This gets said most seasons, but starting pitching is incredibly deep. Between safe veteran options and up-and-coming young flamethrowers, there’s a little bit of everything in this part of the rankings.
I’ve always preached the depth of pitching while filling out your roster. It’s certainly important to grab some top-tier arms, but filling out your pitching staff with strong late-round options can pay big dividends. And this year, the late-round options you’ll find below are quite intriguing. Included are several high-upside youngsters and even two former Cy Young award winners.
*PLAYER NOTES/ANALYSIS CAN BE FOUND BELOW THE RANKINGS TABLE.
Starting Pitcher Player Notes
51. Jeff Samardzija, San Francisco Giants
It’s hard to find a 200-strikeout arm this late in a draft. Let alone, one as dependable as Samardzija. He’s made at least 32 starts in each of the last five seasons while never pitching fewer than 203.1 innings. In three of those five seasons, Samardzija posted 200+ strikeouts and a BB/9 of 3.3 or better. So, why is he this low? Well, his ERA has been all over the place, ranging from 2.99 to 4.96. If he can keep his ERA below four, Samardzija has top-30 SP potential, but that’s not something you want to bank on when drafting him.
52. Mike Clevinger, Cleveland Indians
With so many high-upside arms on Cleveland’s roster, a guy like Clevinger can be overlooked. For a stretch last season, he was a huge part of Cleveland’s success. Clevinger finished the season making 21 starts and six relief appearances, posting a 3.11 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 10.1 K/9. The only reason he’s this low is due to his high walk rate (4.4 BB/9) and the fact that Cleveland still thinks Josh Tomlin is good. Clevinger will start the season in the rotation due to Danny Salazar beginning on the disabled list, and Cleveland would be wise to leave him there all season.
53. Aaron Sanchez, Toronto Blue Jays
Chalk up last year as a lost season for Sanchez. He was able to muster only eight starts, and the results were displeasing to the eyes. Instead, let’s look at his 2016 breakout season when Sanchez won 15 games with a 1.17 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, and an AL-leading 3.00 ERA. He’ll likely never be a high strikeout pitcher due to his heavy dependence on his sinker. However, he doesn’t need to strike out a ton of guys to be a solid SP4/5 in fantasy. Now fully healthy, a return to stats near his 2016 numbers could be on the horizon.
54. Garrett Richards, Los Angeles Angels
Richards is one of the biggest boom-or-bust pitchers for the 2018 season. The talent is there, demonstrated by his 3.00 ERA and 1.15 WHIP over the last four seasons. However, health has been what has held him back. Richards has been able to make only six starts in each of the last two seasons. If he can come close to 30 starts, Richards has top-40 SP upside this season.
55. Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves
The 2017 season was easily the worst of Teheran’s career so far. He posted career-worsts in ERA (4.49), WHIP (1.37), H/9 (8.9), HR/9 (1.5), BB/9 (3.4), and K/9 (7.2). His worsening control and overall command of his arsenal are a big reason for the decline. All of his pitches became less valuable for him, especially his four-seam fastball and slider, which are the two most important pitches to his success. Teheran has made 30+ starts in five straight seasons, and with last year being by far his worst over that stretch, there’s optimism that he can rebound to some degree in 2018.
56. Kevin Gausman, Baltimore Orioles
Is there some sort of curse on Baltimore starting pitchers? This organization just can’t seem to develop good starting pitching. Gausman is the latest example of this. Just when we think we’re on the verge of him breaking out, he regresses. Just par for the course in Baltimore. Gausman’s H/9 and BB/9 both rose in 2017, which led to a career-worst 4.68 ERA and 1.50 WHIP across 34 starts. He’s better than his 2017 numbers let on, but he’s going to need to start showing it this season or risk being labeled with the dreaded “bust” tag.
57. Taijuan Walker, Arizona Diamondbacks
Well, he might never fulfill his ace potential, but Walker is developing into a dependable mid-rotation arm. He’s dropped his ERA in each of the last two seasons, down to 3.49 in 2017, while his strikeout rate has stayed consistently between 8.0-8.4. One concern is his rising walk rate, but 3.5 BB/9 isn’t terrible. Walker will be a beneficiary of the humidor this season in Arizona, so this ranking could turn out to be low when we look back at season’s end.
