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.
The minor league season is officially upon us, and fans who have been clamoring for nearly two years to see arms like MacKenzie Gore, Logan Gilbert, and Matt Manning don’t have to wait any longer, as the trio all made their first professional appearances since 2019 over the past few days – with varying results.
Royals left-hander Daniel Lynch, No. 8 on this list last week, was a surprise call-up for the Royals and it looks for now like he will hold down a spot in Kansas City’s rotation going forward. This is great news for those who roster Lynch in dynasty leagues, and he’s worth an add in deeper redraft leagues if he is still available. He’s more of a streaming option in 10 and 12-teamers, at least for now, but don’t be surprised if he’s the man to roster in Kansas City’s rotation by season’s end.
Biceps tendinitis is going to sideline Daulton Jefferies likely until the middle of May, at best, and with Cole Irvin pitching well and Mike Fiers back for the A’s, Jefferies has been bumped from this list.
So that leaves two new spots to fill, and they will be taken by a pair of strong performers in their first minor league starts: Royals right-hander Jackson Kowar and Orioles lefty DL Hall. There was a handful of shifting the list around as we react to the first few days of the MiLB season, although most big league timelines have not been altered much with the season still so new.
Without further ado, here is the first look at the top 10 pitching prospects to stash in 2021 redraft formats.
1. Nate Pearson, RHP, TOR – ETA May
Electric right-hander Nate Pearson is finally healthy after suffering a groin strain at the beginning of spring training, an injury he re aggravated which caused him to miss the rest of spring and the start of the big league season. I expected him to make the team as soon as he was healthy, but instead Toronto started him off in Triple-A in a situation that is perhaps more of a rehab outing than a true minor league assignment, especially after he tossed 3.2 innings of one run ball with one walk and eight strikeouts.
Pearson’s strong performance at Triple-A, his current health, and the high probability he will be called up in short order has him jumping up to the top spot on this list, even though injuries are a nagging issue for Pearson, and his performance at the big league level last year was nothing to write home about.
Pearson made five appearances for Toronto last year across 18 innings, surrendering five home runs and walking 13, finishing with a 6.00 ERA, 1.50 WHIP and just a 19.8% strikeout rate. He’s a two pitch pitcher with a great fastball and a wipeout slider, but his command is shaky and his changeup and curveball look like below average offerings at best.
Two pitch starters have succeeded before, but Pearson’s profile suggest a lot of volatility, at best, and perhaps an eventual relocation to the bullpen if he doesn’t hone in the command or strongly improve one of his other secondary offerings.
The good news is Toronto’s starting rotation has not been good, or particularly healthy, this year – which means Pearson should easily work his way into a rotation spot within the next few weeks, and if he pitches well he will very likely be up to stay.
Pearson is a risky stash candidate, but one that could pay off quite handsomely in 2021.
2. Matt Manning, RHP, DET – ETA June
All season long I have flip-flopped between Matt Manning and Logan Gilbert in the top two spots on this list, before moving Nate Pearson into that spot this week. However, I’m going to keep Manning ahead of Gilbert for now, even after Manning’s not-so-great first start at Triple-A Tacoma. Manning was lit up for three home runs in five innings of work for the Toledo Mud Hens, although his 6:1 K:BB ratio was solid, and one of the home runs came off a pitch low and out of the strike zone – something you just have to tip your cap at.
Still, Manning’s rocky Triple-A start won’t help him crack Detroit’s rotation anytime super soon, and I suspect he will probably be a mid-summer call-up, potentially taking a spot sometime in June or early July depending on how things shake out in the Motor City.
My initial thought was that Manning would quickly take a rotation spot in Detroit away from less than inspiring veterans José Ureña and/or Julio Teherán, but a resurgence from Michael Fulmer and the very productive return from the COVID-IL by Spencer Turnbull will make earning a spot in this rotation a surprisingly difficult task, particularly if fellow prospects Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal pitch well enough to stick around.
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, 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. Logan Gilbert, RHP, SEA – ETA June
Picking between Gilbert and Manning is basically a coin flip at this point, as both prospects appear on a similar path to the big leagues and should have solid success throughout the summer months, playing for not-so-good teams in cavernous parks.
