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Highlighting top pitcher prospects for 2013

by | Senior Fantasy Writer
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After a year in which the starting pitcher position didn't experience its usual turnover, with many of the game's top pitching prospects getting a taste of the majors but not completely settling in, the minor leagues are now overflowing with pitching talent.

Granted, they were never short on it. Pitching is half the game, after all, so attempting to reduce the entire minor-league pool to the 25 nearest and dearest to Fantasy owners is always difficult.

But when you consider Dylan Bundy, Shelby Miller, Trevor Bauer, Dan Straily, Tyler Skaggs, Julio Teheran, Trevor Rosenthal, Chris Archer, Tony Cingrani, Martin Perez, Casey Kelly, Jake Odorizzi, Tyler Thornburg and Arodys Vizcaino all retain rookie eligibility despite having already debuted in the majors, it's darn near impossible this year.

So in an unprecedented move, I'm breaking from my usual self-imposed limitations and evaluating the game's top pitching prospects at a number that better reflects their influence on the prospect scene in general. Ladies and gentlemen, make way for the big 30.

Some say it's the new 20, but I'm going with 25. Because the old list was, in fact, 25.

Still, some potential rookie contributors such as Tyler Cloyd and Steve Johnson couldn't make the cut. Even on a prospect list designed for Fantasy owners, upside takes priority, and the upside of Taylor Guerrieri and Kyle Zimmer is too great to ignore.

Rest assured, they weren't the only close calls, so if your favorite high-upside hurler is missing from this list, it doesn't mean he lacks the ability. It simply means he's not as much of a priority for Fantasy owners right now, either because he's not as close to reaching the big leagues or because he doesn't have quite the ceiling of some of the pitchers coming up behind him. I mean, I had to draw the line somewhere. If I included every pitcher who threw in the mid-90s, this list would extend well beyond 100.

And I couldn't pay you to read something that long.

Note: This list has been adjusted for Fantasy purposes. Though long-term potential is a factor, it's arguably less important than the player's expected role in 2013. These prospects don't all profile as superstars, but they're the names most worth knowing in Fantasy right now.

1. Dylan Bundy, 20, Orioles
Where played in 2012: Class A, Double-A, majors
Minor-league stats: 9-3, 2.08 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 119 Ks, 103 2/3 IP
Major-league stats: 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 0 Ks, 1 2/3 IP

The 2011 draft began with Gerrit Cole, Danny Hultzen and Trevor Bauer. And then came Bundy, the lone high schooler of the group, who appeared to have the longest path to the majors. So wouldn't you know he'd be the one of the four to finish the year on a major-league roster? Granted, it was in sort of a gimmicky role. The Orioles used him a couple times in short relief even though his future is clearly as a starter. Still, now that they've popped the lid off that can, they'll have an easier time bringing him up whenever he proves he's ready in 2013. Really, all he'll need to do is exactly what he did last year. Beginning with his eight-start stint at Class A Delmarva, where he allowed just five hits in 30 innings, he was the talk of the minor leagues, dominating all the way up to Double-A, when he encountered some command problems. He's still working on refining his arsenal and building up his endurance, but his stuff is good enough that he's a candidate to learn on the job. He'll get a look in spring training and likely be up for good by midseason. Given his ace upside and relief pitcher eligibility, Bundy is worth drafting even in shallower Head-to-Head leagues.

2. Shelby Miller, 22, Cardinals
Where played in 2012: Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: 11-10, 4.74 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 160 Ks, 136 2/3 IP
Major-league stats: 1-0, 1.32 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 16 Ks, 13 2/3 IP

Though he was long considered the top prospect in the Cardinals organization, Miller's stock nearly collapsed when he compiled a 6.17 ERA over his first 17 starts at Triple-A Memphis last year. But the way he ended the season, with a 1.32 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings in six appearances (including one start) for the big club, has many thinking he's a favorite for NL Rookie of the Year honors this year. His struggles at Triple-A weren't as much a matter of health or ability as stubbornness and pride. Though the command of his fastball was off, he relied on the pitch more than ever. Eventually, the Cardinals forbade him from shaking off the catcher, and that's about the time his season turned around. A mechanical adjustment also contributed to his 2.88 ERA over his final 10 starts. The harsh lesson clearly translated to the majors, where he overpowered hitters with a high-90s fastball and sharp curveball. With the departure of Kyle Lohse this offseason, Miller is presumably in line for a rotation spot, but the Cardinals have a couple holdovers in Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook and a few other up-and-comers in Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal. Miller's upside is the most attractive of that group, but his uncertain role will allow him to slip to the late rounds on Draft Day.

