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Joey Lucchesi - 2019 Fantasy Baseball Sleeper

In his rookie year, left-handed starter Joey Lucchesi made an instant impact. He allowed a total of four earned runs over the first four starts, posting a 25:4 K:BB ratio. It appeared that Lucchesi might be a legitimate candidate for NL Rookie of the Year.

An injury sent him to the disabled list temporarily in mid-May and he ran into some trouble with the long ball upon his return, derailing some of his fantasy value. Lucchesi finished strong, however, proving he could be a reliable part of the Padres' young rotation going forward.

Despite his formidable debut, Lucchesi is barely going within the first 200 picks, selected as the 76th pitcher in NFBC drafts. What concerns might lead Lucchesi to be underappreciated as a fantasy asset in 2019?

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An Incomplete Package

The 130 innings Lucchesi recorded in 2018 for San Diego barely surpassed his previous high of 139 in 2017. That came between two levels at Single-A and Double-A, with nine starts coming at the Double-A level. He only pitched two and two-thirds innings at Triple-A before making his Major League debut. Lucchesi progressed up the minor league ranks quickly for a reason, never posting an ERA above 2.52 at any stop (not counting his sip of coffee at Triple-A). His strikeout rates were elite, except at Double-A when it dipped to 7.91 K/9. It was clear he could dominate lesser competition but the Padres weren't completely sure what they would get upon his call-up.

Lucchesi's first stint in the majors was similarly inconsistent. As mentioned above, he got off to a sizzling start but stumbled in the middle of the year before finishing strong. Lucchesi's 26.5% strikeout rate put him in the upper quarter of starting but his stuff doesn't speak of a dominant pitcher. Lucchesi's 91.1 MPH fastball is in the 18th percentile and the spin on his curveball sits in the sixth percentile. He only throws it about four percent of the time, so it's not going to make or break his career, but these numbers show that Lucchesi will need to have impeccable command and induce soft contact at a high rate in order to be consistently effective.

The biggest concern might be Lucchesi's hard-hit rate allowed. A 40.6% Hard% ranked ninth-worst among starters with at least 130 IP. This is reflected by the 23 home runs he gave up. Even in a pitcher-friendly park like Petco, 15 of those taters came at home. Lucchesi isn't a heavy fly-ball pitcher, traditionally showing a strong ground-ball rate over his brief minor league career, so there could be some regression in a 20.4% HR/FB ratio.


Tangible Upside Worth Betting On

The good news is that despite these warts, Lucchesi does play in a favorable park, has shown he can get big league hitters to swing and miss with a decent 10.6% swinging strike rate, and at 25 years of age has room for growth. Lucchesi doesn't walk many batters (2.98 BB/9) and showed great composure on the mound from day one. His stuff isn't overwhelming, but a deceptive delivery and ability to change speeds could bode well for a bevy of quality starts. If the Padres manage to land a big free agent such as Manny Machado and Wil Myers can stay healthy, it could result in at least a double-digit win total.

You don't need to reach for Lucchesi, as he should be available after the first 15 rounds of most drafts. His upside could make him more appealing than declining veteran lefties like Dallas Keuchel or Jon Lester, who are being drafted ahead of him.

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