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Over the last three seasons, we've seen 75 starting pitchers drafted in the top 100 in ADP, an average of 25 per season. How many of those have finished as a top-100 overall player that season? 10 in each season, or just 40%. 22 of those 75 finished outside of the top-250, so you were only slightly more likely to get a top-100 player from your early-round pitcher as you were to get a player who wasn't worth rostering in most leagues.

Pitching is always a risky investment, in other words. Of course, there's a big difference between a pitcher drafted in the first two rounds and ones drafted in the eighth or ninth round, right? Well, last season, only two pitchers drafted in the top two rounds ended up finishing inside of the top-100 players, though six out of eight managed it in 2019 and 2018, including five top-36 finishes. 

Which is to say, while pitching is a risky investment, that risk doesn't typically rise with the cost. The most expensive are the most expensive because they are the rare pitchers who have both elite production and a track record of health to back it up; outside of the first few rounds is when you start to see the guys who could be aces, but who have one or more question marks around them.

If we consider a top-100 overall finish to be a "hit" for a starting pitcher, here's the hit rate among pitchers based on NFC ADP round over the last three seasons: 

  • Rounds 1-2: 8/14 (57.1%)
  • Rounds 3-4: 7/23 (30.4%)
  • Rounds 5-6: 12/22 (54.5%)
  • Rounds 7-8: 3/17 (17.6%)

And if we consider a top-50 finish a "smash", here's what it looks like: 

  • Rounds 1-2: 7/14 (50.0%)
  • Rounds 3-4: 6/23 (26.1%)
  • Rounds 5-6: 6/22 (27.3%)
  • Rounds 7-8: 2/17 (11.7%)

At least over the last three seasons, you had a worse chance of hitting on a starting pitcher in Rounds 3 and 4 than you did in Rounds 5 and 6, and your chances of getting a good return on your investment was well below 50% for all pitchers outside of the top 24. The hit and smash rate for hitters is higher at every point in the draft, too.

So, does that mean you should buck the trend of pushing pitchers up draft boards and focus on hitting early? Well, not necessarily -- early pitchers are better investments than later pitchers, after all, and you still need good pitchers to contend in Fantasy. However, it's worth remembering that, at least over the last three seasons, SP6-12 in ADP have been about as likely to hit as SP13-20, so it might be smarter to still treat the second tier of starters with more skepticism. That's not to say you should skip the Walker Buehler (18.3 overall) through Luis Castillo (30.8) tier in ADP, but that you should include the Zac Gallen (40.5) through Carlos Carrasco (59.8) group in that same tier. 

And this may be more true for 2021 than any season ever, given how many more question marks we have at the position than usual. Pitching is always volatile, but now we're coming off a season where nobody threw more than 100 innings, including the post season, meaning there are significant workload concerns and sample-size issues across the board, in addition to the normal attrition rate at the position? 

Was Trevor Bauer's breakout for real? Was Max Scherzer's inflated ERA a sign of the end of his run as a dominant starter? Was Ian Anderson's late-season run for real? What about Corbin Burnes? Those are all questions you'll have to have an answer for fairly early on in your drafts.

My ideal start would probably see me end up with one of the top three pitchers -- Jacob deGrom, Shane Bieber, and Gerrit Cole -- and then focus on hitter for a few rounds, before dipping back into the pitching pool in Round 4-8. But, you might find pitchers going off the board so fast this season that you can't help but invest early. At least now you know the risk you're taking on. 

