Stocking the Scout Team: Starting Pitchers
Here at The Dynasty Guru, we’re looking at under-the-radar prospects at each position in the field. There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of these players, as none made an appearance on the 2016 TDG Consensus Dynasty Rankings or the Top 500 Overall. So far we’ve hit upon third baseman and outfielders, and next up are four starting pitchers you should get to know. It may not yet be time to add these prospects (depending on the depth of your league), but at the very least it’s worth keeping tabs on them throughout this season.
RHP Albert Abreu, Houston Astros
You know about Francis Martes, David Paulino, Michael Feliz, and Joe Musgrove, but there’s another tantalizing arm in the Astros’ system that may not be getting the hype he deserves. Enter: Albert Abreu. It’s easy to lose track of all the starting pitchers that seemingly come out of nowhere in Houston’s farm, but Abreu may have the most upside of any prospect not named Francis Martes.
Signed out of the Dominican for just $185,000 in 2013, Abreu burst onto the scene following a big velocity bump and impressive stateside performances the past two seasons. Scouts have been skeptical given his rawness, but it’s hard to ignore a pitcher that has been known to touch 99 and sit in the mid-90’s. Although his secondaries aren’t as exciting, he flashes an above average slider and two usable offerings in a changeup and curveball.
He’s been promoted fairly aggressively (going from Rookie Ball in 2015 to full season A-Ball this year), so it’s not surprising that his results have been a mixed bag. Scouting the stat line isn’t always recommended, but we can take away some useful information from his early performance. As we now know, Abreu has big stuff and it’s shown in his 14.79 K/9. At the same time, his lack of polish is apparent and the 5.46 BB/9 is concerning. The 5.79 ERA he holds isn’t very important, with the thing to watch being his walks.
It’s a risk laden profile because of the present control/command issues and distance from the big leagues, but the upside makes him worth paying attention to. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Abreu becoming a reliever, but there’s number two starter upside here if the command takes a step forward.
RHP Sandy Alcantara, St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals have a glut of pitching prospects in the low minors, all having huge arm strength and sky-high upside. Junior Fernandez has gotten most of the hype in the early going, but one of his rotation mates, Sandy Alcantara, is just as tantalizing.
Alcantara’s profile is headlined by a triple digit fastball that is considered plus-plus by most. It can be a bit straight at higher velocities, but command improvements could make the heater an elite pitch. Similar to Abreu, his secondaries are less-than-spectacular, though the changeup is above average and the curveball has shown progress. The slider is his clear third pitch, but it still may be average.
Perhaps the two most promising parts of Alcantara are his delivery and projectability. Unlike many of these young international arms, Alcantara has a starter’s delivery that is repeatable. In addition, the 20-year old still has room to fill out his 6’4” frame, so the potential for more velocity from his already huge heater is there.
You could probably copy the final paragraph of Abreu’s write-up and paste it here. The top of the rotation upside is there, but he’s light years away from reaching the big leagues and remains quite raw. The command and secondaries will need to improve for him to become a top prospect, but the talent is certainly present for him to make the jump.
RHP Oscar De La Cruz, Chicago Cubs
The Cubs have consistently pumped out top position players from their system over the past several years, but they’ve yet to produce a true ace. Duane Underwood or Dylan Cease could finally be that guy, but another name to watch is Oscar De La Cruz. De La Cruz has an interesting story, looking to sign with a team as a shortstop but receiving limited interest. He ended up signing with the Cubs for a mere $85K as a pitcher, and it looks like the move to the mound was the right choice.
Since the Cubs can do no wrong when it comes to prospects, it isn’t shocking that De La Cruz took a massive step forward last season and is now arguably the most talented pitcher in the system. The 21-year old is still very raw (unsurprisingly, given his shortstop background), so he’s yet to dive into full-season ball. Still, there’s plenty to be excited about.
The calling card for De La Cruz, as with all of these names, is his fastball. Although scouts aren’t ready to give it a plus-plus grade just yet (like Abreu and Alcantara earn), De La Cruz’s heater touches 97 with movement. He also shows fastball command beyond his years, consistently pounding the zone with the pitch.
He compliments the heater well with a power curveball which is still inconsistent but may be a plus pitch in the future. The changeup is behind the curveball and is a work in progress, but he’s made steps in the right direction and it could be a usable offering in the future. Although it will never be special, the pitch will be a worthy third offering behind an (at least) plus fastball and (possibly) plus curveball.
De La Cruz is listed at 6’4” and 200 pounds, but he looks bigger on the mound and might still be growing. As with Alcantara, there may still be some projection left. De La Cruz tends to get lost in the deep Cubs system, but he has a chance to be the top pitcher in Chicago’s farm by next season if he dominates Low-A like many expect him to. The righty is probably further away from the other pitchers on this list, but he could see his stock soar in 2016.
RHP Tyler Mahle, Cincinnati Reds
Mahle may lack the huge upside of other pitchers on this list, but the seventh rounder in 2013 makes up for it in a higher floor and proximity to the big leagues. The word you probably will hear most associated with Mahle is “pitchability,” as he has exceptional polish on the mound. The 6’2” righty added some strength to his frame after being drafted and saw his velocity increase from the high-eighties to low-nineties, touching 96 on occasion. His stock has yet to shoot up as much as his velocity has, but that could change after this season.
Despite lacking special fastball velocity, Mahle’s heater has good life and he can locate it around the zone. He’s also shown the ability to manipulate its speed, which adds to that feel for pitching I mentioned earlier. Although the curveball, slider, and changeup are probably all average pitches, they play up because of his great command. The curveball does show room to grow and it may become an above average pitch in the future, which would do wonders for his profile.
Scouts have compared Mahle to Mike Leake, which isn’t exactly what fantasy owners want to hear. That said, the added velocity and further room for development gives Mahle the chance to be more than that. He’s been able to induce swings and misses in High-A this season, striking out 8.64 batters per nine innings. The walks are up a bit, though it’s hardly a concern at this point—especially when that’s coming with a 2.93 ERA. Mahle is just 21 but could be a fixture in the middle of the Reds’ revamped rotation in a couple of short years.