Digging into the 2012 MiLB K leaders it becomes readily apparent that sending batters back to the dugout by way of the strikeout favors players in their early 20s. Logically this makes sense as prospects in this age range have developed their stuff to a particular level, are generally getting their control ironed out, and are starting to get a feel for the craft of pitching. This is all happening while their arms typically remain live, fresh and not yet worn down from the rigors of a multitude of seasons at the professional level. Of course there’s the other obvious point that regardless of age, if a pitcher is able able to strike a ton of hitters out, they’re likely in the major leagues sooner rather than later and they’re likely to stay there unless their control is a complete wreck.
While he didn’t finish in the Top-5 this year, Clayton Blackburn was only one of two teenagers to lead a level in Ks with the other being Dodgers lefty Michael Sulbaran who paced the Arizona League. What separates Blackburn, and what is getting him some special attention in the course of this article, is the fact he pulled off the feat pitching with Augusta in A-ball. He did so in the midst of an overall fantastic season that certainly elevated his stock as a prospect.
Just like Blackburn, all five of the pitchers that paced the minors in strikeouts this past season also improved their stock. Let’s take a look at the Top-5, then as a part of the standard format, the leader at each level is included in list format at the end.
Top-5 Overall (All Levels)
190 SO – RHP Dan Straily (23), Midland RockHounds and Sacramento River Cats (Oakland)
2.78 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 110 H, 42 BB and 190 SO in 152.0 IP
In the baseball landscape, few players did more to boost their stock with a breakthrough season than Daniel Straily. He was well down the list in the team’s prospect depth chart ranking 9th in BA’s 2012 Prospect Handbook. That’s not 9th in their Top-30, that’s 9th amongst the organization’s right-handed starters.
This wasn’t a case of padding numbers in Double-A before taking a step back upon his promotion either. Straily’s big step forward actually took place after he reached Sacramento. He cut his WHIP from 1.09 to 0.89 and maintained his strikeout rate going from an 11.4 SO/9 with Midland to an 11.1 SO/9 with the River Cats.
190 K’s in a season is an impressive total at any level, or combination of levels, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t also give him credit for his performance once he reached Oakland. In the majors he added another 32 strikeouts in 39.1 IP pushing his total to 222 on the season. While with the A’s, Straily made seven starts finishing with a slightly above league average 103 ERA+ though his performance was uneven with four quality starts and three that were not so good. He proved to be susceptible to the long ball giving up 11 HR (2.5 H/9) in his limited big league workload which is certainly a bit of a red flag. However, with more experience in the majors he should be able to cut that rate given that it is more than four times the 0.6 HR/9 he’s turned in over the course of 519.2 minor league innings.
For an unheralded prospect entering the year it was an eye opening season for the A’s 24th round pick in the 2009 draft. There’s no question he’s worked his way into the rotation mix for 2013 but given the options that Oakland has, he may start the season back in Sacramento.
172 SO – LHP Tony Cingrani (23), Bakersfield Blaze and Pensacola Blue Wahoos (Cincinnati)
1.73 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 98 H, 52 BB and 172 SO in 146.0 IP
Cingrani was outstanding in his first pro season posting an 80-6 SO-to-BB in his time with Billings in 2011. While he couldn’t replicate that absurd 13.3 SO/BB in his second year, he was every bit as exceptional while taking on the California and Southern Leagues considering the jump in level of competition. Despite the difficult environment, Cingrani put up a 1.11 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 71-13 SO-to-BB in his 10 starts with Bakersfield and in doing so he opened the eyes of many who remained skeptical about his future contribution. By the end of the season, he was pitching out of the bullpen for the Reds. Despite the small sample size (5.0 innings), he showed he was far from over-matched allowing just 1 earned run (a solo HR) on 4 hits. He struck out 9 of the 22 batters he faced.
Cingrani could be an immediate asset for the Reds out of the bullpen, but given the level of success he’s had as a starter in his brief minor league career there is little reason to move him out of the rotation at this point. Whether or not he opens the 2013 season in Cincinnati or Louisville will largely depend on the team’s other rotation options, but a stint with Triple-A Louisville would be beneficial to augment his development.
172 SO – RHP Nick Tropeano (22), Lexington Legends and Lancaster Jethawks (Astros)
3.02 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 149 H, 47 BB and 166 SO in 158.0 IP
The Astros 5th round pick in the 2011 draft out of Stony Brook University, Tropeano turned in a strong debut season with short season Tri-City. As you can see from his stat line above, there was no evidence of a Sophomore slump for the young righty in 2012. He needed just 14 starts to advance from Lexington to Lancaster and finished with a SO/BB of 3.73 and 3.29 at the two stops respectively. Tropeano works off an outstanding changeup and spots his low-90s fastball with excellent command making it no surprise that he’s been able to make relatively quick work of batters in the lower levels. That’s not to take anything away from his performance thus far, but the real test will be how he handles Double-A and Triple-A hitters. Fortunately we won’t have to wait long as he should open 2013 with the Corpus Christi Hooks.
