Fantasy baseball drafts are this weekend and after releasing my five SP sleepers a few weeks ago, a few more starting pitchers have caught my eye to talk about today.
I’ve targetted these pitchers in many of my fantasy baseball leagues at the end of the draft, mostly in 12-teamers, but still with a few that can be quietly grabbed in 15-teamers and AL/NL-only leagues.
Initially, this was going to be just six starters…and then I made it 10. Then 11. Sometimes I just can’t help myself
Jared Shuster (LHP, ATL)
I didn’t expect to care about Jared Shuster in the slightest this March, but with Ian Anderson and Bryce Elder optioned to Triple-A and Michael Soroka still ramping up, Atlanta has a hole in its rotation that Shuster is expected to fill out of camp (Sorry Dylan Dodd, you’ll get your chance later in the season. [I really do like you, too]).
Shuster has impressed mightily during the spring, boasting a 1.45 ERA, 0.59 WHIP, and 18 strikeouts with just 4 walks across his 18.2 innings of work, showcasing a filthy slider/changeup combo against right-handers and sitting 93-95 on his heater. Despite the four-seamer not jumping off the page, he does a great job of locating it to set up his devastating secondaries, allowing him to travel deep into starts – he went six frames against the Mets and had no issue seeing the lineup a third time.
Throw in a fantastic situation as a starter for Atlanta (great offense, solid defense) and a possibility of sticking in the rotation even when Soroka demands a spot (Kyle Wright has a barking shoulder, and don’t forget the injury histories of Charlie Morton and Spencer Strider), and you’re looking at a potential breakout candidate at the cost of 20th round pick. Sign me up.
Hayden Wesneski (RHP, CHC)
I debated if Wesneski actually deserved to be on this list given the helium he’s received this spring, but he’s still relatively easy to grab late in drafts and it’s hard to find someone with his potential for such a cheap cost. Simply put, his slider is phenomenal at missing bats while his sinker and cutter do a great job getting strikes to set up the breaker.
One of the struggles of picking SP late in drafts is finding strikeout and Win volume and while Hayden is unlikely to flirt with 15 Wins this year, he should flaunt a 25%+ strikeout rate on the back of his fantastic breaking ball (99th percentile in PLV!), while mitigating hard contact consistently – his 17.4% hard contact rank would have ranked second among all starting pitchers last season if he qualified.
Jameson Taillon (RHP, CHC)
This is a simple one. Jameson Taillon is a relatively safe ratio arm who has a solid early matchup against the Brewers and has suddenly sprouted an improved breaker that pushed him toward a nine-strikeout performance in the spring. We’re looking at potentially 170 frames of a 3.80 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 24% strikeout rate with double-digit Wins and that’s oh-so-lovely at a pick this late. That projection is generous – absolutely – but Taillon does have the opportunity and if the new breaker is allowing him to boost his strikeout rate in any form, he’ll be an arm that doesn’t leave your squad until the season ends.
He’s an oft-overlooked arm with an ADP of 253 on FantasyPros at the moment. Be wise and target him in your drafts.
Matthew Boyd (LHP, DET)
Y’all know I’m a Boyd Boy, but we haven’t seen Boyd be the man we fell for since 2019. However, this spring he’s flexed the skills that made us fall for him in the first place with a fastball sitting 92/93 and a slider that misses bats easily. He’s also flexing a new changeup this spring that could keep his strikeout rate above 25% like the old days while the bouncy ball of 2019 is a thing of the past.
It’s hard to find strikeouts late and Boyd’s recovery from TJS has kept his draft price depressed through the spring. However, I’m all for taking a chance and seeing how this one plays out early in the year. He could surprise many.
David Peterson (LHP, NYM)
With José Quintana on the shelf for months, the fifth spot in the Mets’ rotation is Peterson’s to run with and that should get you all kinds of excited. His slider excelled last season with a 25%+ swinging strike rate and his command this spring has been fantastic:
David Peterson is clearly executing the Blake Snell Blueprint (4S up, breakers down) and it's glorious.
Dominated today and featured a harder slider as well.
He's the SP #5 IMO and a very sneaky late flier. pic.twitter.com/Oa50uyU7XB
— Nick Pollack (@PitcherList) March 14, 2023
I’m a massive advocate for drafting late pitchers with cushy opening matchups and a date with the Brewers, Marlins, and Athletics set for the SP #5 in New York, Peterson could be a phenomenal play in April, if not for a long part of the season.
Clarke Schmidt (RHP, NYY)
Another rotation spot opened in New York, but this time it’s in the Bronx with Carlos Rodón taking things slow to protect his arm for the 2023 season. It may be a battle between Domingo Germán and Clarke Schmidt when Rodón does return (mid-May?), and Schmidt may be the one to roster in the end. He introduced a cutter this spring that has helped him earn strikes, but the belle of the ball has been his increased slider usage that propelled a sparkling seven-strikeout outing. If Schmidt leans into the sweeper for near 40% usage, he could be the envy of fantasy managers everywhere, pitching in front of a solid defense and powerful offense.
Sean Manaea & Alex Cobb (LHP/RHP, SFG)
I’m combining both of these starters into one as both have raised an eyebrow as members of the Giants this spring. Sean Manaea’s velocity is jumping off the page at 94+, which could turn him into an overwhelming arm in fantasy leagues. If Manaea can find any consistency with his changeup & slider, Manaea’s sinker could push a 14-15% SwStr with its new velocity and cruise through the year.
Meanwhile, Statcast darling Alex Cobb wasn’t much on my radar despite his unfortunate 2022 season, but a tweak to his approach this spring with a new slider could change everything. The pitch could become the strike offering Cobb desperately needs, allowing him to feature his splitter more as a weapon than a “get out of jail free” card in tough counts.
Both arms are going outside the Top 200 players in drafts, with Manaea barely drafted in standard 12-teamer leagues. Circle them as a viable option to pad out your rotations, though you may want to take a backseat against the Yankees to kick off the season.
Eduardo Rodriguez (LHP, DET)
This time last year, we were anxious to see Eduardo Rodriguez in a new uniform. The 2021 season brought little favor to Erod with a .363 BABIP, but the promise of a better Detroit defense mixed with a middling division pushed him into Top 40 SP conversation for some.
Now a year later, Rodriguez is sporting increased velocity (93 mph, not 91/92!) and a similar approach that saw him push his strikeout numbers above the 25% mark in prior seasons. As the opening day starter for the Tigers, he’ll be looked to be the workhorse through the season, clearing the path to double-digit Wins and over 180 strikeouts. The ERA and WHIP are still a bit in question, but if the changeup is cooking, the new velocity will take care of the rest.
Nick Martinez and Seth Lugo (RHB, SDP)
Wins are a tough stat to find deep in drafts and yet Nick Martinez and Seth Lugo can both be found well past the 400th pick of drafts as the SP #4/5 for the Padres. There are few better situations out there and with the Padres missing Joe Musgrove for the first week of the season and likely utilizing a six-man rotation, Martinez and Lugo could cruise to 5/6 frames and a Win many nights of the year.
I’m encouraged they both can take advantage of their roles. Martinez’s stuff was under-utilized last season and he’s already showcased a better sinker approach in the spring, helping him carry a 0.96 ERA and matching WHIP this spring. Seth Lugo has been stretched out properly and if his stuff matches what we saw last year, his production will satisfy fantasy managers.
With an easy opening schedule for San Diego on the horizon, don’t overlook grabbing Martinez or Lugo at the end of your drafts to stream at least in the very first week. Who knows, it could be June and you realize you never let them go.
Any thoughts on Jake Woodford starting the year in the Cards rotation? Pretty solid minor-league numbers and former compensatory 1st rounder. The strikeouts are lacking, but he could probably pick up some easy wins too.