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 big news of the week is of course the promotion of electric right-hander Logan Gilbert, who joined the Mariners on Thursday alongside Jarred Kelenic and proceeded to labor over four innings pitched, showing flashes of excellence but surrendering a pair of long balls that ultimately made his line rather pedestrian. For a much more thorough look at Gilbert’s big league debut, Nick had an excellent GIF Breakdown which is well worth the read. Gilbert’s promotion clears a spot for Spencer Howard to rejoin the list while he gets stretched out as a starter in Triple-A.
Blue Jays right-hander Nate Pearson was recalled last week as well, but after one bad start where he walked five hitters in 2.1 innings, Pearson was quickly sent back down to Triple-A in a move that surprised many, considering Toronto’s pitching struggles. Pearson is also reportedly dealing with a shoulder impingement, and while it sounds minor for now, it does push him down on the list and clears way for Alek Manoah to move all the way into the No. 2 spot, just behind Detroit’s Matt Manning.
And lastly, one of our “given consideration” arms, Josiah Gray, was scratched with a shoulder impingement and will be shut down for 7-10 days. It is unclear if he will miss any more time than that, but it is a situation worth monitoring for those who roster him in dynasty and those in deeper redraft leagues who were eyeing him as a potential pickup.
Without further ado, here is the first look at the top 10 pitching prospects to stash in 2021 redraft formats.
1. Matt Manning, RHP, DET – ETA June
After a rocky first start at Triple-A Toledo last week, Tigers right-hander Matt Manning posted an extremely similar stat line his second time out, generating an outstanding 7:0 K:BB ratio in six innings of work, but allowing a trio of solo home runs to soil the outing. Manning’s control has been extremely solid, almost too solid in fact, as he grooved two fastballs in the first inning which results in a pair of long-balls, before giving up a third later in the contest – also on a middle-middle fastball.
Through two starts with the Mud Hens, spanning 11 innings, Manning has a ridiculously good 13:1 K:BB ratio, but has allowed a whopping six(!) home runs – which account for all of the runs he has given up. Command is the issue here, and Detroit will certainly want to see him start working the edges of the strike zone before he gets a look with the big club.
Detroit’s rotation is fairly set right now, thanks to the surprisingly strong performance of Jose Urena and the pair of other high-end pitching prospects, Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal, but Manning would probably be the next person to get the call should Detroit need another starter – and he’s a near lock to be up later in the summer if/when the Tigers trade Matthew Boyd.
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 is still just in his age-23 season while taking on his first Triple-A hitters.
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.
2. Alek Manoah, RHP, TOR – ETA June
The dominance continues for Alek Manoah, who looks like the first really prominent example of a player rising super quickly – something we knew we would see a fair amount of after missing the entire 2020 minor league season.
Manoah cruised through spring training, dominating the Yankees lineup on multiple occasions, and now his first two starts at Triple-A have looked far too easy for the 2019 11th overall pick. Manoah followed up his dominant first start (12 strikeouts in six shutout innings) with another six shutout innings in his second outing, striking out five and walking two. That gives him a ridiculous 17:4 K:BB ratio through his first 12 innings, with zero runs surrendered.
Considering Manoah had yet to play above short-season prior to this year, coming out and dominating big leaguers in spring training and now Triple-A hitters to start the campaign is what has me thinking Manoah could be an extremely quick riser to the big leagues – especially considering the struggles Toronto has endured in the rotation this year, and now the recent injury news surrounding the Blue Jays other top pitching prospect, Nate Pearson.
Manoah is a well-regarded prospect with a 60-grade fastball and a 70-grade wipeout slider, and while his command is suspect at this point (he did hit three batters in his first 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.
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 14+ team leagues.
3. Deivi García, RHP, NYY – ETA May
García’s fight for the fifth and final rotation spot in New York took a hit last week 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, throwing 3.1 innings and giving up three hits and five runs with seven(!) walks and just three strikeouts.
While German was once again excellent for the Yankees this past week, Garcia earned himself some brownie points by tossing five shutout innings in his second Triple-A outing, giving up just three hits and one walk while striking out seven.
Still, it looks like that final rotation spot remains Domingo Germán’s to lose, and pitchers like Michael King and Nick Nelson could even 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 and three in his first MLB start a few weeks ago, across just four innings.
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.
4. MacKenzie Gore, LHP, SD – ETA July
MacKenzie Gore’s saga over the past year and a half has been well-documented, as the Padres were unwilling to give him a call during the abbreviated 2020 slate and, so far in 2021, despite injuries to Adrian Morejon, Dinelson Lamet, and the missed season for Mike Clevinger, Gore has remained in the minors, paving the way for fellow prospect Ryan Weathers to earn a rotation spot in his place.
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 after 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, but his second outing was considerably better: six innings, three earned runs, eight hits, one walk and five strikeouts. The one walk is key, as Gore’s confidence and ability to consistently find the strike zone have been big issues for him lately. Eight hits (including four doubles) and three runs isn’t great by any means, but it was a step in the right direction for the embattled left-hander.
