Pitching prospects are an inherently volatile group, one with more cautionary tales than success stories, but the type of impact that a highly touted young hurler can have on an organization’s long-term outlook cannot be overstated.
The below list of the most-hyped right-handed pitching prospects of the past 20 years -- presented in conjunction with MLB.com’s ongoing series looking at every franchise’s Top 5 players at each position -- speaks to that notion, as some of those hurlers have gone on to win a whole lot of hardware in the Major Leagues while others have struggled to carve out a role, let alone find consistent success.
American League East
Blue Jays: Nate Pearson
Pearson was Toronto’s first-round pick in the 2017 Draft and currently ranks as MLB Pipeline’s No. 8 overall prospect. Armed with an explosive four-pitch mix, including a fastball that routinely reaches triple digits and a wipeout, swing-and-miss slider, the 23-year-old right-hander surged from Class A Advanced Dunedin to Triple-A Buffalo in 2019, posting a 2.30 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 119/27 K/BB in 101 2/3 innings (25 starts).
Orioles: Dylan Bundy
Bundy was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2011 Draft and the first high school pitcher taken, and he jumped to No. 10 on our 2012 preseason list, then lived up to the hype that saw him pitch across three levels of the Minors and make his Major League debut as a teenager. That vaulted him to No. 2 on our list in 2013. Injuries kept him from fulfilling his promise for several years, though he’s been healthy the last few and was slated to begin his first year with the Angels in 2020.
Rays: Jeremy Hellickson
Taken by Tampa Bay in the fourth round of the 2005 Draft, Hellickson was three-time MLB Pipeline Top 50 prospect (2009-11) who peaked at No. 2 on the list in 2011, when he also garnered AL Rooke of the Year honors after posting a 2.95 ERA across 189 innings (29 starts). The 33-year-old righty spent five seasons with the Rays, compiling a 3.78 ERA over 640 innings, but owns a 4.49 ERA in 629 1/3 frames since then between stints with the D-backs, Phillies, Orioles and Nationals.
Red Sox: Clay Buchholz
One of the best junior college prospects of the MLB.com era, Buchholz was a supplemental first-round pick out of Angelina (Texas) JC in 2005, his first year as full-time pitcher. He advanced rapidly, leading the Minors in strikeout rate (12.3 per nine innings) and making his big league debut in 2007, when he tossed a no-hitter in his second start. Injuries have hampered him at times but he still owns 90 wins in the bigs, not to mention a pair of World Series rings and All-Star Game selections.
Yankees: Phil Hughes
The 23rd overall pick in the 2004 Draft as a California high schooler, Hughes dealt with toe and shoulder injuries plus a tired arm in his first two pro seasons before taking off. He won 88 games and a World Series ring in 12 big league seasons, made the All-Star Game in 2010 and set an MLB record with an 11.6 strikeout/walk ratio in 2014.
American League Central
Indians: Adam Miller
Miller had some of the best stuff in the Minors in the mid-2000s, pairing a fastball that reached 101 mph (in a time when radar guns registered lower velocities than they do today) with a wipeout slider. But elbow and finger injuries forced the 2003 supplemental first-rounder to miss the entire 2009 and 2010 seasons, and the Texas prep prospect never got past Triple-A.
Royals: Zack Greinke
The sixth-overall pick in the 2002 Draft breezed through the Royals’ system and reached the Major Leagues as a 20-year-old in 2004, when he finished fourth in the AL Rookie of the Year race after opening the season as MLB Pipeline’s No. 4 prospect. Greinke put it all together in 2009, resulting in his first All-Star nod as well as the AL Cy Young Award, and ultimately registered a 3.82 ERA across 1,108 innings during his Royals tenure. He’s made five more All-Star teams and recorded four Top 10 Cy Young finishes since then while going 145-56 with a 3.06 ERA in 278 starts between the Brewers, Angels, Dodgers, D-backs and Astros.
Tigers: Rick Porcello
While Justin Verlander may be the most successful pitcher to come out of Detroit in recent history, Porcello, the club’s first-round pick in the 2007 Draft, was actually the higher-ranked prospect, placing fourth on MLB Pipeline’s 2009 list (Verlander was No. 5 in 2005). He made the jump straight from the Class A Advanced level to the Major Leagues as a 20-year-old in 2009 and ultimately spent parts of six seasons in the Tigers’ rotation, going 76-63 with a 4.30 ERA across 180 starts. He won an MLB-best 22 games and captured the 2016 AL Cy Young Award in his second year with Boston, for whom he posted a 4.43 ERA over five seasons before signing with the Mets as a free agent this past offseason.
Twins: Jose Berrios
The Twins got Berrios at the end of the first round of the 2012 Draft, the same round that saw them get outfielder Byron Buxton at No. 2 overall. The Puerto Rican high school product wasn’t as hyped as Buxton was as a prospect, but he did reach as high as No. 19 on our Top 100 prior to the 2016 season after appearing in two straight Futures Games in 2014 and 2015. Berrios made his big league debut that 2016 season and was a Major League All-Star in 2018 and 2019.
White Sox: Michael Kopech
The Red Sox made Kopech the 33rd overall pick in the 2014 Draft out of a Texas high school, and he soon started earning comparisons to Noah Syndergaard because of his electric stuff. Acquired in the Chris Sale trade at the 2016 Winter Meetings, he brought his triple-digits fastball and devastating slider to the Majors in August 2018, only to blow out his elbow after four starts and require Tommy John surgery. He currently ranks No. 20 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list.
American League West
Angels: Shohei Ohtani
He wasn’t a prospect for long, but it’s hard to find one who was more hyped than Ohtani when the Angels signed him from Japan prior to the 2018 season. Yes, his talents as a two-way player were a big reason for that, but he would’ve been the No. 1 prospect on that list as a RHP only. Tommy John surgery interrupted his ability to show just how good he is on the mound, though the Angels expect to see the pitcher who was dominant at times during his rookie year.
Astros: Forrest Whitley
Whitley reached Double-A in his first full pro season, joining Zack Greinke, Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw and Dylan Bundy as the only prep first-round arms to do so this century. A Texan selected 17th overall in 2016, he has pitched just 86 innings in the last two seasons because of a 50-game drug suspension and minor injuries but still has five different pitches that can grade as plus or better when they're working. He sits at No. 19 on the MLB Pipeline Top 100.
A’s: Trevor Cahill
The A’s signed Cahill out of the southern California high school ranks in the second round of the 2006 Draft. He didn’t reach the Top 100 until prior to the 2009 season on the heels of a 2008 Minor League season that saw him reach Double-A for the first time. He spent all of that year in Oakland’s rotation and was an All-Star in 2010 en route to spending parts of 11 seasons in the big leagues.
Mariners: Felix Hernandez
King Felix gets the nod here, though Taijuan Walker gets a shout out for being a top 10 prospect in both 2013 and 2014. Hernandez was No. 3 overall on the 2005 list, then a Top 50. That was on the heels of a big 2004 season that included a Futures Game appearance and he spent three months of the ’05 season in the big leagues at age 19. He’s gone on to spend 15 years in the big leagues and amassed a WAR over 50.
Rangers: Neftali Feliz
Signed for $100,000 out of the Dominican Republic by the Braves in 2005, Feliz was one of four longtime big leaguers (along with Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison and Jarrod Saltalamacchia) acquired by the Rangers in the Mark Teixeira trade two years later. He topped the Minors in whiff rate (10.8 per nine innings) in 2008, made his big league debut the following year and was the American League's Rookie of the Year after saving 40 games in 2010. The closer on Texas' 2010 and 2011 World Series teams, he wasn't as dominant following Tommy John surgery in 2012.
