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Something I did not expect to say as the Miami native and self-loathing Marlins fan in these parts: The Marlins are actually pretty interesting for Fantasy this year.
OK, not the offense. That still has maybe one or two players with any hope of being real Fantasy contributors in a mixed league, and unless some prospects bounce back from horrendous 2018 campaigns, there isn't a lot of hope on the horizon on that front.
But the pitching? Oh, there's something there. With news that the Marlins have waived Dan Straily and moved Wei-Yin Chen to the bullpen, the Marlins are throwing four starting pitchers out there along with incumbent Jose Urena who have real potential: Trevor Richards, Caleb Smith, Pablo Lopez and Sandy Alcantara.
Unlike with, say, the Astros' focus on velocity and spin rate, there isn't necessarily one unifying skill for this group. Alcantara and Urena throw hard, sure, but Richards, Smith and Lopez all have below-average velocity. That might be how these pitchers have flown under the radar, both as prospects and then (before excellent spring showings) as potential Fantasy contributors.
But these guys could all prove to be surprising sleepers, and they're all probably available on waivers in your league right now. Let's get to know them, and what they could potentially do.
Smith has trailed Richards in ADP for most of the spring, but he's still my pick to best among this group. According to the ACES metric, Smith was in the 73rd percentile among all starters in 2018, and he was even better when you isolated for just left-handed pitchers, ranking eighth overall. Smith doesn't overwhelm you with velocity, but he has a high-spin-rate fastball that racks up plenty of whiffs, and his changeup and slider were pretty good on that count as well.
Smith's 4.19 ERA doesn't hint at great things, but it was more an issue of inconsistency than anything else. He would have games where he just couldn't find the strike zone, and then others when he was absolutely dominant. In fact, over his final 11 starts before suffering a season-ending lat injury, Smith had a 3.28 ERA, 26.8 percent strikeout rate, and 7.0 percent walk rate. If he figures out the control side, that's the upside; he just finished off a spring in which he struck out 19 and walked just one.
Richards' 4.42 ERA looks pretty ugly, but it was mostly weighted down by a poor start. He sported a 3.75 ERA with 77 strikeouts and 25 BB in 69.2 innings after the All-Star break, and was even better than that; Baseball Prospectus DRA stat had Richards deserving something more in the 3.50 range, and with a changeup as good as his, it's not farfetched.
The question with Richards is, can he develop a solid third pitch? His fastball sits in the low-90s without much movement, and predictably got crushed in 2018. He largely abandoned his curveball around midseason, but he had his highest usage with the pitch in his final two starts since late June, and had his two best starts of the season. He spent the offseason refining that pitch and added a cutter, giving him a bit more to rely on than just his change. If either the curveball or fastball turn into something more than a show-me pitch, Richards has a path to Fantasy relevance, and he just closed out a spring that saw him strike out 20 batters while walking four in 19.1 innings.
In a group of relative nobodies, Lopez stands out for his anonymity. His is not a profile that typically gets the blood pumping because Lopez has typically been a command-and-control, groundball type. That's what he was last year, even as he dominated in Double-A, and he didn't show a ton of upside in brief stints in Triple-A or the majors. However, he has some Marcus Stroman potential, with a sinker that induces grounders at a 65-percent rate, as well as solid swing-and-miss marks on his curveball and changeup. If that's all Lopez ever becomes, that's pretty good for the Marlins, but he'll need to do more to become Fantasy relevant.
And he just may have done that. Lopez has reportedly been throwing harder this spring, with a fastball that has touched the 97-98 mph range. Last season, both his changeup and curveball rated out as well-above-average pitchers, per the ACES metric, and if his fastball has taken a step forward, there's room for a significant breakout here. With 16 strikeouts to just one walk in the spring, it's not out of the question.
Alcantara definitely has the most pedigree among this group, with three straight years on Baseball Prospectus' top-100 prospects list but just hasn't had the production to back it up. He has some of the best stuff in baseball, but he doesn't know where it's going when he throws it; worse, hitters know he doesn't know where it's going either, so they don't swing. For all his impressive stuff, Alcantara struck out just 20.5 percent of opposing hitters in the majors last season, and was at just 18.2 percent in Triple-A.
Still, this is the kind of profile Fantasy players will chase for years. Especially when it comes cheap, and it does with Alcantara. If he does figure out how to command his pitches, he could be devastating. However, after walking 15.9 percent of opposing hitters in the spring, it still looks like a long shot. I'll take the three listed above on my roster before Alcantara, despite the stuff.
So which Fantasy Baseball sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which undervalued pitchers can help you win a championship? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy Baseball rankings for every single position, all from the model that called Scooter Gennett's huge breakout last season, and find out.