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Top 25 Prospect Pitchers for Fantasy Baseball 2016

  Welcome back! While many of the best hitters already graduated, many of the best pitchers decided to take on a second major and push their graduation back a year....

 

Welcome back! While many of the best hitters already graduated, many of the best pitchers decided to take on a second major and push their graduation back a year. Hey, I get it, it’s a tough job market out there. But what that means is that there are some amazing finds on the farm for high-upside rotation help, especially if you’re willing to wait a few months. Okay enough talking, more ranking!

This is a list of the top 25 pitching prospects based on predicted stats for 2016 ONLY. This list does not take into account long term keeper value, contracts, defensive value (except as it relates to playing time).

1. Steven Matz (NYM) – There’s not a lot of doubters anymore that Matz has ace upside with his arsenal and command. His control is still a work in progress but he has the talent to succeed even with an elevated walk rate. If he can manage to get it down, he can be a top-10 starter as soon as this year.

ETA – Opening Day

2. Kenta Maeda (LAD) – There’s no longer as much skepticism about Japanese pitchers as there used to be, and Maeda’s profile suggests he should be yet another success story. He’s not in the Darvish/Tanaka tier, but with excellent command of low 90’s heat and a plus slider, he can succeed along Iwakuma/Kuroda lines, which is plenty valuable for most fantasy teams. He’s less risk than the typical pitching prospect and you can make a case for putting him above Matz, but Kuroda also lacks that level of upside.

ETA – Opening Day

3. Jose Berrios (MIN) – I was among the frustrated masses calling for his promotion to the majors who were left empty-handed. But he did continue his domination to Triple-A, and while he could be a viable starter today, Berrios will ripen a bit more in Triple-A before knocking out one of the soft tossers in the back of the rotation. Expect a decent walk rate and WHIP with a strikeout an inning.

ETA – May

4. Blake Snell (TB) – Do you Snell what the Blake is cooking? I do. He’s cooking up hot and heavy fastballs with a side of a plus curveball and an improved changeup garnish. He improved on his control halfway through the season which helped him back up his incredible start to the season with proof that he’s no fluke. That being said, Matt Moore taught us well that a single plus-control campaign does not a plus-control pitcher make. If he can repeat the goodness in Triple-A, he’ll find a way to TB somehow, even in that stacked rotation. My bet is on TB signing him to a team-friendly deal, then calling him up immediately, Evan Longo-style.

ETA – June

5. Tyler Glasnow (PIT) – Glasnow has major-league ready stuff and can strike people out with the best of them, but his control is still a work in limited progress. If he can even improve on that a little bit, he should find an opportunity with a Pittsburgh rotation that is full of holes.

ETA – July

6. Julio Urias (LAD) – The odds are probably against the 19-year old losing a year of service time to get called up to the majors this year, but with the Dodgers a likely bet to contend, it’s still possible. Urias was dominant before getting elective eye surgery, which was likely a strategic way to limit his innings. But he’s a good bet to be an ace, seeing as he’s doing what most other prospects can never achieve at 19, four plus pitches with excellent command and pitchability, velocity, y’know, that kind of stuff. Brett Anderson’s recent and unsurprising injury gives Urias a better opening but June is the earliest he’ll likely earn the call.

ETA – July

7. John Lamb (CIN) – While Eickhoff couldn’t be considered a prospect at 51 innings, Lamb missed the cutoff by ONE THIRD OF AN INNING so I can write about him. While he was being called a back-end bust I tooted Lamb’s horn all year (unlike my rabbi who toots a ram’s horn twice a year). I mean he was striking out guys and walking few nearly every outing. While his major league ERA will scare away most leaguemates, his peripherals indicate his ERA should be in the high 3s or low 4s, not 5.80. And with his high K rate, he could make a sneaky fantasy #3 or #4 in a deep league.

ETA – Mid April (Injury)

8. Alex Reyes (STL) – Next to Giolito, when it comes to upside Reyes is probably the highest guy on this list. Unfortunately, being so high is what got him suspended 50 games. While he hasn’t completely harnessed his control, he’s been effectively wild with a power fastball he can pump to 100 and a plus-plus curve with a developing change. The suspension throws off his timetable but if he dominates he could be up by the All-Star break, and if he can avoid fumbling with his control he could dominate in his first go-round the league

ETA – All-Star Break

9. Lucas Giolito – I have to put it out there that Giolito is one of the most talented pitchers on this list. His K rate went down in this year, likely in an attempt to improve his changeup, which didn’t really work. But with his fastball, he should be great anyway, but he’s here on the list because it’s going to be harder for him to break into the rotation. His best bets are Roark being mediocre or Strasburg getting hurt. But especially if the changeup is a bit better, he could have a Gerrit-Cole-esque debut

ETA – All-Star Break

10. Cody Reed (CIN) – He’s competing for a spring rotation spot, and was suddenly excellent after trade to CIN but I’m not convinced the K/9 surge with improved control will last. If it does, he’s a #2 starter. I mean, not long ago he couldn’t get ANYONE out, even in the low minors. But he has a low-90s heater with movement and plus slider so I’d take a chance on him.