National League East
Braves: Julio Teheran
The Braves have had a lot of pitching prospects hit our rankings over the years, but none as decorated as Teheran, who made his big league debut at age 20 in 2011. The two-time Futures Gamer was in our Top 100 four years in a row, from 2010-2013, and was in the top 10 twice, topping out at No. 4 prior to the 2012 season. He established himself in 2013 and finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting that year and has twice been a National League All-Star.
Marlins: Josh Beckett
Still considered the best high school right-hander many scouts have ever seen, Beckett went No. 2 overall in 1999 out of a Texas high school and landed a $7 million guaranteed big league contract (a record for a high schooler at the time). He ranked as the game's best pitching prospect from that point until he arrived in the Majors in 2002, launching a career that included 138 wins, three All-Star berths and World Series heroics in 2003 and 2007.
Mets: Noah Syndergaard
Already a Top 100 prospect with Toronto when the Mets acquired him with Travis d’Arnaud in the 2012 R.A. Dickey trade, Syndergaard continued to climb the list after the trade, ascending from No. 29 to 11 to 10 over the next three years. The right-hander was electric as a rookie in 2015, helping to lead the Mets to the World Series, and recorded a Top 10 NL Cy Young finish the following season. And while a right lat injury limited him during the 2017 and '18 seasons, Syndergaard bounced back in 2019 to throw a career-high 197 2/3 innings. Overall, the 27-year-old has been a 15.7-WAR player for the Mets across his first five seasons.
Nationals: Stephen Strasburg
One of the more hyped pitching prospects in baseball history, Strasburg was taken by Washington with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 Draft and ranked as MLB Pipeline’s No. 2 prospect the following year. After dominant stops in Double- and Triple-A, the San Diego State product captured the national spotlight in early June 2010 when he struck out 14 Pirates batters in his big league debut. He’s been a model of consistency since he returned from Tommy John surgery in 2012, going 106-54 with a 3.21 ERA, 10.4 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 over 1,346 2/3 innings (222 starts), and helped lead the Nationals to their first World Series title in 2019 before re-signing with the club (seven years, $245 million) in the offseason.
Phillies: Gavin Floyd
While Sixto Sanchez created a lot of buzz lately before being dealt to the Marlins, Floyd was all the rage back when we started prospect rankings. He was No. 13 on our first Top 50 in 2004 and No. 14 the following year after being the No. 4 overall pick in the 2001 Draft out of the Baltimore-area high school ranks. He didn’t quite live up to that hype, but he did spend parts of 13 seasons in the big leagues with the Phillies, White Sox, Braves, Indians and Blue Jays.
National League Central
Brewers: Yovani Gallardo
The Brewers have enjoyed far more success in developing hitters than pitchers over the last 20 years, but the organization found a gem of an arm in the 2004 Draft in Gallardo, who signed for $725,000 as a second-round pick. He ranked as MLB Pipeline’s No. 10 prospect on the 2007 list and pitched well that year as a rookie, logging a 3.67 ERA over 110 1/3 frames, and received his first All-Star nod in ’10. But after posting 3.69 ERA in 1,289 1/3 innings (15.5 WAR) for the Brewers, Gallardo struggled to find similar success elsewhere, logging a 4.97 ERA over the next four years between Texas, Baltimore and Seattle.
Cardinals: Alex Reyes
Though he was unranked on the 2015 Top 100 list, Reyes entered the mix at No. 13 the next year and flashed his potential while serving as a late-inning weapon out of the Cardinals’ bullpen down the stretch. But the right-hander has totaled just seven innings in the Majors since then, missing large swaths of time with various injuries, including Tommy John surgery that wiped out his entire 2017 campaign and a portion of the next. He made a healthy return to the big leagues in June 2018 only to leave his first start with a torn right lat tendon that required season-ending surgery, and the Cardinals shut him down for the season again last June due to a right pectoral injury.