2021 Draft Prep
Starting Pitcher Preview
Consensus Rankings
NYM N.Y. Mets • #48 • Age: 32
2020 Stats
INN
68
W
4
K's
104
ERA
2.38
WHIP
0.96
deGrom will be 33 in June, so he's not far from the point when we start to worry about pitchers starting to break down. Of course, deGrom isn't your typical almost-33-year-old pitcher -- most 32-year-olds don't add 2 mph to their fastball. deGrom has a 2.10 ERA and 0.943 WHIP over the last three seasons, and 2020 might have been the best we've ever seen from him. If the Mets actually let him win 18 games, he might just run away from the pitching field. In my eyes, he's the no-doubt No. 1 option at the position.
CLE Cleveland • #57 • Age: 25
2020 Stats
INN
77.1
W
8
K's
122
ERA
1.63
WHIP
0.87
So much for 2019 being a fluke. Bieber feasted on a weak schedule, but he also took a step forward across the board, adding 1 mph to his fastball and introducing a cutter that gave him yet another look for opposing batters to deal with. Bieber pitches deep into games and gets a ton of strikeouts with an elite walk rate, so there really isn't much to be said against him -- he even improved his batted-ball data in 2020. He's the complete package.
NYY N.Y. Yankees • #45 • Age: 30
2020 Stats
INN
73
W
7
K's
94
ERA
2.84
WHIP
0.96
Cole's numbers took a step back across the board in 2020, but he was still excellent, with just an inflated home run rate holding him back. Cole is a flyball pitcher and he pitches half his games in Yankee Stadium, so homers may continue to be an issue, but they won't do much to hurt his Fantasy appeal, as Cole remains an elite pitcher -- one who has also pitched at least 200 innings four times in five seasons.
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #27 • Age: 30
2020 Stats
INN
73
W
5
K's
100
ERA
1.73
WHIP
0.79
Bauer saw a spike in his fastball spin rate that made it one of the best pitches in baseball, and he rode that (and an easy schedule) to an NL Cy Young win. He signed with the Dodgers this offseason, meaning he'll have the best supporting cast of his career, and Bauer has arguably been the best pitcher in Fantasy in two of the last three seasons -- with a 4.48 ERA sandwiched between them. It's hard to trust Bauer given that track record, but the upside is there for him to carry your staff.
SD San Diego • Age: 34
2020 Stats
INN
76
W
8
K's
93
ERA
2.01
WHIP
0.96
Darvish has made 25 starts since the 2019 All-Star break, and in that time he has gone 12-7 with a 2.39 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, and 211 strikeouts. Darvish really struggled with his control prior to that point in 2019, but he's put those behind him since, with just one start with more than two walks in his last 25. Darvish is 34 and has had some ups and downs in his career, but there aren't a lot of criticisms to make these days.
PHI Philadelphia • #27 • Age: 27
2020 Stats
INN
71.1
W
5
K's
96
ERA
3.28
WHIP
1.08
2019 was a strange season for Nola, who saw his walk rate spike all the way to 9.4% amid his worst season since 2016. He didn't totally get his walk rate back to its previous levels, but 8.0% is enough of an improvement to where you don't really need to worry about it, especially from a pitcher with consecutive 200-inning seasons before the shortened 2020 campaign.
CHW Chi. White Sox • #27 • Age: 26
2020 Stats
INN
72.1
W
4
K's
97
ERA
3.48
WHIP
1.04
Giolito proved 2019 was no fluke, sustaining his increased velocity and the added strikeouts that came with it. The peripherals in 2020 were, if anything, a little bit better, as he did a better job keeping the ball in the yard, but for the most part, it was a remarkably similar season to his breakout. That's all we wanted to see.
WAS Washington • #31 • Age: 36
2020 Stats
INN
67.1
W
5
K's
92
ERA
3.74
WHIP
1.38
After a back injury limited him in the second half of 2019, Scherzer mostly stayed healthy in 2020, but he wasn't the same guy we've gotten used to seeing. The primary issue was that Scherzer's walk rate nearly doubled from the previous season, though he also gave up the highest HR/FB rate of his career and generally got hit harder than he has in a long time. It's just a small sample size but added with his 2019 injury concerns, and you're starting to see Scherzer slide down the board a bit more. I'm higher on him than the consensus -- bet on the track record -- but there's certainly risk to taking him in the first couple of rounds.
CIN Cincinnati • #58 • Age: 28
2020 Stats
INN
70
W
4
K's
89
ERA
3.21
WHIP
1.23
All of a sudden, Castillo looks like one of the steadiest options at the position, with an ERA of 3.40 or lower in three of his four seasons. He's an elite strikeout pitcher who keeps the ball in the yard and mostly keeps his walks under control, so he pretty much does everything you want from a pitcher.
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #22 • Age: 32
2020 Stats
INN
58.1
W
6
K's
62
ERA
2.16
