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.
Last week’s top two names, Luis Patino and Tanner Houck, were recalled by the Rays and Red Sox, respectively, and each look poised to stick with the big club at least for the time being. Additionally, Royals manager Mike Matheny indicated that left-hander Daniel Lynch is expected to start for the team on Sunday, so he has been removed as a graduation as well (he was previously listed at No. 4, in case his promotion falls through).
Those three graduations, mixed with an injury to Ethan Small, made room for four new stash options this week: The return of Pittsburgh right-hander Roansy Contreras, as well as Tampa Bay’s Shane Baz, Baltimore’s Grayson Rodriguez, and LA’s Reid Detmers.
The rest of the names will look familiar, although I did some shuffling over this past week which gives us a considerably new look list as we approach the trade deadline, and, eventually, the final few months where prospect call-ups could be aplenty.
Without further ado, here is the first look at the top 10 pitching prospects to stash in 2021 redraft formats.
1. Edward Cabrera, RHP, MIA – ETA August
After missing the first few months of the season with an injury, Edward Cabrera is back and better than ever for Miami. He made two appearances in Single-A before earning a promotion to Double-A, where he threw 26 innings and posted a ridiculous 33:6 K:BB ratio, along with a 2.77 ERA and a 0.96 FIP.
That earned him a recent call to join the Triple-A squad, and while his first start wasn’t anything to write home about (three innings, four earned runs, three walks, two strikeouts) it is clear the Miami pitching development machine is working its magic here.
I thought the Marlins were going to give the right-hander 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 they did lose Sanchez and Elieser Hernandez, so it would not be surprising to see Cabrera fill in at some point as the season goes on, especially now that he is up in Triple-A. The Marlins have had plenty of success developing pitching over the last few years, and Cabrera (along with stud lefty Jake Eder) looks to be next in line.
Those in deeper redraft leagues might want to find a spot for him if he is still available, as the end-of-season results could be well worth it.
2. Shane Baz, RHP, TB – ETA Late August
Perhaps the pitcher I’ve had the hardest time ranking on this list is Baz, the electric right-hander for Tampa Bay. Baz’s numbers this year are outstanding, but an assignment with Team USA in the Olympics and a crowded group of young pitchers in Tampa make him a tough one to pin down for this season.
He’s back near the top this week thanks to the Rays’ decision to not only trade veteran Rich Hill, but also deal fellow pitching prospects Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman, giving Baz a more clear path to a big-league- rotation spot before the year is up.
Baz was successful in adding a changeup to his arsenal over the offseason, and he hit the ground running with his assignment at Double-A, posting a 2.48 ERA and a 49:2 K:BB ratio in seven absolutely dominating starts. He was recently promoted to Triple-A, and through his first five starts at that level the 22-year-old flame-thrower has posted a 33:8 K:BB ratio with a 1.96 ERA.
However, Baz probably isn’t a realistic option for Tampa Bay until late August because of the Olympics – which makes him a much riskier player to stash in redraft formats.
While I still believe there is a good chance he will get a look with the big league club this year, it is anyone’s guess not only when that will happen, but how he will get utilized. Baz has yet to throw more than five innings in a single start this season, so the expectation is that, when he does get called up, he’ll likely be used similarly to Shane McClanahan if he ends up in the rotation – but he could also find himself in a multi-inning relief role. Neither of those are great for fantasy purposes, unfortunately, but his bat missing ability, extraordinary command, and the team around him should give him plenty of chances to help your fantasy team out, depending on your format.
Quality start leagues can probably afford to wait on Baz, but in deeper leagues that count wins or that have an extra reward for strikeouts, Baz is definitely worth stashing as his performance this season should merit a call to the big club before the summer is up.
3. Hunter Greene, RHP, CIN – ETA Late August
Hunter Greene, the electric right-hander with a fastball that gets up over 100 miles per hour, was absolutely dominant in seven Double-A starts to begin the season. The 21-year-old posted a 1.98 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and a remarkable 37% strikeout rate before he was promoted to Triple-A, ahead of fellow pitching prospect Nick Lodolo.
While Greene hasn’t had the same level of success at that level, his recent performances have been excellent – posting back-to-back five-inning outings that resulted in 11 combined strikeouts, just four walks, and only one earned run surrendered, lowering his ERA at Triple-A to 4.28.
