If you're desperate for upside at starting pitcher and are kicking yourself for missing out on Jesus Luzardo and Tylor Megill, you could take a shot on Triston McKenzie, who's slightly less rostered at 70 percent. He's been frustratingly inconsistent dating back to his 2020 debut, delivering bipolar outings already this year, but his latest (and first actual start) was a fitting showcase of his potential:
Compared to last year, his velocity was up more than a mile per hour on both the fastball and slider, and he notched an impressive 13 swinging strikes on only 67 pitches. It doesn't explain his ineffectiveness just a few days earlier -- perhaps the unfamiliarity of working in relief -- but it serves as a reminder of the breakout possibilities for a pitcher who's still only 24 years old.
Let's not forget that after a return trip to the minors last year, he enjoyed an 11-start stretch with a 2.96 ERA, 0.73 WHIP and 9.1 K/9. We, uh, don't need to mention what happened in the three starts thereafter. Frustratingly inconsistent, remember.
Gavin Lux 2B
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #9 • Age: 24
Speaking of former top prospects who may be regaining their shine, Gavin Lux hit his first home run Wednesday and has made particularly hard contact the past couple days, bringing his average exit velocity to a respectable 91.5 mph. He's hardly striking out, and most importantly, the Dodgers seem committed to play him every day, even starting him against the one left-hander they've faced. They've been as good as any organization at identifying when players are truly ready, and I think his strong start is backing them up again.
SD San Diego • #1 • Age: 23
I have even more to say about MacKenzie Gore in the latest Prospects Report, but the bottom line is that if he's indeed being called up to take Blake Snell's turn Friday, it should be the start of something special. He was the consensus top pitching prospect at this time a year ago, and he'd probably be a Fantasy mainstay already if he hadn't lost a feel for his mechanics. All was right again this spring, his pitches on target and fastball popping at 98 mph, and you see how it translated at Triple-A. His is the sort of upside worth selling out for, even if it means sacrificing a Sonny Gray, an Aaron Civale or even a Triston McKenzie.
ARI Arizona • #29 • Age: 33
The reworked changeup that piled up so many whiffs for Merrill Kelly both in spring training and his season debut was good for only three swinging strikes in this one out of a mere six total. Then again, he was facing a lineup that was the best in all of baseball last year -- one full of hitters known for putting the bat on the ball -- and more than held his own. My suspicion is still that he's more of a floor play than a ceiling play, meaning not someone you'd add ahead of Gore, but he could still be pretty useful.
WAS Washington • #21 • Age: 29
Generally, three successful innings wouldn't be enough to restore the reputation of a guy who had a 7.39 ERA last year, but saves make us behave in strange ways. Tanner Rainey was billed as a future closer when he put together a 2.66 ERA, 0.74 WHIP and 14.2 K/9 in 2020, and he had more than his share of health issues last year. As confirmed saves sources go, he's near the bottom of the barrel for me, behind even Daniel Bard, but knowing is half the battle. Two saves in, we at least have an inkling what the Nationals intend to do.
Owen Miller 1B
CLE Cleveland • #6 • Age: 25
It took only two games for Owen Miller to wrest the first base job away from Bobby Bradley. Making his fourth consecutive start, after delivering two doubles on back-to-back days, he hit his first two home runs. He isn't thought to have big power, certainly not by first base standards, but he's also eligible at second in CBS Sports leagues. And seeing as he hit .305 over his minor-league career, exhibiting strong line-drive tendencies and an all-fields approach, I could see him being useful in a Ty France sort of way. Still a lot to prove, though.
Jake Fraley CF
CIN Cincinnati • #27 • Age: 27
Jake Fraley connected for his first home run Wednesday, which wasn't enough to redeem his numbers to this point, but a look under the hood suggests more production is on the way. He has an optimal launch angle for batting average, consistently hitting the ball on a line, and Statcast suggests his actual batting average should be .342. His 26.2 percent line-drive rate with the Mariners last year confirms that, yes, a positive batting average could be in play. He's also historically been an on-base specialist and a willing base-stealer, and while his power is modest, it should play up at his new home park. Most of all, though, the Reds seem committed to playing Fraley, starting him in five of their first six games. Get in before he gets hot.