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Top Starting Pitcher Prospects To Target For Fantasy Baseball Drafts (2024)

AJ Smith-Shawver - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

We are in the midst of draft season and as the calendar turns over from February to March, I am starting to get really excited for baseball season. While I cover football and basketball here at RotoBaller, baseball has always been my favorite sport to write about and I have a passion for pitchers in particular!

I did a similar piece last season where I ranked the top 10 pitching prospects for redraft leagues. Last year, we had so many good young pitchers debut that I could probably have included 20! This year, I have trimmed it down to my top five, with a list of honorable mentions who might get called up much later in the season.

My rankings take into account the overall talent of the pitcher but also have to factor in the probability of each pitcher seeing meaningful time with the big-league club. These are redraft rankings, not dynasty rankings! We kick things off with a No. 1 draft pick who just so happens to pitch for my favorite team!

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Starting Pitcher Prospects For Fantasy Baseball Drafts

Paul Skenes, Pittsburgh Pirates

ADP: 248

Editor's Note: Paul Skenes will indeed start the year at Triple-A.

This ADP feels a little inflated for a guy who we know will likely spend a month or two in the minors before the Pirates finally bring him up. Don't get me wrong, he's ready to go right now, but there's simply no way the Pirates do the fun thing and put him on the Opening Day roster. You should probably grab someone like Reid Detmers or Max Scherzer around the same ADP, but if you want to invest in a guy who could be the next big arm in baseball, Skenes is that guy.

He had only a handful of innings last summer in Single-A and Double-A, but he whiffed 10 of the 28 hitters he saw. He brings a four-seamer that regularly hits 99 to 100 mph along with a plus slider and solid changeup. Most projection systems have him making 10-11 starts this year, with ZiPS being the outlier with a 23-start projection. You're gambling on how quickly he comes up here more than anything as he's likely going to pitch well when he finally gets the call.

 

AJ Smith-Shawver, Atlanta Braves

ADP: 377

Smith-Shawver moved quickly through the Braves minor league system, starting the 2023 season in Single-A and making just three starts there and two starts at Double-A before making 10 starts at Triple-A. He was dominant in terms of strikeout ability at all three levels but had his struggles with command with double-digit walk rates.

He made five starts for Atlanta with some fairly uninspiring results, posting a 4.26 ERA but a 5.67 xFIP and 6.72 FIP. He also saw a big dip in strikeouts (19%) and still struggled with walks (10.5%). A 9.9% SwStr% was also a red flag as he gave up plenty of contact, including seven home runs in just 25 innings pitched. We have a very small sample size of him being mediocre in the majors and let's not forget that this is the top prospect in the Braves organization.

With Chris Sale being a late add to the rotation, Smith-Shawver is likely heading to Triple-A to start the season, which is probably a good thing as he hasn't had much time in the minors to work on his arsenal. If Bryce Elder struggles or the oft-injured Sale ends up on the IL, we could see Smith-Shawver called up sooner rather than later. And let's not ignore the fact that Max Fried spent much of last season on the IL and Charlie Morton is like 50 years old.

 

Ricky Tiedemann, Toronto Blue Jays

ADP: 344

The hype surrounding the Blue Jays' top pitching prospect has to wait just a little longer as Tiedemann had his first spring start pushed back with a minor injury. The hard-throwing lefty also features a sharp, biting slider, and a plus changeup. His minor league numbers are pretty incredible; however, he's thrown only 78 and 44 innings in his two years in the Jays system.

His stuff isn't in question, it's more about reigning it in as he had 13% and 14% walk rates in Double-A and Triple-A, respectively, last season. Right now, Alek Manoah is the projected fifth starter for Toronto, but he was just dreadful last year and had a terrible first start this spring. If Manoah can't be a serviceable fifth starter, fans will be clamoring for Ricky to come up and make his debut. But Toronto is likely going to want to manage his innings, so that's really going to cap his upside in redraft formats.

 

Kyle Harrison, San Francisco Giants

ADP: 245

Like Smith-Shawver, Harrison had a cup of coffee at the end of last season with the big-league club with mixed results after dominating at each stop in the minors. He's only 22 years old and the left-hander is set to break camp in the rotation for the Giants behind veteran righties Logan Webb and Alex Cobb.

Harrison's strikeouts dropped in the majors, but 23.8% still isn't shabby. He had a HR problem, allowing eight long balls in just 34 innings. However, he's off to a nice start this spring and is the one pitcher on this list with the best chance of spending the entire season in the majors. He's being drafted right around Paul Skenes, so it comes down to the question of, "Do you want 25-30 starts of Harrison or maybe only 10-15 starts from Skenes at the same price?"

 

Gavin Stone, Los Angeles Dodgers

ADP: 460

Editor's Note: Stone won a rotation spot and will start the season in the MLB rotation.

Stone was touted as the more polished prospect last year than Bobby Miller, but they had wildly different results as Miller turned in a fantastic rookie campaign and Stone struggled to a 9.00 ERA over four starts and several relief appearances.

Stone's changeup has the potential to be one of the best in the game and was the one pitch he did have success with last year (24.6% SwStr%, 32.1% CSW%). But his cutter, fastball, and sinker didn't miss many bats. He did end up pitching 131 innings between Triple-A and the majors last year, and it's only a matter of time before he figures out how to tweak his pitch mix to get big-league hitters out.

With Shohei Ohtani not pitching this season, and both Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler on the shelf to begin the year -- Stone has a chance to compete for the fifth rotation spot with fellow youngster Emmet Sheehan. He's well worth a gamble this late in drafts and as Vlad points out in the above tweet -- he's probably an afterthought for a lot of fantasy managers this year after his poor showing in 2023.

 

Late Summer Call-Ups?

Jackson Jobe, Detroit Tigers

Jobe is probably starting the season at Double-A, but he was very impressive last year in a somewhat small sample size (64 innings). He stuck out 84 hitters while walking only six! He has a mid-90s fastball and three other quality pitches (slider, cutter, and changeup) that he can use to keep hitters off balance. If he dominates at Double-A out of the gates and looks good at Triple-A, too, we could see him debut late in the season for Detroit.

Max Meyer, Miami Marlins

Editor's Note: Injuries to Eury Perez and Braxton Garrett have given Meyer a chance to start the season as the fifth starter for Miami.

Meyer made only two starts in 2022 before suffering an injury that cost him all of last season, too. But he's healthy and likely heading to Triple-A to build up his stamina. The Miami rotation is crowded for now, but if they have some injuries or make a trade at some point this season, we could see a spot open up for Meyer, who flashed some awesome strikeout numbers at every level of the minors.

Cade Horton, Chicago Cubs

Horton was the Cubs' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2023, racking up 117 strikeouts across 88 innings. Only 27 of those innings came at Double-A, so he's likely to start there again this season, which would put his MLB arrival much later in the season if he has to move up to Triple-A and pitch well there first, too. He's another hard thrower who needs to work on his secondary pitches and control (10.1% BB% at Double-A) before he's ready for the majors. But keep an eye out for him as the Cubs need pitching.



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