Top Pitching Prospects For 2020 Fantasy Baseball Leagues
The allure of upside is profound in every single fantasy baseball draft. No matter how hard you try, upside and “what could be” always pop into our minds when it comes to prospects during our drafts. And while pitching prospects have proven to be more volatile than hitting prospects over the years, the recent success of guys like Chris Paddack and Mike Soroka should put out worrisome thoughts more at ease. I’m not saying the arms listed below are going to produce at those levels, but each one has a chance of contributing fantasy value in one way, shape or form in 2020. With fantasy baseball draft season really starting to ramp up now, these are my top pitching prospects to consider in 2020 re-draft leagues.
DISCLAIMER: This is for 2020 Fantasy Baseball value only and is not a long-term ranking.
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Top Pitching Prospects for Redraft Leagues
1. Jesus Luzardo, Oakland Athletics
ETA: In Opening Day Rotation
There should’ve been no doubt on who would be #1 here. Unless you can guarantee me that McKenzie Gore is going to make the opening day Padres rotation out of camp, Jesus Luzardo is the top pitching prospect to draft for 2020 re-draft leagues. Luzardo dominated in the minors to the tune of a 2.51 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 1.7 BB/9, and 11.9 K/9 and then allowed only two runs in 12.0 Major League innings with the Athletics. With three above-average or better pitches and plus command and control, both the ceiling and floor are very high with Luzardo longterm and he should put up great value in 2020 as well. Even with an innings limit, the ratios and strikeouts that Luzardo can out up give him the upside of a high-end SP3 for 2020 leagues, even if he pitches just 140-150 innings.
Jesus Luzardo's s three-pitch strikeout. pic.twitter.com/iK6Q4qkr6F
— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) February 22, 2019
2. Dustin May, Los Angeles Dodgers
ETA: Likely in Opening Day Rotation
Like Luzardo, Dustin May got a taste of the Majors last season in the second half for the Los Angeles Dodgers. But his was more than just a nibble, pitching 34.2 innings, including four starts. The results were solid as they’ve been for the entirety of May’s minor league career with a 3.63 ERA and 1.10 WHIP, but May was once again under a strikeout per inning. With May’s stuff, the lower strikeout rate has always been a bit baffling. May has the arsenal to strike out more batters than he does but he’s always been in the vicinity of 8.5 K/9.
— Lance Brozdowski (@LanceBroz) August 3, 2019
After going 2-seam and cutter heavy in his MLB debut, we’ll see if May expands his arsenal and begins incorporating his curveball and changeup more in a full-time starter’s role. He’s not guaranteed a rotation spot, but there are openings with Hyun-jin Ryu and Rich Hill out of town. Julio Urias should get one of them, and with a strong spring, May has a strong chance of grabbing the 5th spot. If he does, there’s top-40 SP upside here, especially if the strikeout rate ticks up.
3. MacKenzie Gore (LHP – SD)
Even though MacKenzie Gore only has 21.2 innings above High-A under his belt, it’s looking more and more likely that we see him in San Diego sooner rather than later. Why? Well, there are two reasons. First, MacKenzie Gore is really damn good with astronomical upside. Secondly, the Padres have a history of throwing service time to the wind and promoting their elite prospects aggressively. Just last season, they put Chris Paddack and Fernando Tatis Jr on the opening day roster with seven starts and 102 games at Double-A respectively under their belts.
Not many prospects can make this kind of jump successfully, but Gore is one of the few that can make it work. His arsenal is dominating, running four pitches deep with at least three grading as plus. His command and control isn’t quite on Luzardo’s level, but is still above-average. He very easily could keep pace with Luzardo once up. Drafting him in the later-rounds is highly encouraged, even if you need to stash him for a month.
4. Brendan McKay (LHP/DH – TB)
ETA: In Opening Day Rotation
While I’ve been vocal about Brendan McKay not being ready to contribute with the bat, I have no concerns about him stepping into the Rays rotation fulltime in 2020. In his 49.0 Major League innings last season, McKay’s ERA and WHIP sat a bit high at 5.14 and 1.41 respectively, but he was really bitten by the longball, allowing eight homers in that span. The walk and strikeout rates were strong as usual and that’s something you can bank on moving forward at the very least. McKay has always been a very advanced and polished arm with plus command and control of his four-pitch arsenal. And while he doesn’t have that one dominating pitch, all four of his pitches grade as of flash above-average and McKay is able to sequence well and keep hitters off balance.
The upside might not be as high as the three above him, or some below, but McKay looks locked into a rotation spot in 2020 and is as safe a bet as a rookie pitcher can be to return decent value in 2020. If you’re drafting him thinking he’s going to put up a Shohei Ohtani type of season, you’ll likely end up disappointed. However, if you need a pitcher in the later rounds to sure up your ratios, McKay is your guy.
