Man, there are a lot of pitchers out there, huh? Luckily for you, Bret just ranked the top 175 of ‘em for dynasty league play this morning, and as always I’d strongly advise you to go wade through those waters before you shake your galoshes around in here. And then I’ll reiterate my warning from last week’s column on outfielders that there is any number of additional guys I probably could’ve highlighted here, but in the interest of saving my own and the editorial staff’s collective sanity, I’ve tried to limit the field to guys I find especially interesting or noteworthy for whatever reason. As always, questions on additional players are more than welcome in the comments. Previous pieces in this series can be found here:
Back-End Types, But In (Or Close Enough To) Their Primes!
Wily Peralta, Milwaukee Brewers – Since leading our Brewers’ 25U top ten list two off-seasons ago, Peralta has never really quite put it together at the big-league level. That’s me being charitable, actually; thanks to a humdinger of a campaign in 2015, he’s posted a negative cumulative WARP in almost 240 innings since. In the most recent 61 of those innings, however, he posted a 2.92 ERA that was not outrageously unwarranted per his underlying performance. His slider improved dramatically after he returned from a mid-season detour to Triple A, and any time a dude with 70-grade moving velocity shows any sign of figuring things out in a rotation, it’s worth some attention.
Kendall Graveman, Oakland Athletics – Graveman gets easily overlooked in most leagues beyond streaming consideration, and the lack of bat-missing stuff is the reason why. Every time he throws five pitches to big-league hitters, four of them are either a two-seam or cut fastball. And while his velocity ticked up consistently last year to where he was sitting 94 on the sinker in September, the two pitches don’t tunnel particularly well, nor do they move exceptionally. He succeeded (insofar as a 104 DRA over 186 innings is an unqualified success for that kind of arsenal) by improving his command and sequencing effectively. The curve showed flashes, with a league-average swing-and-miss rate, and the change is mildly interesting. I dig the fluid mechanics, and he’s a smart pitcher with a solid opportunity. I like him as a late-in-the-draft option for extremely deep mixed or AL-only formats for a crack at some back-end stability.
A.J. Cole, Washington Nationals – Cole made a little noise the other day, when he debuted improved conditioning and a couple extra ticks of fastball, and especially with Max Scherzer’s finger continuing to lurk on into March, Cole is one of the better bets around to log a bunch of innings his year of the sixth-starter role. He struck some guys out last year in an eight-start audition, with both his breaking pitches missing bats at an above-average rate. Combine that with a groundball weapon in his changeup, and there’s some raw material of intrigue here.
Michael Clevinger, Cleveland Indians – Clevinger’s another guy penciled into the sixth-starter role who could end up seeing his share of innings this season. His big-league debut didn’t exactly set the world on fire last year, but he’s got four pitches with ostensible big-league utility, and at 26 there’s some maturity in approach tucked under the cap bill as well. He’s shown roughly strikeout-an-inning stuff across 400 minor-league innings in his career, though spotty control means he projects WHIP uncertainty even in a best-case outcome. As a speculative end-game target in deep leagues, though, you could do worse.
Matt Andriese, Tampa Bay Rays – Andriese doesn’t have an overpowering arsenal, but he commands it pretty well and showed a nice ability to make adjustments on the fly last year across multiple roles, leaning progressively on his curve and change as the season wore on and he stabilized in the rotation. He was wildly inconsistent on a start-to-start basis, though the clutch not-terribleness of his last four starts certainly earned him some fans among those who streamed him in head-to-head playoff matchups. Anyway, don’t expect great things here, but he could have some stretches of mixed-league utility.
Seth Lugo, New York Mets – Lugo might warrant a little more attention in a different organization, but he’s probably penciled in as the seventh man on the Mets’ depth chart and he’s already 27, so the lack of present opportunity is kind of a big deal. Still, he puts a ton of spin on the ball and throws a real yakker that showed promise as a bat-misser.
Luis Perdomo, San Diego Padres – The Padres jumped him from High A after claiming him in the Rule 5 draft last winter, and he proceeded to kind of, sort of hold his on in a big-league rotation at 23. He gave up just a disgusting amount of hard contact, but there’s some projection to a four-pitch arsenal, and he’s still going to be 23 for another couple months.
Bartolo Colon, New York Mets
CC Sabathia, New York Yankees
All of these people will probably wind up on rosters in your league at some point this year, just make sure they don’t overstay their welcome if yours ends up one of those rosters. If you do get the chance to run either Colon or Sabathia out there for a couple starts it’ll be a fun story to tell your grandkids someday, so there’s that.
I’ll pause here before proceeding to point you in the direction of Ben Carsley’s two-part series on pitching prospects for a whole bunch of relevant names, and limit this section here to the following more-manageable list of arms for whom I have a particular affinity.
Sixto Sanchez, Philadelphia Phillies – Armed with a 70-grade name, Sixto’s got a fastball that isn’t far behind, and he’s shown an ability to spin it on the complex mounds. He’s short for a righty, and combined with a lot of work ahead to build a competent changeup, he’s still pretty far down the pole. That could change quickly this season, however, if he’s able to do some damage as a teenager in full-season ball.
Touki Toussaint, Atlanta Braves – If you’ve ever caught Touki on a good day, there’s just no way you’ll ever, and I mean ever, be able to quit him. The fastball’s got life and a couple gears in reserve, and the curve is one of the best in the minors, a true hammer with jelly-leggin’ vertical action. He’s also an elite athlete, which is the reason it’s so tantalizing to think about the potential for command improvements. He’s been slow if reasonably steady on that front, and there’s still a non-zero chance it all clicks for him at some point. That’s enough to warrant investment in most deep leagues, and if you’re going to gamble on upside to close out a trade or a draft, he’s not a bad investment.
Franklin Perez, Houston Astros – Perez won a bunch of fans on the BP Prospect Team last year, and it’s easy to see why. He carved up full-season ball at 18 with a nasty moving fastball-change combo, and the Astros are internally high on him. We’ll need to see how the hook develops before we get a better sense of his ceiling, but there’s some projection to the frame that suggests he can grow into enough command to stick in a rotation.
Luiz Gohara, Atlanta Braves – It’s been a slow burn for the Brazilian, but Gohara really started to come into his own last summer, and capped off a nice full-season debut with an electric fall campaign that saw him reportedly sitting high-90’s. If you’re like me and you have a particular affinity for watching huge, round men hurl small, round balls really hard, Gohara’s going to be your dude. The body’s going to be an issue to monitor, and he’s still a million years away from developing a quality third pitch, but the steps forward last year were real and encouraging.
Ariel Jurado, Texas Rangers – I caught Jurado last spring on a bitter day when he had no feel for spin and still came away impressed with his advanced pitchability and command projection. He’s probably not going to miss enough bats to ever evolve into a fantasy rotation anchor, but he’s a high-probability arm with the ability to provide consistent SP4 or 5 value depending on league depth.
Adalberto Mejia, Minnesota Twins – Mejia is easy to overlook, because the pure stuff isn’t all that eye-popping, and he lacks the kind of athleticism or projection to expect any more than what he’s got. None of his pitches miss a ton of bats, but he commands decently and his frame oozes, uh, durability. He is a walking, talking Twins Pitcher, for (limited real-life) good and (not terribly interesting for fantasy) bad. He’ll be as relevant in deeper leagues as his matchups and innings totals are as soon as this summer.
Enyel De Los Santos, San Diego Padres – De Los Santos is all fastball right now, but he’ll show 95-96, and there’s projection on his immature frame for another couple ticks. He also shows an ability to maintain arm speed selling a change, and that’s notable because his arm speed is outstanding. The limiting factor here is that when I say “immature frame,” this thing’s still calling people names in the lunch line. He has progressed on an accelerated timeline so far though, and he’ll bear watching as he enters the mid-minors.
Jose Albertos, Chicago Cubs
Welcome to the part of the program where we talk about dudes with enormous fastballs, even more intimidating distances to go before they sniff a big-league mound, and more than enough questions about their command and secondary development to suggest they may never quite get there. As a 2015 bonus baby, Albertos is the farthest away, though his ceiling might be the highest of the lot.
Argenis Rodriguez, Texas Rangers – And, finally, we come to my shoot-the-mooner. After an apparent deal with the Giants fell through in 2012, Rodriguez ended up signing five months later with Texas, and if you’re looking for a random A-ball candidate to turn some heads this year, why not make it Rodriguez? At 20 he rolls with an advanced arsenal that’s led by a fastball that can find 96 when he’s making a point with it. He has some feel for his secondaries as well, and showcased well-advanced command in Arizona last summer. He should be in line for a full-season debut this year.
Class of 2016!
Dustin May, Los Angeles Dodgers – Kate Morrison did the thing where she says what everyone’s thinking but is too scared to say in our Ten Pack last week, when she comped May’s ceiling to Noah Syndergaard. Is that wildly inappropriate given that Thor’s one of the best pitching assets in fantasy baseball! Of course, and well acknowledged as such by the author. But it’s on the table, and that’s all you need to know for now in order to go out and target this kid in your draft.
Mitchell White, Los Angeles Dodgers – I just wrote up White in that same Ten Pack, so I’m just going to go ahead and point you in that direction again. The punchline is that if you like Walker Buehler you’re going to like White, too. He can move up some prospect lists this year, and he’s one of my favorite bets to do so.
T.J. Zeuch, Toronto Blue Jays – Zeuch reminds me of a not-quite-as-gangly David Paulino, as a 6-foot-7 shorty with a big fastball-curve combo and quality plane. The 21st-overall pick is less of a project in the command department than most guys with his dimensions, as he controls his body very well and shows an ability to repeat effectively. He logged just 34 innings last summer after signing, but could move fairly quickly into the high minors.
Cole Ragans, Texas Rangers – Taken 30th overall out of high school, Ragans is your classic projection lefty with athleticism, a quality fastball, and some natural feel to spin the ball. He utilizes his size well to attack the lower portions of the zone, and the body control portends a solid command profile down the line. The stuff probably limits him to a mid-rotation projection, but he can develop into another steady option in that capacity.
Dakota Hudson, St. Louis Cardinals – I wrote prescient things about the eventual 34th-overall pick around this time last year, and the fact that he – an advanced college arm with a deep arsenal – got tapped by a Cardinals organization that churns guys like him out into their big-league rotation as a matter of course was a most welcome development for fantasy purposes. He was a reliever in his first two college seasons, so after he logged 113 innings last year St. Louis put the breaks on him after signing. He’s a guy that can move pretty quickly this season with the gloves off, however.
A.J. Puckett, Kansas City Royals – Puckett’s stuff ticked up last spring, and combined with solid pitchability and command it boosted his draft stock all the way into the second round. Puckett is very likely a better in-real-life prospect than fantasy investment, as his profile will lean heavily on mixing pitches and locating to stay ahead of hitters. He’s one of the higher-probability arms in the class to make it to a big-league rotation, so for that reason he’s radar-worthy in deep leagues.
Joey Wentz, Atlanta Braves – Jeff Paternostro is our resident Wentz enthusiast, and I’ll encourage you to read the goods on the fireballing southpaw here. The CliffsNotes version: he shows three potential plus pitches, but there are some lingering health and durability questions after the stuff ticked down before the draft. If he’s healthy this year, watch out.
Austin Franklin, Tampa Bay Rays – A third-round prep arm, Franklin’s a big boy with the kind of frame that innings hang on. He boasted one of the better fastballs of the high school class, and the pitch has potential to get under a ton of barrels. And there’s a strikeout weapon to boot, as his curve flashes plus with swing-and-miss downer action. He’s going to take some time to grow into body control, but there are some interesting pieces here, and the Rays are good at maximizing value with this sort of profile.
Mason Thompson, San Diego Padres – Who doesn’t love a good flier? Thompson was once-upon-a-time heralded as a potential top-of-the-class arm, but a busted elbow in his junior year of high school put the kibosh on that. Still, so impressive was the raw talent pre-injury that he garnered more than double slot value in the third-round last June. He’s an utter and complete mystery, and some people are into that kind of thing.
Class of 2017 and Beyond!
Alex Faedo, University of Florida – Faedo entered the spring as more or less the consensus top college arm, though he tossed a bit of a clunker last week after opening the season strong on Opening Day. He boasts arguably the best combination of size, stuff, track record, and projection in the country, with a fastball and slider that can both play as plus pitches, along with the makings of a decent change and quality command. He’s had a couple arthroscopic knee surgeries, but otherwise doesn’t have much of anything standing in his way of a top-five overall selection in June.
Kyle Wright, Vanderbilt – Wright has a picture-perfect starter’s frame, with even a tick of additional projection remaining thanks to his athleticism and broad shoulders that can wear good weight for days. The stuff is there to compete against right- and left-handed hitters alike, and a strong spring could have him very much in the running to become the second Commodore in three years to go first overall.
J.B. Bukauskas, University of North Carolina – The third member of the college triumvirate, Bukauskas has come out of the gate firing this season, striking out 21 and surrendering just eight baserunners over 13 innings in his first two starts. He’ll be another interesting test case in the mold of Carson Fulmer this year, as he’s an undersized right-hander with some kinks in his delivery that could dredge up the specter a future in high-leverage relief. His slider might just be the best in this class, and it’s good enough that a full spring of video game numbers is very much on the table. In terms of raw swing-and-miss stuff, Bukauskas may have the highest fantasy upside on this list.
Alex Lange, Louisiana State University – Lange has been on the national radar for a long time, as a once-upon-a-time top high school prospect who subsequently dominated the SEC in his freshman campaign. He took a step back last year, but has come out of the gate looking really sharp this spring. Both the fastball and curve can eventually play to plus, and he has made some strides with his change as well. There are some command flags over the effort in his delivery, but barring catastrophic injury this spring it is unlikely he sees more than a handful of arms go off the board in front of him this June.
Tanner Houck, University of Missouri – Houck can claim arguably the best fastball in this class, and as such a place in this column despite question marks elsewhere. He’ll work up to 98 with unfair movement – so much so that he can struggle to command the thing well around the zone. He generates that dance with a low three-quarter slot that, coupled with less exciting secondaries, raise questions about what kind of role he’ll ultimately find most suitable.
Hunter Greene, Notre Dame High School (CA) – I already extolled Greene’s virtues on the other side of the ball in discussing his potential as a shortstop, but it’s worth reiterating that he’s probably going to get drafted as a pitcher, and potentially as the first prep right-hander to go first overall. He was hitting 96 comfortably in his first start of the spring last weekend, and as one scout I spoke with about him summed up: “He’s just really, really talented and athletic. He’s going to be awesome.”
D.L. Hall, Valdosta High (GA) – Fire up the siren emojis and bold Erik Bedard’s name in the middle of ‘em, because we got ourselves a live one here. Hall touched 96 in his first start of the spring last weekend, and he features one of the best curveballs in the class. The velocity alone from the left side should get him drafted early on Day One, and there’s enough physicality to project consistency and command down the line.
Jacob Heatherly, Cullman High (AL) – A thick-assed lefty with a power sinker, Heatherly has impressed with his ability to drive his low-90s two-seamer down in the zone, and while there isn’t a ton of projection left with which to envision additional velocity, there’s enough in the tank already to build on. He lacks the secondary polish and fantasy upside of the three prep names above him, but he’s got a chance to generate some draft pedigree this spring.
Shohei Otani, Japan – The Japanese wunderkind posted an absolutely disgusting Age-21 season in leading the Nippon-Ham Fighters to an NPB championship, throwing up a .322/.416/.588 line in 382 plate appearances while simultaneously dropping a 1.86 ERA and whiffing more than 11 batters-per-nine across 140 innings. Word ‘round the ol’ campfire is that Otani stands to be posted after the 2017 season, which would put him in line to head stateside at 23. This is one of the most heralded international talents in a long time, and in leagues without player universe restraints he should already be long gone. If he’s not, make him so immediately.
Shintaro Fujinami, Japan – Otani sucks up the vast majority of helium, but dynasty players would be wise to also pencil Fujinami onto their long-term watch lists, as his performance on the bump is not far behind. The 22-year-old sits mid-90’s with extremely advanced secondaries, including a slider with bite and a nasty splitter. He’s still growing into consistent body control, and with additional physical projection remaining, it may be a while until he gets there. That doesn’t matter too much for our purposes as of the here and now, however, as Fujinami’s name has not been bandied about for early posting as of this writing, and he’s still a few years away from eligibility on that front.
Thank you for reading
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