2018 Top 180 Fantasy Pitching Prospects, Part 1
The Dynasty Guru recently released the annual, consensus rankings of the top 200 fantasy starting pitchers in dynasty leagues (#1-20, #21-50, #51-80, #81-120, #121-160, and #161-200), detailing several pitching prospects. The following rankings focus upon, and dive deeper into, fantasy pitching prospects.
There is no such thing as TINSTAAPP. Pitching prospects exist just as much as hitting prospects. All prospects carry risk, including injury risk, and no prospect is a sure thing.
Of course, Brent Honeywell suffered a torn right ulnar collateral ligament and underwent Tommy John surgery.
Major league teams regularly carry 12-13 pitchers; therefore, pitching depth is crucial. This article focuses upon the cream of the crop, the top 21 pitching prospects.
Before delving into the rankings, here is a brief explanation of fantasy tool grades:
A Guide to Fantasy Tools
Publicly-available scouting reports and past production make up a player’s “grades” for each of his skills. Those grades help anticipate a player’s ceiling, which, in turn, helps assess value. For fantasy purposes, only a few grades matter.
Repertoire: Most pitchers have at least three pitches to attack opposing hitters. Repertoire weighs the quality of these three pitches. A pitcher with average repertoire may have two above-average pitches and an average pitch, or one plus pitch and two average pitches, and so on.
Command & Control: Even if a pitcher possesses an elite arsenal, it is meaningless if a pitcher cannot command and control those pitches. Command relates to the quality of a strike or the ability to locate pitches within the strike zone. Control is the ability to throw a strike and is easier to measure using walk rate. In a 16-team dynasty league, the average walks per 9 innings is 3.09, which translates to approximately an 8% walk rate.
Depth Bonus: The depth bonus only applies to pitchers with four average or better pitches. Depth of repertoire allows a pitcher to work through a lineup multiple times by sequencing hitters differently each time.
Risk: Risk considers a multitude of factors, including, but not limited to, level, opportunity, industry reputation, age, and injury history.
Without further ado, the 2018 Top Fantasy Pitching Prospects:
2018 Top 21 Fantasy Pitching Prospects
|1||Shohei Ohtani LAA||23.73||JAP||2018|
|2||Forrest Whitley HOU||20.54||A/A+/AA||2019|
|3||Michael Kopech CHW||21.91||AA/AAA||2018|
|4||Walker Buehler LAD||23.67||A+/AA/AAA/MLB||2018|
|5||Alex Reyes STL||23.58||N/A||2018|
|6||Sixto Sanchez PHI||19.67||A||2020|
|7||Mitch Keller PIT||21.99||A+/AA||2019|
|8||Luiz Gohara ATL||21.66||A+/AA/AAA/MLB||2018|
|9||A.J. Puk OAK||22.93||A+/AA||2018|
|10||MacKenzie Gore SD||19.10||R||2021|
|11||Hunter Greene CIN||18.65||R||2021|
|12||Kyle Wright ATL||22.49||R/A+||2019|
|13||Triston McKenzie CLE||20.66||A+||2019|
|14||Mike Soroka ATL||20.65||AA||2019|
|15||Michel Baez SD||22.19||R/A||2019|
|16||Franklin Perez DET||20.31||A+/AA||2019|
|17||Jack Flaherty STL||22.46||AA/AAA/MLB||2018|
|18||Justus Sheffield NYY||21.88||R/AA||2019|
|19||Alec Hansen CHW||23.47||A/A+/AA||2019|
|20||Brendan McKay TB||22.28||A-||2019|
|21||Brent Honeywell TB||23.00||AA/AAA||2019|
1. Shohei Ohtani, RHP, Los Angeles Angels
The Japanese Babe Ruth, Shohei Ohtani likely will be the first true two-way player since the legend himself. Signed by the Angels for a paltry $2,315,000 last December, he is a huge coup for the organization. Although injuries marred his last year in Japan, Ohtani possesses sky-high upside. Indeed, his 2016 performance provides a glimpse into his otherworldly talent:
Pitching: 1.86 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 140 IP, 174 K, 8.2 BB%
Hitting: .322/.416/.588, 22 home runs, 14.1 BB%, 25.7 K%
On the mound, Ohtani has an elite, 80-grade fastball, ranging from 96-103 mph and averaging 98 mph. Further, he works with a deep repertoire of secondaries, highlighted by a devastating, diving splitter in the low-90s. In addition, Ohtani throws a plus slider in the upper 80s with feel for both a curveball and a changeup. Meanwhile, his control is slightly below-average, but projects to average. With prototypical size (6’4” and 203 pounds) and tremendous athleticism, Ohtani is close to the perfect pitching specimen.
