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Prospect Roundup

Future Category Winners: Strikeouts

by Christopher Crawford
Updated On: March 23, 2020, 7:01 pm ET

Over the last month, we’ve looked at prospects who can help you win in average, homers, and stolen bases

This week, it's time to look at the pitchers.

Here’s a look at some pitching prospects that can help you in the strikeout category in 2020 and the future.  

2020 Helpers

Jesús Luzardo, LHP, Oakland Athletics -- If you've seen Luzardo pitch, you understand why he's on this list. After striking out 73 hitters in 55 innings last year, he was dominant before the shutdown of spring training with an ERA of 1.08 and 13/1 K/BB ratio in the Cactus League. On top of a mid-to-high 90s fastball, he has one of the best changeups of any southpaw -- or any pitcher, period -- and two breaking-balls that can miss bats. There's some concern for 2020 about how many innings he'll get, but Luzardo is going to pile up the strikeouts when he's on the mound. 

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Nate Pearson, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays -- Nate Pearson throws harder than you do. He's a hurler who has a true top-of-the-scales fastball; routinely getting into triple digits. It'd be one thing if he just threw hard, but Pearson also has a sweeping slider that can miss bats, and his change projects above-average as well. Pearson is going to start the year in the minors unless there's a change to service-time rules because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but once he's up, he's a must-get.

Michael Kopech, RHP, Chicago White Sox -- You'd be forgiven if you forgot about Kopech after he missed all of the 2019 season due to Tommy John surgery. It was just one appearance, but he quickly reminded everyone of just how talented he is after the 23-year-old touched triple-digits with his heater in his first Cactus League start. On top of his 80-grade heater, Kopech can make hitters look silly with his slider, and there's a curveball and change in his repertoire as well. Command will be an issue for Kopech, but missing bats won't.

Joe Ryan, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays -- Do you happen to know what pitcher lead all of the minors in strikeout rate in 2019? Yep, it was Ryan, who fanned 38 percent of hitters he faced while also posting a 1.91 ERA, 1.91 FIP and 6.78 strikeout-to-walk rate while reaching Double-A. While the 23-year-old doesn't have the lights-out stuff of the names above, he does have five quality pitches; starting with a fastball that touches 96 mph. He'll also throw a cutter, slider and change, and all three of these offerings are thrown for strikes. The Rays have some pitching depth, but Ryan is ready to go, and if/when he gets the call-up, he's worth a speculative addition.

James Karinchak, RHP, Cleveland Indians -- Ryan was the leader in strikeout rate of qualified hurlers. Karinchak, however, was tops among any pitcher who threw at least 30 innings. How's a 59.2 percent K percentage sound to you? pretty good, no? His fastball is generally 95-98 mph, and he complements that pitch with a curveball that gets loads of spin and missed bats with the best of them. Yes, it's going to come in relief, but when it comes to rates, there may not be a prospect who does a better job piling up the strikeouts than Karinchak. He might give you some saves, as well.

Others: Casey Mize, RHP, Detroit Tigers; A.J. Puk, LHP, Oakland Athletics ; Jose Urquidy, RHP, Houston Astros; Mitch Keller, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates; Brusdar Graterol, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers

Future Helpers

Luis Patiño, RHP, San Diego Padres -- You're probably expecting to see MacKenzie Gore first on this list, and you aren't wrong; Gore is the best pitching prospect in baseball, and he's going to miss plenty of bats. That being said, he might not be the prospect in the San Diego system who misses the most bats. That's a compliment to Patiño and not an insult to Gore, as the former has ridiculous wing-and-miss stuff. Despite only standing an even 6-feet -- and that might be generous -- he consistently hits the high 90s, and both his slider and change have the ability to finish off hitters. He also throws all of his pitches for strikes, so he's not just a one-category hurler. We could see Patiño in San Diego this season, but it's the future seasons that fantasy players should be excited about. 

Matt Manning, LHP, Detroit Tigers -- Here's another pitcher that could help in 2020, and one of three Tigers that make this list (yep, you stink now Detroit, but there's some reason for optimism). The son of a former NBA center, Manning has shooting-guard height (6'6) and it helps him get extension on a fastball that can get as high as 97 mph. His curveball is his best pitch, however, and the 22-year-old has a change that's just a step below. Again, we could see Manning with Detroit this summer, but expect him to pile up the strikeouts in 2021 and beyond.

Grayson Rodriguez, RHP, Baltimore Orioles -- Unlike Patiño and Manning, there's almost zero chance that we'll see Rodriguez pitch in 2020 at the highest level. We'll see him miss bats in the minors, however, as the 20-year-old struck out 129 hitters over his 94 innings at Low-A Delmarva. The 11th pick of the 2018 draft has a filthy slider, and he has another swing-and-miss off-speed pitch in his change. Oh, and Rodriguez has a fastball that has sink and hits 97 mph. Sorry to bury the lede there. It won't be until 2022, but Rodriguez has the type of stuff that could someday have him among the strikeout leaders in all of baseball.

Tarik Skubal, LHP, Detroit Tigers -- Yep, it's another Tiger. Skubal was the most improved pitching prospect in baseball, and he struck out an impressive 179 hitters over his 122 2/3 innings while reaching Double-A. The 2018 ninth-round pick has four pitches that get plus grades from scouts, and that includes a 95 mph fastball. His best off-speed offering is his slider, but his curveball and change all can give hitters from both sides of the plate the feel-bads. On top of that, Skubal throws all of his offerings with quality command, so he's going to be able to get ahead in the count. It's entirely possible that we'll see Skubal pitch for the lowly Tigers in 2020, and if he does get the promotion, he's more than worthy of an addition for those looking for help in the strikeout -- and others -- category.

Hunter Greene, RHP, Cincinnati Reds -- We haven't seen Greene throw a competitive pitch since 2018, as the former second-overall pick missed all of last year after recovering from Tommy John surgery. It's worth pointing out that he still is just 20-years-old until August, and there's still plenty of reason for optimism in the right-hander. He's as athletic as they come, and he uses that and his arm strength to hit triple digits with a legit 80-grade fastball. His slider isn't near that level, but it's plus, and he has made progress with his change. Greene repeats his delivery well, so like Skubal, he should get a head of hitters and be able to put them away. Even if it's not until 2022, his ability to miss bats competes with any pitching prospect in baseball. Potentially, anyway.

Others: MacKenzie Gore, LHP, San Diego Padres; Deivi Garcia, RHP, New York Yankees; Jordan Balazovic, RHP, Minnesota Twins; Sixto Sanchez, RHP, Miami Marlins; Brailyn Marquez, LHP, Chicago Cubs 

Christopher Crawford

Christopher Crawford is a baseball and college football writer for NBC Sports EDGE and also appears on the Circling the Bases Podcast.