3. Gerrit Cole, 22, Pirates
Where played in 2012: Class A, Double-A, Triple-A
Minor-league stats: 9-7, 2.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 136 Ks, 132 IP

Given all that was happening with Dylan Bundy, Cole's rise up the minor-league ladder in 2012 kind of went by the wayside. But the first overall pick in the 2011 draft advanced all the way to Triple-A Indianapolis in his first professional season and had success at every level. He isn't quite a finished product -- at times, he tries to do too much, which compromises his location -- but his stuff and ability to command his stuff are as good as you'll find in a minor-leaguer. The Pirates will surely give him more time at Triple-A after he made only one start there last year, but once he thoroughly dominates that level, the only other place he can go is Pittsburgh. And given the Pirates' rotation of castoffs and second-tier prospects, he should have a spot waiting for him. Cole has the kind of pedigree and arsenal that should make him an instant success in the majors, so when he gets the call, you'll want him on your roster. You might even have to invest a late-round pick in him on Draft Day to ensure it happens.

4. Trevor Bauer, 22, Indians
Where played in 2012: Double-A, Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: 12-2, 2.42 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 157 Ks, 130 1/3 IP
Major-league stats: 1-2, 6.06 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, 17 Ks, 16 1/3 IP

Rarely does a prospect as hyped as Bauer bomb as thoroughly as he did during a four-start stint last summer. His strikeout rate was predictably high, but he walked seemingly every other batter he faced and only once pitched beyond four innings. He blamed a groin injury for his struggles, which makes sense considering his velocity was also down during his time in the majors, but his insistence on continuing his bizarre pregame warm-up routine -- which involves throwing from foul pole to foul pole, among other things -- throughout the ordeal apparently rubbed some in the Diamondbacks organization the wrong way. Bauer's scientific approach to pitching, which incorporates concepts like biomechanics and effective velocity, is part of what makes him such an impressive prospect, but it also makes him difficult to coach. The Diamondbacks ultimately decided he wasn't worth the headache, shipping him to Cleveland for a relatively minimal return this offseason. The move could end up being the best thing for Bauer's Fantasy value. The Indians know what they're getting into with him, and because they have more room in their starting rotation for him, they're more likely to let him work through his issues in the majors. He could take some lumps, particularly if he doesn't keep his walk rate down, but ultimately, his ability should make him a success in Fantasy. He's worth a middle-to-late-round pick on Draft Day.

5. Zack Wheeler, 22, Mets
Where played in 2012: Double-A, Triple-A
Minor-league stats: 12-8, 3.26 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 148 Ks, 149 IP

You know how impressive Matt Harvey was during a 10-start trial last season? Well, the player behind him on the minor-league ladder, Wheeler, is even better. Acquired from the Giants in the Carlos Beltran trade back in 2011, Wheeler has only upped his prospect standing in the Mets organization, reconfiguring his delivery to maximize his stuff. With a high-90s fastball and a four-pitch arsenal, he's close to being major-league ready already, but the rebuilding Mets aren't going to rush him, especially after he took a step back with his promotion to Triple-A Buffalo late last season. Right now, Wheeler's biggest shortcoming is a suspect walk rate, but at 3.6 per nine innings last year, it's hardly insurmountable. Shoot, Gio Gonzalez nearly won a Cy Young with a similar rate. If Wheeler cuts down on that number while remaining as effective in other areas, we could see him follow the same path as Harvey -- who, incidentally, had an even high walk rate at Buffalo at the time of his promotion last year. Again, because Wheeler profiles as the Mets' ace long-term, they'll probably handle him even more carefully than they did Harvey, but as advanced as he already is, he could easily force the issue midseason. He's worth stashing in NL-only leagues and is a must-own in long-term keeper formats.

6. Jose Fernandez, 20, Marlins
Where played in 2012: Class A
Minor-league stats: 14-1, 1.75 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 158 Ks, 134 IP

In a draft class deep in pitching, with Gerrit Cole, Danny Hultzen, Trevor Bauer and Dylan Bundy going off the board with the first four picks, Fernandez was a relative afterthought at Pick 14 in 2011. But no one did more to improve his stock last year than the Marlins' right-hander, who had arguably the best season of any minor-league pitcher other than Bundy. The 20-year-old, who defected from Cuba along with his mother and sister at age 15, has a mature approach and a loaded arsenal, with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and touches 99. Class A was no match for him, as evidenced by his 14-1 record, 1.75 ERA and 0.93 WHIP. In addition to incredible stuff, Fernandez also has good command and has already figured out how to extend himself deep into ballgames, pitching six innings or more in nine of his first 14 starts before the Marlins held him back the rest of the way. He's so far ahead of the curve that he could hypothetically compete for a job this spring, though with the Marlins in full rebuilding mode, that's an unlikely scenario. Fernandez probably won't make a worthwhile Fantasy contribution in 2013, but as a long-term keeper, he's about as good as it gets.

