It used to be that not much was expected of rookie starting pitchers. The jump from the Minors to the Show was simply too great, big league hitters too good for someone to just show up and start dominating from the jump.
How quaint that seems now. The 2023 MLB season has been in many ways defined by a youth movement, especially on the mound — from Grayson Rodriguez to Mason Miller, some of baseball’s top pitching prospects have looked spectacular in their MLB debuts. All the caveats about learning curves still apply, but they mean a little less when 21-year-olds now come armed with 100-mph fastballs and wipeout sliders.
This week gave us yet another young gun showing out, after injuries forced the Cleveland Guardians to call up Tanner Bibee — the latest in a long line of homegrown Cleveland righties — to start Wednesday’s game against the Colorado Rockies. Bibee wasn’t just good, he was great, showing off a complete arsenal en route to eight strikeouts over 5.2 innings of one-run ball.
No. 5 @CleGuardians prospect (59th overall) Tanner Bibee fans 8 in his MLB debut. pic.twitter.com/kIfQCejseP— MLB (@MLB) April 26, 2023
With seemingly every week giving us a new star pitcher, the question for fantasy baseball owners becomes: Who’s next? Luckily, we’re here to help with four top starting pitching prospects whose upcoming debuts you need to know about. (We’ve already written plenty about Brandon Pfaadt, whose debut with the Arizona Diamondbacks should be just days away, so consider him an honorable mention.)
Bobby Miller, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have churned out starting pitching prospects in recent years, and Miller — their first-round pick in the 2020 MLB Draft after starring at the University of Louisville — is next in line. Just ask Shohei Ohtani:
The first big-league hitter Bobby Miller faced was Shohei Ohtani— Blake Harris (@BlakeHHarris) April 6, 2022
He struck him out with a 100 mph fastball pic.twitter.com/5dNqD4Moah
The righty’s arsenal is so deep that that fastball might be his fourth-best pitch. He also boasts a slider, curve and change that could all develop into plus pitches at the MLB level, which has helped him run up strikeouts rates at or above 30 percent at every stop in the Minors. His command will always leave something to be desired, but he has the means to get lefties and righties out multiple times through an order.
If there was a question mark in Miller’s game, it was how he’d hold up as the Dodgers finally let him work deeper into games and rack up more innings. But after cracking 100 innings for the first time in his career last year (and striking out 145 batters in those 112.1 frames), the only thing left is to see him take the mound at Dodger Stadium.
Gavin Williams, Cleveland Guardians
That’s right: The Guardians have another flamethrowing righty waiting in the wings, and he might be even better than Bibee. Arm issues allowed Williams to fall a bit in the 2021 MLB Draft, eventually going 23rd overall to Cleveland. The righty out of East Carolina is healthy now, though, and his Minor League numbers are downright comical: a 1.81 ERA with 169 strikeouts over 129.1 innings across two levels.
One look at his fastball and it’s not hard to see why:
Gavin Williams shouldn't still be in Double-A.— Eric Cross (@EricCross04) April 21, 2023
Another dominant outing yesterday lowers his ERA to 0.63 in 3 GS with a 37.7% K rate. Dominated in AA for 16 starts last season too.
This is a no-doubt Top-5 SP prospect that should get the bump soon.pic.twitter.com/ytDWb8sYTU
After allowing just one run and a 20/3 K/BB ratio in his first three starts at Double-A this year, Williams was bumped up to Triple-A Columbus ... and promptly posted five shutout innings with six strikeouts in his debut on Wednesday. If Aaron Civale and Triston McKenzie’s injuries linger (and Cal Quantrill and Zach Plesac continue to struggle) Williams could join Bibee in Cleveland sooner rather than later.
Ricky Tiedemann, Toronto Blue Jays
If you thought the above strikeout numbers were eye-popping, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The pandemic cancelling high school baseball in 2020 short-circuited Tiedemann’s senior season, allowing him to fly under the radar in junior college and get taken in the third round of the 2021 MLB Draft by Toronto. It immediately began to look like an all-time steal: The lefty blew through three levels of the Minors in his first taste of pro ball last year, fanning 117 batters in just 78.2 innings.
Much like Miller, walks will always be an issue for Tiedemann, who has an up-tempo motion and some whippy arm action where things can get out of sync. You don’t need pinpoint command, though, when your stuff looks like this:
Welcome back, Ricky Tiedemann!— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) April 13, 2023
The @BlueJays' No. 1 prospect dials it up to 99 mph as he K's the first 6 batters he faces for the @FisherCats. pic.twitter.com/tYwWYHc64E
That high-90s gas is backed up by a wipeout slider and a changeup that most scouts think will at least get to the point where it’s a usable third pitch. Tiedemann’s command has gotten him off to a bit of a slow start in Double-A this year, with six walks and five earned runs in six innings, but he also has 20 strikeouts in those six frames — and he could move very quickly for a Jays team with eyes on a World Series run.
Andrew Abbott, Cincinnati Reds
A four-year star at the University of Virginia, Abbott was thought to be a fast riser when the Reds took him in the second round of the 2021 MLB Draft. Command problems short-circuited that plan, though, with the lefty walking 38 en route to a 5.76 ERA in his first four months at Double-A last season.
Once the calendar flipped to September, though, something clicked: Abbott closed the year with 21 strikeouts and no earned runs — and, crucially, just three walks — over his last 16 innings. That’s continued so far this year, in a big way:
Make it 36 K's in 15.2 IP for Andrew Abbott.— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) April 20, 2023
The @Reds' No. 10 prospect racked up 11 more punchies for the @ChattLookouts. pic.twitter.com/sykeb4XTLj
You read that right: Abbott fanned 36 batters in less than 16 innings to start the year, and has already earned a promotion to Triple-A. If this sort of fastball command is here to stay, Abbott’s curveball — one of the very best in the Minors — will sing even more, and there shouldn’t be anything stopping him from reaching Cincinnati soon.