2018 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: 12 late-round pitchers with ace upside

Looking for upside in the late rounds? You should be, especially at pitcher, where you need more dart throws to land a winning pitching staff.

Here are a dozen pitchers available after the 200th pick on average with the upside to make a difference in 2018, and what they need to do right to hit their ceiling. 

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Blake Snell TB • SP • 4
ADP205

What's the upside? Top 10
What does he need to fix? His control

The answer to the second question may already be, "Nothing, actually." Snell walked 13.3 percent of all batters he faced in his first eight starts last season, earning a well-deserved trip back to Triple-A for refinement. He walked nine batters over 10 innings in his first two starts back in late June and early July, but tightened things up after the All-Star break.

Snell had more than three walks just once in his final 14 starts after the break, posting an 8.0 percent walk rate, slightly better than league average. Armed with three plus secondary offerings and a mid-90's fastball, Snell looks the part as the archetypical late-blooming lefty, and if he can keep that walk rate around average, he has upside to match rotation mate (for now) Chris Archer as a borderline Fantasy ace.

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Dinelson Lamet SD • SP • 64
ADP218

What's the upside? Top 20
What does he need to fix? His third pitch

Lamet also needs to tighten up his control, but that's a lesser concern than his massive platoon splits. Lamet has immense potential thanks to a mid-to-high-90s fastball and a truly impressive slider, but he looks more like a potential righty specialist out of the 'pen based on last year's results: a .239 wOBA allowed to righties, compared to a .364 mark for lefties. The problem is, as good as that fastball/slider combo is, he needs something to neutralize lefties. He flashed a show-me changeup, but it wasn't much more than that last season. In the spring, he's been working to develop that changeup as well as a curveball in the spring, and if either of them can become the type of pitch lefties at least need to take note of, it could make a substantial difference. 

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Sean Manaea OAK • SP • 55
ADP250

What's the upside? Top 20
What does he need to fix? Consistency

I know, I know, that's a wishy-washy answer. But it seems to be true in Manaea's case, even relative to other young pitchers. In 2016, he allowed just an .088 ISO with his changeup, a number that ballooned to .197 in 2017. He has near-elite swinging strike rates with both his slider and changeup, making both potential put away pitches to hitters of both sides. He just hasn't lived up to that potential to date, and has had trouble keeping the ball in the yard to boot. If the slider and changeup take another step forward, Manaea could be in line for huge improvement.

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Alex Reyes STL • RP •
ADP258

What's the upside? Top 10*
What does he need to fix? His elbow
*on a per-start basis

Reyes was such a good pitching prospect that, even after missing all of 2017 with Tommy John surgery, he barely slipped in the prospect ranks. At Baseball America, he fell from fourth to 17th from 2017 to 2018, a freefall compared to his drop on Baseball Prospectus' list, where he went from first to eighth. Nobody doubts the talent, even after Tommy John. The concern is that he might need some time to shake off the rust, and probably won't be able to pitch a full season even if he's healthy. Don't expect him in the rotation right away, but if you can afford to stash him in a bench spot, Reyes has the potential to be a true difference maker when he inevitably makes it to the rotation.

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Luiz Gohara ATL • SP • 53
ADP283

What's the upside? Top 30
What does he need to fix? Get older

Right now, the biggest knock against Gohara is just how little we've seen him at the highest levels. He struggled with control a bit in the minors, but walked just 3.2 batters per nine across three levels a year ago, and then had just eight walks in 29 1/3 innings in the majors, so it's hardly a red flag. As a 20-year-old, Gohara broke out in a big way, posting a 2.62 ERA and 28.4 percent strikeout rate between High-A, Double-A and Triple-A. He kept those gains in the majors, but struggled against righties in the majors. The development of his changeup will be key, as it is with pretty much every young pitcher, but he's also young enough and has flashed enough with the changeup in the minors, that it doesn't look like as much of an Achilles' heel. Perhaps at this point next season, we'll be talking about the lack of a reliable third pitch to neutralize righties as his biggest weakness.

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Josh Hader MIL • RP • 71
ADP298

What's the upside? Top 10*.
What does he need to fix? His role
*RP or SP

We know Josh Hader can get major-league hitters out. In 47 2/3 innings of relief as a rookie, Hader blew opposing batters away, strikeout out 36.2 percent of them in 2017, including more than 30 percent of righties. Doing that in one- or two-inning chunks is different from doing it when you know you need to save yourself for 90-plus pitches, but at least we know the stuff plays. Now the question is whether Hader will get a chance to prove himself as a starter in 2018. There's no guarantee, but having already showed the ability to be a useful Fantasy option as a reliever even without getting saves, Hader's upside in either a starting role or in the bullpen – Corey Knebel had a 4.03 career ERA before last season's breakout – makes him worth drafting in most Roto or category leagues.

