Earlier this week I released my top 25 hitting prospects to target specifically in 10- or 12-team redraft leagues. We have a great series about how to value prospects in dynasty formats, but this list—now about pitchers—will also focus exclusively on hurlers that should have fantasy relevance at some point in 2020, and how you should treat them on draft day and during the regular season.
Ordering a group of pitchers from 1-25 while factoring in team status, the likelihood of an early-season promotion, service time manipulation, and everything else is no easy task, so I chose to break my list up into tiers to better demonstrate how I would value each of these players this season.
Smoke Start ‘Em If You Got ‘Em
(Really Good and in Rotation)
1. Jesus Luzardo, LHP, OAK (ETA: Opening Day)
Luis Robert was the very obvious choice for the top hitting prospect to target in redraft leagues, and the same can be said for Jesus Luzardo among pitchers. The electric left-hander is penciled in as a rotation piece for Oakland right out of the gate this upcoming season, and the A’s already indicated he will not have an official innings limit.
Of course, Luzardo only threw 55 innings last year thanks to a shoulder injury, and while he topped 100 innings in 2018 (109.1), it would be really surprising to me if he goes over 150 in 2020—either because of a stint or two on the IL or just general fatigue. Still, those 150ish innings will be well worth it. Luzardo posted a 1.50 ERA and a 16/3 K/BB ratio in 12 big league innings out of the pen last year, after posting a 3.19 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 26 percent strikeout rate in seven Triple-A starts.
Equipped with a 70-grade fastball and slider as well as a rapidly developing changeup, Luzardo has the makings of a future ace. He should be a strikeout machine in the big leagues, and while there’s always a chance for growing pains in a pitcher’s first big league campaign, I’m quite content nabbing Luzardo in the middle rounds of 10 and 12 team formats. I suspect his value will only go up in future years.
2. Jose Urquidy, RHP, HOU (ETA: Opening Day)
All signs currently point to right-hander Jose Urquidy taking a spot in the Astros rotation alongside Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers, and Josh James. We’ve fallen for Houston pitchers before (a la James), but Urquidy seems like a good bet to make a lot of starts for the Astros next season, and he’ll be a highly sought-after commodity on draft day.
Urquidy doesn’t overpower hitters, with a fastball in the low-90’s, but he possesses elite command and a strong batch of secondaries, led by his 60-grade changeup and two plus breaking balls. That alone makes him less of a bullpen risk than most starting pitching prospects—which is something I personally value quite a bit when it comes to rankings.
Urquidy is a worthwhile target in both 10- and 12-team leagues, and there is a definite possibility of 175+ quality innings. He likely won’t rack up the strikeouts, but if he can keep the ball in the yard he’ll be a useful Toby-type arm in 2020.
3. Mitch Keller, RHP, PIT (ETA: Opening Day)
Pirates right-hander Mitch Keller is perhaps the most obvious bounceback pitching candidate in all of baseball, and those of you who can get him at a discount after his 7.13 ERA in 48 innings last year should be foaming at the mouth.
Keller’s underlying numbers were excellent: 3.19 FIP, 3.78 SIERA, 28.2% strikeout rate, and an 8.0% walk rate. He got ridiculously unlucky, with a .475 BABIP that was among the worst in baseball.
Considering the success he had in Triple-A (3.56 ERA, 123/35 K/BB ratio) and the fact that he will start this season in Pittsburgh’s rotation—with the potential to throw 180 innings if he stays healthy—I’d be gobbling him up at his current 243 ADP (according to Fantrax).
4. A.J. Puk, LHP, OAK (ETA: Opening Day)
I’ve voiced my concerns about A.J. Puk in previous articles, but he’s still someone to have on the radar at the tail-end of 10- and 12-team drafts, especially after Oakland announced he won’t have an innings limit this year as a member of their rotation.
Still, Puk didn’t quite top 40 innings last year after coming back from Tommy John surgery and expecting him to throw even 120 innings this year is optimistic, to say the least. There’s also still a chance he pitches out of the bullpen, although Oakland seems committed to him as a starter at least for now.
