Biggest pitching surprises in the Minors (so far)

By Sam Dykstra

Last week, we took a look at the surprising batters of the start of the 2013 season in the Minor Leagues. Now, it’s time to look at the hurlers they’ve faced.

International League: Jose Alvarez, LHP, Toledo — Alvarez has shown promising command in the past — he led the Southern League by allowing just 1.66 walks per nine innings last season — but that hasn’t necessary led to the best results. He went 6-9 with a 4.22 ERA for Double-A Jacksonville a season ago. So when the Tigers signed him as a free agent in the offseason and put him at Toledo for his Triple-A debut, they probably weren’t hoping for more than rotation depth for the Mud Hens. Instead, Alvarez has a case for best IL starter at this early juncture. He ranks in the league’s top three in ERA (1.98, second), WHIP (1.01, third) and strikeouts (55, third). The command hasn’t gone anywhere either. His 1.48 BB/9 also ranks third.

Pacific Coast League: Chris Dwyer, LHP, Omaha — Being that he’s the Royals’ No. 16 prospect, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that Dwyer has found success this year with the Storm Chasers. But at the same time, it kind of is. Due to command issues, the 25-year-old left-hander never really got it together at the Double-A level — 5.60 ERA in 27 starts in 2011, 5.25 ERA in 17 appearances last season — and the ERA was only worse (6.97) in a nine-game stint with Omaha last year. But he didn’t allow more than two runs in his first six starts of 2013 and tossed eight innings of one-run ball on Thursday to give him a 2.83 ERA through nine outings. If he can return to his early form and continue to refine his command, Dwyer has a chance to meet the potential the organization first saw in him.dwyer_576x323

Eastern League: Warwick Saupold, RHP, Erie — After signing out of Australia last year, Saupold worked mostly out of the bullpen for Class A West Michigan and Class A Advanced Lakeland with ERAs of 2.79 and 3.77 respectively at each stop. But as the saying goes, the biggest jump in Minor League Baseball is making that move from Class A Advanced to Double-A ball, and that jump became more treacherous for the 23-year-old as he would begin his first full year as a starter on American shores. Still, he’s held his own in the Eastern League, going 3-1 with a 2.67 ERA — fifth-best in the circuit — with a 1.20 WHIP in his first nine starts for the SeaWolves.

Southern League: Spencer Arroyo, LHP, Birmingham – Since being selected by the Phillies in the 31st round of the 2008 Draft, Arroyo is already in his second organization and has yet to find big-time success at the full-season level — until now. After putting up a 4.59 ERA and .280 opponents batting average with the Barons last season, the 25-year-old has brought both numbers down to 2.10 and .208 through nine starts this year. In fact, he’s only gotten better as the season has progressed. In four May starts, the southpaw is 2-1 with a 1.13 ERA.arroyo

Texas League: Jake Buchanan, RHP, Corpus Christi — There was a chance Buchanan would be good for the Hooks this season — he was a Cal League All-star in 2011, and we even named him an Organization All-Star the same year — but no one thought he’d be this good. The 24-year-old has flourished in the Astros’ piggybacking system, hasn’t allowed an earned run since April 26 (six appearances, 27 2/3 innings) and leads all Minor Leaguers in ERA (0.84) and WHIP (0.73). He hasn’t pitched more than five innings in an outing yet this season, so he’s been spared from facing Texas League lineups a third time through. But you still have to like the results as they stand on paper.buchanan

California League: Daniel Winkler, RHP, Modesto — Since being taken by the Rockies in the 20th round of the 2011 Draft, Winkler has had a penchant for the strikeout — his 136 punchouts ranked second in the Sally League last season — but it hadn’t necessarily translated into results (4.46 ERA, 1.37 WHIP). The 23-year-old seems to be coming into his own for the Nuts this season, however. His 2.61 ERA ranks third in the circuit while his 0.89 WHIP is right up there at the top. And yes, his 58 strikeouts (in 51 2/3 innings) rank second.

Carolina League: Taylor Hill, RHP, Potomac — There was ample reason for excitement when the P-Nats started the year with Robbie Ray and Taylor Jordan — Washington’s No. 10 and 17 prospects respectively — in their rotation. But Hill, who owned a 4.91 ERA between Class A Hagerstown and Potomac last season, has been right there with them and has often been better. He ranks first in walk rate (1.18 BB/9), tied for first in WHIP (0.99), second in ERA (2.31) — behind only Jordan (1.24), who is now with Double-A Harrisburg — and third in wins (4). He’s also thrown the only solo shutout of the Carolina League season. That’s the kind of stuff that commands attention at any level.hill

Florida State League: D.J. Baxendale, RHP, Fort Myers — Make what you will of the wins stat for pitchers, but nobody has done a better job than Baxendale of compiling them as a full-time starter in the Minor Leagues this year. He’s a perfect 7-0 for the Miracle through nine starts, but none of those wins have been of the vulture variety. He hasn’t allowed more than two runs in any start en route to an FSL-best 0.94 ERA, and that comes from  being nearly untouchable (0.78 WHIP, .166 opponents’ average). Coming out of the University of Arkansas, Baxendale was a breakout candidate after sliding to 10th round last June, but this is at a different level.baxendale

Midwest League: Brandon Sinnery, RHP, South Bend — Sinnery has been one of the feel-good stories of the early 2013 season. I recommend reading my colleague Jake Seiner’s story on his journey to affiliated ball, but here’s a quick Sparknotes version. Undrafted out of the University of Michigan, the right-hander moved onto two separate independent league teams before catching the eye of the D-backs, who signed him and sent him to the Midwest League this season. He’s thrived ever since, putting up a 2.25 ERA and 1.07 ERA over eight appearances (six starts).

South Atlantic League: Jake Cose, RHP, Kannapolis — The 2011 27th-rounder was OK (4.38 ERA, 1.40 WHIP) in his first pro season as a starter in the Appalachian League a year ago, but he seems to have taken things to a new level in 2013. He’s maintained a 1.61 ERA — second-best in the Sally League — thanks to an ongoing run of four straight starts, spanning 24 2/3 innings, without having allowed an earned run. The 6-foot-5 right-hander has also struck out 46 batters and walked just 16 in 44 2/3 total frames while holding batters to a .211 average.cose

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