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Three Up, Three Down for Prospects - Starting Pitchers

A starter, a starter! My fantasy league for a starter! We're still three months away from the start of the season, but now is the perfect time to take a look at some starting pitcher prospects on the rise and some that need to turn things around.

Last season saw several pitchers make their highly anticipated debuts, such as Shane Bieber, Fernando Romero, Joey Lucchesi and of course that one guy on the Angels who can also hit. But while they might have seen their fantasy value go up, there were plenty of other pitchers who saw their value dropping instead. On this year's list three of these pitchers have already made their major league debuts, but should owners expect their performances to get better or get worse 2019? And for the other three still in the minors, will owners see them in the majors in 2019?

These are some of the pitching prospects you need to keep an eye on — for better or worse — in 2019.

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Stock Rising

Dylan Cease, Chicago White Sox

The 22-year-old right-hander had the best season of his minor league career in 2018 — setting career-bests in innings pitched (124), WHIP (1.065) and BB/9 (3.6). On top of that, his 2.40 ERA was the second-lowest of his career and he recorded his third consecutive season with a strikeout rate over 30 percent. What was really impressive and bodes well for his future is that upon his promotion from Single-A Advanced Winston-Salem to Double-A Birmingham, Cease actually posted better numbers at the higher level of competition. Over 10 starts with the Barons, Cease went 3-0 with a 1.72 ERA, 0.994 WHIP and 13.4 K/9.

Right now, Cease is the best pitching prospect in the White Sox organization who's not named Michael Kopech. And with Kopech recovering from Tommy John surgery, Cease is now potentially the next pitcher in line to join Chicago's rotation if a spot opens up. As of now, Cease shouldn't be drafted in most formats. But owners should keep an eye on a potential September call-up, in which case he could provide a significant boost in the fantasy playoffs.

Justus Sheffield, Seattle Mariners

After making his major league debut last season, Sheffield could be in position to make an impact in fantasy in 2019. Sheffield only made three appearances with the Yankees in September, and a three-run outing against the Red Sox in his final game of the year blew up his numbers to a 10.13 ERA and 2.625 WHIP. But over 116 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, Sheffield posted career-bests with a 2.48 ERA and 1.138 WHIP and his 25.9 percent strikeout rate was the highest since his first year in the minors.

Out of the three pitchers on the rise in this list, Sheffield is the most likely the one with the quickest path to the majors in 2019. With the signing of Yusei Kikuchi earlier this month, the Mariners appear to be heading into the season with a projected rotation of Kikuchi, Wade LeBlanc, Marco Gonzales, Mike Leake, and Felix Hernandez. Leake, LeBlanc, and Hernandez are all over the age of 30, and with a 3.72 ERA, LeBlanc is the only returning starter to have posted a sub-4.00 ERA in 2018. Bottom line, it's not entirely out of the realm of possibility for Sheffield to have a big spring and pitch his way into the Opening Day rotation. If he starts the year in the rotation, Sheffield should be targeted in most leagues at an ADP of around 170. If he doesn't make the Opening Day roster, owners should avoid him on draft day, but he should still be closely monitored as Sheffield could be one of the top rookie pitchers in fantasy this season.

Jesus Luzardo, Oakland Athletics

In just two seasons in the minors, Luzardo has already skyrocketed from Rookie ball to making four starts with Triple-A in 2018. Luzardo threw 109.1 innings across three levels of the minors last year, compiling a 10-5 record, 2.88 ERA, 1.088 WHIP, and 29.2 percent strikeout rate — all as a 20-year-old. The majority of his season was spent at Double-A Midland, where he posted a 2.29 ERA and a 27.7 percent strikeout rate over 16 starts. While his numbers did take a dip once he reached Triple-A, where he posted a 7.31 ERA and 14.1 H/9 over 16 innings of work, Luzardo should spend most — if not all — of 2019 there, and there's no reason to expect him to put up those numbers again.

Luzardo is probably the least likely of the three pitchers on the rise to make it to the majors in 2019 — if for no other reason just his age. But if Luzardo does make it to the majors this year he will be a high-risk, high-reward add off the waiver-wire. He will be just as likely to record a sub-3.50 ERA and a double-digit K/9 as he is to post an ERA over 5.00 with a 7.0 K/9. The best bet for owners right now is to watch how Luzardo pitches at Triple-A this year and look to target him in drafts in 2020.


Stock Falling

Cal Quantrill, San Diego Padres

A former first-round pick and at one point the top right-handed pitching prospect in the Padres' system, Quantrill has seen his value gradually dropping over the last two seasons. Quantrill pitched a career-high 148 innings between Double-A San Antonio and Triple-A El Paso in 2018, and while he lowered his walk rate from 7.9 percent to 6.5 percent, his 1.466 WHIP tied for his career-worst. He also saw his strikeout rate drop for the third straight season, as he has gone from a 28.8 percent rate in 2016 to a career-low 18.7 percent in 2018.

There is some hope for Quantrill still, as he pitched slightly better at Triple-A with a 3.48 ERA and a 3.6 percent walk rate. But that improvement came with a dip in his strikeout rate — dropping from 19.3 percent at Double-A to 16.1 percent at Triple-A. Quantrill will be 24 entering this season and should start the year out at Triple-A. If he can finally put things together, he could be a potentially interesting waiver pick-up later this season. For now, though, there isn't much to be excited about here.

Yohander Mendez, Texas Rangers

Mendez has had stints with Texas in each of the last three seasons, and each time he's gotten the call he has been less than impressive. Over 43 career innings in Texas, Mendez holds a 6.28 ERA with a 13.2 percent strikeout rate and 10.5 percent walk rate. In the minors, Mendez has posted slightly better numbers, but he has seen most of them continue to drop over the last few seasons. Making 23 starts across three levels of the minors last season, Mendez set career-lows with a 2-10 record, 4.71 ERA and a 9.3 H/9 while his 21 percent strikeout rate was his lowest mark since 2013.

While Mendez may be trending downwards slightly, there are still some positive signs he can put it all together and become an impact pitcher. He has posted at least a 20 percent strikeout rate for five straight seasons, and before last season he had four years in a row with a sub-1.150 WHIP. Right now, both FanGraphs and RosterResource are projecting Mendez as being a part of the Rangers' rotation, but with a current ADP of 744, he's clearly not worth drafting in an overwhelming majority of leagues. Owners should keep an eye on him during Spring Training, and if he's showing promise, he might be worth keeping an eye on as a potential streaming option. But Mendez will have to show significant improvement before owners should consider rostering him full time.

Chance Adams, New York Yankees

While Mendez and Quantrill have shown a gradual drop in their value over the last few seasons, Adams saw a sudden drop in 2018 — a drop that could potentially be injury related. In his second season at Triple-A last year, Adams set new career-lows with a 4.78 ERA, 1.407 WHIP, 11.7 percent walk rate and a 1.3 HR/9 over 113 innings. This performance came after undergoing surgery following the 2017 season to remove a bone spur from his elbow. Before 2018, Adams had posted a 2.33 ERA, 0.990 WHIP, 26.1 percent strikeout rate and 8.5 percent walk rate over 313 innings.

Now while Adams' value has taken a hit after last season, by no means is it time to abandon ship just yet. It's possible now that he's a full season removed from surgery, Adams could bounce back to his previous career numbers. He'll start off the year back in Triple-A once again, but after making his major league debut last season it's possible we'll see him back in New York again in 2019. Owners should treat Adams in a similar way as Mendez for the time being — not worth drafting but worth keeping an eye on, and with improvements, he could be a potential streaming option upon his call up.

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