2020 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: 10 deep sleeper pitchers with ace upside you can get for free on Draft Day
It doesn't matter how much you invest at starting pitcher on Draft Day, you're going to need reinforcements. Make sure they've got upside with our list of 10 deep sleepers who could make an impact.
If there's one thing that's certain about Fantasy baseball drafts in 2020, it's that if you need pitching —— you're going to have to pay for it. We went through who could emerge as viable Fantasy starters, but now we're going deeper. Here are 10 pitchers with an ADP below 300th overall heading into Spring Training who could deliver big-time potential for cheap:
Josh James RP
HOU Houston • #39 • Age: 27
Write them off as cheaters if you want, but the Astros get results, and that's what we care about for Fantasy. They get the most out of their pitchers and they've got an elite offense and bullpen to back them up with, so fade at your own peril. Heading into the spring, there are a couple of rotation spots up for grabs in Houston, and while sleeper Jose Urquidy seems likely to grab the fourth spot, don't ignore James as a contender for the fifth. James was disappointingly ineffective out of the bullpen in 2019 after a quad injury derailed his attempt to lock up a rotation spot in the spring, but the elite strikeout and swinging strike rates he posted point to the dominant potential he still has. Command is going to be key, but if he can work in the strike zone consistently, James could be the next out of nowhere star for the Astros, and needs to be one of your top late-round targets on Draft Day.
Alex Wood SP
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #57 • Age: 29
Take spring training results with a massive boulder of salt, but don't just ignore relevant information, either. Wood was clocked working in the 92-93 mph range in his Cactus League debut this weekend, a good sign as he tries to lock down the No. 5 starter role with the Dodgers. He was miserable in 2019, making it through just seven starts while dealing with a variety of injuries, but he's shown how good he can be when healthy, posting a 3.29 ERA and 1.15 WHIP from 2016-18 with the Dodgers. Notably, his best season came in 2017, when he averaged a career-best 91.8 mph with his fastball.
TB Tampa Bay • #49 • Age: 24
I've written about McKay several times this spring already, because I'm worried we may be overreacting to his rough first taste of the majors. McKay was hit hard, but also showed some reasons for optimism — above-average velocity from a lefty and better strikeout numbers than expected, most notably. McKay needs better command of his secondary offerings and to keep the ball in the yard better, but it's not asking too much to expect a 24-year-old with his pedigree to figure that out, especially since neither were issues in the minors. Whether he opens the season in the Rays rotation is a big question mark, but it shouldn't be long before we see McKay, and you'll want to bet on him hitting.
Chris Archer SP
PIT Pittsburgh • #24 • Age: 31
Much of the Fantasy world has written Archer off, and it's not hard to see why, given how bad he has been since getting to Pittsburgh. However, he started to show flashes of his old self toward the end of 2019, as he ditched his ineffective sinker and went back to being primarily a four-seam fastball/slider pitcher. The results weren't overwhelmingly positive — a 4.65 ERA over his final 12 starts especially doesn't inspire much confidence — but Archer got back to being an elite strikeout pitcher and lowered his home run rate to 1.35 per nine in that stretch, a much more manageable mark. With a revamped coaching staff expected to rely more heavily on analytics than the Pirates old school pitch-to-contact mentality, Archer has a better chance of getting back to being at least a viable Fantasy option than his cost would lead you to believe.
Johnny Cueto SP
SF San Francisco • #47 • Age: 34
A late-career Tommy John surgery is no fun, but at least in Cueto's case, we know he can be a workhorse if his elbow holds up. Now it's just a question of how the now 34-year-old reacts to the rehabilitation process. He came back in four 2019 starts and at least looked alright, averaging 91.2 mph with his fastball, close to where he was prior to the injury. You can get a look at a potential bounceback candidate for free on Draft Day, so why not?
Dylan Cease SP
CHW Chi. White Sox • #84 • Age: 24
Something tells me Cease is about to get a lot of spring helium. He's going 100-plus picks behind White Sox prospect Michael Kopech despite the fact that Cease seems much more likely to break camp with the team as Kopech recovers from Tommy John surgery. Cease isn't quite the talent Kopech was pre-injury, but he wasn't far off before a rough 2019 — he had a 5.15 ERA between Triple-A and the majors. He has some work to do to regain that prospect shine, and he got off to a good start in Cactus League play, striking out three and walking none in two innings in his debut, hitting 99 mph with his fastball on several occasions. Given the work the White Sox did turning Lucas Giolito around last season, it would be foolish to write Cease off.
HOU Houston • #68 • Age: 22
With Whitley and Kyle Tucker sort of stalling out, there's the potential for some real prospect fatigue with the Astros' top two minor-leaguers — who have been the team's top two minor-leaguers for multiple years now. Whitley's 2019 was an outright disaster, as he posted a 7.99 ERA amid shoulder issues and tweaks to his mechanics. No pitching prospect is a sure thing, but Whitley looks especially precarious since emerging as arguably the top pitching prospect in the game in 2017. However, he was dominant in the Arizona Fall League and is still just 22, so don't dismiss Whitley just yet. He almost certainly won't break camp with the Astros, but it may not be long until we see the successor to Gerrit Cole in Houston.
MIL Milwaukee • #51 • Age: 23
Peralta is a bit of an oddity — he's a two-pitch pitcher who throws his fastball 80% of the time and racks up huge strikeout numbers in spite of it. A role in the bullpen could be his ultimate destiny, but he's shown enough promise to at least earn another shot in the rotation, and hopefully he can keep the ball in the yard a bit better this time. He added a slider this offseason in an attempt to broaden his pitch mix, and maybe that can make him a bit less predictable — and with any luck, a bit less susceptible to the long ball. With his strikeout ability, it wouldn't take much improvement to make a leap.
SEA Seattle • #18 • Age: 28
Kikuchi turned heads when he was reported hitting 95 mph in his spring debut, though it's worth noting that's not exactly unprecedented territory for him, even if it is on the high side. Kikuchi spent the offseason reworking his delivery at the Driveline baseball facilities in Washington, with the express purpose of adding more life to his fastball, which got crushed in 2019. Kikuchi's first taste of professional baseball in the United States was bitter, but if a few extra ticks of velocity help the fastball play up, it can only mean good things for his four-pitch mix overall — though based on early returns as a rookie, he might want to ditch the curveball, too. Not that anyone asked me.
Nick Pivetta RP
PHI Philadelphia • #43 • Age: 27
Ah, yes, we're doing this again. Pivetta is a long way removed from being every Fantasy analysts' favorite breakout pitcher this time last year — now he's just hoping to crack the rotation. Pivetta is another pitcher who reworked his delivery in the offseason, and he also made developing his changeup a priority — he threw it just 1.2% of the time in 2019 and could use another pitch to avoid being quite so predictable. Pivetta's fastball got absolutely crushed in 2019, and he throws it nearly 70% of the time when he's behind in the count. Pivetta hasn't lost all of the talent that made him such an attractive candidate to take a step forward a year ago, even if the hype is basically gone. That's a perfect time to buy (super, super) low.
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