I’m going to start this article with a warning: Drafting pitching prospects in redraft leagues usually has a high level of risk. As we’ve seen time and time again, most pitching prospects take longer to find their footing in the Majors when compared to hitting prospects. However, that certainly doesn’t mean you should ignore them altogether. We just need to be methodical, strategic, and really pick our spots on where we want to target these guys in our drafts. If you play it right, you could wind up with a couple of high-upside arms on your staff that could really give you a boost this season. And trust me, there are plenty of them in 2021.
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Top Pitching Prospects for 2021 Fantasy Baseball: Redraft Targets
Ian Anderson, Atlanta Braves (ADP 100.2)
With how pitching is being pushed up in 2021 drafts, this ADP feels a bit high overall. However, in the grand scheme of things, I’m okay taking Ian Anderson in this range and have in a few of my drafts so far as my SP3. Anderson showed improved command of his arsenal last season, which was the one thing holding him back as a prospect. Although, he still posted a mediocre 10.1% walk rate with the Braves to go with his stellar 1.95 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 29.7% strikeout rate. Anderson dazzled with his elite changeup (.204 xSLG, .249 xwOBA) all season and was a beast in his four playoff starts, posting a 0.96 ERA. Don’t go overboard drafting Anderson in 2021, but if you can get him as your SP3, I’d go for it.
First MLB strikeout for Ian Anderson!
This changeup is going to be a problem for the NL East pic.twitter.com/kPuxYDUTFU
— Nick Pollack (@PitcherList) August 26, 2020
Sixto Sanchez, Miami Marlins (137.7)
For me, I like the value of Sixto Sanchez more than Ian Anderson. In general, Sanchez has shown a more dynamic arsenal with better command and control as well. But what has always been his caveat is the lack of strikeouts. You’d think a guy like Sanchez would miss more bats, but he only posted a 22.1% K rate in the minors and that dropped to 20.9% with Miami last season. But with his stuff and command, it’s only a matter of time before the K rate ticks up over 25%. Sanchez features two plus secondary offerings in his upper-80’s slider and changeup that both have the movement to be big swing and miss offerings in time, especially with how well he commands each pitch. Sixto is a great selection as your SP3 that can provide good ratios and hopefully a bump in strikeouts.
Quick overlay of Sixto Sanchez's arsenal from the PitchCon tutorial @PitcherList.
This is a moving ballet. pic.twitter.com/cbB8DO9lGi
— Alex Fast (@AlexFast8) February 19, 2021
Triston McKenzie, Cleveland Indians (194.9)
This is an ADP I’m not buying for 2021. In general, McKenzie is a solid arm with mid-rotation upside in time, but he worries me in the short-term. With a slight frame and recent back issues, it wasn’t surprising to see McKenzie’s fastball velocity drop consistently in every start.
|Start||Date||Usage||Avg FB Velo||Min||Max|
Even before the velocity drop, McKenzie was an arm I was shying away from. Until he can show me that he can hold up over a full season, I’m not going near him inside the first 200 picks for 2021 redraft leagues.
Nate Pearson, Toronto Blue Jays (262.2)
Without question, Nate Pearson is one of my favorite rookie arms to target this season. After trading punches with Max Scherzer in his debut, the rest of Pearsons’ outings didn’t go quite as well and the big right-hander finished 2020 with a 6.00 ERA and 1.50 WHIP across 18 innings. Included in his rookie campaign was a trip to the IL due to a flexor strain in his pitching elbow. Uh oh, I know what you all are thinking, but Pearson is reportedly fine and has a rotation spot locked up to start the 2021 season on a very good Blue Jays squad.
Pearson immediately brings elite strikeout potential thanks to his four-pitch mix that includes two double-plus offerings in his upper-90’s fastball and mid-80’s slider. A 30+% K rate in 2021 (31.1% in minors) isn’t out of the question, and if Pearson can post an ERA under 4.00 to go along with it, he can vastly outperform his modest ADP.
