Minor League Mondays: NL Pitching Prospects

Well, I suppose I'll start this off with a small introduction. Starting today, each Monday morning Beyond the Box Score is going to spotlight the minor leagues in a variety of ways using a sabermetric lens. Honestly I don't really know what this article is going to look like a few months from now, but the whole idea here is that you'll still be able to read about the minors here every Monday morning in some fashion. There might be some bumps in the road in the early going, but with the increasing importance of building organizations through scouting and development, I thought it would be pertinent to take a stab at peeking into the minor leagues. We've done this before, but never with much consistency. This should be different, though- in the future, you guys can get mad at me if there's no minor league or prospect related article come Monday morning. But let's get started before I drag this out too much. I think this will be fun (and interesting!), and I'm excited to see where we can take this. Thanks!

Which NL Prospects Could Be in the Opening Day Rotation?

For this first edition of Minor League Mondays, I thought we would look at some NL prospects that could potentially jump into an Opening Day rotation next season. Presumably some of these guys will be familiar to most of you, and some of them could also be complete unknowns, as well. Only five rookie starters managed to pitch more than 140 innings this season, but we were treated to some nice performances from the likes of Jonathan Niese, Jaime Garcia and Jhoulys Chacin, among others. Let's take a look at some prominent minor league starters that could make a serious impact in the National League next season. Also, for the simplicity of things, we're going to consider any pitcher with less than 50 innings of MLB experience a prospect- we won't get into service time for this exercise. Next week, I'll touch on AL starters in the same vein.

LHP Mike Minor, Atlanta

Most of you probably know about Minor- he's already pitched 40 innings for the Braves, but still retains his prospect status. And after what he's done in the past year, the left-hander is basically a lock for Atlanta's 2011 rotation. He dominated Double-A (ignore the ERA) and Triple-A on his way the majors, putting up an awesome 10.9 K/9 and a 2.84 FIP in 120 innings between the two levels. He saw a major uptick in his stuff this year after working with the Braves' staff, and his current upside is discernibly higher than it was considered an overdraft as the No. 7 overall pick in the 2009 draft. Barring a regression into the Vanderbilt version of Minor, he should be a mainstay in Atlanta's rotation going forward.

RHP Brandon Beachy, Atlanta

Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2008, Beachy has already made three starts for the Braves after absolutely dominating the minors for most of 2010. He put up- and this isn't a typo- a 2.02 FIP in 119 innings between Double-A and Triple-A this season. His stuff isn't as overpowering as the minor league dominance would indicate, but he's got a solid three-pitch mix and looked pretty good in his 15-inning stint with Atlanta this season. He'd make a lot of rotations, but he's unlikely to find a place in a 2011 Opening Day rotation of Hanson, Hudson, Lowe, Jurrjens and Minor. Don't be surprised if the Braves look to Beachy if one them goes down, though.

RHP Vance Worley, Philadelphia

Another guy without knockout stuff but really strong numbers, Worley could have an impact in Philly next season, though. He put up a 1.38 ERA in 13 innings in Philadelphia this season, and a solid 3.56 ERA in 158 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. Worley wasn't considered a top-20 Phillies prospect coming into the season after a weak 2009 in Double-A, but a strong 2010 likely has him in their plans going forward. The Phillies would be smart to see if Worley can top Kyle Kendrick.

RHP Mark Rogers, Milwaukee

I'm kind of surprised he's looking so good, too. The fifth overall pick in the 2004 draft, Rogers looked like a bust after missing all of 2007 and 2008 with injuries. But after a strong showing as a three-inning starter in High Single-A in 2009, the right-hander moved up to Double-A in 2010 and pitched quite well, putting up a 3.58 FIP. Like the others on this list, Rogers also made his MLB debut in 2010 as well, making four appearances (two starts) for the Brewers. His velocity is back into the mid-90's after the two-year hiatus on his career, and the questions at this point aren't related to his stuff, but his durability. If he proves to be durable enough to start, he could be a huge addition for the Brewers.

LHP Cory Luebke, San Diego

A big part of why the Padres managed to blow their lead in the NL West was starting pitching. Giving a load of innings to guys like Wade LeBlanc and Kevin Correia was about as unhelpful as one would expect. But the Padres do have one potential upgrade from those types in Cory Luebke. A polished lefty with a low-90's fastball, Luebke dominated Double-A and pitched well in Triple-A before arriving in San Diego this season. He put up a 3.33 FIP in 114 innings in the upper minors this year, and held his own in three Padre starts late in the season. He'll be 26 at the beginning of next season so he's not likely to get much better from here- San Diego should see what it has in the lefty.

Some other guys to watch: LHP Tom Milone, WAS; RHP Chris Archer, CHC; LHP Rudy Owens, PIT; LHP Justin Wilson, PIT; RHP Lance Lynn, STL; RHP Kevin Mulvey, ARI; RHP Sam Deduno, COL

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