Gilbert had more success in his first Triple-A outing than Manning did, besting MacKenzie Gore by tossing five innings of one run ball with no walks and five strikeouts. It wasn’t a completely dominant, needs to be in the big leagues right away type start, but he still flashed plus command and a wide array of pitches that all should be at or above league average in the big leagues.
Gilbert 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 velocity 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.
4. Alek Manoah, RHP, TOR – ETA June
This is quite possibly the most aggressive response I’ve made to a single game in a long time, but after slotting Manoah at the tail end of this list most weeks, thanks to his really strong performance in spring training (against quality big league hitters) Manoah responded to his similarly very aggressive assignment at Triple-A by fanning 12 and allowing just two hits in six innings on Buffalo’s Opening Day.
📽️A dozen will do for #Bisons @Alek_Manoah47 pic.twitter.com/qUcubokHLK
— Buffalo Bisons🦬 (@BuffaloBisons) May 7, 2021
Considering Manoah had yet to play above short-season, coming out and dominating big leaguers in spring training and now Triple-A hitters to start the campaign has me thinking Manoah could be an even quicker riser to the big leagues than we initially thought – especially considering the struggles Toronto has endured in the rotation this year.
Manoah was the 11th overall pick in 2019 and is a well-regarded prospect with a 60-grade fastball and a potentially 70-grade wipeout slider, and while his command is suspect at this point (he did hit three batters in his Triple-A outing) it is well within the scope of possibilities that he is throwing meaningful innings for this Toronto squad in the early part of the summer – especially after that outing for Buffalo.
His pedigree, advanced age, and flat out dominance over the last few months make him worth stashing in deeper redraft leagues, and vaults him up this list over a lot of close to the big leagues arms like Garcia and Houck, because I think Manoah has the potential to outperform all of those guys this season, and could be up soon enough to make him worth a stash in the very near future, if not now in those 16+ team leagues.
5. Deivi García, RHP, NYY – ETA May
García’s fight for the fifth and final rotation spot in New York took a hit when his primary competition – Domingo Germán – strung together a trio of nice starts in a row dating back to April 22, while García himself struggled in his first Triple-A outing of the year this week, throwing 3.1 innings and giving up three hits and five runs with seven(!) walks and just three strikeouts.
That, coupled with García’s not-so-great first start of the season in a Yankees uniform, when he threw four innings while giving up two runs on three hits and three walks with four strikeouts across 65 pitches, has García’s stock a little down in the early part of May and at the start of the minor league season. It looks like that final rotation spot remains Domingo Germán’s to lose, and pitchers like Michael King and Nick Nelson could hold García down a little bit longer – although I still believe he is first in line should anyone in New York’s rotation need to be replaced, and that could happen at anytime considering the rotation’s injury history.
So while García’s time as a full-time starter could quite literally be right around the corner, the reason he is not higher on this list is that – while his stuff is legit – I’m not sure he will hold up as a full-time starter, at least during the 2021 season.
García 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 campaign.
Last year in those six starts, García 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 García going forward – especially after seeing seven walks in his first Triple-A outing.
Ultimately, García’s fantasy value this year will be tied to the health and production of New York’s current rotation – as well as Luis Severino and Clarke Schmidt – and 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 a guaranteed roster spot even in 12-teamers.
I think he’s a fine stash candidate in deeper leagues or AL-only formats, and I will be keeping a close eye on him in shallower leagues as well. He’s not a must add as soon as he does get his next call-up, but if he pitches well and looks like he’s going to hold down a roster spot, I’d be happy to give him a speculative add.
Smaller power pitchers are inherently riskier than other pitching prospect archetypes, but Marcus Stroman is a prime example of why it’s not worth completely disregarding them altogether.
6. Tanner Houck, RHP, BOS – ETA May
Like many others on this list, Tanner Houck made his Triple-A season debut this past week, tossing three innings and giving up three runs on eight hits, with no walks and four strikeouts. However, Houck has already made three appearances for Boston this season, so his return to the big leagues could be imminent -and considering the struggles of Martín Pérez and Garrett Richards, it is entirely possible the next time he is up he will be up to stay.
