While ground balls aren’t the most important thing that a pitcher tends to have control over (that would be his walks and his strikeouts), the rate of ground balls does come into play into the production that a pitcher can put up. They do help limit home runs and power output in general, but they do also go for hits more often than fly balls do.
Still, ground balls are preferable to fly balls. Let’s take a look at who the Top 10 ground ball rate pitchers were among the starting pitchers in the minor leagues this past season. To qualify for this list a player needed to make at least 10 starts in full season baseball or had 5+ starts in rookie ball and 40+ innings pitched.
The top two guys in the system were both guys who spent time both starting and relieving this year. Barrett Astin was quite dominant for Pensacola in 2016. He made 11 starts and 26 more relief appearances, spanning 103.1 innings. He walked 25 batters with 96 strikeouts, posting a 2.26 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP. His ground ball rate was a very impressive 66% on the year. To put that in perspective, the league leader in Major League Baseball is Marcus Stroman at 60.5%. Astin will be pitching in the Arizona Fall League for Peoria when the season begins in two weeks.
Jesus Reyes posted a 2.40 ERA in Dayton, making 10 starts and 20 relief appearances. He threw 93.2 innings in total, walking 37 and striking out 68. He kept a low ERA throughout the season, but his peripherals improved as the season went along. His high ground ball rate kept the ball in the park, allowing just three home runs all season long.
Tejay Antone really sticks out on this list. He led the organization in innings pitched with 156.1, over 25 starts with Daytona and one spot start to end the season with Louisville. His 62% ground ball rate matched his rate from 2015 as well, as he’s been one of the top ground ball pitchers in the organization since he was drafted. He had a 3.45 ERA with 31 walks and 110 strikeouts to go with an organizational best 14 wins (tied with Tyler Mahle).
Other organizational notes
If you’re interested in some more in depth play-by-play information on the minor leaguers you can read about who hit for the most power to different parts of the field in the 2016 season here. I also dove into who was the best bunter in the organization based on how successful each player was in the organization.
Zach Vincej was named the Minor League Gold Glove winner at shortstop for 2016. The award is only given out to one player per position in the entire minor leagues. His .991 fielding percentage was the highest among shortstops in the minor leagues by a decent margin, with the next closest player at .985 on the season. He made just four errors on the season for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos.