The Situation: Stephen Strasburg’s latest mystery elbow problem has landed him on the 10-day DL. He’s only expected to miss one start, but the Nationals have called up their top remaining pitching prospect, Erick Fedde, to take the turn.
Background: Once a candidate to go in the top few picks of the 2014 Draft, Fedde underwent Tommy John surgery to repair a torn UCL just days before the start of the draft. Owing to his considerable talent and the Nationals’ willingness to gamble on injured higher-end talent in the draft, Fedde still went 18th overall and signed for a little over $2.5 million, about $365,000 over the slot value.
Fedde made his pro debut in the summer of 2015 in short-season A-ball, and the Nationals have moved him relatively cautiously, giving him at least a half-dozen starts at each level of the minors up to Triple-A. He spent much of this May and June throwing out of the bullpen in preparation for a potential MLB stretch run role there, but was moved back into the Triple-A rotation at the beginning of the month as Washington’s starting pitching depth eroded. We ranked Fedde 5th, 6th, and 5th in our organizational rankings from 2015-2017, and slotted him as the 62nd-best prospect in baseball before this season.
Scouting: Days prior to Washington moving him to the bullpen in Double-A earlier this season, I said I would have no problem dropping Fedde into a MLB rotation. Relief detour aside, that’s basically what’s happened here: Strasburg’s elbow is the nominal reason Fedde is up, but Joe Ross’ Tommy John surgery is the real cause of a longer-term rotation opening.
Aside from already being 24 and not having pitched a ton as a pro or truly conquered the high-minors due to the role yo-yo, there’s little to nitpick with Fedde that you can’t nitpick with any prospect. He sits in the low-to-mid-90s with heavy life on the fastball, topping out as high as 97. His slider can get a little slurvy, but at its best it’s a two-plane breaker with tricky late movement. As with nearly every pitching prospect, the third pitch—here it’s the change—could use some further development, but it presents as average enough to be a viable MLB offering with potential for more. Fedde also implemented a curveball separate from his slider this season, and it plays as a fringe-average offering immediately. The two breakers will bleed into each other at times, but do present separately when he’s on.
The risk factors here are obvious: 2016 represented Fedde’s first full pro season and the Nationals have already toyed with the idea of a relief conversion; most of your typical durability and pitch selection concerns do apply here too. Fedde was headed for a placement somewhere on the back of the midseason top 50 before Washington moved him to the pen, where he didn’t particularly stand out even if the makings of a pretty good fastball/slider late-innings guy are there. Given his advanced age, it raised just enough uncertainty about the future profile that he fell off the list.
Immediate Future: Edwin Jackson currently has a rotation spot for this team bound for the playoffs, so there’s certainly opportunity for Fedde to stick in the rotation. Few prospects are more prepared to handle being a fourth or fifth starter in a first-division team, and Fedde shouldn’t be asked to be any more in the short-term. Ironically, Washington set him up to not have to worry about bumping an innings cap with the two months in the pen, so he could start or relieve deep into the playoffs if needed. In 2018 and beyond, he should nail down a spot in the middle of Washington’s rotation. —Jarrett Seidler
Fantasy Take: There isn’t a ton to see here with Fedde, at least insofar as his debut is widely expected to be a one-and-done affair for the time being. The Nationals have jerked him around a bit between the rotation and bullpen in the high minors, and he’s only four starts in to a return to the former role. He thew 71 pitches in his most recent outing, which caps his potential to work deep into things on Saturday. In spite of the prospect of marginal limitation, he makes for an interesting streaming target, as the Rockies are a poor offensive team away from Coors, where they are especially prone to putting balls on the ground. That plays right into Fedde’s extreme groundball profile, even allowing for the Washington infield’s relatively porous fielding (they rate 21st in team efficiency on grounders).
I’d be willing to take the gamble in daily transaction leagues where you’re in need of pulling some streams together to prop up your pitching staff. In longer-term leagues with a debut requirement, Fedde warrants some consideration for moderate investment in medium-depth (12-plus) formats. He’s not an overwhelming pitching prospect, but he’s a solid one who is well-positioned to graduate into what figures to be a rotation well supported by a quality offense into next season and beyond. —Wilson Karaman