Not everyone can draft Clayton Kershaw or Max Scherzer. I’ve personally been a guy of the philosophy of you pay up for the bat; always, and you go into the season knowing that you have to find the new gem arm or two before anyone else does. Winning your league or finishing in fourth or fifth are going to come down to that. If you can become confident in your ability to not use as many high picks on pitching and find the new emerging star arm, you can build your team around hitters.
And let’s face it, there are new star arms emerging every single year in baseball. It’s going to happen again in 2015 – it is a given. How exciting is that? There is a Jacob DeGrom or a Jake Arrieta out there sitting for the taking and he nor you even know it yet. But I do.
It’s kind of like living the single life but not really worrying about it because you know the person you are going to marry is out there walking around living her life somewhere. So you don’t really worry about it or try to force things, you just let her come to you. It’s fate, after all.
Last time we gave you position player sleepers and break-out candidates to target in your draft. Here are my starting pitcher sleeper candidates:
Mike Fiers – If only he had more than 10 starts last season….. what could have been. Added him on all teams last year based on seeing him carve up hitters in a few outings. He had a 14 strikeout performance against the Cubs at Wrigley last season. Has downright filthy stuff. The savvy are already hip to the Fierless one; so you might not be able to wait until round 20.
Taijuan Walker – Great home park to make roughly half his starts in, and is attracting only minimal interest among fantasy owners. I also like where the Mariners organization is headed. If the Mariners are going to win the West as I think they will, Walker will have to factor into that. He’s 22, and has plus stuff. Had over eight strikeouts per nine innings last season in the second half. We think he could get that to 8.5 in 2015 which should play in most deep league formats.
Kevin Gausman – He burned me a few times last year in spot starts but that was my fault. I was a bit early on him. The Orioles’ fifth starter has plus stuff which is the most important thing when you’re looking for guys who could make the jump for you. Projects to a possible 15 wins, 3.50 ERA, and 8.00 K/9 in 2015 if things break right.
Danny Salazar – I am breaking one of my own rules here: never count on a Cleveland player for any fantasy need in any fantasy sport. I have a feeling on Salazar, and I’m sorry if instinct is my primary reason for having him in this group. If he can just get his control under raps and find some efficiency, you could be looking at a 200-strikeout guy. Love his potential to strikeout more than 10 per nine innings. Bold prediction: he’s as valuable as Kluber at 2015’s season end.
Zack Wheeler – Not really a sleeper, but certainly ready for a breakout. Everyone’s focus is on the returning Matt Harvey and the breakout from 2014, Jacob DeGrom. Absolutely love his stuff, including the 95 MPH heat. He’s a year wiser with how to attack hitters; it makes a difference. Over 9.00 K’s per nine coming, with a 3.40 ERA and 14 or so wins.
Danny Duffy – Really love his power stuff at 26 years old. This is his last chance to show me he’s a premium big league starter. Insane strikeout rates in the minor leagues have tailed off in the bigs, should be a sub/8 K per nine innings guy. Will face a lot of fifth starters who are fringe guys that I consider him better than.
Yordano Ventura – I’m bullish on this guy. Glad he avoided what appeared to be a serious arm injury. The world knows about him now and I’m here to climb to the mountain top and tell you that he’s going to be baseball’s next premiere young arm in the game.
Marcus Stroman – One of my favorite guys on this list. Should post an ERA between 3.30 and 3.70 with 170+ strikeouts. Hard to find a guy like that where he’s going in drafts. Wise baseball people have said the only thing that can stop this guy from being a superstar is injury risk, and every pitcher carries that same risk. If he can avoid it you have a guy who should be a keeper for years to come with ace upside.
Jake Odorizzi – The perfect time to grab a guy like this is when people’s appetites have cooled on him. Like Gausman mentioned before him; he’s not going to come with much hype. Unlike Gausman, the Rays could be certifiably terrible in 2015. It’s not like you can really target wins anyway. Let us say Jake here has 11 wins to go with a 3.80 ERA and 8.2 K/9.
Chris Archer – If you like what I said Odorizzi could offer, these are the things Archer already offers. Of course, he’s going to come at a much higher price and I don’t think it’s the year for him to jump into ace territory. Maybe the Rays deal him to a contender at mid-season or something – keep an eye on if he’s mentioned early in trade rumors after a slow Tampa start.
Drew Smyly – Pitching to earn a bigger payday, should post a sterling ERA in the low threes. Can he strikeout 8.5 per nine while making 30-plus starts? Not a sexy name by any means and a lot of people mind that. Bottom line is the value will be there with the upside on draft day. You’re probably going to have to own a Rays starting pitcher is what I’m saying.
Drew Hutchison – Had a 10.17 K/9 in the second half of the season last year. Seems to have re-gained command after Tommy John. Biggest question: is that 1.45 HR/9 rate from the second half unsustainable or not? His home ballpark seems to yield a lot of longballs. If a guy has that nine-plus K/9 stuff, he can help you.
Alex Wood – People are calling him a soon to be NL version of Chris Sale. Um, no. He’s good, but he goes too early in drafts. Braves will be abhorrent in 2015. Probably a better candidate for letdown.
Wily Peralta – Well, I would rather have Fiers. Doesn’t miss enough bats and I’ve seen him have some huge home runs hit off him. When he’s bad, he’s really damn bad. Was the best pitcher in the NL for a stretch last season. Wait, I’m not really endorsing guys anymore am I?
A few to avoid: Mike Minor (mileage on the arm, poor team), Andrew Heaney (not impressed, yet), Noah Syndergaard (a year too soon), Garrett Richards (return from injury, team regression), Jose Quintana (too many smoke and mirrors; Jekyll & Hyde performances for me), Shelby Miller (not impressed), Andrew Cashner (durability problems every year), Homer Bailey (average team, pricey)
A bit of strategy before I get into the names. I’ve always liked to try to corner the market for saves. Draft a few dominant guys to be the anchor of your reliever set along with some guys who will just get opportunities. Most of these guys will help ratios and you could have the saves title locked up by mid-season. At mid-season, you go looking to deal the second and third-tier guys you drafted while hanging onto the elite for obvious reasons; to protect your saves category lead and continue cementing elite ratios. Don’t be afraid to corner the market in saves from the beginning of the season.
Drew Storen – He’s been to Hell and back. That can harden a man for the closer role. The Nationals are the new regular season powerhouse in baseball. He’s going to get a ton of save opportunities.
Dellin Betances – Outside of Aroldis Chapman, has the best pure stuff in the game today. Yes, that’s even considering Kimbrel. Yankees are being coy about that closer role but they won’t be able to be when Betances can’t be touched in the first month. Will take this job and run with it for the next few years. The Bronx’s next star and I want him on my squads no matter the cost.
Tony Cingrani – Returning to a likely relief role where he established himself as a rookie. Probably better suited for this role anyways with arm concerns and he can rely on his hard stuff a lot more than as a starter. Won’t close, but should provide value in holds leagues and help ratios once again.
Hector Rondon – Cubs are going to surprise a lot of people. Will eclipse nine strikeouts per nine innings and should have a shot at 40 saves. Why is he going with lower-tier closers in drafts? Use it to your advantage. Cubs have finally found a man to truly lock down the ninth after years of garbage in the role.
Carlos Martinez – Why do I have this gut feeling that elite Trevor Rosenthal makes a DL stint? Why do I have this feeling that when he returns, Martinez will have a strong grip on the closer role? He’s pitching in honor of his fallen friend Oscar Taveras (RIP) this season. I believe in Rosenthal, but Martinez absolutely has what it takes to be an elite closer. Enter ‘Great Organization’ symbol here, begrudgingly.
Hunter Strickland – Next big thing in the National League. Joe Public remembers Bryce Harper owning him in the postseason. The savvy knows that Santiago Casilla is an aging pitcher with stuff that will soon be waning and for the taking. Strickland will get a shot at that job. Should offer excellent ratio and strikeout value in leagues that count holds.
Brandon Finnegan – See Strickland above; only Holland isn’t losing the job and Finnegan is a lefty. Filthy, and wouldn’t surprise me to see an ERA of like 1.95 or something insane as early as this season in 40 to 50 innings.
Aroldis Chapman – I listed him because he’s the most dominant reliever I’ve ever seen, and he’s being drafted ahead of some pretty good bats in drafts. I just want to tell you it’s okay to do that with him and him only.
Cody Allen – Should get a full year as the closer in Cleveland; really liked his stuff from day one and couldn’t believe they were screwing around with John Axford! Only shit like that happens in Cleveland.
Ken Giles – Everyone knows the name by now. Should be closing at some point in Philadelphia, won’t get a wealth of opportunities but he throws 100 MPH and will help in all categories aside from the saves he gets. Let’s pencil him in for 24 of them, optimistically.
Mark Melancon – Should be considered among the first-tier of closers at this point for an organization on the rise. Jason Grilli’s breakout (we enjoyed the ride for that, too) seems like a long time ago.