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We knew this year's rookie class just couldn't match up to the 2015 class, so it shouldn't be a huge surprise that there haven't been many impact rookies so far. Still, there are plenty of rookie pitchers in rotations around the league who are currently making an impact, or at least have the ability to down the stretch of the season.
With the second half of the season officially underway, let's look at the best of the rookie pitchers moving forward to see who might be able to help you bring in a title in the second half. We won't include any of the pitchers currently in the minors, or Kenta Maeda, who seems like as close to a finished product as any first-year pitcher could be. These are just the pitchers who are currently in rotations, with an eye on what you might be able to expect from them moving forward.
Rookie Pitching Power Rankings
Fulmer wasn't as hyped as some of the other members of this class, but there is no question he has absolutely stolen the show in the first half-season of his career. Fulmer has pitched 84 2/3 innings in his 14 major-league starts, sporting a sterling 2.13 ERA and emerging as an ace for the Tigers. Fulmer's 3.39 FIP and 3.87 xFIP suggest he has had some good luck on his side and likely won't continue to pitch this well, however his career 3.12 minor-league ERA and top-50 ranking in Baseball America's preseason rankings are a good reminder that this isn't totally out of nowhere. He may not be the most talented pitcher in this class, but it's hard to see anyone out-pitching him from here on out.
Shutdown risk: There is a chance Fulmer won't make it through the end of the regular season because he tossed just 124 2/3 innings last season. However, the Tigers have done a good enough job limiting his innings so far that he might only get to around 180, including the minors. That is a manageable increase.
If Jon Gray pitched for literally any other team, he might be No. 1 on this list by a mile. Armed with the slider that sits around 90 MPH -- and has the fifth-highest swinging strike rate in baseball -- Gray looks an awful lot like a star in the making. As long as you ignore his 4.33 ERA for the season as a whole. Part of the blame lies with Coors Field, however Gray also has an ERA above 4.00 on the road for the season, so it's not all in his home park. Gray still has some learning to do, however he piles up strikeouts and sports a 3.22 ERA since June 1, with 54 strikeouts in 50 1/3 innings of work. You'll never feel great about starting Gray at home, but when the matchup works out in his favor, he is useful no matter where he pitches.
Shutdown risk: Coming off a season that saw him throw 155 innings, Gray should be able to pitch right through to the end of the season.
Steven Matz, with his 3.08 career ERA, would probably have been my No. 1 choice here before he was diagnosed with bone spur issues that will likely eventually require surgery. Matz hasn't been super sharp with the injuries, allowing 14 runs in 23 2/3 innings over his last four starts, and the discomfort might eventually grow too great for him to continue to pitch through. However, Matz's strikeout rate has remained strong, and he sports a 3.42 FIP to back up his 3.38 ERA for the season, so if he can stay healthy, Matz can be a very helpful Fantasy option.
Shutdown risk: High. Innings aren't really the question; it's just whether Matz can pitch through the pain and discomfort. It would be pretty surprising if Matz makes it through the end of the regular season.
You'll notice a trend with this crop of young pitchers: They can't throw strikes. That isn't rare for young pitchers, of course, and Blake Snell has mostly managed to remain a strong pitcher in the minors even with his control struggles, posting a 3.69 ERA in six major-league starts and a 3.29 mark in 12 at Triple-A this season as well. Snell's ability to rack up huge strikeout numbers in the minors helped him overcome the control issues, and that will be the big question for him in the majors as well. So far, he has struck out just 7.7 per nine, but Snell did fan a career-best seven in his last start before the All-Star break, which could be a harbinger of things to come.
Shutdown risk: Snell threw 115 and 134 innings over his last two seasons, so there isn't much shutdown risk here. He isn't even at 100 for this season yet.
Control has always been the biggest question for Archie Bradley, who has routinely rated out as a top-25 prospect in his minor-league career despite a walk rate north of 10 percent. Since returning to the majors in late May, however, Bradley has started to figure some things out. His walk rate over the past 10 starts is still at 10.2 percent -- actually an improvement -- but most importantly, he has started racking up more strikeouts, with 63 in 59 2/3 innings of work in that span. All in all, Bradley has a 3.77 ERA in his last 10 starts, a decent number, and a solid starting point for a young pitcher to build on. However, Bradley has had trouble keeping the ball in the yard and plays in a tough pitchers park, so it might not get too much better for him moving forward.
Shutdown risk: Bradley pitched fewer than 65 innings last season, as he missed more than two months with shoulder tendinitis. He is already past 100 innings for the first time since 2013, and it wouldn't be a huge surprise if he was shut down come September.
Another pitcher who struggled early on, Sean Manaea seems to be figuring things out of late. Manaea has allowed more than two runs just twice in his last seven appearances, with a 3.60 ERA, 38 strikeouts and only 10 walks in 40 innings in that span. He has racked up double-digits in swinging strikes in five of his last seven appearances as well, and now has a 13 percent swinging strike rate in that span. The strikeouts took a while to get here for him, and Manaea could be in for a big second half.
Shutdown risk: Manaea is at 90 innings for the season, 15 2/3 more than he had in 2015. Add in that Manaea was sidelined by a forearm strain in June, and it won't be a shock if Manaea doesn't finish out the season.
Unlike most of the rest of this list, the question isn't whether Jameson Taillon can throw strikes, but whether he can get strikeouts. Manaea has had no problem finding the strike zone (1.6 BB/9 in the majors), and had just six walks in 61 2/3 innings at Triple-A. However, he has struck out just 18.4 percent of opposing hitters while allowing 1.3 HR/9. Taillon can find the strike zone. The question is whether he can avoid damage when he gets there. Given his relative lack of swing-and-miss stuff, he probably has less upside than some of the other names on the list.
Shutdown risk: Taillon didn't throw a pitch in 2014 or 2015 due to injuries, so yeah, there's plenty of risk here.
Reynaldo Lopez hasn't yet made his major-league debut, but that is supposed to come this week, so we'll include him. He is unproven at the major-league level, but Lopez has electric stuff and the ability to rack up strikeouts against any level of competition, so it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see him stick around. Lopez struck out 11.2 batters per-nine before getting the call, and sports a 3.19 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A.
Shutdown risk: Lopez has never reached 100 innings in a season, but he is also still 12 shy of his mark from last year, so they could get him through the end of the season if they wanted. More likely, Lopez either returns to the minors or joins the bullpen when Joe Ross is able to return from the DL.
The first of two less-heralded rookies, Junior Guerra's results so far have been terrific, with a 3.06 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 82 1/3 innings of work. Guerra sports a splitter that has the second-highest swinging strike rate in the majors for that pitch type, and that has been a big key to his success so far. This might be sustainable, however, Guerra is a 31-year-old rookie with a 3.72 career minor-league ERA, so it's hard to get too excited here.
Shutdown risk: At his age, Guerra probably isn't at risk of being set down.
Going back to his cup of coffee last season, we now have a 126 2/3 inning sample of Zach Davies being a 3.77 ERA pitcher, so there might not be a ton of upside here. He has ticked his strikeout rate up closer to average this season, but Davies' minor-league track record doesn't suggest there is a ton of upside here. Still, if he can sustain his current level, Davies can be a useful mixed-league option.
Shutdown risk: Davies tossed 128 1/3 innings last season, so there is no risk he will be shutdown, barring injury.