Cubs: Mark Prior
Prior went No. 2 overall in 2001 out of Southern California, signing a then-record $10.5 million big league contract amid acclaim as the best college pitching prospect in Draft history. He needed just nine Minor League starts before he was ready for Chicago, where he went 41-23 with a 3.24 ERA in his first four seasons before injuries took their toll. He's remembered for his repeated physical woes and for being on the mound during the Bartman Game, but he was as good as advertised when healthy.
Pirates: Gerrit Cole
This could be a good debate with Cole, Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow all entering into the conversation. Taillon ranked the highest, at No. 8, and Glasnow was in the top 10 twice. But Cole was No. 11 in 2012 and No. 9 in 2013 and gets the slight hype edge after being the clear-cut choice to be the No. 1 pick in the 2011 Draft.
Reds: Homer Bailey
The increased interest in the Draft and the proliferation of social media outlets would make it easy to pick Hunter Greene here, but Bailey was nearly as hyped as a high school arm when the Reds took him No. 7 overall in the 2004 Draft. Bailey actually ranked higher than Greene has, topping out at No. 3 in 2007, the first of two years he appeared in the top 10. While he hasn’t been as dominant as some predicted, he’s thrown two no-hitters and had staying power, with 13 big league seasons, at least partially, on his resume, 12 of them coming with the Reds.
National League West
D-backs: Archie Bradley
A five-time member of MLB Pipeline’s Top 100, Bradley ranked inside the Top 25 for four straight years and reached as high as No. 5 on the list in 2014. His continued struggles as a starter during his first two big league campaigns (5.18 ERA across 34 starts) prompted a move to the bullpen in 2017, and since then, the right-hander has posted a 2.95 ERA in 216 1/3 innings while averaging 10.0 K/9. He’s tossed at least 70 frames in each of his three seasons as a reliever and recorded a career-high 18 saves in 2019.
Dodgers: Edwin Jackson
The Dodgers first spotted Jackson as a Georgia high school outfielder and allowed him to both pitch and DH in his first pro summer after taking him in 2001's sixth round. By the end of 2003, he had become the youngest pitcher since Dwight Gooden to win his big league debut (beating Randy Johnson on his 20th birthday) and baseball's best pitching prospect. Known best for playing for a record 14 MLB teams, Jackson has tossed a no-hitter, won 107 games, a World Series ring and an All-Star nod.
Giants: Jesse Foppert
Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum were highly touted and did much more in the Majors, but neither ranked as the best pitching prospect in baseball like Foppert did in 2003. A recruited walk-on as a first baseman at the University of San Francisco, he took up pitching in the summer of 2000 and got drafted in the second round a year later. He led the Minors in strikeout rate (11.7 per nine innings) and reached Triple-A in his first full pro season in 2002, but his mid-90s fastball and nasty splitter were never the same after he had Tommy John surgery toward the end of his rookie year in 2003.
Padres: Casey Kelly
The 2008 first-round pick was a five-time top prospect who peaked at No. 22 on the 2011 Top 50 Prospects list shortly after being acquired from the Red Sox (along with Anthony Rizzo and Rey Fuentes) for Adrian Gonzalez. He made his big league debut with San Diego in 2012 but underwent Tommy John surgery the following spring and didn’t resurface in the Majors until ’15. He worked a combined 45 1/3 frames (4.37 ERA) for the Braves and Giants from 2016-18 before signing with the KBO’s LG Twins, for whom he posted a 3.49 ERA over 180 1/3 innings (29 starts) in his first season.
Rockies: Jon Gray
It’s taken some time for the Rockies to find a way to develop homegrown pitchers who can find success at Coors Field. They thought they found the right kind of pitcher when they took Gray as the No. 3 overall pick out of Oklahoma back in 2013 and he spent three years on our Top 100, hitting the top 20 before the 2014 and 2015 seasons ahead of receiving Rookie of the Year votes after the 2016 campaign. He’s spent most of the last four seasons as a mainstay in the Rockies’ rotation.
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.