Mound Musings: The “Kids on Parade” Watch List for 2023

Mound Musings: The “Kids on Parade” Watch List for 2023

This article is part of our Mound Musings series.

Particularly in keeper and dynasty leagues there is a huge benefit in identifying and acquiring excellent pitching talent just before they arrive in the major leagues. Certainly, uncovering an impact pitcher for the upcoming season in the spring could be a major step in winning your league. That's what Mound Musings is all about.

This list is actually getting more difficult to maintain. There are still plenty of young arms with high ceilings, but it seems like more and more of the blue-chippers are being called to the majors earlier, a fact that has been greatly accelerated with declining innings pitched by the majority of starters. The end result has been an unprecedented rush to the major leagues, and we are left trying to sift through all those kids in an attempt to add the real impact arms, while avoiding the pretenders.

Some of the pitchers who have already seen time in the majors like MacKenzie Gore in Washington, Nick Lodolo in Cincinnati, Braxton Garrett in Miami, and even Matt Brash in Seattle, I'm considering "graduates," even though they are still technically prospects. I will note that these four would be on the list below as all four are/were high on my watch list and are likely to improve with experience. Let's get started:

Put (Keep) These Guys on Your Watch List …

Grayson Rodriguez (BAL) – With MacKenzie Gore's graduation, Rodriguez takes over the top spot on the kid's list, and he has done it with authority. The

Particularly in keeper and dynasty leagues there is a huge benefit in identifying and acquiring excellent pitching talent just before they arrive in the major leagues. Certainly, uncovering an impact pitcher for the upcoming season in the spring could be a major step in winning your league. That's what Mound Musings is all about.

This list is actually getting more difficult to maintain. There are still plenty of young arms with high ceilings, but it seems like more and more of the blue-chippers are being called to the majors earlier, a fact that has been greatly accelerated with declining innings pitched by the majority of starters. The end result has been an unprecedented rush to the major leagues, and we are left trying to sift through all those kids in an attempt to add the real impact arms, while avoiding the pretenders.

Some of the pitchers who have already seen time in the majors like MacKenzie Gore in Washington, Nick Lodolo in Cincinnati, Braxton Garrett in Miami, and even Matt Brash in Seattle, I'm considering "graduates," even though they are still technically prospects. I will note that these four would be on the list below as all four are/were high on my watch list and are likely to improve with experience. Let's get started:

Put (Keep) These Guys on Your Watch List …

Grayson Rodriguez (BAL) – With MacKenzie Gore's graduation, Rodriguez takes over the top spot on the kid's list, and he has done it with authority. The Orioles continue to tease. The scouting department uncovers some exceptional talent, but in recent times, the player development side of the organization has struggled to get the most out of that talent. Rodriguez appears to be flipping that coin. He relies on a plus-plus high 90s four-seamer with a lot of movement, and he can spot it consistently, but he also has a very sharp slider and an already solid change-up. I'm pretty sure he would be up with the O's, already, but a lat strain put him on the shelf for three months, and he is just now rounding back into form at Triple-A Norfolk. Rodriquez is the real deal, a genuine top-of-the-rotation talent who can contribute the first time he takes the mound in Baltimore, which could realistically be in April, 2023.

Eury Perez (MIA) – Perez is only 19-years-old, and he already looked right at home at the Double-A level. He gets the nod here as the fastest riser on my list as he continues to mature at a very quick pace. Unlike the Orioles, the Miami organization typically develops quality young pitching when they get the talent, and this guy is a blue-chipper. His numbers at Pensacola were good, not great (4.08 ERA with a 1.16 WHIP), but don't be fooled, they were tarnished by results of him pitching with a tired arm that eventually sent him to the IL for a month. Take a look at the gawdy strikeout rate, with 106 punch-outs in just 75 innings, and his secondary stuff is still a bit of a work in progress. He's done most of that with a jaw-dropping fastball that sits high 90s but looks even faster as he takes advantage of the extension provided by his six-foot-eight stature. I'm guessing he starts in Triple-A next spring, but, as rapidly as he learns, he could see Miami in 2023.