58. Sean Manaea, Oakland Athletics
Call it a sophomore slump? After a promising rookie campaign, Manaea regressed in many areas last season. He allowed more contact and walked more batters, which took its toll on his ERA and WHIP. Now, a 4.37 ERA and 1.40 WHIP aren’t terrible, but that puts him closer to waiver wire fodder than fantasy rotation staple. However, Manaea has unleashed a much-improved slider this spring, and there’s plenty of excitement in A’s camp about the development of the pitch. Could it lead to a higher K rate and lower ratios this season? Only time will tell. But it’s certainly a step in the right direction.
59. Alex Reyes, St. Louis Cardinals
It’s not often that I get this excited about a pitching prospect, but guys that can hit triple-digits with ease and have a nasty breaking ball catch my attention. Unfortunately, it caught Tommy John’s attention, too. It almost felt like we were robbed of witnessing Reyes’ first full Major League season last year and will still be seeing the ramifications of his injury during the first couple of months this season. Reyes isn’t expected to make his 2018 debut until some time in May and will likely be babied for a while after his return. But make no mistake, Reyes has sky-high potential and can be a fantasy asset this season even in a limited role, thanks to his elite K production and potential for a low ERA.
— Joe Trezza (@JoeTrezz) February 28, 2018
60. Drew Pomeranz, Boston Red Sox
Does it seem like Drew Pomeranz is a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off and land on the shelf for a year or more? Sure does to me. Pomeranz has had arm issues in the past, though none major, and felt the dreaded “forearm soreness” last week. He seems to have dodged the bullet this time, but it’s worth keeping an eye on this season. Pomeranz has top-30 SP potential, so taking him near pick 200 where his ADP currently sits (181.5) helps alleviate a lot of the risk involved here.
61. Cole Hamels, Texas Rangers
Ranking Hamels 61st almost seems wrong. He was never an elite fantasy stud, but he had a long run as a top-25 pitcher in his time with the Phillies. Last year was the first season since 2009 that Hamels had an ERA north of 3.65. On top of that, his 6.4 K/9 was by far the lowest of his 12-year career. Is this decline due to all the innings on his left arm or maybe the fact that his once-dominant change-up has become much less effective? Maybe it’s a little bit of both. Hamels still is talented enough to be drafted in standard mixed leagues, but expecting more than SP4/5 production will leave you disappointed.
62. Carlos Rodon, Chicago White Sox
Take a good long look at some of the White Sox pitchers as evidence that being an All-Star caliber pitcher is one of the hardest things to accomplish in all of sports. Rodon, along with teammate Lucas Giolito, are prime examples of that. Rodon throws hard, averaging 93 on the gun, and when he’s throwing it right, one of the best sliders in the game. However, he continues to show no signs of turning into the ace most thought he would be. Maybe, what he’s shown is the pitcher he’ll continue to be: a high strikeout pitcher with so-so ratios.
63. Lance Lynn, Free Agent
I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t worry me that Lynn was still a free agent with the season starting in just a few short weeks. Lynn has been one of the most underrated fantasy pitchers around over the last four seasons. In that time, he’s recorded a 3.30 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, and an 8.2 K/9 while making at least 31 starts in each season. I might even be underrating him here, but until he finds a home for 2018, he’s a risky player to draft. If he signs before your league draft, bump him up into the top-50.
64. Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox
Once upon a time, Giolito was the top pitching prospect in the game. He dominated the minor leagues to the tune of a 3.18 ERA and 9.6 K/9, but he has yet to put it all together in the Major Leagues. Yes, he’s only 66.2 innings into his career. I get that. But he simply doesn’t look like the same pitcher he was in the minors. He’s throwing his best off-speed pitch, a 12-6 hammer curve, less frequently and is getting fewer swings and misses with it. On top of that, his fastball velocity as taken a 1.5 mph dip since his call-up. There’s still loads of potential here, but also a growing element of risk that Giolito might take longer to develop than most.
65. Michael Kopech, Chicago White Sox
Might as well stay in the Windy City for another high-upside young right-hander. Giolito was once the top arm in the minors, and now Kopech lays claim to that title. It’s easy to see why the White Sox coveted him just as much as Yoan Moncada in the Chris Sale trade. Kopech has an electric 80-grade fastball, plus slider, and a developing change-up. So what’s the downside? His control. However, he’s bettered that as he’s matured and developed as a pitcher. The upside is a top-five fantasy stud, and Kopech will get the chance to prove that sometime in the next couple of months.
