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Welcome back, RotoBallers. All preseason I've been breaking down impact prospects by position. Today I'm bringing you my top 15 starting pitchers - MLB prospect rankings for the 2018 fantasy baseball season.

The final positional prospect rankings of the offseason, the depth at starting pitcher is as it always seems to be--deep. There are tons of top-tier starting pitching talent as there seems to be every season. However, the difference this year is that the talent at the top is much better than it has been in past seasons. Many pitchers that have been considered top prospects for years are finally starting to reach the majors, which bodes well for owners looking for pitching depth. Many of these pitching prospects have the talent to be serious impact contributors as soon as they are promoted.

So without any further ado, here are the top 15 starting pitching prospects for 2018 redraft leagues.

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Top 15 Starting Pitching Prospects for 2018 Fantasy Baseball

1. Shohei Ohtani (LAA, NA)
Stats: NA
ETA: Opening Day
Entering Spring Training with a lot of hype, Ohtani was expected to roll right through the competition. He has an ERA of 27.00 with just 2.2 innings pitched over two starts. However, hope should not be abandoned just yet. Scouts still see the stuff playing well against batters, he just needs time to get accumulated to the big leagues. Ohtani has all the makings of a future ace, and in leagues where he is viewed as one player and not as both hitter and pitcher, there is an added bonus for teams that own him. He might face a decision later in the year that forces him to pick one over the other, but for now, Ohtani will be play two ways. There is certainly more concern with him now than there was when he first signed with Los Angeles. But the upside is still far too great to pass up on.

2. Alex Reyes (STL, NA)
Stats: NA
ETA: Early May
Reyes was not expected at the beginning of 2017 to still be on this list in 2018. Tommy John surgery forced him to miss the entire season however and made fantasy owners wait a season before being able to benefit from his talent. This should not diminish his fantasy stock going into the season. He is still bouncing back and is expected to return in early May, at which point he could either be eased into the rotation by pitching out of the bullpen or could just be thrown into the starting five right away. His stuff is absolutely explosive and profiles as future top-of-the-rotation potential with extremely high strikeout upside. Owners will have to wait a little bit longer before they are able to start to reap the rewards and Reyes does not come without risk of a limited role upon his return. Like Ohtani though, the ceiling is lofty and fantasy owners should not miss a chance to grab Reyes if he is available.

3. Jack Flaherty (STL, MLB)
Stats: (from AAA) 85.1 IP, 2.74 ERA, 4.10 FIP, 25.1% K%, 7.1% BB%, 10.8% HR/FB
ETA: Opening Day
Flaherty does not have the kind of stuff the previous two arms have. However, what he does have is a high floor and a guaranteed spot in the St. Louis Cardinals’ Opening Day starting rotation. Flaherty sits in the mid-90s with his fastball and mixes in a slider, curveball and changeup, all of which are above-average pitches. He pitches with plus control and is considered more of a groundball pitcher. However, he will strike out more than enough batters to be fantasy relevant and the guaranteed playing time with the high floor makes him a solid add in 12-plus-team leagues right from the beginning of the season.

4. Tyler Mahle (CIN, MLB)
Stats: (from AAA) 59.1 IP, 2.73 ERA, 3.25 FIP, 21.2% K%, 5.4% BB%, 6.8% HR/FB
ETA: Opening Day
As Opening Day approaches and the injuries continue to pile up for the Cincinnati Reds’ starting pitchers, Mahle seems increasingly likely to open up the 2018 season in the big-league rotation. Viewed as one of the top prospects in the system, Mahle has worked hard to put aside questions about a lack of overpowering stuff and pitch effectively enough to warrant consideration as one of the higher floor pitching prospects in the minor leagues. Mahle strikes out enough batters to make himself worthy of fantasy ownership and despite pitching in a hitter-friendly home stadium, he should be able to keep the ball on the ground enough to keep his ERA down. Mahle is not as exciting as the players preceding him or the ones following him, but his high floor, guaranteed playing time and solid ability to strike out batters make him a potentially valuable arm in most leagues.

 

5. Walker Buehler (LAD, MLB)
Stats: (from AA) 49.0 IP, 3.49 ERA, 2.95 FIP, 32.8% K%, 7.7% BB%, 16.1% HR/FB
ETA: Late June
If he pitched for nearly any other team in the majors, Buehler would probably be second on this list. He is considered by many to be one of the top pitching prospects in baseball and might already be major-league ready. But the Los Angeles Dodgers have tons of pitching depth and can afford to keep Buehler in the minors for a while. The 23-year-old threw just 98 innings last season and had five professional innings before last season. And with Tommy John surgery in his past, it is fair to show concerns over whether he can handle the starter’s workload in 2018. He will surely be tested, but he might not be tested as much in the majors as some would like. Still, he has ace upside and should see plenty of innings in the big leagues, making him a worthy own in 12-team leagues should he receive the promotion.

