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Top 10 Starting Pitching Prospects - 2019 Fantasy Baseball Redraft Rankings


"There is no such thing as a pitching prospect." For fantasy owners who have lived and died by this mantra, this article might be a bit of a jinx. Often when the fantasy community gets in on a player, they break, or roles change. Some of this is the odds with pitching, but otherwise, the fact is that with elite velocity comes a larger risk of arm trouble. And yet, ironically, with the influx of young arms without set roles, and most recovering from arm injuries, now is the time to target impact arms this year.

While most of the pitchers on this list still have something to prove or are blocked by position, the reason there is an opportunity is the same reason why pitchers crumbled in the minors. Fantasy owners should be targeting rookie arms in re-drafts for the injury coverage that they offer to “set” starters. Even with the risk of playing time, the upside compensates for that over a full fantasy season. With the added ability to target these players late in drafts, the upside is immense, and the playing time targets change with one injury in the spring.

With that, read along to see who the Rotoballer team recommends as key pitching prospect targets in 2019 redrafts. While not all prospects are built the same, pitching is precisely the spot to take those risks and stash those darts. Who knows, one of these might be the next Walker Buehler.

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Top Starting Pitching Prospects For 2019

This list below is geared towards 2019 redraft leagues and looks at the top MLB prospects and rookies who have the best chance to rise to the major leagues at some point in 2019 and provide fantasy baseball value this season.

To be clear, this is not our list of the top overall prospects in baseball. You can find those longer-term rankings in our dynasty prospects rankings and articles section, which take a look at the top prospects at each position regardless of their age or expected ETA in the majors.

 

1. Jesus Luzardo (SP, OAK)

ETA: May 2019

Luzardo does not have the highest ceiling on this list long term, but for 2019, he looks to have the best shot to top 120 innings. And yet, he does have the skills to be an impact fantasy arm as soon as he is ready to make the jump to a frontline starter. In 108 innings last year over three levels in the minors, Luzardo struck out more than 25% of the batters that he faced, only walking 7.8% of opposing hitters. Add in the 2.30 ERA at his most extended stop at Double-A, and Luzardo flashed all the fantasy skills to find a spot on most teams. Even more, the Athletics will be good this year and might have a chance to return to the playoffs, so there will be wins to add to the roto scoring as well.

The concern long term is the recovery from Tommy John, but this does not make him unique among the top players on this list. Injury risk comes with the territory, and the upside for fantasy owners is that even with a player hitting the shelf, only this season is lost. With Luzardo, take that risk and look to the track record over his past two full seasons to see the health that cements his fantasy upside. If there is a "safe" player on this list, it would be Luzardo, as the starting rotation in Oakland is crying out for help, and Luzardo is just a good spring away.

 

2. Chris Paddack (SP, SD)

ETA: May 2019

Paddack splits opinion in the fantasy community not based on long term value, but rather, on how soon he will make an impact. Watching the film from his first spring training start, Paddack looks ready now, and the production last year cements that interest from the fantasy community. In 90 innings between Single and Double-A, Paddack showed elite command, with a 33% K rate, and a 2.8% walk rate. Add in that he does not give up homers, and Paddack looks to get all the benefits of pitching in Petco Park, and with a new offense, will earn more wins than expected.

The thing to watch with Paddack’s development in the Majors will be the pitch mix. As of now, his best offerings are the fastball and change-up, with a curveball that flashes as a 50 grade. The command will need to stay elite for him to survive without a fully developed off-speed pitch. If that all comes around, he would be at the top of this list for the ERA and ratio suppression. While he will not top K charts in his career, the rest of the profile makes him a must add. For 2019, owners should not be surprised to see a fast start, with a quick regression as the league adjusts. A full winter to prepare and fine-tune the rest of his offerings will be key. And yet, this is the ace for San Diego in 2020 and beyond. 

 

3. Alex Reyes (SP, STL)

ETA: Already debuted

As the third pitcher in the top three to have arm injuries in his past, Reyes is looking to finally put together a full season of work with the Cardinals. With the injury issues for Carlos Martinez this spring, Reyes seems to have a shot to either start or enter a closer-lite role for the team. The pitch mix projects him as a starter with three plus offerings, with a slider that still grades below-average. The best of his offerings is the fastball, which might be the best on this list. Reyes has the stuff to hang in the Majors, with a full-season 30% K rate being the norm, and in small spurts, getting closer to 40%.