Dane Dunning, Texas Rangers (289.0)
This is another ADP I’ve found myself liking more and more as we trudge through 2021 draft season. After missing all of 2019, Dunning got the surprise callup last season and pitched admirably with a 3.97 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and a 24.6% strikeout rate in seven starts. Now in Texas, Dunning has a rotation spot locked up and will pitch around half of his starts in a ballpark that ranked as a top-5 pitcher’s park last season.
Despite never being regarded as an elite pitching prospect, Dunning tore up the minors to the tune of a 2.74 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 6.4% walk rate, and 27.2% strikeout rate. His five-pitch mix is intriguing, with three (4-seam, slider, changeup) posting a whiff rate above 30% last year, and both his sinker and slider recording a wOBA under .240. To keep it going in 2021, I’d love to see him keep that sinker out of the heasrt of the plate, but Dunning’s arsenal, home park, and solid command and control give him a solid chance of returning plenty of value at this ADP.
Michael Kopech, Chicago White Sox (293.3)
The last time we saw Michael Kopech pitch in a Major League game was way back in 2018. In the four starts at the Major League level, Kopech was very much anti-Kopech as he didn’t strike out many batters (22.1%), got hit a ton, but also limited the free passes (two in 14.1 IP). Kopech then missed all of 2019 due to injury and opted out of the 2020 season. It’s fair to wonder what Kopech we’re going to see in 2021. He’s always shown elite stuff with an electric fastball that averaged 95.4 mph in 2018 with a 97th percentile spin rate, and a plus to double-plus slider, but command and control inconsistencies have always held him back.
If you’re targeting Kopech in your drafts, understanding what you’re likely going to get is crucial. With his command and control issues, Kopech’s ratios this year probably won’t be stellar. If I had to throw some projections out there, I’d have him around a 4.30-4.50 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. Not terrible, but not great either. But on the other hand, we’re talking about a guy that posted a 31.2% strikeout rate in the minors and could be a top-10 strikeout arm on a per-inning basis this season. While there’s plenty of risk in this profile, Kopech’s elite strikeout potential makes him worth considering around pick 300.
Tarik Skubal & Casey Mize, Detroit Tigers (317.2 & 407.4)
I’m going to lump these two together. As of today, Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize do not have rotation spots to start the 2021 season. Which, frankly, baffles me. The Detroit Tigers have brought in Jose Urena and Julio Teheran recently, who Roster Resource currently projects as the 4/5 in Detroit’s rotation. This is a situation I could rant about all day, but in the interest of time, I’ll condense things for you. Let me just ask you a question. Do you think Urena or Teheran are going to hold back Skubal and Mize for long? Of course not. Teheran might be able to stick for a bit, but he was also one of the worst pitchers in baseball last season. Urena, on the other hand, is coming off two straight seasons of an ERA north of five.
When it comes down to picking between these two in 2021, it’s really all about what type of arm you need in the late-rounds of your draft. If you need a boost in strikeouts and already have some solid ratio stabilizers in your rotation, Skubal and his 37.1% minor league strikeout rate (27.6% in MLB) will look mighty appealing. But with Skubal, I worry that hitters will pick up that he’s mostly a fastball/slider pitcher with an average changeup. Against lefties, 93.8% of the pitches Skubal threw were four-seamers or sliders. The strikeouts should be there, but like with Kopech above, I’m not anticipating stellar ratios this season once he’s up.
With Mize, he’s basically the exact opposite. The former #1 overall pick posted a stellar 5.4% walk rate in the minors and 4.0% in college, but doesn’t possess the same strikeout upside as Skubal. Mize is more of a “pitch to weak contact” type of pitcher that should be around a 25% strikeout rate longterm, which is about where he was in the minors. Mize’s splitter is absolutely filthy and his slider was in the minors as well, but both pitches got hit hard in 2020 and Mize/Detroit was tinkering with his pitch mix. Mize started throwing more sinkers than ever before and added a curveball as well. While he likely starts in Triple-A, Mize should be back up soon and makes for a great stash if you have deeper benches.
