2011 MLB draft shaping up as best ever for pitchers

The top pick in the 2011, Gerrit Cole is working his way up the ladder in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. (Peter Diana/Post-Gazette)

A year from now, people are going to look back at the 2011 MLB draft and be amazed at the amount of talented pitchers who were selected. A record 18 pitchers were taken in the first 28 picks, and 30 of the first 60 picks were pitchers, including 16 out of high school. Many of these draft picks have been dominating opposing hitters during their first taste of pro ball this season. Here are 15 of the best this year in order of where they were drafted.

Pick 1 – Gerrit Cole, 21 (age), RHP, Pirates

2012 stats: 5-1, 2.55 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 69 K/21 BB 67 IP

Cole, a 6’-5” power pitcher, was considered the safe pick coming out of UCLA in 2011. He had been a first-round pick in 2008 by the Yankees but decided to attend college. The move paid off as he received an $8MM signing bonus by the Pirates. He had a 3.31 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 119 K/24 BB over 114.1 innings his junior season. He finished his career with 376 career strikeouts, second to teammate Trevor Bauer on the Bruins all-time list. Cole has picked up right where he left off at class-A advanced Bradenton and should get a promotion to double-A before the season is over. Over his last eight starts, he is 4-0 with a 2.04 ERA and 40 K/14 BB over 44 innings.

Pick 2 – Danny Hultzen, 22, LHP, Mariners

8-3, 1.19 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 79 K/32 BB 75.1 IP

Hultzen was the best left-hander available in the draft and was wrapping up one of the most impressive careers for a college pitcher ever. Over his three seasons at Virginia, he went 32-5 with a 2.18 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 378 K/69 BB over 305.1 innings. He made his pro debut this season at double-A Jackson and is currently riding a 24.2 scoreless inning streak as he continues to baffle hitters with his mid-90s fastball and deceptive change-up that is one of the best around. While his control has gotten the better of him at times this season, holding opponents to a .151 batting average is a great counter to control issues. Hultzen may get a call up to triple-A this season, but fans shouldn’t expect to see him in Seattle at any point in 2012.

Pick 3 – Trevor Bauer, 21, RHP, Diamondbacks

11-1, 2.11 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 104 K/42 BB 85.1 IP

Bauer went 13-2 his junior year at UCLA with a 1.25 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 203 K/36 BB over 136.2 innings as he put together arguably the most dominant season for a college pitcher ever. He made his pro debut at class-A Visalia last season, and combined with his totals from double-A Mobile, had 43 strikeouts over 25.2 innings. He is already pitching at triple-A Reno in the Pacific Coast League where he is more than holding his own in the notoriously hitter-friendly league. He is currently second in the minors in strikeouts and tied for the lead in wins. Bauer has a ridiculous nine-pitch arsenal at his side. His fastball has many variations, with his four-seam touching the upper-90s. He also has a plus 12-6 hammer curve, as well as a plus slider with late fade. His change-up is above average, and he will throw all of his pitches at any time in any at-bat. If the Diamondbacks are in playoff contention late in the season, Bauer could get a call up to help them with the push.

Pick 4 – Dylan Bundy, 19, RHP, Orioles

3-2, 1.66 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, 63 K/8 BB 48.2 IP

Bundy has been the story of the minor league season all year. He has been putting up video game numbers since his first start, although has come down to earth a little since his promotion to class-A advanced Frederick where he has a 4.34 ERA over four starts. Still, opponents are hitting just .141 against him, and his 1.48 walks-per-nine innings is ridiculous. His dominance this season probably comes as no surprise to him as he has always made the game look easy. Before his senior season at Oswasso HS in Oklahoma, Bundy sat down with his dad and made some goals for the season. He said he wanted to hit 100 mph with his fastball, have a zero ERA and not walk a single batter all year. Well, he wound up going 11-0 with a 0.20 ERA and 158 strikeouts over 71 innings en route to being named the National Gatorade Player of the Year. He did walk a whopping five guys, however, so much for achieving his goals. He also didn’t hit 100 mph on the radar gun, but he is now.  I wonder what he talked to his dad about this season …

Pick 7 – Archie Bradley, 19, RHP, Diamondbacks

7-4, 3.91 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 60 K/44 BB 69 IP

Bradley’s control has gotten the better of him this season as he has given up more walks (44) than hits (37). Command issues have never been a problem for the 6’-4” power righty, as he had 137 strikeouts to just 11 walks over 71.1 innings as a senior at Broken Arrow HS in Oklahoma. At the team’s Instructional League this past fall, he had 22 strikeouts to just four walks over 15 innings, allowing just five hits. He features three outstanding pitches, with his curveball being his best. It is a knuckle-curve that sits in the mid-80s and is a true 12-6 wipeout pitch. His four-seam fastball can reach 98 mph, while his two-seamer sits in the mid- 90s with late fade. His change-up is still developing but looks to be a solid offering. Opposing hitters have been unable to put bat on ball at every level he has pitched so far. Once he gets his command issues straightened out, their chances of reaching base against him.

