Every Saturday during the 2021 season, I will be posting a list of 10 pitching prospects to stash in redraft leagues. This is important, as I am solely evaluating prospects for their ability to impact fantasy teams in 2021—and not beyond.
With Opening Day finally upon us, it’s time to take a close look at which high profile prospects made the team out of camp, and who is being held down under whatever excuse MLB franchises have come up with in order to manipulate service time.
We got a few fun surprises with both Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize making Detroit’s opening day rotation, but a few other opening day hopefuls, like Mackenzie Gore, Luis Patino, and Spencer Howard, will all start the year in the minors – making them prime candidates to stash in deeper redraft leagues.
For pitchers, I will only be ranking those who are not currently in the major leagues and are prime candidates to stash on your roster while we await their eventual call-up to the major leagues. This means players who are up but in the bullpen (a la Michael Kopech) will not be counted, even though he is a stash candidate in his own way.
I try to rank these players based on overall impact, proximity to the big leagues, and how valuable they’ll be in generic 5×5 fantasy leagues, although some players will hold more or less value in different formats (for example, any of the Rays prospects, Patino/McKay/etc., probably lose value in quality start formats).
Without further ado, here is the first look at the top 10 pitching prospects to stash in the first week of the 2021 MLB season.
1. Logan Gilbert, RHP, SEA – ETA April
I made the bold prediction that Logan Gilbert, not Jarred Kelenic (or Andrew Vaughn or Tarik Skubal or Casey Mize) would win the American League Rookie of the Year award – and while that’s not necessarily grounds for instant fantasy baseball success, it does make Gilbert a name to keep a close eye on in redraft leagues.
Currently, the Seattle Mariners are planning to go into a second consecutive year with a six-man rotation. Behind left-handed stalwarts Marco Gonzales, James Paxton, Yusei Kikuchi and Justus Sheffield will be some combination of Chris Flexen, Justin Dunn and Nick Margevicius battling it out for the final two spots. There are worse end-of-the-rotation arms than these guys, but this isn’t exactly an awe-inspiring group of names pitching every sixth day for the Seattle squad.
Enter Gilbert, a first-round pick from 2018 who made it up to Double-A in 2019 where he threw 50 innings and posted a 2.88 ERA with a 0.98 WHIP and a 28.7% strikeout rate. Reports from the team’s alternate training site in 2020 were extremely promising, and Gilbert benefited from Seattle’s pitching-focused training regimen that has helped add velocity and movement for a ton of their pitching prospects.
Gilbert was up to 97 with wicked movement over the offseason, and that velo bump paired with his 60-grade command and three average-to-plus secondaries make him a potential No. 2/3 big league starter. Whether he reaches that potential in 2021 remains to be seen, obviously, but if you are looking for a pitching prospect to stash in deeper redraft leagues, or just have an extra roster spot and want to find someone to wait on for later in the year, Gilbert is as good a candidate as any on the pitching side of things.
Seattle won’t start his service time clock early, former president Kevin Mather straight up told us all that, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see one of Dunn or Margevicius converted into a reliever while Gilbert steals a spot in the rotation sometime in April, and he’s good enough to hold that spot down for the rest of the year.
2. Matt Manning, RHP, DET – ETA April
There are a lot of similarities between Matt Manning and Gilbert. Both are on bad teams, both dominated in Double-A back in 2019, both had positive reports at the alternate site in 2020, and both are big right-handers with electric secondaries who should be high-quality fantasy contributors throughout their major league careers.
While I have Manning ranked higher than Gilbert on my prospect and dynasty rankings, for 2021 I’m more inclined to believe in Gilbert – although you can’t go wrong stashing either of them if you have the space for it.
Manning, a first-round pick back in 2016, flat-out dominated Double-A hitters in 2019, posting a 2.56 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP with a 28.1% strikeout rate for Erie. He looked more polished than both Mize and Skubal at that level, despite his age, and will head into 2021 in his age-23 season.
Manning’s fastball gets up into the high-90’s and earned a 60 grade from Fangraphs, while his curveball (60) and changeup (55) look like plus offerings as well. Command is a bit of a concern, (part of the reason he is below Gilbert for now) although it has gotten better as he’s risen through the system and still gets a 55-grade future value.
I think Manning has the tools to be a true ace, although a more realistic outcome is a very high-end No. 2 starter. Those ceilings probably don’t show up until 2022, at the earliest, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s on more fantasy rosters at the end of the 2021 campaign than any other pitcher Detroit has currently on their team – and if you can stash him now you could be rewarded quite handsomely come September.
3. MacKenzie Gore, LHP, SD – ETA May
Long considered the best pitching prospect in all of baseball, 2020 was an exceptionally strange year for MacKenzie Gore. The pitching-needy Padres were expected to give Gore a look, if not early in the season, at the very least toward the end of the year when they were cranking out bullpen game after bullpen game. Luis Patino and Ryan Weathers both got looks before Gore, however, and pitchers like Cal Quantrill and Adrian Morejon were relied upon before the team ever glanced Gore’s way.
