MLB Pipeline rang in the New Year last week by looking at the fastest players in each farm system as part of a running offseason series in which we also recently identified each system’s top power-hitting prospect, among many other topics.
Today, we shift our focus to the mound, highlighting the one pitcher from each organization who owns the best fastball.
There’s no shortage of triple-digit arms in today’s game. Jordan Hicks‘ 105.9 mph fastball to Odubel Herrera on May 20 was the hardest pitch thrown in the Majors last season, which tied him with Aroldis Chapman for the hardest pitch recorded since Statcast™ started tracking in 2015.
But being able to throw exceptionally hard doesn’t necessarily dictate success, and many of the hurlers below not only bring the heat, but do so with high spin rates, late movement and/or physical deception.
American League East
Blue Jays: Nate Pearson, RHP, (Blue Jays No. 4)
Pearson’s performance in this past year’s Arizona Fall League confirmed that he’s one of the hardest-throwing starting-pitching prospects in the Minors. The 6-foot-6 right-hander features an explosive fastball in the upper 90s and touches triple digits with ease, and he showed that he could run his heater up to 103-104 mph during a max-out first inning in the Fall Stars Game. He does a good job using his height to his advantage, driving the pitch down in the zone with late life.
Orioles: DL Hall, LHP, (Orioles No. 3)
The Orioles’ first-round pick (No. 21 overall) in the 2017 Draft, Hall isn’t the hardest thrower in the organization, as he’ll sit at 92-94 mph and reach 96 with a fastball that’s difficult to barrel on account of its plane and late life. He’s also only 19 years old, with a clean delivery and remaining physical projection that should lead to more velocity down the road.
Rays: Colin Poche, LHP, (Rays No. 24)
Poche was perhaps the best Minor League reliever in 2018, ranking second in strikeout rate (45.6 percent), sixth in strikeouts per nine innings (15.0) and third in ERA (0.82) among pitchers who logged at least 50 innings. The left-hander racks up most of his whiffs with a fastball that sits at 92-94 mph, but it plays at least a full grade above its velocity thanks to a high spin rate and because Poche’s delivery and arm action are both highly deceptive. He hides the ball extremely well and gets considerable extension over his front side, leaving hitters with little time to pick up the ball out of his hand, let alone execute a worthwhile swing.
Red Sox: Darwinzon Hernandez, LHP, (Red Sox No. 7)
The Red Sox signed their best pitching prospect for a mere $7,500 out of Venezuela in 2013. While it remains to be seen whether Hernandez will be a starter or reliever, there’s no question about his fastball, which sat in the upper 90s with premium spin rates in the Arizona Fall League.
Yankees: Luis Gil, RHP, (Yankees No. 20)
The Yankees have a lot of high-octane fastballs in their farm system, and the best belongs to a guy they acquired from the Twins last March for Jake Cave. Gil maintains a 95-98 mph heater deep into his starts and can reach 101 with running action and high spin rates, though he’s still learning to harness it.
Indians: Luis Oviedo, RHP, (Indians No. 10)
After back-to-back seasons in Rookie ball to begin his career, Oviedo established himself as one of the better pitching prospects in Cleveland’s system in 2018 while reaching the Class A Midwest League at 19. The 6-foot-4 right-hander has already added velocity, as he’s grown into his projectable frame and currently operates with a mid-90s fastball that touches 97-98 mph with late life, which helps him get whiffs inside the strike zone.
Royals: Josh Staumont, RHP, (Royals No. 11)
Staumont had the hardest fastball in the 2015 Draft, when he went in the second round out of Azusa Pacific (Calif.) and led the Minors in strikeout rate (12.2 per nine innings) in his first full pro season. He has topped out at 102 mph with a four-seamer and can reach the upper 90s with a two-seamer, though he has averaged 7.1 walks per nine innings in the Minors.
Tigers: Jason Foley, RHP
Foley was an undrafted free agent who signed in August 2016, and he jumped on the prospect radar during his first full season, pitching across two levels of A ball while striking out 10.2 batters per nine innings and walking only 1.7 per nine. He missed all of 2018 after undergoing Tommy John surgery in July 2017, but he was touching triple digits and sitting at 96-97 mph before the injury.
Twins: Brusdar Graterol, RHP, (Twins No. 3, MLB No. 70)
Graterol missed the 2016 season following Tommy John surgery, then followed up his strong U.S. debut in ’17 with a breakout campaign last year across two levels of A ball. He struck out more than a batter per inning using a fastball that averaged 97.5 mph and touched just over 101 mph.
White Sox: Michael Kopech, RHP, (White Sox No. 2, MLB No. 19)
Part of the Chris Sale trade with the Red Sox in December 2016, Kopech has the best fastball on our Top 100 Prospects list, a true 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale that sits at 95-99 mph, regularly reaches triple digits and features late life. But he blew out his elbow in his fourth big league start this past September, necessitating Tommy John surgery.
A’s: Jesus Luzardo, LHP, (Athletics No. 1, MLB No. 12)
Luzardo nearly reached the big leagues as a 20-year-old last season, ascending from the California League to Triple-A before hitting his innings limit. Along the way, the precocious southpaw carved up hitters with a front-of-the-rotation-caliber arsenal that includes a plus-plus heater that he parks comfortably in the mid-90s and runs up to 98 mph. The pitch’s high spin rate gets him many swinging strikes at the top of the zone, and he’s also adept at manipulating the pitch to impart late sinking action and run.
Angels: Ty Buttrey, RHP, (Angels No. 26)
Buttrey’s move to the bullpen in 2016 has paid off, and he really took to the role in ’18, pitching well for the Red Sox in Triple-A, then for the Angels at that level when they acquired him in the Ian Kinsler deal. He struck out 13.6 per nine innings in the Minors, then 11 per nine in the big leagues.
Astros: Josh James, RHP, (Astros No. 4, MLB No. 95)
A nondescript 34th-rounder from Western Oklahoma State JC in 2014, James entered pro ball with a low-90s fastball, but took off once he addressed his sleep apnea and improved his conditioning. He sat at 95-97 mph and climbed into the triple digits as a starter last season, when he topped the Minors in strikeout rate (13.5 per nine innings), and averaged 97 mph as a big league reliever while earning a spot on Houston’s postseason roster.
Mariners: Justus Sheffield, LHP, (Mariners No. 1, MLB No. 31)
Acquired from the Yankees this offseason in the James Paxton trade, Sheffield’s plus fastball is his best pitch, even though he can struggle to control it at times. Originally a first-round pick by the Indians back in 2014, the 22-year-old lefty has added some velocity since he entered pro ball and now features a heater that he throws in the 92-97 mph range, with good run and sinking action to it at its best.
Rangers: Hans Crouse, RHP, (Rangers No. 4)
Crouse had one of the best high school fastballs in the 2017 Draft, though he lasted until the second round because of his violent delivery. He has done a good job of keeping his mechanics in sync in pro ball, operating in the mid-90s and reaching 99 mph with late riding life, while striking out 31 percent of the batters he has faced
National League East
Braves: Chad Sobotka, RHP, (Braves No. 30)
Command issues have made it tough for the 6-foot-7 right-hander to progress through the Braves’ system after being a 2014 fourth-round pick. It started to click for him in 2018, as he went from the Class A Advanced Florida State League all the way to the Majors. He struck out 12 per nine innings in the process, using a fastball that averaged 96 mph and touched 100 mph.
Marlins: Jorge Guzman, RHP, (Marlins No. 6)
Guzman’s lightning-quick arm and relatively easy delivery produces top-of-the-scale velocity in a fastball that sits in the upper 90s, regularly reaches triple digits and has been clocked up to 103 mph as a starter. His ability to throw his heater for a strike leaves much to be desired, and it’s a real possibility that he’ll end up in the bullpen as one of the game’s hardest-throwing relievers.
Mets: Ryley Gilliam, RHP
While Jose Moreno might be the hardest thrower in the system, touching 99-100 mph, Gilliam gets the nod because of his combination of velocity (96-98 mph) and life to his fastball. The fifth-round pick in the 2018 Draft out of Clemson struck out better than 16 per nine innings in his summer pro debut, though he also averaged 6.8 walks per nine.
Nationals: Tanner Rainey, RHP, (Nationals No. 22)
Rainey has a legitimate triple-digit arm and sat at 98-100 mph with above-average spin rates on his four-seam fastball last season while making eight appearances out of the Reds’ bullpen. Rainey’s heater, which he uses to set up a wipeout slider, helped him achieve a 15.1 K/9 rate in 2017, and he followed it with an 11.5 K/9 rate last season in Triple-A.
