March 3, 2016
Dynasty League Positional Rankings Continued
Starting Pitchers on the Ocean's Floor
Welcome down to the depths below the positional top 50—or in this case the top 175—where each week we scavenge for potential crumbs among the current professional ranks and look mercifully into the future for the next wave of fantasy talent at each position. This series is geared towards those of you in deeper dynasty formats, particularly those either with a mid-season minor-league draft or with no eligibility restrictions on the player pool. This will be the last installment of the series for this year, as we’ve already completed our look at the position players, and since we’ll be pivoting next week to relievers I figure I’ll spare every one clicking on a link that just leads you to a giant shruggy-emoticon guy. Here’s the positional series breakdown thus far:
Pitchers, man. What to do about the next wave of pitchers. This is a monster column today in part because there are so many pitchers, but also because it turns out they’re a volatile lot. There’s a league’s worth of “almost/so close” guys already in the majors, about a billion upside guys in the minors, and oh-by-the-way a potential international bonus baby on every Latin American street corner. But seeing as how the likes of The Ghost of CC Sabathia and Joe Kelly’s Great Stuff made Bret Sayre’s Dynasty League Top 175 list (go read that if you haven’t already), the bar is fairly low for consideration. I tried to keep this as brief as possible (I failed), so if you have questions about someone who should have been covered but wasn’t (there are plenty, I promise) just toss their names into the comments.
Hey, These Guys Are Major Leaguers!
Chad Bettis, RHP, COL – Bettis was quietly effective on balance last year, posting a top-40 DRA among starters who logged at least a hundred innings, and backing it up with a league-average cFIP. An elbow injury knocked him out for most of August, and his performance flagged significantly in the half-dozen starts before he hit the shelf. In another organization he’s an interesting young arm generating some sleeper buzz right now, but as is he’s a potential matchup play for NL-onlies. Still, if he can replicate his early- and late-season success over a more sustained calendar we may just be on to something in spite of the home park by this time next year.
Tanner Roark, RHP, WAS – We’re just a year removed from Roark dropping a top-20 season on the lot of us, thanks to a 285 ERA and 15 Wins. However, that effort belied a below-average 105 cFIP that suggested imminent regression, and sure enough, his 2015 encore went…not good. Yet under the piles of unpleasantness, the persistent will note some reasons for cautious optimism: his absurd homerun rate can’t possibly be sustainable, especially given a 94th percentile average exit velocity. In other words, when he missed his spots last year he got squared up at an inordinate rate, and with presumed positive regression ahead and a presumed rotation spot on lock (run along now, Bronson) the 29-year-old may just be a year away from “consistent peripheral over-performer” status and a sort of cushy but worn chair at the latter stages of the top 175.
Josh Tomlin, RHP, CLE – Tomlin reinvented his curveball after the 2013 season, and the pitch emerged from its cocoon to log an elite whiff rate in the 170 innings he’s thrown over the past two seasons in a swingman/spot-starter role. After struggling to scrape a five-per-nine whiff rate over his first three seasons in the league he’s set down north of eight-per during that stretch, all while maintaining his hallmark outstanding control. He earned eight mixed league dollars last year in just 10 starts, and while he’s currently on the outside looking in at a rotation spot he offers intriguing upside as a deep league speculation play.
Adam Warren, RHP, CHC – Warren is basically a poor man’s NL version of Tomlin, entering the spring as a potential sixth-starter after a season in which he showed interesting skills in a swing role. His stuff played down considerably when he took the ball every fifth day, but he still managed to produce usable top-end numbers (albeit with below-average strikeout totals). The demonstrated success, league-switch, and team context make him an appealing NL-only flier, and he immediately creeps into mixed-league relevance—and potentially next year’s top 175—with a starting gig for a sustained stretch.
Tyler Lyons, RHP, STL – Sensing a theme here? At 28 Lyons is out of options, so despite his sixth starter profile he’ll more than likely break camp in the bullpen. He’s a longer shot for relevance to be sure, but any time a pitcher has an elite pitch—any elite pitch—he belongs on a radar or three. He’s struggled to execute his north-south game plan consistently with the fastball, leading to some nasty home-run issues, but the raw stuff is there for a halfway decent starter if the opportunity presents itself.
Trevor May, RHP, MIN – May was cFIP’s little darling all year in 2015, and I wrote him up accordingly a couple times in the Starting Pitcher Planner. The Twins preferred Mike Pelfrey’s…whatever they liked about Mike Pelfrey, and ended up scooting May to the bullpen in the second half, and given that the likes of Tyler Duffey and Tommy Malone are currently penciled into the back of Minnesota’s April rotation with May reprising his setup role, his name right here may be all for naught. But last year he gained command of a pretty nasty arsenal that’s easily deep enough to start, and it should surprise no one if he catapults onto our list next year if he can find some way to finagle another shot at the rotation.