Michael Kopech's breaking ball pic.twitter.com/THZcPXLY8f
— Nick Pollack (@PitcherList) February 26, 2018
66. Kenta Maeda, Los Angeles Dodgers
A lot of Maeda’s peripheral stats remained the same from his strong rookie campaign in 2016, but his ERA still went up almost a full run from 3.48 to 4.22. The main culprits for that ERA rise were less effectiveness with his slider and changeup, as well as a slight rise in his HR/9 from 1.0 to 1.5. None of those is overly concerning, but Maeda should be treated as more of an SP4/5 than an SP3 like we was last season.
67. Dylan Bundy, Baltimore Orioles
Like with Giolito above, there was once a time when Bundy was regarded as arguably the top pitching prospect in the minors. He even got his chance to make his Major League debut back in 2012 when he was still only 19. Then, various injuries and poor performance delayed his next Major league stint unto 2016. The results have bee merely average over the last two years with a 4.16 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and 8.1 K/9. It’s fair to wonder if he’ll ever be anything more than what he’s shown the last two seasons. But past pedigree still makes him an enticing option in the later rounds.
68. Jordan Montgomery, New York Yankees
Montgomery had a quietly effective rookie season for the Yankees last season. Wow, how often can we say that about a player in New York? Montgomery posted a 3.88 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 8.3 K/9 across 29 starts in 2017 and is off to a great start to spring training this season. Assuming he can keep the long ball and his walk rate in check, Montgomery has top-50 SP upside this season on a good Yankees team.
69. Ervin Santana, Minnesota Twins
One would think that 16 wins and a 3.28 ERA would land you higher on this list. But a 10-12 week recovery time from a procedure on his right middle finger that contained a bunch of large medical words I can’t say or spell put a hurting on his 2018 fantasy value, and his finger. That was back in early-February so a return in late-April or early-May seems realistic.
70. Jake Odorizzi, Minnesota Twins
If you did a Google search for “average pitcher,” a picture of Jake Odorizzi would pop up. He’s had a fine career thus far with a 3.83 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 8.2 K/9, but he has never displayed upside beyond that. If you want to make him your SP5 in deeper leagues or a bench arm in 12-team or shallower leagues, that’s perfectly fine. I’ve done that myself more than once this spring. Just don’t expect much more than his 2017 numbers.
71. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
If ranking Hamels 61st felt wrong, ranking King Felix 71st feels like a federal crime. It’s not often in today’s game that you see a 31-year-old pitcher that already has more than 2,500 innings on his arm. And unfortunately, that seems to be catching up with the King. Since leading the American League with a 2.14 ERA in 2014, Hernandez’s ERA has risen each year and sat at 4.36 last season. His Cy Young days are likely over, but Hernandez is too smart of a pitcher to be completely forgotten in fantasy leagues.
72. Alex Cobb, Free Agent
Cobb is another hurler that remains without a home for the 2018 season here in the second week of March. He’s turning into one of those better in real life than fantasy type of pitchers, mainly due to his low strikeout upside. At this point, it’s time to wonder if he’ll be ready for Opening Day if he doesn’t sign very soon. If your fantasy squad is looking like it will be lacking in the ERA department, give Cobb a long look in the last few rounds.
73. Rick Porcello, Boston Red Sox
Come on, did we really think Porcello was going to pitch at 2016 levels every season? I’m a diehard Red Sox fan, and even I wanted no part of Porcello last year at where he was being drafted. This year, however, the 223 ADP is a much easier price tag to swallow. His 2017 is likely his floor with 2016 serving as the best-case scenario. In all likelihood, we’ll probably see Porcello somewhere in the middle with an ERA around 4.00 and a 8.0 K/9.
74. Patrick Corbin, Arizona Diamondbacks
Corbin will be one of the lucky few that will be able to benefit from the new humidor at Chase Field this season. That won’t help him raise his strikeout rate, but it very well could help him lower that 4.03 ERA and 1.42 WHIP from last season.
75. Eduardo Rodriguez, Boston Red Sox
After experiencing more problems with his right knee, E-Rod underwent patellofemoral ligament reconstruction surgery after the season and likely won’t be ready until some time in May. Bonus points to whoever can tell me what the heck that surgery is. Rodriguez was enjoying a nice season in 2017 when he was actually on the field. He lowered his ERA from 4.71 to 4.19, and his 9.8 K/9 was the highest of his young career. When he’s healthy, Rodriguez has top-40 SP upside, which makes him an enticing stash option in the last couple of rounds.
STAY TUNED FOR MY RELIEF PITCHER RANKINGS IN THE NEXT SEVERAL DAYS.
Thank you for reading and I hope you can use this article to your advantage and get a leg up on your fellow league members. Got a question that I didn’t cover here? Then follow me on Twitter @EricCross04 and ask there.