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Jose De Leon, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
(Strikeouts, ERA, Wins)

De Leon doesn’t get as much attention as phenom Jose Urias, and rightly so, but the right-hander could develop into a no. 3 starter with high strikeout potential.

Year

Level

K%

2014

Rookie

33.8%

2014

Class-A

48.8%

2015

High-A

39.2%

2015

Double-A

33.1%

2016

Triple-A

37.2%

It’s been a meteoric ascent through the minors for De Leon, one that was blunted a bit by an early-season injury. His eight starts this year, though, have functionally been a continuation of his recent success. He’s missing bats at a high level, posting a solid ERA (3.06), and walking too many batters. The latter has a chance to evolve into something detrimental at the big-league level; however, it hasn’t been a death knell thus far. It’s a flaw that should keep him from being an asset in the WHIP category, though.

The question is whether he’ll actually get a chance to break into the big leagues and get meaningful starts. The Dodgers have been ravaged by injuries in the starting rotation, but are beginning to get guys back. Julio Urias will likely hit his innings limit in the near future. That could offer a great opportunity for De Leon to slide into the rotation if the need arises in August and/or September. And for teams needing a late-season infusion of strikeouts, he’s an attractive target.

(NOTE: The Dodgers project to be busy at the trade deadline, too, which could turn into an opportunity for De Leon elsewhere. Moving to a selling team could mean a downtick in “win” probabilities, but any increase in playing time would more than outweigh the downside of moving to a poor ballclub.)

Josh Hader, LHP, Milwaukee Brewers
(Strikeouts, ERA)

Hader grabbed the scouting community’s attention in the Arizona Fall League last year, posting a cool 0.56 ERA and flashing a mid-to-high 90s fastball with a wipeout slider. He has question marks in relation to his delivery and his slight frame; however, few minor-league starters offer the strikeout potential that the Brewers’ southpaw possesses.

The 6-foot-3 lefty laid waste to the Southern League. He owned an 0.95 ERA in 11 starts for Double-A Biloxi and paired that with a 32.7 percent strikeout rate. The Brewers recently promoted him to Triple-A Colorado Springs, which is a hellish venue for pitchers and is ostensibly not a punishment for his impressive start to the campaign. His numbers have expectedly tumbled; however, it’s unclear how much that’s due to the improved quality of competition and how much is due to Colorado Springs’ altitude. To put that in perspective, Colorado Springs is almost 1,000 feet higher in elevation than Coors’ Field in Denver.

Milwaukee could deal a pitcher or two this month—with Junior Guerra, Matt Garza, Chase Anderson, and even Jimmy Nelson potentially on the block—which would clear an avenue to the big leagues for Hader. Once he does arrive, he could handcuff big-league hitters, piling up the strikeouts and posting a decent ERA. The downside is that he could also walk the world while he adjusts to the majors.

Alex Reyes, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
(Strikeouts, ERA, Wins)

Reyes has been a mainstay on top-prospect lists for years, it seems. The 21-year-old offers electric stuff on the mound and gaudy strikeout totals, whiffing over 36 percent of the batters he faced a year ago in High-A and Double-A. A drug suspension knocked him off the rails for a bit, but he’s returned to the mound and is striking out batters 32.1 percent of the time once again.

The pathway to the majors is a bit obscure for Reyes. The Cardinals don’t often rush pitching prospects into the rotation, and their rotation is currently solid and fully stocked. Reyes’ stuff and potential may be too big to ignore, though, and he could wind up pitching meaningful innings in August and September. That may be due to an injury in the rotation—which isn’t inconceivable, given the injury history of some current Cardinals pitchers—or as an impact reliever. And, hell, with the shaky production in the ninth inning, perhaps the Cardinals get creative and try Reyes as their closer. It’s a long shot, yes, as a few guys would have to fail, but it’s undeniable that the 6-foot-2 righty could bring devastating stuff to the closer’s role.

Joe Jimenez, RHP, Detroit Tigers
(ERA, WHIP, Saves)

I wanted to include a minor-league reliever for those who are speculating for saves in deep leagues or in dynasty leagues. Jimenez is one of the most dynamic arms in the minors. He’s allowed just three runs (earned or unearned) and has struck out 59 batters in just 35 1/3 innings. The right-hander touches triple digits with the fastball and features a plus slider to back it up. He throws both for strikes and overwhelms opposing hitters.

The question isn’t whether Jimenez could conceivably find success at the big-league level right now—I think he could—but whether he’s likely to see save chances in the near future. That’s difficult. Francisco Rodriguez has only allowed five earned runs since the beginning of May and has been dynamite; however, we’re all aware of the fickle nature of the ninth inning. It only takes a string of three or four blown saves before managers begin itching for a replacement, whether that’s due to a lack of confidence in the pitcher or simply placating raucous fans, and K-Rod has certainly gone through flaccid periods in the past.

I don’t think this is terribly likely; however, if you’re looking for potential saves and an impact reliever in the minors, Joe Jimenez is your best bet. He’s one of the rare pure relievers who could feature in next year’s Top 101 Prospects here at BP.

Jake Thompson, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies
(ERA, WHIP)

Many have seemingly forgotten about Thompson, who came to the Phillies in the mega-deal for Cole Hamels, but he’s quietly chugging along in Triple-A with a 2.42 ERA in 111 2/3 innings. He’s a prototypical mid-rotation starter who could provide quality rates, while disappointing in the strikeout category. The Phillies have shown a willingness to give big-league innings to minor leaguers—which they should, given their rebuilding status—and Thompson could be the next beneficiary of that.

Fantasy owners shouldn’t get too caught up in his prospect ranking. Despite checking in at no. 36 in the midseason BP Top 50, he’s owns a 17.3 percent strikeout rate in Triple-A and only struck out 20.5 percent a year ago in Double-A. Thompson is a guy who throws four pitches for strikes, has an aptitude for pitching, and should have a fruitful major-league career. He just doesn’t have the overwhelming stuff that projects to translate to a top-30 fantasy arm. Sure, he could sneak into the top-30 on occasion with big win totals and a sterling ERA, but that’s a few years away. The Phillies have to score more runs on a regular basis before anyone should feel comfortable projecting Thompson as a double-digit win guy in the majors.

Of any of the pitchers mentioned in this piece, though, I feel the most confident that Thompson will stick as a starter and hold down a big-league-rotation job. It may be in the back-end of a rotation, but that “safety” is undeniably attractive when scouring the minor leagues for fantasy help.

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balticwolf
7/21
What about Joe Musgrove of the Astros? Doug Fister has spent a lot of time on the DL in recent years. Is it hard to imagine that he'll hit the DL soon or sometime this summer?

And how about Chad Green of the Yankees? If the Yankees accept that their team isn't very good (their recent success against the Orioles is a mirage---several key players and the manager have been struck down by a virulent form of the flu) and start a sell-off, isn't it possible that one of their starters gets moved too? That would open the door for a spot in the rotation for Green.
jfranco77
7/21
Don't forget the Yankees also have Severino in the minors for... reasons.
Muboshgu
7/22
Because his command was poor and he got hit, and had been rushed to the majors.