As we continue with the Top 100, you may notice it has been a long time since I announced a new tier. It’s titled “shoot your shot” for a reason—some of these players could arguably be in the 50s or 60s. There’s a case to be made for so many of them that it’s all about where your gut is leading you on draft day. Expect these ranks to change dramatically in March and April. I won’t be touching the early ranks much, if at all, but back down here we’re trying to figure out who can be your final starters on your squad and if someone shows up looking strong from Day 1, you bet I’m going to instruct people to chase it. Yes, I understand that it may easily be nothing, but if it falters, you’ll have a ton of other options to go after as well. There’s surprising depth at the bottom end of the spectrum and it makes me wonder how many will be considered strong options by summertime, leading to a 2020 offseason plastered with “There is so much depth at SP!” We’re experiencing the freshman orientation for a school that just tripled its acceptance rate. It’s going to be a little crowded as we watch to see which kids find their way.
Tier 9: Shoot Your Shot (Continued)
81. Corbin Burnes (Milwaukee Brewers) – You’ve been reading these write-ups and not just looking at the ranks because you’re the best. One mantra you’ve begun to understand is how I’m going to draft guys now and see where they end up out of camp. I’m ranking Jerad Eickhoff, Joshua James, etc. with the idea that they will earn a starting rotation spot. And if not? That’s cool, on to the next guy. Speaking of which, there’s still a spot or two up for grabs with the Brewers as Jhoulys Chacin, Chase Anderson, and Jimmy Nelson are slotted for the first three spots, with Zach Davies, Brandon Woodruff, and Burnes fighting for the last two (if the Brewers don’t sign anyone, of course). I like Burnes the most of this trio and was awfully tempted to slide him into the Top 80. Weird things happen. Burnes has a history of starting, before turning into a reliever last season, and while the strikeout rate is a little underwhelming, a 15% swinging strike rate is everything you hope for from a possible shift to the rotation. His slider was vicious in every way (the best pitch of that aforementioned trio) and will keep the strikeouts flowing, plus I imagine he could elevate heaters, akin to teammate Corey Knebel, to pair the two effectively as a starter. What about a third pitch? Well, that’s the biggest concern and why he’s down here. It could be the curveball he only tossed 39 times last year, or maybe he develops a proper changeup. Either way, I can see success here for Burnes with that slider and low-to-mid 90s heat, as long as he gets the call when breaking camp.
82. Justus Sheffield (Seattle Mariners) – Like Burnes, Sheffield is one of those looking to grab a rotation spot and I’m convinced he can go 160+ frames for the Mariners this year. I see a job out of spring training well within reason; once he’s starting, Sheffield has the build and leash of old Jose Quintana, where he could consistently go deep into games. Sorry Seattle fans, it’s not like we expect them to be competing this year, so why not let Sheffield fly? He’s armed with a sharp slider that should consistently miss bats, although there is some concern about his command. I’ll put him here with the idea that his command could take a step forward with time on the hill and eventually you’ll be left with a solid backend arm with decent strikeout upside. Not my favorite lottery pick, as this one is reserved more for those that need volume than gas.
83. Luke Weaver (Arizona Diamondbacks) – I’m not suggesting to get back on the Weaver train, but it does make sense that things could be better in Arizona, right? He’s no longer going through the Cardinal Sin in St. Louis where his role on the team was loosely defined. Now that he’s locked into a rotation spot for a long while, Weaver could be a sneaky Quality Start play…if he can get his fastball/changeup combination back to where it should be. There’s also the question of if his curveball can be the strike-getting pitch it needs to be to give freedom to his changeup to sit outside the zone. It’s fathomable he gets there, though, and while I don’t think we’ll ever really get excited about Weaver, I can imagine him hovering in the late 40s entering 2020’s drafts, reflecting on how his 2019 was a surprisingly solid—but not excellent—season.
84. Sonny Gray (Cincinnati Reds) – Like Weaver, Gray is heading to a new home and that should raise his value significantly. We all know about his home/road splits that indicated Gray felt more comfortable removed from the New York heat (but it’s so cold there right now!) and even though he’s heading to a home run haven in Cincy with multiple above-average offenses, there’s still upside to chase. Gray still throws mid-90s with strong breaking balls in his back pocket: a slider that holds a career 20% swinging strike rate and a big hook that holds a career .198 BAA. Just forget about last year with the Yankees; those numbers won’t do you any good now. Instead, see an arm that could hint at 3.50 ERA and above average strikeouts and take a chance on it in the final rounds of your draft.
