The MLB is always looking to create a bridge from generation to generation, and through the next wave of minor league prospects, that torch is passed down. Through adding an influx of talent on a yearly basis, that is what makes baseball such an enjoyable sport to watch.
With the likes of Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale and Corey Kluber dominating the league now, the art of being an ace of a staff is not a lost art. However, with the implementation of the ‘opener’ role on certain staffs, looking at you Milwaukee and Tampa Bay, being a member of the rotation does not always mean you can go out and use the rosin bag first.
With that in mind, here are the five next big things in terms of pitching prospects ready to take the league by storm in the next few seasons.
Mike Soroka – RHP, Atlanta Braves
One of two members of the Braves that are in the MLB.com’s top 10 rankings by position, Soroka had a cup of coffee with the big-league squad in 2018, starting five games. That experience, coupled with his quick rise through the minors, has him billed to be a key cog in helping the Braves win the National League East division again.
Out of Vanderbilt, which has seemingly been pushing out MLB-caliber prospects as of late, Soroka was drafted 28th overall in the 2015 MLB draft. He split time across three levels of the minors, pitching one game at Single-A, five games at Triple-A and five games with the big-league ball club before being shut down with an arm injury in June.
With a destined date of sometime in 2019 to stay at the big-league level, Soroka could easily fight for a spot in the starting rotation during spring training. Plugging Soroka in at the end of the rotation would be a great way to round out their staff and give them a guy who can move to the bullpen if they acquire a better arm, as they were rumored to be involved with signing Dallas Keuchel.
Brent Honeywell – RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Even though his entire 2018 season was wiped out due to undergoing Tommy John surgery, Honeywell has a plethora of pitches in his arsenal and has shown enough in the minor leagues to warrant a call-up once healthy. Figuring around June for his arm to be healed, Honeywell could slide into that long-innings arm in the pen for the Rays, helping bridge the gap and even being an opener when needed.
Boasting an above-average screwball along with a fastball, curveball, slider and changeup, Honeywell has a ton of stuff to confuse hitters with. His screwball is actually his best pitch, and he can throw anything during any count, as his 60-grade control makes up for any deficiencies he may have.
While needing to get back to full strength after his injury shelved him for an entire season, Honeywell has the skills and background to make that a seamless transition. Ranked 28th overall and as the league’s eighth-best hurler in the minors, Honeywell should be making his full-fledged debut right around the All-Star break, as he needs to start back up on an innings limit.
Dylan Cease – RHP, Chicago White Sox
Acquired by the White Sox in the Jose Quintana trade with their cross-town rivals, Cease is a strong prospect who relies on his 70-grade fastball to blow hitters away. Projected to make his debut in 2019, Cease has the tools to eventually become the squad’s ace two or three years down the road.
His control is a big issue though, and with a fastball that regularly gets into triple digits, having a lack of control is an issue. Not having pitched above the Double-A level yet, he still has a chance to jump over the final rung of the minor league level and help the White Sox overcome losing out on the Manny Machado sweepstakes.
Cease is the 21st-best pitching prospect in the minors but should give up his prospect status if everything goes right this year. While he has a chance to make the roster right out of spring training, he could be moved to the bullpen first until a need arises. He will, at some point, move to the rotation this season, most likely after the All-Star break.
The 2018 MLB Pipeline Pitcher of the Year has great potential and can ride a shutdown one-two pitch combination of his fastball and curveball as his ticket to the big leagues.
Mitch Keller – RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
A homegrown product for the Pirates, Keller has future shutdown ace written all over him, even with only having a three-pitch mix. His fastball, curveball and changeup mixture is a typical outline for starters, but Keller is anything but typical.
The 2018 All-Star Futures Game MVP regularly sits around 95 mph but touched as high as 99 on multiple occasions, including in the Futures game. Keller is another arm in the Pirates system that is drooling with potential but is the only one left after sending out Tyler Glasnow as a key piece in the trade to bring in Chris Archer at last season’s deadline.
His developing changeup is the pitch that can push him the furthest but needs the most work at this moment. A 50-grade changeup has building blocks attached to it, and with more time to hone in on it during spring training, he has the ability to raise that ranking up five slots.
Keller will be joining the team’s rotation soon, and teaming him with Archer will make Pittsburgh’s rotation a scary one for years to come.
Forrest Whitley – RHP, Houston Astros
A household name in the league, Whitley has dealt with a doping suspension and various injuries but still boasts the highest ceiling of any MiLB prospects. Someone who should make Houston’s opening day roster, Whitley has all the intangibles to eventually headline the Astros starting rotation.
As of now, he would be a great addition alongside Justin Verlander, helping take some of the heat off of him after the inevitable loss of Dallas Keuchel in free agency. Whitley’s fastball is his best pitch, with his changeup, slider and curveball not far behind.
The player who can make the biggest impact on the playoff race in 2019, Whitley has that jump-off-the-page potential, provided he remains healthy and does not rely on any supplements to boost his game.