Fantasy Baseball Sleepers: Top Pitching Sleepers for 2019
There are two types of people in this world. People that build a core of pitchers early and people that like to wait a little bit on pitching. Regardless of which camp you pitch your tent at, everyone can use some fantasy baseball sleepers on the mound. There’s always a handful of sleepers every season, but this year, there’s even more value to be had after the top-200 in Fantrax ADP. If I had expanded this to allow anyone outside the top-100 ADP, this list would be twice as long. Since I decided to keep this to just outside pick 200, here are some names between ADP 100 and 200 that I feel can provide more value than their ADP this season:
- Chris Archer, Pittsburgh Pirates (128.1)
- Eduardo Rodriguez, Boston Red Sox (143.6)
- Yu Darvish, Chicago Cubs (149.0)
- Shane Bieber, Cleveland Indians (157.1)
- Nick Pivetta, Philadelphia Phillies (160.8)
- Andrew Heaney, Los Angeles Angels (162.2)
Now, onto my pitching sleepers for the 2019 season. As you can see, since there were so many intriguing names between 100 and 200, I cheated a little below.
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Fantasy Baseball Sleepers – Pitchers
Sleeper = Outside top-200 (ish) in Fantrax ADP
Prospect to Watch = Outside of top-200 in ADP and has not made MLB debut yet
Jon Gray, Colorado Rockies (189.3)
Like I did in the outfield sleepers, I’m going to cheat a little bit for a couple of guys I really like just before ADP 200. First up is Jon Gray. (Insert horror movie scream here) Ahhhhhhh, a Rockies pitcher! We need to lighten up just a tad on the Colorado stigma. Most Colorado pitchers have burned us, but there are two I like for 2019, German Marquez and Gray.
When you compare his breakout 2017 season to last year, there’s not a ton of difference in his metrics and his strikeout rate even went up a little. The biggest reason for the ERA jump from 3.67 to 5.12 was his 1.4 HR/9 mark (0.8 in 2017) and a 7.7% rise in the hard contact he allowed. Though, his ERA really shouldn’t have been as bad as it was. Gray’s FIP was over a run lower at 4.08 and that seems closer to where Gray should end up in 2018. By the way, he’s dominating so far in Spring Training, allowing just two hits, one walk, and one earned run while striking out 10 in nine innings. I’m expecting 2019 Gray to be closer to the 2017 version than the 2018 version, which would make Gray a borderline top-30 starter.
Projection: 180 IP, 3.75 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 190 K
Yusei Kikuchi, Seattle Mariners (195.1)
The most recent Japanese import might not have the gleam and massive hype that Shohei Ohtani did last year, but there’s still a lot to like about Yusei Kikuchi in 2019. That is, if you know what to expect and keep expectations in check. In each of Kikuchi’s last five seasons in Japan, he made between 21 and 26 starts and pitched between 133.0 and 187.2 innings. A six-man starting rotation is commonplace in the JPL so you rarely see a pitcher make 30 starts in a season. Because of that, the Mariners are likely to limit his workload a little this season, bumping him back a day or two sometimes and maybe skipping the occasional start.
Yusei Kikuchi – FB heavy mix 90-93 T95 (stadium gun). Can cut. CB 73-77 ks Votto here. Front leg propels body w/big torque pic.twitter.com/5evk2LGVyH
— Jason Pennini (@JasonPennini) February 25, 2019
However, even at 150-160 innings, Kikuchi has top-30 SP upside. I mean, did you see him make Joey Votto look downright foolish above? He’s fine-tuned his command over the last two seasons and has become a better overall pitcher because of it. I’m expecting an ERA in the low to mid-3’s and around 8 K/9.
Projection: 160 IP, 3.35 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 145 K
Ross Stripling, Los Angeles Dodgers (211.7)
The Los Angeles Dodgers rotation should come with a warning label. Every damn person in their projected starting five can never seem to put up 30+ starts in a season, including ace Clayton Kershaw and his old man back. At this very second, Stripling is the odd man out of the rotation, but something tells me he’ll be in it before too long. After not making his Major League debut until he was 26, Stripling has improved every season with the Dodgers, putting up career highs in innings (122.0), ERA (3.02), BB/9 (1.6) and K/9 (10.0) last season while making 21 starts and 12 relief appearances. Even out of the bullpen to start the season, Stripling is worth drafting as a low ratio/high strikeout guy and has top-40 SP upside in the rotation. And trust me, he’ll be in the rotation eventually.
Projection: 135 IP, 3.20 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 145 K
Reynaldo Lopez, Chicago White Sox (245.6)
I have to admit, I didn’t see myself including Reynaldo Lopez in this article when I first thought about doing it. He’s a guy I’ve been lower on than most dating back to his days as a prospect in the Washington Nationals system. But if I may, let me show you Lopez’s stats over his last seven starts of 2018:
- 45.2 IP, 1.38 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 5.6 H/9, 0.4 HR/9, 2.8 BB/9, 9.6 K/9
While all of those numbers are impressive, the two that stand out the most to me are the walk rate and HR rate. In his first 25 starts of the season, those numbers sat at 3.8 and 1.4 respectively. Now, it was just seven starts with some weak lineups in there like Baltimore and Detroit, but it’s an encouraging sign heading into the 2019 season. If he can keep the strikeout rate close to a strikeout per inning instead of in the 7.0-7.5 range, Lopez can provide some sneaky good value this season.