85. Caleb Smith (Miami Marlins) – I’m having trouble deciding which Marlins pitcher I like most this year and I’ve narrowed it down to these next two. The best news is that you can draft Caleb knowing that if he doesn’t get the job it’ll be Lopez’s fault. Sweet! Just pick up Lopez then. THIS IS EASY. If they both get jobs, I’m slightly leaning Smith for his ceiling. Yes, we can be skeptical with his shoulder injury (warts?! This early in the draft?!), but the southpaw touted an 11.6% swinging strike rate as he carried two pitches north of a 16% swinging strike rate. Meanwhile, his four-seamer sits at 93 mph and could take a step forward in 2019. That’s a solid three-pitch arsenal, with room to improve across the board. This could be a 25% strikeout rate in the blink of an eye…it could also be a 12% walk rate and another ERA north of 4.00. But hey, this is a shot to shoot and shoot, man, I like shots.
86. Pablo Lopez (Miami Marlins) – Then there’s Pablo of Backyard Baseball legend…What’s that? Ohhhh Sanchez, not Lopez. Ahem. So then there’s this bum Lopez. But seriously, Lopez has a strong three-pitch mix of his own, busting a mix of four-seamers and sinkers with life at 93 mph and—guess what—a pair of secondary pitches that each hold a 16% swinging strike rate, in his curveball and changeup. I think Lopez has slightly better command than Smith, although I think Smith has a better chance to improve his whiffability and earn more strikeouts. Take your pick based on those ceilings, don’t worry about the floors at this point.
87. Dylan Bundy (Baltimore Orioles) – It’s hard to get excited about a guy after a 5.45 ERA season, right? Then again, he also held a SIERA under 4.00 and a 12.7% swinging strike rate as his slider held a remarkable 25.5% swinging strike rate and just a .178 BAA. There are a few areas where Bundy really needs to improve. 1) His changeup has to return to the Money Pitch it used to be. This used to be an unreal 48% O-Swing & 48% Zone rate pitch back in 2016; now he can’t get batters to chase it out of the zone while serving it up often. It led to a .360 BAA and 1.154 OPS and that’s ghastly like Lavander Town. Fix. This. Pitch. 2) Bundy has to figure out how to approach batters with two strikes. Alex Fast and I did a cast back in the spring where he went off talking about his frustration watching Bundy throw 0-2 fastballs down the middle of the plate. Walk some batters, nibble a bit, and waste a few pitches out of the zone, please. 3) More sliders. It’s such an unreal pitch and batters need to see it more often than just 25% of the time. Throwing 55% heaters when the pitch gets lit up for a .945 OPS is unacceptable. At the very least, try to ignore the .500 BABIP of your curveball and throw that more than 6% of the time to help with the mix. Alright, I wouldn’t be ranting this much if I didn’t feel the ability was there. It’s a new front office and maybe they’ll work better with Bundy. There’s still time to fix it all and the Orioles are never going to stop him from starting, so might as well experiment freely. And maybe this works out because of it. You’re chasing that slider like everyone else who sees it and it’s possible the other stuff catches up.
88. Trevor Cahill (Los Angeles Angels) – Cahill had a ridiculous start to 2018, going 13 games of 3.12 ERA, a 25% strikeout rate, and 1.07 WHIP, and sure, why not go and give him a spin as we leave spring training. The moment he gets hurt or shows signs of losing that 12% swinging strike rate, you run, but you could do a lot worse with your final starter in a 12-teamer. Those who need more dependability through the year, well, this ain’t your guy. Just think of him as a fun one to start with that could win you a few weeks early on.
