I'm not a scout, or a real prospect evaluator like John Sickels over at Minor League Ball, but I think that I've read enough of his work, along with the work of good guys like Keith Law, Kevin Goldstein, Frankie Piliere and the guys at Baseball America, to know a good amount about the minor leagues and the most interesting players in it.
So I thought that it would be both interesting and fun to look at some of the pitching rotations that, from what I know at least, look to be among the most impressive in the minor leagues. I'm sure that some will disagree with my designations, which is fine and all I still need to learn, but we don't talk about prospects a whole lot here so I thought that this could be a useful exercise.
Going from the highest levels of the minor leagues down, here are some of the most impressive pitching rotations that aren't on the biggest stage.
- Norfolk, Baltimore Triple-A: Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, Alfredo Simon, Troy Patton, Brandon Erbe (Another Note: When the Orioles sent down Brad Bergesen, he took Simon's spot in the rotation, with Simon going to the bullpen. Frankly, this only makes Norfolk's rotation look even more impressive until Tillman or Arrieta gets a shot.)
That's four top prospects and, well, Alfredo Simon. Simon hasn't had success pitching here since 2004, but this is among the most impressive collections of pitching talent in the game. Tillman and Arrieta are well-known, the former was expected to win a spot in the Opening Day rotation but struggled in the spring, but both are expected to be mainstays in the Baltimore rotation soon. Erbe, 22, is making his first go at Triple-A with some impressive raw stuff. Sickels loved Erbe's upside but mentioned concerns about his durability, while Patton's stuff isn't the same as before after a period of injuries, but Sickels praised his command. With a lineup that includes Josh Bell, Brandon Snyder, Michael Aubrey and Scott Moore, until call-ups break up that rotation, Norfolk looks pretty stacked.- Louisville, Cincinnati Triple-A: Aroldis Chapman, Travis Wood, Matt Maloney, Sam LeCure, Justin Lehr
Well, there's not much to say about Chapman. He's mowing down Triple-A hitters, out to make the current draft system look downright silly when the Reds end up getting a bargain for giving $30M to an amateur player. Wood and Maloney are solid young lefties that are essentially MLB-ready. Both grade out as No. 4 or No. 5 starters, but we all know those are still very valuable. LeCure and Lehr aren't much more than long relief guys at the major league level, but they make up the back of end of a very good Triple-A rotation.
- Frisco, Texas Double-A: Martin Perez, Blake Beavan, Alexi Ogando, Kasey Kiker, Richard Bleier
Before this spring, most people probably would've answered Martin Perez if you asked who was the most electric lefty in the minors. Hell, even with the emergence of Chapman you'd probably hear the same answer from a lot of prospect evaluators and scouts. The rotation features a couple other top prospects in Beavan and Kiker, a couple of former top picks. Kiker has more upside than Beavan, but needs to work on his command. Ogando's already 26, but he's been lights out so far this season, and Bleier is a developing lefty with good numbers in his first two professional seasons. All five of these guys have the ability to make an impact in Texas at some point.
- Brevard County, Milwaukee High Single-A: Wily Peralta, Michael Fiers, Cody Scarpetta, Daniel Merklinger, Trey Watten
This rotation lacks any big-name prospects but offers good performance and a couple names to remember. Peralta is slowly climbing up prospect charts, Law recently praised him for his stuff and good frame, calling him a No. 2 or No. 3 starter at worse if he stays healthy. Scarpetta is another one of the team's top prospects, with good raw stuff and simply the need to polish his command. Fiers, Merklinger and Watten are all solid young pitchers as well, and while they lack the upside of the rotation's top two pitchers, each has flashed some skills that could carry them to the majors in some capacity
- Rome, Atlanta Low Single-A: Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino, Robinson Lopez, Christopher Masters, Brett Oberholtzer
Teheran and Vizcaino have gotten a lot of play from prospect mavens as arguably the most talented Latin teenage duo in the game, and of course Vizcaino got some extra attention as the centerpiece of the Javier Vazquez trade over the offseason. Both are potential top of the rotation starters and offer some of the best raw talent of any pitchers in the minors. Lopez, Masters and Oberholtzer are all projectable arms with upside that have thrived in Rookie ball, and they could potentially emerge as some of the team's best young arms with impressive showings in their full season debuts.
Some other impressive rotations:
- Colorado Springs, Colorado Triple-A: Jhoulys Chacin, Samuel Deduno, Tim Redding, Chaz Roe, Esmil Roger
- Sacramento, Oakland Triple-A: Trevor Cahill, Vin Mazzaro, Clayton Mortensen, Lenny DiNardo, Graham Godfrey
- Portland, Boston Double-A: Casey Kelly, Felix Doubront, Stephen Fife, Kyle Weiland, Ryne Miller
- New Hampshire, Toronto Double-A: Kyle Drabek, Zach Stewart, Marty McLeary, Bobby Bell, Luis Perez
- Kinston, Cleveland High Single-A: Nick Hagadone, Kelvin De La Cruz, Alex White, T.J. House, Joseph Mahalic
- Wilmington, Kansas City High Single-A: Mike Montgomery, Tim Melville, Chris Dwyer, Alex Caldera, Jairo Cuevas (Author's Note: As Jeff noted, Montgomery was called up to Double-A today, which makes sense given his abilities. He joins Aaron Crow there, forming one of the better one-two punches in the upper minors.)
- Any impressive minor league rotations that I missed?