Deivi Garcia, New York Yankees (335.9)
Nope. No thanks. As most of you know, I’m not a big Deivi Garcia guy. Outside of his plus curveball, Garcia’s arsenal hasn’t impressed me. His average fastball velocity sat at 91.9 mph in 2020, which isn’t going to get it done without above-average or better command of the pitch. In my live looks and from watching video of Garcia, he’s more fringe-average with his fastball command. On top of all of this, he doesn’t have a rotation spot to start the season after the Yankees brought in Jameson Taillon and Corey Kluber this offseason. Now, this Yankees rotation is quite shaky outside of Gerrit Cole, so Garcia will likely get a shot to make some starts in 2021, but I’m not counting on a sizeable impact. He’s a hard pass for me at this ADP.
MacKenzie Gore, San Diego Padres (339.1)
Oh where oh where is MacKenzie Gore? Not in the rotation to start the season is the answer to that question. And I’m not sure he’s even the next man up. In Jeff Zimmerman’s latest Mining the News article, he discussed the padres potentially using a six-man rotation and Adrian Morejon being the likely 6th man. Which I 100% agree with.
So, what about Gore? Let’s not panic and remember that this Padres rotation, while phenomenally talented, aren’t the most durable bunch around. Gore will likely get a chance to log innings this year, but when he makes that MLB debut is still a question. For that reason, I’ve shied away from him in drafts. The talent is undeniable with four above-average to plus or better pitches and good command and control, all of which has allowed him to dominate in the minors with a 2.56 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 7.3% walk rate, and 33.6% strikeout rate. If you have deep benches, he’s worth a stash. I’m just not overpaying for him in drafts.
Deep League Targets
Adbert Alzolay, Chicago Cubs
As of now, it’s not a lock that Adbert Alzolay starts the 2021 season in the Chicago Cubs rotation. In fact, he might be the odd man out and in a long-relief role to start the season. But even if that is indeed the case, Alzolay can still provide value in deeper leagues. Alzolay posted a 2.95 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in his six appearances (four starts), and his lethal slider helped him record a 33.3% strikeout rate. Lethal is putting it lightly too. Alzolay’s slider posted a minuscule .028 BAA, .056 SLG, .098 wOBA, and a 29.7% putaway rate. The control is still a work in progress, but Alzolay could win a rotation spot out of spring training, which would make him an intriguing deep-league play. Even if not, he could still pitch multiple innings 2-3 times a week.
Tanner Houck, Boston Red Sox
While I was hoping that Tanner Houck would have a rotation spot to open 2021, the recent acquisitions of Garrett Richards and Martin Perez make that look unlikely. Houck dazzled in his three starts late last season, posting a 0.53 ERA and making hitters look downright silly with his slider. It was obviously a small sample size, but that slider had a .065 xBA, .126 xSLG, .182 xwOBA, and a 47.2% whiff rate. Houck’s sinker also was also highly impressive. His lack of a reliable third pitch is concerning, but there’s definitely some deep-league appeal here as Houck will likely enter the Red Sox rotation before too long. Remember, the current Red Sox rotation is being held together by scotch tape, paper clips, and chewing gum. He’ll get his chance.
Spencer Howard, Philadelphia Phillies
Draft Spencer Howard late in all your drafts. Seriously, do it! As I mentioned previously, Howard is one of my favorite pitching targets in 2021 drafts. That’s not just for rookies either. Entering 2020, Howard was ranked just as highly as Sixto Sanchez and Ian Anderson, and even higher on some prospect rankings. It wouldn’t shock me in the slightest if Howard outpitched either of them in 2021. But, of course, he needs a rotation spot to do so. The Phillies recently signed Matt Moore for some reason, so Howard is currently on the outside looking in. but let’s be honest, Moore hasn’t been both productive and healthy for half a decade now and Howard is the far superior arm.
