We’ve covered the best fastballs among prospects, and while it’s always fun to talk about high velocity, it may be even more so to discuss, well, everything else. As Hunter Greene has proved during his time in Cincinnati this season, Major Leaguers can crush the heater, even when it’s at the top of the velo scale, if it doesn’t come with some movement or a quality secondary to offset the velo.
So let’s talk about those quality secondaries.
Pitching development is changing all the time, and young hurlers are working on pitches that may not fit the traditional scouting boxes. Think of the Whirly or sweeper that have become bigger parts of modern baseball parlance. As that happens, the difference between an average secondary pitch and a plus one could be the difference between an effective Major Leaguer and a Quad-A player.
To celebrate those off-speed offerings, here’s a look at some of the best secondary pitches in prospectdom, one for every organization:
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: Adrian Hernandez, RHP (No. 18), changeup
Since he typically throws in the low-90s, Hernandez has his entire prospect stock hinging on his cambio, a pitch he’s thrown close to 50 percent of the time in some cases. The low-80s offering divebombs away from unsuspecting hitters, leading to whiffs from batters of both sides. (Lefties, in particular, are just 1-for-25 with 10 strikeouts against him this season.) The 22-year-old reliever is closing in on Toronto with a 0.75 ERA, 18 strikeouts and .081 average-against over 12 appearances (18 innings) with Triple-A Buffalo following a late April promotion.
Orioles: Grayson Rodriguez, RHP (No. 2, MLB No. 3), changeup
The 6-foot-5 right-hander’s upper-90s velocity will understandably get headlines, but it’s another plus-plus pitch that helps him pick up strikeouts by the bunches. Case in point: Rodriguez threw 39 changeups over a two-game stretch in Charlotte last week, making it his most-used secondary. He elicited 11 whiffs on the change, two more than with his four-seam fastball and two more than his slider and curveball combined. The pitch typically sits around the 84-85 mph and can give lefties fits when he pulls the string on it; left-handers are hitting just .145 against him to begin 2022 compared to the righties’ .217 average.
Rays: Shane Baz, RHP (No. 1, MLB No. 12), slider
We’re getting closer to seeing Baz’s breaking ball back in the bigs. The 22-year-old right-hander is back rehabbing with Triple-A Durham after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow. When he brought his slider to the Majors late last season, Baz threw it 21.2 percent of the time (most among non-fastballs) and allowed only one hit off it, leading to a .077 average-against. The mid-80s breaker led to whiffs on 40.7 percent of swings because of its great bite. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., in particular, swung and missed on the pitch three times in Baz’s Sept. 20 start against Toronto.
Red Sox: Brandon Walter, LHP (No. 8), slider
Walter has added velocity since signing for $35,000 as a 26th-round redshirt junior out of Delaware in 2019, and his now low-80s slider destroys left-handers and works against right-handers with its sharp horizontal action. He's excelling in Double-A, ranking second in the Minors with a 60/3 K/BB ratio and third in walks per nine innings (0.6) while logging a 3.14 ERA in 43 frames.
Yankees: Ron Marinaccio, RHP (No. 27), changeup
Walter's teammate for two years at Delaware, Marinaccio turned pro for $100,000 as a 19th-round redshirt junior in 2017. His money pitch is an 82-85 mph changeup that dives at the plate and he has ridden it to a relief role in New York, where big leaguers have gone 1-for-10 with six strikeouts against his cambio.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Guardians: Daniel Espino, RHP (No. 1, MLB No. 11), slider
Espino ranks as one of the elite pitching prospects in the game thanks to an overpowering arsenal that includes a fastball that climbs into the triple digits and a slider than can top 90 mph with horizontal and vertical movement. Born in Panama and a 2019 first-rounder from a Georgia high school, he sports a 2.45 ERA, .141 opponent average and a 35/4 K/BB ratio in 18 1/3 Double-A innings but currently is sidelined with patella tendinitis.
Royals: Frank Mozzicato, LHP (No. 6), curveball
Those who loved the Connecticut native entering the 2021 Draft were enamored by his curve, a potential plus-plus offering because of its promising spin and depth. Mozzicato has carried that breaker with him to Single-A Columbia to begin his career, and it looks just as good now with its ability to drop in for strikes or elicit swings below the zone. The 18-year-old southpaw’s fastball and changeup will determine his starting chances higher up the chain, but the curve alone gives him plenty of promise.
