A Look at 10 Underrated Minor League Pitchers
In the age of analytics, finding underrated players has become much easier. Sifting through data allows outliers to be easily identified and evaluated in a new light. For the purpose of this article, I’m looking at strikeout rates and xwOBA against. Both of these are really good predictive measures and often indicate what prospect might break out next. Minor league xwOBA isn’t publicly available data, but feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions.
1. Tink Hence, STL
Hence’s name has blown up recently in the analytics sphere, and the hype created by that is slowly trickling into major media rankings. There’s a lot to like: he throws gas, has good offspeed, and was absolutely dominant in 2022. At only 20 years old, his velocity could increase even more. He’s currently sitting around 96 mph and can run the fastball up to 99. That will play at any level. The curveball is a little loopy but has good break on it. Hence was in the 100th percentile of xwOBA against and the 92nd percentile of xwOBA contact. He’s limited damage incredibly well while keeping the strikeout rate high.
2. Gavin Stone, LAD
It probably doesn't come as a surprise to anyone that a Dodger is high on this list. For some reason, Stone’s greatness has not been recognized by most major prospect outlets. There are shades of Dustin May in Stone’s electric arsenal. He racks up strikeouts at a tremendous rate, limits hard-hit balls, and already has 3 plus pitches. He fell into the 94th percentile in xwOBA against and will continue to post solid advanced metrics as long as he keeps the strikeouts up. Look for Stone to make an impact in Los Angeles during the 2023 season.
3. Prelander Berroa, SEA
I couldn’t leave Berroa off of my list after reading this incredible piece by Tieran Alexander at Prospects Live. That article is filled with pitch data that shows why Berroa is elite. The peripherals aren’t far behind, either. As with everyone else on this list, his strikeout numbers were at the very top of minor league baseball. The biggest challenge for Berroa, and the reason that he isn’t very well known, is that he’s struggled to stay in the strike zone consistently. In 2023, he is going to need to prove he can attack hitters to convince the Mariners to give him a shot as a starting pitcher. We all know that the stuff is there, it’s just a matter of whether he can rise to the occasion.
4. Cooper Hjerpe, STL
No fancy data here, as Hjerpe was a 2022 draftee. He was someone who stood out to me throughout the draft process and who has the potential to make a significant impact in Major League Baseball. Hjerpe fits the crafty lefty role: he won’t blow anybody away with the fastball but will make hitters look absolutely foolish with his deceptive arm slot, slurve-like breaking ball, and fading changeup. From all the film I watched of him at Oregon State, he commanded his innings on the mound and stayed aggressive in all counts. He has yet to appear in pro ball, so this is just speculation, but I feel he has the upside of a number 2 starter in the MLB.
5. Ricky Tiedemann, TOR
Ricky is kind of buried in the middle here because most people would call me crazy for having him on this list. It’s hard for a prospect who’s been ranked within the top 50 of virtually every ranking to be called underrated, but I feel Tiedemann might actually be. He’ll be entering his age 20 season this year and will be starting in AA. If he can post a solid month or two, Tiedemann will find himself getting the call to AAA relatively quickly. He ranked in the 99th percentile of xwOBA against while pitching at 3 levels in the 2022 campaign. I think it’s hard to find more than 2 or 3 minor league pitchers who have a better career outlook than Tiedemann. He looks like a surefire ace to me.
6. Nick Frasso, LAD
Surprise surprise, another Dodger. The Dodgers practically stole Frasso from the Blue Jays at the 2022 trade deadline, securing him in return for Mitch White. Frasso, similar to Berroa, has been a guy whose pitch metrics have always been excellent. At 24, he’s a bit old for his level, which scares off some evaluators. However, his track record and superb 2022 season cannot be denied. He had a 36% strikeout rate last season while only conceding an 8% walk rate. This is exceptional for a pitcher that relies on swings and misses out of the zone. He’s in the 96th percentile of xwOBA and 84th in xwOBAcon. As with most pitchers I’ve already mentioned, consistency is going to be key for Frasso. He needs to carry over his 2022 campaign to clear his way to Los Angeles in a crowded Dodgers system.
7. Cole Henry, WSH
The Nationals have done a fantastic job by injecting their farm with a mix of high-upside talent and high-floor prospects. Henry certainly falls into the high-upside category. I’m shocked that he currently isn’t a top 100 guy, as it’s hard for me to find many flaws in his game. Injuries have always been a bit of an issue, but his high-velocity approach and above-average offspeed make him a sure part of the Nats' future rotation plans. Henry will start the year in AAA and could easily end up in Washington by the end of the year. Not only has he dominated by getting racking up Ks, he ranks in the 98th percentile in xwOBAcon, meaning that the contact against him has been very soft. If his arm can hold up, Henry could very well be a household name a few years down the road.
8. Luke Little, CHC
This name might sound vaguely familiar. Little was an internet sensation before the 2020 draft after throwing 105 miles an hour from the left-hand side. At 6’8”, Luke is a physical presence and has used his frame to dominate the competition. It’s always been expected that Little would end up in the bullpen, but he pitched 65 innings out of a starting role in the Cubs’ farm last year. The results were tremendous, as he pitched into the 98th percentile of xwOBA against while racking up a 35% strikeout rate. His fastball-changeup duo is devastating, and if Little can successfully add a 3rd pitch he could skyrocket up prospect rankings.
9. Zach Brzykcy, WSH
Here’s a pretty obscure player. Have fun trying to pronounce the name. Brzykcy is not very well known but has been pretty good. He fits the same bill as most people on this list: a player with good stuff, a high strikeout rate, and… very questionable command. If he can reign in the control, he could be a starting pitching option. If not, he likely will end up a high-leverage reliever. He posted a 38% strikeout rate while staying in the 96th percentile of xwOBA against. The strikeout rate is incredibly impressive, and if he can maintain it, he’ll force his way into the Nationals' long-term plans. I’m looking forward to seeing more from him in 2023.
10. Walter Ford, SEA
Walter Ford, the Vanilla Missile, was another favorite of mine in the 2022 draft cycle, and not just because of the incredible nickname. His pitch data was absurd, with a slider that made high school hitters look idiotic all of last year. He throws pretty hard, but the slider is the pitch that will make or break his career. From everything I’ve watched, it’s clear that Ford is a high-IQ pitcher that locates very well and knows how to play up his arsenal through sequencing. He has yet to debut in professional baseball, but I foresee him being a Ricky Tiedemann type of guy who shoots up rankings as soon as he sees consistent playing time
Most of the guys fit the same category, but that archetype has been the most likely to break out in recent years. Make sure you pay attention to these names because they could be making waves by the end of the 2023 season.