Prospects with best secondary pitches

Detroit Tigers

Velocity, velocity, velocity. It’s all the rage these days. But pitching is an art, and what makes it so isn’t just the reading of the radar gun. It’s what else you can add to the mix.

Bob Gibson and Randy Johnson had the slider. Sandy Koufax and Clayton Kershaw leaned on the curveball. Trevor Hoffman’s changeup was the stuff of legend. Pedro Martinez, well, depends on who you ask if the curveball or the changeup was better. You get the picture. 

Carry that over to prospects. The separators for some of the best arms at the lower levels will be how well they can use their non-fastballs to fool hitters, generate weak contact or rack up strikeouts. These offerings are the difference between being a starter or a reliever or a Major Leaguer or a career Minor Leaguer.

With that in mind, these are the best secondary pitches in each of the 30 farm systems:

Blue Jays: Nate Pearson, RHP (No. 1, MLB No. 10)
Best secondary pitch: Slider
Pearson was an easy pick for best fastball in the Toronto system. The race is a little closer in this category, but he still takes the cake with a plus slider that features plenty of break. He averaged 84.5 mph on the offering in the Majors last season and got a 34.7 percent whiff rate, almost double that of his heater. Even if injuries (like the current one to his groin) force Pearson to the bullpen someday, the fastball-slider mix gives him elite potential in any role.

Orioles: Grayson Rodriguez, RHP (No. 2, MLB No. 23)
Best secondary pitch: Changeup
Rodriguez’s stuff is so good, we had a different secondary offering, his slider, in this spot a year ago. But he’s worked hard on his changeup and many now think it’s his best non-fastball option. It’s a low-80s offspeed pitch that looks like a fastball coming out of his hand, thrown with better spin for a changeup than how he threw it previously. It disappears, diving and running under barrels consistently.

Rays: Shane Baz, RHP (No. 7, MLB No. 82)
Best secondary pitch: Slider
There is a real temptation to put Brent Honeywell Jr.’s screwball here, but Baz’s 65-grade slider is the only secondary pitch to receive a 60 or above on the loaded Rays Top 30 list entering 2021. The 21-year-old right-hander’s best breaking pitch features lots of hard bite in the mid-80s and pairs well with his plus-plus fastball. It’s the rest of the package that will need development in 2021 and beyond, but don’t be surprised if the Rays use Baz as a right-handed version of Shane McClanahan in some form this season.

Red Sox: Tanner Houck, RHP (No. 7)
Best secondary pitch: Slider
The 24th overall pick in the 2017 Draft out of the University of Missouri, Houck relies heavily on a sweeping low-80s slider from a low three-quarters crossfire delivery. He has compiled a 1.17 ERA in his first five big league outings, during which hitters have gone 1-for-21 with 14 strikeouts against his slide piece.

Yankees: Alexander Vizcaino, RHP (No. 9)
Best secondary pitch: Changeup
Though Deivi García’s curveball may be more famous, Vizcaino’s low-90s changeup with splitter action can be more devastating. Signed for just $14,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2016, he sets up his cambio with a 94-98 mph fastball that reaches triple digits.

Indians: Eli Morgan, RHP (unranked on Top 30)
Best secondary pitch: Changeup
Morgan is a 5-foot-10 right-hander with an upper-80s fastball and so-so breaking stuff, but he has 360 strikeouts in 319 Minor League innings because he has a plus-plus changeup that tumbles and fades and works against both lefties and righties. The 2017 eighth-rounder from Gonzaga reached Triple-A in his second full pro season and joined Cleveland’s 40-man roster last November.

Royals: Jackson Kowar, RHP (No. 4)
Best secondary pitch: Changeup
Changeups that receive 70 grades are, by definition, rare, and Kowar has a legit claim as the possessor of the best changeup among prospects going at present. The pitch comes with similar deception and arm speed to the rest of Kowar’s arsenal, only to fade away in the mid-80s. Both righties (22.8 percent K rate against Kowar in 2019) and lefties (23.6 percent) struggle with the offering, and his splits are fairly even as a result.

Tigers: Matt Manning, RHP (No. 3, MLB No. 21)
Best secondary pitch: Curveball
The recent graduations of Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal took some promising secondary pitches off the board, yet Manning’s deuce shows lots of promise in its own right. The 6-foot-6 hurler throws the curveball with lots of downward motion that can be tough for any hitter to pick up, especially if they’re sitting on his fastball. With his impressive extension and athletic delivery, batters have even less time to react when the curve is coming.

Twins: Jhoan Duran, RHP (No. 5, MLB No. 95)
Best secondary pitch: Splinker
A relatively new addition to the Top 100, Duran has one of the best, and most interesting, secondary offerings in his splinker, a splitter/sinker hybrid. He’ll throw it in the 88-94 mph range and it completely falls off the table, getting labels like “filthy” and “nasty.” It misses bats and gets weak contact on the ground, and its development is a big reason why he has struck out better than 10 per nine and had a GO/AO over 1.7 in each of the last two full seasons.

