If you want to select a breakout young pitcher for the upcoming season, look no further than a college recruit rising rapidly through the minors.
Spencer Stryder jumped from Low-A all the way to the majors in his pro debut in 2021 and blossomed into a record-setting rookie in 2022. Short-season Vancouver’s Alec Manuah jumped straight to Triple-A coming out of the coronavirus shutdown and needed three Only starts for Buffalo before being called up to the majors. Shane McClanahan raced to Double-A in his first full season, was called up for the 2020 postseason and was in the Rays Forever rotation the following year.
Having the stuff, the experience, and the ability to quickly adapt to top-level competition all bode well for the league’s success. Increasingly, clubs are moving faster pitchers with such traits through the juniors to help out the big league team, sometimes with great success like La Strider, Manoah, and McClanahan.
Here are five not-so-top-100 applicants who moved quickly in their first full seasons last year. If recent history is any indication, one or more of them will likely have a huge impact on their teams next season and beyond.
Pitchers are listed in alphabetical order.
Sean Burke, RHP, White Sox
In Maryland’s third round in 2021, Burke flew three levels to Triple-A in his full season debut and led the White Sox organization with 137 strikeouts while showing improved control from the college. The former high school basketball star missed his freshman year after undergoing Tommy John surgery and had his sophomore season canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but he quickly improved as he earned flat time. The 6-foot-5 Burke now features an extra fastball raised to 94 mph and a touchdown of 98 with a ride, tailspin, and boundary line as well as a curveball with a tight break, downs, slider, and changeup that both show average potential . More importantly, he improved his putt and learned to drive the ball down to both sides of the plate. With his stuff, athleticism, and improved control, Burke has solidified himself as one of the White Sox’ top pitching prospects and put himself in a position to make his major league debut in 2023.
Robert Gasser, LHP, Brewers
The Padres drafted Jaser in the second round in 2021 from Houston and kept him in the top division, but after he was traded to the Brewers at the deadline as part of a Josh Hader deal, Jaser thrived and was quickly promoted to Triple A in his new organization. The athletic Gasser, who is 6-foot-1 left, features a deep arsenal with a four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter, curveball, changeup, slider, and is a threat to throw them all at any time. His fastballs are at 91-93 mph and topping out at 95 and he’s not overpowered, but all of his pitches play average or better. He generates a good low hole angle, throws strikes and works effectively on both sides of the plate to keep hitters from getting too comfortable. He expects to be a solid fourth baseman, but like fellow Padres turned Brewers left fielder Eric Lauer, he’s jumped under the Brewers’ pitching instructions and can exceed expectations.
Gordon Grisfo, RHP, Cardinals
The Cardinals selected five players before they selected Graceffo in the fifth round from Villanova in 2021, but the 6-foot-4 right fielder already looks like the prize of the draft class. Graceffo quickly climbed to Double-A in his full season debut last year and posted the best strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.96) in the system while showing standout stuff played against top-level hitters. Graceffo’s fastball went from 89-94 mph in college to 94-99 mph as a pro without any loss of drive, his ’80s tight slider has leapt forward to become an extra step and his change-up has become more consistent to grow into a higher pitched voice The mean deviates left. Most importantly, Graceffo has maintained his extra control and sense of progression through speed gains and isn’t afraid to challenge hitters or play inside. He’s now a polished pitcher whose stuff is constantly evolving, which bodes well for his future as a prospective member of the Cardinals’ rotation.
Griff McGarry, RHP, Phillies
McGarry was a top prospect in high school and showed electric stuff at Virginia, but he also walked nearly every run and didn’t show much improvement over the course of his college career. The Phillies took a shot at his pure stuff in the fifth inning in 2021, after which McGarry improved his control enough to quickly climb the system to Triple-A for his first full season in 2022. McGarry features explosive stuff with a high-spin, 95-fast fastball. 99 mph, a plus-slider that rides swings and misses, a new cutter with elite spin rates that get more whiff and a curveball and change both at least average potential pitches. McGarry has come a long way as a professional, but his control is still below average and he has issues staying the line. He has a remote chance of remaining a starter if he hits another big leap with his grip, but in the event he’s most likely to end up bowling, he bowls enough runs in short overs to be a potential late-game stopper.
Chasing Celseth, RHP, Angels
Silseth rocked a 5.55 ERA as the best player in Arizona in 2021, but the Angels took a shot on his arm strength in the 11th round and gave him a signature overage bonus. After revamping his outfield mix, improving his fitness and focusing on execution, Silseth climbed to unexpected heights in pro ball and became likely the first draft-class player to reach the majors when the Angels called him up in May. He spent most of the season at Double-A Rocket City and went 7-0, 2.28 in 15 starts to earn Southern League Player of the Year. Silseth has a lot going for it with a lively 95-99mph fastball missing the bat, a hugely improved curveball and slider that have been reshaped, plus a tough new splitter that was the last piece of the puzzle for his arsenal. He has great poise, elevated presence and stays around the strike zone just enough to remain a player. Silseth is making some effort and faces doubts as to whether he can keep his stuff deep in matches, but he’s made great strides by lasting at least six rounds in six of his last seven finishes last season. If he proves he can continue to hold his own late in games, he’ll be back in the majors before long as part of the Angels’ rotation.
2023 Philadelphia Phillies Top 10 Talking Prospect
Chris Hilburn-Trinkle answered questions about the Phillies system from 1 to 3 p.m. ET. You can read the full text here.