At the plate, Ohtani has enormous raw power and regularly blasts tape-measure shots. As evidenced by his strikeout rate in Japan, however, he is prone to swing-and-miss. With his first introduction to major league pitching, Ohtani likely will be hit-or-miss, literally.
Finally, Ohtani represents a potential injury risk. Last year, he suffered a right ankle injury, requiring surgery in October, and a hamstring injury. Additionally, Ohtani received a platelet rich plasma injection in October to address a minor UCL sprain in his right elbow. This laundry list of injuries, however, does not concern most observers or the Angels.
Early indications point to the Angels employing a 6-man rotation. This means Ohtani likely will only receive one start per week. Following the trade of C.J. Cron this week, Ohtani is close to a lock to receive 3-4 starts per week at designated hitter. Regardless of his role (a 1/2 starter or power hitting designated hitter), he will put on quite the show.
2. Forrest Whitley, RHP, Houston Astros
The 17th overall pick in the 2016 Draft, Forrest Whitley exceeded already high expectations, reaching Double-A in his first full season. Notably, only four other high school draftees this century reached Double-A in their first professional season, including Clayton Kershaw. Whitley certainly deserves his place among such illustrious company after posting an incredible 13.94 K/9 across three levels. In fact, he increased his strikeouts while decreasing his walks at each level.
An imposing 6’7”, he delivers a 92-97 mph fastball, which plays even faster due to extension. Further, Whitley can manipulate his fastball to cut, run, or sink. In addition to his elite heater, he possesses three potentially plus secondaries, including a 12-to-6 curveball, a hard slider, and a fading change-up. Whitley flashed solid control last year, but his long levels will make it difficult to repeat his delivery.
As of this writing, Whitley received a 50-game suspension for violating the minor league drug program. Prior to the suspension, he was likely going to return to Double-A, and could have been in position to debut later this year. Moving forward, Whitley has all the ingredients to be a 2-starter, with a dominant 4-pitch mix and a durable frame.
3. Michael Kopech, RHP, Chicago White Sox
After the Red Sox selected Michael Kopech in the first round of the 2014 Draft, he missed chunks of two seasons. He received a 50-game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy in 2015, ending his season in July. Kopech then lost the first two months of 2016 to a broken right hand suffered during a fight with a teammate. Based on his off-the-field antics and on-the-field, electric and wild performance, he clearly was attempting to emulate Rick Vaughn.
During the 2016 Winter Meetings, the White Sox acquired Kopech in the blockbuster Chris Sale deal. Assigned to Double-A, he rewarded his new organization with another spectacular performance, advancing to Triple-A. Beset by significant control issues in the first half (6 BB/9), Kopech displayed huge improvement in the second half. Reducing walks (2.76 BB/9) while maintaining his superb strikeout rate (11.33 K/9), he assuaged some doubts regarding his control.
Kopech’s calling card is his 80-grade fastball, running between 96-99 mph and topping out at a blistering 105 mph. To keep hitters from sitting dead red on his fastball, he pairs it with a plus, upper-80s slider. Chiefly a two-pitch hurler at present, Kopech continues to develop an inconsistent change-up. He remains a risk to move to the bullpen given his unrefined third pitch and control issues. Should his newfound control be more than a mirage, and his change-up becomes passable, then Kopech is a potential ace. If not, he could be a lights-out late-inning reliever.
4. Walker Buehler, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
The 24th overall pick in the 2015 Draft, Walker Buehler underwent Tommy John surgery a month after the draft. The next year, the Dodgers handled him with kid gloves and he only made three appearances. Last year, the Dodgers finally began to stretch him out, while still managing his workload. Buehler responded by quickly shooting through the system, advancing from High-A all the way to the majors. Although his longest outing was just five innings, and he only averaged four innings per start, he impressed.
A power pitcher, Buehler throws a blazing, 95-100 mph fastball, a hard low-90s slider, and a knee-buckling curveball. In addition, he shows feel for changeup. With three plus pitches and a fourth promising offering, Buehler is top-of-the-rotation material. However, his command and control are inconsistent and sometimes altogether absent.
Another year removed from surgery, Buehler likely returns to the upper minors and continues to build innings. With more durability and improved command, he rivals almost any pitching prospect in upside. But even without improvement in those areas, Buehler still profiles well as a dominant late inning or multi-inning reliever.
5. Alex Reyes, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
On August 9, 2016, Alex Reyes debuted for the Cardinals. In his first five appearances, he did not give up a run. In 12 total appearances (five starts), he was simply magnificent, with four wins and 1.57/1.22 ERA/WHIP. Entering last year, Reyes was close to a lock for the Cardinals rotation. Unfortunately, on the second day of Spring Training, the Cardinals announced he would undergo Tommy John surgery.
