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Hidden Gems to Watch - 2020 Pitching Prospects

As we continue through this window of uncertainty, the chances of having a “normal” season are getting far less likely. And while we still don’t have any concrete solutions for having a 2020 season, some ideas seem to be more likely than others. Whether implementing regular doubleheaders in a truncated season or a universal designated-hitter, it seems likely that teams will need larger rosters.

There's also the possibility of there being no minor league season, meaning teams may have to choose between their prospects sitting at home for the year or playing sparingly for the big league team. All of this will mean teams are more likely to start the season rostering their fringe prospects, even if there are questions marks as to whether they're good enough to be a full-time player.

In this part of the series, we'll take a look at rookie pitchers with an ADP over 400 in NFBC leagues. We all know about the Jesus Luzardos of the world, but this is about finding hidden gems at the back end of your drafts who are likely to see enough playing time to be a contributor to your fantasy teams.

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Spencer Howard, Philadelphia Phillies

ADP: ~467

Howard’s bright light faded somewhat in 2019, a shoulder problem forcing him to miss considerable time after being promoted to Double-A. Before his injury, Howard still managed to post impressive numbers at Double-A, with a 2.35 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in six starts while striking out 38 batters in 30.2 IP.

Howard recovered from his shoulder ailment to take part in the Arizona Fall League (AFL), where he again looked a star in the making and posted similar numbers to his Double-A stint. In 21.1 IP, Howard had a 2.11 ERA and 0.94 WHIP as he struck out 27 batters. Concerns of his shoulder dissipated and he’s currently ranked as the Phillies no.2 prospect according to MLB Pipeline (no.34 overall). So what could we expect in 2020?

As has been alluded to, we might be looking at scenarios where pitching prospects see Major League playing time this year with a lack of Minor League games available and them being used in long relief or regular starts due to doubleheaders. In any such scenario, Howard is likely to be ahead of the queue for a significant role with a Phillies team wanting to reach the playoffs this year.

Howard’s arsenal includes a plus fastball which sits in the mid-90s and touches 99 MPH. His secondary stuff is also good enough to get outs with his slider being better than his curveball. However, it's his changeup that took a step forward in the AFL and looks to be his best secondary offering and one which will trouble many Major League batters.

Ensuring you protect your ratios (in roto leagues especially) is likely to be key in fantasy this year with the extensive use of pitchers, double-headers, and expanded rosters. With the potential for above-average strikeouts with a low ERA and low WHIP, Howard checks all of the boxes for fantasy success and should be on your radar in the late rounds in any format.


Kyle Wright, Atlanta Braves

ADP: ~582

Part of the seemingly never-ending talented farm system in Atlanta, Wright currently ranks as the Braves no.4 prospect and 52nd overall, coming in with a similar pedigree to Howard. However, Wright is further along the development path and has already had two small stints with the Major League club, although neither was particularly impressive. But even just the 25.2 IP in at the highest level should give Wright some foundation to build on his big league career, giving him a little bit of experience as a starting point.

Wright was only drafted in 2017 and his Major League debut came the following year so he’s also still very much a pup when it comes to professional baseball. His struggles for the Braves (albeit in a small sample) have cratered his ADP, making Wright a nice late-round steal, given he was competing for a rotation spot while spring training was still going on. There was optimism he would ultimately win that competition too, posting a 2.03 ERA in 13.1 IP and 15 strikeouts.

Wright’s biggest trouble in the big league has been his command, putting up a 15.7% walk-rate by walking 19 batters in his 25.2 IP with the Braves. That’s a stark increase from his 8.21% BB% during his his time in the minor leagues. That's still not elite by any means and would've ranked him 48th among the 61 qualified pitchers in the Major Leagues last season. However, it would still be above the likes of  Aaron Nola, Trevor Bauer, and Patrick Corbin.

In contrast, his 23.84% K% in the minors would've been 27th among qualified Major League pitchers in 2019, with Wright pairing his mid-90s fastball with three above-average secondary pitches; a curveball, slider, and changeup. On paper, this is a repertoire that should work well in the Majors, just as long as he can get the walks under control.

Wright is already close enough to being a full-time arm in the Braves pitching staff and it shouldn't take more than an injury or regular double-headers for Wright to have a full-time role in 2020. On a Braves team likely to present enough wins, Wright is a fantasy-relevant pitcher for 2020 and a potential contributor across all standard categories.


Brusdar Graterol, Los Angeles Dodgers

ADP: ~628

Graterol came to wider prominence this offseason as a big part of the trade which saw Mookie Betts join the Dodgers, with the Red Sox initially set to acquire him as part of their return. However, they nearly nixed the mega-deal amid concerns about Graterol’s medical record and the long-term prospects of him being just a reliever rather than a starter.  Eventually the deal for Betts was completed but Graterol instead headed west to join the Dodgers in a separate deal for Kenta Maeda.