Puk has a wicked fastball as well as a good slider and changeup, which should be enough for him to make it as a starter, but his stuff would play up very well in a relief role. I’d be willing to snag Puk near the end of drafts, but don’t be surprised if he spends time in the minors and/or the bullpen in 2020.
Tier 2: The Clint Eastwood Tier
AKA Are You Feelin’ Lucky, Punk?
(MLB Experience, But Not Currently in Rotation)
5. Michael Kopech, RHP, CWS (ETA: April/May)
Many more casual fantasy owners will forget about Michael Kopech, who threw 14 innings with the White Sox in 2018 before he lost all of the 2019 season to Tommy John surgery. However, there is a reason he drew comparisons to Noah Syndergaard early in his career, and I would not be surprised at all to see him reach Chicago’s rotation early in the year, even though current projections don’t list him there.
Armed with a legitimately elite fastball that reaches the upper 90s with movement as well as a great slider, a solid curveball and a developing changeup, Kopech could be putting away hitters in the weak AL central for the vast majority of the MLB season.
He’ll likely be capped at 150 or so innings, some which he’ll throw in Triple-A, but even those innings make him worth a look on draft day in 12-teamers. If he ends up on your waiver wire early in the year, have your trigger finger ready. He’ll be up soon enough, and you’ll want him on your team.
6. Brendan McKay, LHP, TBR (ETA: May)
50 innings is the cutoff where a pitcher is no longer a prospect, and therefore ineligible for this list. Keller snuck just under at 48 innings pitched, but he was bested by Rays left-hander Brendan McKay, who threw 49 innings in 13 appearances (11 starts) for Tampa Bay last year.
McKay had mixed results, with a 5.14 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP but a 4.03 FIP and a 25.9 percent strikeout rate. He was much, much better in AAA, with a 0.84 ERA and a 40/9 K/BB ratio in six starts, while also dominating in AA (1.30 ERA, 62/9 K/BB).
McKay has a fastball and a cutter, both of which grade out above average, as well as two plus offerings in his changeup and curveball. Mix in borderline elite command and you have a pitcher who should be near the top of a big-league rotation for the next decade or so.
Tampa is hard to predict, and McKay is not currently expected to begin the season in their rotation, but he’s not a terrible gamble in the last few rounds. He’ll probably be up in the first month or so of the season, and 160+ innings with a decent ERA, above-average WHIP, and good strikeout numbers is not out of the question for the left-hander.
7. Dustin May, RHP, LAD (ETA: May)
Although it came mostly out of the bullpen, Dodgers right-hander Dustin May looked really solid in his first big league action—posting a 3.63 ERA (2.90 FIP) with a 32/5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 34.2 innings.
May isn’t expected to begin the season in LA’s rotation, and with a plethora of choices, it’s really hard to nail down just how much pitching he’ll actually do with the Dodgers in 2020.
Talent-wise, he is among the best on this list and if he was a lock for 150 innings, I’d probably take him second or third. However, the Dodgers muck things up when it comes to predicting pitcher innings, enough that I wouldn’t take May until the final few rounds of a 12-team league, and only if you can afford to stash him.
8. Tony Gonsolin, RHP, LAD (ETA: June)
I really wanted to put a shrug emoji next to the ETA for Tony Gonsolin, but WordPress apparently hasn’t kept up with the times. Sigh.
In reality, when a Dodgers pitcher is going to get called up, how long they’ll stay up, and whether they will be in the rotation or the bullpen is nearly impossible to tell. Dodgeritis is a real thing, and while Gonsolin is an absolute stud, I could absolutely see him getting used out of the bullpen for most, or all, of 2020.
However, just the potential he has as a starter is enough for him to make this list. His fastball now sits in the upper 90s, and his splitter is truly devastating. Mix in a plus curveball, an average changeup, and solid command, and you have a guy who should be ownable in 12-team leagues.
For now, I’d leave Gonsolin alone outside of deep or NL-only formats. If he does get the call as a starter, he’s worth a stream and probably worth owning if he sticks—but that’s rarely the way the Dodgers do things, so prepare for a bumpy ride.