Spencer Howard, Filthy Breaking Balls. 😷 pic.twitter.com/oJeepw8hhb
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 17, 2020
Featuring three above-average to plus pitches in his four-seamer, slider, and changeup, along with above-average command and control, Howard has the upside of a #2 starter and pitched like it back in 2019. In 15 starts across three levels, Howard recorded a 2.03 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 5.9% walk rate, and 34.8% strikeout rate. With the ability to post solid ratios and a 28-32% strikeout rate, Howard is an incredible late-round pick in 2021 drafts. I’m not docking a rookie pitcher for having a subpar debut during a crazy, shortened pandemic season.
Luis Patiño, Tampa Bay Rays
I almost put Luis Patiño as a deep-league target, but him likely starting in Triple-A pushes him to this section. The Rays just have too many arms ahead of him right now after acquiring Rich Hill and Michael Wacha. But with that said, Rich Hill is 41 years old and has literally never stayed healthy. Are we banking on that happening in his age-41 season? Ha! There’s no doubting that Patiño will be back up, but in what role? This is the Rays we’re talking about here, so the answer to that question is likely in a role where he pitches 3-4 innings at a time. But Patiño in any role is worth targeting in fantasy leagues.
As I’ve said with others in this article, Patiño’s ability to miss bats at a high clip gives him immediate redraft appeal once he’s back up. Patiño recorded a 29.4% strikeout in the minors and that mark jumped to 31.4% in 2019. Those numbers aren’t fluky or unsustainable either as Patiño features a plus mid to upper-90’s fastball and a downright filthy slider that posted a 47.38% whiff rate last season. His changeup is serviceable as well. While he might not be a “normal” starter this season going 5+ innings every outing, Tampa Bay acquired him for a reason and will certainly use him a fair amount. If you don’t stash him in deeper leagues, you’re going to have to shell out a good chunk of FAAB to get him.
Other Deep-League Targets: AJ Puk (OAK), Trevor Rogers (MIA), Daulton Jefferies (OAK), Dean Kremer (BAL), Keegan Akin (BAL)
Could Help in Saves+Holds Leagues
Shane McClanahan, Tampa Bay Rays
Recent acquisitions likely mean a ticket to Triple-A to start the 2021 season for Shane McClanahan, but don’t rule out him winning a spot in Tampa Bay’s bullpen out of spring training. McClanahan debuted in the 2020 postseason, firing triple-digit fastballs and disgusting sliders like the ones shown below. Who wouldn’t want that coming out of their bullpen? If McClanahan gets a job in the Rays bullpen out of spring training or early in the season, there’s definitely some intrigue here in saves+holds leagues.
Shane McClanahan picked up a pair of strikeouts with his nasty slider. pic.twitter.com/npeALocHHL
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) October 8, 2020
Garret Crochet, Chicago White Sox
In his brief time with the White Sox last season, Garrett Crochet threw 72 fastballs (84 pitches total) that averaged 100.1 mph. That mark was the best in baseball. No big deal. Like with McClanahan above, Crochet’s fastball/slider combination is awfully damn enticing out of the pen for the White Sox and it looks like he could rack up plenty of holds along with Aaron Bummer and Evan Marshall. If you play in a league that values holds at all, Crochet should absolutely be on your radar.
Mid-Season FAAB/Waiver Targets
Logan Gilbert, Seattle Mariners
Recently on Fantrax Toolshed, James Anderson said he believes Logan Gilbert will be up early. I tend to agree. And if Logan Gilbert is going to be up early, as in April early, then he’s worth a late-round flier in your drafts as the talent is massive. Gilbert, a 6’6 right-hander, features three above-average to plus pitches, above-average command and control, and has elite extension in his delivery. He dominated in the minors back in 2019 with a 2.13 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 6.3% walk rate. and 31.7% strikeout rate, and honestly doesn’t have much left to prove. At the latest, Gilbert should be up by the 1st of June and is one of the top rookie pitchers to target this season.
Matt Manning, Detroit Tigers
The other elite pitching prospect that will come up at some point during the season is Matt Manning. Unfortunately, Manning dealt with some forearm issues last fall, but appears to be 100% heading into 2021. And once Manning is up, this is an arm that can make an impact out of the gate. The big 6’6 right-hander features two plus pitches in his mid-90’s fastball and low-80’s hammer curveball (shown below) and has shown improvement with his changeup and overall command. Manning has #2 starter upside and it shouldn’t be long before he’s up in Detroit’s rotation showing that. At the very least, Manning should be a good source of strikeouts in 2021 as he’s consistently been around a 30% K rate in the minors.
