It's not often that you see a Minor League starting rotation made up entirely of prospects. You may have five solid pitchers or even a bunch of guys that are putting up numbers, but very rarely do you have five guys that all profile as potential Major Leaguers. There's a case to be made, however, that that's exactly what's going on down in Brooklyn this summer.
To say that the Cyclones feature the best starting staff in the Short Season-A level New York-Penn League is an understatement. Aside from Tri-City, it's not even close. The Cyclones lead the circuit in ERA, strikeouts, WHIP, shutouts, and innings pitched.
The Brooklyn rotation is the rare staff that offers top tier stuff, long-term projection, and last but not least, excellent results from top to bottom. And they feature six starters, to boot. This group of hard-throwing right-handers all fall within the NYPL top 21 in ERA while almost to a man featuring excellent K rates balanced with stellar command.
So let's take a quick look at this interesting group one by one:
The just-turned 22-year-old currently ranks third in the NYPL in ERA with a 1.48 mark, having allowed more than one earned in just one of his nine starts this season. Even more impressive is the fact that he's struck out seven or more batters in six of those starts, all while walking just six total batters (he's tied for the club lead in BB/9 at 0.99). Oh and he hasn't allowed a homer in 54.2 IP this season. At 5'11" Robles doesn't offer a ton of projection -- not a lot of short, righthanded big league starters -- but the good news is that he already features four solid offerings, including a fastball that touches the mid-90's. Additionally, his smallish frame allows him to repeat his delivery extremely well.
Mateo has been dominant, holding the NYPL to a .211 average, striking out 67 batters versus just six(!) walks in 54.1 IP (one of two pitchers on this list with an 11+ K/9). The 6'3" righy's bread and butter is an electric fastball that he regularly rides up to 95-96 mph along with a sharp high 80's slider. Toss in the fact that he features a deceptive three-quarters, slinger delivery and he looks like a Major League caiber arm. The issue is that that delivery can be tough to repeat leading to inconsistent velocities and wildness within the strike zone, which will be punished at higher levels. That paired with a sub-par change-up points to a potential reliever; however despite his advanced age (22) he's logged the fewest pro innings of almost anyone we'll talk about so don't pigeon hole him yet.
Ynoa might be the most interesting name of this group.That's because while Robles and Mateo are a little old for the NYPL, Ynoa is way young. At 19 he's the eighth youngest player in the league; that's younger than Nimmo. Oh and he's killing it. He features a .196 opponent average -- fifth among NYPL starters -- while matching Robles and Mateo with just seven base on balls in 55 IP. What's more the 6'2' Dominican righty is already touching 93 mph and even more impressive is his good feel for an advanced change-up. Michael Fulmer is the system's best teenage pitcher, but Ynoa is absolutely the runner up.
After posting a 2.22 ERA in the closer role for the Mets GCL club last season, Lara is back in the rotation with a vengeance in 2012. Overshadowed a bit by his rotationmates, all that the 21-year-old Lara has done is post the highest K/9 of anyone in this group (11.19). And with a long, lanky 6'4", 180 lbs frame he may also offer the most projection of the bunch as well. And considering he's already touching 94 mph with the heater that's a good thing. Sticking to the theme Lara has also allowed just six walks over his nine starts.
Like Ynoa, the 6'3" Mexican started the 2012 campaign as a teen. Now 20, Cessa has been solid throughout the season, though not quite as flashy as his fellow Cyclones starters. In fact, with a 5.79 K/9 and a .251 opponent average he's been rather lucky in posting a 2.70 ERA (see, 3.86 FIP). Regardless, he's 1-2 years younger than the rest of these guys and what makes him interesting is his low 90's heat paired with a good frame that leaves plenty of room for projection.
If there is a non-prospect in the mix it would likely be Hilario who will be turning 22 this week and has been strong, but not on the level of his compatriots. At 6'1'", 190 lbs he's got a bit more of a stocky build and doesn't feature quite the same stuff or K:BB skillset as the rest of the group. What he does have going for him is that back in July he allowed just his first home run in his 120+ innings as a pro. So yeah, he's a groundball machine.
Now obviously we have to keep in mind a few qualifiers. First off, the NYPL is typically a pretty pitching-rich league. And what's more, Brooklyn has played as a pitching-friendly park in recent history. Remember non-prospects like Brandon Moore and Yohan Almonte who both posted near-2 ERA's in their respective runs through MCU Park?
Additionally, insomuch as these guys are pitching prospects, we know they won't all pan out. In fact we know most of them won't pan out, for one reason or another. So much is luck; it's almost a lottery in that way. The most we can realistically hope is that 2-3 of them ascend to the upper minors with a shot.
But the beauty of the situation is that as far as the lottery goes, the more you play, the better your odds. And I'd say that's quite an interesting collection of lottery tickets sitting down in Brooklyn this season.