Tier 3: I Stream, You Stream, We All Stream for These Streams
(In Rotation, But Not as Good as Tier 1)
9. Patrick Sandoval, LHP, LAA (ETA: Opening Day)
The Irish Panda is all set to be the Angels No. 5 starter this season, and while the team does have some depth options behind him, it seems likely the job is his to keep.
After a breakout 2018 season across three levels, Patrick Sandoval was not able to replicate that same success in 2019. He posted a 6.41 ERA in 15 starts in AAA, albeit in the loaded PCL, and managed just a 5.03 mark in the show, but with a 4.02 xFIP and a solid 24.9 percent strikeout rate.
Sandoval’s ceiling is fairly limited, unfortunately, thanks to a not-so-great fastball and middling command. His changeup looked good last year, and his slider is nice, giving him some upside, but he’s probably best served as a streamer or deep-league option.
10. Justus Sheffield, LHP, SEA (ETA: Opening Day)
At the end of 10- or 12-team drafts, I’d rather gamble on an arm like Whitley or Gore for my final spot than take someone like Sheffield. However, Sheffield is almost certainly going to begin the year in the M’s rotation and has an extremely real chance at throwing more big-league innings in 2020 than both Whitley and Gore combined.
The upside Whitley and Gore provide far exceed anything you are going to get out of Sheffield, and it’s worth drafting and crossing your fingers—if you need to drop them, you can drop them and find quality talent on the waiver wire.
In 16+-team leagues or AL-only formats, however, I’d way rather have Sheffield (for redraft, obviously). Sheffield is unlikely to have a lot of relevance in those shallower formats, but he’ll get the opportunity to pitch every five days for Seattle this season, in a rotation that could feature Kendall Graveman, Cody Anderson, Nestor Cortes, and fellow prospect Justin Dunn. Yuck.
Sheffield didn’t do so hot in AAA or the majors last year, and command issues will likely prevent him from being a huge fantasy contributor, but I could see him throwing 160ish innings in Seattle next year, with decent strikeout numbers and an ERA closer to four than five. Do you want that in a 10- or 12-teamer? Probably not, but he could be a streaming option and a deep league pickup in 2020—enough to crack this list.
Tier 4: The Tom Petty Tier
AKA The Waiting… Is the Hardest Part
(Really Good, But Won’t Be Up for a While)
11. MacKenzie Gore, LHP, SDP (ETA: August)
MacKenzie Gore is the best pitching prospect in all of baseball. Luzardo and Whitley are close, and some will argue for Matt Manning or Nate Pearson (more on them later), but for me it’s Gore.
He comes in at No. 11 on this list because I’m not confident he’ll make his big league debut before August, and there’s a chance he’s not up at all until 2021. Gore absolutely tore through High-A last year, but only made five starts at AA and has yet to reach AAA.
San Diego has a full rotation, and while many of them are injury prone, they also have five or six other fringe arms that could get the call before they are willing to start the service clock on Gore. As such, I wouldn’t count on him much in redraft leagues. He shouldn’t be drafted, like basically everyone in this tier, but he should be watched very closely.
12. Forrest Whitley, RHP, HOU (ETA: June)
Let’s just get this out of the way: Forrest Whitley was bad in 2019. He was bad in AA (5.56 ERA, 18.5% walk rate,) he was worse in AAA (12.31 ERA, 8.07 FIP, 12.6% walk rate), and he was even bad in two appearances at rookie ball, walking nine in just 4.1 innings. I guess he had a good two-game cameo in High-A, but sheesh.
Whitley’s puzzling 2019 season has called into question his mechanics, his focus and his maturity—but never his stuff. That’s because his stuff, especially when he’s finding the strike zone, is excellent. Whitley has a high-90s fastball with riding life, as well as a cutter and one of the best changeups in baseball. Along with two above-average breaking balls, it’s obvious why Whitley is considered one of the few pitchers with ace potential in the minors.