White Sox: Michael Kopech, RHP (No. 2/MLB No. 34)
Best secondary pitch: Slider
A Red Sox 2015 first-rounder who was a key piece of the Chris Sale trade two years later, Kopech is best known for his electric fastball but also owns a dynamic slider. It usually ranges from 85-89 mph with two-plane break and has been his best pitch in his first season back from 2018 Tommy John surgery, as big leaguers have gone 0-for-8 with 7 whiffs against it this April.

A’s: AJ Puk, LHP (No. 2)
Best secondary pitch: Slider
Puk has struggled to stay healthy — he’s currently on the injured list with a biceps strain — but no one questions that his slider can get big league hitters out. It’s a low-90s swing-and-miss pitch that produced a 66.7 whiff rate this year before he got hurt and a 37 percent rate back in 2019.

Angels: Reid Detmers, LHP (No. 2/ MLB No. 66)
Best secondary pitch: Curveball
While Detmers has worked to re-incorporate a slider he didn’t use much in college, it’s the left-hander’s curve that really stands out. It was one of the better breaking balls in the 2020 Draft class, a 72-76 mph breaking ball that has good shape, misses bats and that he commands in the strike zone very well.

Astros: Bryan Abreu, RHP (No. 14)
Best secondary pitch: Slider
Signed for $40,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2013, Abreu has a pair of wipeout mid-80s breaking pitches in his curveball and slider. His curveball elicits better grades from scouts but he has used his slider more and it has been more effective in the Majors, with hitters going 3-for-35 with 15 strikeouts against it during the last three years.

Mariners: Levi Stoudt, RHP (No. 14)
Best secondary pitch: Changeup
The Mariners’ third-round pick out of Lehigh University in 2019, Stoudt had Tommy John surgery right after he signed. He threw very well last fall and is ready to get his pro career started in earnest this year. Key to his success will be his changeup, a plus offspeed offering with a ton of depth and fade that he commands in the strike zone extremely well.

Rangers: Hans Crouse, RHP (No. 8)
Best secondary pitch: Slider
When we last saw Crouse in Minor League games in 2019, he had bone spurs in his elbow that bothered him when he threw his well above-average slider, so he didn’t use it much. The 2017 second-rounder from the California high school ranks is healthy again, so he should be back to showcasing a mid-80s slider with two-plane break — as well as a 92-99 mph fastball with riding action.

Braves: Bryce Elder, RHP (No. 12)
Best secondary pitch: Slider
The Braves went way over slot to sign Elder away from returning to the University of Texas in the fifth round of last year’s Draft, so he’ll be making his pro debut this year. He has a curve and a slider, with the latter his true out pitch. It’s a quick mid-80s breaking ball he’ll throw in any count and he manipulates spin extremely well.

Marlins: Max Meyer, RHP (No. 3/MLB No. 24)
Best secondary pitch: Slider
Meyer had the best pitch in the 2020 Draft, a slider that climbs into the low 90s and with which he can add and subtract depth. Also factor in a fastball that parks at 93-97 mph and reaches 100, and that’s why he matched Hall of Famer Paul Molitor as the highest pick ever (No. 3 overall) from the University of Minnesota and signed for a franchise-record $6.7 million.

Nationals: Tim Cate, LHP (No. 8)
Best secondary pitch: Curveball
Cate’s curve was a main talking point since the moment the Nats took him in the second round out of UConn in 2018, and that hasn’t changed over his three years in pro ball. What the 6-foot southpaw lacks in size he makes up for in his hammer-like curve that he commands awfully well for a breaking pitch. The deuce helps Cate keep hitters off-balance and generate lots of ground balls, and that, plus his 60-grade control, will be his meal ticket to Washington.

Mets: Matthew Allan, RHP (No. 3, MLB No. 67)
Best secondary pitch: Curveball
New York didn’t go all-in on Allan with a $2.5 million signing bonus out of the third round in 2019 for his fastball alone. The low-80s curveball gives the 19-year-old another plus pitch — one that features good spin rates and promising downward movement. Allan felt comfortable enough with his curve that he focused a ton on his changeup during last year’s turn at the alternate training site. His three-pitch mix could have him paying off dividends for the Mets before too long.

Phillies: Francisco Morales, RHP (No. 4)
Best secondary pitch: Slider
Morales has two easily plus pitches in his high octane fastball and his slider. He’ll throw the nasty breaking pitch up into the upper-80s and it’s even tougher to hit thanks to the deception in his delivery. It’s a big reason why he’s struck out 11.2 per nine innings (12.0 in 2019) in his relatively brief pro career.

