After we publish each of our twice-annual Top Prospects lists, we publish a pair of follow-up articles we call the "Next Wave." One covers position players, which we published a few days ago. This one covers pitchers. These are prospects who didn't make our most recent top 30, but who are nonetheless worth keeping an eye on.
You may be asking yourself, "Are there really prospects worth watching who aren't even among a single team's top thirty guys?" If you are, I'll answer with an illustration.
Looking at pitchers, among the 12 we covered just six months ago, three of them are now on the Top 30 list, and another four received Top 30 votes but just missed (also, Yency Almonte was traded away but certainly would have made the Top 30). A handful of players from Next Wave lists in the last few years have made the majors. In other words, at any given time, there are a number of pitchers in the system that aren't on anyone's top prospects list that show up on the radar as the year goes on, and some even end up helping the Major League club.
Who will jump out from under the radar this time? Here are eleven possibilities on the pitching side, which fall into three categories (but not in any specific order in each section)...
Chicago native and Simeon graduate Blake Hickman was drafted in the 7th round, and despite some thinking he'd be a tough sign he ended up taking a slightly under-slot bonus. Then it was revealed he needed Tommy John surgery, which he is now recovering from. Hickman is a converted catcher who throws a mid-90's fastball and a sharp slider, and put up very good numbers for Iowa in 2015 despite being fairly new to pitching. There's a lot of raw talent here and in some ways he is similar to 2012 draftee Brandon Brennan (age when drafted, mid-T10 round, relative lack of experience in college, pitching stuff, even height and weight). Blake reports the plan is to be ready for game action by summer, and he's stated he'll be in Arizona (AZL) for 2016 as a 22-year old.
Prep hurler Christopher Comito was taken in the 15th round, but signed for a $170,000 bonus more in line with an 8th round pick (he was seen as a tough sign with an Iowa commit). The 6'5" righty debuted in the AZL and showed good control (2.5 BB/9), and didn't miss a ton of bats (5.2 K/9), but he was in limited action and going to pro ball after a high school season. In-person looks in Arizona from Kim Contreras and a second prospect writer talked about a low 90's fastball that he commanded very well for his age, a breaking ball with encouraging movement and a change-up. Going into the 2016 season as a 19-year old, likely he is with one of the rookie league affiliates again in the rotation. Here's a video of him from Fall Instructs pitching to a rehabbing Yasiel Puig.
Unlike the two pitchers above, 11th-rounder Danny Dopico is a pure reliever. In his professional debut as a 21-year old with Great Falls, he posted some very nice peripherals (7.5 H/9, 3.6 BB/9, 14.4 K/9) across 35 innings. Chris Kusiolek got a good look at him in Fall Instructs and reports he's got a mid-90's fastball (touched 96) with late action, and a nice mid-80's slider that he showed good feel for, along with an under-construction splitter. Dopico looks like he's probably Kannapolis' closer in 2016.
A 6'9", 280 pound righty who was a big time prospect in high school, Taylore Cherry is a project. He pitched briefly in 2013, then 42.2 innings for North Carolina in 2014, but didn't enter a game there in 2015. The Sox took a flyer on him in the 32nd round, and the numbers showed promise in his debut: 25.1 IP, 11 H (!!!), 1 ER, 12 BB, 29 K. As you can see in this video, his delivery is quite stiff and short, and frankly he's just not in good baseball shape. Based on a report from college, when he's on he's got a fastball in the low 90's (touches 95) with serious sink and arm-side run, but he was very inconsistent. He should be in full season ball at some point in 2016, and we'll have a better idea of how things translate.
Brandon Brennan has been just outside our Top 30 lists for much of his time in the system since being drafted in 2012. He's got a low-to-mid-90's sinker and a slider that has at times flashed plus characteristics. What has prevented him from climbing further up the ladder is a lack of consistent innings, due to a combination of rawness at draft time (college draftee, but with just 1 year of play), and time lost to injuries (Tommy John and recovery in 2013-2014, neck injury in 2015). Now entering his age 24/25 season and 5th year as a pro, he's pitched just 55 games in the minors. When he's healthy and has his stuff, he profiles as a potentially effective major league reliever, though he's been used as a starter so far and likely stays that way for now. Brennan probably opens 2016 in the Birmingham rotation, where he'll be challenged and get stretched out again.
