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2023 Fantasy Baseball Starting Pitcher Sleepers

patrick sandoval fantasy baseball rankings mlb player news

The 2023 World Baseball Classic crowned a champion, Spring training’s end is drawing near, and Major League Baseball Opening Day is swiftly approaching. This season is highly anticipated due to the recent changes the MLB implemented in order to produce a more ‘polished’ product—specifically regarding the pace of play. The pitch clock, which has been the center of much criticism this spring—has affected batters and pitchers alike.

The pitch clock has made fans a bit wary for a variety of reasons, including how it might mess with pitchers’ “flow.” Even if you’ve watched baseball for only a year or 30 years, you’ve noticed just how routine-oriented ballplayers are. However, there are many pitchers out there who will actually benefit from the pitch clock—those who work quickly and like to keep the game moving. 

Here are five under-the-radar pitching options who just might have stellar seasons in 2023:

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Merrill Kelly, Arizona Diamondbacks

Arizona Diamondbacks starter Merrill Kelly can now add “started in the championship game for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic” to his resume. Now, though, the right-hander will return to camp and continue to gear up for his age-34 season.

Kelly is an interesting case. He doesn’t throw particularly hard and relies primarily on two pitches—a fastball and a change-up. But he posted a sub-3.30 ERA in 2022 and struck out 177 batters across 200 1/3 innings. 

While he’s never blown anyone away during his four seasons in the big leagues, he’s always been a reliable presence in Arizona’s rotation. He avoided the injured list for the entirety of 2022 and made a league-leading 33 starts.

ATC projections show Kelly to post a 4.10 ERA in 2023 with 182 innings pitched and a 1.26 WHIP.

And if it’s any consolation, teammate Zac Gallen, who had a great 2022 campaign—including a stellar second half—praised Kelly ahead of his start for Team USA. “They will speak of him alongside George Washington and Paul Revere,” said Gallen. Maybe his outing didn’t reach those levels, but it’s clear Gallen has confidence in him.


Patrick Sandoval, Los Angeles Angels

Another participant in the WBC, Sandoval will slot into the Los Angeles Angels’ staff alongside Shohei Ohtani and offseason acquisition Tyler Anderson. Sandoval impressed with the Halos in 2022, as he had a 2.91 ERA and 151 Ks in 148 ⅔ innings. He took a big step forward in putting forth his best season yet, one that included a complete-game shutout in August where he fanned nine Detroit batters in a 1-0 Angels win. 

He’ll look to further build off that supreme outing in 2023. Sandoval, like the rest of MLB, has turned to a slider as his primary pitch, mixing in a change-up as well. Each pitch resulted in a sub-.200 batting average and not much hard contact. His change-up produced a 44.2 Whiff%, while his slider had a Put Away% of 27.4. Not bad numbers for his most frequently used pitches. 

The 26-year-old can’t say the same for his fastball and curveball, though, with hitters slugging above .400 on each. If Sandoval can produce similar numbers to that of his 2022 campaign, the Angels should have a solid front-three with Ohtani, Anderson, and Sandoval.

ATC projects Sandoval to throw 1.59 innings to the tune of a 3.69 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 2023.


Justin Steele, Chicago Cubs

Justin Steele began to solidify himself as a legitimate starter in 2022 with the Chicago Cubs, pitching to an impressive 3.18 ERA and 3.20 FIP across 119 innings pitched. His sophomore campaign was highlighted by a dominant second half, where he posted a 0.98 ERA in seven starts—including an 11.5 K/9.

The 27-year-old missed time while on the paternity list in July, the restricted list in August, and the injured list in September. When he did start, he was nearly untouchable. Steele was able to take a big step forward in 2022 by refining his pitch arsenal by throwing his slider more. The Missouri native went from throwing the pitch just 16.5% of the time in 2021 to 31% in 2022. Per Statcast, batters slugged just .216 against the pitch last season and had an xBA of .152. 

Steele is definitely a starter to keep an eye on when it comes to your fantasy draft this year. While not as sexy of a name as Corbin Burnes, Aaron Nola, or Sandy Alcantara, Steele is a safe pick who will collect strikeouts and supply innings. ATC projects Steele to throw 144 innings to the tune of a 3.78 ERA and 1.30 WHIP. Something to be cautious of is his injury history entering his third year in the majors, as he did miss a significant amount of time in 2022. Should he remain healthy, though, he’ll certainly be a solid addition to most fantasy rosters.


Joe Musgrove, San Diego Padres

It’s hard to believe that a pitcher who threw a no-hitter just two seasons ago could be considered a “sleeper,” but the San Diego Padres' Joe Musgrove continues to be overlooked by many in the baseball world. 

A first-time All-Star in 2022, Musgrove tossed 181 innings to the tune of a 2.93 ERA and 3.59 FIP. The 30-year-old fanned 184 batters—good for a 9.1 K/9 alongside a 2.1 BB/9. He was the clear ace of a strong San Diego staff. When examining the right-hander’s Savant page, you’ll see an abundance of red. He ranked among baseball’s best in Avg. Exit Velocity, Hard Hit %, and Fastball Spin.

ATC projects Musgrove to toss 158 innings in 2023, with a 3.49 ERA and 1.13 WHIP.

The Padres’ confidence in Musgrove was exemplified through a five-year contract extension in July 2022. Although currently sidelined by a minor injury he sustained in February, the consensus among the San Diego personnel is that he could be ready to join the team by April 6. This injury places him at a 120.7 ADP, but he's certainly much more valuable than that.

When he makes his season debut, he will set out to continue to prove to the Padres that he’s worth every penny of his $100 million extension.

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