ETA – May

11. Jose De Leon (LAD) – Another pitcher who spent much of the season in the shadow of an even more exciting pitcher, De Leon put up some eye-popping strikeout numbers (nearly 13 K/9 in high-A and Double-A). He came out of nowhere as a 24th round pick who just broke through from improving his conditioning and mechanics, a great inspirational/feel good story. He had more issues with walks and homers in Double-A, which could be due to in part to a not-actually-that-fast fastball (90-91 mph) but he should continue his dominance en route to becoming a 200 K-a-year #3 starter or a top-tier closer. He may need to pitch in relief first to get his foot in the door and hope he doesn’t get stuck there.

ETA – July

12. Jon Gray (COL) – Much like the Rocky Mountains, Gray has already had many ups and downs in his young career. After nearly falling off the prospect map due to diminished velocity, Gray rallied midseason 2015 with some double-digit strikeout games. He still struggles with inconsistency and has a nightmare stadium for half his games (part of why his 2015 major league peripherals were way better than his actual ERA), but his strikeout ability and upside are worth the gamble as a #3 starter with #2 upside.

ETA – Opening Day

13. Taylor Guerrieri (TB) – Many lists have forgotten about him. Maybe it’s the drug suspension, maybe it’s prospect fatigue, maybe it’s injuries, maybe it’s Maybelline. But Guerrieri was great in 2015, with nearly a strikeout an inning and a power sinker and plus curve fronting a balanced arsenal. He’s likely available, don’t sleep on him. He’ll call the cops on you.

ETA – July

14. Erik Johnson (CHW) – He was a sleeper for most of last year as his failed 2013 flop made him a forgotten man. But he dominant in the minors the first half of the season and although he wasn’t as good in the second half, he earned a major league call-up. His surface stats were better than his underlying stats so now he’s more of a bust than a sleeper. He’s likely to post a low-to-mid 4s ERA with a mid 7 K/9 and a mid 3 BB/9, which makes him pretty darn average. Just like his name. Yawn.

ETA – Opening Day

15. Robert Stephenson (CIN) – And now, for something completely different. YAY EXCITEMENT! HIS FASTBALL IS AS FAST AS HIS NAME IS LONG! HE HAS NO IDEA WHERE IT’S GOING! His upside is,Roy Halladay, and Daniel his floor is Daniel Cabrera. NOT BORING!

ETA – May

16. Michael Fulmer (DET) – It seems at the moment that the Tigers are planning on starting the year with Fulmer in the bullpen, which really doesn’t make sense but it’s the Tigers so I bet they’ll do just that. The good news is he’ll be relief-eligible, which is especially useful in keeper leagues, but I’d expect him to take over after the annual Anibal injury. He had a great campaign last year and has #2-3 starter upside with a balance of plus pitches contributing to a strong K rate and manageable walk rate.

ETA – Opening Day

17. Sean Manaea (OAK) – The Athletics roster really doesn’t have much going for it, but if Manaea can actually stay healthy, they’ll have one thing worth looking forward to. He still has #2 starter upside that has not weakened through the injuries, and now 24, he’s close to the majors and may get a spot by June so they can get some value out of him before he gets hurt again. He has big K upside and a great pitcher’s park, so count me in.

ETA – All-Star Break

18. Kyle Zimmer (KC) – I thought that nothing could flim-flam the zim-zam but I guess injuries can. While he pitched more than half his games last year out of the pen, he’s likely to have one more trial to stay healthy before being moved since the Royals would be silly to shut the door on a potential ace hurler unnecessarily. Like Manaea, Zimmer, now also 24, will be thrown in the fray once he proves himself healthy and ready.

ETA – July

19. Silvino Bracho (ARZ) – Mr. Silvino had dominated every step of the minors with a stunning K/BB, and this continued all the way up to his major league debut last year. While he did benefit from an 100 LOB%, he could post a sub-3 ERA with one of the best K rates for a non-closing reliever and an excellent WHIP. While it’s rather unsexy to post a middle relief arm on a top prospects list, the fact is his fantasy impact will likely be more positive than many starting pitching gambles on this list. Boost him up 5-10 spots if you’re in a holds league. I personally would not be surprised to see him as closer by the year’s end.

ETA – Opening Day

20. Jacob Faria (TB) – While Snell stole all the spotlight, Faria was the other pitcher who made big strides in 2015, posting a 11.47 K/9 in Triple-A. His walk rate went up as well, but I expect both to regress and for him to continue to impress on his way to being a strong #3 starter with #2 upside. The biggest obstacle for him will be breaking through the crowded rotation picture, especially with Snell first in line, and I don’t think the Rays will call him up as a bullpen arm.

