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There is no such thing as a pitching prospect, well, except in dynasty baseball. As much as pitching prospects offer headaches to any team, real or fantasy, pitching is still a necessary addition to most rosters. Adding top names offers protections for those busts, but also gives owners the tools to go out and make other trades during the season. Defense might win championships, but starting pitching keeps a team in the hunt all year.

To support that fact, we are back with top starting pitching prospects to watch out for this offseason. Most will be owned in leagues already in action, but, if dynasty leagues are starting, these are the names to add now. The biggest note is that for top prospects, owners need to buy in years ahead of a debut with their organization at the Major League level. Ride the waves, and realize that pitching growth is never linear.

One quick note on the players listed below before jumping into the analysis. Based on their injuries from last year, and the expected recovery time, players like A.J. Puk and Michael Kopech will not be making the list. They would be in the top 20 perhaps, but concerning offering the most actionable names, they dropped off. With more news, they might move in future lists, but for the time being, they are not listed here.

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Forrest Whitley (SP, HOU)

ETA: 2019

Whitley is the undisputed top pitching prospect in baseball, and even for analysts lower on him, they still have him ranked in the top five at worst. The profile balances good stuff with plus command, and with offensive support as he reaches the majors, there is little risk. All of these factors make Whitley a key target for teams in dynasty leagues. Drafting him in redraft leagues will be helpful as well as he should be up in 2019 for the Astros.

After a suspension last year for a rumored non-PED test, Whitley only logged 26.1 innings at Double-A. Still, a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League keeps the stock high, and in fact, the limited innings are, at best, a rest on the arm. By most reports, there are three plus pitches and two more that might be plus with some development. Add to this a 21.3 K-BB% from the limited time last year, and there are little to no reason to jump off this train. Whitley is the name on the list to pay full value for and expect those returns to come soon.

 

Chris Paddack (SP, SD)

ETA: 2020

Paddack fell off most lists with a Tommy John surgery that cost him the 2017 campaign. And yet, the former eighth-round pick of the Marlins was back with force in 2018 ending the season at Double-A. The standout numbers were the K/BB ratios, with 20.76 line at High-A, and 9.25 at Double-A. He also posted a sub-one WHIP at both levels, with a sub .212 opponent batting line for the year.

While owners cannot just look to minor league numbers as a guide for the long-term potential, with a player like Paddack, who was getting good reviews before the injury, this is a player returning to form. Also, add in the great park in San Diego, the timing with the rebuild on pace, and all the other soft support, and Paddock will be a top sleeper prospect this year. Owners should hope that he does not move, as a trade to the Mets, for example, would hurt his stock. For now. Paddack is undervalued on most lists and can be a true steal for owners.

 

Dylan Cease (SP, CWS)

ETA: 2020

A former sixth-round pick of the Chicago Cubs, Cease moved to the White Sox in the Jose Quintana deal and has come into his own with the move to the Southside. The calling card is the fastball which gets a 70 grade on both MLB Pipeline and Fangraphs, but in support, he throws a plus curveball and a 50-grade changeup. In 2018 Cease finished fourth in the minors with 12.2 strikeouts per nine, which adds that floor in both points and roto leagues.

The K/9 rate increased with every step up the minor league ladder, which bodes well as he is getting better results versus better bats. The other good sign is that he does not give up homers, even with the stuff, as he kept his HR/9 close to 0.50 all year. This is the package for an owner willing to bet on the heater and buy-in with a team on the rise. Perhaps a bit more risk than others on the list, but the payoff could see him top the list long term.

 

Jesus Luzardo (SP, OAK)

ETA: late 2019

This Oakland pitching prospect had a great 2018, moving all the way from High-A to Triple-A with continued success. The stat line looks a bit rough at Triple-A, but in only 16 innings, take all of this with a grain of salt. His most extended time was at Double-A with a 2.29 ERA, 9.84 K/9, and 2.06 BB/9 over 78.2 innings. The lefty throws a fastball, curveball, and changeup, with the offspeed being the best offerings right now.

If he can add a fourth pitch, he has the highest ceiling on the list behind Whitley, but for now, still looks to be a solid SP2/3 type arm. The reason he ranks a bit lower here than other lists would be the GB%, which sits sub-50 for most of his minor league career. Without the elite fastball, this could be an issue with Big League hitters, but also, a useful metric for owners to watch moving forward.

 

MacKenzie Gore (SP, SD)

ETA: 2021+

The second Padres prospect to make the list, Gore has impressed since his pro debut and has mostly met the high expectations set when he joined the organization. Finishing 2018 at A-Ball, Gore might still be a few long years from helping the San Diego club, but the mix of pitches makes him stand out from even his own draft class. The best sign in that he is missing bats, with 10.98 K/9 last year compared to only 2.67 BB/9. This is excellent control for a 19-year-old, and will only get better as he learns to control the secondary stuff better.

