It’s September, which means fantasy football season has finally awakened while the fantasy baseball playoffs are kicking off. Unfortunately, the 2023 baseball season was lost for you. Injuries, poor performance, some bad trades, and just brutal luck kept you out of the postseason and forced you to look ahead to 2024 already.
There is good news in this scenario; you should have a fairly early pick in the 2024 first-year player draft (FYPD) and may have picked up extra throughout the season. The value in the top tier of names available — Dylan Crews, Paul Skenes, Wyatt Langford — hasn’t changed, but a handful of other players are increasing their value as we finish off the 2023 campaign. This group of arms will be trending up FYPD boards over the coming months.
Pitchers specifically can be tougher to gauge this early in their professional careers. Outside of Skenes, this was a fairly light draft class for arms and several of these FYPD options, including Rhett Lowder and Charlee Soto, have yet to debut in their new teams’ systems. As always, stick to the bats as long as possible.
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Rising Stock for 2024 FYPD Pitchers
Shota Imanaga – Free Agent – SP
All the talk about the upcoming offseason has been regarding Japanese star Yoshinobu Yamamoto, and for good reason. He’s going to command a massive contract after another unreal NPB season. We all know he’ll be a high-end FYPD pick but now, there’s confirmation of another Japanese ace coming to the MLB.
Shota Imanaga, a member of Japan’s 2023 World Baseball Classic championship roster, is set to be posted this offseason. He’s tossed 147 innings with a strong 2.57 ERA and a terrific 177:21 K:BB. His 7.9 K/BB is by far his career best, easily surpassing the 4.72 mark he produced last year. In his eight professional seasons, Imanaga owns a 2.96 ERA with a 9.4 K/9.
11 K in 8 IP last night from Shōta Imanaga. Nasty.pic.twitter.com/3Ug0QIUJgm
— Shawn Spradling (@Shawn_Spradling) September 13, 2023
As of now, he’ll make his MLB debut at age 30, like Kodai Senga did this season. Imanaga is another name that will produce right out of the gate after the 2024 FYPD. While it’s unclear where he’ll be pitching next year, he’ll likely slot in as a team’s SP2 or SP3. His age will push him a bit lower in drafts which could actually benefit fantasy managers who are in a competitive window and kept their first-round pick.
Hurston Waldrep – ATL – SP
After two years with Southern Mississippi, Hurston Waldrep got to shine under the bright lights of the SEC by spending his junior year at the University of Florida. He posted an impressive 13.8 K/9 but a 5 BB/9 led to an inflated 4.16 ERA in 101.2 frames. Despite the concerns with his command, Waldrep was selected 24th overall by the Braves, seemingly a perfect landing spot.
So far, Waldrep has transitioned to pro baseball pretty seamlessly. However, while the big strikeout stuff has followed him from the collegiate level, so has the poor walk rate. Through 21 innings in Atlanta’s system, he’s posted a 1.71 ERA with a 31:12 K:BB. Six of those walks have come in his two starts (six frames) since being promoted to Double-A Mississippi. In his Double-A debut, he forced 13 whiffs on 29 swings but got just two swinging strikes in his second outing.
Hurston Waldrep came out firing in his pro debut 😤
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) August 5, 2023
Waldrep is far from a polished arm despite already reaching the Double-A level. As with any prospect arm, the range of outcomes for the 21-year-old is vast. As mentioned, Atlanta might be the right organization to unlock something in him. The Braves have had plenty of recent success developing pitchers, including Spencer Strider, Kyle Wright, and Bryce Elder. Waldrep will likely be a late first/early second-round FYPD pick that could pay off big in a few years.
Joe Whitman – SFG – SP
Joe Whitman was used sparingly in his freshman and sophomore seasons at Purdue. He coughed up eight runs and walked six batters in just 5.2 total innings. A transfer to Kent State opened up a much larger role; he made 15 starts as a junior in 2023 and produced an impressive 2.56 ERA with a 100:29 K:BB in 15 starts. His breakout junior year resulted in the Giants taking him with a second-round pick.
Whitman has been eased very gently into action since being drafted. He’s thrown just 9.2 innings across six appearances and hasn’t thrown more than two frames in any outing. The 21-year-old has made the most of the small sample size, registering a 1.86 ERA and a 13:3 K:BB during that stretch. Whitman has yet to allow a home run during his time in pro ball after giving up just two during his 81 innings with Kent State. In his last appearance, he forced eight whiffs on just 26 pitches.
Joe Whitman fanned 4 over two innings in Friday’s victory over Stockton.
2 IP| 0 H| 0 R| 0 BB| 4 K pic.twitter.com/Z9vbbrC8gD
— SFGProspects (@SFGProspects) September 10, 2023
Unlike Imanaga and Waldrep, Whitman is definitely more of a deeper league target. Whitman relies on a plus-slider to make up for his lack of elite velocity. Fortunately, his changeup also appears to be developing nicely. If he can maintain three above-average pitches, the command should make up for his fastball sitting in the low-to-mid-90s. Whitman would have a comfortable home park in San Francisco but is likely still a few years away from making an MLB impact.