WHIP
0.84
Kershaw finally got the monkey off his back, winning a World Series and posting a sub-3.00 ERA in the playoffs on the way to it. Kershaw no longer has the strikeout rate to stand among the elite in the game, but he's posted a 2.78 ERA and 1.013 WHIP over the last three seasons and should continue to be one of the most reliable options out there.
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #21 • Age: 26
2020 Stats
INN
36.2
W
1
K's
42
ERA
3.44
WHIP
0.95
There really isn't much question as to whether Buehler is an ace when he pitches. The questions all come down to workload. The Dodgers have been extremely careful with his innings, and coming off a season where he threw just 61.2 of them including the playoffs, there are likely going to be plenty of limitations coming his way in 2021. Buehler can be one of the better pitchers in the game, but it's fair to ask if he's worth this lofty ranking even in a season where everyone has workload questions.
STL St. Louis • #22 • Age: 25
2020 Stats
INN
40.1
W
4
K's
49
ERA
4.91
WHIP
1.21
Flaherty's follow-up to his breakout campaign didn't go as anyone hoped, but it makes sense given the disjointed nature of the Cardinals season -- they didn't play for more than two weeks due to a team-wide COVID-19 outbreak. That means Flaherty's season saw him ramp up in February, only to shut down for several months and then ramp back up in July, only to make one start and then miss another four weeks. Considering that, it's amazing his season didn't go worse than it did, and if you take out one bad start, his ERA drops to 3.05. That's a lot easier to stomach.
MIL Milwaukee • #53 • Age: 28
2020 Stats
INN
73.2
W
3
K's
91
ERA
3.05
WHIP
0.99
Woodruff was overshadowed in 2020 by Corbin Burnes' rapid ascension, but he put together yet another impressive campaign. Woodruff relies on fastballs as much as nearly any pitcher in baseball, but it hasn't cost him strikeouts, and in 2020, he even turned his four-seam fastball into a better swing-and-miss weapon, sustaining his near-elite velocity while adding 200 rpm to his average fastball spin rate. Spin rate is closely correlated with whiff rate for fastballs, and Woodruff's predictably spiked from 26.9% to 33.6%. That he did that without having to sacrifice his elite suppression of hard contact, makes the whole package look even better than it did this time last year. He's right on the cusp of being an elite Fantasy pitcher, with the only thing holding him back is volume: He's averaged just 5.5 IP per start over the last two seasons.
ARI Arizona • #23 • Age: 25
2020 Stats
INN
72
W
3
K's
82
ERA
2.75
WHIP
1.11
Never the flashiest pitcher as a prospect, Gallen put together a strong first "full" season in the majors, averaging six innings per start, improving on his control issues from 2019, and posting another excellent strikeout rate. If Gallen makes a leap, it will come from further trimming that walk rate, but even if he doesn't, he's thrown 152 innings with a 2.78 ERA and 3.64 FIP, so he's a workable No. 1 starter and an excellent No. 2 option for your Fantasy team in any format.
TB Tampa Bay • #20 • Age: 27
2020 Stats
INN
57.1
W
5
K's
91
ERA
4.08
WHIP
1.13
Rather than trying to parse which version of Tyler Glasnow -- 2019's 2.26 FIP or 2020's 3.66 mark -- is the real one, it's probably best to just stick them both together, which gives us a 2.94 FIP (and 2.90 ERA). Even if you stick both seasons together, you only get 118 innings, and adding a deep postseason run gets him to 153.2 in 31 starts. Glasnow should be a very good pitcher, but you can't go into the season expecting him to match an ace workload. The good news is, there aren't many you can expect that from.
MIN Minnesota • #18 • Age: 32
2020 Stats
INN
66.2
W
6
K's
80
ERA
2.7
WHIP
0.75
The Twins did what the Dodgers wouldn't, embracing Maeda as a front-line starter, and he responded with a breakout season. Of course, that was in a shortened season where he only had to make 11 starts. How will Maeda respond to being used as a full-time starter for the first time since 2016? He should continue to produce at a high level, but some regression may be on the way.
SD San Diego • Age: 28
2020 Stats
INN
50
W
4
K's
63
ERA
3.24
WHIP
1.2
Snell bounced back in 2020, but it was a frustrating season nonetheless, as the Rays limited his pitches early on and rarely let him face the third time through the order -- a move that famously blew up in a key World Series moment. The Rays figure to give Snell a bit longer of a leash, and it's going to be interesting to see how he responds. Snell is going to get a ton of strikeouts no matter how deep they let him pitch, and the lack of a DH in the NL should help his ratios, so that's all good. The biggest risk isn't performance-based, it's that elbow, which caused him to miss significant time in 2019 and required delicate handling last offseason.