How soon he can reach that potential, or even reach the big leagues at all, is very murky after his rocky 2019 campaign and of course the litany of options the Astros have for their rotation. Whitley will probably start 2020 at Triple-A, and if he appears to have fixed his command issues and looks good out of the gates, he could be an option midseason for Houston if they suffer any injuries. Still, I don’t see any reason to draft Whitley in redraft leagues except in the deepest formats, and I’d rather have him squarely on the watch list, ready to pick up if he looks good and gets the call.
13. Nate Pearson, RHP, TOR (ETA: July)
There are a lot of people a lot more confident than me that Pearson will throw a lot of meaningful innings for Toronto this season. It’s true their rotation isn’t very good, but similar to San Diego they have a lot of depth arms that could get a chance over the flame-throwing right-hander—especially if the team wants to keep him down to gain an extra year of control, something the Blue Jays have long prioritized as a smaller market team.
Pearson made 18 starts in AA and three in AAA last year, demonstrating excellent run prevention and walk numbers with fluctuating strikeouts, making him closer to the show than guys like Gore and Whitley, but I still think his overall lack of experience (120 professional innings) and the dearth of arms in Toronto will keep him in Triple-A for the majority of the year.
Pearson is going to be a stud, with a huge fastball (80-grade from Fangraphs) and two plus secondaries, making him a must-add if he gets the call, but I’m comfortable leaving him on the waiver wire until then, at least in 10- and 12-team leagues.
14. Matt Manning, RHP, DET (ETA: August)
I’m a bigger Matt Manning fan than most, ranking him as my third highest pitcher in all of baseball behind Luzardo and Gore.
However, the Tigers have so, so many pitching prospects close to the big leagues—as well as a lot of young MLB starters—that it’s really hard to project a realistic innings count for Manning this year. The 22-year-old absolutely dominated in AA last year, with a 2.56 ERA in 24 starts, but with Beau Burrows, Kyle Funkhouser, Alex Faedo, Joey Wentz and two more names on this list, Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal, all in the mix for starts, it’s going to get messy.
I still think Manning will make a few starts in the big leagues down the stretch, and he’ll be must-watch TV and immediate streaming material when it happens. You won’t want to miss out, but unless you stash MiLB players he’s not worth drafting out of the gate.
15. Casey Mize, RHP, DET (ETA: August)
Most of what I wrote about Manning can apply to Casey Mize as well, although Mize only made 15 starts last year thanks to shoulder injuries, and his performance dipped down the stretch.
With more concerns about his longevity and ability to stay healthy, I bumped him below some of the other notable prospects. I still think he pitches in the big leagues this year, giving Tigers fans something to look forward to. However, there’s more likelihood he regresses or gets injured, which would make him an even riskier draft-day investment—and one I wouldn’t suggest in any redraft format.
16. Sixto Sanchez, RHP, MIA (ETA: August)
You’ll start to see a pattern with all the players lumped together here. Sixto Sanchez dominated in AA last year, with a 2.53 ERA and elite command in 18 starts. He’s quite young (just 21) and is blocked by a lot of young arms in Miami’s system. Plus, just like with Detroit and Toronto, it may not benefit them to give Sanchez a look too early, as they won’t be competing for anything down the stretch.
Sanchez will be a fantasy asset in virtually all formats as soon as he is up, but considering how late into the season that might be, it’s hard to invest much in him outside of a spot on the watch list and a careful eye for injuries in Miami.
17. Spencer Howard, RHP, PHI (ETA: August)
Spencer Howard bucks the trend a little bit here, with less experience above High-A (just 30.2 innings in AA) and on a team that has their sights set on competing in 2020, as opposed to continuing the rebuild.
However, Howard has dominated at every stop along the way, and at age 23 it’s not impossible Philly looks to him for a little added playoff push down the stretch—assuming he continues to dominate in the minor leagues.
Once again, he’s not worth drafting in redraft leagues, except maybe the deepest NL-only formats. However, plop him on that watch list next to Pearson, Manning, and Mize and be ready to snatch him up if and when his number is called.
