2020 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: 10 post-hype sleeper pitchers to target in the late rounds
Post-hype sleepers can be a way to find league-winning values late in the draft, and Chris Towers has 10 pitchers to consider with big potential.
Post-hype sleepers should be some of your top late-round targets on Draft Day every year, for obvious reasons. You're getting an opportunity to buy an elite talent at a reduced price because of early failure to gain traction. If you bet on Jose Berrios in 2017 coming off an 8.02 ERA in his first taste of the majors, you got a solid pitcher for free; if you bought Blake Snell heading into 2018 coming off a trip back to the minors in 2017, you were rewarded with a Cy Young caliber season.
We love prospects in the Fantasy industry, but we are very much a "What have you done for me lately" group. Mostly by necessity — you can't afford to hold on to players for too long just because they used to be prospects. But, you don't want to give up on them too early, chasing the next shiny thing and ignoring potential just because a player failed once.
Baseball is a hard sport, and most players fail in their first taste of the majors. What separates the great ones from the pack — what separates Mike Trout from Brandon Wood — is how they respond to that first taste of failure. I gave 10 post-hype hitters you'll want to target on Draft Day, and here are 10 post-hype pitchers I'm betting will bounce back and be impact players for Fantasy. In 2020 and beyond.
TB Tampa Bay • #49 • Age: 24
McKay is in a weird spot, where he doesn't seem to have much left to prove in the minors, sporting a 1.78 ERA with 226 strikeouts in 172 innings, but may not have a spot ready in the major-league rotation. He surprisingly struggled with his command as a rookie, and struggled to generate many swinging strikes with his non-fastball offerings as aresult, which raised the question of whether he'll ever have a true putaway pitch. However, he was a hyped prospect for a reason, and the minor-league production shows he's got a chance. McKay needs to get past a minor shoulder issue in the spring to truly have a chance to crack the Opening Day rotation, but if he does, you'll want to make sure he's not available on waivers — or on anyone else's roster.
Mitch Keller SP
PIT Pittsburgh • #23 • Age: 23
I wrote about Keller and the Pirates' rotation's potential on Tuesday, so if you want a deep dive into why I'm high on him, check that out. The short version: Keller is the latest in a long line of Pirates pitching prospects with elite stuff who was let down by an outdated approach by the teams' coaching staff. However, the Pirates have completely revamped their coaching staff, bringing in a more analytically inclined pitching coach in Oscar Marin who has already worked with Keller on emphasizing his breaking balls. Keller is quickly becoming maybe my favorite late-round pitching sleeper, and I'm mostly willing to write off 2019 — especially since he still had a 3.56 ERA in Triple-A with a ton of strikeouts.
Josh James RP
HOU Houston • #39 • Age: 27
Because he was more of a mid-career breakout, James never quite had the same hype as many of the other names on this list. But he might have just as much upside. We saw as much in 2018, when he saw a massive spike in his velocity that led to a 3.08 ERA across 137.1 innings between the majors and minors with 200 strikeouts. That's not an unreasonable outcome for James in 2020, who also spent the offseason working on refining his mechanics to fix some of the control issues he struggled with last season. He has impressed early on in the spring, and seems to be in the driver's seat for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. He won't go undrafted in any league with me or Scott White.
Alex Reyes RP
STL St. Louis • #29 • Age: 25
It is more than fair to wonder, after everything he's been through, if Alex Reyes is built to pitch in the majors. However, he's still just 25, despite having made his MLB debut all the way back in 2016. We saw Julio Urias re-establish himself as a potential ace last season after a similarly injury-marred run, so it would be foolish to write Reyes off. Especially given the issues the rest of the Cardinals rotation has. Reyes struggled mightily when he was on the mound in 2019, so he's a significant long shot, and probably not one you necessarily need to invest in on Draft Day. But, if he starts to string together dominant outings in the spring, don't be afraid to take a chance.
Dylan Cease SP
CHW Chi. White Sox • #84 • Age: 24
Another much-hyped pitcher who looked overwhelmed in his first taste of the majors, though in Cease's case, it was mostly due to a lack of control. Cease spent the offseason working on his mechanics after noting that he was getting more cutting action than expected on his fastball. The stuff is electric, and it's more than enough to get away with less-than pinpoint command. With a bit of refinement, Cease can definitely make the leap to the higher-end of the starting pitcher rankings. If you're looking for this year's 2018 Blake Snell, Cease could be the best candidate.