7. Bruce Rondon, 22, Tigers
Where played in 2012: Class A, Double-A, Triple-A
Minor-league stats: 29 saves, 1.53 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 66 Ks, 53 IP

Rondon has yet to throw a single pitch in the majors, but if Dave Dombrowski has his way, he'll be closing for the Tigers on opening day. And why wouldn't the general manager have his way? A look at Rondon's minor-league numbers makes Dombrowski's enthusiasm easy to understand. Between three minor-league levels, he had a 1.53 ERA and 1.09 WHIP last year. Of course, he struggled with his control at times, but if the Braves had let Craig Kimbrel's 5.7 walks per nine innings at Triple-A dissuade them from promoting him in 2010, where would they be now? Rondon has all the tools to close -- namely, a fastball that reaches triple digits -- and has done fine in the role in the minors. But of course, we don't know how he'll handle the big-league spotlight until we see him in it. Provided the Tigers don't chicken out at the last minute and bring in a veteran with closing experience, Rondon's claim to the role makes him worth drafting in all Fantasy leagues. If he falls to the late rounds, he could even be a value pick pitching for a contender in Detroit.

8. Dan Straily, 24, Athletics
Where played in 2012: Double-A, Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: 9-7, 2.78 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 190 Ks, 152 IP
Major-league stats: 2-1, 3.89 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 32 Ks, 39 1/3 IP

This time a year ago, nobody was talking about Straily. He wasn't worth talking about until 2012, when he led the minor leagues with 190 strikeouts -- a number that's even more impressive when you consider he missed about a three-week stretch because of a big-league promotion in August. So why wasn't Straily a legitmate prospect before then? Well, he doesn't have the high-90s fastball of a Gerrit Cole or Zack Wheeler. He does have a mid-90s fastball, though, and given how well he commands his four pitches, that's more than enough to make him a success at any level. Granted, his seven-start trial in the big leagues last season could have gone better -- in particular, the 11 home runs in 39 1/3 innings doomed him -- but with more innings, he likely would have brought those numbers down to size. The Athletics certainly weren't deterred, having more or less cleared a rotation spot for him this offseason. Though Straily isn't the sure bet Cole and Wheeler are, his strikeout ability makes his ceiling nearly as high, and his proximity to the majors makes him a worthy middle-to-late-round pick in all leagues.

9. Tyler Skaggs, 21, Diamondbacks
Where played in 2012: Double-A, Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: 9-6, 2.87 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 116 Ks, 122 1/3 IP
Major-league stats: 1-3, 5.83 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 21 Ks, 29 1/3 IP

After Trevor Bauer's brief major-league stint went so poorly last summer, the Diamondbacks opted to give Skaggs a look last September, and quite frankly, it didn't go much better. Of course, not nearly as much was riding on it. Skaggs only turned 21 last summer, so continued development is the expectation for him. Plus, given the emergence of Patrick Corbin, the Diamondbacks don't really need Skaggs to be ready for the big leagues. Make no mistake, though: He's a big part of their future. Especially with Bauer gone now, they're going to need Skaggs to make good on his top-of-the-rotation potential. This year may not be the start of it, but long-term, his stock is as high as ever. If, come spring training, he appears to have made strides in the offseason, he could potentially bump Corbin from the starting rotation, but the expectation is he'll continue his development at Triple-A Reno in anticipation of the inevitable Brandon McCarthy injury. Skaggs is worth drafting in NL-only leagues and is a must-own in long-term keeper formats.

10. Danny Hultzen, 23, Mariners
Where played in 2012: Double-A, Triple-A
Minor-league stats: 9-7, 3.05 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 136 Ks, 124 IP

The fact Hultzen never reached the majors in his first professional season was something of a disappointment in Fantasy. Coming out of the 2011 draft, he was considered the closest of the big-name pitching prospects to being major-league ready. So why the hang-up? His control inexplicably disappeared with his promotion to Triple-A Tacoma last June. He surrendered nearly a walk per inning, resulting in a 5.92 ERA and 1.89 WHIP in 12 Triple-A starts compared to a 1.19 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 13 Double-A starts. The general belief is that it won't last -- that he allowed his struggles at Triple-A to snowball on him by overthrowing instead of just relying on what got him there. It stands to reason. After all, Hultzen's polish is part of what makes him such an intriguing prospect. Provided his walk rate returns to normal, and his other numbers along with it, Hultzen has a shot at a midseason promotion in 2013, making him worth a draft-and-stash in AL-only leagues. It's a race between him and the lower-profile James Paxton to see who gets the call first.

11. Taijuan Walker, 20, Mariners
Where played in 2012: Double-A
Minor-league stats: 7-10, 4.69 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 118 Ks, 126 2/3 IP

With Danny Hultzen and James Paxton both ahead of him on the minor-league ladder, Walker is unlikely to see the big leagues this season, but the 20-year-old right-hander has the most upside of the Mariners' big three pitching prospects. He took a step back statistically last year, but considering he was skipping high Class A, his struggles are understandable. Early on, he wasn't struggling, posting a 2.23 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in his first nine starts, but then he ran out of steam in the second half. The good news is he maintained his same walk rate from 2011 and struck out nearly a batter per inning, leaving no reason for anyone to question his stuff. As with all pitching prospects working to meet their potential, Walker needs to refine his arsenal and build up his endurance. For a 20-year-old, he's still well ahead of a curve. Drafting him in a single-season format would probably be a waste of a pick, but as a long-term option, Walker is about as good as it gets at starting pitcher.

12. Jameson Taillon, 21, Pirates
Where played in 2012: Class A, Double-A
Minor-league stats: 9-8, 3.55 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 116 Ks, 142 IP

The Pirates have been reluctant to push Taillon since selecting him second overall -- behind only Bryce Harper -- in the 2010 draft, but they might finally be ready to turn him loose this year. Given the way he performed during a three-start stint at Double-A Altoona last year, allowing three earned runs on 11 hits with one walk and 18 strikeouts in 17 innings, he's closer to being major-league ready than perhaps even they thought he'd be. Equipped with a high-90s fastball and 12-to-6 curveball, his stuff is as good as you'd expect for a high school pitcher drafted second overall, and it's not like command has ever been an issue for him. Now that he's broken into the upper levels of the minors, he mostly just needs to build up his innings. His 142 last year should allow him to reach 170 or so this year, which might prevent him from getting a late-season look, but if the Pirates have a rash of injuries at the major-league level, you never know. Taillon has ace potential and, along with former No. 1 overall pick Gerrit Cole, figures to anchor their rotation for years to come. He's a must-have in long-term keeper leagues even if he's unlikely to contribute in 2013.

13. Julio Teheran, 22, Braves
Where played in 2012: Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: 7-9, 5.08 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 97 Ks, 131 IP
Major-league stats: 0-0, 5.68 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 5 Ks, 6 1/3 IP

Entering 2011 and 2012, you couldn't find a pitching prospect better than Teheran. His fastball-changeup combo drew comparisons to Pedro Martinez, and his numbers backed it up. But something went wrong for him last season. In 26 starts at Triple-A Gwinnett, he had a 5.08 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. So now, no one really knows what to make of him. Yeah, the potential for greatness is still there, but at this stage of his career, he shouldn't be moving backward. Some of the blame falls on the Braves organization, which convinced him to change his delivery to reduce the risk of injury. Unfortunately, it also reduced his velocity, resulting in last year's numbers. The hope for Teheran is that he'll regain much of his velocity once he gets comfortable with his new delivery, and he showed signs of it late last year. But the Braves are taking a big risk by tinkering with such an advanced prospect. With Tommy Hanson gone, Teheran has a shot at winning a rotation spot this spring, but because he's till a work in progress, the job is more likely to go to Randall Delgado. Provided Teheran gets back on track at Triple-A, he'll be the first up when someone goes down, making him worth a draft-in-stash in NL-only leagues.

14. Carlos Martinez, 21, Cardinals
Where played in 2012: Class A, Double-A
Minor-league stats: 6-5, 2.93 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 92 Ks, 104 1/3 IP

The reason why Martinez trails Taijuan Walker and Jameson Taillon on this list has nothing to do with stuff or pedigree. By those measurements, he's on par with them, boasting a fastball that hits triple digits and a curveball that's a genuine swing-and-miss pitch. No, the reason he's a step down is because he battled shoulder tendinitis last season, missing about a month. Granted, injuries happen, and because he came back from this one as good as new, you might assume all's well that ends well. But the injury is a concern because his smallish frame had some scouts thinking he wouldn't hold up in the starter role to begin with. Now, their belief has some merit to it. Not only that, but Martinez's month-long absence limited him to only 104 1/3 innings. Given the need for a gradual buildup, the Cardinals likely won't be able to justify promoting him regardless of what happens in 2013. Of course, a 2014 arrival for Martinez is more likely anyway, considering his age, so you wouldn't want to make a mountain out of a molehill in long-term keeper leagues. Still, the wait for Martinez figures to be longer than it might be for some of the other big-name pitching prospects.

