Thirteen pitching sleepers? You’ve got to be kidding me! No, I’m not kidding and why am I having an argument with the voices in my head?
Maybe it’s from the extreme lack of offense we saw last season, but there are a ton of pitchers I like this year all the way up and down the ADP lists. Are all 13 of these pitchers going to come through in 2013? Of course not. They wouldn’t be sleepers if we knew that and I’d probably be sipping a fruity drink by the deck of a hotel pool in Vegas if I knew that.
With that said, you win fantasy baseball leagues by making profit. It’s pretty hard to make profit in the early rounds of your drafts. Mostly you’re just looking to get what you’ve paid for. Those people who say you’ve got to take risks to win your league are wrong 95% of the time. I want as little risk as possible. That doesn’t mean I don’t take my shots on pitching sleepers I like. It just means I’m not doing it in the early or middle rounds of my drafts. I’m doing it a lot closer to the end game. At that point, it’s not a risk; it’s an opportunity to return a huge profit at little to no draft cost.
So, there are no guarantees on this list, but these are potential pitching sleepers who, for one reason or another, I’m gonna be watching as Spring Training progresses. Some of them are pitchers I’d be comfortable drafting right now and others are more on my ‘watch list’ for pitching sleepers. I’m not going to go on a deep dive for each pitcher, but I will share the reasons I like them and hopefully convince you to at least monitor them over the coming weeks.
The season is not here yet, but why not get a head start and jump in a Fantrax Classic Draft contest? Get a jump on the season with a Best Ball league or maybe a Draft and Hold. Or put some green on the line with a new season-long league to try and conquer. There’s no better time than now to get your baseball on!
2023 Pitching Sleepers and Watch List
In targeting pitching sleepers you have to draw a line in the sand somewhere. The line I drew was at overall pick 200 on FantasyPros Consensus ADP. All of the pitching sleepers I’ll be discussing are being drafted outside the top 60 starting pitchers with seven of them going outside of the top 100. The pitchers below are listed in order of their appearance on the current ADP, but not necessarily in my order of preference.
1. Hunter Brown, HOU – ADP 231
By the time you’re reading this, Brown’s ADP may have climbed out of my threshold for pitching sleepers. The arm issues of Lance McCullers have popped up (again) and he’s not gonna be ready for the start of the season. You knew this was coming, but now everybody knows about it. Brown has continually gotten more dominant at each rung of the minor league ladder and he was lights out in his 20-inning MLB debut late last season. There really aren’t any holes in his game. He”’ get you plenty of strikeouts (11.38 K/9 in Triple-A) and his walk rate is not a huge problem. The only question is how many innings the Astros will let him throw. He tossed 126.1 innings combined last year so the ceiling is probably below 150 this year. The Astros will undoubtedly be in the playoff picture so Brown getting completely shut down is probably not gonna happen. It’s more likely that we see a bunch of five-inning starts and he may be occasionally skipped in the rotation. That can be annoying, but especially in roto, the quality innings still count.
2. Jameson Taillon, CHC – ADP 247
At one point Taillon was viewed as one of the better pitching prospects in baseball. Injuries have likely robbed him of some of the upside he may have once possessed. He’s turned into more of a lunch-pail starter you stream through your rotation when the match-ups are nice. Why then do I consider him a bit of a sleeper?
Taillon has been working on a new pitch, or maybe more accurately, he’s changed the way he throws his slider. Multiple Cubs pitchers have turned to the ‘sweeper’ type of slider and it’s generally had positive results. I don’t expect Taillon to suddenly turn into a No. 1 or 2 fantasy starter, but if his K/9 can get a little bit closer to 9.0 then I think there’s a bit of profit potential here. I’m not going to reach past his current ADP, but he does offer a safe floor with maybe more upside than people think.
3. Garrett Whitlock, BOS – ADP 272
There’s a lot of old school in me. I certainly believe in statistical analysis, but I also think you can learn a lot from actually watching games. In fact, I think this is why Statcast has had such a monumental impact on both fantasy and real baseball. It’s taken those skills we used to scout with our eyes and done a pretty good job of quantifying it. In the pitching realm, I think Stuff+ and Location+ have done the same thing. The first time I saw Garrett Whitley pitch, I knew he had some special talent. Stuff+ and Location+ show me that my eyes did not fail me.
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Whitlock is one of just a few pitchers that had scores over 100 for three different pitches ( Change, Sinker, 4-seamer) during the 2022 season. For context 100 is considered league average in the Pitching+ statistics. His slider is not quite as dominant, but he does locate it well, giving him a fourth solid offering in his arsenal. It’s possible some of these numbers were buoyed by his time in the bullpen, but there’s little doubt that he has all the tools to be a top-notch starting pitcher.
