By Matt Strickler

With spring training underway and draft season kicking off, it’s time to take a look at the RotoProspects Top 700 Prospects for some pitchers that could be moving up the board this season. In narrowing down the field I chose to focus on SPs who have demonstrated swing-and-miss ability utilizing a deep pitch mix. 

All these names pitch in organizations that will need innings from their farm system given the age and injury risks associated with their club’s current rotations. Should any of these prospects get the call in 2024, I expect a smoother transition than most due to their approach and MiLB results to date.   

Jared Jones (RotoProspects rank: 64, NFBC DC ADP: 490)

Pirates, RHP, Age: 22

2023 stats (AA/AAA): 126.1IP, 3.85 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 146 Ks

Most of the hype and optimism in the Pirates organization revolves around No. 1 overall pick Paul Skenes, but don’t sleep on Mr. Jones. While neither Skenes nor Jones have cracked the Pirates 40-man roster, expect them to debut sometime in 2024.

Jones, a second-round draft pick in 2020, has been progressing nicely through the Pirates system and accumulating workloads of 66 IP in 2021, 122 IP in 2022 and 126 IP in 2023. He sports a wide arsenal led by a big four-seam fastball averaging 96.2 mph and secondaries including a cutter, slider and changeup.  

Here is what Pirates GM Ben Cherington had to say about Jones in a recent interview David Laurila of Fangraphs

Cherington: “Jones has really good pitch grades, too. He’s got above-average secondaries. Two breaking balls — a cutter and a slider — changeup, four-seam fastball. He’s developing and learning what his fastball is going to be, I would say. There’s plenty of velocity. The command has improved. But again, he’s still learning what it’s going to be.”

Laurila: Can you elaborate on that?

Cherington: “Basically trying to optimize the movement. That’s what he’s focusing on this offseason.”

While Cherington is waiting to see if Jones can optimize the movement on his pitching repertoire, Pirates fans will be holding their breath that Cherington doesn’t get skinned in another trade involving their pitching prospects.

Based on MiLB statcast data recorded across 1,379 of Jones’s pitches last year, he should be knocking on the door soon. Jones generated a 16.6% SwStr% across the aggregate of his arsenal, with his slider leading the way at 20.4% and the fastball at 16.6%. If that is not enough to get you interested in Jones, how about a cutter at 19.2 SwStr% and a curve at 13.3%.

Jones’s vast swing-and-miss arsenal gives me optimism his K-BB% of 18.1% will see growth as he refines his pitch mix and hopefully cuts down on a 9.5% BB rate he posted in 2023. While Jones is not likely to break camp, he should be on your radar as a DC dart throw and a FAAB target later in the year. 

Carson Whisenhunt (RotoProspects rank: 109, NFBC DC ADP: 740)

Giants, LHP, Age: 23

2023 stats (A/A+/AA): 58.2 IP, 3.07 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 83Ks

Advancing three levels up to Double-A in 2023, Whisenhunt is a fast riser in a Giants organization with serious question marks in their rotation to begin the season.  Whisenhunt utilizes a three-pitch mix of four-seam fastball, changeup and curve led by his 70-grade change with excellent arm-side fade. He was able to generate a 19% SwStr rate and 25.5% K-BB in a relatively small sample size having faced only 235 batters last year.

Whisenhunt’s changeup should continue to neutralize right-handed bats, and the curveball has enough bite to keep lefties off balance. Keep an eye on his fastball velocity this year as more Statcast data is gathered. Scouting reports have him sitting 93 mph but there were reports last year that he had bumped up to 94-97.

If Whisenhunt can maintain these gains, I expect to see him debut in 2024.  

Christian Scott (RotoProspects rank: 128, NFBC DC ADP: 560)

Mets, RHP, Age: 24

2023 stats (A/A+/AA): 87.2 IP, 2.57 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 107 Ks

Sporting an uncanny resemblance to former Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler in both presentation and delivery, Scott put up a ridiculous 29.4% K-BB across 62 innings at AA. Scott limited his walk rate to 3.4% in AA and 4.4% in High-A by utilizing a broad arsenal including sinker, change, slider, curve and four-seam fastball.

Spring Statcast numbers on Scott should be monitored closely to see if his velo has ticked up from 94.9 mph on the four-seamer and 94.7 mph on the sinker in 2023. The tremendous command and punchout prowess he demonstrated last year is further bolstered by a groundball rate of 50.9% at AA.

All of these attributes make me extremely bullish on Scott maintaining these skills and rising fast.   

Sawyer Gipson-Long (RotoProspects rank: 210, NFBC DC ADP: 370)

Tigers, RHP, Age: 26

2023 MLB stats: 20 IP, 2.70 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 26 Ks

Gipson-Long is the only player in this write-up to have already debuted, carrying over his bat-missing skills in a brief showing across 20 innings for Detroit last year. He maintained his 16% SwStr rate and 23% K-BB rate by deploying a five-pitch mix consisting of a four-seam fastball, change, curve, slider and sinker.

While Gipson-Long’s minor-league track record indicated a heavier GB% profile, the FB% spiked in his short MLB debut. However, he suppressed hard contact to the tune of 86.6 mph EV on balls in play. The spacious confines of Comerica Park should mitigate any concerns the higher FB% will lead to an HR issue when juxtaposed with his soft-contact and bat-missing skills.

Having amassed 120 innings last year and 123 IP in 2022, the 26-year-old should be able to eclipse those innings totals this season. While not projected to be in the rotation to start the season, the injury-prone Detroit rotation should yield a promotion sooner rather than later. Sawyer Gipson-Long should be on your radar as a late-round flier or early FAAB target in 2024.

Mike Vasil (RotoProspects rank: 187) (NFBC DC ADP: 684)

Mets, RHP, Age: 23

2023 stats (AA/AAA): 124 IP, 4.65 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 138 Ks

Upping his innings from 70 in 2022 to 124 last year, and entering his age-24 season, Vasil should be gearing up for a full workload this season. Vasil deploys a four-pitch mix of a four-seam fastball, cutter, changeup and cutter, relying heavily on the secondaries to put away batters.

Up until his promotion to Triple-A last year, Vasil had consistently posted WHIPs under 1.17 until it ballooned to 1.48 across 73 innings for Syracuse. He was able to maintain a 10.0 K/9 at AAA but his walk rate spiked to 4.7 BB/9. His fastball averaged 93.7 mph, and while he locates it well as a setup offering, it yields a decent but not great SwStr rate of 11.4%.

The cutter is the headliner with its 21.6% SwStr rate followed by a change that generates 15% SwStr rate and a cutter that gets 12.1%. Improved control on the change and curve should fix his WHIP issue as the two pitches generate soft groundball contact.