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

fantasy baseball prospects MLB prospects rookies call-ups

The National League Central is the focus of the fourth 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 three top National League Central 2023 prospects: Hayden Wesneski, Ben Brown, and Luis Ortiz.

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.


Hayden Wesneski, Chicago Cubs

After being acquired at the 2022 trade deadline for (just) sidearming RHRP Scott Effross, Hayden Wesneski would soon replicate a Batted-Ball-Profile-heavy AAA FaBIO line almost in full during a 132-batter MLB debut. Wesneski was sharp again this spring over 70  batters (51 Control/85 K/70 Batted Ball Profile) but without the staggeringly high LD Avoids of 2022.

With Batted Ball Profile likely to come back to earth some more, Wesneski could conceivably rate in the range of half to full plus at all three of Control, K, and Batted Ball Profile. And in such a case he amounts to an SP2-level performer without being overly strong at any one of the three core fundamentals.


Ben Brown, Chicago Cubs

Ben Brown has been a minor leaguer since signing with the Phillies as a 2017 high school draftee but remained a relative unknown to most until breaking out in a 2022 campaign split between A+ and AA ball. Brown had tripped FaBIO wires before but never faced as large of a volume of batters as in 2022.


Owed to a lengthier run of high marks at K and Opposite-Handed Batter Overall, Brown has sneaky front-half-of-rotation upside. Beyond avoiding the sorts of injuries that limited his 2019 and 2021 activity, Brown needs to improve the movement within his hard arsenal to raise his IFFB+LD Avoid combo and become more averse to singles. A full complement of three option years remain so fastball arsenal refinements should assume priority over rushing the now 23-year-old up to AAA and eventually MLB.


Luis Ortiz, Pittsburgh Pirates

In a 69-batter end-of-2023 MLB debut this Luis (L.) Ortiz posted a ridiculously strong batted ball profile replete with impressive hit and extra bases avoidance on batted balls. Yet those sorts of batted ball outcomes do not match what preceded them in the minors, where he was more often than not a groundball-inducer who did not avoid line drives overly well and generated relatively few IFFB in line with the typical ground-baller. A 68 K Rating in the MLB debut was promising and there is enough history here to dismiss the 0 Control Rating as a product of inexperience and/or chance.


Ortiz did not impress over four spring game appearances that begat a 55 Control/21 K/37 Batted Ball Profile line but has since righted the ship in AAA over three starts with a definite spike in strikeouts. Expect Control to continue to skew lower while cutting the MLB SP teeth but in a year to three that fundamental could conceivably rate average. Just how well Ortiz rates at Batted Ball Profile ahead has everything to do with how well the ground-baller avoids line drives first and pulled OFFB second.


Other 2023 NL Central Pitcher Prospects on the Horizon

2021 mid-first-rounder Jordan Wicks is a changeup-ing LHSP who rated half to full plus at each of Control, K, and Batted Ball Profile in a first full MiLB season spent more in A+ than AA; coupling this broader base of fundamentals with improved opposite-handed batter outcomes in the pros has Wicks as a higher floored mid- to back-of-rotation MLB SP prospect. Nicholas Padilla and Jeremiah Estrada each fit the profile of righty-on-righty relief specialists; Padilla has struggled primarily with control; Estrada has been exceptionally prone to LD and not overly averse to pulled OFFB either.

Chris Clarke, who recently returned from a spring junket with the Mariners as a Rule 5 selection, is a D1 RP to pro-SP convert that fits a CTL+GB profile but should return soon to a short RHRP role for lack of K and LD Avoid in the MiLB SP profile. After six years (five seasons) at Southern Miss 2021, undrafted free agent signee Walker Powell now checks many an MLB CTL+GB RHRP box and profiles how Clarke ideally would as a RHRP.

Andrew Abbott only became a full-blown starter as a 2021 junior and has remained a K standout since as a pro (has struck out 25 of the first 35 batters faced in a 2023 AA return); his weakness is hit avoidance as the fastball arsenal needs more IFFB and LD Avoid movement components. Bryce Bonnin has stuffed the K, Batted Ball Profile, and Opposite-Handed Batters Overall so well around a spate of 2022 and 2021 injuries that an MLB SP future remains lightly in play now and more so if he can re-assume a full-time starter role in AA before 2023 is over.