HOU Houston • #68 • Age: 22
Whitley is going to have to prove himself after an absolutely miserable 2019 season that saw him fail to make the leap to the majors while posting a 7.99 ERA in 59.2 innings in the minors. However, he took some good first steps in the Arizona Fall League, sporting a 2.88 ERA with 32 strikeouts in 25 innings, a sign that he isn't a lost cause. Not that you should have thought he was as a 22-year-old. It will be tough to justify drafting Whitley at this point, but if you've got deep benches or a minor-league spot to play with, Whitley is a reasonable bet to make. After all, you know the Astros are going to get the most out of him.
SEA Seattle • #33 • Age: 23
There was surprisingly little hype around Sheffield this time last year, and his struggles in the majors and at Triple-A largely justified the Fantasy industry's lack of interest. That regression was disappointing — as was the fact he was shuttled back to Double-A to try to get right — but I'm not quite as ready as everyone else to write off a young lefty who won't even be 24 by Opening Day. He'll have a spot in the rotation from day one this time around, and maybe he'll be able to build on a September that showed some promise — he had a 4.38 ERA with an above-average strikeout rate. Sheffield doesn't have the sky-high upside some others in this group do, but he's got a better chance of being a useful Fantasy option than nearly any of them.
MIL Milwaukee • #39 • Age: 25
This ADP feels like a typo, but the industry really does seem to have soured on Burnes after he got absolutely pummeled by homers last season. He's another pitcher who spent the offseason reworking his mechanics as well as his approach, planning to emphasize a slider that was already his best pitch in 2019 — and which might have entered the realm of the unhittable this offseason. Burnes has dialed the velocity on the pitch up into the low-90s, even hitting 94 in a recent bullpen session. Burnes' fastball and curveball got crushed last season, so a change in philosophy isn't a bad idea — though it's worth noting that there was probably some bad luck involved, too. Burnes has to earn a rotation spot, but if he does, you'll want to make sure you have some exposure to his sky-high upside. Especially because he is the rare pitcher who has already proven he can handle the workload, having thrown 145.2 innings in 2017.
CLE Cleveland • #75 • Age: 22
These last two are, admittedly, the long shots of the long shots, coming off lost seasons due to injury, McKenzie he was still considered a top-50 prospect pretty much across the board this time last year, and is still just 22, so the talent is clearly there. He's a long shot to crack the Opening Day roster as a result of the back and pectoral injuries that kept him out of action in 2019, but he's on the 40-man roster and participating in big league Spring Training for the first time, so it may not take much to get a chance. He has a career 2.68 ERA with an elite 30.4% strikeout rate and would have been in the big-league rotation last season if not for the injuries. There's plenty of competition in the Indians' rotation, though there are fewer sure things than it seemed like at this time a year ago, so the opportunity will present itself eventually. If you have a minor-league spot to play with, McKenzie is a sneaky-good pick.
Luiz Gohara SP
LAA L.A. Angels • #53 • Age: 23
Gohara doesn't even have an average draft position right now. For good reason, as he hasn't pitched in the spring while rehabbing a shoulder injury. He'll have to get healthy and prove he can get back to the level he was at before injuries basically erased his last two seasons. However, Gohara is still only 23 years old, and he showed considerable upside the last time he was healthy, sporting a 13.4% swinging strike rate, 25.2% strikeout rate and above-average control in 2017. The results at the major-league level left something to be desired, but he was just 20 and had just finished off a season with a 2.62 ERA and 147 strikeouts in 123.2 innings across three levels. There's no telling if he'll ever get back to the days of averaging 96 mph with his fastball, but if he does, the upside is considerable.
Fantasy Baseball Today Newsletter
You're destined to gain an edge over your friends with advice from the award-winning FBT crew.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox for the latest sports news.
There was an error processing your subscription.
Who were the best players of the last decade? We built our All-Decade teams for 2010 through...
SportsLine simulated the entire MLB season 10,000 times and identified Fantasy Baseball sleepers,...
Why pay up for a big-name player when you can get the same production later? Chris Towers identifies...
SportsLine simulated the 2020 MLB season 10,000 times and identified must-avoid Fantasy baseball...
How long will Ronald Acuña remain an elite steals source? How will Gerrit Cole handle Yankee...
Award-winning Fantasy baseball expert Ariel Cohen has named the top 10 Fantasy baseball prospects...