CHW Chi. White Sox • Age: 33
2020 Stats
INN
84
W
6
K's
89
ERA
3.32
WHIP
1.06
In a league moving consistently away from fastballs -- just over half of all pitches in 2020 were fastballs, the lowest rate ever recorded -- Lynn stands athwart history yelling, "Stop trying to make me throw a changeup." More than two-thirds of Lynn's pitches were some form of fastball -- and that number jumps to 88.8% if you lump his cutter in. Lynn doesn't sacrifice strikeouts with this strategy, amazingly, and it has led him to a 3.57 ERA in a ton of innings over the past two seasons, and we're expecting more of the same now that he's at the top of the White Sox rotation.
NYM N.Y. Mets • #59 • Age: 33
2020 Stats
INN
68
W
3
K's
82
ERA
2.91
WHIP
1.21
Just a heads up: We're higher on Carrasco than the rest of the industry. He was excellent in his return to the rotation following a cancer diagnosis and treatment in 2019, and happily showed few ill effects. In fact, he seemed to get stronger as the season went on, average six-plus innings and 97.4 pitchers per start with a 1.97 ERA in September. Carrasco now moves to the weaker league with a better supporting cast behind him with the Mets, and figures to remain the low-to-mid-3.00s ERA guy he's been for much of his career.
WAS Washington • #37 • Age: 32
2020 Stats
INN
5
W
0
K's
2
ERA
10.8
WHIP
1.8
Historically, the way to approach Stephen Strasburg to get the best results has been to fade him coming off a good season when the price is high and buy him when the cost is low coming off a disappointing season. It's harder to say that's the right call in 2021, because we're operating in somewhat uncharted waters with Strasburg coming off carpal tunnel surgery. He is expected to be ready for Spring Training, so we'll get our first sense of what lingering effects there will be if any. There's obviously tons of upside in buying, but there's more risk than ever even with an ADP in the 65-70 overall range.
MIL Milwaukee • #39 • Age: 26
2020 Stats
INN
59.2
W
4
K's
88
ERA
2.11
WHIP
1.02
Burnes is one of many short-season breakouts, and he might have been the most impressive, with a 36.7% strikeout rate to go along with his 2.11 ERA. Burnes has always had excellent stuff, but he got hit way too hard in the past, an issue he largely remedied in 2020, lowering his average exit velocity against from 90.0 mph to 86.9 as well as his barrel and hard-hit rates. And it may not have been a fluke, as Burnes basically eliminated the four-seam fastball from his arsenal, replacing it with roughly equal parts of a sinker and a brand new cutter. Both played much better than the four-seamer, and the cutter especially gave him both a swing-and-miss pitch and a way to induce weak contact. As with everyone, we're talking about a small sample, but it's worth pointing out that his disastrous 2019 saw him face five fewer batters than he did in 2020. I'm not saying it's real, but I am saying there's a lot of upside in paying to find out, even as a top-60 pick.
TOR Toronto • #99 • Age: 33
2020 Stats
INN
67
W
5
K's
72
ERA
2.69
WHIP
1.15
Ryu did not suffer for not having the Dodgers backing him up, as he once again posted a sub-3.00 ERA, his third season in a row. Ryu actually had his highest strikeout rate (26.2%) since his days pitching in the Korean Baseball Organization, as he followed the trend of reducing his fastball usage. I wouldn't expect him to sustain those gains -- his swinging strike rate was essentially unchanged -- but I do expect him to once again outperform more heralded and hyped pitchers who are taken before him.
CLE Cleveland • #34 • Age: 26
2020 Stats
INN
55.1
W
4
K's
57
ERA
2.28
WHIP
0.8
There's more on Plesac to come, and if you're a fan, you won't like it. So here are the positives: Plesac changed not just his pitch mix but the movement profiles of his pitches and saw significant spikes in swinging strike rates as a result. If he can sustain those gains and avoid a step back, a mid-3.00s ERA and excellent WHIP should follow.
HOU Houston • #21 • Age: 37
2020 Stats
INN
67
W
3
K's
67
ERA
4.03
WHIP
1.13
Greinke's ERA ballooned to 4.03 in 2020 without including the seven runs he gave up in 14.2 postseason innnigs, which was enough to drop his ADP outside of the top 100 overall for presumably the first time in a decade or so. Of course, we know better than to put too much stock into ERA, especially in a 12-start sample, and Greinke's underlying numbers suggest there wasn't much of a dropoff, if any, from 2019. When you're talking about a 37-year-old pitcher, any warning sign becomes magnified, but in Greinke's case, they are probably being overblown. Sure, the fastball velocity dropped to 87 mph, the lowest of his career by 2.6 mph, and maybe that will catch up to him. However, buying Greinke has been a consistently valuable decision for years, and I'm inclined to think it will be once again with his cost falling even further.