Houck was never a super highly regarded prospect, despite being a first round pick back in 2017, but he rose through the minor leagues fairly quickly with very good strikeout numbers and less than stellar command. His three-game cameo in 2020 yielded an outstanding 33.3% strikeout rate and a 0.53(!) ERA, along with a 14.3% walk rate and a 3.25 FIP.
So far in 2021 he’s pitched 10.1 innings with an excellent 12/1 K/BB ratio and five earned runs – giving him a 4.35 ERA but a far more palatable 2.32 FIP. I don’t think his command is magically this good (a 2.2% walk rate is insane) but he does look much improved in this small sample, and at the very least he has absolutely filthy stuff – which makes the strikeout numbers look sustainable. While his first outing at Triple-A didn’t go great, I’m hardly concerned about three innings – and don’t expect that to slow down his potential return to the big leagues unless his struggles in the minors continue.
Houck may continue to get shuttled between Boston and Triple-A Worcester, but he is worth rostering in deeper redraft leagues if you have a spot, and could easily make himself a must-own in 12-teamers if he gets a chance to take the ball every fifth day for the Sox.
7. MacKenzie Gore, LHP, SD – ETA July
After Adrian Morejón joined Mike Clevinger on the Tommy John list a few weeks ago, and with Dinelson Lamet nursing a shoulder injury, the Padres turned to a young star pitching prospect to face the mighty Dodgers. It wasn’t who many expected, however, with left-hander MacKenzie Gore remaining at the team’s alternate training site while rookie Ryan Weathers took the opportunity and ran with it, cementing a spot in San Diego’s rotation for the foreseeable future.
What that means for Gore in the short term isn’t exactly clear, but reports of command issues, mechanical adjustments, and a case of the yips all floating around, it is clear that Gore needs to prove his worth at Triple-A for probably at least a few starts before he is given a shot at the major league level.
Gore’s first outing at Triple-A didn’t exactly instill any more confidence in fans and fantasy owners, however, as he gave up three runs on five hits, three walks, and one hit batter in just four innings of work, while only adding three strikeouts.
Of course, Gore’s absolute dominance in the Cal League in 2019 indicates he is more than capable of being the true ace pitcher many believe he can be – it just may not 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.
Of course, he’s just 22 years old, so he still finds himself in a favorable spot on this list – regardless of the mystery surrounding his last 12 months.
Gore will be a must-add in pretty much 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.
8. DL Hall, LHP, BAL – ETA August
It’s been a year and a half since we had minor league baseball, so you’ll forgive me for reacting strongly to the first day of game action. But, like Manoah, Hall was tasked with making his first start at a new level, where he is about two and a half years younger than the average player, and he came out and straight shoved – throwing 4.1 innings and fanning 10(!) while walking just two and allowing just two hits with zero runs scored.
Hall looked electric in this one, sitting in the mid-90’s with his fastball and displaying surprisingly good command, something that has been an issue for him in the past, while allowing just three balls in play before he was lifted at just 74 pitches.
DL Hall's Double-A debut was an absolute dandy. Fastball was up at 99 🔥🔥🔥 and the breaking ball was FILTHY.
4.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 10 K, 2 BB, 1 HBP
All 10 strikeouts from Hall's first start of 2021: pic.twitter.com/uTDQGbXCQz
— Locked On Orioles (@LockedOnOrioles) May 4, 2021
Starting the year out with this kind of outing at Double-A bodes well for Hall to eventually pitch for Baltimore down the stretch, but the biggest potential inhibitor for Hall seeing big league innings will be an imposed innings limit – something that is going to impact a ton of pitchers in both the majors and minors this season.
“Every single pitcher we’re going to be watching carefully and monitoring,” Orioles player development director Matt Blood said. “This is a little bit of an unprecedented situation. And the roster sizes are larger, and we will have large numbers of pitchers on each roster. So we will be monitoring it. But also we want these guys to get their work in. So it’s a little bit of a double-edged sword.”
