Dynasty Dugout: Breakout Pitching Prospects
As much as I love offense, there’s something special about watching a pitcher paint the outside corner with a fastball or drop a curve in at the knees. Offense might win fantasy championship, but that doesn’t mean you can’t dig a little deeper and grab some high-upside arms on the rise in dynasty leagues.
Maybe I should’ve started with pitchers. I could’ve rambled on and on about Joey Lucchesi and his breakout potential, but by now, everyone knows how good he is after his first few starts with the Padres. Oh well, my loss. But have no fear, there are five more intriguing hurlers below that have a strong chance of seeing their names fly up prospect lists later this season if they continue to develop and pitch to their potential.
Starting us off is a control freak with the last name Bieber that has been dominating at his craft.
Note: Organization ranks are from my team by team prospect rankings.
Shane Bieber (SP – CLE)
Org Rank: 4th, Level: AA, ETA: 2019
You could say that Shane Bieber is a bit of a control freak. I mean, the man despises walking batters like I despise broccoli. AKA, a lot.
Since being drafted in the 4th round of the 2016 amateur draft, Bieber has pitched 217.1 innings across four minor league levels. Guess how many free passes he’s issued over that time. The answer is 12. Just 12. Two came in his 24-inning debut in 2016, and the other 10 last season in 173.1 innings. Through his first four starts of 2018 with Double-A Akron, Bieber has pitched 26 innings with a 1.04 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, 28 strikeouts, and you guessed it, zero walks. Those numbers looked even better before giving up three runs on 10 hits in six innings during his last start.
Bieber has plenty of breakout potential, but let’s not mistake him for a future fantasy ace or anything. He has a solid four-pitch arsenal, but none of the pitches is currently considered a plus offering. Although his curveball is above-average and has flashed plus potential at times.
The one problem for Bieber, at least in the past, has been that he’s far too hittable at times. However, he offsets that with his stinginess for allowing walks. Bieber gets overlooked due to his lack of a plus pitch, but make no mistake about it, he has what it takes to be a solid fantasy contributor at the Major League level and a top-25 fantasy hurler. Don’t overlook the control freaks would be the moral of this story.
Brusdar Graterol (SP – MIN)
Org Rank: 9th, Level: RK, ETA: 2020
After just 11 innings in 2015, Graterol was forced to go under the knife for Tommy John surgery and subsequently missed the entire 2016 season. Even with the extended layoff, Graterol didn’t seem to miss a beat in 2017, posting a 2.70 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 2.9 BB/9 and 10.1 K/9 across 40 innings in the Gulf Coast League and Appalachian League.
Graterol came back as a whole new man after his injury. Before the injury, he was a scrawny 160 pounds and sat in the 86-89 range with his fastball. What a difference 18 months can make. Post-injury Graterol is a bad, bad man at 220-225 pounds. He didn’t add that weight eating Big Macs and Dave’s Classic Single’s with cheese, either. That 60 or so pounds added is all muscle. Like I said, he’s a bad, bad man.
Graterol’s weight isn’t the only number that went up during his time off, as his fastball now sits comfortably in the mid-90s, and he can ramp it up to triple-digits when needed. It doesn’t matter if you’re a teenager in rookie ball or a 15-year Major League vet, that added velocity is huge, especially since he can still control his heater with the added velocity. That’s really the key right there. You can throw as hard as you want, but if you can’t control your fastball, you’re not going to make it in the sport. Plain and simple.
All right, enough with the fastball; off-speed pitches matter, too. At this point in time, Graterol doesn’t quite have an off-speed pitch that you point at as being a true weapon for him. What he does have are two above-average breaking balls (curve and slider) with the slider flashing plus potential. He also mixes in a mid to upper-80s changeup that has good two-plane break, though it is not a consistent offering for him.
Still just 19, Graterol could make some real noise this year with a late-season promotion to the Double-A level not out of the question. If he can continue to develop, there’s borderline ace upside here. You’re going to want plenty of Graterol stock in dynasty.
Hans Crouse (SP – TEX)
Org Rank: 4th, Level: RK, ETA 2020
You could say that Crouse has a pretty damn good professional debut down the stretch in 2017. In 20 innings, Crouse struck out 30 batters and walked seven with a 0.45 ERA and 0.70 WHIP. Rookie ball hitters were just no match for his mid-to-upper 90s fastball and filthy, wipeout slider.
That heater is truly a weapon for him already. Not only does he have the velocity, there’s late arm-side life to it, too, that can cause fits for right-handed batters. I’m not just talking little fits, either. I’m talking full-blown toddler fits because they wanted their apple juice in the green cup and not the blue cup. Can you tell I have kids?
Rangers pick Hans Crouse. He's got electric stuff and an electric personality. Case in point: https://t.co/yV9MAzQkOt
— Michael Lananna (@mlananna) June 13, 2017
Speaking of kids, Crouse’s slider often induces swings you’d witness at your son or daughter’s little league game. Thrown in the mid-80s, it features tight, two-plane break at the last second, and Crouse can also adjust his grip slightly and turn it into a hard curveball with more topspin and downward break. There’s also a change-up in his arsenal, though it’s a fairly new pitch to him and is well behind the other two offerings.
Crouse already has the most upside of any pitcher in the Texas farm system. He can reach frontline starter status if he can develop that change-up into at least an average offering and refine his control a tad. If that doesn’t work, a spot in the back of the Rangers bullpen is waiting for him.
Freicer Perez (SP – NYY)
Org Rank: 11th, Level: A+, ETA: 2019
Guys like Albert Abreu, Chance Adams, Justus Sheffield, and Luis Medina might get most of the pub for pitching prospects in the Yankees system, but Freicer Perez has the stuff to be just good as all of them. Since being signed in 2014, Perez has packed on 50 pounds to his 6-foot-8 frame and 4-5 mph onto his fastball, which now sits in the 93-96 range with the ability to flirt with triple-digits when he needs to reach back for a little more sizzle. His off-speed pitches aren’t as lethal as his fastball, but both his curveball and change-up are above-average offerings that have plus-potential down the road.
The one thing Perez needs to work on is his consistency, and a big part of that is repeating his delivery. He often pulls his lead shoulder out instead of staying balanced and driving toward the plate. That’s the beauty of the minor leagues: You can work on this type of stuff without costing your team wins at the Major League level. Yes, winning games matters in the minors, too, but development comes first. Perez has the upside of a #2 starter if he can make the necessary adjustments to his delivery and continues to develop his off-speed pitches.
Zack Burdi (RP – CHW)
Org Rank: 12th, Level: AAA, ETA 2019
Sure, I’ll throw a future closer in here. Why not? I’ll keep it quick, though, since he’s a closer and currently on the shelf recovering from Tommy John surgery last July. Burdi will likely miss most, if not all, of the 2018 season but is a high-upside relief arm to keep an eye on in dynasty formats. Burdi throws straight gas, averaging near 100 mph, and combines that with a hard slider in the upper 80s and an above-average change-up with plus downward break.
So, where’s the downside? His control, that’s where. Burdi has had control issues dating back to his collegiate days at Louisville. He’s never had a walk rate better than 4.6 BB/9 at any level and sits at 4.7 for his career. That’s not terrible, but he’ll need to cut down on the walks to reach his potential as an elite closer.
Thank you for reading another edition of Dynasty Dugout here on Fantrax. 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? Ask below or follow me on Twitter and ask there.