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Most hyped LHP prospects of the past 20 years

@JonathanMayo and @JimCallisMLB and @GoldenSombrero
June 4, 2020

Left-handed pitching is always something in high demand and often in short supply. Some of that is simply probability. Only about 10 percent of the world’s population is left-handed. The difficulty in developing pitching in general and keeping pitchers healthy whittles the numbers down even more. There’s a reason why

Left-handed pitching is always something in high demand and often in short supply. Some of that is simply probability. Only about 10 percent of the world’s population is left-handed. The difficulty in developing pitching in general and keeping pitchers healthy whittles the numbers down even more.

There’s a reason why only one of the 30 lefty prospects below are listed on the recent release of every team’s best left-handed starter in history. But there are three on our list who are currently on our Top 100, with plenty of time to make a case for their all-time status.

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

Blue Jays: Daniel Norris
A second-round pick in the 2011 Draft from the Tennessee prep ranks, Norris made his Top 100 debut during the 2012 season, checking in at No. 72 on MLB Pipeline’s list, before jumping to No. 17 on the 2015 preseason list. The 27-year-old left-hander has been plagued by injuries in the big leagues, missing time with oblique and groin injuries, and he sports a 14-29 record with a 4.56 ERA in 396 1/3 innings since joining the Tigers in the July 2015 David Price trade.

Orioles: Brian Matusz
Matusz was the first pitcher selected in the 2008 Draft, taken No. 4 overall out of the University of San Diego, the kind of college lefty expected to move quickly through the system. He lived up to that part, getting to Baltimore just a year after being drafted. After three-plus years as a starter, he moved into the bullpen and had three-plus years as a reliever for the Orioles before getting traded to the Braves, who released him shortly thereafter. He pitched a bit for the Cubs that summer, his last in the big leagues.

Rays: David Price
Selected out of Vanderbilt with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 Draft, Price reached the big leagues late the following year and helped pitch the Rays to an AL title. He opened the ‘09 season ranked as MLB’s No. 1 prospect and earned the first of his five All-Star selections in ’10. Price led the AL in wins (20-5) and ERA (2.56) during his Cy Young-winning campaign with Tampa Bay in 2012 and led the circuit in ERA (2.45) once again in ’15, splitting the season between Detroit and Toronto.

Red Sox: Jon Lester
A Washington high school prospect who was also a legitimate prospect as a first baseman, Lester slid a little in the 2002 Draft because of signability and landed a $1 million bonus in the second round -- the only seven-figure bonus outside the first round that year. If the Red Sox had been able to the pull off the Alex Rodriguez trade, Lester would have been part of the package heading to the Rangers, but Boston refused to include him in the Josh Beckett deal with the Marlins. Good call, because he won two World Series and made three All-Star teams with the Sox before earning another championship and two more All-Star nods with the Cubs.

Yankees: Manny Bañuelos
Signed out of Mexico in 2008, Bañuelos soon was regarded as the Yankees' best lefty prospect since Andy Pettitte but never lived up to that billing. His stuff didn't fully bounce back after he had Tommy John surgery in August 2012, and he has a 6.31 ERA to show for 23 big league appearances (including 16 with the White Sox last year).

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

Indians: CC Sabathia
Though there were some questions about his hefty frame as a California high schooler, the Indians still drafted Sabathia 20th overall in 1998 and never had cause for regret. He made Cleveland's Opening Day 2001 roster at age 20 and won 17 games as a rookie, a prelude to a Cy Young Award and three All-Star selections in 7 1/2 years with the Indians. He retired after last season with 251 career victories and six total All-Star berths and has a strong Hall of Fame case.

Royals: Mike Montgomery
Montgomery, the No. 36 pick in the 2008 Draft, was a three-time Top 100 prospect (2010-12) – he peaked at No. 14 in ’11 – in a Royals farm system that was revered as the best in baseball. He was packaged with Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi to the Rays in December 2012 -- a trade that would help the Royals win the 2015 World Series -- and made his big league debut with Seattle in 2015. He joined the Cubs via trade in July 2016 and recorded the final out against Cleveland in the World Series that year.

