Written by: Adam Ehrenreich (@mel_reich)
Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365
Earlier in the month we discussed several post-hype breakout bats for the 2020 season. In this edition of Post-Hype Pandemonium, we discuss pitchers who are bound to have bounce back or breakout performances in 2020.
Being a site that hangs its hat on analyzing prospects, we know the market is always looking for the next shiny new toy, which is often most evident in pitching prospects. In redraft leagues, I personally find it hard to stash arms, because the likelihood of them panning out and providing significant value from the jump tends to be very unlikely. For every Walker Buehler rookie season, there seems to be a dozen Brendan McKay and Mitch Keller rookie seasons. The way a pitcher addresses his craft and makes his own adjustments—especially once opponents form a ‘book’ on the young arm—is what separates the best from the rest.
Here are several pitchers who may not have lived up to the hype surrounding their debut but are ready to take that next step into fantasy relevancy and potential stardom.
Dinelson Lamet (SD) – In a rehab season off Tommy John surgery, we’re often lucky to see even flashes of brilliance at the big league level, but Lamet had a few performances in 2019 that put him squarely on the breakout radar for 2020. In 14 starts last season, Lamet hit double-digits strikeouts four times, including an impressive outing against the Mariners in early August where he went 7 innings with 0 earned runs and 12 punch-outs. While most of his outings were under the six-inning, quality start threshold, Lamet was merely working off the rust, and did so in mostly impressive fashion. Armed with a pair of wicked breaking balls and throwing most of his innings to elite framer Austin Hedges, I think 2020 is finally the Lamet breakout campaign we’ve expected, with elite strikeouts and more than serviceable ratios along the way. 2020 NFBC ADP: 126
Eduardo Rodriguez (BOS) – Here we have a pitcher coming off a 19-win season with a 3.81 ERA and 9.4 K/9, and we’re talking post-hype? Yes, that is exactly what’s happening. The 1.33 WHIP in 2019, and career 1.29 WHIP, has served as Rodriguez’s hype and ADP suppressor in the eyes of the analytical-minded throughout the southpaw’s big league career. At 26 years old and injuries hopefully behind him, I think the WHIP will finally come back to earth this season; if that happens, the left-hander will ascend to fantasy ace territory. The Red Sox are in desperate need for a breakout performance from E-Rod this year, and I think it’s coming. Rodriguez is ranked below some pitchers who haven’t completed an entire MLB season to date, the likes of Jesus Luzardo, Zac Gallen and Brandon Woodruff, and I think he is a steal at his current ADP. 2020 NFBC ADP: 137
Julio Urías (LAD) – The epitome of post-hype, Urías has been on a roller coaster of circumstance since 2016. Between injuries, suspensions, promotions, demotions and inning limits, Urías has been all over the map, and has thus slowly slid off the radar of those not paying close attention. Urías should finally have an opportunity to be a constant in the Dodgers’ rotation in 2020, and with that opportunity should come great results. Even if he doesn’t closely tempt the 200 IP mark this season, the current price gives us a window of profit. Now is the time to hop back aboard. Look out for solid ratios and elite strikeouts in 2020. 2020 NFBC ADP: 160
Griffin Canning (LAA) – Canning can be found on many breakout lists, and the “post-hype” hype is warranted. After a fantastic start to 2019 in Triple-A, Canning made a surprise debut on April 30th and didn’t disappoint. As the season progressed, we saw mixed results, but the expectation for 2020 is that Canning will show us the results we saw in the minors: exceptional ratios and a serviceable strikeout rate. While I do believe Canning is currently a great value pick in redrafts, my hope is that the value is still there even on late draft days. Any time past the 15th round is a steal for a guy who could be a #3 starter in fantasy in 2020 at a #5 starter price tag. 2020 NFBC ADP: 225
Aaron Civale (CLE) – Does it not feel like every other year the Indians whip out a shiny new ace in the making? Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber, and now, Aaron Civale. In ten big league starts last season, Civale impressed with a 2.34 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. Although his minor league resume is not overly impressive, his ERA remained stable as he progressed through Cleveland’s system; statistically, what impressed me the most is that as his ground ball rate declined, his strikeout rate increased—eventually reaching 9.8 K/9 in Triple-A. If the strikeouts can continue to rise in the Majors (a slight uptick in slider, curveball and changeup usage would make this possible) while the controls hold steady, we could be looking at a potential, longstanding ace trio of Clevinger, Bieber and Civale like we once hoped Kluber, Carrasco and Bauer would be for the Indians. 2020 NFBC ADP: 267
