Risers and Fallers: Prospect Pitchers
Welcome in, friends! This is a series that will be covering the rising and falling dynasty prospects throughout the summer. I’ll be looking at stat lines and video (where available) to highlight players who are performing well as well as those who are underperforming. Each month will feature two articles: one on hitters and one on pitchers. Today, we’ll be leading off with pitching.
Typically, March would be a time where we can reflect on the performances of prospects invited to big league spring training, however, given the extenuating circumstances this year and the delay to the start of the season, I’ve decided to start a bit further back this time. So, this time around, we’ll take a look at Arizona Fall League performances and use next month to cover spring training.
Before we dive into the performances, a few notes about the Arizona Fall League and how I’ll be approaching this review. For those unfamiliar, the AFL takes place after the minor league season has concluded and is made up of prospects mostly from the upper minors. It’s not quite an All-Star league, but many top prospects make an appearance in the AFL every year and 2019 was no different, featuring names like Forrest Whitley, Royce Lewis, Spencer Howard, and Jo Adell. In turn, the AFL is typically the toughest competition these players will have seen in their short pro careers.
Spencer Howard, RHP, PHI
Spencer Howard is the top pitching prospect in the Phillies system. He was drafted in the 2nd round out of Cal Poly SLO in 2017 and has been mowing down pro hitters ever since. Howard features four pitches including a fastball that sits in the mid-90s, a plus curve, a plus changeup, and an average slider. Despite missing time with an injury, he was able to work his way up to Double-A Reading in 2019.
Howard was simply dominant in the AFL. He struck out 27 batters over 21 and ⅓ innings while allowing just 20 baserunners (10 H, 10 BB) while allowing five earned (2.11 ERA, 0.94 WHIP). It was a terrific way to cap off an injury-shortened season where Howard diced up competition at High A and Double-A in 65 and ⅔ combined innings. Sending Howard to the AFL is a perfect example of how a team can use the league to get some extra innings or plate appearances for a player who missed time during the regular season. It was reassuring to see Howard find success against top competition that included 4 scoreless appearances. Even with what is likely to be a truncated season, there’s a strong chance Howard will pitch his way into the Philly rotation later this summer.
Nick Neidert, RHP, MIA
Nick Neidert is a soft-tossing righty in the Marlins system who projects as a backend starter. Neidert was a second-round pick out of high school back in 2015 and has slowly but surely ascended the minor league ladder. His repertoire includes a fastball that sits right around 90, a pair of average breakers but his calling card is a plus changeup along with plus command. He’s not Kyle Hendricks, but that’s the profile.
Neidert is another prospect who was able to get additional work in the AFL after missing regular-season innings due to injury (knee tendinitis). After a rather uninspiring 41 innings at AAA to close out the summer, Neidert was much more effective in Arizona where he posted a 1.25 ERA over 21 and ⅔ innings while striking out 19 and walking only two. After allowing two runs in his first outing, Neidert was nearly untouchable the remainder of the season, giving up 1 earned over 19 ⅓ IP. It’s pretty safe to say he was dialed in. Given that Neidert has already thrown 200+ innings at the Double-A level and up and is already on the 40-man, he’s a prime candidate to make his MLB debut at some point this summer.
Forrest Whitley, RHP, HOU
I’m sure by now you’re quite familiar with Mr. Whitley, but let’s run over his background quickly anyway. Forrest was the 17th overall pick out of high school in 2016. The 6’7″, 200-pound right-hander has set the minor leagues ablaze the last four years and his ascension to the majors still feels imminent. Whitley’s arsenal is made up of five different pitches that could all be graded as “plus” by the time he’s done developing: fastball, curve, change, slider, and cutter. A repertoire like his is a thing of beauty.
After a tumultuous 2019 summer for Whitley, I think everyone was looking for signs of hope when it was announced he would be heading to the AFL. What we got was a mixed bag. Whitley was tremendous out of the gate, giving up two earned over 16 innings and striking out a ridiculous 25 hitters and walking five. Then, things took a step back as he allowed six earned in his final nine innings, striking out seven and walking four. It’s not going to be sunshine and rainbows all the time, but it was a bit disappointing to see him finish on such a sour note after a promising start. Rather than feeling more confident about Whitley entering 2020, I feel like his AFL stint left me with just as many questions as I had at the end of the regular season. Something doesn’t feel right.
Anthony Castro, RHP, DET
Anthony Castro is a righty in the Tigers system who has seemingly been around forever. He signed out of Venezuela in 2011 but only reached Double-A in 2018 — in part due to missing all of 2015 with Tommy John surgery. Castro is built like a starter (6’2″, 190 pounds) but at this point in his career, it appears that he’s destined for the bullpen (more on that below). He brings the gas with a fastball that sits in the high 90s and has a slider that flashes plus, but struggles mightily with command.
Castro had a rough go of it in the AFL, as noted by his 4.58 ERA in just under 20 innings. We’re not talking about just 1 bad outing either, he gave up multiple runs in 4 of his 6 appearances. The upside is that he did miss bats, striking out 20, but also walked eight. Castro’s stock needed a boost after posting a 4.40 ERA in 102 ⅓ innings at Double-A as a 24-year old. Unfortunately, his AFL time only further cemented his path down the reliever road. He’s got the stuff to miss bats, but a quick trip down his career stat lines will show you that he’s got control issues.