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Jimmy Nelson MIL • SP • 52
ADP320

What's the upside? Top 10*
What does he need to fix? His shoulder
*on a per-start basis

Nelson lowered his arm slot and unlocked every bit of his potential in 2017, posting a 3.49 ERA and 10.2 K/9, but underwent shoulder surgery that is expected to cut into most of the first two months of the 2018 season. The good news, if you want to call it that, is that Nelson didn't hurt the shoulder pitching; he suffered a strained rotator cuff running the bases in September. That's good news insofar as it doesn't indicate that his pitching mechanics were the culprit. It's bad news because, well … he tore his labrum. If Nelson doesn't come back at full strength, that wouldn't be a surprise, but if I can stick him in a DL slot, I'll take a chance that I can get ace production for four months at no cost.

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Matt Harvey CIN • SP • 32
ADP335

What's the upside? Top 10
What does he need to fix? His body?

Anyone who listens to our podcast knows I'm the lowest on Harvey's chances to find his former self. I'm less enthused about glowing spring reports than Scott or Heath, and I think his chances of finding anything like his former upside are exceedingly unlikely. On the other hand, He's reportedly throwing in the mid-90s in the spring, and was one of the best pitchers in baseball as recently as 2015. That feels like a decade ago, but if he's actually sitting 94-95 instead of 92-93 as he was a year ago, Harvey starts to look a lot more interesting. You can draft him late enough that it's worth the gamble.

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Sean Newcomb ATL • SP • 15
ADP401

What's the upside? Top 30
What does he need to fix? His control

Stop me if you've heard this one before: A young lefty with command problems. If Newcomb figures it out, he's got ace potential. He flashed it as a rookie, walking just eight batters in his first four starts, with 21 strikeouts in 24 1/3 innings. He piles up swinging strikes, but hasn't shown sustained ability to be even average when it comes to limiting free passes. He's more of a long shot than most, but it's not hard to close your eyes and dream.

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Reynaldo Lopez CHW • SP • 40
ADP406

What's the upside? Top 30.

What does he need to fix? His secondary pitches

And now we're getting to the point where we can't be quite as specific about the flaws of these players. Lopez has easy plus velocity with his fastball, but there are still very real questions about whether he has enough beyond that to last as a starter. His minor-league strikeout numbers continue to stand out -- he struck out 25.4 percent of batters in 2017 at Triple-A -- but he hasn't shown the ability to miss bats in the majors yet. Lopez could be a bullpen arm down the road, but the White Sox will give him at least one more chance to prove himself. Put him down as more of a wait-and-see option to pick up if he puts together a nine-strikeout game in April at some point.

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Tyler Glasnow TB • SP • 20
ADP460

What's the upside? Top 10
What does he need to fix? His control

Oh, does he need to fix his control. He walked 44 batters in 62 major-league innings last season, including 15 walks on just 40 batters faced in a three-game cup of coffee in September. If you're giving up on him, that's the reason. If you're believing in him, his minor-league run immediately preceding that is a pretty good reason, because Glasnow walked just 12 batters over his final eight starts, racking up 74 strikeouts in 51 innings in that span. At this point, Glasnow really doesn't have anything left to prove in the minors, having sported a 1.95 overall ERA in 245 innings at Triple-A. Minor-leaguers can't touch him. It's time to find out if he can translate it in the majors. It's no sure thing, but if Glasnow can sort out his mechanics, there's massive potential here.

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Nick Pivetta PHI • SP • 43
ADP524

What's the upside? Top 30
What does he need to fix? Command

Command and control are often used as synonyms, but they aren't the same thing. Control is about limiting walks, but command is about putting the ball where you want to. You can have good control and bad command, and vice versa; think Ricky Nolasco and Francisco Liriano (when he's on). Pivetta didn't have good control (9.8 walk rate), but it wasn't disastrous. However, he found too much of the strike zone too often against the wrong hitters, giving up 1.69 homers per nine and a 35.5 percent hard-contact rate. Pivetta wasn't just dealing with bad luck; he wasn't good. However, his slider is a legitimate out pitch, one he probably needs to use it more than the 14.3 percent of the time he threw it in 2017. Add in a fastball that sits in the mid-90's with ease, and it's not hard to see why Pivetta struck out 24.0 percent of opposing hitters last season. He's got a lot of improvement left, but Pivetta has also thrown a whopping 56 2/3 innings in Triple-A, so let's not act like his story is written just yet. The skills are there for a breakout, and he's free on Draft Day. That's worth a dart throw. 

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Though he can be found covering three different sports depending on the time of year, there is one unifying theme in how Chris Towers approaches sports; "Where's the evidence?" It doesn't matter how outlandish... Full Bio

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