5. Mitch Keller (RHP – PIT)
ETA: In Opening Day Rotation
At the surface, a 7.13 ERA might cause many to run for the hills and draft other starters in their fantasy drafts. But that ERA doesn’t tell the whole tale of Mitch Keller’s rookie season. Yes, he was wildly inconsistent, seeming alternating great starts and disastrous ones every other time out. But if you look closer, Keller was about as lucky as a piece of steak thrown into a lion’s den at the zoo. A .475 BABIP? Hot damn. A 59.6% strand rate? Hot damn again. Those two numbers alone are due for some positive regression.
To take it further, Keller’s FIP and xFIP sat at 3.19 and 3.47 respectively and paint a more accurate picture. While I was never fully on the Keller prospect hype train, I’ve always thought of him as a strong mid-rotation arm that can exceed a strikeout per inning annually thanks to his fastball/slider/curveball combination which he threw 96.3% of the time in his time with Pittsburgh last season. If that bad luck cloud will finally leave Keller alone and more consistency shows up, Keller could be a top-50 fantasy arm in 2020.
6. Michael Kopech (RHP – CHW)
If I was certain that Michael Kopech was going to be ready for opening day, he’d be a few spots higher here. After a promising cup of coffee in 2018 (that was ruined by a disastrous final start), Kopech needed to undergo Tommy John surgery which wiped out his entire 2019 season. It’s a shame too as Kopech was a force on the mound after his command and control issues did a complete 180 in mid-2018.
With Kopech, it’s always been about his command and control. The arsenal has always been dynamic with an electric fastball and one of the best sliders in baseball, regardless of level. However, the command and control have been wildly inconsistent throughout Kopech’s minor league career. The upside here is an ace-caliber Major League starter. The downside is one of the most frustrating arms to own in fantasy. Both need to be factored in when drafting Kopech along with his potential IL stint to start the season.
Two beautiful sliders from Michael Kopech to Logan Forsythe.
The 1-2 punch of 98mph and this slide piece is fiiiilthy. pic.twitter.com/WuSmvPpkt0
— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) August 22, 2018
And if you were wondering how Kopech looked post-surgery, he was hitting high-90’s in Fall Instructs with some nasty sliders. He’s the biggest risk/reward rookie pitcher of 2020. At the very least, you should get a ton of strikeouts. Just be ready for some blowups and ratios that are a tad higher, probably around 4.25/1.30.
7. Nate Pearson, Toronto Blue Jays
Nate Pearson is one of my favorite pitchers in the minors. The big 6’6 right-hander has a fastball/slider combination that rivals Kopech’s and at times has shown an average to above-average curveball and serviceable changeup. With his home ballpark in Double-A being only two hours from me, I was able to catch two Pearson starts live in 2019 before he was called up to Triple-A in August. Needless to say, I was impressed. Pearson finished the 2019 season with a 2.30 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, and 10.5 K/9 in 25 starts.
Even though Toronto took the strict innings restrictions off of Pearson mid-season, I still expect them to keep his innings in check in 2020, both at Triple-A and in the Majors. My best bet is that Pearson is up in May and pitches around 110-120 innings with Toronto across 22-24 starts or so. In deeper leagues, he makes for a great late-round pick that you can stash on your bench. But those in 12-team leagues might be better of leaving him on the waiver wire to start and pouncing when the call-up rumbling begin swirling. Pearson is one of the few pitching prospects with future ace upside so you’re going to want him on your fantasy team when he’s called up.
8. A.J. Puk, Oakland Athletics
ETA: On Opening Day Roster, Maybe as #5 starter
On stuff alone, A.J. Puk is nasty. His size and arsenal remind me of Josh Hader, and frankly, I’m still half thinking that’s the role Puk ends up in longterm. You got to love the mid to upper-90’s fastball, wipeout slider, and above-average changeup, but below-average command and control have limited Puk dating back to his collegiate days at the University of Florida. When Puk is on, he can carve up an opposing lineup like a Halloween pumpkin. I just wish his command didn’t sometimes resemble the stringy gunk that comes out of the pumpkin.
About a month ago, it was looking unlikely that Puk would have a rotation spot to open the season, but recent reports have him opening in the rotation alongside Luzardo. Regardless of his role, expect a sexy strikeout rate. But with his command issues, I’m expecting ratios around 4.00 and 1.35 or so. He’s a great late-round SP target with upside.
9. Jose Urquidy, Houston Astros
ETA: In Opening Day Rotation
I’ll admit, I’ve never been overly high on Jose Urquidy as a prospect, but his opportunity lands him a spot on this list. With Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley gone, Urquidy looks locked into a rotation spot to start the season. And with how he pitched down the stretch and in a surprise World Series start (5 IP, 0 ER, 4 K), he needs to at least be on people’s radar in mixed-league drafts.