169 SO – LHP Adam Morgan (22), Clearwater Threshers and Reading Phillies
3.35 ERA, 1,11 WHIP, 137 H, 39 BB and 169 SO in 158.2 IP
Morgan, a 2011 3rd round pick from the University of Alabama, also had little trouble with the NYPL in his debut season, and like Tropeano above managed to avoid slumping in his second year. The Phillies elected to skip Morgan over low-A Lakewood and he responded to the challenge with a 140-28 SO-to-BB and 1.065 WHIP in 123.0 FSL innings before he was promoted to Reading.
His first of six starts in Double-A was a 7.0 inning, one hit shutout with the starts that followed falling in the categories of decent and mediocre. None-the-less he handled the promotion well and was clearly not overmatched with a 3.53 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 29-11 SO-to-BB in 35.2 IP. Overall it was a impressive year for a pitcher that barely moved the prospect needle last offseason – he ranked #29 in the Phillies Top-30 by Baseball America, was graded as a “C” prospect by John Sickels and missed the cut on our Phillies Team Prospect List. Morgan should return to open 2013 back in Reading but I’d surmise that he will do so with a little more fanfare as far as the prospect rankings go.
168 SO – RHP Matt Magill (22), Chattanooga Lookouts (Dodgers)
3.75 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 127 H, 61 BB and 168 SO in 146.1 IP
Magill has moved steadily at a one level per season pace since the Dodgers took him in the 31st round of the 2008 draft out of high school. Despite spending the entire 2012 season in Double-A, he turned in the best SO/BB (2.75) and best SO/9 (10.3) of his minor league career. His 7.8 H/9 was the second best mark of his career falling just shy of the 7.4 H/9 he had while pitching for the Ogden Raptors (Rk) back in 2009. It’s notable that he’s the same age as both Tropeano and Morgan even though he’s already logged 513.2 innings as a professional.
Another guy that was unheralded coming into the 2012 season, Magill barely made the Dodgers prospect depth chart in BA’s 2012 Prospect Handbook and was not one of the 1,200+ prospects that Sickels profiled in his book. However, back in February he was tabbed as the Dodgers 6th best SP prospect in our Dodgers Team Prospect List. In that piece, former S2S Editor Nathaniel Stoltz wrote:
“A clear step down from the top five pitchers in the system, Magill heads the next group of prospects. He’s somewhat similar to Webster, as an average-across-the-board stuff guy who threw well in High-A at age 21, but he lacks Webster’s command and is behind developmentally, as he has yet to see Double-A. Magill is a potential fourth or fifth starter or workhorse middle reliever.”
Given Magill’s 2012 performances and his rate of progression, he should find himself pitching in the Albuquerque Isotopes rotation to start the 2013 season, but a strong spring training with the Dodgers might put him in the mix to break camp with the big league club. Of course, that is dependent on the moves that Los Angeles makes in the offseason.
Leaders by League:
- International: 139 SO – RHP Chris Archer (24), Durham Bulls (Rays)
- Pacific Coast: 165 SO – RHP John Ely (26), Albuquerque Isotopes (Dodgers)
- Eastern: 151 SO – RHP Trevor May (23), Reading Phillies
- Southern: Magill (See Above)
- Texas: 122 SO – RHP Keyvius Sampson (21), San Antonio Missions (Padres)
- California: 153 SO – Anthony Meo (22), Visalia Rawhide and Tyler Matzek (22), Modesto Nuts
- Carolina: 160 SO – RHP Aaron Northcraft (22), Lynchburg Hillcats (Braves)
- Florida State: 151 SO – LHP Jesse Biddle (21), Clearwater Threshers (Phillies)
- Midwest: 167 SO – RHP Drew Granier (23), Burlington Bees (Athletics)
- South Atlantic: 143 SO – RHP Clayton Blackburn (19), Augusta Greenjackets (Giants)
- New York-Penn: 85 SO – RHP Luis Mateo (22), Brooklyn Cyclones (Mets)
- Northwest: 91 SO – RHP Javier Avendano (22), Vancouver Canadians (Blue Jays)
- Appalachian: 69 SO – LHP Todd Kibby (21), Bristol White Sox
- Pioneer: 89 SO – LHP Sam Selman (21), Idaho Falls Chukars (Royals)
- Arizona: 62 SO – LHP Miguel Sulbaran (18), AZL Dodgers
- Gulf Coast: 58 SO – RHP Yorfrank Lopez (21), GCL Tigers
- Dominican Summer: 95 SO – LHP Wander Beras (23), DSL Dodgers
- Venezuelan Summer: 86 SO – RHP Severino Gonzalez (20), VSL Phillies
For more on all things baseball related, check out Call to the Pen!