6. Luiz Gohara (ATL, MLB)
Stats: (from AA) 52.0 IP, 2.60 ERA, 2.52 FIP, 27.7% K%, 8.3% BB%, 4.4% HR/FB
ETA: Early May
An ankle injury shut down any chance Gohara had of breaking camp with the Atlanta Braves. However, he is making a swift recovery and could be ready earlier than originally anticipated. Though there are plenty of arms he will have to compete with for innings, Gohara has what it takes to make himself stand out among the group. The southpaw appears close to major-league ready, demonstrating an explosive fastball and wipeout slider that will lead him to generate consistently high strikeout rates in the majors. His control still needs to make some progress before he can reach his front-of-the-rotation upside, but he has the whiff-ability to be worth owning in 12-team leagues once he receives the promotion.

7. Brandon Woodruff (MIL, MLB)
Stats: (from AAA) 75.1 IP, 4.30 ERA, 4.44 FIP, 21.5% K%, 7.7% BB%, 10.7% HR/FB
ETA: Opening Day
Seeing Woodruff’s name above other top pitching prospects is probably not going to be super popular, but this is a situation where playing time plays a major role. Though Woodruff does not have a super high ceiling, he will begin the season in the Milwaukee Brewers’ bullpen, but will take the fifth starting spot once the team needs five starts. Woodruff’s Triple-A numbers don’t jump off the page, but he did pitch in incredibly hitter-friendly Colorado Springs. He mixes enough swing-and-miss to be productive in fantasy leagues with control that should give him a relatively high floor and keep him from pitching himself out of the rotation. He could fit a mold similar to teammate Zach Davies with more strikeouts and could be a solid depth add in 12-team leagues.

8. Michael Kopech (CWS, AAA)
Stats: (from AA) 119.1 IP, 2.87 ERA, 2.83 FIP, 31.8% K%, 12.3% BB%, 5.2% HR/FB
ETA: Early July
This is one of those top prospects more exciting than Woodruff that will be behind him. Kopech might be the most exciting pitching prospect likely to debut in the majors this season, consistently throwing his fastball in the upper-90s and triple-digits with movement to go along with an elite slider that gives him a ceiling of an ace and reminds people of Noah Syndergaard. However, his control needs to make drastic improvements and he needs to develop his changeup a bit more. Also, the Chicago White Sox have lately been a bit reluctant with promoting their pitchers, waiting forever last season to call up both Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito. Kopech also will have to compete against a bunch of other young pitchers for the rotation spots. He has the stuff to force his way into the rotation, which is why he is on this list, but it might not be until later this summer. Once promoted, he should be owned in 12-team leagues, but could be worth a pickup in 10-team leagues if he can put aside his control issues.

9. Chance Adams (NYY, AAA)
Stats: 115.1 IP, 2.89 ERA, 3.76 FIP, 22.3% K%, 9.3% BB%, 7.3% HR/FB
ETA: Early August
Adams might be one of the most major-league ready arms on this list. There is little to point to as a reason he will not begin in the majors other than perhaps he could use a little more tuning up with the control. However, the depth of the New York Yankees’ rotation will keep Adams down until there is an injury this season. His best path to playing time likely comes in the form of a trade, which could be coming given that he is one of their top prospects and there’s no clear role for him. With a well-rounded repertoire beginning with a plus fastball and slider, as well as an average curveball and changeup give him a clear starting pitcher profile and one who could be a solid No. 3. Once he gets his call, owners in 12-plus team leagues should pick him up if it appears he has a steady big-league job moving forward.

10. Max Fried (ATL, MLB)
Stats: (from AA) 86.2 IP, 5.92 ERA, 4.08 FIP, 22.1% K%, 11.2% BB%, 10.1% HR/FB
ETA: Early June
Fried was not very good in 2017. He was really kicked around in Double-A and then was just alright in the majors. Though he had a 3.81 ERA, Fried’s 4.81 FIP suggested regression was likely to come. However, few scouts question the stuff in Fried’s arsenal and still see a future No. 3 starting pitcher. He has a great feel for both his fastball and curveball — both plus pitches — and has shown the ability to mix in a changeup when he needs it. His control needs to make improvements, and he will work in Triple-A to start the season to do just that. But the Braves are moving in a younger direction and he seems likely to be a part of that movement. He will not have much room for error and needs to turn it around fast to avoid being sent to the bullpen, but Fried has what it takes to force his way into Atlanta’s rotation and spend plenty of time there in 2018.