Tigers: Jackson Jobe, RHP (No. 2, MLB No. 32), slider
Jobe’s low-80s slider earned plus-plus grades before he entered pro ball, and it was a big reason why the Tigers selected the 6-foot-2 right-hander third overall last July. Now, he’s pitching in the Florida State League and showing Single-A hitters what the hullabaloo is about. Jobe owns 28 of the 50 highest slider spin rates in the FSL so far this season, ranging from 3,072-3,226 rpm. Despite all that spin, Jobe typically knows where the slider is going too, making it an even better pitch. He’s still finding his footing in Lakeland (4.40 ERA, 16 K, 6 BB in 14 1/3 IP), but Jobe can dominate in time.
Twins: Jovani Moran, LHP (No. 22), changeup
The 25-year-old southpaw moved to the bullpen full-time in 2017 following an elbow injury and has climbed toward Minnesota on the strength of his low-80s, disappearing changeup. He threw the pitch 46.9 percent of the time during his five outings with the big club last season and earned whiffs on 51.4 percent of swings with the cambio. Eight of his 10 strikeouts came on that pitch alone, and he only served up one hit against the 76 changes he tossed. The effectiveness of the change has allowed Moran to keep his 40-grade slider in his back pocket, though he needs to throw all of his pitches for strikes if he’s going to stick in the Twin Cities.
White Sox: Cristian Mena, RHP (No. 29), curveball
The most expensive pitcher in the White Sox' 2019 international class, Mena signed for $250,000 out of the Dominican Republic. He has the makings of a plus curveball with upper-70s velocity and true downer break, and it helped him lead the Rookie-level Arizona Complex League in strikeouts per nine innings (11.5) last year. He's thriving in Single-A with a 3.22 ERA and a 50/11 K/BB ratio in 36 1/3 innings.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Angels: Sam Bachman, RHP (No. 1), slider
Bachman’s fastball velo increases at Miami (Ohio) helped increase his Draft stock entering 2021, helping him land at No. 9 to the Halos last July. The slider, though, could be what fuels his march toward Anaheim. The 6-foot-1 right-hander spins the mid-80s breaker in with a good amount of bite, and it plays even better than that because his low arm slot makes it tough for batters to pick up. Bachman opened the season on the IL with a back injury but debuted for Double-A Rocket City on May 6 and has yet to allow a run in three starts (11 innings).
Astros: Hunter Brown, RHP (No. 1, MLB No. 100), curveball
A fifth-round pick out of Wayne State (Mich.) in 2019 -- matching big leaguer Anthony Bass as the NCAA Division II program's highest pick ever -- Brown has developed a power curveball with low-80s velocity and tremendous depth since turning pro. He's pushing for his first big league callup with a 2.43 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 33 1/3 Triple-A innings.
Athletics: J.T. Ginn, RHP (No. 7), slider
Before his trade from the Mets to the A’s in March, Ginn had become more of a sinker pitcher than he was in his college days at Mississippi State, leading to heavy ground-ball rates. Where he got his swings-and-misses was on his mid-80s slider because of its two-plane break. It continues to make him an effective starter against righties (batting just .192 against him, compared to .333 for lefties) in his first taste of Double-A this season, but he’ll need his heater and changeup to come around to help his starting chances.
Mariners: Matt Brash, RHP (No. 4, MLB No. 90), slider
Based on pure movement, Brash’s slider might be the most famous pitch on this list. It certainly raised a lot of eyebrows last season at Double-A Arkansas and then gained even more notoriety in the Majors at the start of 2022. The pitch’s average rpm of 2,817 ranks 11th-highest in the Majors this season (minimum 50 pitches thrown), and it broke 9.8 more inches horizontally than similar MLB sliders at its velocity, giving it the most added horizontal movement in the bigs. In short, it looked like a dang frisbee. Brash landed the slider too often in the heart of the strike zone and was punished by MLB hitters for it, but if he can land it more on the edges, it could be a plus-plus pitch in any role.