Whitlock has bounced between the bullpen and the rotation and had some hip issues, so we haven’t seen what he can do in a full season. The Red Sox seem committed to him as a starting pitcher now and we should get that chance this season. I’m all over him in both re-draft and dynasty and if his health cooperates, I think we’ll be talking about him as a top-20 starting pitcher in 2024.
4. Trevor Rogers, MIA – ADP 327
I’m not sure there was another pitcher whose performance changed so much from 2021 to 2022. Rogers went from one of baseball’s best pitchers to maybe one of its worst. Injuries were certainly a part of it, but was there something more to his struggles? If you believe Rogers’ comments in the Miami Herald, there may be a reason for optimism.
“I dissected my mechanics, and I was just getting way too east/west [with his body throwing pitches], too rotational instead of being a north/south guy like I used to be. So it’s been a slow progression as far as getting back to that. “As soon as I saw it on video, I knew exactly what it was. It was just so appalling to me and kind of out there like a sore thumb. It was pretty easy to spot.”
Is this just more of the Spring Training talk we’ve learned to ignore? Is he also in ‘the best shape of his life?’ It’s impossible to say right now, but if you just totally toss it aside, you’re ignoring a potential source of huge value. Trevor Rogers is one of the pitchers I’m most focused on watching this spring. Getting a potential No. 2 fantasy starter this late in the draft could be a league-winner!
5. Andrew Painter, PHI – ADP 328
Painter has been anointed by many as the top pitching prospect in baseball and it’s hard to argue with his results. I’m a lot more hesitant to roster him than I am Hunter Brown though. Painter pitched just 65 innings last year between Single-A+ and Double-A last year. They were dominant innings, but I just don’t see the Phillies breaking camp with him. Philadelphia will likely be in contention so I think it’s more likely we see him in the second half of the season so that he can have an impact during the post-season. If the hews breaks that he’ll be in the rotation from the get-go I’ll certainly change my tune, but for now I think he’s on my fantasy back-burner.
6. Ian Anderson, ATL – ADP 375
I’m watching Anderson for many of the same reasons I’ll be watching Trevor Rogers. Anderson was never quite as dominant as Rogers and his control has always been an issue. Still, prior to 2022 it seemed he was a solid source of strikeouts and wins. A 7.28 K/9 last season was not exactly what we wanted to see next to his 4.35 BB/9.
Like Taillon, Anderson has also reportedly added a slider to his arsenal and the early results are promising. Anderson was in a battle with Mike Soroka for the fifth starter gig in Atlanta but after several years of Achilles’ problems, Soroka has now been sidelined with a pretty significant hamstring injury.
Yeah, it’s all talk until we see it on the field. Feel free to ignore Spring Training results, but I think there’s a very good chance that Anderson offers value this fantasy baseball season. I’ll be watching his results this spring and I imagine he’ll be on a lot of my reserve rosters in my upcoming drafts.
7. Tylor Megill, NYM – ADP 391
It had slipped my mind but Megill was the Opening Day starter for the Mets in 2022 and he actually lived up to it… for a while. In 28 innings in March and April, Megill posted a 1.93 ERA with 27 strikeouts and a 0.86 WHIP. Injuries derailed his season after that and the results when he did pitch were not pretty.
As it sits now, Megill may be seventh in line for a slot in the Mets’ starting rotation, but one look at the pitchers ahead of him shows you why he and David Peterson may be fantasy relevant. You think the old arms of Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer can make 30 starts? Can Jose Quintana repeat what he did last year? Can Kodai Senga handle a full 162-game workload starting every 5th day? Carlos Carrasco has injury concerns and his performance has been up and down over the last few seasons.
As of now Tylor Megill is more of a pitcher I’ll be saving for the regular season when injuries invariably happen. At some point this coming season he’s likely to be a popular name on your waiver wire.
8. David Peterson, NYM – ADP 455
Peterson is going after Tylor Megill in fantasy baseball drafts but he may be ahead of him in the pecking order for the Mets’ rotation. Peterson was never really viewed as an elite prospect but there was a lot to like in 2022. He got 19 starts and produced a 3.83 ERA with a 10.73 K/9. Surprisingly his K/9 was actually higher as a starting pitcher. Peterson is nothing more than an NL-only option at this point, but as we already talked about, there are plenty of reasons to think both he and Megill will have a chance to produce fantasy value this season.
9. Brandon Pfaadt, ARI – ADP 459
Hunter Brown and Andrew Painter are getting much of the rookie pitching love this draft season, but Pfaadt may be every bit as good. We worry about innings limits for most rookies but Pfaadt tossed a combined 167 innings between Double- and Triple-A in 2022. Both stops on the Arizona minor league system are hitting environments so take his overall 3.83 ERA with a grain of salt. In those 167 innings, Pfaadt struck out 218 batters against just 33 walks.
