Name: Tom Milone
Notable 2011 Stats: 3.22 ERA, 2.24 FIP, 9 HRA, 16 BB, 155 K, and 41% GB% in 148 1/3 IP with Syracuse (AAA); 3.81 ERA, 3.56 FIP, 2 HRA, 4 BB, 15 K, and 30.6% GB% in 26 IP with Washington Why He’s This High: No minor league pitcher in 2011 can claim to have outclassed Milone, who put together an absurd 155/16 K/BB in 148 1/3 IP at the minors’ highest level.
Concerns about his lack of velocity playing in the majors were somewhat mollified when he continued to pitch well in five late-season starts, lending more optimism for his immediate success than that of #64 prospect Eric Surkamp, a somewhat similar pitcher.
Milone has a bigtime changeup that can miss bats, and while his fastball only comes in at 86-90 mph, he locates it so well that he’s almost always ahead in the count and avoids walks. If he can have league-average homer and strikeout rates with these super-low walk rates, he’s already an efficient mid-rotation starter who can eat a ton of innings, as the early returns on his MLB performance indicate. If more of his Triple-A strikeouts come with him, he could be the next Mark Buehrle.
Why He’s This Low: Concerns about Milone, of course, center on his lack of “plus stuff.” Other than the changeup and his command, he does nothing that really jumps off the table, as his slider and curveball are just average, and he’s obviously not blowing the ball by hitters.
He had an extremely high flyball rate in his first MLB stint, and he’s going to need to get more grounders if he’s going to realize his potential–often, the downfall of this sort of pitcher is the home run ball (see Kevin Slowey, Matt Maloney, etc.).
Milone turns 25 in February, and he’s one of the oldest prospects on this list, so he’s basically as finished of a product as a top 100 prospect can get. Like a lot of soft-tossers, he could be prone to struggles once hitters adapt to him; obviously, that won’t happen until he’s used up the 50 innings that would expire his rookie eligibility. We certainly can’t assume he’s already a full-fledged MLB #3 starter just because he made five good starts (none of which went particularly deep into the game, as the Nationals weren’t going to overwork him after the full Triple-A season).
Conclusions: Milone gets way too much flak for his underwhelming velocity, and his track record throughout the minor leagues is beyond reproach; furthermore, he translated solidly to the majors. He’s got one plus pitch and three other usable pitches that all play up due to his supreme command of the strike zone. He’ll have to prove he’s not just another Jeremy Sowers/Scott Lewis sort of pitcher, but given his utter dominance in Triple-A, Milone has good odds.
Few, if any, pitchers on this list have a better chance of contributing to a big league rotation, even if many have potentially higher ceilings. Milone epitomizes the crafty lefthander, and he’s set up to possibly be the best pitcher of that type in the current class of minor leaguers.
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