Rangers: Owen White, RHP (No. 8), slider
After signing as a second-round pick from a North Carolina high school in 2018, White didn't make his pro debut until May 2021 because of Tommy John surgery and the pandemic. He broke out as the Arizona Fall League pitcher of the year, displaying a mid-90s fastball and a mid-80s slider with horizontal and vertical movement, and owns a 5.08 ERA with 47 strikeouts in 33 2/3 innings in High-A this season.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: Bryce Elder, RHP (No. 4), slider
The 23-year-old right-hander has already given Atlanta fans a taste of his best breaking pitch through four starts this season. He’s thrown 89 sliders. Nineteen of them have resulted in whiffs. That’s a swing-and-miss rate of 21.3 percent, well above the Major League average of 11.2 percent for all pitches this season. Elder specializes in landing the low-80s offering to the low, armside corner, and he’s thrown it to both righties and lefties (though he prefers an upper-80s cutter against the latter). Overall control has been an issue early on -- he’s walked 14 batters (against only 12 strikeouts) in 19 innings -- but the slider provides promise that Elder can elicit whiffs at the top level.
Marlins: Max Meyer, RHP (No. 2, MLB No. 28), slider
Scouts considered Meyer's upper-80s slider with wicked movement to be the best pitch in the 2020 Draft, and he went third overall to match Hall of Famer Paul Molitor as the highest pick ever out of the University of Minnesota. His slide piece helped him earn Double-A Central League pitcher of the year honors and rank fifth in the Minors in ERA (2.27) in his 2021 pro debut, and he has logged a 4.54 ERA with 44 strikeouts in 39 2/3 innings in Triple-A this year. He's currently on the injured list with ulnar nerve irritation.
Mets: Brian Metoyer, RHP (No. 30), curveball
There are spin-rate darlings, and then there are pitches like Metoyer’s curve. The 25-year-old right-hander spun off curves with the 35 highest recorded spin rates of the Arizona Fall League last autumn, from 3,142 to 3,493 rpm. For Mets fans’ reference, that puts Metoyer in a spin category alongside Seth Lugo, whose curve puts up similar rates in the Majors. For all of that spin, the 2018 40th-rounder does have major control issues (eight walks in 7 1/3 innings this season), and if he can iron those out, he certainly has one MLB-caliber pitch that could play a factor out of the bullpen.
Nationals : Cade Cavalli, RHP (No. 2, MLB No. 50), slider
You could put Cavalli’s mid-80s curve (faster than most pitches of the same description here) since it also flashes plus. But we’ll go with the slider than can touch 90 mph at times, giving it the same velo as some Minor Leaguers’ fastballs. The slider features some cutter action and dives away from right-handed swings, sometimes leaving them to lunge in vain. Last year’s Minor League strikeout leader has struggled with command in his return to Triple-A, leading to a 6.75 ERA through eight starts. On his day, he still has the best stuff in the entire system.
Phillies: Francisco Morales, RHP (No. 10), slider
Morales came up to the Majors for two relief appearances earlier this month. You figure he would want to lean on his best pitch to make his best possible first impression. Well, he threw 70.8 percent sliders, so that says something there. He threw sliders perfectly equally (17 each) to lefties and righties and didn’t allow a hit on any of them. What’s more, all three of his punchouts came on the slide piece. The mid-80s pitch averages 40.2 inches of drop, making it a more vertical offering than other sliders of similar velos, and based on early returns, it could frustrate Major League hitters again soon.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers: Taylor Floyd, RHP (No. 23), slider
Like a few others on this list, Floyd doesn’t treat his slider like a secondary pitch. The upper-70s pitch is basically his bread-and-butter because its hard break and high spin rate can make hitters look foolish. By leaning so much on that slider, the 24-year-old right-hander struck out 84 batters over 56 innings of relief at High-A Wisconsin and Double-A Biloxi, though he’s struggled to meet those standards in a return to the Southern League.
Cardinals: Zack Thompson, LHP (No. 9), curveball
Even when Thompson seriously struggled at Triple-A Memphis (in part due to a velo drop) last season, he always had Uncle Charlie. The 24-year-old southpaw typically throws the pitch in the mid-70s with a spin rate that can max out above 3,000 rpm. Its tight break can fluster hitters, especially those sitting on the high heater. Thompson’s overall velocity has been better in 2022, and that, plus the promising curve, has helped him post a 4.12 ERA and 1.03 WHIP with 55 strikeouts over 43 2/3 innings back in Memphis.