The limiting factor for Reyes will be the workload, with a career season-high for innings of 109.1 in 2014 at A-ball. Despite a full recovery from his surgery, the Cardinals have no reason to push him, and owners need to account for this when adding him to their roster. Reyes' stuff will play up even more in shorter stints, and he has a track record of keeping the ball in the park. Even with limited innings, he could offer as much value as an SP4. Reyes is starting to creep up draft boards, so if he is a top-250 pick, stay away for now. When he slips further, owners should be willing to pounce.

 

4. Forrest Whitley (SP, HOU)

ETA: May 2019

Whitley missed time last year, but not for an injury. After getting popped for a failed drug test (perhaps recreational), he was only able to pitch 26.1 innings during the regular season. Still, he remains one of the top options in the game at the position and will be up sometime this year for the Astros. In that limited time at Double-A, Whitley posted a 21.3 K-BB%, with only 0.68 HR/9. Five plus pitches with average command underlie the profile and allow him to generate sub-.200 batting averages from opposing hitters.

What stands out when looking to the profile is the lack of homers, even with an increased fly ball rate. In fact, over his full seasons in the minors, the fly ball rate is above 45%, and the IFFB% stands at an average of 29%. This should allow him to fit in at Minute Maid, even with the overly short left field porch. Add in the stuff that flashes, and an apparent opportunity to enter the rotation without any other signings and Whitley should be a target for fantasy owners.

With injury news already coming out about Josh James experiencing injury trouble, Whitley could be in line to appear earlier than May. He should be the top on this list with that playing time, and the current ADP of 252 shows the helium this spring.

 

5. Mike Soroka (SP, ATL)

ETA: Already debuted

After a strong start to his Big League career, Soroka ended up on the Injured List to close the 2018 campaign. Reportedly healthy entering camp this spring, Soroka will start the year in the minors, with every chance to join the team mid-summer. For a pitcher without elite velocity, mostly mid to low 90s, Soroka does generate a ton of movement on both his two and four-seam offerings. This allowed him to post an 18.6% K line but still post a 2.81 FIP in 25 innings with the Braves. Soroka will need a good defense behind him to find routine success, and this looks to be the case for him in 2019.

Command is his calling card, even as scouts differ on the current value overall. If he can keep the 6.2 BB% he had in his run in the majors, the overall profile looks to be an SP3 floor. Even more, the stuff does not play into a bullpen role, giving him more of a reason to stay in the rotation. This should not scare away owners as the Braves will provide plenty of run support to increase win opportunities. This is a pitcher who will win games at a good clip without hurting ratios and ERA. Soroka is the safest in terms of value on this list when he gets to Atlanta permanently. The upside is not there, but still, he is a top fantasy asset to own.

 

6. Josh James (SP, HOU)

ETA: already debuted

As this piece was being written, it was announced that James had suffered a quad strain that should take him out of contention for the rotation. The news limits his upside and hurts owners who were targeting him as the Astros' fifth starter entering this year. With that, James falls into the category of many others who should offer good production in any role even in limited innings. The leg injury does not mean that he will not start at some point, only that he is delayed in getting up to speed this spring. In fact, in 2018, James made three of his six appearances in the rotation, showing how the team wants to use him.

James was an instant-impact player last year, with a 2.35 ERA in 23 innings for the Astros. Add in a sub-one WHIP, and James looked like he was able to keep hitters off balance from day one. Opposing hitters only contacted the ball on 15% of his pitchers and posted a 7.5% barrel rate when they did make contact. What has caused the breakout is the apparent fastball development with a sharp velocity rise. Heading into 2017 he was clocked 90-92, and now, according to Baseball Savant, he is flashing triple-digits. A 70-grade fastball will play in any format, but if he can keep a role in the rotation at some point this year, the stuff could make him a top-30 pitcher.