After a full year of recovery, it is unclear whether Reyes’ repertoire will be intact. When healthy, he has a 94-100 mph sinking fastball, which averaged 96.5 mph in his debut. Reyes also employs a solid upper-80s changeup, a plus upper-70s curveball, and a fringe low-80s slider. Throughout his career, he struggled with command and control, regularly walking 11% or more of opposing batters.
Should his arm return to form and allow him to harness his arsenal, he is a potential front-line starter. Like Kopech, Reyes may move to a late inning role, and almost certainly will begin this year in the bullpen.
6. Sixto Sanchez, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies
By the end of last year, Sixto Sanchez was by far the youngest pitcher in the Florida State League. After dominating Low-A (2.41/0.82 ERA/WHIP), he arrived in High-A less than a week after turning 19 years old. Although Sanchez held his own upon promotion, he walked as many hitters (9) in nearly 40 fewer innings.
Despite being on the small side for a pitcher (6’0”), Sanchez brings elite, 95-102 mph heat. Notably, he can manipulate his fastball to sink or cut while exercising advanced command over the pitch. In support of his fastball, Sanchez showcases three solid secondaries (curveball, slider, and changeup), which flash plus potential. The ability to provide numerous looks to hitters with command is a rare feat. A former shortstop, Sanchez is a tremendous athlete and already shows polish on the mound.
Likely returning to High-A this year, Sanchez is on the fast track to the majors. Given his deep repertoire and exceptional command, he is a potential 2- or 3-starter.
Note: Honeywell’s injury elevated Sixto Sanchez to the sixth position. Creepy . . .
7. Mitch Keller, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
A 2014 second round pick out of high school, Mitch Keller is now on the cusp of the majors. After a breakout 2016 performance in Low-A, he was again excellent last year, advancing to Double-A. In 40 postseason innings (Eastern League playoffs and the Arizona Fall League), Keller was nearly unhittable (6 earned runs, 24 hits, and 8 walks).
Keller has superb command of two pitches: a 92-98 mph fastball with late run and sink, and an inconsistent, 11-to-5, upper-70s curveball. When everything clicks, his curveball flashes double-plus. On the other hand, Keller rarely uses his mediocre-but-improving, mid-80s changeup. Most importantly, he exhibits command and control of all three pitches.
With just six starts in Double-A, Keller likely will return to the level and spend most of the year in the upper minors. If, or when, his changeup becomes a passable third offering, he is a potential 2-starter. If not, his two-pitch repertoire and superior control still profile well as a 3-starter.
8. Luiz Gohara, LHP, Atlanta Braves
In January 2017, the Braves acquired Luiz Gohara from the Mariners as part of the Mallex Smith three-way trade. Following the trade, he responded by advancing all the way from High-A to the majors in one year. In his five major league starts, Gohara provided a glimpse of his immense potential (9.5 K/9).
Gohara’s explosive left arm fires fastballs in the upper-90s, averaging 96.3 mph in his debut. He pairs his heater with a sharp and sweeping, mid-80s slider. Gohara’s upper-80s changeup is a distant third pitch but shows promise. Last year, Gohara eased concerns about his control and demonstrated his 2016 progress was real.
Engendering visions of C.C. Sabathia (another hefty lefty power arm), Gohara will need to watch his conditioning. Further development of his changeup and refined command will determine whether he is a starting pitcher long-term. As soon as this year, Gohara likely will be an integral part of the Braves’ rotation.
9. A.J. Puk, LHP, Oakland Athletics
Considered as the first overall pick in the 2016 Draft, A.J. Puk fell to sixth overall due to an erratic spring. In his first full season, he finished third in the minors in strikeouts (184) with an incredible 13.25 K/9. Further, Puk only allowed three home runs all year and had a minuscule 2.30 fielding independent pitching.
A lanky and athletic 6’7”, Puk delivers 93-98 mph fastballs with excellent extension. In addition, he throws a plus, upper-80s, wipeout slider with two more promising secondaries (curveball and changeup). With four potential solid pitches, Puk has a top-of-the-rotation repertoire. Due to his size, he occasionally struggles to repeat his delivery and his command suffers.
This year, Puk likely spends most of the year in the upper minors. However, the Athletics’ rotation is in flux and the organization may turn to Puk earlier than expected. When he arrives, he has 2- or 3-starter upside with tons of strikeouts.
10. MacKenzie Gore, LHP, San Diego Padres
The third overall pick of the 2017 Draft, MacKenzie Gore is not a typical, unrefined high school pitcher. Instead, he possesses grace, savvy, and a mature feel for pitching. Using an unorthodox leg kick reminiscent of Dontrelle Willis, Gore creates deception and extension. His arsenal consists of four potential plus pitches, including a low-90s fastball, a mid-70s curveball, a low-80s slider, and a fading changeup. On top of his deep repertoire, and despite his unusual delivery, Gore already has exceptional command. Finding little resistance in the Arizona League in his debut, he likely will jump to full-season Low-A this year. Though only turning 19 years old today (Happy Birthday, MacKenzie!), he should move quickly through the minors. Gore’s repertoire and command provide 2- or 3-starter upside.
11. Hunter Greene, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
Selected one pick before MacKenzie Gore in the 2017 draft, Hunter Greene is a very different pitcher. Long the favorite to go first overall, he nonetheless received a record $7.23 million bonus. Athletic, projectable, and already generating easy upper-90s velocity, Greene has sky-high upside. To think his fastball, which sits at 98-101 mph and touches 102, may even improve is simply scary. Greene’s secondaries (upper-80s slider, upper-70s curveball, and low-90s changeup) pale in comparison to his fastball. Understandably, he did not need to rely on much other than his fastball in high school. As such, each pitch needs a lot of work. Given his clean delivery, athleticism, and work ethic, Greene is a strong bet to develop effective secondaries with solid command. Just 18 years old and raw, he is far away; however, he is a rare, potential 1-starter.
12. Kyle Wright, RHP, Atlanta Braves
Another 2017 draftee, fifth overall pick Kyle Wright is an advanced, dominant college arm. Over the years, his velocity slowly climbed, even as recently as his Junior season. Now, Wright’s fastball works at 94-99 mph. Additionally, he features two potential plus breaking balls, a sharp, low-80s curve and a hard, mid-80s slider. Which off-speed pitch is better varies across observers, though both consistently receive rave reviews. Finally, Wright has a passable upper-80s changeup. With a fluid, repeatable delivery, he likely will develop solid command, even though it was inconsistent last year. Wright has the repertoire, prototypical size (6’4″), and projectable command to easily profile as a 2- or 3-starter.
13. Triston McKenzie, RHP, Cleveland Indians
Someone, please, please feed Triston McKenzie. Resembling Jack Skellington, he is scary thin, standing at 6’5” and 165 pounds. Considered highly projectable given the disparity between his height and weight, McKenzie may never add the weight observers envisioned. Nevertheless, he creates excellent extension with good command, allowing all his pitches to play up. McKenzie relies on three pitches, a low-90s fastball, an excellent curveball, and an emerging changeup. Despite lacking elite stuff, he racks up elite strikeouts, finishing second in the minors in strikeouts. If McKenzie adds weight (he must, right?!) and adds velocity, he is a potential 2-starter. If he does not, his advanced feel for pitching, extension, and control still provide him a future as a 3- or 4- starter.
14. Mike Soroka, RHP, Atlanta Braves
A 2015 first round pick, Mike Soroka has a physical, workhorse build (6’5” and 225 pounds). Already a command and control specialist, he has a career 1.93 BB/9. Soroka’s arsenal is solidly average to above-average, with a low-90s, sinking fastball, a mid-80s slider, and a low-80s changeup. Often pitching to contact, he generates a healthy dose of groundouts with his heavy fastball. Unlikely to accrue tons of strikeouts, Soroka profiles as an unspectacular, but durable and reliable, innings-eating 3-starter.
15. Michel Baez, RHP, San Diego Padres
In December 2016, the Padres signed Michel Baez for $3 million out of Cuba. As it stands, it looks like quite the investment. In his first professional season, Baez dominated Low-A, with an incredible 10.25 K/BB ratio. A gigantic 6’8”, he generates impressive extension, elevating his already blazing 94-99 mph fastball. Further, Baez flashes three potential above-average secondaries, an upper-80s slider, a 11-to-5, upper-70s curveball, and a mid-80s, fading changeup. Despite his size, he exhibits tremendous control. However, his control is currently ahead of his command, as evidenced by 9 total home runs allowed last year. With improved location and continued progress with his off-speed pitches, Baez is a potential 2- or 3-starter.
16. Franklin Perez, RHP, Detroit Tigers
The youngest pitcher in Double-A Texas League last year, Franklin Perez was also one of the best. His performance was so impressive that the Tigers made him the centerpiece of the Justin Verlander trade. Despite his youth, Perez displays advanced pitchability, with control of four solid pitches. His repertoire includes a 91-96 mph fastball, a 11-to-5, upper-70s curveball, a fading low-80s changeup, and a promising slider. Still developing, Perez has enormous, 2-starter upside, especially if his command and secondaries continue to improve.
