if his numbers don’t look good once he gets there.
Bryse Wilson, RHP (ATL)
Nope, I’m not kidding you. Yet another Braves pitcher that can shoot up prospect lists. Atlanta is dripping with pitchers that get plenty of coverage, and when we’re not talking about SP, we’re drooling over the demigod known as Ronald Acuña. But while guys like Kolby Allard and Luiz Gohara are getting the spotlight, 19-year-old Wilson is chugging away and the end result has been impressive.
Pitching all season for the Rome Braves, the A-ball affiliate of the Braves, he’s logged 128.2 innings with a 2.52 ERA (3.16 FIP), 8.8 K/9 and a 2.5 BB/9. In a chat on Thursday, ESPN prospect analyst Keith Law said Wilson had a case to be better than fellow Rome starters Joey Wentz and Ian Anderson, both pitchers who’ve gotten much more publicity than Wilson.
Standing at 6 foot 1, Wilson lacks some size, but he’s a bulldog on the mound, getting praise from scouts for his penchant for pounding the strike zone. Most encouraging is two potential plus pitches with his fastball and slider to pair with an average change.
Given the encouraging results at a young age, Wilson’s trajectory in the Braves system is looking up. The team has shown they’re not afraid to be aggressive with promotions and I expect Wilson to make the jump to Double-A in the first half of next year. If he simply repeats 2017’s stats in that level, he’ll rocket up the boards.
Kyle Funkhouser, RHP (DET)
Those in the prospect game probably have a strong opinion on Funkhouser, and there’s a chance it’s a bad one. A brief history lesson: Funkhouser was thought to be a top-10 overall prospect heading into the 2015 draft, showcasing velocity and a great slider with Louisville. Then all of a sudden, he lost a few ticks off his fastball and started to struggle. His stock dropped and he was selected 35th overall by the Dodgers, but the two sides couldn’t agree to a deal. He returned to Louisville...and got worse. In 2016, he signed with the Tigers as a fourth-round selection.
Worried about his workload in college, Detroit babied him in 2016, letting him go three innings a start, resulting in just 37.1 innings. But those who were paying attention noticed his velocity began creeping back up. Enter 2017. Funkhouser was showcasing the mid-90s heat that earned him a plus fastball rating earlier in his career, along with the wipeout slider that earned similar grades from scouts.
Funkhouser began the year in A-ball, struck out 49 batters in 31 innings and was sent to High-A. In 31 innings there, he rocked a 9 K/9, 1.7 BB/9 and a 1.72 ERA (2.24 FIP). In other words, Funkhouser was officially back, showcasing the talent and skills that originally earned him such high praise.
So why am I talking in past tense with him? He suffered an elbow strain in his throwing arm in June, effectively ending his season. Stop, don’t click off yet! While it could be argued he could have made it back to finish a few starts, the Tigers wanted to be extra careful. The good news is that he seems to be fine and has done plenty of long-tossing during rehab. It’s a shame he couldn’t keep showcasing his stuff as the season progressed, but now there’s plenty of promise.
The 6-foot-2 righty should open 2018 in A+ again with an eventual move to AA by late May/early June. If you’re wise, keep a close eye on him. He might have the most talent of anyone on this list and if he reaches it, we’re looking at a No.2/3 workhorse.