Nate Pearson (TOR) – Regular readers know I am not one to give up on exceptional raw talent because of a few setbacks. And, Pearson has arguably the best raw stuff of anyone on the list. His arm is what team's dream of, and the Jays had him riding the express before injuries (and some wildness) set in. He began 2019 at High-A Dunedin (can you say mismatch: 10 hits and three walks with 35 strikeouts over 21 innings). He then stopped off at Double-A New Hampshire, before finishing the season at Triple-A Buffalo. He spent 2020 with Toronto, and split 2021 between Toronto, Triple-A and the injured list before spending most of this season on the IL with a combination of illness and injury. He fairly easily sits mid-upper 90s, but he can hit triple digits when he wants to, and notably, he pitches on an extremely exaggerated downward plane, which is just nasty. He obviously still needs to fine-tune his command, and he needs to prove he can stay healthy, but he has dominating starter (or maybe late inning reliever) upside.

Max Meyer (MIA) – Two Marlins in the top four. Pretty impressive. Unfortunately, we'll have to be a bit patient with Meyer who underwent Tommy John surgery last month. If all goes well, we could see him near the end of next season, but realistically he is unlikely to be a fantasy asset before the 2024 season. Miami drafted Meyer out of the University of Minnesota in the first round of the 2020 draft, and he sped through its system (and they are typically conservative, usually opting not to rush young arms). He made his MLB debut on July 16, getting roughed up a bit by the Phillies, before tossing just 10 pitches in his next outing before his elbow gave out. Meyer advanced so quickly because he is the total package, or at least he has the potential to be. He relies on his mid 90s fastball and sharp slider, both of which he commands well, but he needs a reliable third pitch. I'm confident that will come in this organization.

Cade Cavalli (WAS) – Actually, the jury is still out on Cavalli. I like some of what 
I've seen quite a bit, but I also have some concerns. He came out of the same draft class as Meyer, and I had them just about even. Cavalli also made his MLB debut this year, pitching 4.1 innings against Cincinnati. It was a mixed bag. He displayed the strikeout potential that is his biggest attraction – he struck out six – but he was all over the place, needing 99 pitches to record 13 outs. He only walked two, but he hit three batters and consistently missed his spots. Maybe it was big league debut yips? Unfortunately, we'll have to wait and see. He went on the shelf following that outing with shoulder sureness. That's whole different concern. He's on the list based on raw upside, and, if healthy, with command of his pitches, he could be a factor in 2023. Monitor him closely next spring to determine his early-season assignment.

Daniel Espino (CLE) – Another huge arm with that most desirable of traits; the ability to miss bats. Espino is just 21, and spent 2021 in A-ball with encouraging performances. I was really looking forward to significant progress this season, and he got off to great start with Double-A Akron, but knee issues interrupted his development after just four starts. He has a plus-plus fastball, and I love his curveball. He has a very good slider, and his change-up is coming. The question is, and has been, whether he can physically handle a starting pitcher's workload. He is wispy and not considered an ideal physical specimen, which combined with high velocity at a very young age earns you an injury risk label. I won't deny the risk is there, but I still see a lot of positives in his mechanics. To me, he is efficient, more than an over-thrower, and his lower body strength is an asset, the knee problems aside. The Indians are bringing him along slowly, and the hope is his body will continue to mature. If it does, he could potentially add more velocity.

Shane Baz (TB) – I know, it seems like top pitching prospects and injuries just go together. Baz dominated in the minor leagues, at both Double-A and Triple-A, before finally getting a call-up to Tampa Bay last September. Everyone knew he had great stuff, but his command locked in and he was able to take a very big next step. He made three starts in Tampa, and it was abundantly clear he has the tools to be a very good starter. Then the bottom fell out. This spring he experienced elbow soreness. He rehabbed into June before making his 2022 debut, but the fanfare was squelched when after just 27 innings he was shutdown again. There was hope he could get past it, but he underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this month and has been ruled out for 2023. If you can stash him on a keeper/dynasty roster, he could be worth the wait; just don't forget him.  

