National League Pitching Prospects
Reds prospect Homer Bailey is the most major league-ready prospect for next season. (Jamie Squire / Getty Images)
Homer Bailey, RHP, Cincinnati – Bailey will be the most hyped player on this list heading into next season. He has the highest long-term ceiling of anyone in the game, and he's also one of the league's closest pitchers to breaking into the majors. With a combination of talent, polish and opportunity, his fantasy stock will do nothing but climb after drafts this off-season.
A first round selection out of a Texas high school in 2004, Bailey was seen as having a dominant arsenal prior to the draft. His control needed work, but it was hardly a negative for such a young player. The right-hander threw just 12 1/3 innings after signing in 2004, so his first test came at Single-A Dayton the following season. Although he didn't finish with spectacular end results, he showed flashes of brilliance and generally acquitted himself nicely at the level, posting a 125/63 K/BB ratio and a 4.43 ERA in 103 2/3 innings of work. The walks were certainly high, but he was only 19, so it was hardly a reason to complain.
Assigned to High-A Sarasota to begin the 2006 campaign, Bailey showed significant strides almost immediately upon debuting. His mid-90s fastball continued to show explosivenesses and his big breaking curveball proved too tough for minor league hitters, but improvement in his command and the use of his changeup were very encouraging signs. He made just 13 starts at the level, striking out 79 and walking 22 in 70 2/3 innings of work.
The Reds didn't hesitate in promoting the youngster given how dominant he looked, and he responded to the challenge by continuing to excel at Double-A Chattanooga. He made 13 starts after arriving in the Southern League, striking out 77 and walking 28 while posting a 1.59 ERA in 68 innings of work. He also gave up just one homer at the level while recording a 1.43 GB/FB ratio. Despite his young age of 20, it became quite clear by September that he was ready to face more advanced hitters. The Reds were rumored to be considering calling up the right-hander, but he struggled mightily in his first start during September and they shut him down once Chattanooga's season was over.
Bailey should head to Triple-A to begin the 2007 season, and he'll be the first pitcher called upon when the Reds need an injury replacement. If the club's major league pitchers have the good fortune to remain healthy, he wouldn't have any difficulty pushing one of the lesser names aside once he's ready. Since he's still young and his command is only average, a few speed bumps once debuting in the majors would hardly be shocking. However, his fastball-curveball combination is so promising, taking the league by storm also isn't out of the question. He's worth stashing away in deep redraft leagues this spring, and even mixed leaguers should watch for a midseason debut.