James Dykstra broke out in 2014 with a strong season across both levels of A-ball, relying on strong command and heavy stuff that led to a ridiculously low walk rate (0.9 BB/9) and high ground ball rate (2.36 GO/AO). Adding to a heavy 2-seam fastball and a decent curve, Dykstra had added an improved change-up (that now looks above average) to the mix. In 2015 he repeated A+ which was a mild surprise, and then moved to a relief role. It's hard to say where he ends up long-term, but a 1-2 punch of that 2-seamer and his change-up with a curve thrown in occasionally could profile well in the bullpen. Dykstra should be in AA Birmingham in 2016 as a 25-year old.
Lefty Andre Wheeler converted from outfielder during college and came into the system raw, but broke out in 2014 with a solid campaign in Kannapolis as part of a tandem with Jordan Guerrero (2.85 ERA, 2.9 BB/9, 10.2 K/9). In 2015 he primarily worked in relief, which is his likely home going forward, and did well but not as well as 2014. Wheeler has a low 90's fastball that touches mid-90's, a slider that shows solidly plus when he's on, and is very tough on LHB which indicates a potential LOOGY future. Wheeler will be 24 this season, probably in Birmingham's bullpen, and could move up quickly in an area of organizational weakness (lefty specialist relievers).
Robin Leyer is a reliever, though he did the prototypical White Sox reliever development path of getting in a year as a starter along the way. The results in 2015 were decent across A+ and AA (8.9 H/9, 3.2 BB/9, 6.9 K/9) mostly in starts. Simply put, he's got a very nice mid-90's fastball with some good movement, but the rest of his repertoire is lacking anything noteworthy or even reliable. He's a gamble, you believe in the fastball and hope he develops one decent offspeed pitch to make him a potential MLB reliever. He'll be 23 for this upcoming season and in either AA or AAA, so there's time for him to work on a playable second pitch.
Michael Ynoa was a truly elite prospect at one time, but injuries and surgery meant he had only pitched in 40 games in his first 4 years after signing. The White Sox got him in the Samardzija trade as an add-on piece, and he posted pretty good numbers at Winston-Salem in 2015 (8.8 H/9, 3.8 BB/9, 9.5 K/9) in 38 innings. He missed time to injury, though this time minor, so health is an ongoing concern. But the possibility of him staying healthy, and flashing the electric fastball and plus hammer curve once again gleams in the distance to provide some hope. Ynoa likely is in AA at 24 for 2016, and he's the kind of talent you keep giving a shot.
Brad Goldberg grabbed attention putting up very solid numbers in his draft year (2013) across Rookie, A and A+ (35 IP, 17 H, 6 ER, 9 BB, 49 K), attacking the zone with a mid-90's fastball. In 2014 he was put in the Winston-Salem rotation and struggled in the role, eventually moving back to the pen. This past spring though, he showed up having lost a lot of weight, and during the season we got reports of his fastball suddenly bumping 99. His numbers were good to go with it, though he was 25 in Advanced A-ball. Don't let the age throw you off here though, as anyone who can throw that hard for strikes consistently bears monitoring. He's also very sharp and showed a lot of focus in making the adjustments he has thus far.
Terance Marin has had quite a ride the past few years, which you can read about in his prospect profile. In 2015, he opened his first season in AAA by rattling off over 30 straight innings of scoreless baseball as a starter. He ended up bouncing back and forth between the rotation and the pen there, with mixed results. Today's Marin has a tailing fastball that runs low 90's but has touched 95, and a very nice cutter along with some middling offspeed stuff that he commands well. Marin's stuff doesn't have the flash of his flowing mane, but when he's on he looks like a major league middle reliever. The White Sox bullpen race for 2016 is crowded, but they will inevitably need relief help during the season and Marin figures to be on the short list.
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