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.
These last few weeks have seen a handful of exciting pitching prospects graduate off this list, including Alek Manoah for the Blue Jays and Spencer Howard for the Phillies. Deivi García is set to make his season debut for the Yankees later this afternoon, so I have decided to remove him from this list as well as he is no longer considered a “stash” candidate.
Those three graduations, and the removal of Brent Honeywell, cleared the way for four new arms to be featured as we look ahead to the next wave of potential prospect call-ups, all likely to occur later this month when the Super 2 deadline is expected to pass.
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 giving up six home runs in his first two Triple-A starts, along with an excellent 13:1 K:BB ratio, Matt Manning was torched in his third start – a 1.2 inning debacle where he allowed four earned runs on three walks and two more homers, with just one strikeout. He finally righted the ship in start No. 4, a 6.2 inning outing where he gave up just two earned runs with seven strikeouts and one walk.
Through four starts with the Mud Hens, spanning 19.1 innings, Manning has a ridiculously good 21:5 K:BB ratio, but has allowed a whopping nine(!) home runs – which account for the majority 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 league club.
Detroit’s rotation is fairly set right now, thanks to the surprisingly strong performance of José Ureña 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. Daniel Lynch, LHP, KC – ETA June
After a disastrous three game cameo with the Royals to begin the season, which resulted in a 15.75 ERA across just eight innings – thanks to a horrific start on May 8 where he gave up eight earned runs in just 0.2 innings – Daniel Lynch was sent back down to Triple-A Omaha to iron out the kinks. Some believe Lynch may have been tipping his pitches in that start, although the White Sox are known to crush left-handed pitching – so it may have just been a recipe for disaster.
Regardless, Lynch has put together a pair of nice starts in Triple-A since his demotion, in particular his outing on May 25 where he threw 5.2 innings of one run ball, walking just one and striking out five. The terrible big league start pushed Lynch off the radar in redraft leagues, but Kansas City will almost certainly turn to Lynch again at some point this season, and now that he has gotten the debut jitters out of the way, and hopefully fixed any issues potentially related to tipping, Lynch could be a sneaky add in deeper redraft formats as a stash candidate.
The really strong start to the minor league season by Jackson Kowar could be a hindrance for Lynch, as well as the strong performance from fellow left-hander Kris Bubic in a hybrid role with the big club, but don’t be surprised to see the hard throwing left-hander back in Kansas City’s rotation by the middle of the summer – where he could easily be up for good.
3. DL Hall, LHP, BAL – ETA August
Hall is a highly regarded pitching prospect who is shoving through his first few starts at a new minor league level, potentially making him a quick riser to the big league rotation – much like another recent AL East starter, Alek Manoah.
After carving up Double-A hitters back on minor league opening day, throwing 4.1 innings and fanning 10(!) while walking 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. His third start was a dud but he threw four shutout innings with eight strikeouts earlier this week, giving the big left-hander with alleged command issues a 31:8 K:BB ratio through his first four Double-A starts, only having allowed runs in one of his four outings.
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 a few weeks ago. “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.
4. Tanner Houck, RHP, BOS – ETA Late June
Red Sox right-hander Tanner Houck has already made three appearances with Boston this season, throwing 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. All those apeparances came in early April, and to date he has only made one Triple-A appearance, a three inning start on May 4 that ultimately resulted in him getting shut down for a few weeks with a sore flexor muscle.
The injury is not considered serious, thankfully, and Houck is already back on a throwing program and should be returning to the Triple-A, or big league, rotation soon.
“If we need somebody, he’s not going to be the guy right now, although I don’t think it’s that serious,” Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush said on May 26. “He’s already back on a throwing program and we’re hopeful that he’ll be back relatively soon. The benefit with him is that he’s already built up. He has been making full starts for a while now before he got hurt. The buildup coming back will be shorter than a spring training buildup.
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.
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.
5. Daulton Jefferies, RHP, OAK – ETA July
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, throwing four scoreless innings but allowing seven hits with zero walks and just one strikeout. Still, it was promising to see Jefferies make it through the 40 pitch outing pain free, and after a few more starts he will be all ready to take over a big league rotation spot.
