Which of these 3 players will be MiLB Pitching Prospect of the Year?

September 18th, 2023

It’s almost time for awards season, everyone!

At least at the Minor League level it is.

At 8 p.m. ET on Monday, Oct. 2, MLB Network will air the inaugural MiLB Awards Show, with host Matt Vasgersian handing out a slew of honors, recognizing some of the best prospects, performances and moments of the 2023 season. MLB Pipeline wants to get you ready for the big show.

This week, we’re presenting the case for the three finalists for one of the big awards: the 2023 Pitching Prospect of the Year. In the coming days, we’ll dig into the Hitting Prospect of the Year candidates. Finalists, listed alphabetically below, were determined by MLB Pipeline staff, who looked closely at several worthy candidates to whittle down to this trio.

All three hail from the Draft Class of 2022 and pitched across at least two levels, finishing the year in Double-A.

Cade Horton, RHP, Cubs (No. 29 on Top 100)
Age: 22
Single-A: 0-0, 4 GS, 14.1 IP, 1.26 ERA, .157 BAA, 0.84 WHIP, 2.5 BB/9, 13.2 K/9
High-A: 3-3, 11 GS, 47 IP, 3.83 ERA, .203 BAA, 1.00 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9, 12.4 K/9
Double-A: 1-1, 6 GS, 27 IP, 1.33 ERA, .188 BAA, 1.07 WHIP, 3.7 BB/9, 10.3 K/9
Total: 4-4 21 GS, 88.1 IP, 2.65 ERA, .191 BAA, 1.00 WHIP, 2.8 BB/9, 11.9 K/9

It may have been hard to know what to expect from Horton, who was a bit of a surprise No. 7 overall pick in the 2022 Draft, because Tommy John surgery had knocked him off the mound in 2021 and he hadn’t thrown well until the college postseason in 2022. Whatever those expectations were, Horton no doubt exceeded them in his first full year of pro ball.

Even with the Cubs understandably being cautious with his workload, the right-hander managed to pitch his way across three levels and put himself on a fast track to Wrigley. Among all Minor League pitchers with 80 or more innings, Horton finished in the top five in both WHIP and K-BB percentage and was second in that group with a 2.99 xFIP. He stood out among his Top 100 colleagues as well, finishing second in WHIP and third in ERA, again among those top pitching prospects who surpassed the 80 IP mark.

Robby Snelling, LHP, Padres (No. 60 on Top 100)
Age: 19
Single-A: 5-1, 11 GS, 51.2 IP, 1.57 ERA, .211 BAA, 1.01 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9, 10.3 K/9
High-A: 4-2, 7 GS, 34.2 IP, 2.34 ERA, .237 BAA, 1.21 WHIP, 2.9 BB/9, 10.4 K/9
Double-A: 2-0, 4 GS, 17.1 IP, 1.56 ERA, .190 BAA, 1.27 WHIP, 5.2 BB/9, 9.9 K/9
Total: 11-3 22 GS, 103.2 IP, 1.82 ERA, .216 BAA, 1.12 WHIP, 3.0 BB/9, 10.2 K/9

So much for high school draftees needing to be slowly developed, huh? The above-slot bonus of $3 million the Padres gave Snelling as the No. 39 overall pick in the 2022 Draft might look like a bargain, and soon. The teenaged southpaw pitched his way across three levels and more than held his own at each stop.

Snelling’s combined 1.82 ERA was the lowest of any Minor Leaguer with more than 80 IP in 2023. His 1.12 WHIP was second among all Top 100 pitchers and he finished in the top 10 in that group in K/9. Oh, and he’s still only 19 and was the only pitcher to stay in his teens and top 100 innings for the season.

Drew Thorpe, RHP, Yankees (No. 100 on Top 100)
Age: 22
High-A: 10-2, 18 GS, 109 IP, 2.81 ERA, .215 BAA, 1.07 WHIP, 2.7 BB/9, 11.4 K/9
Double-A: 4-0, 5 GS, 30.1 IP, 1.48 ERA, .144 BAA, 0.66 WHIP, 1.5 BB/9, 13.1 K/9
Total: 14-2 23 GS, 139.1 IP, 2.52 ERA, .200 BAA, 0.98 WHIP, 2.5 BB/9, 11.8 K/9

The only thing that could slow down Thorpe and his ridiculous changeup was an injury, with an issue with his non-throwing shoulder ending his season after five amazing starts in Double-A. The Yankees’ second-rounder from last year was recruited to Cal Poly as a two-way player, but it’s clear the decision to have him focus on the mound was a very good one.

Thorpe was extremely durable until the left shoulder problem at the end of the year, finishing second among all Top 100 pitchers in innings. He trailed only Snelling on that list in ERA and led that group in WHIP. Among all Minor Leaguers who surpassed that 80 IP plateau, he led everyone in xFIP (2.90) while finishing third in WHIP and K-BB percentage.