Urquidy works primarily with a 92-94 mph fastball and a plus low-80’s changeup, a duo he threw around 3/4 of the time with Houston in 2019. The lack of a consistent breaking ball has always limited his upside, but at the same time, Urquidy has been able to get by with the FB/CH duo due to his plus command and control. This isn’t an arm you reach for in drafts, but look to him as a late-round flier.
10. Justin Dunn, Seattle Mariners
ETA: In Opening Day Rotation
After a solid 25 starts at Double-A Arkansas, Justin Dunn received four starts with Seattle to close the season with mixed results. Dunn only gave up two hits in 6.2 innings but also walked nine batters. A 6.2 inning stint is far too small of a sample size to go off of, so we need to focus on what Dunn brings to the table and how he’s looked in the minors.
While not a dominant arm, Dunn has pitched fairly well at nearly every level and has had a strikeout rate above 10 in three of his four minor league seasons. With a plus fastball/slider combination and serviceable changeup and curveball, Dunn has the makings of a mid-rotation arm and one that could really surprise in 2020. With not much of note in the Seattle rotation, Dunn has a strong chance of cracking the opening day rotation out of Spring Training.
Others To Monitor
Brusdar Graterol, Minnesota Twins
Graterol is similar to Puk with a plus FB/SL combination and questions about his command and 2020 role. He was used exclusively out of the pen in Minnesota last season and faces an uphill battle for starts in 2020 with all the mouths to feed in the rotation ahead of him on the depth chart.
Spencer Howard, Philadelphia Phillies
Over the last year or two, Spencer Howard has developed into one of the 10 best pitching prospects in all of baseball. With borderline ace upside, this is an impact arm once he’s called up to Philly. After ending 2019 in Double-A, I’m expecting him to start there briefly and get called up to Triple-A fairly quickly with a June ETA in Philly.
Justus Sheffield, Seattle Mariners
In deeper leagues, Justus Sheffield is a solid late-round target. Why? Well, he’s pretty much assured a spot in a mediocre Mariners rotation. That alone keeps him on the mixed league radar in 2020. But Sheffield has struggled with command throughout his minor league career and doesn’t have the same lofty upside as the guys directly below and above him here.
Forrest Whitley, Houston Astros
The 2019 season was sandpaper rough for Forrest Whitley, but the longterm outlook is still incredibly bright. The only pitching prospect that can rival Whitley’s pure upside is MacKenzie Gore and Whitley should get a chance to prove that in Houston at some point this summer. Keep an eye on how he looks in Spring Training and early on in Triple-A. If he proves that 2019 is behind him, Whitley should be up by the all-star break.
Josh Lindblom, Milwaukee Brewers
I’m not sure what to make of Josh Lindblom. He took his talents to the KBO in 2015 after a lackluster Major League career, tried and failed to come back two years later, and is now back in the Majors with Milwaukee after dominating the KBO over the last two seasons. I’m taking a wait and see approach with him for now.
Tony Gonsolin, Los Angeles Dodgers
Although I’m putting my money on Julio Urias and Dustin May to round out the Dodgers 2020 OD rotation, I’m certainly not counting out Tony Gonsolin. He has the upside of a #3 starter but likely will start in the bullpen or back at Triple-A. Keep a close eye on how the back-end of the Dodgers rotation shakes out in Spring Training. Gonsolin would be mixed-league relevant with a rotation spot.
Ian Anderson/Kyle Wright, Atlanta Braves
On upside alone, Ian Anderson could be a top-50 fantasy starter in 2020. But the problem is that the Braves rotation is currently full. If Mike Foltynewicz or Sean Newcomb falter again in 2020, Anderson should be one of the first in line to replace them. Ditto for Kyle Wright but with a slightly lower fantasy ceiling.
Casey Mize & Matt Manning, Detroit Tigers
The duo of Mize and Manning find themselves in basically every top-10 pitching prospect list around. Both spent extensive time at Double-A in 2019 and should open 2020 in Triple-A. With Detroit heading for another season with no playoff baseball, Detroit will likely give long looks to both guys in 2020 to see what they have in this dynamic duo. Both have top-40 fantasy SP upside once called up, which will likely be around June or July.
Deivi Garcia, New York Yankees
I’ve been very vocal about my longevity and command concerns with Deivi Garcia, but he needs to be included here for his arsenal and proximity to the Majors. The New York rotation is currently set, but Garcia should be one of the first in line if a spot opens up due to injury or poor performance.
James Karinchak/Emmanuel Clase, Cleveland Indians
I’m very high on both James Karinchak and Emmanuel Clase, but with Brad Hand in town, neither should see significant save opportunities in 2020. But if Hand gets dealt mid-season, both would be in the running for the closer spot down the stretch. Keep an eye on them.
Media Credit: Lance Brozdowski, Pitcher List.
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