25. Sonny Gray
26. Dinelson Lamet
27. Kyle Hendricks
28. Max Fried
29. Zack Wheeler
30. Jose Berrios
31. Chris Paddack
32. Framber Valdez
33. Ian Anderson
34. Dylan Bundy
35. Jesus Luzardo
36. Charlie Morton
37. Lance McCullers
38. Sixto Sanchez
39. Julio Urias
40. Patrick Corbin
41. Sandy Alcantara
42. Kevin Gausman
43. Joe Musgrove
44. Pablo Lopez
45. Mike Soroka
46. German Marquez
47. Frankie Montas
48. Marco Gonzales

2021 Draft Prep
Don't forget about ...
CIN Cincinnati • #30 • Age: 26
2020 Stats
INN
47.2
W
2
K's
60
ERA
3.59
WHIP
1.15
Every pitcher tinkers with their arsenal, but Mahle has done so more than most. And he seemed to find a combination that worked in 2020, largely ditching his curveball and introducing a harder slider/cutter combination as his primary breaking ball. That pitch was excellent, and his splitter was a pretty good third pitch, giving Mahle the profile of a potential above-average starter for really the first time. Whether he can sustain those gains is obviously another question entirely, but with an ADP near 190th overall, it won't hurt to find out.
NYY N.Y. Yankees • Age: 34
2020 Stats
INN
1
W
0
K's
1
ERA
0
WHIP
1
Kluber is one of the most interesting pitchers in baseball heading into 2021. The last time we saw him for more than a handful of starts, he finished third in Cy Young voting. Of course, that was back in 2018. In two years since, he's dealt with multiple arm injuries and has thrown just 36.2 innings. He'll be 35 shortly after Opening Day and hasn't really pitched since 2018, so expectations are rightly muted. But if he can find some of his former form, he could return to must-start status with an excellent Yankees team backing him up.
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #10 • Age: 35
No, literally: Don't forget about David Price or Marcus Stroman, both of whom opted out of the 2020 season under the league's COVID protocols. Price will be 36 in August and ended his last season in 2019 with wrist surgery, but he was having a typical David Price season before the injury, and hopefully the year off served his arm well. Price is going in the 160-170 ADP range in drafts while Stroman is falling past the 200 ADP mark on average, and both should be solid additions to any Fantasy rotation that late, or even 20 or so picks earlier.
BOS Boston • #41 • Age: 31
Likewise, don't forget about Severino, Chris Sale, or Noah Syndergaard, high-end arms working their way back from Tommy John surgery. Severino is furthest removed from his February surgery, while Sale and Syndergaard both had theirs in late-March, but we should see all three by the summer if all goes well. All three could provide ace production when they arrive, though you won't have to pay any kind of price reflecting that: Sale has the highest ADP of the trio at 215. If you've got deep benches or an IL spot, consider any of the three as a potential impact mid-season addition.
2021 Draft Prep
Starting Pitcher Sleeper, Breakout, & Bust
Sleeper
Projections powered by Sportsline
CLE Cleveland • #26 • Age: 23
Fantasy Breakdown
ADP
174
Roto
173
Roto (SP)
46
H2H
142
H2H (SP)
50
2020 Stats
INN
33.1
W
2
K's
42
ERA
3.24
WHIP
0.9
I'm not quite buying one Cleveland pitcher's successful 2020, as you'll learn shortly, but there's a lot to like about McKenzie heading into 2021. Starting with his price, which sits in the 180-190 range in ADP, well into the "it can't hurt" portion of the draft. McKenzie's MLB debut was overall a pretty resounding success, and it is even more impressive when you consider it had been just eight days shy of two years between his last start and his MLB debut. McKenzie was predictably handled delicately, and a fade in his velocity over his last few appearances won't do much to assuage concerns about his ability to hold up as a starter. However, the stuff looked good for being out of action for nearly two years, and there's obviously Cleveland's track record of getting the absolute most out of their starters. McKenzie will have inning limitations to deal with, but if you get 120 good innings from him, that's a win at his cost.