Chris Heston, RHP, SFG – Dude threw a no-hitter as a rookie, and he’s one of my favorite archetypes of hurler: the guy with fringy velocity but more movement than he can consistently handle. Command will always be an issue because his pitches wander so far, and the aforementioned lack of velocity puts something of a cap on his strikeout projection. But the Giants will return an infield defense that was the most efficient in baseball at turning grounders into outs last year, so if and when Heston gets another crack at starting—say it with me, he’s currently sixth on the depth chart—he and his 53 percent groundball rate should perk up some heads. An injury opening the door to a sustained run in the rotation could very easily land him among the top 175 a year from now.
Roenis Elias, LHP, BOS – Elias is a left-handed Cuban junkballer who now pitches for the Red Sox, so I’m morally obligated to mention him here.
Jeremy Hellickson, RHP, PHI – Hellickson’s DRA was 117th among starters who threw a hundred innings last year, he was injured and bad the year before, his DRA was 119th the year before that, and it was 100th (and a run and a half north of his ERA) the year before that. Hellickson is not good, but he’s still somehow just 29, he’s got a rotation spot, and if Mike Minor’s day-old s’mores of a shoulder capsule can crack Bret’s list this year, so to can Hellickson stagger into the 170’s if he learns a new pitch and lucks into a dozen Wins or something.
Chris Tillman, RHP, BAL – He’s the Orioles’ Ace™ and they went to the playoffs a couple years ago, so…that’s all I got, really.
Justin Nicolino, LHP, MIA – Sure, why not?
I’ll note up top here that if you haven’t already you should check out Ben Carsley’s “Get To Know” series for starting pitching prospects (Part I: For 2016, Part II: For 2017 and Beyond) for more intel on some options, as I’m only going to talk about some of my favorite guys (and some of the more interesting ones for other reasons) in this Monsanto cornfield of a crop.
Antonio Senzatela, RHP, COL – If he were in literally any other organization there’s a strong chance you’d have already read about him in Bret’s piece. But the recently-21-year-old Venezuelan fireballer is property of the Colorado Rockies, and thus… oof. I recently tabbed Senzatela as a likely candidate for next year’s BP101, and you can find my scouting report here. Suffice to say, it’s not every day a 20-year-old up and whiffs nearly a batter an inning while leading the California League in ERA, WHIP, and average-against. His deception and delicious fastball could—could—be enough to help him tame Coors one day. Regardless, he’s a legit young arm that is very likely to jump onto the top 175 list by this time next year.
Zack Godley, RHP, ARI – Godley made a somewhat miraculous jump from High-A to the majors last season, and he acquitted himself well in a half-dozen starts and a few relief appearances. His bread and butter is a low-90s cutter that holds its plane and generates weak flyball contact, and he pairs it with an outstanding hard curve with a well above-average spin rate to generate whiffs. The command isn’t the greatest, and a fly ball pitcher in Arizona is not an awesome profile, but a successful campaign in the high minors with some additional big league success sprinkled in could very easily toss him into the mix.
Joe Musgrove, RHP, HOU – If you like command guys who stay off barrels, Musgrove is your guy. Shoulder woes derailed the former supplemental first-rounder’s early career in Toronto, but he came back strong to crack a hundred innings last year with elite production across three levels. He works off a low-90s sinker with outstanding plane and command (seriously, dude walked eight guys all year while whiffing 99), and his curve and change can both play. It’s not the sexiest fantasy profile, but in deep leagues he’s a really interesting arm down the Houston depth chart.
Yoan Lopez, RHP, ARI – The big ticket Cuban import put together a maddeningly inconsistent debut season for the Snakes’ Double-A squad last year. Blister issues cost him a bunch of time, and difficulties harnessing his potentially-plus fastball-curve combo left him with uninspiring production and as many question marks as you can fit on Matthew Lesko’s suit.
Keury Mella, RHP, CIN – The Giants shipped Mella to Cincinnati in the Mike Leake deal amid a season of progress in refining his delivery and developing his secondaries. A crossfire delivery and higher-stress motion have led to some shoulder soreness, and neither of his secondaries has quite caught up to his plus-or-better riding fastball. So while the risk of a future in the bullpen is on the higher end, the pure stuff is electric and an SP3/high-leverage relief profile isn’t the worst once your get this deep.
Adalberto Mejia, LHP, SFG – Mejia is ”husky,” to put it politely, and his high-maintenance body brings to bare the standard questions about durability. He also lost most of 2015 to a PED suspension and subsequent rust upon return. But! The solid mid-rotation upside he’s shown dating back to 2014 remains very much intact, and as Bret noted in our Giants’ prospect list this is a boom-bust type with the potential for a significant value jump if the stuff he displayed down the stretch and in the AFL shows up again this spring.