Michael Kopech (CWS) – A lot of 2020 drafters will skim the statistics from Kopech’s brief MLB debut in August 2018, which resulted in a 5.02 ERA and 1.54 WHIP. For whatever reason, they’ll prioritize those numbers over the 3.05 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 11.7 K/9 through five minor league seasons. One of the centerpieces of the Chris Sale trade, Kopech has been oozing with hype since his 100+ MPH heater hit the Twittersphere and YouTube many seasons ago. The 23-year-old is going to be good. He may need to iron out the kinks in his command and shake off some rust, but he’s the real deal, and could be yours near the 20th round of redrafts in 15-team leagues. I suggest reaching a little if you want him as he has been drafted in 94% of leagues, or you can wait a bit longer and take Cease, who will undoubtedly start the 2020 campaign in the majors. 2020 NFBC ADP: 287
Dylan Cease (CWS) – In 15 teamers, Cease is being drafted in the 20th round this preseason. I can end the post there, but let me divulge. Cease has 14 MLB starts under his belt. Some starts went well, but more went very poorly. With a full offseason and spring training in the MLB camp, I think Cease is about to turn things around in a big way. This is a White Sox team that has improves dramatically over the offseason; perhaps most important for the right-hander is the addition of catcher Yasmani Grandal, who is one of the best framers in baseball. Chicago will score more runs, they will play better defense and they will give Cease the comfort he needs on the mound to succeed. A 3.02 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in his minor league career, along with a 11.4 K/9, is no joke. Once the comfort of pitching in front of an MLB crowd settles in, Cease is going to relegate to his norm and become a great, affordable, fantasy asset. He’s been busy optimizing his mechanics this offseason. 2020 NFBC ADP: 295
Josh James (HOU) – There were talks that James could be the “next-Hader” last season. A starter converted to a relief role, with huge strikeout upside, and the potential to go numerous innings with great ratios. Well the strikeouts and innings were certainly there, but the ratios left a lot to be desired. A 4.70 ERA and 1.32 WHIP over 61.1 innings, accompanied with a 14.7 K/9, gave us mixed results. I think 2020 is the year that James takes off. Whether as a starter or reliever, you can expect the numbers that had the prospect industry excited about his debut, and after the ratios tanked in 2019, he will basically be free in 2020 redrafts. Early spring reviews are glowing, so now is the time to jump back in on the 27-year-old. I suspect he’ll eventually secure the final spot in the Astros’ Opening Day starting rotation. 2020 NFBC ADP: 379
Rick Porcello (NYM) – Comeback season is upon us. At 31 years old, Porcello is an outlier on this list, but I think this could be a big season for the veteran right-hander. Porcello saw plenty of ups and downs in his time as a pitcher in the American League. 2013 and 2014 were the ‘breakout’ seasons that landed Porcello with an opportunity to play in Boston. After a disappointing debut in 2015, Porcello won the Cy Young at 27 years old in 2016. A fantastic 2018 was bookended by horrific 2017 and 2019 campaigns. So here we stand, with Porcello finally getting a chance to pitch in the NL, a historically better league for pitchers. The early reports out of spring are raving, Porcello seems to be in the right frame of mind and practically a lock for the Mets’ rotation this season. At his ADP, you might be able to wait and see how he performs in his first few starts before picking him up, but it might be too late by then. If Porcello ever hopes to someday return to the same statistical neighborhood as his 2016 Cy Young campaign, that journey will start in Flushing in 2020. 2020 NFBC ADP: 394
Corbin Burnes (MIL) – One of my favorite sleeper pitchers in 2020 is Corbin Burnes. He is basically being discarded in redrafts (2% owned), and for that reason, I suggest either taking him with your last pick and monitoring his performance during Spring Training or monitoring him on your watch list with the anticipation to pounce early in the regular season. Burnes is working to get back in the Brewers’ rotation, and while there will be competition, he easily has the stuff to regain the role. The Brewers are not afraid to reallocate their assets for better use and being a long reliever could bring fantasy goodness as well, in a similar way it has been gold for Josh Hader. The MLB numbers have been hard to look at, but the ratios and strikeouts in the minor leagues were better than some of the other pitchers on this list (namely Kopech and Cease), and that is what excites me moving forward. Again, pitchers need time to adjust, and if it took Burnes an extra year, getting used to a new role and a new scenario, that’s fine with me. The 25-year-old has reportedly spent the offseason focusing on improving mentally and physically, which is a great sign. A 3.22 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 9.1 K/9 in the minors is enough for me to take a flier on Burnes, regardless of his role on Opening Day. 2020 NFBC ADP: 553
If you’re the type of fantasy owner who likes to load up on bats early before building a rotation in the middle and late rounds of your draft, this list gives you ten arms who are being undervalued early in the draft season according to ADP. The hype machine could take off at any time on any one of these guys, so strike before the iron gets hot.
Follow P365 staff writer Adam Ehrenreich on Twitter! @mel_reich
Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365
Featured image courtesy of photographer Jon Shapley and the Houston Chronicle