2021 undrafted free agent signee fifth-year senior Sam Benschoter posted much bigger K outcomes immediately after signing and that carried over to 2022 before he cooled off in the Arizona Fall League. Joe Boyle lacks enough control to start ahead but an MLB short RHRP future seems achievable per the extent to which his profile is loaded up in out-generation fundamentals save for lacking some LD Avoid movement in the fastball arsenal.

The Brewers acquired Robert Gasser as part of the return for Josh Hader and his three-level 2022 campaign graded out semi-short in opposite-handed batter outcomes, a fundamental that is relatively more important for lefthanded starters like him. Fellow southpaw Brandon Knarr upped control and an already stronger batted ball profile during 2022 and tracks well and almost exclusively as an MLB LHSP candidate owing to rather reverse OHB/SHB splits.

Gus Varland was a surprise Rule 5 selection after an ordinary season repeating AA but will at least open 2023 as a Brewer after a spring 39-batter (4 BF/G) 92 CTL/100 K/0 Batted Ball Profile route.

2019 18th overall pick Quinn Priester has rated consistently ordinary at each affiliate yet continues to be moved up the ladder despite failing to make necessary gains in K and the non-GB columns of Path to Batted Ball Profile; altogether this looks like a future back-of-rotation MLB starter who will be given ample opportunities to settle into that role owing to prospect pedigree and monetary investment over most else. Mike Burrows is a safer bet as a K+IFFB MLB RHRP but the CTL, LD Avoid, and OHB Overall columns are full enough to keep him facing double-digit batters per game for a while longer.

J.C. Flowers could stand to boost his GB+CTL RHRP stock by landing a few more K in 2023. Colin Selby made huge profile gains across the board during 2022 and fits somewhere in the MLB middle-innings short RHRP picture. Even in a down K season, Tyler Samaniego rated 91 against each of Opposite- and Same-Handed Batters and the weak-contact-inducing LHRP remains a higher-probability MLB reliever.

After somehow getting worse while repeating the AAA level that he had been assigned to way too soon the year before in 2021, Matthew Liberatore showed up this spring with a livelier fastball and rode that pitch and his trademark curve to a 77 Control/54 K/82 Batted Ball Profile line over 37 spring MLB game batters; early 2023 AAA results inclusive of K are up, too, affording hope that the two-options-left southpaw could stick in a mid-to-back-rotation role when the next MLB rotation trial comes.

Greener Control Ratings and blacker K and Batted Ball Profile Ratings from 2022 have Gordon Graceffo pegged as more of a high-floor than a high-ceiling MLB SP candidate though some room exists to swap some control for whiffs and inch the ceiling upward. 2021 first-rounder Michael McGreevy has not been able to reproduce the strikeouts that he began to land as a junior; beyond finding at least a few ticks more K McGreevy must add other-than-down movement to his fastball arsenal to better avoid line drives and move Batted Ball Profile Rating nearer GB Rating. Jake Walsh has MLB K RP potential but must find a fastball route to better batted ball profile outcomes. Andre Granillo has the K+IFFB short RP starter kit but must rate better at LD Avoid and opposite-handed batter outcomes than he did in 2022 to boost MLB bullpen staying power.


Impact NL Central Pitcher Prospects Farther Down the Pipeline

Top Cardinals pitching prospects Cooper Hjerpe and Tink Hence might already be top 10 pitching prospects among all organizations. The divergent dynamic duo has the stuff and outcomes to become two true front-of-the-rotation MLB starters for a club that has not had one since Jack Flaherty in the second half of 2019. But can the often impatient Cardinals resist the temptation to stick the slighter fireballer Hence in the MLB bullpen and disrupt continued development and stretching out as a starter?

Cubs bet big on Cade Horton as the 7th overall pick of the 2022 Draft with only one NCAA season to reference; time will tell if their extremely optimistic forecast was accurate. Pirates 2022 second-rounder Thomas Harrington posted very impressive all-around fundamentals as an NCAA D1 true sophomore yet hardly seems a finished product. Brewers 6'7" 2022 junior college second-rounder Jacob Misiorowski sports an extreme-velocity fastball but stands to have trouble commanding both it and the offspeed pitches in a starting role.


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