Pick 14 – Jose Fernandez, 19, RHP, Marlins

7-0, 1.59 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 99 K/18 BB 79 IP

Fernandez is giving Bundy a run for his money as the best high school pitcher in the draft as he has been just as dominant while tossing 30 more innings. The 6’-3”, right-hander starred at Alonso HS in Tampa, Florida, where he went 13-1 his senior season with a 1.35 ERA, 0.77 WHIP and 134 K/21 BB over 93 innings. Over his high school career, he went 28-3 with a 1.53 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 278 K/59 BB over 194 innings, allowing just 114 hits. He has a fastball that touches 97 mph and uses a devastating slider as his out pitch. His change-up has come a long way and he commands all three of them with ease. He obviously doesn’t get affected by visiting crowds as he is 6-0 with a 0.68 ERA on the road.

Pick 16 – Chris Reed, 22, LHP, Dodgers

1-4, 2.63 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 43 K/19 BB 41 IP

Reed was Stanford’s closer during his junior year but has made the transition to the rotation, thanks in large part to the improvement of his change-up. He already features a plus mid-90s fastball with late movement and a plus slider that is downright filthy at times. The 6’-4”, 200-pound southpaw has the frame and stamina to remain a starter and the stuff to be a front-line rotation guy. Since his promotion to double-A Chattanooga, he has tossed six hitless innings, striking out five. The Dodgers know how to develop young pitching and will be patient with Reed as he is still new to starting.

Pick 19 – Matt Barnes, 21, RHP, Red Sox

7-1, 0.99 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 95 K/12 BB 72.2 IP

Somehow, Barnes went undrafted coming out of high school, which means every team in baseball passed on this kid at least 50 times. Every scout should be doing a face palm right now. The 6’-4”, right-hander was named Big East Player of the Year in 2011 after going 11-5 with a 1.93 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 117 K/33 BB over 121 innings pitching for Connecticut. He made his debut at class-A Greenville and was untouchable over his five starts there. Over 26.2 innings, he had 42 strikeouts, issued just four walks and allowed just 12 hits. Hitters in the Carolina League can’t figure him out either as he has been just as good at class-A advanced Salem. Over his eight starts since his promotion, he is 5-1 with a 1.37 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 53 K/8 BB over 46 innings, allowing just 33 hits. Barnes is a power pitcher who can get his fastball up to 96 mph and maintain that velocity deep into games. He also features a plus curveball and above average change-up. Besides having great power behind his pitches, he also has excellent command of all three.

Pick 23 – Alex Meyer, 22, RHP, Nationals

6-3, 3.33 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 77 K/28 BB 70.1 IP

The 6’-9”, right-hander went 7-5 his junior season at Kentucky with a 2.94 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and lead the SEC in strikeouts with 110. Pitching for class-A Hagerstown, he is getting better as the season goes on. Over his four June starts, he is 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA and 22 K/7 BB over 22 innings. He features a fastball that can touch 99 mph but sits more comfortable in the 93-96 mph range, and a slider that he uses as a wipeout pitch. The Nationals have been loading up on big, tall starting pitching over the last couple of drafts, and Meyer could join the rotation as early as next season.

Pick 28 – Sean Gilmartin, 22,  LHP, Braves

5-6, 3.17 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 65 K/23 BB 88 IP

Gilmartin went 10-1 and had a 1.35 ERA his junior season in leading Florida State to a College World Series berth. His stuff isn’t overpowering, but he knows how to locate his pitches and keep hitters off balance. His fastball sits in the 89-91 mph range and his change-up is plus, with late fade. At 6’-2” and 200 pounds, he should be an innings eater at the next level as he has a clean, effortless delivery and doesn’t put to much stress on his arm. He tossed six shutout innings, allowing just three hits in his last start on June 17.