89. Marco Gonzales (Seattle Mariners) – Did you follow along with Marco’s 2018 season? That 3.28 ERA through his first 13 starts, then a sizeable bump in the road before a 2.18 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, and 24% K rate across six starts brought him back to a 3.46 ERA. It was somewhat convincing through those 22 starts, albeit with just a 9.4% swinging strike rate and 3.68 SIERA. It spoke Toby with a touch of strikeout upside and that was wonderful. Then it fell apart. Maybe he was pitching injured as he missed some time, but his final seven starts were an atrocity to the tune of a 6.09 ERA and 1.50 WHIP across the final two months of the season. Just seven starts Nick! Including a DLH (we’re changing it to ILL with the name change, I know.) that returned 8 ER! That’s a really strong point, I’m just worried that with Marco we’re hoping for a Toby (okay, slightly better) and could get worse. That’s a Panda, for those up on our glossary terms. I could find myself riding him in a deep 12-teamer if I needed it, but I won’t be owning it from the get-go. If you’re in a deeper league, by all means, go after Marco and hope his cutter can find the bottom of the zone often. Just don’t expect the strikeouts to come, as he was without a single pitch registering above a 12% swinging strike rate last year.
90. Anibal Sanchez (Washington Nationals) – I imagine a good amount of people will be draft Sanchez this year and I understand why. It’s hard to turn away from last year’s 2.83 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 24.4% strikeout rate, especially when it came with a new cutter that crushed like orange soda. New skills = new love, right? Yes…and no. Sanchez’s success was ultra-reliant on this cutter’s success and I’m skeptical he’ll be able to soar with the pitch again; if Sanchez’s cutter becomes average then it will, in summation, crumble the castle. Sanchez’s cutter held a low .197 BAA and .240 BABIP with an 8.4% swinging strike rate. He was able to nip the top of the zone with the pitch often (reminiscent of Collin McHugh‘s pitch in 2014), a skill that can very hard to replicate across seasons. I expect the cutter to be a more average offering moving forward, and without the crutch, Sanchez falls. His split-changeup had its best year since he didn’t have to throw the pitch in the zone any longer (his cutter did that at a 50% mark), allowing it to generate a 50% O-Swing and 21% swinging strike rate. His fastball is still poor, but because of the cutter working, Sanchez was able to drop its usage to sub 40% levels. Everything rides on this cutter excelling and since I don’t think it’ll succeed, I don’t think Sanchez will succeed. Oh, and then there’s the whole thing about how Sanchez hasn’t pitched 160 frames since 2013. So even his ceiling is capped at limited innings. I’m seeing a 3.80+ ERA here at about 130 innings and a 21% K rate with a chance for a lot worse. Blegh.
Tier 10: I Guess I Can See It
91. Jakob Junis (Kansas City Royals) – It was a wild ride, but Junis finished strong last year, carrying a 2.95 ERA (3.46 SIERA), 23% K rate, 3% walk rate, and 1.11 WHIP through his final 10 starts. That’s…really good. Unfortunately, I can’t get behind this sticking for a year. What’s Junis’s best pitch? It has to be his slider that was near money last season at 39% O-Swing, 46% zone, and 15% swinging strike rates. However, during this stretch, Junis’s slider was a negative pVal pitch while his fastball and sinker had great results. In other words, Junis had a fortunate run with his fastballs. They didn’t carry higher velocity or dramatic shifts, doing nothing to make me believe that Junis has figured it out. It’s too bad as he is armed with a great slider, just not enough to support rostering him each week. We hoped it was a curveball or two-seamer that would be the final piece last season and it just didn’t come to fruition. A bet on Junis is a bet on another piece getting added and good luck falling his way. That’s not a smart bet.
92. Mike Minor (Texas Rangers) – Here’s Minor who many may not realize had himself a productive season…after June 16th. I had given him until May 15th for his arrival or, as I called it, “Judgement Day”, but I was a month off as Minor returned a 3.14 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and 21% K rate in 16 starts to end the year. If I believed this was legit, Minor would be inside the Top 80. I can’t sing a sweet song and I instead have to drop the half step because of a .217 BABIP that led to a ghastly 4.28 SIERA during this stretch. In concert with Arlington sporting an elevated a 1.28 HR/9, the picture is painted black. Or red. Or just a color that doesn’t make you happy, you do you. Minor has only one strong pitch in his arsenal: a changeup that returned a 17%+ swinging strike rate. His breakers are there just for strikes and his four-seamer (with its expected 1.5 mph velocity drop after leaving the pen) was ineffective, allowing a .258 ISO and .280 BAA. I can’t buy into luck returning for the southpaw and being stuck in Arlington (maybe he’d benefit from a trade at the deadline?) will only compound the problems more. I’d look elsewhere.
