Top 10 Starts By Minor League Pitchers In 2017
Three minor league pitchers threw perfect games in 2017, which could be viewed as the natural culmination of the industry-wide trends of rising strikeouts and declining batting averages.
As usual, the Class A leagues featured the most singular pitching performances, as measured by the Bill James metric game score, because younger hitters can often be tamed by pitchers who can locate one above-average secondary pitch.
Also of note: the Reds placed a pair of Double-A starters on this list, and both prospects graduated to big league rotation during the season.
1. Nick Fanti, LHP, Phillies Low Class A Lakewood (South Atlantic)
A 31st-round pick out of high school in 2015, Fanti spent two seasons in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and was more than ready for the South Atlantic League this year, when he ranked third with a 2.54 ERA. On July 17 he threw a no-hitter with 12 strikeouts and only a second-inning walk in a game in which the Lakewood offense backed him with a mere one run on two hits.
2. Mike O'Reilly, RHP, Cardinals Low Class A Peoria (Midwest)
After four relief appearances for Peoria, O'Reilly joined the rotation, where he turned in several brilliant performances, including his 12th start on July 10 in which he threw a one-hit shutout with 12 strikeouts in just 104 pitches. The Cardinals soon promoted O'Reilly to high Class A Palm Beach, where the 27th-rounder in 2016 from Division II Flagler (Fla.) continued to excel. He doesn't light up radar guns but finished the year 12-3, 2.34 with a 0.94 WHIP.
|July 10||Cedar Rapids||9||1||0||12||0||97|
3. Domenic Mazza, LHP, Giants Low Class A Augusta (South Atlantic)
Mazza required just 85 pitches to quell an aggressive Lexington lineup and record just the second perfect game in South Atlantic League history. A 22nd-round pick in 2015 from UC Santa Barbara, Mazza spent two seasons at Augusta—this year he ranked eighth in the SAL with a 3.01 ERA—before moving up to high Class A San Jose in August.
4. Tyler Mahle, RHP, Reds Double-A Pensacola (Southern)
Command and pitch efficiency are nothing new for Mahle, who threw a Florida State League no-hitter on 105 pitches last season. This year he threw the first perfect game in the Southern League since 1970, and he did so with eight strikeouts on just 88 pitches. The 22-year-old prospect made his big league debut with the Reds on Aug. 27.
5. Connor Grey, RHP, Diamondbacks Low Class A Kane County (Midwest)
A well-traveled Grey threw a perfect game—the first in the Midwest League since 2004—in the final start of a season he spent at four levels. The 20th-round pick in 2014 from St. Bonaventure served as a fill-in at high Class A in April (one game) and at Triple-A in May (two) before joining short-season Hillsboro in June and Kane County in August. Grey finished with a 2.87 ERA in 103 innings while walking just nine batters in 18 appearances.
6. Jacob Nix, RHP, Padres High Class A Lake Elsinore (California)
A two-hit shutout might not seem as impressive as a no-hitter, but consider the degree of difficulty faced by Nix, who began the year sidelined by a groin injury. First, he had to contend with the hitter-friendly conditions of the California League, and on top of that, the opposing Rancho Cucamonga lineup featured Dodgers prospects Yusniel Diaz and D.J. Peters, the league MVP who went 1-for-3 with a double.
|June 28||Lake Elsinore||9||2||0||11||0||94|
7. Shao-Ching Chiang, RHP, Indians High Class A Lynchburg (Carolina)
Signed out of Taiwan in September 2011, Chiang is an extreme groundball pitcher who rose meticulously through the Indians system until this season. The 23-year-old fired a no-hitter on July 29 and received a bump to Double-A Akron immediately afterward. (He ranked fifth in the Carolina League with a 3.67 ERA.) Of note in Chiang's no-hitter: the first batter of the game reached on an infield error.
8. Adam Bray, RHP, Dodgers High Class A Rancho Cucamonga (California)
Bray faced the minimum 27 batters in his 93-pitch one-hitter with eight strikeouts on July 23. The 33rd-round pick in 2015 from South Dakota State ranked third in the California League in both ERA (3.89) and walk rate (1.8 per nine innings).
|July 23||San Jose||9||1||0||8||0||93|
9. Nick Fanti, LHP, Phillies Low Class A Lakewood (South Atlantic)
Though Fanti succeeded on his July 17 no-hit bid, in this May start, his fifth of the year, Lakewood manager Marty Malloy pulled him one out shy of recording a no-hitter. He had just walked a batter to push his pitch count to 113. Reliever Trevor Bettencourt finished the team no-hitter.
10. Luis Castillo, RHP, Reds Double-A Pensacola (Southern)
The Reds' 100-mph man shows uncommon control for a power pitcher, walking just 1.5 batters per nine innings in 14 Double-A starts this season prior to his June 23 callup. In his June 13 start, his penultimate for Pensacola, Castillo struck out 13 and walked none while firing eight shutout innings and allowing just two hits.