Projection: 185 IP, 3.60 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 175 K
Joe Musgrove, Pittsburgh Pirates (247.4)
The Pittsburgh Pirates organization has a way of rejuvenating pitcher’s careers. That’s a big reason I’m high on Chris Archer this season and why I’m listing Joe Musgrove as a fantasy baseball sleeper for 2019. One of the concerns about Musgrove earlier in his career was giving up too many long balls. After allowing 1.3 and 1.5 HR/9 respectively in 2016 and 2017, that number dropped to 0.8 in his first season as a Pirate. In addition, Musgrove posted the lowest FIP, WHIP, and BB/9 of his three-year career while tieing a career-low 4.06 ERA. If he can continue that momentum into this season, we’re likely looking at a top-200 overall fantasy player and the best season yet for Musgrove.
Projection: 165 IP, 3.80 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 155 K
Collin McHugh, Houston Astros (261.7)
Due to the depth in the Astros rotation last year, Collin McHugh moved to the pen and became one of the top relievers in baseball with a 1.99 ERA and 11.7 K/9 across 58 appearances (72.1 IP). Well, guess who’s back in the rotation and carries solid fantasy upside for the 2019 season? Don’t forget, McHugh was a steady mid-rotation arm during his first four seasons with Houston from 2014-2017. In those four seasons, he registered a 3.70 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 2.5 BB/9, and 8.4 K/9 while averaging 25.5 starts per season. There’s no guarantee any pitcher seamlessly transitions from the bullpen to the rotation or vice versa, but with McHugh being a veteran and only one year removed from being a starter, I don’t see any issues in him returning to his 2014-2017 form while pitching for one of the best teams in baseball.
Projection: 175 IP, 3.75 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 155 K
Spring Training games are in full swing! It’s time you got your fantasy baseball season started as well. Leagues are already forming at Fantrax.com, so head on over and get your league started today.
Touki Toussaint, Atlanta Braves (278.0)
More curveball filth from Touki Toussaint for his fourth strikeout pic.twitter.com/S4kifkgxwl
— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) August 13, 2018
Wake up everyone. With Soroka still battling some shoulder discomfort, there’s a strong chance that Touki Toussaint starts the season in the Atlanta rotation. There was a good chance of that anyway with how he performed in his MLB debut last season, but now it’s almost a certainty if he doesn’t tank or get injured over the next couple weeks. My #45 overall prospect pitched 29.0 innings (five starts, two relief appearances) last season while recording a 4.03 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and 9.9 K/9. There was some wildness in those 29 innings with a 6.5 BB/9, but for the most part in his minor league career, Toussaint has had fairly solid control. Not great, but decent enough for him to be a highly effective starter. If he can keep his control in check, Toussaint can be a top-40 fantasy starter this season with the upside for more.
Projection: 165 IP, 3.45 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 170 K
Anibal Sanchez, Washington Nationals (304.5)
After three mediocre seasons in a row from 2015-2017, Anibal Sanchez enjoyed a resurgence in the National League during his first season with the Braves. In 24 starts (136.2 IP), Sanchez posted a 2.83 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 2.8 BB/9, and 8.9 K/9. Not only was it a resurgence, it was Sanchez’s best season since he led the American League in ERA back in 2013. Now, I’m not saying Sanchez is going to duplicate that success in 2019 during his age-35 season, but there’s a damn good chance his value exceeds his current ADP. He’s still in the National League, now with the Nationals, and pitching for one of the top teams in the league. You can do much worse for the back-end of your pitching staff.
Projection: 150 IP, 3.60 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 140 K
Vince Velasquez, Philadelphia Phillies (318.7)
When you get into the later rounds of fantasy drafts, you’re mostly looking for pitchers that won’t kill your team and can hopefully help you in a category or two. Velasquez and his high strikeout rate fit that mold. Out of the 88 starters that eclipsed 140 innings last season, Velasquez’s 9.9 K/9 ranked 17th best and his FIP was lower than the FIPs for Jack Flaherty, Nick Pivetta, and Jose Berrios, to name a few. Unfortunately, his 66.8% strand rate ranked 6th worst out of those same 88 starters. The five worse than him? Those would be Sal Romano, Bartolo Colon, Clayton Richard, Felix Hernandez, and Lucas Giolito. Show of hands, anyone drafting those guys? Nope.
At this point in your draft, the potential reward far outweighs any risk involved with drafting Velasquez. So really, why not? At least he’ll get you strikeouts and you can drop him if the ratios get too high.
