Five Breakout Pitching Prospects In 2014
1. Taijuan Walker SP, Seattle Mariners
Blessed with a lively fastball and a pitcher’s body, Walker threw 141.1 dominant minor league innings in 2013 to the tune of a 2.96 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning before getting a September call-up for the Mariners. The 21-year-old threw 15 solid innings for the Mariners in his audition, and impressed more than just his own team. The 6’4” right-hander has some of the easiest velocity you’ll ever see and a strikeout pitch with a plus 12-6 curveball.
Walker has also been the main targeted piece in a few of the Mariners trade talks this offseason, including a deal for Rays ace David Price. But the Mariners declined, showing just how much they value Baseball America’s #5 prospect in 2013. Under Felix Hernandez‘s guidance, Walker has all the tools to be a front-line starter in the MLB, and as soon as 2014.
2. Noah Syndergaard SP, New York Mets
The secondary piece for the Mets in the R.A. Dickey trade, Syndergaard has quickly blossomed as a prospect because of his ability to throw strikes and miss bats. The 21-year-old struck out 133 batters in 2013 across two minor league levels and walked just 28.
Syndergaard also has a top prospect arsenal. He has a fastball that sits comfortably in the 92-95 range and he can reach back and touch 97-98 at times. His change-up and curveball still need a little refining, but they both continue to improve and he shows confidence in both. His command at his age is second to none, as indicated by his elite K/BB ratio.
Combine all that with a dominant coming out party at the 2013 Futures Game, where he started the game in front of the future home crowd at Citifield and you have a rising star in the making in New York. He’s just not likely to get there until mid-season.
3. Carlos Martinez SP/RP, St. Louis Cardinals
Maybe the closest current comparison to Pedro Martinez, Carlos Martinez is similar to Pedro because of his smallish frame, freakishly long fingers, and his ability to uncork upper 90′s fastballs. The 22-year-old has already logged plenty of big time MLB innings, setting up forTrevor Rosenthal during the Cardinals postseason run that saw them fall to the Red Sox in the World Series.
The only issue scouts have about Martinez is his ability to hold up as a starter for 200 innings, and the Cardinals have yet to decide on his role. Now that they’ve seen him have success in a relief role, they might be reluctant to make a change. Either way, Martinez is going to miss plenty of bats, whether he’s a starter or a reliever, in 2014.
4. Robert Stephenson SP, Cincinnati Reds
Stephenson is kind of lost in the prospect world, never really getting the recognition he deserves. While he doesn’t have the big name, Stephenson has quietly dominated since being drafted in the 1st round of the 2011 MLB draft, compiling a 3.06 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings between four stops in the minors over two seasons.
The 21-year-old seems to be only getting better as well, reducing his walk rate while adding velocity to his fastball in 2013. The Reds have no reason to rush him in 2014, but if he makes his debut mid-season with that ace arsenal, he may never leave.
5. Jameson Taillon SP, Pittsburgh Pirates
It seems as if Taillon has been around forever without making his major league debut, and honestly, he has. He was the second overall pick in the 2010 draft, the same draft that Drew Pomeranz and Matt Harvey were taken in. Since then, Pomeranz has been traded twice and Harvey started an all-star game, placed in a Cy Young vote, and had Tommy John surgery.
In 2014, there’s no reason Taillon won’t be in the Pirates rotation by at least mid-season, and at 6’6” 235 with an upper 90′s fastball, he’s a horse on the mound. His arsenal is also top notch, with a plus changeup and a more than respectable curveball. The Pirates have been taking their time with this guy, but if they finally let him loose, he can do big things this upcoming year.
Shawn Ferris is a MLB, NFL, and Fantasy Sports writer for sportstalkflorida.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealShawnFerris.