A significant challenge when competing in a dynasty format compared to a seasonal format is assessing, then reassessing, players as they are progressing through various stages of development, overcoming injury, or taking on different levels of competition. With each new piece of information, we are presented with an opportunity as a dynasty manager to make savvy additions or subtractions from our squad that will propel us to the ultimate goal of winning a championship.
Dynasty Breakouts and Breakdowns will be a series that analyzes any range of players, from major league veteran to newly drafted rookie, and everyone in between. I’ll provide a handful of players that I’m higher on (breakouts) or lower on (breakdowns) compared to their industry ranking and assess each from a dynasty perspective.
Targeting undervalued prospects or knowing when to cut bait on a declining veteran is a never-ending journey, I am here to help, hopefully.
Matt Brash, 23, SP, Seattle Mariners
2021 (High-A and Double-A): 6 wins, 2.31 ERA, 97.1 innings pitched, 142 strikeouts
One of my favorite prospect breakouts from this past year is 6’1’’ Canadian flame-thrower Matt Brash. Originally acquired by the Mariners as a PTBNL in a 2020 deadline deal with the Padres, he has quickly vaulted himself into contention for a future big-league rotation spot following a stellar 2021 performance.
The former fourth-round pick out of Niagara features a three-pitch arsenal, including a mid-to-high 90s four-seam fastball, a devastating wipe-out slider, and a developing changeup. The fastball/slider combination is one of the best in the minor leagues, especially the latter, which generates a ton of whiffs and can easily be classified as a plus pitch.
Matt Brash’s slider is ELITE. #SeaUsRise pic.twitter.com/oiKhISzSk9
— Mariners Player Development (@MsPlayerDev) September 3, 2021
Brash had no trouble overpowering minor-league hitters with his two best offerings, but his future in the rotation may depend on whether his changeup can become a quality third pitch.
Good luck containing your excitement as you peruse the box scores from his late-summer starts, which include a number of double-digit strikeout efforts. Seattle rewarded the 23-year-old righty for his second-half breakout at Double-A with a call-up during the last week of their playoff push and although he didn’t make his major league debut, it’s clear the organization values Brash as part of their future. His plus-fastball/slider combo is enough already to have a role in the bullpen, but also will allow an average third offering to play up. For this reason, I expect to see continued refinement of his changeup while at Triple-A which will ultimately allow him to stick as a starter long-term.
Heading into 2022, we’ll see Brash in Spring Training and likely at Triple-A Tacoma to start the season. Keep an eye on the effectiveness of his changeup and whether the organization lets him work deeper into games. For more on Brash, including a look at his different offerings and a breakdown of his 2021 Double-A starts, check out the article from Nate Handy: I Got a Brash Man.
Taj Bradley, 20, SP, Tampa Bay Rays
2021 (Low-A and High-A): 12 wins, 1.83 ERA, 103.1 innings pitched, 123 strikeouts
Previously buried on the Rays prospects lists behind names like Wander Franco, Randy Arozarena, and Shane McClanahan, is someone you may have glanced over, Taj Bradley. Following an impressive 2021 campaign in which Bradley was named the Minor League Starting Pitcher of the year, we’re all officially on notice.
A fifth-round pick in 2018, Bradley’s slow assentation was easily overlooked and a canceled 2020 season prevented us from seeing a giant leap in his development. Scouts raved at his plus-fastball and slider that he complemented with a developing changeup and the addition of a 12-6 curveball. Bradley showcased an improved and consistent delivery which led to an increase in effectiveness as evidenced by a third straight season with a rise in his strikeout-to-walk rate.
Despite a growing list of accolades and reaching the 100-inning mark this past season, Bradley is still a ways away from contributing at the big-league level. He’s only eclipsed five innings pitched once in his career and with only eight starts at High-A under his belt, I expect he returns to Bowling Green to kick off the 2022 season, with a goal of reaching Double-A Montgomery sometime mid-season.
With starting pitchers this young and inexperienced, it’s important to be patient. Generally, I’d recommend seeing if Bradley can show the same level of success against more advanced hitters before going all-in, however, in this case I actually think he is someone worth acquiring for your team before it’s too late. In my leagues, I’m sending a trade inquiry to Bradley’s fantasy manager today, because by the end of 2022, he will have completed his Shane Baz-like ascension into fantasy relevance and could very well be the top starting pitcher prospect in all of baseball.
Nate Pearson, 25, SP, Toronto Blue Jays
2021 (MLB): 1 win, 4.20 ERA, 15.0 innings pitched, 20 strikeouts
Feels like the 2020 offseason all over again with Pearson, as he’s coming off an injury-riddled campaign that was followed up with surgery and now he’s supposedly healthy heading into Spring Training. The Blue Jays former top prospect possesses all-world level talent when he’s on the field, including a triple-digit fastball and plus-slider, and checks all the boxes of what you’d want in a frontline starter. The problem is, and will always be, his health.
If Pearson is truly healthy, the Blue Jays will find a way to get him some innings but I can’t foresee a situation where he is a regular in their rotation. Toronto has said they intend on stretching Pearson out as a starter, but unfortunately, I think we all know how the next iteration of this experiment will end up. We saw a glimpse of the tremendous upside in the 2020 playoffs when he threw two no-hit relief innings and racked up five strikeouts in a win against the Rays, and left us all buzzing.
From a dynasty perspective, I’m only holding Pearson for the potential he becomes an elite reliever. With each passing season and new health concerns, it’s looking more and more likely that we will be seeing Pearson out of the bullpen for the better part of his career. If that is the case though, you may have yourself a scary good closer.
Tyler Freeman, 22, MI, Cleveland Guardians
2021 (Double-A): .319 AVG, 2 HR, 19 RBI, 4 SB, .354 OBP
Cleveland has a plethora of middle infield prospects in the pipeline and one that many seem to be excited about is Tyler Freeman. The former second-round pick routinely ranks in the Top-100 across prospects lists due to his excellent contact skills and a knack for getting on-base.
The big concern for Freeman from a fantasy perspective is whether his power would develop. I’ve never personally been sold on his ability to hit for in-game power and his flyball rate has been on a steady decrease each of his professional seasons.
There was a flash of a breakout during 2020 as reports from Cleveland’s alternate site had Freeman tapping into previously unseen power which sent his fantasy ranking skyward. However, with the 2021 season now in the books, Freeman has a career total of nine home runs dating back to 2017. To make the power outlook bleaker, he had offseason shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum which notoriously zaps hitters of their power.
With recently acquired Amed Rosario (26) and Andrés Giménez (23) handling the middle infield duties and under contract the next few years, Freeman feels like a player who will slide nicely into a utility role and hit decently well in the right situations, but not provide significant fantasy value. While this is a good fit for Cleveland, I wouldn’t say the same for my fantasy team.