The List: Top 10 Starts By Minor League Pitchers In 2016
1. Jharel Cotton, rhp, Athletics Triple-A Nashville (Pacific Coast) • Age: 24
Cotton takes the top spot here with his one-hit, 12-strikeout shutout—but he actually came within one out of a perfect game in this start, just his second for for the Athletics organization. Oakland acquired him and two other pitching prospects at the trade deadline in the deal that sent Rich Hill and Josh Reddick to the Dodgers.
Cotton made his big league debut in September and has recorded a first-pitch strike rate and swinging-strike percentage that both rank among the best for rookie starters, which is a good sign for his future. Batters have particular trouble with his elite-level changeup.
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2. Cristian Castillo, lhp, Royals Rookie-level Burlington (Appalachian) • Age: 21
While Castillo, whom the Royals signed out of Mexico after the 2014 season, claimed the Appalachian League pitcher-of-the-year award this season, he relies on control and deception more than pure stuff to succeed. And succeed he did in 2016 by ranking among the league leaders for ERA (3.13), strikeouts (73) and opponent average (.212).
Castillo authored one of the finest starts of the season with his one-hit shutout in which he struck out 11 and walked only one, with that lone walk coming in the ninth inning.
3. Pedro Payano, rhp, Rangers Low Class A Hickory (South Atlantic) • Age: 21
Payano signed with the Rangers in 2011 as part of the same international class as Nomar Mazara and Yohander Mendez, yet he embarked on his first extended run in full-season ball only this year after parts of four spent in the Dominican Summer League. He has developed mentally and physically since he signed at age 16, though he missed most of the final two months this season after fracturing his wrist on a comebacker.
Payano pitches at about 92 mph and has good feel for throwing his secondary pitches, particularly an above-average changeup, which he demonstrated with a one-hit shutout on April 27.
4. Andrew Church, rhp, Mets Low Class A Columbia (South Atlantic) • Age: 21
A Mets second-round pick out of high school in 2013, Church spent his first three pro seasons in short-season leagues, but he pitched effectively in his time in the South Atlantic League this year, going 5-2, 2.22 in nine starts. He pitches with an average fastball but has feel for his secondary pitches and above-average control.
Church turned in his one-hit shutout in his first start back with Columbia after spending a month at high Class A St. Lucie, where he recorded a 3.60 ERA with an uncharacteristic walk rate of 3.6 per nine innings.
5. Andrew Moore, rhp, Mariners Double-A Jackson (Southern) • Age: 22
A supplemental second-round pick out of Oregon State in 2015, Moore cruised from high Class A Bakersfield to Jackson this season after just nine starts. Once he reached Double-A, he helped pitch the Generals to the best record in the Southern League and then a deep playoff run that resulted in a title. He recorded a 1.20 ERA while walking zero batters in two playoff starts.
In fact, the SL playoffs is when Moore turned in his one-hit gem. He and Montgomery righthander Chih-Wei Hu engaged a pitcher's duel in Game One of a first-round matchup. Neither team scored through nine innings before Jackson scored three runs in the 10th to win.
6. Tyler Mahle, rhp, Reds High Class A Daytona (Florida State) • Age: 21
Mahle tossed the only no-hitter in the Florida State League this season in what turned out to be his final Daytona start before a promotion to Double-A Pensacola. He has added velocity in recent seasons and now sits in the low 90s and touches 96 mph, and he backs it up with two average breaking pitches and a changeup that will play. While he lacks a plus secondary offering, Mahle throws strikes and competes with all his pitches.
7. Tyler Beede, rhp, Giants Double-Richmond (Eastern) • Age: 23
The 2014 first-rounder from Vanderbilt claimed the Eastern League ERA title (2.81) and ranked second in strikeouts (135). An athletic pitcher with an assortment of weapons, Beede made marked improvement in the second half, not only by recording a 2.53 ERA with 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings but also by landing his power curveball for strikes more often.
Beede pitches at about 93 mph and can touch 96 late into his starts, such as his Aug. 29 gem against Hartford, when he struck out 11 while allowing just two hits in a shutout.
8. Teddy Stankiewicz, rhp, Red Sox Double-A Portland (Eastern) • Age: 22
The 2013 second-rounder raised his arm slot this season to three-quarters, and while he sacrificed a few ground balls in the exchange, he began missing more bats. Case in point: Stankiewicz struck out a career-high seven batters in his one-hit shutout on Aug. 2.
9. Justin Marks, lhp, Rays Triple-A Durham (International) • Age: 28
The Rays signed Marks as a minor league free agent in January, and he pitched so well at Durham—a run that includes his July 16 no-hitter—that Tampa Bay made him a September callup to work as as a reliever.
A third-round pick by the Athletics in 2009, Marks was traded for David DeJesus in 2010 and has been well-traveled in recent years. He has pitched for five different organizations in the past three seasons.
10. Brett Martin, lhp, Rangers High Class A High Desert (California) • Age: 21
A 2014 fourth-round pick out of junior college, Martin missed two months this year with a sprained elbow, but he came back strong in August. He recorded a 4.24 ERA in six starts at High Desert, the most hostile pitching environment in the full-season minors. He continued to shine in the California League playoffs by going 1-0, 2.19 with 24 strikeouts in 12.1 innings in his two starts.
Martin, who throws a low-90s fastball and nice curveball, struck out 15 batters in seven scoreless, no-hit innings in Game Two of the Cal League finals against Visalia. High Desert won the game 1-0 and claimed the league crown the next day.
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