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Triple-A Pitching Prospects On The Cusp of an MLB Call-Up

There have been so many pitching prospects called up to the majors recently. With names like Bryce Miller, Bobby Miller, Logan Allen, and Tanner Bibee taking their opportunity and not letting go. We are going to look into the top pitching performances right now in Triple-A that amay be on the cusp of receiving their call to the majors.

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Triple-A Pitching Prospects Waiting on Their Call-Up

International League

AJ Smith-Shawver, RHP ATL

So this article is about players on the “Cusp” of making the major leagues but AJ Smith-Shawver already got his call to the major leagues at only 20 years old. Therefore I think it’s important to add him to this article. Smith-Shawver has been on a rocket trajectory since being drafted in the seventh round of the 2021 draft out of high school. Last season he spent the entire season in low-A Augusta where he struck out 103 batters in 68.2 innings pitched. He kept batters to a .212 average against and had a 5.11 ERA in 17 starts with the GreenJackets.

This season, the Braves have been aggressive, moving Smith-Shawver from High-A Rome all the way up to Triple-A Gwinnett. In his 33 innings pitched, he has struck out 45 batters while holding opposing hitters to a .164 average and has a combined ERA of 1.09 in seven starts. The strikeout rates have been strong for Smith-Shawver as he has a 12.03 K/9 while the walks rest at 3.39 BB/9. As of writing this article, Smith-Shawver has had his contract selected by the Braves for his major league debut.

This is in my mind an obvious grab and stash if you are in shallow leagues where he might be available. In deeper dynasty formats Smith-Shawver’s price to acquire has never been higher if you have him and if you don’t the train might have left the station.

Ben Brown, RHP CHC

Since his call-up to Triple-A this season, Ben Brown has been solid for the Iowa Cubs. Brown appears to be one of the Cubs to watch right now as he is already on the club’s 40-man roster and having a solid season in Triple-A. Over his five starts, Brown has struck out 36 batters in 24 innings pitched, good for a 13.50 K/9. Brown has kept batters to a .205 average and has a 3.75 ERA in his five outings. The only thing that has crept up for Brown has been the walks, as he currently has a 4.50 BB/9, up from the 2.70 BB/9 in Double-A earlier in the season.

There is front-of-the-rotation potential with Ben Brown as he has three potential plus pitches in his fastball, slider, and curveball. Right now the only pitcher in the Cubs rotation struggling is Taillon but the Cubs are less likely to move off him due to the 4-year deal he just signed this off-season. It looks like Brown might be poised to get his shot in the Cubs rotation with the most recent injury to Justin Steele and hopefully cement himself for years to come if called upon. [Editor’s Note: Justin Steele experienced forearm pain in yesterday’s start and will get an MRI. An extended absence for Steele could be the opening Brown needs.]

Andrew Abbott, LHP CIN

On a weekly basis it seems like I’m on Abbott Watch. So far this season, Andrew Abbott has built upon last year and impressed as he sits on the precipice of making his major league debut. Currently in Triple-A Louisville, Abbott has continued his high strikeout performance and settled into the rotation nicely. Through seven starts, Abbott has struck out 54 batters in 38.1 innings, good for a 12.68 K/9. Andrew has a .193 average against and a solid 3.05 ERA.

Despite one bad outing in Louisville, Abbott has looked sharp and gone at least five innings in every start in Triple-A this season. Abbott has controlled the walks in Louisville to the tune of a 3.29 BB/9 which is solid for a pitcher that relies on swings and misses out of the zone. One part of his game that is a little concerning is the 1.88 HR/9 he has. This could be simply from the home ballpark he plays in as all the rotational starters in Louisville have a HR/9 over 1.

Currently Ben Lively and Luke Weaver are holding down the four and five spots in the rotation but Weaver is struggling with a 5.45 ERA over seven starts, making Abbott an obvious improvement to the Reds and he should be on the “Watch closely” list.

Gavin Williams, RHP CLE

The Cleveland Guardians have got to be pleased with the performance Gavin Williams is putting in at Triple-A Columbus right now. Since being promoted to Columbus on April 27, Willimas has struck out 42 batters in 32 innings pitched, good for an 11.81 K/9 with a 2.25 ERA in six starts. Gavin has been solid, keeping batters to a .173 average so far. The walks have ticked up for Williams as he has a 3.66 BB/9, up from the 1.88 BB/9 he had in three starts at Double-A earlier this year.

The Guardians have not shied away from bringing up their next great arms. We have seen Logan Allen and Tanner Bibee take their places in the Guardians’ rotation. Now Aaron Civale is making his first start since April 7 and Triston McKenzie should be finishing his final rehab assignment this week. To me, Quantrill is the odd man out when McKenzie gets back, as he has a 5.61 ERA in 11 starts and has looked rough to this point. For Williams to get his shot I think either Civale, Allen, or Bibee will have to struggle or an injury will have to create room. Regardless, Williams has to be one of the top exciting arms waiting for the call to the majors.