15. Matt Barnes, 22, Red Sox
Where played in 2012: Class A
Minor-league stats: 7-5, 2.86 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 133 Ks, 119 2/3 IP

Another product of the 2011 draft class, Barnes was selected 19th overall by the Red Sox that year and didn't disappoint in his first professional season, striking out well more than a batter per inning with the kind of walk rate that normally keeps pitchers like him moving up the minor-league ladder. But the Red Sox might have to take it slow with him, even as he enters his age-23 season. For all that went right for Barnes last year, he faded pretty quickly, posting a 5.74 ERA after the All-Star break. Granted, pitchers first breaking into professional baseball sometimes struggle with the accumulation of innings, but Barnes threw only 119 2/3 last year. Still, the good far outweighed the bad for him. He isn't as far along as some pitching prospects his age, but his arsenal is good enough that he could close the gap pretty quickly. If he's able to maintain his stuff deeper into this season, he has a chance of getting a look in the big leagues in the second half, especially since starting pitching isn't a strength for the Red Sox right now. Barnes isn't a particularly exciting pick late in AL-only drafts, but long-term, he profiles as a top-of-the-rotation starter.

16. Archie Bradley, 20, Diamondbacks
Where played in 2012: Class A
Minor-league stats: 12-6, 3.84 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 152 Ks, 136 IP

Compared to Gerrit Cole, Danny Hultzen, Trevor Bauer and Dylan Bundy, Bradley, the fifth pitcher taken in the 2011 draft, is a bit of an afterthought in Fantasy. But in terms of pure ability, he ranks up there with those four. The only reason he fell to No. 7 -- as if he needs to apologize for it -- is because teams were afraid he wanted to play quarterback for the University of Oklahoma. But he chose baseball, and the Diamondbacks couldn't be happier for it. Equipped with a high-90s fastball and a power curveball, Bradley lived up to his reputation as a strikeout artist in his first full year as a professional, whiffing 10.1 per nine innings. Considering the Diamondbacks turned him loose for 136 innings right out of the gate, they don't seem too interested in holding him back. He has three levels of minor-league ball between him and the majors, and he won't make that leap in his age-20 season. Still, in Bradley, you're looking at potentially the game's top pitching prospect a couple years from now. He's a must-own in long-term keeper leagues.

17. Kevin Gausman, 22, Orioles
Where played in 2012: Class A
Minor-league stats: 0-1, 3.60 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 13 Ks, 15 IP

Selected fourth overall (first among pitchers) in the 2012 draft, Gausman is on the fast track to the majors, potentially competing with fellow top prospect Dylan Bundy for a midseason call-up. Gausman doesn't quite have Bundy's upside, but he's a good pitcher in his own right, offering a fastball-changeup combo that should play well at the top of the rotation. Obviously, he's a bit behind Bundy to start out, having pitched only 15 innings as a professional, but he comes in with more experience after pitching two years at LSU. Because Gausman doesn't have many innings to his name yet, he has the potential to get overlooked in long-term keeper leagues, but he has ace potential and isn't that far from realizing it. Chances are if he didn't pitch in the same organization as Bundy, he'd be getting a lot more attention now. Even in AL-only leagues, he's worth a late-round look.

18. Trevor Rosenthal, 22, Cardinals
Where played in 2012: Double-A, Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: 8-6, 2.97 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 104 Ks, 109 IP
Major-league stats: 0-2, 2.78 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 25 Ks, 22 2/3 IP

Most baseball fans know Rosenthal as that young guy who could throw 100 miles per hour out of the Cardinals bullpen, but prospect hounds know him as more than that. In the minors, he was a starter, and his ability to hit triple digits was just as useful in that role. OK, so maybe he dialed it back to the high 90s to make it through a full six innings, but you get the idea: His stuff is scary regardless of his role. Eventually, the Cardinals would like to try it out in more than just one-inning spurts, but right now, they have the misfortune of having a few other flamethrowers ready to occupy rotation spots -- namely, Shelby Miller and Lance Lynn. Of course, now that he's proven to be an asset in the majors, how could they justify sending Rosenthal down? Hopefully, if he doesn't win a rotation spot this spring, they'll just grit their teeth and do it. If they decide to keep him around as a reliever, he's in jeopardy of getting stuck in that role long-term. Rosenthal's capacity for strikeouts and proximity to the majors make him a sleeper even in standard mixed leagues, but as a keeper option, he comes with some risk.

19. Tony Cingrani, 23, Reds
Where played in 2012: Class A, Double-A, majors
Minor-league stats: 10-4, 1.73 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 172 Ks, 146 IP
Major-league stats: 0-0, 1.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 9 Ks, 5 IP

Unless you pay really close attention to minor-league numbers, you probably haven't heard of Cingrani. But between Class A and Double-A last year, he went 10-4 with a 1.73 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 172 strikeouts in 146 innings. Have your attention yet? OK, try this one: In 10 starts in the California League, known for its hitter's parks and silly home run totals, Cingrani went 5-1 with a 1.11 ERA and 0.92 WHIP and 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings. That's some serious success, folks. So why hadn't anyone heard of Cingrani before last year? He was a reliever in college, allowing the Reds to nab him in the third round of the 2011 draft. They liked his potential as a starter, and sure enough, he had a Chris Sale-like breakthrough when given the opportunity. True, his three appearances with the big club late last season were all in relief, but rest assured his future is in the starting rotation. The Reds don't have room for him now, but if Aroldis Chapman doesn't cut it as a starter, Cingrani could get the call midseason and make an immediate impact in Fantasy. He's a sneaky sleeper in NL-only leagues.

20. Chris Archer, 24, Rays
Where played in 2012: Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: 7-9, 3.66 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 139 Ks, 128 IP
Major-league stats: 1-3, 4.60 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 36 Ks, 29 1/3 IP

For a guy who hasn't even pitched 30 innings in the majors, Archer sure has had an up-and-down career. He flopped as a fifth-round pick for the Indians before emerging as a top prospect for the Cubs five years later. Then, after dropping back down the prospect rankings when he lost all command of the strike zone for the Rays in 2011, he suddenly found himself striking out 11 batters over seven innings in a major-league start last September. Fantasy owners are hoping that latest version of Archer is the one that sticks. They have reason for optimism. Archer has always had good stuff, boasting a mid-90s fastball to go along with a hard slider, but walks have often gotten the better of him. He seemed to make some strides in that area last season, issuing just 12 walks over his final 45 innings at Triple-A Durham before issuing 4.0 walks per nine innings in six major-league appearances. He's a good enough bat-misser to survive such a rate, but if it gets any worse, as it often did in the minors, he's in trouble. At age 24, Archer is at the point in his career where he has to produce to remain a legitimate prospect. He won't have a job out of a spring training, but an injury or trade could make him a nifty pickup in AL-only leagues.

21. Hyun-Jin Ryu, 26, Dodgers
Where played in 2012: Did not play -- in Korea

If you think assessing pitchers who come over from Japan is difficult, good luck trying to get a read on Ryu, who will be the first player from the eight-team Korea Baseball Organization to go directly to the major leagues. And, yes, he will go directly to the major leagues. Even if, after taking a look at him this spring, the Dodgers decide he needs more work, they can't send him to the minors without his consent. It's one of the many details in his six-year, $36 million contract. By leaving themselves so vulnerable, the Dodgers must have some level of confidence in Ryu's ability, but who knows? General manager Ned Colleti agreed to the deal without even seeing the left-hander pitch. What little we do know about Ryu is that he has a fastball that sits in the low-90s -- not bad for a left-hander -- and an excellent changeup. The complete package, according to limited scouting reports, is something in the neighborhood of a No. 3 starter, but given the number of variables that could influence his performance, defining him in such terms is probably pointless. A fair expectation for Ryu is something like what Wei-Yin Chen did last year. The allure of the unknown might make him a middle-rounder on Draft Day, but you're better off waiting until the late rounds to take him.

22. Tyler Thornburg, 24, Brewers
Where played in 2012: Double-A, Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: 10-4, 3.20 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 113 Ks, 112 2/3 IP
Major-league stats: 0-0, 4.50 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 20 Ks, 22 IP

Of the three rookies who will compete for a spot in the Brewers starting rotation this spring, Thornburg is the most intriguing in Fantasy. He dominated in his first four stops in the minor-league system, only running into trouble in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, where he still posted a respectable 3.58 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in eight starts. Though his short stature and funky delivery, not to mention his high strikeout rate, earn him comparisons to Tim Lincecum, they also call his longevity into question. Many scouts think he's a better fit as a reliever. The Brewers have kept him a starter because he has three decent pitches, but if he doesn't hit the ground running in the majors, they could be swayed. Thornburg's first look last year wasn't particularly memorable, but considering he gave up eight home runs in 22 innings, his 4.50 ERA and 1.41 WHIP were actually pretty impressive. Of course, if he continues serving up long balls this spring, he won't have a chance of beating out Mark Rogers and Wily Peralta -- who made better first impressions -- for a rotation spot, in which case you'd rather see him sent to the minors than bumped to the bullpen. If Thornburg ends up in the rotation, he could factor even in mixed leagues, but he's just an NL-only sleeper for now.

23. James Paxton, 24, Mariners
Where played in 2012: Double-A
Minor-league stats: 9-4, 3.05 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 110 Ks, 106 1/3 IP

Overshadowed by Danny Hultzen and Taijuan Walker in the Mariners organization, Paxton hasn't gotten his due credit in Fantasy. Yeah, his walk rate is suspect, but his strikeout rate makes it easy to overlook. Plus, he was significantly better after returning from a month-long absence for a sore knee, posting a 1.96 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in his final 13 starts. Paxton throws especially hard for a left-hander and is close to being a finished product after spending parts of two seasons at Double-A. Of course, Hultzen is nearly major-league ready himself and, given his pedigree, probably has first dibs on a rotation spot. But the Mariners currently have enough placeholders in their starting rotation that they shouldn't have trouble making room for both Hultzen and Paxton if need be this summer. If you have the roster space, Paxton is a worthy stash in AL-only leagues

24. Martin Perez, 21, Rangers
Where played in 2012: Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: 7-6, 4.25 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 69 Ks, 127 IP
Major-league stats: 1-4, 5.45 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, 25 Ks, 38 IP

Scouts are paid to assess talent, not numbers, but over time, the results usually match up with their evaluations. Not so for Perez. The left-hander has a 4.75 ERA and 1.52 WHIP over the last three years in the minors, and yet they still think he's the bee's knees. OK, so they have cooled on him a little, projecting him as more of a second or third starter than a bona fide ace. Still, they like him in spite of him giving them every reason not to. So what does he do well? He throws relatively hard for a left-hander, and he throws enough different pitches that he should be able to make it work for six innings at a time. But it hasn't. Given his high walk rate, the Rangers have tried to get Perez to pitch to contact, but all it's done is reduce his strikeout rate, from nearly one per inning a couple years to 4.9 per nine innings at Triple-A Round Rock last year. The Rangers have an opening in their starting rotation, so for better or worse, Perez will compete for a job this spring. Maybe a little on-the-job learning would do him good. Because he's only 21, you wouldn't want to give up on him in long-term keeper leagues, but he's a risky option for single-season AL-only formats.

25. Casey Kelly, 23, Padres
Where played in 2012: Rookie, Double-A, Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: 0-2, 3.35 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 39 Ks, 37 2/3 IP
Major-league stats: 2-3, 6.21 ERA, 1.69 WHIP, 26 Ks, 29 IP

Kelly missed most of 2012 with a strained ligament in his right elbow, but that didn't stop the Padres from promoting him to the big leagues when yet another hole developed in their ill-fated starting rotation last August. It wasn't the most impressive six-start stint ever -- the five home runs distorted his numbers beyond recognition -- but given his history, it was to be expected. Kelly wasn't just coming back from injury late last year. He was still learning how to pitch. The converted shortstop, who had just had his first successful minor-league season in 2011, had barely pitched in 2012 when he got the call. Yeah, his numbers after returning from the injury were fine, but he would have benefited from more time. And he still will. The Padres are getting enough of their pitchers back to begin 2013 that Kelly should be able to continue his development at Triple-A Tucson. Despite the hiccup last year, the 23-year-old still has top-of-the-rotation potential. Maybe when this August rolls around, his performance will actually merit a promotion. His value is greatest in long-term keeper leagues, but you'll want to keep an eye on him in NL-only formats.