Pfaadt is 24 years old so his time is coming soon. He’s competing for a slot in the D-Backs rotation this spring, but even if he starts the season in the minors, is Zach Davies really going to block his path? Pfaadt is probably just a waiver-wire pitcher for 12-team mixed leagues, but in 15-team leagues and deeper, he’s a worthy reserve-round stash, who could provide a nice boost whenever he gets the call. He represents one of the highest ceilings of all these pitching sleepers.
10. James Paxton, BOS – ADP 451
James Paxton? Really? I mean he’s 34 years old and his left arm might be 54. Are we really watching to see what he does in Spring Training? Smart fantasy baseball managers are. Paxton is sort of the generic Byron Buxton of pitchers. He’s always received plenty of hype and there have been flashes of results, but injuries have always gotten in the way.
No matter what he does this spring I’m not getting overly excited, but we’re talking basically about a free pick-up. This for a pitcher who’s had K/9s over 10.00 in every season he’s pitched in since 2017. If he shows something this spring I’ll use a reserve round pick and then stream him along until his left arm finally falls off. Feel free to ignore him but if he can provide even 50 innings of near-elite strikeouts, then it’s a win for your fantasy team.
11. Kyle Bradish, BAL – ADP 465
My FantraxHQ cohort, Tyler Bowen, brought Bradish to my attention with his search for cheap strikeouts in 2023. Bradish was a somewhat respected pitching profit who got the call to Baltimore early last season. To say he started off a bit rough is an understatement. He posted ERA of 8.46 and 7.50 in May and June respectively and found himself back in the minors. Hitters teed off on his fastball and Bradish did not have an answer.
Bradish got called back up in late July and seemed better prepared. He backed off the fastball usage and started emphasizing his slider and curveball. The results were immediate, with a 3.28 ERA and 65:28 K:BB ratio over his final 13 outings. Bradish lacks huge strikeout upside but on an improving Orioles team he looks like a relevant stream or sixth/seventh starter for your fantasy baseball team.
12. Ryne Nelson, ARI – ADP 493
So, we just talked about Brandon Pfaadt as a nice sleeper for Arizona. Guess who’s penciled in to start out in their rotation ahead of him? Well, unless you’re entirely context clueless you’ve probably figured out it’s Ryne Nelson. Nelson hasn’t received a ton of hype but his MLB debut last year was certainly impressive. He got three starts in September and tossed 5.1, 6.0, and 7.0 innings respectively. In those 18 innings, he gave up just three earned runs and struck out 16 batters against just six walks. Why haven’t we heard a lot more sleeper hype?
Well, his 5.43 ERA in Triple-A may be the culprit. But again, the ballpark environment throughout the Arizona system is very hitter-friendly. Pitching+ loved his 2022 debut.
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Nelson’s minor league track record is a mixed bag and he doesn’t really have the prospect pedigree, but evaluating pitchers in the Arizona system is a challenge. I’m watching him this spring and will stash him in NL-only formats. Mixed leaguers can leave him for the waiver wire if he gets off to a strong start.
13. Clarke Schmidt, NYY – ADP 575
Like most of these pitching sleepers, Schmidt’s 2023 value is heavily dependent upon opportunity. Schmidt is 27 years old and has never been considered anything more than a mid-level prospect. He did look good out of the pen in 2022 as he posted a 3.12 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP, and 56 strikeouts in 57.2 innings. He’s been a starter during the bulk of his minor league career and has always posted nice strikeout rates. The one caveat has been that he struggles against left-handed hitters, allowing a career .297 batting average to them vs. a .203 mark against righties.
Schmidt has added a cutter to his arsenal to give him another weapon to use against LHH. Early reports are positive. The likely season-ending injury to Frankie Montas has opened up the fifth-starter slot for the Yankkes and Schmidt is battling it out with Domingo Germán. I’m not sure I’m ready to jump on Clarke Schmidt in anything but the deepest of leagues, but he’s in a pretty nice situation to succeed if the new pitch gives him a boost. Keep an eye on how this position battle plays out and don’t be afraid to jump on Schmidt if the early-season matchups are nice.
Yes, I like these potential pitching sleepers but I’m not trying to convince you to bump them way up your draft lists. You may draft them ahead of similar pitchers in their draft neighborhood, but part of the reason I like them has to do with their draft cost. At their current ADP, all these pitchers have a chance to provide significant profit for your fantasy baseball teams. Don’t negate that advantage by reaching way too early on any of them.
Who are your favorite pitching sleepers for the 2023 fantasy baseball season? Share some knowledge in the comments below. For more great analysis check out the 2023 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit!