Three Up, Three Down - 2018 Starting Pitcher Prospects

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As we prepare for the 2018 MLB season, fantasy owners need to look at what is next from starting pitchers. Rookie hurlers from 2017 like Jordan Montgomery, German Marquez, Kyle Freeland, and Luis Castillo all garnered Rookie of the Year votes and were key parts of their teams' successes.

It is important to be on top of the comings and goings in the minors to see when the next hot prospect is coming up, but it is just as important to check the stock on former top SP prospects who may fly under the radar.

These are the six prospects that have seen their stock change considerably since the beginning of the 2017 season, three for the better and three seeing their stock drop a bit.

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Prospect Stocks Rising

Michael Kopech, Chicago White Sox

White Sox prospect Michael Kopech was acquired last season in the deal that sent Chris Sale to Boston and the 21-year-old Texan put up a huge 2017 season. After throwing just 56 1/3 in the low minors in 2016, Kopech threw 134 1/3 innings for Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte in 2017, striking out 172 batters and posting a 2.88 ERA. Kopech has shown some red flags in his profile, mostly coming off the field. He managed to break his hand in a fight with his roommate, limiting his season, and was suspended in 2015 as well for a positive amphetamine test. If Kopech can keep his emotions intact, he can be a big part of the White Sox rotation in 2017. He will likely start the 2017 season in the minors, but look for Kopech to make 20-25 starts in the big leagues this season.

Walker Buehler, Los Angeles Dodgers

Los Angeles Dodgers prospect Walker Buehler was drafted in the first round of the 2015 draft out of Vanderbilt and was very successful in his first full professional season. Buehler only threw 88 2/3 innings last season, finishing 3-3, but did have a 3.35 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and struck out 125 batters. He did walk 31 batters, which is a bit high, but he only allowed 67 hits and maintained a solid 4.03 K:BB ratio. A caution for those that are looking at Buehler is that he saw his ERA go up as he went from Class-A to the MLB in 2017, allowing eight runs in 9 1/3 MLB innings for the Dodgers. He did still strike out 12 batters in his brief cameo in the big leagues and should still get opportunities in the starting rotation for Los Angeles in 2018.

Mitch Keller, Pittsburgh Pirates

Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Mitch Keller was on the radar after a huge 2016 season, but took his performance up a notch in 2017. In 2016, Keller posted a 2.35 ERA in A-ball, but then posted a 3.03 ERA and 1.00 WHIP between High-A Bradenton and Double-A Altoona last season. Keller has maintained a strikeout rate right at one per inning throughout his minor league career and allowed just 84 hits in 116 innings last season. He also went to the Arizona Fall League in the offseason, finishing 4-0, allowing four earned runs in 23 2/3 innings and striking out 13 batters. The Pirates will likely send Keller to Triple-A Indianapolis to start the season, but the rebuilding Bucs forsee a rotation with Tyler Glasnow, Jamison Taillon, and Keller at the top. Look for Keller to make his debut in the big leagues by midseason and for him to continue on his solid control as well (3.85 K:BB ratio in the minors).


Prospect Stocks Falling

Alex Reyes, St. Louis Cardinals

It is unfair to criticize a prospect for getting hurt, but each of the next two prospects are coming off of Tommy John surgery and should be treated more cautiously by fantasy managers. The bigger and more immediate star is St. Louis Cardinals prospect Alex Reyes, who went down before the season even started. Reyes, who showcased his skills with a 1.57 ERA in 46 innings with St. Louis in 2016, did not even throw a pitch in Spring Training before going under the knife. He is assumed to be ready for Opening Day, and should be in the Cardinals' rotation in 2018, and was the league's best right-handed pitching prospect going into last season. His success in the big leagues prompted many to have him as one of the top rookies to watch this time last season, but fantasy owners do need to remember that he had a 4.93 ERA in 65 1/3 innings with Triple-A Memphis in 2016 as well. Reyes has walk issues, 4.1 per nine in the minors, but his 12.1 strikeouts per nine in the minors and recovery from surgery have him as a huge bounce-back candidate for 2018.

Anderson Espinoza, San Diego Padres

As with Reyes, San Diego Padres prospect Anderson Espinosa underwent Tommy John surgery in 2017, making his stock drop a bit heading into 2018. Espinoza, just 20 years old, was one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball entering the 2017 season, even though he had a 4.49 ERA in a combined 108 1/3 innings of Class-A ball in 2016. He was also one of the youngest players in that league and managed an impressive 100-to-35 K/BB ratio in that time, but then did not throw an inning last season. Espinosa first had forearm tightness in April and then, when he was able to throw a bullpen in July, was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament. With the surgery coming so late in the season (July 28th), Espinosa will likely miss the entire 2018 season as well as he tries to recover. He has still not pitched above Low-A, so fantasy owners may have to wait until at least 2020 for the talented Espinoza to arrive.

Tyler Jay, Minnesota Twins

To move off of Tommy John surgery, but to continue with pitchers that dealt with an injury plagued 2017, Minnesota Twins prospect Tyler Jay saw his stock drop last season as well. Jay had a 2.84 ERA for High-A Fort Myers in 2016, after being drafted fifth overall in 2015, but he allowed nine runs in 14 innings with Double-A Chattanooga that season and was shut down with a neck strain. As 2017 started, Jay dealt with biceps tendinitis and shoulder impingement, not starting a game until May 25 for Chattanooga.  He ended up only throwing 11 2/3 innings last season, including only one start, before being shut down by shoulder problems tied to thoracic outlet syndrome. Jay underwent surgery for the injury and did not return until Arizona Fall League, where he allowed six runs on 13 hits in 9 2/3 innings. It is a shame for such a highly acclaimed prospect to fade out so quickly, but Jay, who was a top-60 prospect by some publications coming into 2017, needs to have a huge comeback season in 2018 to be a part of the Twins' long term plans.


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