Once upon a time, left-handed pitchers seemed to fit a certain mold. They were soft-tossers, finesse types, guys with a keen sense about pitching. The top 10 southpaw prospects break that mold in a big way. Not that they don't know how to pitch, but they come to the mound with big-time stuff along with a feel for pitching.
1. Aroldis Chapman, Reds: When news about his triple-digit fastball in the Minors spread, there surely were a few skeptics. Then the Cuban defector arrived in Cincinnati and popped a 105 on the radar gun, ending any doubt about the fastball. It wasn't an aberration -- Chapman tops 100 mph consistently, especially when he's coming out of the bullpen. Coupling that with a plus slider, he's got all he needs to dominate as a setup man or closer. That's the kind of role he'll have in 2011, at least, meaning he won't have to worry about his developing changeup or his command issues quite as much.
2. Mike Montgomery, Royals: The only thing that slowed Montgomery down last year was a forearm strain. The Royals were understandably cautious and shut him down for two months, but there are no long-term concerns. Montgomery has size, stuff and a very good feel for pitching. His fastball is plus and his curve is close. The changeup is behind, but it's nearly caught up. He commands his pitches well and his size helps create a downward plane. All he needs is more experience and he'll be ready for Kansas City in the near future.
3. Zach Britton, Orioles: In the past two seasons, Britton has gone from an interesting young pitcher to one of the better southpaws in the Minors who's nearly ready to contribute in Baltimore. He gets tons of ground balls while using a hard sinker, slider and changeup. He commands all of them well and has proven to be durable, throwing more than 140 innings three years running. The 2010 Futures Gamer spent half the season in Triple-A and now will wait for the first opportunity to show what he can do at Camden Yards.
4. Mike Minor, Braves: Minor's stuff was pretty good at Vanderbilt, but he fit more of the sensible lefty mold. As a professional, though, his stuff has been much better than expected. His fastball has gained a few ticks, his changeup is a plus pitch and his curve has improved as well. He can throw all three pitches for strikes. It took him a year to get to Atlanta, and he could very well be there to stay. Braves fans should get excited about having Tommy Hanson, Julio Teheran and Minor in the rotation.
Top 10 LHP prospects
5. Martin Perez, Rangers: The 2010 season was one of some adversity on the mound for Perez. Then again, he was a teenager in Double-A. His size, stuff and background (he's Venezuelan) prompts Johan Santana comparisons. It might not be that far off, as Perez has an outstanding changeup, a low-to-mid-90s fastball and signs of an excellent breaking ball. His command deserted him last year, a big reason for his struggles and his 5.96 ERA. But he's got a chance to have three plus pitches and that can top a rotation anywhere in the big leagues.
6. Chris Sale, White Sox: Wow, that was fast. Sale was in Chicago just two months after being drafted in the first round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. And he wasn't there just to check out the scene; he ended up closing games during a pennant race. His long-term role, though, should be as a starter, so he can use his plus fastball, above-average slider and outstanding changeup to greater effect. He has a terrific mound presence and is mature, so he should be able to handle the opportunity to join the White Sox rotation soon without any real difficulty.
7. Matt Moore, Rays: Plus power stuff from the left side, especially the kind that lasts deep into starts, is hard to come by. Moore has it, and that's why he's on this list. He's led the Minor Leagues in strikeouts in each of the past two seasons, becoming the first to top 200 in five years in 2010. He really turned it on in the second half, using his plus fastball, curve and changeup to get a lot of swings and misses. To continue having success as he moves up, he'll have to continue to refine his command. It might not seem fair, but it looks like the Rays have another premium left-handed starter making his way up the ranks.
8. Tyler Matzek, Rockies: The Rockies' top pick (No. 11 overall) in the 2009 Draft, Matzek has all the makings of a future top-of-the-rotation type. He was brought along slowly in his first full season, but still showed glimpses of a four-pitch mix. He always had the fastball when he was in the Southern California high school ranks, and he's still got it. His two breaking pitches, a curve and slider, both have promise, and while his changeup is under-utilized, it has the chance to be a good pitch. He's going to grow and develop, and his command will improve. When that happens, he'll start moving quickly.
9. John Lamb, Royals: There are some who like Lamb more than Montgomery, and for the Royals, that's a pleasant situation. Lamb could be the steal of the 2008 Draft -- he was taken in the fifth round -- as his stuff and pitching know-how are very exciting. His fastball and changeup are his two plus pitches, and while his curve isn't quite as good, it's still an effective pitch. They're made even better by his outstanding command and competitive nature on the mound. Just 20, he and Montgomery will be together to start the year in Double-A, and it will be an interesting race to see who gets to Kansas City first.
10. Manny Banuelos, Yankees: When Banuelos was forced out of action with appendicitis, he took the time and opportunity to focus on conditioning. The effects were noticeable when he returned, with more ticks on the fastball, for one thing. He commands it well, even though he's throwing it harder than he had previously. His other pitches -- a curve and changeup -- are also very good. All he really needs is experience and time to work on being able to throw all three consistently. He's only 20, and even if he's 5-foot-10, 155 pounds, he's got the stuff to be a front-line starter in the not-too-distant future.
To be eligible for the list, a player must have rookie eligibility. To qualify for rookie status, a player must not have exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues, or accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the 25-player limit period, excluding time on the disabled list or in military service.