Gore spent 2020 at the team’s alternate site, and data is virtually impossible to come by, with the team refusing to release any video from the field. That really means all we have to go on is how the Padres reacted to him, and getting glossed over by a handful of other prospects, and not making the team out of camp in 2021 when Morejon did, gives me some cause for concern.
Gore’s never been a huge power pitcher, relying more on deception, location, and his mechanics to get hitters out. But it strikes me as notable that San Diego hasn’t given him a look just yet. Of course, he’s just 22 years old and his 2019 season was absolutely electric in the Cal League, so he finds himself in a favorable spot on this list regardless of the mystery surrounding his last 12 months.
Gore is a must-add in all formats when he does eventually get the call, and he is a player I can see rostering in 16+ team leagues to stash on the bench while we wait for his arrival to the show. It’s a tougher sell to roster him in 12-teamers right now, but if you have a spot and are hoping for a boost later this year, Gore could easily provide that and more.
I’m confident Gore will be worth the wait when he does get the call – and he easily has the potential to be an ace from day one – but I’m more cautious than I was at this time one year ago.
4. Deivi Garcia, RHP, NYY – ETA April
Garcia battled in spring training for that fifth and final rotation spot in New York, eventually losing out to Domingo German and getting sent down to Triple-A to begin the season. Considering New York’s rotation and their age and injury history, it’s entirely possible we see Garcia getting starts in pinstripes very soon – possibly sooner than anyone else on this list.
The reason he’s not higher is that, while his stuff is legit, I’m not sure he will hold up as a full-time starter. Garcia is just 5’9 and 165 pounds, and while he had plenty of success in his six starts with New York last year, it’s fair to wonder if his “power pitcher” approach will hold up for a full season.
Last year in those six starts, Garcia posted an excellent 33/6 K/BB ratio, but a 4.98 ERA thanks largely to a 1.57 HR/9. His command was never all that great in the minor leagues, and while he has a current 50 grade from Fangraphs, fantasy players shouldn’t expect a sub-5% walk rate from Garcia going forward. Ultimately, Garcia’s fantasy value this year will be tied to the health of New York’s current rotation (as well as Luis Severino) but while I’m inclined to believe he could see upwards of 100 innings in the Bronx in 2021, I’m not sure the performance will be worth the wait.
I think he’s a fine stash candidate in deeper leagues or AL-only formats, but otherwise, I’d keep him on the watch list and be ready to pounce when he does get called up, which could happen early in the year.
5. Luis Patiño, RHP, TB – ETA April
Patino was the most difficult player for me to rank on this list. For starters, he is on a team that is loaded with big-league ready or near big league ready prospects. In addition to a full rotation of veterans, Tampa Bay could also roll out any of Josh Fleming, Shane McClanahan, Trevor Richards, Brent Honeywell, Joe Ryan, Brendan McKay or Shane Baz at some point this year, and trying to determine where exactly Patino is in that pecking order is a difficult task.
In my mind, the 21-year-old right-hander is the most promising pitching prospect of the bunch, but his age and the fact that Tampa Bay hasn’t had him for very long makes me wonder how much they want to see from him in the minor leagues before they give him a chance to really compete for a rotation spot.
There’s also the very real risk he ends up in the bullpen, either as a follower for a one-inning opener or in a dynamic multi-inning relief role. And, even if he does find his way into a regular rotation role, his value is capped significantly in leagues that count quality starts because of Tampa Bay’s reliance on going to the bullpen early.
All that makes me a little wary of how much he will contribute in 2021, but his overall talent level remains elite – which makes him a high-risk, high-reward stash candidate for this year. Patino boasts a 65-grade fastball that gets up into the high-90’s, and his command is impeccable, although inconsistent mechanics have been an issue for him in the past – likely thanks to his overall lack of experience as a pitcher, stemming from his prior background as an infielder.
Still, while concern about his size remains prevalent, I see a guy who can be a high-end starter at the big league level, thanks to that rising fastball velocity and a pair of strong secondaries in his slider and changeup. He may not reach that peak in 2021, but in deeper leagues he’s not a bad stash while we wait and see what Tampa Bay ultimately ends up doing with him.
6. Edward Cabrera, RHP, MIA – ETA June
I thought the Marlins were going to give right-hander Edward Cabrera a look last year, but he ended up getting shut down with a mysterious infection while at the team’s alternate site. Nevertheless, the data before his shut down indicated his changeup was taking big strides forward, which paired with his 97 mph fastball and 55-grade slider make him a potentially very solid No. 2/3 starter type.
In fact, many scouts liked Cabrera’s overall arsenal even more than fellow Marlin Sixto Sanchez, with Cabrera’s slider showing more sweep. Both pitchers are afflicted with fastballs that, while very impressive from a velocity standpoint, struggle to miss bats and could impact their overall strikeout ability at the next level – something we’ve already seen with Sanchez.
Still, Cabrera has excellent stuff, solid command, and a developing out pitch with his changeup – and while Miami doesn’t have a clear opening in their rotation it would not be surprising to see Cabrera fill in at some point as the season goes on. The Marlins have had plenty of success developing pitching over the last few years, and Cabrera looks to be next in line. Those in deeper redraft leagues might want to find a spot for him early in the year, as the end of season results could be well worth it.