Hall would be a great high-risk, high-reward pickup late in the season if he does get the call, but he’s probably not worth rostering in shallower redraft leagues just yet. Those in 16+ team leagues or AL-only formats might want to use a deep bench or N/A slot on the electric left-hander, and everyone else should make sure to place him on their watchlist – as his big league performance late in the year could be well worth rostering in even those shallower leagues.
9. Brent Honeywell Jr. RHP, TB – ETA Late May
Honeywell made his big league debut a few weeks ago – 1,300 days after his last minor league appearance – but after a sparkling debut his next two outings did not go nearly as well, and after an appearance as an opener which resulted in a three run home run, Honeywell was sent back to the team’s alternate site and eventually down to Triple-A.
It looks, for now at least, like Tampa Bay is going to hold on to Luis Patiño, Shane McClanahan, and Josh Fleming, leaving Honeywell to begin the season with the Durham Bulls – where he started opening day and threw two perfect innings with three strikeouts.
While it is clear Honeywell is someone the Rays want to get big league innings out of, his role is hard to fully pin down (much like Patiño) and while the results could be extremely solid for fantasy players who roster him, it seems more and more likely it will be in a full relief role – which saps a lot of his fantasy appeal except for those in leagues that count holds.
Honeywell would be a nice option down the stretch if he does end up in a starting role – and even in a multi-inning relief role or opener, he could return some value in deeper fantasy leagues as well – but I am less confident he’ll find his way back into a role where he is throwing more than 2-3 innings per outing, which is an important note when assessing him as a stash candidate.
If you dropped him after he got sent down, that’s totally defensible, but those in deeper leagues may want to hold here and see what comes next, as the results could be beneficial as a long term play in 2021.
10. Jackson Kowar, RHP, KC – ETA August
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 Brady Singer and now Daniel Lynch, the team and their fans can look forward to the eventual promotions of Asa Lacy, Kris Bubic and Jackson Kowar, who drew the opening day start for Kansas City’s Triple-A affiliate, the Omaha Storm Chasers, on Thursday.
Facing a lineup that featured a myriad of former big leaguers and top prospects, including Brent Rooker, Trevor Larnach, Ryan Jeffers, Rob Refsnyder, and Tzu-Wei Lin, Kowar threw 5.1 dominant innings, surrendering just two hits and two walks while striking out nine and giving up zero runs.
Jackson Kowar earned a standing O in Omaha with 9 K's in 5 1/3 scoreless frames.
More from @Royals prospects: https://t.co/DI4LoE9kWj pic.twitter.com/UHeYcAv9qg
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) May 5, 2021
Kowar has a mid-90’s fastball and a devastating changeup, and his breaking pitches have steadily improved during his time as a pro. His long-term outlook still could trend toward the bullpen, but considering Kansas City’s willingness to aggressively promote prospects over the past few years, their sterling record on the young season, and Kowar’s sharp season debut, it may not be too long until he is pitching in a big league uniform – and performances like this will easily find their way onto plenty of fantasy baseball rosters before the year is up.
Added: DL Hall, Jackson Kowar
Removed: Daulton Jefferies
Graduated: Daniel Lynch
Others given consideration: Nick Lodolo, Brailyn Márquez, Josiah Gray, Edward Cabrera, Daulton Jefferies, Shane Baz, Bryse Wilson, Brendan McKay, Jackson Rutledge, Miguel Yajure, George Kirby, Simeon Woods-Richardson, Roansy Contreras
Photo from Icon Sportswire | Design by Quincey Dong (@threerundong on Twitter)
Great list! I’m wondering about Matthew Liberatore since he also had an aggressive placement in AAA and did pretty well in his first start. I’m assuming he’s not here because you don’t think he’ll get the call this year?
Liberatore should be in the honorable mention category, that’s an oversight on my part. I do think he will get a call this year, when will depend if he keeps having success at AAA
Where would you rank Spencer Howard (who I assume is not eligible) on this list?
For 2021 specifically? Probably seventh or eighth. It sounds like Philadelphia wants him in a relief role or a short starter role to preserve his innings this year, so I don’t think he’ll hold a lot of value in 2021 – I still like him as a dynasty arm though