Colin Rea, RHP, SDG – He’s probably not going to be that great a pitcher, but he may have a starting gig from the jump and while Petco doesn’t play like the all-caps version of itself from a few years ago anymore, it’s still a sweet home park for a back-end guy.
Tyler Jay, LHP, MIN – Jay was taken sixth overall last June, and after relieving in college (though as more of a multi-inning “super reliever”) and relieving in his pro debut he’ll transition to starting this year. His slider has shown as a potential plus-plus pitch out of the pen, and he pairs it with a fastball that has sat in the mid-90’s in short spurts. Both his curve and change show above-average flashes as well, and if he takes to starting there’s potential for a quick ascent into the top half of next year’s starting pitcher list.
James Kaprielian, RHP, NYY – I saw plenty of Kaprielian last spring at UCLA, and he was pretty much the exact same pitcher each time out. That consistency’s a good thing, as he’s a pretty good pitcher, albeit one without a ton of fantasy upside. He’ll show an above-average across-the-board mix of four pitches, and he commands them reasonably well. It’s a real-life mid-rotation starter profile, but one who lacks a ton of whiffs and relies on Wins and innings to accrue fantasy value. Basically he’s a boring fantasy play, but one with a good chance to increase his stock into top-175 territory by next year.
Ashe Russell, RHP, KCR – The 21st pick is a prep arm with matching plus projection grades on his fastball and slider, but a long developmental road ahead and enough mechanical flags in his slingshot delivery that he might ultimately end up in the bullpen. It’s an intriguing profile if he can stick it out in the rotation, however, as guys with some deception who sit 92-95 with movement are worth gambling on now if the format’s deep enough.
Walker Buehler, RHP, LAD – Buehler would likely have made Bret’s list with ease if he weren’t in the middle of Tommy John rehab right now as we speak. The former Vanderbilt ace’s slight build has always a source of skepticism among scouts, and sure enough his elbow popped in time for the Dodgers to scoop him up at a bargain rate last June. When healthy he’ll work in the mid-90s with a full box of secondary tools, but we aren’t likely to see how he looks on the other side until 2017. He’s a wait-and-see right now for dynasty leaguers, though definitely not one who should be forgotten.
Cody Ponce, RHP, MIL – Ponce looked rough coming off some shoulder soreness this time last year, but reports after he signed painted a more encouraging picture. The secondaries—including a nice cutter, potentially plus curve, and straight change—all took steps forward after some mechanical tweaks, and there’s some growth potential here if they come back in similar shape for a full year in 2016. It’s not a top-of-the-rotation profile, by any means, but Ponce could miss enough bats to be fantasy-relevant if he can remain a starter.
Jacob Nix, RHP, SDG – A year after being collateral damage in the Brady Aiken-Astros fiasco, Nix headed to San Diego in the third round. He remains a world away mechanically, and the real-world upside here is more limited. But a solid fastball in a Padre uniform can do some things for some people.
Michael Matuella, RHP, TEX – If he were healthy Matuella would likely have nudged his way into the top 20 of Bret’s 2015 Signees list, but he wasn’t, and given that he suffers from a chronic and degenerative back condition on top of his current Tommy John convalescence he pretty much presents all of the risk. The reward may involve a plus-plus fastball and two average-or-better benders, but he’ll need to show some semblance of durability before anyone should buy into him in even the deepest of leagues.
2016 and Beyond
Jason Groome, LHP, Barnegat HS (New Jersey) and Riley Pint, RHP, St. Thomas Aquinas HS (Kansas) – These two have been discussed in tandem as the likeliest candidates to go first overall for the better part of two years now, so we might as well keep them together here. Groome has been on the receiving end of Kershaw comps on account of his size and repertoire—one that features a nasty curveball—and is generally regarded to have the marginally higher upside of the two. For his part Pint works off the best fastball in this class and pairs it with the raw material for two above-average secondaries, and the gap between them (if there is one) will likely end up quite narrow, barring spring injury. Prep arms are never the awesomest investments in dynasty formats, but if you’re in a deep league and find yourself in the market for one, make it one of these two.
Reggie Lawson, RHP, Victor Valley HS (California) – That is, of course, unless you make a play for arguably the most electric arm in southern California in this class. Lawson already works an extremely easy 94-95 thanks to outstanding arm speed and a powerful, direct drive. I like his mechanics a lot; the arm action is extremely clean, with no wrist pronation and an elbow that works downhill to his release point at foot strike. He’s a potential first rounder, and one capable of racking up gobs of strikeouts someday if his secondaries develop on schedule.