Additionally, we don’t just want to ignore Gore’s absolute dominance in the Cal League in 2019, which to me indicates he is still 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 18 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.
5. Nate Pearson, RHP, TOR – ETA Late June
After missing most of spring training and starting the year in Triple-A, Nate Pearson made his season debut for Toronto earlier in the week, sputtering across 2.1 innings while surrendering three runs on four hits and five(!) walks, without recording a single strikeout. The bad outing was enough for Toronto to send him back to the minor leagues, with Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo saying he needs more seasoning.
“We want him to get more consistent,” Montoyo said. “Coming off his injury, he made some strides in his first Triple-A outing, but he’s got some work to do. The sky is the limit. This reminds me almost of Vladdy [Vladimir Guerrero Jr.], because the expectations are so high, but he’ll be all right. He just needs to pitch more in the Minor Leagues.”
As if that wasn’t enough, it now looks like Pearson will miss at least one Triple-A start with a “mild right shoulder impingement”, an injury that is worth keeping a close eye on for the young right-hander.
The #BlueJays tell us that Pearson was able to ply long toss “with good intensity” and will travel to Trenton today. His throwing activity will be “modified as needed.”
He’ll need to throw a bullpen (and come out of that healthy) before he moves back into the Bisons’ rotation.
— Keegan Matheson (@KeeganMatheson) May 14, 2021
Pearson’s first Triple-A start, which came before this week’s big league debacle, was much sharper, as he tossed 3.2 innings and struck out eight. However, missing an entire season last year, save for 18 big league innings, as well as nearly all of spring training has Pearson in a tough spot this season. He’s probably ready to be a big league pitcher (his stuff remains excellent) but the lack of volume over the past year and a half may leave him struggling to get his groove this year.
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 can still 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.
6. DL Hall, LHP, BAL – ETA August
Hall, like Manoah, is a highly regarded pitching prospect who is shoving through his first few starts at a new level – potentially making him a quick riser to the big league rotation. After carving up Double-A hitters back on minor league opening day, throwing 4.1 innings and fanning 10(!) while walking just two and allowing just two hits with zero runs scored, Hall followed that up with an equally impressive outing his second time around – throwing five innings with zero runs on two hits and no walks, along with nine strikeouts. So, the big left-hander with alleged command issues is now rocking a 19:2 K:BB ratio through his first two Double-A starts, without having allowed a run.
Starting the year in this fashion at Double-A bodes well for Hall eventually pitching for Baltimore down the stretch, but the biggest potential inhibitor for him to see 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 is 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.
7. Spencer Howard, RHP, PHI – ETA June
Although still one of my favorite long term pitching prospects in baseball, Phillies right-hander Spencer Howard is down at No. 7 on this list because Philadelphia made it clear his innings will be monitored very closely this season, and his usage at the big league level might strictly be out of the bullpen – or in very short starts. That makes him harder to roster in redraft formats, particularly those that count quality starts, but he’s still someone worth keeping an eye on.
So far, Howard has made three appearances with the Phillies, all out of the bullpen, throwing 4.1 innings and striking out eight while walking two and giving up six hits and four earned runs. His minor league numbers have been better, with two starts at Triple-A totaling five shutout innings with five strikeouts, three walks, and just one hit surrendered.
The command is still an issue, and Howard needs to prove his breaking stuff can be a consistent third offering if he wants to stick as a starter long-term, but his fastball and slider are both plus pitches, and his frame suggests a guy who should be able to toe the rubber every fifth day and give you quality innings – as long as he can hone in the command and stop issuing free passes.
I’m not completely sold he’ll be that guy in 2021, and it doesn’t sound like the Phillies are going to let him work too deep into games, but in deeper redraft leagues or leagues with multiple N/A slots, Howard is worth holding onto to see how he is utilized down the stretch.
8. 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 seems very likely -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.
The latest report is that Houck has been shut down with a sore flexor muscle, and while Red Sox manager Alex Cora stated that Houck is “actually feeling better“, there has been little else to indicate when the right-hander will next step on a mound, which seriously muddies up his projection for the next few months.
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, or of course this injury continues to linger.
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.
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, and dominated over 5.1 innings, surrendering just two hits and two walks while striking out nine and giving up zero runs.
Kowar followed that up with another very nice start, against the same opponent, throwing five innings and giving up just one run on six hits and two walks, along with five strikeouts. I’d feel a bit more confident in his redraft value if he were going a little deeper into games, but for now he is well worth keeping on the radar in deeper formats.
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, the struggles of both Lynch and Brad Keller, and Kowar’s sharp start to the minor league season, 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: Spencer Howard
Graduated: Logan Gilbert
Others given consideration: Nick Lodolo, Brailyn Márquez, Josiah Gray, Edward Cabrera, Daulton Jefferies, Shane Baz, Bryse Wilson, Brendan McKay, Jackson Rutledge, George Kirby, Simeon Woods-Richardson, Roansy Contreras, Matthew Liberatore
Photo from Icon Sportswire | Design by Quincey Dong (@threerundong on Twitter)