Tigers: Andrew Miller
Miller reached the Majors the same year he was drafted, debuting with the Tigers in August 2006 after the club had taken the North Carolina southpaw with the No. 6 overall pick in June. He ranked as MLB’s No. 19 prospect after the season and seemed poised to break through with the Tigers in ’07 before they famously packaged him with Cameron Maybin and three other players to the Marlins for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. He posted a 2.01 ERA with 51 saves and 14.1 K/9 over 332 innings from 2012-17, earning a pair of All-Star nods along the way.

Twins: Francisco Liriano
Liriano broke onto the rankings at No. 37 before the 2005 season, a year that saw him go to from Double-A to the big leagues. He was an All-Star and finished third in American League Rookie of the Year voting the following season before needing Tommy John surgery that forced him to miss all of 2007. He was back in 2008 and has put together a 14-year career, the last one as a reliever in the Pirates bullpen in 2019.

White Sox: Carlos Rodón
Rodón ranked slightly higher than Chris Sale on our Top 100 lists and both graduated quickly. The No. 3 overall pick in 2014 out of North Carolina State, Rodón required just 34 2/3 innings in the Minors before joining the White Sox. He has shown flashes of dominance but has been slowed by bursitis in 2017 and Tommy John surgery last year.

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

Angels: Andrew Heaney
Originally taken No. 9 overall in the 2012 Draft by the Marlins, hitting the Top 100 at No. 81 in 2013 and No. 29 in 2014, the year he made it up to Miami for the first time. His time with the Marlins was short-lived, as he was part of a big three-team trade that landed him with the Angels in December 2014. He moved up to No. 25 on the Top 100 prior to the 2015 season, missed almost all of the 2016 and 2017 seasons because of Tommy John surgery, but was back as a full-time member of the Angels rotation in 2018 before shoulder problems limited him in 2019.

A’s: Jesus Luzardo
Luzardo was drafted by the Nationals in the third round of the 2016 Draft out of high school even though he had Tommy John surgery as a senior. He was just getting back on the mound a year later when he was traded to the A’s. He showed enough to hop on the Top 100 list at No. 60 prior to the 2018 season, then took off, jumping up to No. 12 before 2019 and this year. He showed what he’s ready to do late in the season in 2019 and in the Wild Card game.

Mariners: Danny Hultzen
The 2011 Draft was chock full o’ pitchers at the top, with Gerrit Cole going No. 1 and Hultzen, the lefty out of the University of Virginia. His first full season was solid enough, making it to Triple-A. Injuries kept him from coming close to that again and he missed all of the 2014 and 2017 seasons. To his credit, the lefty fought his way to the big leagues as a reliever with the Cubs in 2019, eight years after being drafted.

Astros: Carlos Hernández
The Astros have never placed a left-hander on any of MLB.com's overall top prospect lists since they began in 2004. Part of Houston's Venezuelan pipeline, Hernández signed in 1997 and ranked as one of the game's better southpaw prospects in 2001, when he opened his big league career with 17 scoreless innings but partially tore his rotator cuff on a headfirst slide in his third start. He pitched through pain in 2002, missed all of 2003 following shoulder surgery and was done in the big leagues after nine starts in 2004.

Rangers: Martín Pérez
Signed for $580,000 out of Venezuela in 2007, Pérez emerged as a top pitching prospect while drawing comparisons to Ron Guidry and Johan Santana for his small frame and big stuff. He leveled off once he got to Triple-A and while he never has become a star, he earned 53 big league victories in eight seasons before signing with the Red Sox as a free agent in December.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

Braves: Mike Minor
Shout out to Sean Newcomb, who was on the Top 100 twice with the Braves, but the nod goes to Minor, who the Braves took No. 7 overall out of Vanderbilt in 2009. He made it up to the big leagues just over a year later and that strong campaign led to him vaulting to No. 21 on the Top 100. He was part of the rotation through 2014 until he needed shoulder surgery in 2015. He didn’t make it back to the big leagues until 2017 in the Royals’ bullpen and really re-established himself in the Rangers rotation in 2018, making the All-Star team last year.