 

7. Kyle Wright (SP, ATL)

ETA: Already debuted

Wright looks the least likely to have an extended run in the Majors of those on this list, but also seems to be the most polished starter outside the top few names. This means that the risk is there that he does not play all that much, but if he does, the ratios alone should make him a solid fantasy pitching option. Wright mixes in four pitches, with the slider being his best offering. His sample size is only six innings in the Majors, but with the 128 pitches he did throw, only 17 were batted, which is consistent with his numbers in the minors. Wright is Soroka with a bit more swing and miss, but lacking the larger arsenal that will allow him to log elite strikeout rates over a full year.

If he were guaranteed time on the roster, Wright would be one of the favorites on this list, at least for real-life baseball acumen. If a team were drafting from existing prospects, Wright would be the safe arm at a position that is never known as “safe.” The delivery is smooth, limiting injury risks, and with a sub-0.7 HR/9 rate, he does not give up hard contact. The ceiling and floor are both SP3, but there is value to be had here with the numbers that do not jump off the screen.

 

8. Brent Honeywell (SP, TB)

ETA: July 2019

Continuing the trend, another high-upside arm with an injury history to monitor. After posting top-tier numbers in 2018, Honeywell missed all of 2018 with elbow issues but looks to be on pace for a return this season around May or June. Adding in some time in the minors to see if the stuff still plays, and Honeywell looks to have a chance to be an impact arm in the second half of the season. Another advantage for fantasy owners is the creative ways that Tampa Bay has been using their pitchers; Honeywell seems to be ideally set for the follower role in the Rays' pen.

While the 2017 numbers are a bit outdated, if he can flash this upside again, fantasy owners will be happy. Over 123.2 innings Honeywell won 12 games, struck out 29.1% of batter he faced, and only walked 5.9% of opposing hitters. Even more, the 0.8 HR/9 was a career high, showing that Honeywell will keep opposing hitters in the yard. While limited by injury risk, the upside is there, and if owners can hold the spot for three to four impact innings in a new role, this will be a solid play.

 

9. Jonathan Loaisiga (SP, NYY)

ETA: Already debuted

Fantasy owners in need of starting pitching last year were introduced to Loaisiga off the waiver wire when he made four starts and nine overall appearances for the Yankees in 2018. Unlike others on this list, there is actual data that owners can look at to see what they might be adding in drafts. The 5.11 ERA was not great, but most of that damage came in a six-run 1.1 inning appearance. Other than that, Loaisiga kept the runs off the board, while posting a 3:1 K:BB line. A 13% SwSt rate also underlies the excitement with the stuff that he offers.

The question affecting him in terms of fantasy value is the same as others on the list, with uncertainty on what role he will play this year. Slated to start the year at Triple-A, owners should target Loaisiga as the primary injury replacement for players like CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka. Both offer pathways to playing time for the young arm, or, at the very least, he should be the first arm up when the call comes. Loaisiga offers a player with experience already on the resume and the stuff to hang based on that chance; therefore, he is worth the add at a 528 ADP.

 

10. Casey Mize (SP, DET)

ETA: Late 2019

Mize is another player that this writer is more bullish on in terms of playing time in the Majors this year that other prospect sites. This is based on three things. First, Mize is a waiting injury time bomb with concerns going back to his early days at Florida, and even with the National Team. Therefore, the Tigers will be careful, but as soon as he is ready, they will not keep him in the minors due to any injury concerns. Second, the Tiger rotation is so bad that the team might be forced to begin his service clock because of an overall lack of bodies. Third, based on his numbers from college and the minors so far, he is close to ready for action.

Drafted number one overall in the 2018 draft, the Tigers targeted Mize because of his polish, and ability to mix in four-plus pitchers with plus command. Mize only pitched 13 innings in the minors last year due to his extended college run. However, the season ended the year at High-A which demonstrates the amount of confidence the Tigers have in his ability right now. With the small sample, owners can dig into the college numbers for a bit more context. Mize held opponents to a .217 batting average and had top of the leaderboard walk rates throughout his full career.

Mize is a future ace, but he is at the bottom of this list due to the lack of playing time plans. For owners in deep leagues, Mize is that last-round dart with a potential impact based on his movement this year.

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