ETA – August

21. Francis Martes (HOU) – Martes has made adjustments to his offspeed pitches and control to transform from a high upside raw arm to an elite pitching prospect. Being only 20 and buffered by a relatively strong Astros starting rotation, he will likely have most of the year to further add polish and refinement to his stuff, but he could likely succeed now and can make an impact during the stretch run should the need arise.

ETA – August

22. Dylan Bundy (BAL) – The good news is that the Orioles are out of options with Bundy, meaning he’s on the roster in some capactity come opening day. The bad news is he’s also on the cusp of the DL, and doesn’t have a rotation spot if healthy. After all his injuries, he’s lost some of the velocity and bite to his stuff, and barring any changes he’s probably rocking #3 starter or relief ace upside right now. There’s probably someone in your league who refuses to believe this and thinks that he should only be BETTER after Tommy John. Let that guy overpay for him. But hey, if nobody does, take a shot on him, because who honestly knows where he’ll be a year from now.

ETA – Opening Day

23. Joe Musgrove (HOU) – At 24, he’s old for a pitching prospect, and with such a low walk rate it’s easy to assume he’s a control-specialist soft-tosser of the Kendall Graveman variety. But you’d be mistaken. Musgrove has a long injury history but a plus fastball with pinpoint command makes him already valuable, so add an average slider and a changeup that may project as average and you have yourselves a valuable MLB starter. There really aren’t many major leaguers with his profile so I’ll go with peak Kevin Slowey, with a faster fastball and increased injury-proneness. That’s probably still underselling him. Expect a 7 K/9 and a walk rate below 2 for a high 3 to low 4 ERA.

ETA – June

24. Archie Bradley (ARZ) – For a few years I was one of the harshest critics of Bradley even when he was ranked a top prospect, so I was happy to see him struggle. However, I felt no joy in seeing him get a line drive to the face. I’m not THAT harsh. He’s still 23 and he did improve his control in Triple-A before it regressed in the majors, so at least he did show small improvement. Since his upside is still high if the control sticks, yeah he’s a sleeper, but one with high upside but also high risk.

ETA – Opening Day

25. Jorge Lopez (MLW) – Despite winning minor league pitcher of the year after a great campaign at Double-A Biloxi, projection systems really don’t like him for this year. He has a chance at a rotation spot but the Brewers have a tough home park for pitchers and he’s likely on the outside looking in. But he should have a solid K and walk rate with an ERA in the mid-to-high 4s. His projection is rather similar to Erik Johnson, but he’s 3 years younger so his future is brighter.

ETA – July

FIVE MORE:

26. Aaron Blair (ARZ) – Blair is one of those guys who is kinda boring because he lacks upside but also doesn’t do much wrong. In the majors he’ll balance out his 6 K/9 with a manageable walk rate, but he may be the type prone to drubbings due to the high-contact approach in a hitter’s haven. He does have a plus curve and a developing change to match his deceptive fastball, so he can be a mid-rotation workhorse.

27. Lucas Sims (ATL) – If you’re looking for high upside risk late in your minor league draft, Sims may be your guy. His control was pretty bad this year so he really didn’t deserve his promotion to Double-A, but he did have a strong showing in the AFL which gives at least some hope that he’ll turn it around in 2016 and parlay his high-strikeout ways into a rotation spot. Failing that, he could be a high-K bullpen arm.

28. Frankie Montas (ARZ) – Can throw 100 MPH, still given a shot as a starter but his future home may well be in the bullpen. He does have top-10 closer upside in the pen though. But he’s starting the year on the 60-day DL with a rib injury.

29. Zach Davies (MLW) – Davies put together a strong campaign for Baltimore and then was traded to Milwaukee in the Gerardo Parra deal. In the majors, his K rate went down by 1 and his walk rate went up by 1 which suddenly made him look way less appealing. He did post a 3.71 which was actually supported by his peripherals due to an excellent 57.6 GB%. That’s probably due for regression so he’ll have to cut his walk rate down to prevent the higher-upside Lopez from taking his job.

30. Sean Newcomb (LAA) – If this is the year he improves his control and his secondary stuff, this could be the year he reaches the majors. But that’s a lot to ask of a pitcher so I’m not counting on it. Still, his K upside makes him hard to pass up here.

Just missed:

Brent Honeywell (TB), Braden Shipley (ARZ), Sean Newcomb (LAA), Brian Johnson (BOS), Mark Appel (BOO!) (HOU)

 

Nick Pollack

Founder of Pitcher List. Creator of CSW, The List, and SP Roundup. Worked with MSG, FanGraphs, CBS Sports, and Washington Post. Former college pitcher, travel coach, pitching coach, and Brandeis alum. Wants every pitcher to be dope.

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