Pick 36 – Henry Owens, 19, LHP, Red Sox

7-2, 5.20 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 78 K/27 BB 53.2 IP

Owens, a 6’-6”, left-hander, went 12-1 with a 1.15 ERA and 140 strikeouts over 90.1 innings his senior season at Edison HS in Huntington Beach, California. He has a vast array of pitches, including a fastball that can touch 94 mph with late life, two different variations of a curveball, one a sweeping, Barry Zito-type, the other a hard-breaking hammer. He also adds an above-average change-up and slider, and he commands all of them. Pitching for class-A Greenville this season, he has been mowing down hitters with ease, leading the minors with a 13.1 strikeout-per-nine innings ratio. He had command issues early on, but over his three June starts, has struck out 22 to just three walks over 15.1 innings.

Pick 43 – Andrew Chafin, 21, RHP, Diamondbacks

3-4, 5.35 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 97 K/38 BB 74 IP

Chafin bounced back from Tommy John surgery in 2010 to become one of the best pitchers in college in 2011. He went 7-1 with a 1.90 ERA and 97 strikeouts for Kent State. He started the season strong, going 3-0 with a 2.93 ERA and 77 K/20 BB over his first 58.2 innings at class-A advanced Visalia. He has been getting lit up of late, however, posting an 0-4 record in June with a 14.67 ERA and 20 K/18 BB over 15.1 innings. He still ranks among the leaders with a 11.8 K/9 ratio and is one of the best power pitchers in the minors. He has a four-pitch repertoire, including a fastball that can touch 95 mph with late life, and a plus curveball. With all of the top pitching prospects the Diamondbacks have collected over the last couple of drafts, including studs Bauer and Bradley in this one, they can afford to be patient with Chafin and let him work out any kinks he has right now.

Pick 114 – Tony Cingrani, 22, LHP, Reds

6-2, 1.45 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 91 K/17 BB 74.1 IP

Pegged as a reliever coming out of Rice, Cingrani has shown the ability to be a top-of-the-rotation starter at the next level over his two seasons of pro ball. He signed early and was able to get a head start on most of his draft mates by appearing in 13 games at Billings of the Rookie League last season. Over his 51.1 innings there, he had a 1.75 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and an incredible 80 strikeouts to just six walks. He has continued that dominance this season across two levels and is already at double-A Pensacola where he has 20 strikeouts to just four walks over 17.1 innings. The 6’-4”, southpaw has a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and a plus slider that is something of a circle-change.

Pick 121 – Carter Capps, 21, RHP, Mariners

2-2, 1.34 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 51 K/10 BB 33.2 IP 9 SV

Capps, a 6’-5”, 220-pound horse, made the switch from starter to reliever this season and is looking like the Mariners closer of the future the way he has been dominating opposing hitters this season. His 13.7 K/9 and excellent command of his pitches, including an upper-90s fastball with heavy sink, is the perfect combination to be an elite closer down the road. He went 14-1 his junior season at Mount Olive CC with a 1.75 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and 129 K/18 BB over 118 innings. With the bevy of starting pitching the M’s have in their farm system, Capps can reach the majors a lot quicker with his transition.

Pick 160 – Nick Tropeano, 21, RHP, Astros

5-4, 2.99 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 91 K/23 BB 81.1 IP

Tropeano went 12-1 his junior season at Stony Brook with a 1.84 ERA and 119 strikeouts over 93 innings. He also allowed just 63 hits as opponents hit just .190 against him. Although he is 6’-4” and 215 pounds, he doesn’t have overpowering stuff as his fastball sits in the 87-89 mph range. What he lacks in velocity, however, he makes up for in location and the ability to switch speeds with his secondary stuff. Both his curveball and slider are plus, and his change-up is above average. You don’t see many pitchers with a 10.2 K/9 ratio without a plus heater. He also has a 1.44 groundout-to-flyout ratio, showing the ability to keep the ball down in the zone.

All of that talent and I still haven’t touched on Taylor Jungman (12th overall) and Jed Bradley (15th overall) of the Brewers. Or Jeff Ames (42nd overall) of the Rays and Kyle Crick (49th overall) of the Padres. And there are guys like Taylor Guerrieri (24th overall) of the Rockies, Daniel Norris (74th overall) of the Blue Jays and Dillon Maples of the Cubs who haven’t even started their pro careers, yet all have high ceilings.

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