Greene is very young, very volatile, and has dealt with injury issues throughout his career, so I’m hesitant to believe the Reds will fast-track him to the bigs just yet. However, with a non-competitive roster heading into the trade deadline, it would not be too surprising to see the team do some selling, which could make room for both Lodolo and Greene to cut their teeth in the big leagues.
Greene is a lot of fun and while his command issues might make him a risky pick up down the stretch, the talent is there for him to be a big fantasy asset in deeper redraft leagues as well – making him worth an add in those formats where he is still available.
4. Matthew Liberatore, LHP, STL – ETA Late August
Acquired in what is now known as the Randy Arozarena trade, Cardinals left-hander Matthew Liberatore spent his first year with his new club unable to pitch professionally due to the pandemic. That made it somewhat of a surprise when he was given an assignment at Triple-A to begin the 2021 campaign, a rather aggressive way to start his Cardinals career for the 21-year-old.
And indeed things were pretty tough for the top prospect out of the gate, as he struggled to a 5.48 ERA and 1.31 WHIP through his first four starts with a 21.2% strikeout rate and a solid 5.6% walk rate. He has been slightly more consistent since then, still occasionally struggling but generally putting together quality outings – including his most recent start, six shutout innings with four hits allowed, zero walks and nine strikeouts on Tuesday. It was the first shutout of Liberatore’s season, and helped lower his season ERA to 4.82 and upped his strikeout rate to an even 23%.
The fact that Liberatore was left off the Olympic roster is not an indication he will be called up before the end of the Olympics (August 7) but it does mean St. Louis is prepared to add him to the 40-man before then, if need be. Starts like the one he had on Tuesday could accelerate that timeline if St. Louis has a need on the big league roster in the coming weeks.
Liberatore has a big breaking ball and a ton of velocity on his heater, but still has some refinement to do with both pitches, and his fringier secondary’s, before he reaches his potential as a mid or even top-end starter. At just 21, it wouldn’t be crazy for the Cardinals to keep him down all year, or just give him a call in September, but you could do much worse than stashing him in deeper redraft leagues to see if they test him a little earlier than that. Clearly, it’s not something they are too afraid to do.
5. Nick Lodolo, LHP, CIN – ETA Late August
This season, so far at least, has seen a ton of pitching prospects who were on the fringe of top 100 lists have a lot of success (like Shane McClanahan, Alek Manoah, Hunter Greene, and Ethan Small) while many of the more highly rated pitching prospects (like Matt Manning, MacKenzie Gore, Deivi Garcia, and Nate Pearson) have struggled.
File Reds left-hander Nick Lodolo into that first category. Ranked outside the top-75 on most media outlets, including No. 77 on my top 100 rankings, Lodolo has exploded onto the scene at Double-A Chattanooga so far this season. Across eight starts, spanning 36 innings, Lodolo has posted a staggering 1.00 ERA with a 1.49 FIP, 0.81 WHIP, and a ridiculous 53:7 K:BB ratio.
In fact, outside of a 3.1 inning, four walk outing in his second start, Lodolo has posted six or more strikeouts with one or less walk in every appearance this year, while only surrendering four total runs. This level of dominance likely won’t hold all year long, but Lodolo is making quick work of the hitters at Double-A and could be in line for a promotion to Triple-A or the big leagues before the summer is up.
A blister slowed him down in mid-June, and his last few outings have been short as the team builds him back up, but the biggest deterrent for Lodolo this season will be fellow Reds prospect Hunter Greene, who himself is having a very solid season and could get the call first.
Lodolo, 23, was the seventh overall pick in the 2019 MLB draft and was thought at the time to be a quick-to-the-bigs type of arm. The lost 2020 season obviously tempered those expectations, but had he participated in a full minor league season in 2020 it would not seem weird at all to have him debut this summer – much like we are seeing from fellow 2019 first-rounder Alek Manoah.
Lodolo is a sinker/slider pitcher with elite command and a burgeoning changeup, which should allow him to stick comfortably in the middle of Cincinnati’s rotation for years to come – although there are some questions about how much his strikeout ability will translate against big league hitters.