Phillies: Cole Hamels
Taken in the first round of the 2002 Draft out of Rancho Bernardo High School in San Diego, Hamels ran all the way up to No. 6 in the rankings prior to the 2004 season, though injuries knocked him down to No. 35 in 2005 and allowed him to throw just 51 innings in 2004-05 combined. He put that behind him in 2006 when he pitched his way to the big leagues quickly and was an All-Star in 2007. He’s gone on to make three more All-Star teams with the Philllies and Rangers and is coming off a solid season with the Cubs in 2019.

Mets: Scott Kazmir
Scouts viewed Kazmir as one of the country’s top prep pitching prospects before the Mets made him the 15th-overall pick in the 2002 Draft and was ranked by MLB as baseball’s No. 8 prospect going into the 2004 season. Though he reached Double-A as a 20-year-old that year, the Mets, with their sights set on a playoff berth, dealt the young lefty to the Rays in the widely panned August 2009 Victor Zambrano trade. He went on to make a trio of All-Star teams, compiling a 4.01 ERA and 108 wins over 12 seasons.

Marlins: Andrew Heaney
Heaney led NCAA Division I with 140 strikeouts in 118 1/3 innings for Oklahoma State in 2012, when the Marlins selected him ninth overall. He rushed through the Minors and arrived in Miami in mid-2014, only to get traded twice in one day at the Winter Meetings that December, going to the Dodgers as part of package for Dee Gordon and Dan Haren and then to the Angels for Howie Kendrick. He has been effective when healthy in Anaheim but missed most of 2016 and 2017 with elbow issues that led to Tommy John surgery, and his elbow acted up again last year as well.

Nationals: Ross Detwiler
While Washington has had far more success with drafting and developing right-handed pitching prospects, Detwiler came with considerable hype when the Nats selected the University of Missouri southpaw with the No. 6 pick in the 2007 Draft. He reached the Majors a few months later, debuting as a September callup, and ultimately posted a 3.82 ERA in 471 innings across seven seasons in D.C. Detwiler’s success has been limited in recent years, though, with the 34-year-old logging a 6.60 ERA in 76 appearances for six different teams since the start of 2015.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

Brewers: Josh Hader
A 19th-round pick (2012) by Baltimore who was dealt to the Astros in July 2013, Hader was in the midst of a breakout Double-A campaign when he joined Milwaukee via trade at the 2015 Deadline. He cracked MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 in 2016 at No. 61 and moved up to No. 38 in ’17, the same year he emerged as an absolute bullpen force for Milwaukee. The two-time All-Star has been one of baseball’s elite relievers during his first three seasons, posting a 2.42 ERA with 49 saves and a video-game-like 15.3 K/9 across 204 2/3 frames (151 appearances).

Cardinals: Bud Smith
Smith, a 1998 fourth-round pick, took over as the top prospect in the Cardinals’ system in 2001 -- and No. 39 on Baseball American’s Top 100 list -- in the wake of Rick Ankiel’s graduation to the Major Leagues. The California native finished fourth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting that year and became the 16th rookie in the modern era to throw a no-hitter, accomplishing the feat against San Diego on Sept. 3. But Smith’s time in St. Louis was short-lived, as the team traded him to the Phillies at the 2002 Deadline after he had posted a 6.94 ERA over 48 innings.

Cubs: Brailyn Marquez
The Cubs paid Marquez the largest signing bonus ($600,000) given to a lefty on the international amateur market in 2015. That looks like a wise investment because the Dominican now has a fastball that operates at 96-98 mph, repeatedly climbs into the triple digits and peaks at 102 mph. He also improved his power breaking ball and control last year, and he sits at No. 68 on the MLB Pipeline Top 100.