18. Tarik Skubal, LHP, DET (ETA: September)
I’ve been banging the drum on Tarik Skubal long before his breakout 2019 campaign put him all over the dynasty radar. An electric left-hander with a high-90s fastball and a devastating breaking ball, Skubal looks like a quick-to-the-big-leagues advanced college pitching prospect, which could be enough for him to pitch in the Motor City this summer.
Of course, like Mize and Manning, he has plenty of competition for those innings. And there’s still a part of me that sees Skubal’s profile and thinks lights-out reliever instead of frontline starter, which could curb his fantasy appeal.
The same advice (add to watch list, but don’t draft) applies here, but if I had to pick players to pick up in anticipation of a call-up, I’m taking the earlier names first.
19. Deivi Garcia, RHP, NYY (ETA: August)
Deivi Garcia is one of the few pitchers in this tier with experience at Triple-A, having thrown 40 innings at that level in 2019 with a 5.40 ERA and a 5.77 FIP, along with a 25.3 percent strikeout rate and an 11.2 percent walk rate.
Garcia may be closer to the big leagues, just based on his overall experience, but he’s still just 20 years old and the results have not given me enough to believe he’ll be a big-time fantasy contributor in 2020. I’m confident he has the tools to be a good starting pitcher in the show, but I also see potential bullpen risk here, especially since half his AAA appearances came out of the pen and control issues continue to haunt him.
Garcia should be monitored closely in spring training. With James Paxton hurt and Domingo German on the restricted list, there is an opportunity for an early call-up if things don’t go well with some of the other starting options (including Luis Severino). Still, I almost dropped Garcia down to Tier 5 because while I do believe he pitches in the big leagues in 2020, I’m not confident he’ll be an immediate, must-add pitcher like the names on this list before him.
Tier 5: The Sum 41 Tier
AKA In Too Deep
(Will Pitch in the Bigs in 2020, But Probably Not Well)
20. Justin Dunn, RHP, SEA (ETA: April)
This tier is sort of an extension of the streaming tier, although I suspect these guys will be streamed far less often, and probably only in deeper formats.
We’ll start with Sheffield’s potential rotation partner, Justin Dunn. Dunn was one of the big pieces in the Robinson Cano/Edwin Diaz trade, which will eventually be referred to as the Jarred Kelenic trade (says the prospect guy). However, it probably won’t ever be known as the Justin Dunn trade. Dunn made his big league debut late last year, walking five in two-thirds of an inning. He didn’t really ever recover from that, finishing with a 2.70 ERA in 6.2 innings but with a terrible 5.76 FIP and just five strikeouts compared to nine walks.
While Dunn has over 200 career innings pitched in AA, he has yet to pitch at all in AAA and hasn’t proven he’s ready to be a steady rotation arm just yet. If he can get more consistent with his delivery, his command should stabilize and allow him and his solid repertoire to settle in as a middle-of-the-rotation starter and quality fantasy asset.
I’m not banking on him doing that in 2020 however, and I think he’s more likely to spend the year stuck in traffic on I-5 between Seattle and Triple-A Tacoma next year, with a handful of good starts and even more bad ones. Stream him in deeper leagues, but don’t pay him mind on draft day.
21. Shun Yamaguchi, RHP, TOR (ETA: Opening Day)
The Blue Jays signed Yamaguchi, a 32-year-old Japanese right-hander, for a modest two-year, $6 million dollar deal. With little else to go on, it’s hard to know exactly how Yamaguchi fits into Toronto’s plans. We know he struck out 194 in 181 innings in the NPB last year, along with a 2.78 ERA, and we know he’s supposed to feature a plus fastball and a splitter/slider combo that’s pretty devastating.
Whether he will be Toronto’s No. 5 starter—which could net him some value as a streamer or deep-league piece—or a run-of-the-mill middle or long reliever is hard to say. He’s not worth picking on draft day, but if he wins a rotation spot he’s certainly worth having an eye on.
22. Brent Honeywell, RHP, TB (ETA: June)
Honeywell doesn’t exactly qualify for this tier, but if you can believe it I didn’t really have enough pitchers to create the “missed the last two years with injuries but has really good stuff and should pitch in the big leagues this year but maybe not as a starter” tier, so I plopped him here instead.