Brewers: Aaron Ashby, LHP (No. 7)
Best secondary pitch: Slider
Ashby caught the attention of many Brewers fans this spring when he varied his already-deceptive delivery multiple times within outings, resulting in seven strikeouts over 2 2/3 innings. Arguably the best pitches he threw from those deliveries were sliders that dove effectively down and away, often leaving batters from both sides flailing on their front feet. The 2018 fourth-rounder needs innings to make up for the lost 2020, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see him take that slider to Milwaukee at some point this season.

Cardinals: Matthew Liberatore, LHP (No. 1, MLB No. 32)
Best secondary pitch: Curveball
The top St. Louis prospect has two plus pitches in his arsenal in a fastball that can touch the mid-90s and the 12-to-6 curveball that will drop in at the high-70s. They’re two completely different pitches, but he’s able to command both well from a clean and repeatable delivery. Hitting spots with different looks is a big reason why Liberatore has a chance to feature near the top of the Cardinals rotation some day.

Cubs: Chris Clarke, RHP (No. 22)
Best secondary pitch: Curveball
Though Clarke was a closer at Southern California, the Cubs saw enough starter traits to move him to the rotation after drafting him in 2019’s third round. Regardless of his role, his biggest weapon is a well above-average curveball with power and downward break that creates problems for lefties and righties.

Pirates: Quinn Priester, RHP (No. 3, MLB No. 44)
Best secondary pitch: Curveball
Priester showed off his advanced feel for pitching, especially for a high schooler from a cold-weather state (Illinois), both in his pro debut the summer after he was the Pirates’ first-round pick in 2019 and last year at the club’s alternate training site and during instructional league play. At the forefront is his ability to spin a breaking ball. His plus curve was one of the best breaking balls in his Draft class and it’s a nasty low-80s pitch with good depth and a 2,900 rpm spin rate.

Reds: Ryan Hendrix, RHP (No. 21)
Best secondary pitch: Curveball
The right-handed reliever is all power, all the time, with his fastball-breaking ball combination. The latter is described either as a curve with slider action or a slider with curveball depth. Whatever you want to call it, it has helped him miss bats at a very good clip, with a 12.2 K/9 rate in his Minor League career entering the 2021 season.

D-backs: Levi Kelly, RHP (No. 10)
Best secondary pitch: Slider
An eighth-round pick in 2018, Kelly has taken impressive steps to solidify his place in a young-and-upcoming Arizona system, and his slider has played a massive role in that development. The 6-foot-4 right-hander throws the breaking pitch in the low-to-mid-80s with plenty of bite, leading to swings and misses. For example, Kelly fanned 126 in 100 1/3 innings with Low-A Kane County in 2019. Where he takes the slider next following a year at the alternate training site deserves following.

Dodgers: Ryan Pepiot, RHP (No. 7)
Best secondary pitch: Changeup
Pepiot set Butler records for strikeouts in a season (126) and career (306) in 2019, when he rode the best changeup in that year’s Draft into the third round, allowing him to surpass two-time All-Star Pat Neshek (sixth round, 2002) as the highest pick in school history. He sells his plus-plus changeup with fastball arm speed, deceiving hitters when it arrives in the low 80s with plenty of fade, and it helped him dominate big leaguers at Los Angeles’ alternate training site last summer.

Giants: Seth Corry, LHP (No. 5)
Best secondary pitch: Curveball
Utah’s best high school prospect since Cubs 2005 first-rounder Mark Pawelek, Corry signed for a well above-slot $1 million as a 2017 first-rounder. He has three solid or better pitches, highlighted by a plus curveball in the upper 70s with downer action, and was the Class A South Atlantic League’s 2019 pitcher of the year after ranking second in the Minors with a 1.76 ERA and fourth with 172 strikeouts.

Padres: MacKenzie Gore, LHP (No. 1, MLB No. 6)
Best secondary pitch: Slider
MLB Pipeline’s top pitching prospect finds himself at that spot as much for his depth of offerings, rather than the special nature of any particular pitch. That said, the slider is his best secondary pitch as a mid-80s offering with plenty of spin and hard break. That’s a change from the start of his career when the curveball was his best breaker, and there remain days when that is still the case. But entering 2021, it’s the slider that has the best chance of being plus and helping Gore reach the Majors in short order.

Rockies: Ryan Rolison, LHP (No. 2)
Best secondary pitch: Curveball
The Rockies’ first-round pick in 2018, Rolison’s overall feel for pitching was a reason why he was taken that high. He has two distinctly shaped breaking balls, with an upper-70s 12-to-6 curve that features good bite a plus pitch. He has a tighter slider, but it’s really one pitch he knows how to manipulate the shape and speed of well.

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