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Top Starting Pitcher Prospects - Impact Fantasy Baseball Rookies for 2023 (AL Central)

Cody Morris - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, MLB Prospects News

The American League Central is the focus of the third installment of a six-part series focused on pitching fantasy baseball prospects who are better positioned from a developmental standpoint to contribute meaningfully in 2023 MLB games.

Fundamentals will be quantified using my Fielding and Ballpark-Independent Outcomes (FaBIO) pitcher evaluation model.

Let us begin with individual analyses of four top American League Central 2023 prospects who all happen to be righthanders from the same organization: Cody Morris, Hunter Gaddis, Tanner Bibee, and Gavin Williams.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy baseball lineup tools and weekly lineup resources:


Quick Overview of FaBIO

An earlier RotoBaller article more fully explains the FaBIO methodology. Every plate appearance is sorted into one of 12 event-type bins (BB+HBP, K, IFFB, Pull OFFB, Center OFFB, Oppo OFFB, Pull LD, Center LD, Oppo LD, Pull GB, Center GB, Oppo GB) and the pitcher is charged with league's average runs value for that event type.

We eventually wind up with loads of fundamentals-rooted percentile ratings expressed on a 100 to 0 scale where 97 is plus-plus, 84 is plus, 50 is average, 16 is minus, and three is minus-minus.

The all-in-one Overall Rating (based on expected run avoidance per batter faced over all of that pitcher's batters faced) will be used primarily as filtering criteria with relatively more attention paid to how the three core sub-Ratings of Control (or CTL, based on BB+HBP per batters faced), Strikeout (or K, based on K per batters faced), and Batted Ball Profile (based on expected run avoidance per batted ball) combine to produce Overall Rating.

Batted ball profile subcomponents like GB Rating (based on GB per batted ball), IFFB Rating, LD Avoid Rating, OFFB Avoid Rating, and Pull OFFB Avoid Rating (pull-third OFFB per batted ball) also provide useful clues as to approach, movement, and effective velocity biases.


Cody Morris, Cleveland Guardians

Perhaps no one has shone more on the FaBIO scales in the upper minors over the prior two seasons than Cody Morris. Trouble is that his sample of work has been limited by injury to just 320 batters, inclusive of rookie-level rehab stints. To make matters worse spring 2023 shoulder trouble prevented any spring training MLB game action whatsoever and Morris now opens the regular season already on the 60-Day Injured List.

Morris has superior strikeout ability, as evidenced by the 77 K Rating in a 106-batter 2022 MLB debut. K, Control, and Batted Ball Profile were surer to rise at least somewhat as MLB SP reps and experience were gained in 2023. A long run of elite opposite-handed batter outcomes affords a healthier version of Morris a shot at a rather high front-of-rotation MLB outcome.

Three option years remain to rebuild Morris into an MLB starter candidate should the Guardians have the patience to more fully wait out the recovery from his latest malady. Morris at the least presently merits dynasty league stashing for 2024 onward. Redraft league owners should closely monitor any 2023 return to MiLB action of the potential future waiver wire addition with an eye on key core fundamentals and how many batters he faces per game.


Hunter Gaddis, Cleveland Guardians

Hunter Gaddis has rated plus Overall on the FaBIO scales in all three minor league seasons to date. Yet he has barely turned that trick in the last two while increasingly courting more extreme outfield flyball risk. An uglier two-start 2022 MLB debut affirmed that Gaddis must get the K and IFFB that his 4-seams-up approach is framed around, as he else just doesn't avoid the combo of walks plus line drives well enough to survive the eventual aerial barrage of outfield flyballs, even so when biasing that aerial contact later.

Another factor working against Gaddis as an MLB starter is the relative absence of simultaneous overall success against opposite-handed batters and same-handed batters; in 2022 MiLB the OHB/SHB splits were rather forward after being rather reverse in 2021 A+ play.

With the 2023 projected MLB rotation now ravaged by injury Gaddis stands to be used as a length option and that deployment will undoubtedly produce a fair amount of aerial trauma, even after a stronger 52-batter MLB spring 59 Control/89 K/95 Batted Ball Profile line that still leaned heavily on K and IFFB generation. In the long run, Gaddis fits best in MLB as a K+IFFB short RHRP whose work is biased toward whatever batter-handedness type happens to be most favorable for him that particular season.


Tanner Bibee, Cleveland Guardians

The Guardians drafted fourth-year D1 pitcher Tanner Bibee in the 5th round of the 2021 Draft. Pitching upstairs more with newfound velocity (note D1 to MiLB changes in GB and OFFB Avoid) and offspeed gains boosted K and propelled Bibee to a nearly plus-plus Overall Rating in a season split fairly evenly between A+ and AA. 

Declines in AA relative to A+ were mostly spotted in the realms of K, Batted Ball Profile (LD Avoid fell), and Opposite-Handed Batter outcomes. Bibee did not appear in 2023 MLB spring action but was assigned to the AAA affiliate where he is thriving early on in the starting rotation. His MLB debut may not be too far off as the Guardians list of MLB SP candidates continues to shrink via injury.

On one hand, his perhaps plus control grants him more margin of error while allowing a higher volume of flyballs from the standpoint of not overly filling the bases with runners before them. On the other Bibee must also avoid overfilling the strike zone with drivable pitches while facing MLB batters who are relatively more adept at converting outfield flyballs into damage.


Gavin Williams, Cleveland Guardians

2021 1st-rounder Gavin Williams also spent four seasons in D1. Williams lacks the control of Bibee but was the superior out-generator as the twosome progressed from A+ to AA. While their 2022 batted ball profiles were comparable Williams enjoyed smaller edges in most Path to Batted Ball Profile columns and proved the better of the duo at avoiding AVG and ISO on batted balls. Opposite-handed batter outcomes declined in AA for Williams, too, but less than they did for Bibee.

With Williams as the out-generator and Bibee as the strike-thrower of the K-getting duo, the now-in-AA Williams projects to be the more impactful major leaguer with greater potential to pitch nearer the top of a quality MLB rotation.


Other 2023 AL Central Pitcher Prospects on the Horizon

Xzavion Curry seems the next Eli Morgan as a shorter K+IFFB RHSP who will gradually transition from a length-supplier to a more skillset-befitting short role. An eventual return of top prospect Daniel Espino should prominently feature fastball arsenal modification intended to produce stouter batted ball profiles.

Jack Leftwich does not seem too far behind fellow '21 fourth-year D1ers Bibee and Williams on a faster track to an MLB SP audition. RHRP Cade Smith has K and Oppo-Handed Batters outcomes working in his favor but must improve batted ball profile and same-handed batter outcomes to achieve greater MLB bullpen staying power.

The trouble with this particular Logan Allen in a hypothetical 2023 MLB LHSP debut is that the batted ball profile and fastball arsenal fueling it do not appear sound enough to withstand expected declines in CTL and K during the MLB introduction. Joey Cantillo resurrected dwindling MLB LHSP chances in 2022 and now has at least two of the three remaining option years to ripen from AA out-generator to MLB LHSP candidate.

LHRP Tim Herrin upped K Rating from 2021 to 2022 by two standard deviations and seems strong enough elsewhere to stick in MLB should K remain further above average. Elbow-sidelined Andrew Misiaszek dominates LHB but must improve line drive avoidance (see AVG column) and RHB outcomes to boost the chances of an LHB-leaning MLB LHRP outcome.

Time is ticking on one-option-yeared Joey Wentz, who must pin down a fuller-time MLB rotation spot in 2023 for there to be much hope for future MLB LHSP seasons. Reese Olson probably over changeup-ed his way to a too-risky 4 Pull OFFB Avoid in 2022 and else should have avoided AVG on Batted Balls more commensurate with a near plus LD Avoid. A broader base of fundamentals and greener non-AFL opposite-handed batters outcomes has Wilmer Flores well-positioned for MLB mid-rotation SP candidacy. With Olson's option years clock starting to tick this April and Flores not up for prophylactic 40-manning until next offseason, dynasty league players should value Flores higher.

2021 late first-rounder Ty Madden was plenty solid but did not overly impress in a 2022 spent mostly in A+ until posting a 94 K Rating over a 158-batter sample in AA. Brant Hurter is likely more of a GB+CTL than K+CTL LHSP prospect and as such must avoid LD more commensurate with how groundballers typically do.

To avoid a Rule 5 return the Tigers should largely limit 2022 A+ and AA RHSP Mason Englert to one or two-frame stints and more so in earlier 2023. Detroit claimed among the best 2022-2021 MiLB RHRP in Freddy Pacheco off waivers even after a spring elbow injury that now has him on the 60-Day Injured List.

A fruitful 2022 transition to relief has now-40-manned Brendan White trending favorably as a GB+CTL RHRP prospect.

Simeon Woods Richardson posted a broader mix of fundamentals in 2022 more like what preceded an atypically K or bust 2021 season, once again resembling a higher-floored MLB SP candidate. Louie Varland profiles similarly but could stand to improve batted ball profile and opposite-batter handed outcomes ahead.

Matt Canterino could be the Twins' version of Cody Morris as a highly successful MiLB SP who just can't stay healthy long enough to be taken seriously as an MLB SP prospect; his 2022 Control, Batted Ball Profile, and Opposite-Handed Batter outcomes better matched those of an MLB short RP candidate. Brent Headrick had a big CTL+K season but must better avoid line drives by improving the fastball mix and approach.

Austin Schulfer and Cody Laweryson flashed better batted ball profiles in 2022 and will need to stay up at that to raise their MLB middle relief chances. Hunter McMahon again displayed a favorable mix of fundamentals that has him nicely positioned as a GB+CTL RHRP prospect.

It's crickets mostly in searching for impactful 2023 MLB rookie pitchers who could emerge from the White Sox organization with 2021 D1 redshirt sophomore draft signee Sean Burke (2022 AAA, AA, A+: 72 Overall, 42 Control/88 K/39 Batted Ball Profile) perhaps getting some MLB SP reps to end the year. The Royals meanwhile will spend the bulk of the 2023 season trying to re-raise sinking fundamentals of its upper minors pitching prospects (Jonathan Bowlan, Alec Marsh, Asa Lacy, Drew Parrish, etc.) as opposed to transitioning fundamentally sounder prospects into various MLB roles.


Impact AL Central Pitcher Prospects Farther Down the Pipeline

The Guardians have more starter prospects queued up behind the many already discussed. Oft-injured 2018 high school late first-rounder Ethan Hankins is back on the mound and flashing upper 90s velocity but likely must earn his way to AA by the end of 2024 to stay an MLB SP candidate. Among 2022 NCAA D1 LHSP draft signees Parker Messick trailed only first-rounder Cooper Hjerpe in the completeness of an arsenal with which to attack righthanded batters and lefthanded batters.

2021 third overall pick and Tigers RHSP Jackson Jobe sports a big fastball but fell far short of preseason expectations in 2022 to the tune of a 50 Control/36 K/38 Batted Ball Profile line achieved disproportionately more in A than A+ play. LHSP Noah Cameron could be the Royals' pitching prospect to watch this MiLB season. 2022 first-round LHSP Noah Schultz posted big pre-draft K numbers in a less prominent local collegiate summer league and could be poised to end a run of poorer MiLB outcomes from White Sox high school pitcher signees.

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