Typically, even an organization that is rich in pitching has its arms spread throughout the system. Sometimes, though, the talent gets stacked up in one place, leading to an exciting prospect-laden rotation for one Minor League team.
That's what Jim Callis and I are tossing around in this week's Pipeline Perspectives: Which Minor League rotation do we believe is the most talented? Jim decided to champion the Astros' troubled yet extremely talented staff in Lancaster of the Class A Advanced California League.
While the Cincinnati Reds don't have quite as deep of a farm system as the Astros, I do think that their rotation in Double-A Pensacola trumps the JetHawks staff that Jim loves. The Blue Wahoos' starting five -- yes, that's the team's name -- doesn't have as many Top 100 prospects as Lancaster does, but all five starters are in the Reds' Top 20. You'd be hard-pressed to find another Minor League rotation that can claim that.
It all starts with Robert Stephenson, ranked No. 16 on the overall Top 100 list. The Reds' top prospect is headed to next month's Futures Game, and with good reason. I'd put him up against just about any right-handed pitching prospect in the game in terms of his electric pure stuff and upside. Stephenson's fastball-curveball combination is as good as it gets in the Minors, and his changeup gives him a third Major League-average-or-better offering. He misses a lot of bats -- 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings in his career -- and he profiles as a top-of-the-rotation type. And he's pitching all year in Double-A at age 21.
While Stephenson is the only Top 100 guy in Pensacola's rotation, there are plenty more intriguing arms. It wouldn't surprise me if Michael Lorenzen, Cincinnati's first-round pick from 2013, ends up on that list at some point. Lorenzen was a closer and center fielder at Cal State-Fullerton, and he is focusing on pitching full-time for the first time.
Lorenzen is also learning how to be a starter for the first time. You'd think the Reds would start him off slowly, and at a lower level, but no. Lorenzen showed he was ready for a challenge, and he's been up for it during his first full season. His 2.61 ERA is third-lowest in the Southern League. Lorenzen is not missing a lot of bats, but he is getting a lot of ground balls, with a 1.77 groundout-to-flyout ratio. Considering he's still learning how to be a starter and is developing a third pitch, you have to believe he has a lot of upside.
The one "weak" link in the rotation is Daniel Corcino, if only because he pitched at this level in 2012, then was in Triple-A a year ago, only to have to return to Double-A. Still, he's only 23, an age that would be acceptable at this level if he hadn't taken a step back.
Ben Lively recently joined Pensacola's rotation and had a bit of a rude introduction in his first start on Monday. But he's really put himself more firmly on the prospect map with his pitching in the California League, a hitter-friendly environment. At the time of his promotion, Lively led the Cal League in wins and strikeouts and was second in ERA. He joined Lorenzen as the second 2013 draftee (he was a fourth-rounder) in the Blue Wahoo's rotation.
Honestly, that quartet would be enough to make a good argument. But the staff goes five deep. Jon Moscot, No. 20 on Cincinnati's top prospects list, has kind of been flying under the radar with guys like Stephenson and Lorenzen as rotation-mates. But the 2012 fourth-rounder, who led the organization in strikeouts last year, has been pitching very well. His 2.82 ERA is fifth on the Southern League leaderboard, two spots behind Lorenzen.
What excites me, and should get Reds fans pumped up, is that this rotation is an outstanding mix of upside and production. All five starters are performing well, and the fact that they are doing so in Double-A bodes well for the future of the pitching staff in Cincinnati.