93. Kyle Gibson (Minnesota Twins) – That was something, wasn’t it? Here I was throwing the idea that maybe, just maybe, Gibson learned something in the final eight starts of 2018 with his slider and he goes from a 5.07 ERA in back-to-back years to a 3.62 ERA, bumping his K% from 17.5% to 21.7%. The problem here is how much of a Toby he became. This was a “breakout” year for Gibson, which means that his ceiling is a Toby. By definition, that makes him a Panda: a guy who will be bouncing from team to team all year. He’ll have his moments, he’ll break your heart, he’ll just sit there and say “yeah, but remember when I was waaaay worse than this?” as you’re forced to sit there and nod your head. “You’re right, Kyle. You’re right.”
94. Jhoulys Chacin (Milwaukee Brewers) – Are you buying another season of this from Chacin? I can imagine Sanchez repeating his cutter fiasco a little more than I can see Chacin giving you close to a 3.50 ERA again. I will continue to say the my Chacin will do well when Jhoulyst expect it line throughout the year. This was a season where Chacin squeezed everything possible out of his slider (its 24.5 pVal ranked among the highest in the bigs) with a whole lot of nothing else. It will be one of those years that we look back and say “oh yeah, remember when that was a thing?” just as we do now with pogs, Nanopets, and hoverounds. If you’re searching for starts and decent volume, fine, go get Chacin. Just don’t be shocked when he puts up a 4.00+ ERA with a sub 20% K rate.
95. Dereck Rodriguez (San Francisco Giants) – I’m a bit surprised to see so few jumping on a guy who had a 2.81 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP through 118 frames…I’m not going to one of them myself, but I still expected to see a few people eager to get on board like it’s their prestigious high school alumni council. There’s obvious regression here in his 7% HR/FB and .257 BABIP (4.58 SIERA!), but the real question you’ll see me ask often is “where does he improve?” I really think that’s the core of what I do here. Look at what the core ability of the player is (their repertoire pitch by pitch, strikeout ability, etc.) and get your map of the player before looking at your standard ERA/WHIP/HOTEL/DIPS numbers. You’ll surprise yourself when you find someone with great underlying stuff but underwhelming results before their breakout…and the other side of that we have here with D-Rod. I feel weird even saying D-Rod; it feels like a failing grade relative to the Valedictorian A-Rod. Anyway, I struggle a little to see where exactly he gets better. His curveball isn’t a pitch that is going to strike out a ton of batters and its .145 BAA last year is going to be one of the biggest victims of regression. Maybe his four-seamer can take its 9.3% swinging strike rate and jump to 10%+, but it only comes with 91/92 mph velocity and lacks the sharp secondary stuff that allows pitchers like Zack Wheeler to complement their fastballs (Wheeler also packs better command and heat). Rodriguez’s changeup is a solid counterpart at a 50% zone rate and 11% swinging strike rate, but it needs to maintain a .179 BABIP to keep his confidence throwing in the zone for that high heater, and his slider is pretty average. I just don’t see where the leap comes from and that’s annoying. At the same time, it’s possible that he learns something new from his teammates and morphs into a 23% strikeout kind of arm with a 3.50 ERA and decent WHIP. So why not, let’s see what the kid can do. It’s probably bad, but it costs you the price of free. So that’s nice.
96. Sean Newcomb (Atlanta Braves) – I’m grouping these next two guys together because I really don’t like them and I question if they’ll both even be starting for the Braves at year’s end. Yeah, I said it. First is Newcomb, who dazzled us all to start the year with a 2.59 ERA through 15 starts, then ballooned to a near 4.00 ERA by season’s end. Newcomb maintained a 5.38 ERA in his final 15 starts to make it happen and that’s a scary thing. This is weird and Newcomb is strange so let’s dive into it. HOTEL didn’t like Newcomb’s early success with a .256 BABIP, 79% LOB rate and 8% HR/FB (4.26 SIERA). He walked too many batters (11% mark) and his 24% K rate with a 10% swinging strike rate were on the upper end of what to expect, but fine, he can have that. We were all concerned not only by these questionable peripherals, but because of his repertoire. Newcomb has a solid heater: 93+ mph from the left side with the ability to elevate and a marvelous .227 BAA across 1800 thrown. His secondary stuff…not so much. His curveball passes the eye test, but it is way too inconsistent and hittable with just an 8% swinging strike rate last year and a 33% zone rate. Ouch. His other pitch is a changeup that cruised Newcomb through the first half…and then came back down to Earth in the final three months. It’s an average offering, not a strong #2. Maybe Newcomb adds a slider or figures out one of these secondary pitches, but at this point I have concerns he’ll get booted from the rotation. His walk rate is too high without a pitch to trust outside his heater and I see more 4.00 ERA seasons with a 22% K rate and 1.30+ WHIP. Not for me in the slightest.
