As the yearly author of the Pitching Planner for the site, I understand that finding the right underrated streamer for a week can win matchups. The risk is much higher for singular starts, but sometimes I figure out more about a player when writing about them for a single week. There are certain players who, after running the numbers each week, I find repeating as the weeks go by. That's when you know you've hit the jackpot on a starter for the season.
However, I want to try to find that player before the season even starts if I can (obviously). So, what are the things I look for when ranking starters and relievers? Obviously, I look at role within a team, but after that, it's a myriad of things. Underlying statistics, health, and demeanor all can sway me when producing rankings. What I look for specifically during Spring Training are things like fastball velocity and new pitches. We can't really gather much else from exhibition games, but these are good indicators in the early going.
Now, when I look for undervalued pitchers, they are usually old, boring as hell, and have high floors. This year, it was the exact opposite. I want a piece of some of these young players that are exciting and unproven. It seemed weird to me that no one wants these guys quite as much as I do. This gives me hope that, in my typical redrafts, I can start the draft with some safe veteran pitchers and follow it up with these guys on the back end. Starting pitcher strategy can be a boar at times, so I will see how this works in 2019.
As implied, the theme here was a young, unproven starter with an easy path to starting time.
2019 Fantasy Baseball Undervalued Pitchers
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Julio Urias, Los Angeles Dodgers (60, 79)
The Dodgers rotation has been one of the deepest staffs in the big leagues over the last few years. Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Rich Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Kenta Maeda should be throwing every five days for the back-to-back NL champs here in 2019 with Ross Stripling getting several starts. However, just when we think that the rotation is set, we get an interesting bit of news from the horse's mouth.
Dave Roberts said he hasn't ruled out the possibility of Julio Urias breaking camp in the big-league starting rotation. "The door's open for him," Roberts said.
— Ken Gurnick (@kengurnick) February 27, 2019
Well, this is an awesome piece of news for me. Sure, Roberts could just be saying this to light a fire under the rest of the staff, but it's a notable comment. Don't forget just how fickle this staff is despite its depth. Kershaw and Hill are always good for missing several starts with blisters or shoulder issues. Ryu can be expected to miss half the season with shoulder issues or whatever decides to ail him this season. Maeda keeps getting flip-flopped from the rotation to the bullpen. Indeed, this does open up over half a season's worth of work for multiple starters.
While Stripling is underrated in his own right, I wanted to highlight Urias here because of how he got here. He's lost the sheen he once had as a prospect despite only being 22 after some injury concerns. Dare I say he has a 2018 Blake Snell feel to him? I don't dare, but I did find this little article from a few years back. Considering those three names right behind Urias in that article, you get a feeling of what he could pull off in 2019 with the Dodgers.
Now, he's back and opening eyes in Spring Training. With a fastball that flashes 97 MPH and that sweet, sweeping curveball, he's got 10+ K/9 with plus command written all over him as a starter. I'm surprised that's not as salivating to others as it is to me!
Caleb Smith, Miami Marlins (73, 113)
Mostly unnoticed went Smith's 2018 season for a variety of reasons. Exhibit A: he plays for the Marlins, who are just unwatchable at the moment. Exhibit B: his season was cut short by a shoulder injury. The 26-year-old made 16 starts in 2018, pitching to the tune of a 4.19 ERA and 3.96 FIP. More impressive was his 16.9% K-BB%, which would've ranked 25th among qualified starters (equal to Jameson Taillon for reference).
The two exhibits listed above must've plummeted his draft stock in 2019 although it appears unwarranted. He's throwing bullpens at camp and is expected to begin the season in the rotation. I'll be curious to see where his pitches are in an actual exhibition. If that slider/changeup combo still looks good, it'll be a good reason for me to keep him in the SP70's.
Admittedly, I would also need to see that fastball velocity back up to 93-94 MPH before completely buying in. However, his current ADP is one that allows me to buy in without surrendering too high of a pick.
Chris Paddack, San Diego Padres (75, 127)
Okay, 75 might be a bit high. However, if it's ace level potential you're looking for outside of the top 40, look no further than Mr. Paddack.
All of the sharks are already on him. Pitcher List has been fanboying over his Spring Training appearances and Ralph over at ProspectsLive has already expressed lofty expectations. When I watch him pitch, I get that 'gut feeling' that says he will dominate as well. Steamer projections expect gaudy ratios as well. By Steamer600, which assumes every pitcher throws an equal 200 innings, he projects to be a top 20 starter.
So why is he undervalued? Well, he's not going to come close to 200 innings if the Padres have anything to do with it. While he dominated every task thrown at him last year, the Padres aren't expected to let him win a starting spot out of camp due to service time concerns. Additionally, he hasn't pitched any Triple-A innings yet. It's understandable if the Padres want to get him some playing time at the highest minor league level before throwing him into the fire.
If he keeps pitching like he has been in Spring Training though, he should have a quick opportunity to make it to the majors. Most projection systems say he'll see 15 or 16 starts for the Padres. Those systems are typically pessimistic, so let's give him 20 starts. San Diego's staff was in the bottom five in ERA and FIP in 2018 and unfortunately return many of those starters. They can't keep rolling those same guys out there.
If you tell me that I can get a potential SP2 or SP3 if I wait for a month, I'm all in. It may depend on your league format and bench depth, but Paddack is the perfect stash and hold for the patient fantasy player.
Touki Toussaint, Atlanta Braves (86, 109)
Atlanta ace Mike Foltynewicz is having elbow issues. Kevin Gausman is dealing with shoulder soreness. Mike Soroka is having all sorts of issues. To make matters worse, Luiz Gohara is having some shoulder issues linger from last year. I think it's safe to say that there will be an opportunity for one lucky Braves starter (if not two) to swoop in, steal a job, and run with it.
Enter Toussaint, who has the most electric pitch mix out of all of the contestants. While I do like Max Fried, I believe his role should remain in the bullpen. Now, Touki's Spring Training debut has been horrid. However, as I mentioned in the beginning, we need to look at these exhibition games with a bird's eye view. His fastball velocity is great, the curveball will always be juicy, and his splitter has been a very slick pitch. I'm not going to let a couple of brief stints change my mind of what I've thought of Touki for over a year now.
What we have here is a pitcher with a high-K/high-BB profile and an extended opportunity to prove what he can do. I will remain a Touki truther, especially as an SP8 or SP9 in 2019 redrafts. If it doesn't work out, as mentioned with Smith, you drop him for an upcoming guy in free agency. However, if it hits, you've got a Luis Castillo type of talent at flier value.
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