Cubs: Jordan Wicks, LHP (No. 6), changeup
Wicks established Kansas State records for season (118) and career (230) strikeouts in 2021, when Chicago selected him 21st overall and scouts graded his low-80s tumbling changeup as the best in the Draft. It has helped him thrive in High-A, where he has posted a 3.55 ERA with a 37/9 K/BB ratio in 33 innings. Fellow Cubs lefty prospect D.J. Herz also has a well above-average changeup that ranks right with Wicks'.
Pirates: Mike Burrows, RHP (No. 11), curveball
Baseball analysts love Burrows' curve because it registers a high spin rate, just like his fastball. More old-school types are big fans because it comes in with a lot of bite and regularly drops in for strikes. Burrows isn’t afraid to throw the curveball at any time, and it can either freeze opposing batters or get them to flail. The 6-foot-2 right-hander, who is with Double-A Altoona, may need a third pitch to stay as a starter, but as it stands, his fastball-curve combo has helped him punch out at least 30 percent of his batters for the second straight season.
Reds: Andrew Abbott, LHP (No. 12), curveball
A 2021 second-rounder out of Virginia, Abbott is throwing like a Top-100-caliber prospect to start his first full season, and the curveball has a lot to do with it. The 22-year-old southpaw can manipulate his breaking ball as needed, making it more vertical or slurvy depending on the situation, and it plays especially well when paired with his elevated fastball. Abbott has fanned 53 batters over 36 2/3 innings between High-A and Double-A, and his 37.9 percent K rate ranks 14th among 275 Minor League qualifiers.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs: Drey Jameson, RHP (No. 6), slider
Jameson has a plethora of off-speed offerings that grade out as at least average. We’ll give the slider the feature here because when it’s at its best, it might be the highest quality of any of his pitches and that includes his heater that can touch triple digits. The mid-80s offering is especially tough diving away from right-handers, against whom he has a 34.5 percent K rate in 2022. (Lefties are striking out only 6.7 percent, by comparison.) It’s been a rough go for the 24-year-old right-hander at Triple-A Reno, and if he has to make the transition to the bullpen at some point, the slider would be a major asset there.
Dodgers: Ryan Pepiot, RHP (No. 6, MLB No. 94), changeup
The best changeup in the Minors belongs to Pepiot, who gets some top-of-the-scale 80s grades from scouts for his low-80s monster that fades before plummeting at the plate. The highest pick in Butler history (third round, 2019), he also can run his fastball up to 98 mph. He has overmatched Triple-A hitters (1.72 ERA, .173 opponent average, 42 strikeouts in 31 1/3 innings) and allowed three runs with eight strikeouts in seven innings in his first two big league starts earlier this month.
Giants: Gregory Santos, RHP (No. 14), slider
Acquired from the Red Sox in the Eduardo Núñez trade in 2017, Santos can overmatch hitters with an upper-90s fastball and an upper-80s slider with horizontal and vertical life. He has a 3.45 ERA with 15 strikeouts in 15 2/3 Triple-A innings and retired all five batters he faced in his lone appearance with the Giants this year on May 5.
Padres: MacKenzie Gore, LHP (No. 3, MLB No. 34), slider
The 23-year-old southpaw has gone noticeably fastball-heavy in his first taste of the Majors, throwing the heater 64.9 percent of the time, and that might not be a shock for a pitcher who has worked so hard in recent years on his command. But in terms of raw effectiveness, the slider is right there with his four-seam. Gore has earned whiffs on 32.6 percent of the swings he’s gotten on his sliders (above the 20 percent whiff rate of his fastball), and opposing batters only have a .206 expected batting average against it, based on the quality of contact. The slider, which can dive down and away from lefties or backfoot righties, accounts for nine of Gore’s 38 strikeouts, more than double the amount from his curveball and changeup combined.
Rockies: Riley Pint, RHP (not ranked among Top 30), slider
The 2016 fourth overall pick technically retired last June, only to return to the Rockies system in March. He continues to show what’s always made him so promising (and maddening as a prospect) as a Double-A reliever, and the slider plays a role in that. When it’s on, the upper-80s breaking ball features a long tail that leaves hitters befuddled. Sometimes, they think it’ll hit their shirts when it lands for strike three in the zone. Others, they think will be down the middle, only for them to swing on a pitch several inches off the outside black. Pint can find it difficult to corral all that movement still, as his 20.0 percent walk rate indicates. But a 26.3 percent strikeout rate and .233 average-against prove he’s still tough to touch when he can land his pitches.