Phillies: Sixto Sanchez, RHP, (Phillies No. 1, MLB No. 21)
Sanchez has one of the best overall fastballs in the Minor Leagues when looking at velocity, movement and command. He throws a four-seamer that touches triple digits with life and a two-seamer with sink that gets ground-ball outs. He commands the pitch to both sides and maintains his velocity deep into starts.
Brewers: Braden Webb, RHP
Webb underwent Tommy John surgery as a high school senior and was a redshirt freshman at South Carolina when the Brewers made him their fifth-round pick in 2016. As he’s distanced himself from surgery, the firmly built right-hander’s velocity has improved to the point where he now sits comfortably in the mid-90s while reaching 98 mph. On top of that, Webb made strides with locating the pitch late last season after a promotion to Double-A.
Cardinals: Alex Reyes, RHP, (Cardinals No. 1, MLB No. 36)
Remember him? He and his premium fastball (sits upper-90s, hits 100-plus regularly) made it back from Tommy John surgery last year, only for him to get shut down again because of a lat injury. He’ll be ready to unleash that top-of-the-scale fastball on big league hitters in some role this year.
Cubs: Brailyn Marquez, LHP, (Cubs No. 4)
Marquez’s $600,000 bonus represented the most money given to a left-handed pitcher during the 2015-16 international signing period, and the Dominican has since emerged as one of the Cubs’ top pitching prospects. He’s not quite the hardest thrower in their system, but his combination of velocity (93-99 mph), running action and command makes him one of the best.
Pirates: Geoff Hartlieb, RHP
The 6-foot-6 Hartlieb started his college career as a basketball player at Quincy University, then transferred to Lindenwood to pitch, getting drafted in the 37th round by the Mets in 2015, and the Pirates in the 29th round in 2016. He spent last year in Double-A as a reliever and routinely hit triple digits.
Reds: Hunter Greene, RHP, (Reds No. 3, MLB No. 22)
Greene’s premium velocity has been well-documented since he was hitting triple digits in high school before the 2017 Draft. His 80 fastball was on display on a national stage at last year’s SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, when the No. 2 pick in his Draft threw 19 fastballs over 100 mph. He was shut down late last year with an elbow issue, but his rehab was reportedly going well.
D-backs: Yoan Lopez, RHP, (D-backs No. 18)
After signing for a large seven-figure bonus, Lopez struggled on and off the field at the outset of his career. But he’s righted the ship as a reliever, going to the Futures Game and making his big league debut in 2018. He struck out 12.7 per nine innings in the Minors last year, thanks in part to a fastball that regularly touches 98 mph with excellent late life.
Dodgers: Dustin May, RHP, (Dodgers No. 3, MLB No. 71)
Since signing May as a third-rounder for an above-slot $997,500 out of a Texas high school in 2016, the Dodgers have had him switch his fastball focus from a four-seamer to a two-seamer, which gained 3 mph last season and now parks at 92-97 mph with tremendous run and sink. The development of that pitch is a major reason why he thrived in Double-A at age 20 and was deemed untouchable in Manny Machado trade talks with the Orioles.
Giants: Melvin Adon, RHP, (Giants No. 19)
The Giants have developed Adon as a starter since signing him out of the Dominican Republic, but he looked better suited for a relief role while dominating out of the bullpen in the Arizona Fall League. He ran his four-seam fastball up to 102 mph and showed encouraging feel for a mid-90s two-seamer.
Padres: Andres Munoz, RHP
The epitome of a power-armed reliever, Munoz owns the best fastball in San Diego’s system and is one of the hardest throwers in the Minor Leagues. He offered a glimpse at that impressive velocity during the 2017 Arizona Fall League, where he consistently pumped upper-90s heat and was up to 101 mph with a fastball that showed explosive late life.
Rockies: Riley Pint, RHP, (Rockies No. 5)
The No. 4 overall pick in the 2016 Draft, Pint ranks among the best high school arms of the past decade and has drawn Justin Verlander comparisons. Though he worked only 8 1/3 innings in 2018 because of forearm and oblique injuries, when healthy he has a lively fastball that sits at 94-98 mph and reaches 102 mph with good downhill plane.