Projection: 155 IP, 4.10 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 170 K
Prospects to Watch
Forrest Whitley, Houston Astros (227.3)
With all due respect to the man directly below, Forrest Whitley is the top pitching prospect in baseball. And when the top pitching prospect in baseball is likely to make his debut in the first half of the season, owners in re-draft leagues need to take notice. Between suspension and injury, Whitley only managed eight starts last year with good, but not great, results. Despite the missed time, the 21-year-old righty isn’t far off from making his Major League debut which should come before the All-Star break. With four plus pitches and decent command of his entire arsenal, Whitley’s upside is astronomically high and that starts as soon as he makes his Major League debut. We’re likely looking at a future top-10 starter for years to come. This type of arm can be a difference maker in fantasy down the stretch so stashing him is highly advised.
Projection: 90 IP, 3.10 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 105 K
Jesus Luzardo, Oakland Athletics (247.7)
The top southpaw in the minors is also the top prospect pitcher to watch this season. His upside might be a tick below Whitley’s, but Luzardo will likely get to the Majors a month or two earlier, with an outside shot at making the opening day rotation. Luzardo has been doing everything he can to make a case for a rotation spot this spring, allowing just one earned run over 9.2 IP while striking out 15. This after dominating the minors last season to the tune of a 2.88 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 2.5 BB/9, and 10.6 K/9 across 23 starts. The more likely scenario has Luzardo returning to Triple-A to start the season, but he should be up by the end of May and has the upside of a top-40 fantasy arm for the rest of the season.
Projection: 105 IP, 3.30 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 105 K
Chris Paddack, San Diego Padres (460.0)
Don’t look now, but Chris Paddack at least has a shot of opening the season in the Padres rotation. In fact, MLB.com has projected him as the #4 starter for the Padres this season. I mean, why not? The Padres current stable of MLB arms as a whole are lackluster and Paddack would instantly be the most intriguing fantasy arm of the bunch when he makes his MLB debut, regardless if that’s in early-April or sometime later on in the summer.
For those that missed it, these were the first three pitches Chris Paddack threw to strikeout Orlando Arcia.
Good morning, good afternoon, good night. pic.twitter.com/nx0RkXb0JT
— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) February 26, 2019
With how Paddack has dominated the minors (177.2 IP, 1.82 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 1.0 BB/9, 11.7 K/9) and how strong he’s looked in Spring Training, I’m starting to lean towards him actually opening the season in the rotation. The Padres are sure to monitor his workload regardless, but if Paddack gets 150 MLB innings this season, he has the chance to be a borderline top-25 fantasy arm. Plan accordingly.
Projection: 140 IP, 3.30 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 150 K
Others to Watch: Brent Honeywell, Tampa Bay Rays | Dylan Cease, Chicago White Sox | Mitch Keller, Pittsburgh Pirates | Kyle Wright, Atlanta Braves | Bryse Wilson, Atlanta Braves | Justus Sheffield, Seattle Mariners | Logan Allen, San Diego Padres | Griffin Canning, Los Angeles Angels
David Robertson, Philadelphia Phillies (261.7)
I’m honestly shocked that David Robertson’s ADP is this low. Sure, he hasn’t been a full-time closer since 2016, but his numbers across the board have remained solid and he’s now going to be closing out games for one of the top teams in the National League. The 11-year vet has posted a 2.88 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 12.0 K/9 for his career and should have no issues approaching those numbers again in 2019 with 30-plus saves to go with it. Don’t be surprised if Robertson – drafted as the 29th reliever off the board – finishes as a near top-10 reliever this season.
Trevor May, Minnesota Twins (291.6)
While the closer role in Minnesota right now is an open audition, by the month of May I expect the man with the last name of May to be the full-time closer for the Twins. After floundering through his first three seasons and missing all of 2017 recovering from Tommy John surgery, May broke out with a career year in 2018, finishing with a 3.20 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 1.8 BB/9, and 12.8 K/9, all of which were career-bests. He’s the best pitcher in Minnesota’s bullpen and the odds on favorite to lead this team in saves at season’s end.
Pedro Strop, Chicago Cubs (310.0)
With Brandon Morrow on the shelf for the first month of the season at least after undergoing surgery on his elbow last November, the Cubs will hand the closer keys to Pedro Strop to start the season. And with Morrow not exactly being the most durable guy around, Strop really has a chance to run with the closer role this season and lead the Cubs in saves. If Strop can nail down 15-20 saves and continue to post a sub-3 ERA with more than a strikeout per inning, he should vastly outperform his current 310 ADP.
Prospects to Watch – Durbin Feltman, Boston Red Sox, and Colin Poche, Tampa Bay Rays
Yes, there are relief pitcher prospects to keep an eye on. Crazy right? The longer the Red Sox go without signing a closer, the higher the chance that Durbin Feltman plays a role in the late-innings this summer. With a dynamic fastball/slider mix and solid command, Feltman is tailor-made for the 9th. As for Poche, he might not get many save chances this season, but the upside is just as high here as it is with Feltman, making Poche an interesting name to monitor in holds leagues. Both men have two plus pitches, good command, and high strikeout potential.
Photo/Video Credit: Russell Lansford/Icon Sportswire, Jason Pennini, Pitcher List.
Eric Cross is the lead MLB/Fantasy Baseball writer and MiLB prospect analyst for FantraxHQ and has been with the site since March 2017. In the past, he wrote for FantasyPros and FanSided. He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). For more from Eric, check out his author page and follow him on Twitter @EricCross04.
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