Still, Lodolo is a pitcher I could see coming up toward the of the season – particularly if he stays super hot at Double-A – and in deeper redraft leagues I’d consider tossing him into a N/A slot or a deep bench role if you can.
6. Daulton Jefferies, RHP, OAK – ETA August
After a very promising showing in spring training, where he posted a 1.50 ERA in six outings, A’s right-hander Daulton Jefferies saw his chances of winning an Opening Day rotation spot dashed by biceps tendinitis, which delayed him for the first month of the season.
He finally made his season debut on May 24 with Triple-A Las Vegas, and he started the season quietly excellent in the hitter-dominant Pacific Coast League. In his first six starts, Jefferies posted a 3.77 ERA with 20 strikeouts and just three walks. Two disastrous outings after that have hampered his full-season line (5.00 ERA) but he’s posted quality starts in his last three starts and is rocking an outstanding 50:9 K:BB ratio on the year.
Unfortunately, even with a handful of injury issues throughout the campaign, the A’s don’t need Jefferies to come up and help them right away, thanks to strong performances from the back end of the rotation guys like Cole Irvin and James Kaprielian. That makes Jefferies’ overall timeline less predictable and could merit a longer stay in Las Vegas if Oakland doesn’t ultimately need him.
Jefferies possesses plus command of a solid three-pitch mix, and could help fantasy teams plenty down the stretch if and when he does get called up. In deeper redraft leagues and/or AL-only formats, he’s not the worst candidate to stash on your bench while we wait and see how he progresses with bigger pitch counts in Vegas over the next few weeks. He may not be the sexiest, most overpowering guy, but he has the potential to be very helpful in the dog days and toward the end of the year.
7. Reid Detmers, LHP, LAA – ETA September
Detmers was the tenth player selected in the 2020 MLB draft, a big left-hander out of Louisville who was expected to be a quick riser to the big leagues. Detmers was praised for his polish and command coming out of college, although there was some concern his stuff wouldn’t miss a lot of bats at the pro level – making many wary he would ever be much of a fantasy contributor.
So far, Detmers has done everything he can to squash those concerns, coming out of the gate firing at Double-A. Through 12 starts at that level, Detmers posted an absolutely jaw-dropping 43.1% strikeout rate, along with an excellent 8% walk rate and a 3.50 ERA.
He had a stretch of six starts from late May to late June which included four starts of over 10 strikeouts. He had back-to-back outings of 14 and 16 punchouts in that time, a truly dominant spectacle that has vaunted him up prospect lists and made him a candidate to pitch meaningful innings for Los Angeles this season, especially now that he has been promoted to Triple-A.
Despite struggles in the rotation for the last decade, the Angels actually have a fair amount of depth at the moment – with guys like Dylan Bundy, Jose Quintana, Griffin Canning, and Jamie Barria all currently outside of the top five. Of course, it’s fair to wonder if Detmers is more prepared to succeed against big leaguers than any of those guys, and if this team is serious about getting Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani to the playoffs, the big left-hander might be the jolt this team needs.
Detmers is by no means a lock to make his MLB debut this season, but in deeper redraft leagues he is worth taking a shot on. The potential looks sky-high at the moment.
8. Roansy Contreras, RHP, PIT – ETA August
Contreras is back on this list, one week after falling off because of concerns about his forearm injury. He has reportedly begun rehabbing with Double-A Altoona, and while a date for his return to the bump has not been announced, it does look like he’ll be back in action soon – which could push him toward a potential big league debut before the year is out.
Contreras joined the Pirates in the Jameson Taillon trade this offseason, potentially paving the way for Pittsburgh to get some pitching capital back after losing so much in the Chris Archer trade a few years ago. Contreras was a promising pitcher coming up through the Yankees system, topping out at High-A in 2019 where he made 24 starts and posted a 3.33 ERA with a rather pedestrian 21.1% strikeout rate.
Now, through his first nine starts at Double-A Altoona, Contreras looks like a much different pitcher. He’s posting an improved walk rate along with nearly double the strikeouts (35.5%) and a ridiculous 2.35 ERA (2.47 FIP) along with a 0.91 WHIP.
His first two starts were simply outstanding. He threw 11 total innings with zero earned runs, just two walks, and 11 strikeouts in each game. It’s still early, obviously, but considering Pittsburgh’s woeful big league roster, Contreras is a guy who could get a look in the second half (particularly if Pittsburgh deals Tyler Anderson or Chad Kuhl) even though he is still just 21 years old.