Kyle Harrison (SF) – Harrison jumps on the list as he continues to get better with each passing start. Like many young southpaws, its all about control for him. He already has a plus-plus fastball that might eventually touch triple digits and good, but not great (yet), secondary pitches. If he's throwing everything for strikes, hitters face the challenge of deciding whether to swing the moment the pitch leaves his hand. Those decisions accounted for an eye-popping 127 strikeouts in just 84 innings at Double-A Richmond this year. Unfortunately, he also accumulated 39 walks. All in all, it has been a most successful season, and, having just turned 21 in August, he will likely continue to mature. Harrison is the definition of a young lefty power pitcher, and the question now is when will he lock in a release point and bring it all together. Watch for him to take the next step.

Jack Leiter (TEX) – Speaking of struggling to throw strikes, Leiter logged 97 innings in his first pro season, and his somewhat disappointing peripherals can pretty much be attributed to a lack of consistency in finding the strike zone.  He posted a 5.22 ERA with an ugly 1.54 WHIP for Double-A Frisco. I had him as the top pitcher in the 2021 draft class, and he went second overall in the first round. With him coming out of Vanderbilt, I thought he might be a bit more advanced even though it was obvious his secondary pitches would still need some work for the pro game. For him, everything works off his mid 90s fastball with very lively action. As his secondary pitches improve – and I really think they will – he's going to be even tougher to deal with. I think it is worth noting that those lackluster numbers were largely a product of the early part of the year, and he improved steadily as the season wore on. Let's give him a mulligan for 2022.

Jordan Balazovic (MIN) – Not surprisingly, most of the pitchers on this list are fairly well known. The top prospects are usually highly visible, and my rankings reflect my own expectations to hopefully help sort them out. That said, I sometimes see something that catches my eye with a pitcher who isn't getting very much attention. Such is the case with Balazovic. He caught my attention while pitching at Low-A Cedar Rapids in 2019. He features a heavy mid-90's fastball, and he likes to work up in the zone, generating a lot of swings and misses. He also has a slider and splitter that showed promise. Things were looking good, but he caught the injury bug including back woes and a knee injury that sapped his advancement. He hasn't been healthy the past two years, and he has fallen off the radar, but I liked what I saw, and I'd like to see if he can get back on track. If he can recapture that form, he might have the best upside in the Twins system.

As you can imagine, there are quite a few other blue-chip prospects who didn't appear in the majors this season or pitched very few innings. Here are just a few other honorable mentions who received consideration (in no special order) for inclusion in the 2023 Parade: Ryne Nelson and Drey Jameson (ARZ), Ryan Pepiot (LAD), Gabriel Hughes (COL), Quinn Priester (PIT), Eric Pardinho (TOR), Cooper Hjerpe (STL) Jackson Jobe (DET), Garrett Crochet (CWS), Ricky Tiedemann (TOR), Hunter Brown (CLE), Gunnar Hoglund (OAK), Brayan Bello BOS), and Gavin Stone (LAD).

That's a wrap. As always, remember, this year even more than ever before, the Parade is pretty much a living thing, constantly evolving and changing. I want to thank all of my regular readers and contributors for participating in the interactive comments and questions section! That is the best part of it for me. This marks the conclusion of my 12th season as a weekly columnist for Rotowire, and I'm already looking forward to 2023.

Be well my friends!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brad Johnson
For more than 30 years, pitching guru Brad "Bogfella" Johnson has provided insightful evaluation and analysis of pitchers to a wide variety of fantasy baseball websites, webcasts and radio broadcasts. He joined RotoWire in 2011 with his popular Bogfella's Notebook.
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