Unfortunately, even with Mike Fiers, Jesús Luzardo and AJ Puk all on the injured reserve, the A’s don’t need Jefferies to come up and help them right away, thanks to strong performances from 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.
6. Nate Pearson, RHP, TOR – ETA Late June
After missing most of spring training and starting the year in Triple-A, Nate Pearson‘s first major league appearance of the year was a struggle, as he sputtered 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, where a shoulder impingement kept him out of action for a few weeks.
He’s back and healthy now, but it is hard not to be concerned about his long term outlook considering he hasn’t thrown more than 3.2 innings in any of his three Triple-A appearances, and his most recent appearance came out of the bullpen. Pearson is rocking a 5.59 ERA across his 9.2 Triple-A innings, but his 19:4: K:BB ratio is far more palatable.
Toronto could still use plenty of help in the rotation, even after Alek Manoah‘s sparkling MLB debut, but Pearson is starting to look like a potential reliever, or at least a short volume starter which will hurt in quality start formats.
Pearson remains 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.
7. 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 Morejón, 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 hasn’t done anything to help assuage any of those concerns, however, posting a 5.94 ERA and a 1.80 WHIP through his first four starts at Triple-A, along with 16 strikeouts and 10(!) walks. His 4.06 FIP is much easier to digest, but the overall body of work is indicative of someone who just isn’t ready to be in the big leagues quite yet.
Of course, 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.
He is just 22 years old and a former top-10 prospect in all of baseball, so he still finds himself in a favorable spot 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 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 provide that and more.
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.
8. Jackson Kowar, RHP, KC – ETA June
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, Kris Bubic and, at least for a few starts, Daniel Lynch, the team and their fans can look forward to the eventual promotions of Asa Lacy 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 Lynch, Brady Singer 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.
9. Nick Lodolo, LHP, CIN – ETA July
This season, so far at least, has seen a ton of pitching prospects who were on the fringe of most top 100 lists have a lot of success (like Shane McClanahan, Alek Manoah, DL Hall and Jackson Kowar) while many of the more highly ranked pitching prospects (like Matt Manning, Logan Gilbert, MacKenzie Gore, Triston McKenzie, 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 four starts, spanning 22.2 innings, Lodolo has posted a staggering 0.40 ERA with a 1.46 FIP, 0.84 WHIP and ridiculous 32:6 K:BB ratio.
In fact, outside of a 3.1 inning, four walk outing in his second start, Lodolo has posted eight or more strikeouts with one or less walk in every appearance this year, while only surrendering one total run. 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, and the big leagues, in short order.
The 23-year-old was the seventh overall pick in the 2019 MLB draft, and was thought at the time to be a quick to the bigs type 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 the 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 in the middle of the season – particularly if he stays super hot at Double-A – and in deeper redraft leagues I’d be considering tossing him into a N/A slot or a deep bench role if you can.
10. Roansy Contreras, RHP, PIT – ETA July
Roansy 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 four starts at Double-A Altoona, Contreras looks like a much different pitcher. He’s posting a nearly identical walk rate (7.4% compared to 6.7% in 2019) but with double the strikeouts (42%) and a ridiculous 2.08 ERA (1.92 FIP) along with a 0.78 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. In fact, his most recent start on 5/25 (four innings, five earned runs, six strikeouts and three walks) is the only real blemish on his otherwise spotless start to the season.
It’s still early, obviously, but considering Pittsburgh’s woeful big league roster, Contreras is a guy who could get a look later this season, 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 makes him among the riskiest potential stash arms out there right now – but in deeper leagues he’s worth keeping a very close eye on.
Removed: Brent Honeywell
Others given consideration: Brent Honeywell, Brailyn Márquez, Josiah Gray, Edward Cabrera, Shane Baz, Brendan McKay, Jackson Rutledge, George Kirby, Simeon Woods-Richardson, Matthew Liberatore, Grayson Rodriguez
Photo from Icon Sportswire | Design by Quincey Dong (@threerundong on Twitter)