97. Julio Teheran (Atlanta Braves) – As mentioned in the Newcomb blurb, I wouldn’t be shocked if Teheran was out of Atlanta’s rotation this season. The Braves have so many young and talented arms at the ready: Mike Soroka, Luiz Gohara, Bryse Wilson, Ian Anderson, Max Fried, Kolby Allard, and still more. The Nationals, Phillies, and even Mets are competing for the NL East this year and I can see Teheran hovering in the 4.00+ ERA/1.30+ WHIP territory once again. He often goes on poor stretches and it’ll only take one with the Braves 5+ games out in June/July to move him into the long-relief role and out of a rotation spot. But maybe he can build upon his 11.2% swinging strike rate from last year (a career high!) and bump his successful slider up from 22% to 30%, white knuckling one more year in the rotation. I don’t think he’s worth your time in a 12-teamer (will you ever get to a point where you can trust him?), but I won’t rule out the chance that he replicates something close to his 3.21 ERA/1.05 WHIP 2016 season.
98. Drew Smyly (Texas Rangers) – Hey, remember this guy? The one who looked read to excel for the Rays, disappointed us all mightily in 2016, had a “soggy arm in Seattle”, was sent to Chicago where we considered him a possible sleeper add last September, only to now be shipped to Texas? Ohhh that guy! We’re still wondering what we’ll see out of Smyly, but three years later, we have to hope that he’s healthy and ready to come close to his 11.5% swinging strike rate from 2015. It’s a longshot, but we really won’t know until we see him in the spring. But hey, maybe that 28% K rate with 3.11 ERA and 1.17 WHIP from 2015 returns, right? Back when he had three pitches above a 13% swinging strike rate. Those were fun times…
99. Marcus Stroman (Toronto Blue Jays) – I think we’re all rooting for Stroman. He has his back against the wall, unfortunately, as he’s a groundball-heavy guy (not a positive, look at the names behind Stroman here) playing his home games on turf (bad for groundball pitchers) with one of the worst defenses in baseball behind him. Stroman hasn’t held a 20% strikeout rate since his rookie year and while his slider actually showcases strikeout potential, it’s used under 17% of the time, in favor of pitch-to-contact offerings like his cutter and curveball. I just don’t see how Stroman breaks the spell for a full year, unless he gets traded and the organizational philosophy shifts in his favor. Meanwhile, I won’t bet on a Marcus renaissance, but at least I won’t attack his character. That would be a Stro-man argument and he’s awesome.
100. Drew Pomeranz (San Francisco Giants) – You probably didn’t expect The Dirty Cheerleader in the Top 100, but here
I stand we are. I see most of these guys at the end of the Top 100 slated for your waiver wire. Think of these picks as guys to cycle through at the start of the season until we figure out who is actually taking that step forward. As for Pomeranz, he lost two ticks off his heater, now heading to sub-90 mph levels and that’s terrible. He battled injuries and described his season as “a fluke year” where he didn’t feel like himself. I know, Best Shape of Your Life ‘n’ all and at this ranking, I’m obviously not putting a lot of stock in it. At the same time, why not see what happens here? Maybe he can hint at a 22% K rate with a 3.50 ERA and 1.25 WHIP as the fifth starter for the Giants—a team that will let Pomeranz loose. Maybe even his curveball usage gets upped, the cutter returns, and he’s suddenly busting guys inside and striking out a batter per inning. I don’t think we really know which Pomeranz will show up and that’s a good thing. At least there’s some magic left at this point and he’s not someone that we’re settling with because we want to look cool in high school. Spoiler alert: you didn’t.
Nick’s Top 200 Starting Pitchers will continue this week with two more articles: The Top 150 Starting Pitchers and Top 200 Starting Pitchers.
(Photo by John Adams/Icon Sportswire)