Daniel Lynch & Jackson Kowar, Kansas City Royals
There’s no hiding the fact that the Kansas City Royals are in a rebuilding state. Some teams (cough, Rockies) like to block their top prospects during a rebuild for some silly reason. Not the Royals. Kansas City has consistently shown that they’re not afraid of promoting their prospects when they deem them ready, and they showed that once again in 2020 with Brady Singer and Kris Bubic. Now, in 2021, it’s time for them to do the same with Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar.
Daniel Lynch striking our Vidal Brujan on three straight fastballs, 95, 96, 97. #MiLB #AlwaysRoyal #RaysUp #Rays pic.twitter.com/r32KmUDc56
— Eric Cross (@EricCross04) October 13, 2019
While Kowar is a talented arm with the upside of a #3 or #4 starter, I’m not sure he’s more than a streaming option in good matchups this season. Kowar has never been a big strikeout arm, peaking at 25.2% in 13 Double-A starts back in 2019 and sitting at 22.8% for his professional career. Lynch, on the other hand, has had more success missing bats (26.2%) and has a pristine 2.50 ERA in his 147.2 minor league innings. Both should be up mid-season, but Lynch is the one I’d target in FAAB/waivers. Just don’t go overboard to acquire him.
Forrest Whitley, Houston Astros
I’m honestly not sure where to put Forrest Whitley, but here seems like the best spot. Barring another setback, Whitley should be up at some point this summer and I can still make the argument that he has the highest ceiling of any pitching prospect in baseball right now. But along with that lofty ceiling comes a lower floor due to his injuries and command issues. But with all that said, Whitley throws four potential plus pitches and has racked up an elite 34.1% strikeout rate in the minors. Keep an eye on how he looks in spring training. If it looks like he’s turned the corner and is throwing strikes more consistently, get ready for the Whitley hype train to gain plenty of steam leading up to his likely mid-season debut.
Forrest Whitley blows another fastball past another Met for his second strikeout of the day. pic.twitter.com/YjEfVgD2J6
— Nick Pollack (@PitcherList) February 25, 2019
Clarke Schmidt, New York Yankees
As I mentioned in the Deivi Garcia section above, 3/5 of the Yankees’ rotation is shaky in the durability department. So, there’s a decent chance that both Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt log double-digit starts in 2021. I’ve said my piece on Deivi, but Schmidt is one that intrigues me for both 2021 and beyond. Up until his brief 2020 Major League debut, Schmidt has succeeded everywhere he’s pitched. Overall, Schmidt recorded a 3.39 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 7.3% walk rate, and 28.3% strikeout rate in the minors thanks to a trio of above-average to plus pitches in his four-seamer, slider, and changeup. While many will zig to Deivi, I’m zagging to Schmidt.
Other Mid-Season FAAB/Waiver Targets: Nick Lodolo (CIN), Brailyn Marquez (CHC), Edward Cabrera (MIA), Braxton Garrett (MIA)
Slight Chance We See (25-50%): Simeon Woods-Richardson (TOR), DL Hall (BAL), Jordan Balazovic (MIN), Jhoan Duran (MIN), Reid Detmers (LAA), Bryan Mata (BOS)
Likely Won’t See (Less than 25% Chance): Max Meyer (MIA), Grayson Rodriguez (BAL), George Kirby (SEA), Joe Ryan (TB), Ryan Weathers (SD)
Likely Won’t Have a Big Impact: Brendan McKay (TB), Josiah Gray (LAD), Brent Honeywell Jr (TB), Corbin Martin (ARI), JB Bukauskas (ARI), Kyle Muller (ATL), Tucker Davidson (ATL)
Media Credit: Jeff Zimmerman, MLB Pipeline, Nick Pollack, Alex Fast, Rob Friedman, Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire.
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