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September 27, 2013

Fantasy Fool's Gold

American League Starting Pitchers

by Ben Carsley

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On Wednesday, esteemed colleague and scholarly gentleman Craig Goldstein continued our Fantasy Fool’s Gold series with our first look at pitchers, covering some starters in the senior circuit.

Today, I pick up this mantle with four players from the American League who, despite your best intentions, will disappoint you if you rely on them.

Don’t rely on them.

Anthony Ranaudo, Red Sox
One of the better MiLB comeback stories of 2013, Ranaudo was left for dead by many a prospect pundit after an abysmal 2012 campaign that saw him throw just 37 2/3 uninspired innings in Double-A. That came off of a 2011 campaign that disappointed many, as Ranaudo put up lackluster numbers in Low-A and High-A after being drafted in the first round in 2010. He made nary a Red Sox top 10 list headed into the season, and it wasn’t hard to see why: it looked like the pitcher from LSU we all fell in love with was gone forever.

Ranaudo has made us rethink that narrative in 2013. He put up a 2.95 ERA and 8.70 K/9 in 109.2 Double-A innings, limiting his walks to 3.28 per nine. In 30.1 innings in Triple-A, Ranaudo saw both his strikeout and walk rates fall but still maintained an ERA south of 3.00. The Red Sox are loaded at starting pitcher next year, with six viable MLB options and then Ranaudo, Allen Webster and Matt Barnes all knocking on the door. However, with Webster’s 2013 MLB struggles and Barnes’ turbulent 2013, Ranaudo could be the first to get the call should a need arise in Boston.

Unfortunately, scouting reports from Ranaudo’s 2013 aren’t as glowing as his stats. As Chris Mellen wrote in August, Ranaudo struggles to keep his fastball out of the fat part of the plate and his changeup is average at best. I saw Ranaudo with my own eyes in August and was similarly underwhelmed with his command and breaking stuff. It’s not that we’re not working with a good prospect here: he’s just probably not quite as good as some are making him out to be now. Ranaudo is a much better prospect than he was a year ago, but don’t fall in love with this tale of redemption. He’s a no. 4 starter who, barring a trade, will be pitching most of his games in a hitter-friendly environment.

Sam Selman, Royals
Lefties who can reach the upper 90s make scouts, analysts and casual fans fall in love, and Selman is no exception. Drafted in the second round in 2012, Selman can get his fastball up to 97mph, and has a solid secondary pitch in his slider. The quality of said stuff was reflected in his 9.19 K/9 rate and 3.38 ERA through 125.1 innings in High-A. The Vanderbilt product should begin 2014 in Double-A, and his status as a flame-throwing southpaw and with strikeout ability will get him noticed in your deeper dynasty leagues.

However, we must now address the proverbial elephant in our proverbial room: Selman’s control is well below average. He walked 3.28 batters per nine innings in 2012, leading to a WHIP of 1.38. In his write-up of Selman back in June, Zach Mortimer noted that his lack of command makes his fastball play down and projected him as a future seventh-inning reliever. The BP Prospect Team echoed that sentiment as I put together this list, with a Matt Thornton comp being thrown about in the midst of several cries of “reliever.”

In a smaller sample size in rookie ball in 2012 Selman demonstrated the ability to throw strikes more consistently, but he’s not a great athlete and has trouble repeating his delivery. If he takes a bigger step forward with his command than can be reasonably anticipated, his stuff and size give him a chance to start. The odds aren’t good from a scouting perspective, though, and while Selman will begin 2014 as a starter he could end up in relief. Don’t bite on him unless you’re keeping 150-plus minor leaguers.

Asher Wojciechowski, Astros
The best prospect included by the Blue Jays in the fabled J.A. Happ deal of 2013, Wojciechowski has taken small but meaningful steps forward each of the past few seasons. A supplemental first-rounder out of The Citadel in 2010, Wojciechowski’s progress has been sort of boring, if we’re being honest. He spent 2011 in High-A, 2012 in High-A and Double-A and 2013 in Double-A and Triple-A. At some point in 2014, he’ll probably see MLB time. And so it goes.

“Woj’s” 2013 numbers could easily seduce a fantasy owner in a deep or AL-nly league into acquiring him. The 24-year-old put up a 3.56 ERA with a matching FIP, K/9 of 6.99, and a 2.96 BB/9 in 134 Triple-A innings. Given the dearth of talent in Houston’s rotation and in Houston in general, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if Wojciechowski makes 10-plus starts. Unfortunately, the upside here is quite low. Read any scouting report on Wojciechowski, and you’ll hear words like “competitor” and “bulldog,” and those are excellent qualities to have.

What you won’t read are phrases like “high upside” or “strikeout machine,” and that’s really what you’re looking for from a fantasy perspective. It can be tempting to look to bad teams for fantasy opportunity, but I’d also caution that the Astros are so bad that Wojciechowski will only be valuable for ERA and WHIP, and he won’t excel in either category. And for those of you brave, depraved souls in very deep AL-only keepers, Wojchiechowski will start feeling the heat from the likes of Mark Appel, Mike Foltynewicz and others. If he gets very favorable matchups next year, you can consider using him. Otherwise, look to greener pastures.

Mike Wright, Orioles
A fast riser as a third-round pick in 2011, Wright has already reached Triple-A in just his second full professional season. After a solid 12-game stint in Double-A a year ago, Wright began the season in Bowie in 2013. In 143.2 innings there, Wright put up a 3.26 ERA with a matching 3.14 FIP, striking out nearly a batter per inning while limiting his walks to a BB/9 of 2.44. Following a late season bump to Norfolk, Wright now sits on the precipice of fantasy relevance, as he’s a pretty good bet to see the majors at some point in 2014. While many once projected him as a reliever, he appears as much better bet to remain a starter now.

Baltimore should be thrilled with the progress Wright has made and the speed with which he’s made it, but fantasy owners should be less enthused. Wright is big and has the type of frame that lends itself to durability, but his size belies his stuff. Wright’s heater is of the mid-to-low 90s variety, and his slider is not considered a plus offering. The right-hander’s changeup has taken a step forward this year, contributing to his jump in strikeout rate, but he’s not going to blow away hitters at the MLB level. The overall package suggests a back-of-the-rotation type, and one who should only be attractive in AL Only leagues in the short term.

The Orioles already had a shallow system. Then Dylan Bundy got hurt, Nick Delmonico got traded, and Kevin Gausman may lose his prospect eligibility. Wright might appear pretty high up on some Orioles lists this offseason for those reasons and more, but don’t let that fool you into thinking he has the same type of upside as his pitching prospect predecessors or as the up-and-coming Hunter Harvey. There’s plenty of MLB value in a cost-controlled no. 4 starter, but they’re a dime a dozen for fantasy.

Ben Carsley is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

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