17. Jack Flaherty, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
A 2014 first round pick, Jack Flaherty debuted last year after mowing down hitters in Double-A and Triple-A. Although his debut was not a rousing success, he flashed mid-rotation potential and an elite, mid-80s slider. Along with his slider, Flaherty has a 90-96 mph fastball (averaged 93.2 mph in debut) and an upper-70s curveball. Occasionally, he mixes in an upper-80s changeup, but it does not provide enough speed differential with his fastball. Like many young pitchers, Flaherty’s control presently surpasses his command. As such, he experienced some home run issues in Triple-A and his debut (1.18 HR/9). Nonetheless, Flaherty is on the cusp of the majors and possessing 3-starter upside. With a crowded Cardinals rotation, he will likely have to wait his turn in Triple-A.
18. Justus Sheffield, LHP, New York Yankees
Selected three picks before Jack Flaherty, Justus Sheffield is now ever so slightly behind his 2014 draft counterpart. Traded by the Indians as part of the 2016 Andrew Miller deal, he thrived since joining the Yankees. Despite lacking ideal size (5’11”), Sheffield brings heat, sitting around 93-95 mph and touching 97 mph. In addition, he has a plus, mid-80s slider and an improving upper-80s changeup. A continuing concern for Sheffield is whether his command will catch up to his excellent repertoire. Indeed, he fell victim to 1.35 HR/9 last year. In the Arizona Fall League, however, Sheffield displayed exceptional command and control, while flashing a plus changeup. With further progress, he is a potential 2- or 3-starter.
19. Alec Hansen, RHP, Chicago White Sox
Prior to the 2016 draft, Alec Hansen was a candidate for selection first overall. Then, he had a disastrous junior year (5.40/1.61 ERA/WHIP with 39 walks in 51 2/3 innings pitched). Thus, Hansen fell to the White Sox in the second round. Since turning pro, however, Hansen solved his control problems, allowing his filthy arsenal to shine. Last year, he advanced three levels to Double-A, leading the minors in strikeouts while managing his walks.
A big and strong 6’7” and 235 pounds, Hansen has a running fastball that sits 93-99 mph. Additionally, he throws a devastating, 12-to-6, upper-70s curveball, a sweeping, mid-80s slider, and a developing changeup. All his pitches benefit from the excellent plane created by his size. Still haunted by his college performance, many observers continue to question his command and control. Hansen’s progress is legitimate and, although his command remains inconsistent, he is trending toward passable command. With average command, he is a potential workhorse, 2- or 3-starter; without, he is a dominant late-inning reliever.
20. Brendan McKay, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays
The fourth overall pick of the 2017 Draft is yet another potential two-way player! As a pitcher, Brendan McKay possesses three potential above-average pitches: a low-90s fastball, a plus, 11-to-5 curveball, and a solid changeup. Further, he commands all three pitches very well. With control over a solid, polished repertoire, McKay has mid-rotation potential. A mid-rotation starter, however, is not as enticing as a middle-of-the-order hitter. McKay’s future role likely hinges, in part, on Ohtani’s success or failure as a two-way player. Click here to read about McKay as a hitter!
21. Brent Honeywell, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Passed down from his father’s cousin, Cy Young Award winner Mike Marshall, a filthy screwball is Brent Honeywell’s inheritance. The MVP of the All-Star Futures Game, he unleashed the screwball on the unsuspecting World Team, including Eloy Jimenez. At the time, Honeywell was on fire, having just thrown 6 scoreless innings on July 4th. Indeed, from July through the end of the season, he struck out 62 batters over 50.3 innings (1.78/1.01 ERA/WHIP).
Apart from his patented screwball, Honeywell also throws mid-90s gas, sitting between 94-96 mph. With similar fading action to his screwball, his changeup is also an effective weapon. To show hitters another look, Honeywell utilizes a curveball and a slider, both of which flash above-average. With command and control of a deep repertoire, he keeps hitters off-balance deep into games. Occasionally, however, his command of his fastball and curve/slider falters, and he becomes hittable.
On Friday, the Rays announced Honeywell suffered a torn right ulnar collateral ligament. This type of injury likely requires Tommy John surgery. Almost identical to the timing of Alex Reyes’ injury last year, Honeywell will miss the entire season. Should his repertoire and command return following the surgery, Honeywell looks the part of a 2- or 3-starter.
Note: Prior to his injury, Honeywell ranked 4th, behind Kopech and ahead of Buehler.