Breakout
Projections powered by Sportsline
ATL Atlanta • #48 • Age: 22
Fantasy Breakdown
ADP
93
Roto
102
Roto (SP)
32
H2H
70
H2H (SP)
31
2020 Stats
INN
32.1
W
3
K's
41
ERA
1.95
WHIP
1.08
Anderson made his name as a prospect on the strength of a fastball/curveball combination, primarily, and when he made his major-league debut in 2020, he came armed with a changeup he threw 31% of the time with elite results. Which is to say: He's a better version of the guy who has been a consensus top-70 prospect (as high as top-25) over the last five years. It was a small-sample size, but Anderson basically did everything you want to see from a pitcher: Got tons of strikeouts with the whiffs to back them up, kept the batted balls he did give up on the ground, and limited hard contact overall. And he did it in the midst of the strangest year in MLB history and then went out and allowed two runs with 25 strikeouts in 18.2 innnings in four playoff starts. He wasn't perfect, of course, but a 10.1% walk rate is just about the only thing he did wrong. It was a small sample size, just nine starts, so it's entirely possible he can't replicate it -- he inarguably played over his head, though that will happen when you have a 1.95 ERA. However, Anderson has the stuff and the prospect pedigree to put your stock in, and unlike many young pitchers, doesn't have many obvious workload concerns, because the Braves did not treat him with kid gloves in either the majors or the minors. He's not the total package, but he looks as close as any pitcher with his level of experience can.
Bust
Projections powered by Sportsline
CLE Cleveland • #34 • Age: 26
Fantasy Breakdown
ADP
67
Roto
82
Roto (SP)
24
H2H
62
H2H (SP)
24
2020 Stats
INN
55.1
W
4
K's
57
ERA
2.28
WHIP
0.8
I can't justify taking Plesac as a top-24 pitcher inside of the first 70 overall. Not when guys with better track records like Hyun Jin Ryu, Kyle Hendricks, and Carlos Carrasco are going in the same range and younger pitchers with similar (or more) potential like Chris Paddack, Ian Anderson, Jesus Luzardo, Sixto Sanchez, and others are going after him. Cleveland does have a track record of squeezing the absolute most they can out of their starters, and Plesac took a real step forward in 2020 that I don't want to dismiss entirely. In fact, a lot of the critiques of Plesac sound like what many (including myself) were saying about Shane Bieber this time a year ago -- "He can't sustain the gains he made, he gives up too much hard contact," etc. . Here's one key difference: Plesac has outperformed his FIP by more than a run (4.44 to a 3.32 ERA) so far in the majors, while Bieber had actually underperformed his by nearly half a run heading into 2020. The underlying numbers over two seasons supported Bieber's breakthrough; Plesac's suggest he's been incredibly lucky so far. Maybe he will continue to be so -- maybe he'll be the next Kyle Hendricks, a guy whose command allows him to continually beat projection systems and defense-independent pitching stats consistently. And, it is worth noting, Plesac's peripherals were improved in 2020, with FIP, SIERA and others mostly agreeing he "deserved" more like a mid-3.00s ERA. However, there's a reason Hendricks stands out as the ideal of that archetype: He's the only one who consistently does it. And he does it by inducing a ton of soft contact, a trick Plesac has yet to pull in the majors. Which is all to say, in order to buy into Plesac as a true difference maker at starting pitcher, you kind of have to put nearly all of the weight on the 2020 results. While he did make changes to his pitch mix and continued to develop his secondary offerings, that this all happened in just eight starts (against mostly weak competiton) means there really wasn't much time for the league to adjust to him. In order to justify the investment you'll need to get Plesac on your roster, you've got to put a lot of faith in him answering in the affirmative to nearly all of the questions about him. That's tough to do.
2020 Draft Prep
Starting Pitcher Top Prospects