A.J. Puk, LHP, Florida and Alec Hansen, RHP, Oklahoma – Might as well keep with the package deals, as these two entered the spring as the consensus top two collegiate arms in the class. Unfortunately both have also started their respective springs with shaky performance. Puk was wild last weekend in a loss to Miami, and while he’s shown plenty of the swing-and-miss stuff that put him at the top of the pre-season watch list he’s also struggled to repeat and harness it. The southpaw is a monster of a physical specimen, you see, checking in at 6-foot-7 and north of 230 pounds, so repeatability issues aren’t necessarily surprising (or alarming at this stage). At his best he’ll sit mid-90s with excellent extension to help it play up, and back up the gas with a nasty slider and advanced change.
Hansen has looked uncomfortable in both starts thus far, first failing to make it out of the second inning amid four walks and a hit batter and then coming unraveled in the fourth inning of his second start last weekend. He’ll touch triple digits with his heater, but he’s flirted repeatedly with elbow soreness over the past couple years, including bouts that knocked him out of summer and fall play last year.
Kyle Funkhouser, RHP, Louisville – The Dodgers wanted the Funk with the 35th pick in last year’s drafted, but he turned down an on-slot signing bonus reportedly north of $1.7 million to return for his senior year at Louisville. Once thought to be a potential top-of-the-draft talent last year, Funkhouser’s stuff took a step back during his junior year, and while he improved his walk rate he still struggled with his command and consistency from a delivery that lacks high-end athleticism. He’s gotten bombed in two starts thus far, walking eleven guys in nine innings, so the decision to leave seven figures on the board isn’t looking so hot right now.
Matt Krook, LHP, Oregon – The Ducks’ ace missed all of last year after going under the knife (Tommy John, of course), but has come back strong thus far to reestablish himself as one of the best left-handed pitching prospects in the class. He’ll top out in the mid-90s with movement and a potentially plus hook, and his sturdy frame may or may not have been built by NASA scientists. If the stuff holds all spring in the PAC-12 he’s got top ten potential.
Robert Tyler, RHP, Georgia – If the early returns on his junior season are any indication, Tyler may be one of the sharpest risers in the draft class. He suffered some dreaded “forearm strain” that left him ineffective and disabled for much of his sophomore season, but he’s healthy now and has come out of the gate throwing high-90’s darts to go along with a plus change and decent curveball. His delivery relies an awful lot on his arms speed, raising questions about durability and (inevitably) health. But his 21-to-1 ratio of strikeouts to walks in his first 11 innings this spring is eye-popping, and the raw stuff backs it up.
Cal Quantrill, RHP, Stanford – Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Quantrill was on a trajectory towards the short list of top 10 candidates in this class before undergoing Tommy John surgery last year, and Stanford’s ace isn’t likely to log many innings before the draft this spring (he’s just now throwing off a mound). He was sitting low-90s with movement (Paul Quantrill is his dad, after all) and a devastating change before the injury, and given the bloodlines and pedigree he’ll be a potential quick riser if he shows well down the stretch this spring.
Norge Ruiz, RHP, Cuba – The soon-to-be-22-year-old was considered the consensus best pitching prospect in Cuba when he defected last year, and he’s currently hanging out in the Bahamas awaiting clearance from MLB to grant him free agency. He’s short for a right-hander (5-foot-10), so that’s a concern, and his international performance has been uneven in recent years. But he shows a deep and above-average arsenal with advanced feel and pitchability, and should slide into the high minors after signing.
Adrian Morejon, LHP, Cuba – Morejon just recently turned 17, so this is a much, much longer-term project than his countryman above. But he’s also probably the prize arm of the J2-level international prospects, and word around the campfire is that he has a handshake deal with the Padres that will become official at the start of the next signing period in July. He dominated an international tournament at 15, and currently sits in the low-90s with highly advanced secondaries and pitchability for his age. The age and proximity issues mean his value outside of extremely deep keep-forevers will remain quite limited for the time being, but especially if he does land with the Padres he’ll have potentially to evolve quickly into one of the better dynasty pitching prospects around.
Shohei Otani, RHP, Japan – Otani’s Hokkaido club has been training in Arizona recently, so the buzz has been fast and furious (relatively speaking) for the 22-year-old phenom. He’s hit triple digits with his fastball and posted a 2.24 ERA with 11 strikeouts-per-nine last season. Unfortunately, he’s unlikely to be posted anytime soon; his club does have a history of posting players early to generate revenue, but barring a substantial overhaul of the posting system next winter (which is possible if not probable) it’s expected to be at least 2019 before he’ll get a shot to head stateside. Highly recommended further reading on Otani by Kazuto Yamazaki can be found here
Edisson Gonzalez, RHP, Panama – Gonzalez dominated for Panama in the Little League World Series a couple years back, and that’s pretty much the extent of the publicly available data.