The downside is that he does give up a fair amount of fly balls, with a 43% mark last year, but still kept the homers under one per nine innings. The other red flag, or thing for owners to watch, is that he did struggle with blisters to start the 2018 campaign. These seemed to go away but could be a sign of the heavy curveball usage. As this is also his best pitch, hopefully, this all works out, or at least, does not slow his march to San Diego. Paddack still is the better option, but with the media focus on Gore, owners should not ignore the potential.

 

Mike Soroka (SP, ATL)

ETA: already debuted

The first of two Braves to make the list, Soroka already made his debut with the Braves but got injured before losing the prospect status. The injury was not severe enough to drop him from the list, but before adding him, owners should do their homework. Soroka has the upside of a number two starter, but also could fall a bit short and still offer an excellent value for fantasy owners. Durability might be a concern, but 25 starts in 2016 and 2017 show that this is not a huge concern a holistic view.

While he does throw three pitches, none grade out as elite, so he will need to continue to mix to be effective in keeping hitters off balance. As his five starts last year with Atlanta showed, 7.36 K/9 might be a good average to shoot for in projections, as in the minors he only had one season over eight above Rookie-ball. The good news is that he does induce a ton of ground balls with his breaking stuff, and does not need to rely on the stuff to be an above-average starter for the Braves. Soroka is the not the ace that the Braves at one time thought, but to ignore the value of the mid-rotation arm with good command would be a mistake.

 

Mitch Keller (SP, PIT)

ETA: 2019

A second-round pick of the Pirates in 2014, Keller has been a mainstay on lists of Pittsburgh’s top prospects since he debuted. Many expected him to be with the team already, but some struggles at Triple-A last year took that out of the equation. Mixing a plus fastball and curveball, with an average changeup, Keller offers the needed mix to be a capable starter with the team. His command seems to be what is holding him back, as the walks are still well above three per nine at the point. When the strikeouts sit around nine, there is not enough stuff to allow owners to buy in 100%.

What can be said here is that many reports still grade him command as plus potential, but until the results are there, owners should keep an eye out. There are some injury issues here as well, with a back in 2017, and forearm issues in 2015, being the most pressing. If he puts it all together, this is an SP3 with some rise, but enough questions that owners can do better on the list. In fact, while dismissing Keller would be a mistake, most lists have him in the top three, which would be a mistake for dynasty owners as the price would exceed the value.

 

Kyle Wright (SP, ATL)

ETA: already debuted

The former number five overall pick from 2017, Wright has made quick work of the minors and made his debut with the Braves this past year. While he will start the year at Triple-A unless there are changes, this is a player that should be a regular in the rotation in 2020 at the latest. Mixing in four pitches, Wright is the profile of a starter who will never be an ace, but every team would be able to find a spot if he was on the open market.

According to reports, the fastball can sit at 95, but touch 98 as needed, which offers a good separation from the other secondary pitches. The best reports on Wright also praise the durability, as this should be a 30-start pitcher in an era where owners can perhaps better shoot for 25+ with most of their starting pitchers. Wright is the safest option on the list, with enough upside to improve on his stick as well. Also, he seems to be the most likely pitcher to be traded if Atlanta makes a move, which would actually help his stock.

 

Casey Mize (SP, DET)

ETA: 2019

The 2018 first overall pick had a bit of a rough start to his professional debut, but with only 13.1 innings this is nothing to be alarmed about yet. After a strong college career, Mize was the top pitcher on most draft boards going into the draft, and the Tigers agreed, making him the top pick. Much of his value comes from how close he is to being MLB ready; at 21, could be in the bigs in the next year or so if all goes well.

Mize also has the prototype starting pitcher profile with three different pitches with plus control; it is easy to see why the scouts liked the profile. The downside, and why he is lower on this list, would be the injury concerns. He was shut down at Auburn in 2017, and then last year due to some forearm issues. As Fangraph’s Marc Hulet writes, these injuries are often precursors to TJ surgery, which would be a huge risk for fantasy owners. Mize perhaps has the best floor on the list, but he also has some documented risk and needs to show the skills in professional ball, keep him from moving higher right now.

 

Justus Sheffield (SP, SEA)

ETA: 2019

Sheffield was not on the initial top-ten, but with the move to Seattle, and the change to play quicker in a better park, he jumped Tristin MacKenzie on the list. The big question for the profile will be if he can stay in the rotation, which was a quick question mark with the Yankees, but with Seattle, there is little risk that he is given every chance to replace James Paxton effectively. Fastball and slider both grade out as plus pitches, with a change-up that is angling that way as well.

If he can harness three pitches, with the stuff that he already has, this could be a lethal combination for a lefty. Admittingly, the control was a bit of an issue last campaign, with 50 walks in 116 innings, but an opponents' batting average of .195 offers a good hedge. While he might never win a WHIP title, the production will be there in pitching counting stats, giving him a high fantasy floor.

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