1. MacKenzie Gore, Padres

Age (on opening day): 22
Where he played in 2019: high Class A, Double-A
2019 minors: 9-2, 1.69 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 101 IP, 28 BB, 135 K  
The left-hander was suspiciously bypassed for the Padres' postseason push, with some chatter about him possibly underachieving at the alternate training site. But there are no challengers to his top spot among pitching prospects, and with his high leg kick, big extension and deep arsenal of four plus pitches, he's well equipped to dominate.
Scott's 2021 Fantasy impact: fighting this spring  

2. Ian Anderson, Braves

Age (on opening day): 22
Where he played in 2019: Double-A, Triple-A
2019 minors: 8-7, 3.38 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 135 2/3 IP, 65 BB, 172 K
2020 majors: 3-2, 1.95 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 32 1/3 IP, 14 BB, 42 K 
The No. 3 pick back in 2016 had mostly gathered detractors since then, but it all clicked for him at the alternate training site, where he refined his changeup into a true put-away pitch on the level of Luis Castillo. From his one-hit debut against the Yankees to his three scoreless playoff outings, he showed unusual confidence in a three-pitch mix that included a loopy curveball.
Scott's 2021 Fantasy impact: pencil him in  

3. Sixto Sanchez, Marlins

Age (on opening day): 22
Where he played in 2019: high Class A, Double-A
2019 minors: 8-6, 2.76 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 114 IP, 21 BB, 103 K
2020 majors: 3-2, 3.46 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 39 IP, 11 BB, 33 K 
The questions about Sanchez's strikeout potential persist, but he actually had a better swinging-strike rate in his major-league stint than Anderson and dominated the other two legs of the FIP triangle with an elite strike percentage and sinking 98 mph fastball. Those two skills will take him far even if he never fully develops the third.
Scott's 2021 Fantasy impact: pencil him in  

4. Michael Kopech, White Sox

Age (on opening day): 24
Where he played in 2019: did not play -- injured
2018 minors: 7-7, 3.70 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 126 1/3 IP, 60 BB, 170 K
2018 majors: 1-1, 5.02 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 14 1/3 IP, 2 BB, 15 K 
The prospect hype for Kopech has gone a bit stale because of some uneven minor-league performances followed by Tommy John surgery followed by his decision to opt out last year. His fastball was as breathtaking as ever in spring training, though, and he made huge strides in the control area prior to the 2018 promotion that ended with him hurting his elbow.
Scott's 2021 Fantasy impact: fighting this spring  

