We've seen 10 pitchers make their MLB debut as a starter so far this season, and only two have finished five innings in their first start. The best might have been from Cody Poteet, who limited the Diamondbacks to two runs with six strikeouts in five innings a few weeks back.
So, maybe don't expect Alek Manoah to come out looking like an ace when he makes his MLB debut Wednesday against the Yankees. Or maybe you should, because that's all the Blue Jays pitching prospect has looked like when we've seen him so far this year. He made three starts at Triple-A Buffalo before getting the call, striking out 27 batters with just three walks and seven hits allowed. He also made three appearances in spring training for the Blue Jays, striking out 15 of the 24 batters he faced while allowing one hit in seven innings of work. Manoah sure has looked like an ace so far, and he's certainly someone Fantasy players in all leagues should consider adding ahead of his debut.
Manoah is a 23-year-old right-hander whose rise to Fantasy relevance has been a pretty meteoric one since being the No. 11 pick in the 2019 draft out of West Virginia. He's a giant on the mound at 6-foot-6, 260 pounds, and he's got the kind of fastball and slider combo that should help him rack up tons of whiffs. However, his size and power arsenal had some thinking he might be a future reliever, which helps explain why one of the hottest pitchers in pro baseball right now wasn't even a consensus top-100 prospect coming into the season.
However, Manoah has worked hard on both refining his slider and improving his changeup, while scouts have noted improvements in his conditioning that have made his future as a starter look a bit more viable. Obviously, because of the lack of minor-league games last season we didn't get to see what that looked like in games, which means we're still dealing with incredibly small sample sizes for Manoah -- he's thrown all of 35 innings in official games. That makes it hard to say with much certainty exactly why kind of pitcher Manoah is right now.
- We talk Alek Manoah, Austin Gomber, buy and sell for Dynasty leagues and Vladimir Guerrero on the Fantasy Baseball Today in 5 podcast. You can follow us to get the latest episodes on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.
So, it's a bit of a leap of faith to call him a must-start pitcher. But it's a leap worth taking, given how impressive Manoah has been in his limited opportunities so far. Maybe he won't be worth the hype. Maybe he still needs some seasoning. Maybe he isn't quite ready to consistently work his way through a major-league lineup multiple times. Manoah certainly carries more volatility than your typical must-add pitching prospect call-up.
But that also cuts both ways. Which is to say what if this is for real? What if Manoah really did make a leap last season while working in his garage, his training center, and on the side fields at the Blue Jays spring training complex?
Call it risk, call it high variance, call him a mystery box. Any of those fit. But it's also worth making sure you can find a spot on your roster for Manoah one way or the other. Because if what we've seen so far this year is real, he could be 2021's first legitimate difference making pitcher debut.
Here's who else we're looking at on waivers coming out of Monday's games:
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COL Colorado • #26 • Age: 27
Entering play on April 26, Gomber carried a 3.38 ERA with him, but that obscured some really troubling signs in his play -- and he promptly got rocked for nine earned runs in less than two innings against the Giants in that game. He has a 2.97 ERA in five starts since that start, and this time it looks a lot less fluke-y. Gomber struck out eight Mets over eight innings Monday, limiting them to just two earned runs, and now has 32 strikeouts to just three walks in the month of May. Gomber hasn't made any significant changes to his pitch mix in that span, so it's hard to point to one thing that explains the change, and the fact that he pitches half his games in Coors Field will naturally limit Gomber's value, as it has for Rockies pitches for nearly 30 years. However, he gets the Pirates in Pittsburgh in his next start, so I expect at least one more good start. But he's shown enough recently to at least consider moving him beyond the realm of the streamers.
Keston Hiura 1B
MIL Milwaukee • #18 • Age: 24
Hiura spent nine games in the minors, and it was a real mixed bag: He crushed the ball, sporting a 1.433 OPS, but he still struck out in 34.2% of his plate appearances. It's not exactly what you want to see given contact has been Hiura's main issue since his breakout rookie season. Temper expectations, in other words, because Hiura probably didn't magically get fixed by a two-week trip to Nashville. Still, Hiura carries significant Fantasy upside, and maybe the reset will do him some good. Look at it like this: Not long ago, you would have had to spend a top-70 pick to find out if Hiura had figured it out. Now, all it costs you is a waiver claim.
Amed Rosario SS
CLE Cleveland • #1 • Age: 25
Rosario is pretty much locked into the No. 2 spot in the Cleveland lineup, and he reached base twice and stole a base in Monday's win over Detroit. His overall numbers for the season don't inspire a ton of confidence, but he's hitting .314/.360/.414 with four steals in 18 games in the month of May, and he can be a useful source of batting average, speed, and hopefully runs as long as he's hitting at the top of the Cleveland lineup. Don't expect Rosario to challenge for a batting title or anything, but .275-.280 isn't out of the question, and if he keeps running, he'll be worth rostering in any category-based league.
MIA Miami • #57 • Age: 26
You may not remember, but Hernandez was pretty awesome in 2020, with a 3.16 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 25.2 innings of work. He made just one start this season before going on the IL with a biceps strain, but he's getting close to returning and has 12 strikeouts to two walks in 7.2 scoreless innings on his rehab assignment at Triple-A -- a good sign that his signature slider is working as intended already. If you need pitching in a deeper league, consider getting ahead of the wire with Hernandez, who is eligible to come off the IL June 4 and seems in line to re-join the Marlins rotation at that point. I think I actually prefer him to Gomber in the long run, and would add him if I don't need a streamer for the immediate future.