The big question for Contreras is the development of his changeup. He has a fastball/slider combo that should play well in the big leagues, and command that should be good enough to stick as a starter, but he’ll need that changeup to continue to develop if he wants to be more of a mid-rotation arm, rather than a back end guy or even long reliever.
His age, the lack of innings thrown in 2020, and Pittsburgh’s potential to keep him down for service time reasons make him among the riskiest potential stash arms out there right now – but in deeper leagues, he is worth keeping a very close eye on.
9. Grayson Rodriguez, RHP, BAL – ETA September
A huge chunk of midseason top prospect lists have been coming out lately, and one theme among them is the rise of Grayson Rodriguez, who by most accounts is a top-3 pitching prospect in all of baseball – and maybe the outright number one.
Rodriguez’s numbers this season make it pretty obvious why he’s earned that praise: in 13 total starts (five at High-A and eight at Double-A) Rodriguez has a 97:13 K:BB rate with an ERA below 2.00 and a WHIP under 0.75. Simply put, he has been absolutely unhittable this entire season, and really throughout the entirety of his minor league career.
Armed with one of the best fastballs in the minor leagues, Rodriguez has benefited from Baltimore’s revamped pitching program, refining his secondaries without giving up his command. He now has two breaking balls and a changeup that all look like plus offerings, giving him the look of a true potential ace at just 21 years old.
Now, the question is whether or not Baltimore will be willing to give their prized arm a look in the show this season. Baltimore is not in a position to contend this year, and could look to dump a few arms at the trade deadline – including Matt Harvey and, depending on the offers, John Means – but they also have a few other options they could turn to, including Dean Kremer, Zac Lowther, Keegan Akin (if he’s healthy) and fellow top prospect DL Hall, who is currently battling an injury but could be an option down the stretch as well.
The team may want to keep Rodriguez on an innings limit, which would be a convenient way to shut him down early this year and avoid starting his service time in the midst of yet another rebuilding year. That alone is why he is down at No. 9 on this list, because from a talent perspective he is at or near the top of every prospect ranking for good reason.
10. MacKenzie Gore, LHP, SD – ETA September
MacKenzie Gore’s saga over the past year and a half has been well-documented, with the Padres unwilling to give him a call during the abbreviated 2020 slate and, so far in 2021, despite injuries to Adrian Morejón, Dinelson Lamet, and the missed season for Mike Clevinger, Gore has remained far away from the major leagues.
Gore has not pitched in a minor league game since June 18, going to Arizona in part to rehab from a blister issue but now he’s there to work on mechanical issues to hopefully regain some confidence on the bump. No timetable has been given for his return to Triple-A, never mind the majors, and while Padres GM AJ Preller said they hope he can be an option at the end of the season, I’m personally not holding my breath that we will see Gore in a Padres uniform before 2022.
Gore posted a 5.85 ERA and a 1.80 WHIP through his six starts at Triple-A, along with 18 strikeouts and 12(!) walks. Simply put, the overall body of work is indicative of someone who just isn’t ready to be in the big leagues quite yet, at least not until he rights the ship.
Of course, we don’t just want to ignore Gore’s absolute dominance in the Cal League in 2019, which offers a glimmer of hope he is still capable of being the true ace pitcher many believe he can be – but it doesn’t seem like he going to show up in the big leagues in the year 2021.
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, especially if he is suffering from some combination of command/mechanical issues and/or the yips.
He is just 22 years old and a former top-10 prospect in all of baseball, so he still finds himself on this list – regardless of the mystery surrounding his last 18 months.
Gore is no longer a must-add in all formats when he does eventually get the call, but he is a player I can see rostering in 18+ team leagues to stash on the bench while we wait for his arrival to the show. It is just not reasonable to roster him in 12-teamers right now, but if you have a watchlist and are hoping for a boost later this year, Gore should remain on your radar.
I’m not nearly as confident that Gore will be worth the wait when he does get the call – but he still has the potential to be a high-quality fantasy pitcher in due time, even if it’s not in 2021.
Removed: Ethan Small (hurt)
Photo from Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire | Design by Quincey Dong (@threerundong on Twitter)