While Graterol’s long-term role is still somewhat in question, he was likely going to be a bullpen arm in 2020 (regardless of where he ended up) and joining the starter-laden Dodgers makes it a near-guarantee. In a significantly shortened season where relievers will come more into play, players like Graterol could be key to maintaining your ratios.

Graterol carries an 80-grade fastball that has tons of sink and averaged 99 mph in his brief 9.2 IP in the majors last season. That kind of heater paired with a good slider should give Graterol enough to have success as a reliever, at minimum. However, he’ll need to develop his changeup if he wants to be a successful starter. He also needs to build up arm strength, as his 102 IP in 2018 remains his career-high. He is still just 21-years-old though and has had an impressive (if limited) career thus far:

Foreign rookie 11.0 2.45 1.18 17 36.2% 1 2.1%
Rookie 43.0 2.51 0.93 49 29.5% 13 7.8%
Single-A 41.1 2.61 0.94 51 30.5% 9 5.4%
High-A 60.2 3.26 1.29 56 22.2% 19 7.5%
Double-A 52.2 1.71 1.01 50 24.3% 21 10.2%
Triple-A 5.1 5.06 1.13 7 31.8% 2 9.0%
Total 214.0 2.48 1.08 230 26.8% 65 7.6%

Likely to make the Dodgers team given the expanded rosters, Graterol should be an impact pitcher out of the bullpen and one who will help your ratios with high strikeouts, a low ERA, and a low WHIP. And if Los Angeles uses him as a multi-inning reliever in order to stretch him out and test his capabilities for being a future starter, more chances for wins will present themselves, as well.


Drew Rasmussen, Milwaukee Brewers


Rasmussen was only drafted by the Brewers in 2018 and had already recovered from two Tommy John surgeries during his college career. With only one season of professional baseball behind him, it may seem strange for me to include Rasmussen as a viable fantasy option for 2020.

But he managed to speed through the Minor League ranks in 2019 going from Low-A to Double-A without breaking much of a sweat. In 74.1 IP across three levels last year, Rasmussen compiled a 3.15 ERA and 1.18 WHIP with an eye-popping 96 strikeouts.

A look at his scouting grade will help you see why.

Rasmussen’s fastball has serious life and sits in the mid to high 90s. His slider averages in the high 80s and supplements his fastball well while his changeup is fine but needs more work to be a viable third pitch. His lack of a good third pitch and his history of elbow injuries is likely what will see Rasmussen settle for a bullpen role long-term which given that fastball, is not necessarily a bad thing.

The likely adjusted 2020 season will see a greater emphasis on fantasy players seeking out the high strikeout relievers who help their ratios and Rasmussen fits that bill perfectly. The Brewers will tread extremely carefully with him and it was unlikely he was going throw more than ~100 innings in 2020 before the season was delayed. Whether they do use him as a one-inning reliever out of the bullpen or a multi-inning pitcher remains to be seen (if he’s used at all), but either option should provide fantasy value. He also profiles as a potential late-inning option so given the likelihood for multiple double-headers, he could sneak his way into some saves and holds too.


James Norwood, Chicago Cubs


This pick did take a deeper dive into the prospect pool than others but hidden is a potential bullpen arm who has huge strikeout potential. Ranked as the Cubs 23rd best prospect and aged 26, Norwood might not seem like he’s worth giving a second thought about but if we do look at his career numbers, we see someone who could potentially be a very useful arm on your rosters.

Norwood had a solid Minor League career before 2019, putting up his best numbers in 2018 between Double-A and Triple-A. In 40 relief appearances, Norwood tallied 50.1 IP with a 2.50 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 57 strikeouts. He’s also had two Major League stints in 2018 and 2019 with moderate success. A 3.54 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 20.1 IP seems like he can hold down a permanent role although the 13 walks and 1.77 WHIP is a little worrying.

The most noticeable part of Norwood’s numbers though was his 2019 strikeout numbers. Norwood made 45 appearances from the bullpen in Triple-A last year and in 22 of those, he went more than an inning (registering four or more outs) totaling 57.2 innings. He struck out a total of 91 batters with a 33.75% strikeout rate (K%). Norwood’s fastball has a 70 scouting grade and sits in the high 90s, with running action which is backed up with an above-average slider and an ok splitter.

Only four teams had more blown saves than the Cubs in 2019 with 28 and whilst I’m not suggesting Norwood is in line for the closer role, the Cubs do need to address the back end of their bullpen so holds and saves are up for grabs. Norwood has the stuff teams look for in the later innings and a little refinement and consistency could see Norwood as one of the Cubs better options in the late innings.

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