Pirates: Zach Duke
Duke was thought to be a solid prospect after a good first full season of pro ball in 2003, but he really jumped on the scene when he posted a 1.46 ERA and reached Double-A in 2004. That led to him being No. 35 in our Top 50 prior to the 2005 season, the year he made it to the big leagues and took the NL by storm with an 8-2 record and 1.81 ERA in 14 starts. It was the first of six up-and-down seasons in the Pirates rotation and he reinvented himself as a lefty reliever that has led to a total of 15 years in the big leagues.

Reds: Aroldis Chapman
It might be hard to find a lefty who created more buzz than Chapman. First, there was the hype when he became available to be signed as an international free agent out of Cuba. The Reds landed him in January 2010 and after a brief time starting in the Minors, he moved to the bullpen for good and landed on the Top 50 at No. 6 prior to the 2011 season. While his career has been clouded by his domestic violence suspension, there’s no doubt he’s one of the best closers in the game, with 273 career saves to date.

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

D-backs: Tyler Skaggs
Taken 40th overall by the Angels in the same 2009 Draft that netted the franchise Mike Trout, Skaggs joined Arizona during the 2010 trade and became a two-time Top 100 prospect for the organization, peaking at No. 10 on the list in ’13, when he ranked as baseball’s top left-handed pitching prospect. After pitching to mixed results but showing flashes of greatness in seven seasons with Arizona and the Angels, Skaggs appeared to be earnestly putting it all together in mid-2019 before dying tragically due to an overdose in July.

Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw
The Dodgers have had several southpaws who have ranked near the top of our Top 100 lists, but Julio Urias, Greg Miller and Scott Elbert all take a back seat to Kershaw, the No. 7 overall pick as the best high school prospect in the 2006 Draft. The Texas prep product carved up the Minors, needing just 50 starts before reaching Los Angeles shortly after turning 20. With a career 169-74 record, a 2.44 record, three Cy Young Awards and eight All-Star berths, he's already a shoo-in for Cooperstown -- and more dominant relative to his era than Sandy Koufax was in his.

Giants: Madison Bumgarner
Though the Giants selected Bumgarner 10th overall in the 2007 Draft out of a North Carolina high school, there were questions about whether his low arm slot would allow him to develop a quality breaking ball and hold up as a starter. San Francisco tried to change his mechanics with disastrous results early in his first full pro season, after which he went back to what felt comfortable and led the Minors with a 1.46 ERA. He continued to excel in 2009 yet concerns arose when his fastball topped out at 87 mph in the first half of the 2010 season -- but he rebounded to become a fixture in the big league rotation by July and provided eight shutout innings to win Game 4 of the World Series as the Giants captured the championship. He helped key two more titles in 2012 and 2014, recording one of the best postseasons a pitcher ever has had in the latter effort.

Padres: MacKenzie Gore
Gore garnered honors as the 2017 Gatorade National Player of the Year before signing for $6.7 million with the Padres after they had selected him with the No. 3 pick in the Draft. He opened his first full season ranked as MLB Pipeline’s No. 19 overall prospect and had moved up to No. 15 on the list in 2019, when the precocious southpaw paced the Minors (100 IP min.) in ERA (1.69) and WHIP (0.83), ranked second in opponent average (.164), third in strikeout-to-walk rate (28.3 percent) and fifth in strikeout rate (35.7 percent). Gore’s stellar campaign earned him honors as MLB Pipeline’s Pitching Prospect of the Year, and he opened the 2020 season as Pipeline’s top-ranked pitching prospect (No. 5 overall).

Rockies: Jeff Francis
The 2002 first round saw not one, but two, lefties from British Columbia taken in the Top 10. High schooler Adam Loewen went No. 4 to the Orioles and Francis went No. 9 out of the University of British Columbia, the earliest a player has ever been taken out of a Canadian college. He was No. 6 on the 2005 preseason Top 50 after making his big league debut in ’04. That led to spending most of five seasons from 2005-10 in the Rockies rotation. His 2007 season was his best, leading to Cy Young Award votes, but shoulder problems plagued him after that.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

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.