Elvin Rodriguez, RHP TBR

The Rays pitching development has seemed to turn Elvin Rodriguez, who had a solid minor league career with the Detroit Tigers but struggled in his short stint in the majors, into a prospect to watch right now. The 25-year-old Rodriguez has been sharp in Triple-A Durham, striking out 46 batters in 42 innings pitched and holding batters to a .191 average with a 3.43 ERA over nine starts. The 9.86 K/9 and 3.64 BB/9 have been solid for Rodriguez though he has struggled with giving up home runs.

Rodriguez seems like a solid flex starter for the Rays that can provide solid strikeouts and innings when an injury arises. In order for that to happen, Rodriguez would need to be added to the Rays 40-man roster but his performance so far could make that a reality soon.

Pacific Coast League

Kyle Harrison, LHP SFG

After having a rough start to the season, Kyle Harrison has turned it around in a big way. The left-hander, one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, has been a strikeout machine for the River Cats. In 11 starts Harrison has struck out 61 batters in 34.1 innings, good for a 15.99 K/9. He has been dominant in keeping batters to a .151 average and has brought his ERA down to a respectable 3.67. Harrison dealt with control issues early this season, walking 21 batters in 15.2 innings during the month of April. Fortunately, May has been a different story as he has limited his walks to only 10 in 18.2 innings pitched.

The only slight on Harrison has been his efficiency. Harrison has only gone four innings twice in five starts in the month of May and only two times in 11 starts for the season. To me, this could be a concern for him remaining a starter long-term. There is no doubt the strikeouts are there but with the lack of innings per start and past walk concerns, there are some red flags for reliever risk. As it stands right now, the Giants are rolling out only four starters since Ross Stripling went down. This presents a prime opportunity for them to give their top pitching prospect a chance but he will need to be added to the Giants 40-man roster first to do so.

Nick Robertson, RHP LAD

Full disclosure; this is a relief pitcher recommendation that has caught my eye in the Pacific Coast League on a team that might be looking for his services soon. Nick Robertson has been a relief pitcher since being drafted by the Dodgers in the seventh round of the 2019 draft. In his 164 innings pitched Robertson has struck out 207 batters and saved 21 games in his 130 appearances.

This season at Triple-A Oklahoma City, Robertson has struck out 34 batters in 23.2 innings while keeping batters to a .174 average and locking down seven saves with a 2.28 ERA in 22 appearances. With a 12.93 K/9 this season and a solid 2.28 BB/9 it’s easy to see why Nick Robertson stands out as a potential high-leverage reliever or closing option for the Dodgers in the not-so-distant future.

Slade Cecconi, RHP ARI

Some of the early season talk was around Brandon Pfaadt and the Arizona Diamondbacks’ rotational situation. To this point in the season, it has not gone well so far for the Diamondbacks as Pfaadt has not looked sharp at all. Now their eyes turn to the other two names pitching in Triple-A Reno. Slade Cecconi’s numbers are complicated, the 7.55 ERA and 6.74 FIP are not good and there is no way to spin that. But if you look at the 54 strikeouts in 47.2 innings (good for a 10.20 K/9)  you can see what could entice the Diamondbacks to give him a look. The 24-year-old Cecconi has logged 10 starts this season with a solid 3.02 BB/9 but has been a victim of the long ball giving up 2.64 HR/9.

Now this could be inflated due to the league he plays in. It’s no secret or surprise that the PCL has been a hitter’s haven forever and Cecconi’s numbers show that he has been hit hard. He is also not keeping the ball on the ground. Currently, he’s at a 29.9% ground ball rate that’s down almost 10% from last season. While his home run to flyball rate has jumped to 22.6%, up from 14.2% in Double-A in 2022. With the exception of Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly, the Diamondbacks’ rotation has looked bad, leading me to believe they will try and catch lightning in a bottle wherever they can. If they do not catch it with Cecconi maybe they will with Blake Walston.

Blake Walston, LHP ARI

Where Slade Cecconi had a 10.20 K/9 to bolster his case for a call-up, Blake Walston will get no such luxury. Walston has logged 10 starts with Triple-A Reno, striking out 33 batters in 50.1 innings (5.90 K/9) while keeping batters to a .246 average with a 3.40 ERA. Walston has seen some success by keeping the ball on the ground 39.2% of the time and out of the air. The walks are high for Walston at 4.83 BB/9 but this isn’t much of a shock for me.

The 22-year-old Walston primarily works off of secondary pitches of a slider, curveball, and changeup out of the zone for swing and miss. This same approach can lead to higher walk rates as we have seen with other secondary pitchers like Andrew Abbott. The PCL can be a hitter’s haven as mentioned before but Walston has lowered his home runs per nine to 0.54 down from 1.35 in double-A last season. Personally, I believe the strikeouts will come back for Walston, who prior to this season, never had a K/9 below 9.0 at any stop in the minor leagues.

Of the options remaining in the Diamondbacks organization for starting pitchers in triple-A, Reno Walston might be the most deserving of an opportunity.

For more great analysis of top MLB Prospects please check out The Hawk’s Full Archive.

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