26. Jake Odorizzi, 23, Rays
Where played in 2012: Double-A, Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: 15-5, 3.03 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 135 Ks, 145 1/3 IP
Major-league stats: 0-1, 4.91 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, 4 Ks, 7 1/3 IP

Coming off another respectable minor-league season in which he won 15 games with a 3.03 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings, Odorizzi looked like he might have a shot at a rotation spot in spring training. But his inclusion in the Wil Myers deal this offseason changed all that. Even after shipping James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals, the Rays are overflowing with starting pitchers. Chris Archer would likely get a shot before Odorizzi did, with neither expected to make the team out of spring training. So what does Odorizzi's future look like now? Well, his upside doesn't set him apart in the Rays organization like it did in the Royals organization. Yes, his minor-league track record is solid, with promising strikeout-to-walk ratios every step up the ladder, but in terms of pure stuff, he profiles as more of a middle-of-the-rotation option in big leagues, especially if he proves to be susceptible to the long ball, as some predict. His history of success makes him a candidate to outperform those modest projections, but unless the Rays lose a pitcher or two to injury, he likely won't get that chance this year. Odorizzi is no more than a late-round pick even in deeper AL-only leagues.

27. Kyle Gibson, 25, Twins
Where played in 2012: Rookie, Class A, Triple-A
Minor-league stats: 0-2, 4.13 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 33 Ks, 28 1/3 IP

Considered their top prospect as recently as 2011, Gibson is back in the picture for the Twins after missing most of the last two seasons because of Tommy John surgery. He returned to make 13 appearances, including 11 starts, last season and was effective for the most part, averaging 10.5 strikeouts and 1.9 walks per nine innings, but he's still building up his endurance and regaining the feel for his secondary pitches. He never profiled as an ace exactly, but his stuff and command are good enough to make him an attractive Fantasy option if he meets his full potential. In his first full year back from Tommy John surgery, the Twins are expected to handle him with kid gloves, limiting him to 130-140 innings. Given the dearth of starting pitching in Minnesota, Gibson could still see some time in the majors in 2012 -- and probably should, considering he's already 25 -- but as a Tommy John survivor on a strict innings limit for a bad team, he probably isn't a rookie to target in single-season formats.

28. Arodys Vizcaino, 22, Cubs
Where played in 2012: Did not play -- injured

Convinced his future was in the bullpen, the Braves opted to trade Vizcaino, long considered one of their top prospects, to Chicago for soft-tossing lefty Paul Maholm last July. But the Cubs have no intention of putting Vizcaino in the bullpen. No, when he makes his return from Tommy John surgery, which he had in March 2012, it'll be as a starter -- the role that made him such a highly regarded prospect in the first place. Of course, in order for him to stick in the role, he'll need to build up his innings. He had only 114 1/3 between the majors and the minors when last healthy in 2011. The Cubs don't have any ambitions of Vizcaino contributing prior to 2014 -- hey, it's not like they're contenders or anything -- so 2013 is all about getting him back to where he was. If durability remains an issue for him, he could still wind up in the bullpen, making him a risky option for long-term keeper leagues. But given his combination of power and command, the chance of Vizcaino developing into an ace-caliber starter makes him worth the roll of the dice.

29. Taylor Guerrieri, 20, Rays
Where played in 2012: Class A
Minor-league stats: 1-2, 1.04 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, 45 Ks, 52 IP

Because he's only 20 and has yet to pitch a full season of professional baseball, now might be a little too soon to get excited about Guerrieri in Fantasy. But his performance at the short-season level was so impressive that he's worth hyping for the long haul. With a high-90s fastball and a sharp curveball, he clearly has the arsenal to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, and seeing as he surrendered only five walks in 52 innings, control doesn't look like it'll be an issue for him. Given their approach to Matt Moore, who spent nearly five full seasons in the minors before getting the call in 2011, the Rays, who never seem to have a shortage of starting pitching, will surely take their time with Guerrieri, but if early returns are any indication, he'll be well worth the wait. If you don't pounce on him now in a dynasty league, you might not get another opportunity.

30. Kyle Zimmer, 21, Royals
Where played in 2012: Rookie, Class A
Minor-league stats: 3-3, 2.04 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 42 Ks, 39 2/3 IP

One reason the Royals could justify trading away Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery (along with Wil Myers) for major-league-ready starting pitching this offseason is because of how they used their first-round pick in the 2012 draft. They selected Kyle Zimmer fifth overall, making him the second pitcher drafted that year. Having begun his college career as a third baseman, Zimmer has a little catching up to do, but you wouldn't know it by his nine-start professional debut, when he issued 1.8 walks per nine innings while recording more than a strikeout per inning. Depending on how quickly he hones his craft, he could be an option for the Royals starting rotation as soon as 2015, perhaps getting a look late in 2014. He obviously doesn't have any value in single-season formats, but if you need a pitcher to stash for the long haul in a keeper league, Zimmer's ace potential makes him a worthy candidate.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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