7. Daniel Lynch, LHP, KC – ETA July
The Royals are quietly a team on the rise, armed with a bevy of young pitching and a superstar in the making in Bobby Witt Jr. While many of their young pitchers are already in the big leagues, including 2020 rookies Kris Bubic and Brady Singer, the team can also look forward to the eventual promotions of Asa Lacy, Jackson Kowar, and Daniel Lynch.
Lacy is probably a 2022 guy, at best, while both Lynch and Kowar should get a chance to strut their stuff in the big leagues at some point this summer.
Despite all the talented arms in this system, Lynch is arguably the most appealing, or he’s at least second behind Lacy. Lynch is a huge left-hander who is armed with an elite fastball/slider combo and an additional pair of solid secondaries in his curveball and changeup. When you toss in his developing cutter and potential 55-grade command, you have all the makings of a mid-rotation starter with plus strikeout potential, and the polish to potentially contribute right away as a 23-year-old, despite only making 15 appearances at High-A in 2019.
Lynch also hasn’t shown that strikeout potential in-game action just yet, and while I fully believe he can develop into an average or even above-average strikeout guy, it may not happen this season if and when he gets the call. All told, he is more of an arm to monitor than one to stash at this point, although I’d happily store him in deeper formats or AL-only leagues, even if KC currently has a full rotation. He’ll get a look at some point this year, and there is a good chance he’ll be a priority pick up if/when that happens.
8. Spencer Howard, RHP, PHI – ETA April
After a largely unsuccessful (albeit rather unlucky) big league cameo in 2020, right-hander Spencer Howard is going to begin 2021 in the minor leagues while the Phillies roll out a pair of veterans in Chase Anderson and Matt Moore to round out the rotation.
Howard is a near-lock to get a look in the big leagues sooner rather than later, but recent reports indicate he will be used primarily as a reliever to start the year, in order to keep his inning count down and to keep him fresh for a potential playoff run in September. If Howard does make starts, according to Phillies GM Dave Dombrowski, they will be two to three-inning appearances – and more likely than not he will be used in middle relief.
This is probably a good thing for Howard’s long term development, and I still think he’s a top 60 prospect in all of baseball, but it makes his status as a fantasy asset in 2021 a bit murky. I still believe in the talent but for now, he is more of a 2022 asset than a 2021 option, and unless you are in a very deep league he’s probably not worth rostering unless plans change and he does find himself in a regular rotation spot. Still, deep-league players will want to keep a close eye on him.
9. Miguel Yajure, RHP, PIT – ETA April
Acquired in the Jameson Taillon trade this offseason, Yajure is a 22-year-old right-hander who made three appearances out of the bullpen for the Yankees in 2020, striking out eight and walking five in seven innings of work.
Yajure profiled as a backend starter early in his career, thanks to his pitchability but underwhelming stuff, but a velocity spike in 2019 had him hitting 97 and rising up to Double-A after absolutely dominating hitters in High-A. He now boasts five pitches, a fastball, cutter, changeup, curveball and slider, and many of them have looked like above-average offerings.
That, coupled with his 50-grade command, has him on the radar as a potential mid-rotation starter and a guy who should be on a lot of top 100 prospects by midseason – if he isn’t already carving up big league hitters with Pittsburgh.
Yajure could benefit from more seasoning in the minor leagues, but if he looks good in the upper levels the Pirates won’t have much choice but to give him a look at the big league level, especially considering the lack of depth in their system and on their current club. He’s more of an NL-only flyer for right now, but he’s worth keeping on the watchlist in deeper redraft leagues, as he’ll likely put together some solid outings later this summer.
10. Alek Manoah, RHP, TOR – ETA September
Manoah is the player on this list that I am least confident makes the big leagues this season, but he’s hard to ignore after a truly dominating spring training performance that included an 11 strikeout performance against the Yankees (like the real Yankees lineup) just a few weeks ago.
Manoah is a top pitching prospect who is 23-years-old and is already having success against big league hitters, which is why he’s on this list, but the 11th overall pick in 2019 has only thrown 17 minor league innings, all coming at Low-A about two years ago.
With no experience in the upper levels of the minor leagues, and not a lot of build up on his arm to suggest he could handle a full season’s worth of starts, Manoah’s range of outcomes for this year is extremely wide.
Of course, he’s a high-ranking prospect with a 60-grade fastball and a potentially 70-grade wipeout slider, and while his command is suspect at this point, it’s well within the scope of possibilities that he’s throwing meaningful innings for this Toronto squad by the end of the year.
He’s only worth rostering right now in dynasty leagues or very, very deep/AL-only redraft leagues, but he’s a pitching prospect I will have a close eye on once the minor league season begins, and as a 23-year-old, polished college arm he could be a quick riser to the big leagues.
Others given consideration: Clarke Schmidt (60 day IL), Jackson Kowar, DL Hall, Shane Baz, Bryse Wilson, Brendan McKay, Josiah Gray, Jackson Rutledge, Shane McClanahan, Brent Honeywell, Nick Lodolo, Brailyn Marquez
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)