Honeywell is nearly 25 and has not pitched above AA, or at all since 2017, so he’s not exactly the easiest to get a read on. What we do know is that his stuff is absolutely filthy, and he finished 2017 at Triple-A with outstanding numbers (3.64 ERA, 2.84 FIP, and a 29.1% strikeout rate).
If he’s all healed up and his stuff hasn’t regressed (two big ifs), he should be in the big leagues by midseason, and could reasonably be a fantasy asset down the stretch. Of course, there’s a lot that needs to go right—and even if it does it would not surprise me if Tampa transitions him to the bullpen to keep him healthy and to see that fastball consistently hit triple digits. The stuff is good enough for him to be a top-flight fantasy starter, but I would be surprised if that happens at any point in 2020.
Tier 5: The Atlanta Braves Tier
23. Ian Anderson, RHP, ATL (ETA: August)
It was easy to lump all three of these pitchers together since their fates are codependent on one another, but in reality, Anderson probably falls under Tier 4 while Wright and Wilson are Tier 5, so I’ll list him first.
Anderson has far and away the most potential out of this trio, with “frontline starter” written all over him if he can continue to improve his command.
However, at age 21 and with just 24 innings above AA, Anderson probably won’t find himself in the big leagues right away in 2020, or even at all depending on if Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson, Kyle Muller and/or Touki Toussaint pitch well in the cameos they are expected to receive.
Atlanta is stacked with young pitchers. I mean, I didn’t even mention Mike Soroka, Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb or Max Fried, who are around the same age and experience level.That’s why this tier exists. While Anderson could be the best of the group, he’s also the least ready for the big leagues, making it unlikely he debuts before July/August or so.
24. Kyle Wright, RHP, ATL (ETA: June)
In 25.2 big league innings spread out across 2018 and 2019, Wright has been bad. He has a 7.71 ERA (6.79 FIP) along with a hideous 15.7% walk rate and a 1.83 HR/9. That will have him far, far away from most fantasy drafts, but there is some reason for optimism for the tall right-hander going forward.
For starters, Wright looked good in Triple-A, going 11-4 with a 4.17 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 116/35 K/BB ratio and a much more palatable 1.04 HR/9. Additionally, he has one of the most polished four-pitch mixes in the minor leagues, with a solid fastball (although it has a concerningly low spin rate) as well as a plus changeup and two distinct breaking balls that each flash plus at times.
He still has command issues, and like Anderson he has a lot of names he needs to overtake in order to pitch any meaningful innings in 2020, but there’s an outside chance he’s a relevant streaming option at some point.
25. Bryse Wilson, RHP, ATL (ETA: June)
Wilson is a lot like Wright, a young right-hander who is highly-regarded for his arsenal, but who has not had success at the big-league level just yet.
In 27 innings, also spread out over 2018-2019, Wilson has a 7.00 ERA (5.76 FIP), a 1.85 WHIP, and a not-so-great 22/16 K/BB ratio. Also like Wright (noticing a theme?), Wilson had a good season in AAA, with a 3.42 ERA (3.68 FIP) as well as a 1.21 WHIP and a 23.4% strikeout rate and a 5.2% walk rate. Wilson seems more likely to eventually transition to the bullpen, despite a strong arsenal, and it’s hard to see him having a huge impact at the big league level in 2020.
Again, he could be a streaming option if he’s pitching well in the rotation, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Tier 6: The Trails of My Tiers
(Just Missed the Cut and Didn’t Get a Write-Up)
Logan Gilbert, RHP, SEA
Devin Smeltzer, LHP, MIN
Brady Singer, RHP, KC
Anthony Kay, LHP, TOR
Jon Duplantier, RHP, AZ
Adbert Alzolay, RHP, CHC
Cristian Javier, RHP, HOU
Clarke Schmidt, RHP, NYY
Brandon Bailey, RHP, BAL
Graphic adapted by Zach Ennis (@zachennis on Twitter and Instagram)