5. Nate Pearson, Blue Jays

Age (on opening day): 24
Where he played in 2019: high Class A, Double-A, Triple-A
2019 minors: 5-4, 2.30 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 101 2/3 IP, 27 BB, 119 K
2020 majors: 1-0, 6.00 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 18 IP, 13 BB, 16 K  
Pearson was one of several high-profile pitching prospects who didn't quite pan out in 2020, his big fastball and wipeout slider failing to translate to whiffs as expected, but he ended on a high note, striking out five in two scoreless playoff innings following an IL stint. HIs careful handling to this point may hinder his progression some.
Scott's 2021 Fantasy impact: fighting this spring  

6. Tarik Skubal, Tigers

Age (on opening day): 24
Where he played in 2019: high Class A, Double-A
2019 minors: 6-8, 2.42 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 122 2/3 IP, 37 BB, 179 K
2020 majors: 1-4, 5.63 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 32 IP, 11 BB, 37 K 
Skubal's secondary pitches are a little underdeveloped since he was able to dominate using mostly his fastball in the minors, notably averaging 17.4 K/9 in nine Double-A starts. But he gained confidence in changeup during his major-league stint and ended it on a high note. The tools are there.
Scott's 2021 Fantasy impact: pencil him in  

7. Casey Mize, Tigers

Age (on opening day): 23
Where he played in 2019: high Class A, Double-A
2019 minors: 8-3, 2.55 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 109 1/3 IP, 23 BB, 106 K
2020 majors: 0-3, 6.99 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 28 1/3 IP, 13 BB, 26 K   
Mize's debut in 2020 was memorable only because of how unimpressive it was, and despite him being the first pick in 2018, many evaluators aren't extending the same grace to him that they are to, say, Nate Pearson. His pitches are impressive individually, but since they're all variations of a fastball (splitter, cutter, etc.), he may need to go back to the lab for more.
Scott's 2021 Fantasy impact: fighting this spring  

8. Matt Manning, Tigers

Age (on opening day): 23
Where he played in 2019: Double-A
2019 minors: 11-5, 2.56 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 133 2/3 IP, 38 BB, 148 K 
The third of the Tigers' big pitching prospects is the most conventional and the favorite of some evaluators, but a forearm strain prevented him from debuting alongside the other two. Blessed with height and extension as the son of an NBA player, his high-90s fastball and downer curve have made him a consistent bat-misser in the minors.
Scott's 2021 Fantasy impact: midseason hopeful  

9. Logan Gilbert, Mariners

Age (on opening day): 23
Where he played in 2019: low Class A, high Class A, Double-A
2019 minors: 10-5, 2.13 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 135 IP, 33 BB, 165 K  
Gilbert dominated across three levels in 2019, which might have positioned him to debut if he had a better team or a longer schedule to work with in 2020. His velocity has picked up since signing and plays up because of the extension on his 6-foot-6 frame, but it's his four pitches and command of each that make him largely foolproof.
Scott's 2021 Fantasy impact: midseason hopeful  

10. Spencer Howard, Phillies

Age (on opening day): 24
Where he played in 2019: Rookie, high Class A, Double-A
2019 minors: 3-1, 2.03 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 71 IP, 16 BB, 94 K
2020 majors: 1-2, 5.92 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, 24 1/3 IP, 10 BB, 23 K 
Howard had barely played above A-ball prior to his debut, and while his velocity was down in 2020, his slider still played up nicely, presenting a path to success even if his development slows from here. He was shut down early with a stiff shoulder, too, so it's likely we weren't even seeing him operate at full capacity.
Scott's 2021 Fantasy impact: pencil him in  

So which 2021 Fantasy baseball sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which undervalued first baseman can help you win a championship? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy baseball rankings for every single position, all from the model that called Will Smith's huge breakout last season, and find out.