11. Mitch Keller (PIT, AA)
Stats: (from A+) 77.1 IP, 3.14 ERA, 3.54 FIP, 20.9% K%, 6.5% BB%, 8.3% HR/FB
ETA: Early August
Like Kopech, Keller is viewed as one of the top prospects in the game and as someone who could be a future front-of-the-rotation starter. Unlike Kopech, Keller does it less with high-octane stuff and more with pitchability and a deep repertoire of pitches, commanding everything in his above-average arsenal incredibly well. He can reach the upper-90s with the fastball and pairs that pitch nicely with a plus curveball and changeup. His stuff is not as explosive as other pitching prospects, but he pitches well enough to rack up the strikeout numbers needed to be valuable in redraft leagues. His combination of a high ceiling and high floor make him an exciting prospect should he be called up, which could be a while given the Pittsburgh Pirates’ general reluctance to promote prospects with the amount of options they have for the rotation. He still should see time this season and would be worth owning in 10-plus team leagues once he gets the call up.

12. Mike Soroka (ATL, AA)
Stats: 153.2 IP, 2.75 ERA, 3.19 FIP, 19.9% K%, 5.4% BB%, 6.8% HR/FB
ETA: Early July
It is rare that pitching prospects considered really high floor and medium ceiling like Soroka are consistently rated as highly. However, in the case of Soroka, it is because he blends a strong repertoire of pitches with plus control and knows how to get outs. Despite the fact his stuff might indicate he should miss more bats, Soroka has always been more of a groundball pitcher and should continue to be that way in the big leagues. He will strike some batters out, but fantasy owners will want to pick him up more for his lofty floor and the knowledge that once he’s up in the majors, he’s probably a very safe arm to own the remainder of the season. It could be some time until he is promoted given Atlanta’s pitching depth, but he should force his way at some point during the summer and has what it takes to be a strong add in 12-plus team leagues.

13. Joey Lucchesi (SD, AA)
Stats: 60.1 IP, 1.79 ERA, 2.95 FIP, 22.4% K%, 5.9% BB%, 5.3% HR/FB
ETA: Early April
Lucchesi has been viewed by the San Diego Padres as an option to fill in the starting rotation while Dinelson Lamet is out with an injury. The 6-foot-5 southpaw has flown under the radar in his time in the Padres’ farm system, but he has what it takes to be ranked higher in most other organizations. He has a plus fastball with an above-average curveball and changeup with plus control of his arsenal. That has helped him rack up plenty of strikeouts on his way to the upper levels of the minors. He won’t be a future ace and might only top out as a No. 3 starter in the big leagues, but his ability to generate whiffs and control his stuff well in a pitcher-friendly home ballpark would make him a solid depth piece in 12-plus team leagues.

14. Cal Quantrill (SD, AA)
Stats: (from A+) 73.2 IP, 3.67 ERA, 3.87 FIP, 24.1% K%, 7.6% BB%, 7.0% HR/FB
ETA: Early August
It was pretty much assumed from the beginning that once Quantrill rehabbed from his Tommy John surgery that he would be a quick riser through the minors. That has absolutely been the case. He pitched just 37 innings in 2016 before beginning 2017 at Advanced Class-A. He then ended the season at Double-A. His repertoire is deep with four average or better pitches and advanced control of every one. Quantrill could be held back during 2018 and just stick in the minors, but he could also force the Padres to give him the call later in the year. He has No. 2 or 3 starter upside and would be worth adding in nearly all 12-team leagues if he gets the call up this season.

15. A.J. Puk (OAK, AA)
Stats: 64.0 IP, 4.36 ERA, 2.35 FIP, 30.8% K%, 9.0% BB%, 4.1% HR/FB
ETA: Early June
Puk seemed to be making a strong case for the starting rotation out of Spring Training, but a biceps injury combined with a lack of experience in the upper-minors means Puk will start the season in the minors. There is no doubt Puk makes for an exciting fantasy prospect due to his swing-and-miss stuff that could make him one of the highest strikeout pitchers in the minors, but it is fair to be concerned about the control and think he might walk too many batters to stick in the rotation for the entire season. Pitching for the Oakland Athletics, Puk could force his way into a weak A’s rotation, but the ability to hold him back beyond the Super Two deadline might be an option the Athletics consider since he won’t break camp with the team. The fantasy upside might be as high as any pitcher on this list outside of Ohtani, but the risk of control issues holding him back likely keeps him from being owned in any leagues shallower than 12-team leagues even if promoted earlier than expected.

Editor's Note: On Tuesday March 27th, MLB.com's Jane Lee reported that Puk was recommended to undergo Tommy John surgery, essentially negating any 2018 fantasy value he might have. This article was written before then, and we had Puk ranked at #5 originally on this list.

 

More 2018 MLB Prospects Analysis





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