Welcome back, Baseball Fans!!!
There are only two weeks until we get some games that count. Meanwhile, there is still work to be done to build championship fantasy rosters. My assignment for the next two weeks is to help you find value in rookie pitchers. There are many MiLB and rookie hitters that are being drafted this year in all formats after several impressive rookie performances. Freshman pitchers tend to have limited impact in comparison due to workload limits and team strategy. It is unlikely that any MiLB pitchers other than Othani will be drafted in your 12-team (or under) leagues. If you are in 16-team (or larger) leagues, you will likely be looking for depth or lottery tickets to round out your draft. This week we will be looking at relief pitchers and next week we will look at Starters.
In order to establish a baseline for determining value, we will use a typical MLFS league setup: 16-team, 26-man roster with a mixed scoring format that considers counting stats and sabermetrics (QS, W, K-BB, SV, ERA, WHIP, HR/9 and IRS+H). Each team is required to have at least five relief pitchers and there is an additional slot for SP or RP. 414 players will be drafted and 80 to 96 relievers will be needed. With only 30 closers and balanced scoring, there is great value in middle relievers.
There are not many hot prospects that get the call to be a middle reliever. However, many starting pitchers struggle in the high levels in the minor leagues due to not having a quality third pitch. These type of pitchers often make excellent relievers once their teams commit to their conversion to the bullpen. These guys can be excellent right out of the gate when they reach the Major Leagues. This week, we will look at five guys that still have their rookie eligibility but can be valuable late-round adds.
In order to keep with the theme of my colleagues, I will list these pitcher’s ADP over many top sites. ADP was compiled by fantasypros.com.
You probably won’t find any of these guys on Top 100 prospect lists, but they can bring value in deep leagues and could eventually develop into closers. All of these guys made appearances in Majors in 2017, but are still below rookie thresholds and should be under the radar in comparison to their potential value in 2018.
|39||280||Josh Hader (MIL – RP)||259||221||305||301||284||274|
|47||327||Trevor Hildenberger (MIN – RP)||340||241||444||439||366|
|76||452||Drew Steckenrider (MIA – RP)||406||389||370||419||396|
|94||576||Joe Jimenez (DET – RP)||595||527||561|
|167||755||Wilmer Font (LAD – RP)||749||934||841.5|
Josh Hader, LHP (MIL)
2017: 35 G, 47.2 INN, 2 W, 3.09 K-BB, 0 SV, 2.08 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 0.76 HR/9, 21 IRS+H
Hader had a great debut last year. He just barely kept his eligibility after pitching 52 innings in AAA. This may be the last year to get him cheap because I believe he will have a breakout season in 2018. Milwaukee still would like to see him as a Starter since he does have three MLB quality pitches, but as a LHP that can get out hitters on both sides of the plate. The Brewers won’t hesitate to give him high-leverage opportunities this year. Fangraphs views him as a TIER 2 middle reliever in the discussion with Dellin Betances and David Robertson who are going 2 to 3 rounds earlier. There is still some question about his command, but his ability to get strikeouts (12.84 K/9) and potential for saves and holds could make him an elite middle reliever at a 17th to 18th round price.
Trevor Hildenberger, RHP (MIN)
2017: 37 G, 42 INN, 3 W, 7.33 K-BB, 1 SV, 3.21 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 0.86 HR/9, 32 IRS+H
At 27 years-old, Hildenberger is hardly a prospect anymore. His calling is definitely the bullpen as his best pitch is by far his changeup but with above-average command of all three of his pitches (including a fastball and slider). Although he doesn’t strikeout a ton, 44-6 K-BB is huge in category leagues and he doesn’t give up home runs. Despite a lack of high-end velocity, Trevor is a sneaky pick to grab some saves and should definitely rack up the holds over a full season. At 40 years-old, Fernando Rodney may not be difficult to overcome as the closer. Although Addison Reed may still be in line ahead of him, an injury could open the door. Elite command and nearly 60% ground ball rate could be a safe choice in late innings. You can get him in the last three rounds despite being a Top 50 reliever. He will have increased value in category leagues due to his great ratios.
Drew Steckenrider, RHP (MIA)
2017: 37 G, 37.2 INN, 1 W, 3.00 K-BB, 1 SV, 2.34 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 1.04 HR/9, 20 IRS+H
The remaining guys on this list all fall outside the Top 368 picks but could hold value as a last round flier with upside, $1 auction or waiver wire fodder to replace stupid picks. Steckenrider slides in at #76 reliever just making the 80-96 cut. He isn’t higher because he has only two pitches (plus fastball, average curve) and only average command. That being said, his 70-grade four-seam fastball has an average velocity of 95.6 and his 54 Ks is good for over 35% K rate. The upside is limited in category leagues, however, he is in line for high leverage situations including possible save opportunities. Brad Ziegler is not a lock to keep the closer job and Drew’s main competition is Kyle Barraclough who has the same profile with even less command. Mattingly may go with the hot hand and Steckenrider was the best bullpen arm in Miami over the second half of the season.
Joe Jimenez, RHP (DET)
2017: 24 G, 19 INN, 0 W, 1.89 K-BB, 0 SV, 12.32 ERA, 2.11 WHIP, 1.89 HR/9, 10 IRS+H
Out of all the guys we looked at so far, this was the ugliest stat line in a pro debut. Despite the rough start, he slips in the Top 100 relievers at #96 warranting fringe consideration for a last round lottery pick. Where is the upside in these stats? Well, frankly, there isn’t any. His K% was less than 20% and BB rate was almost 10%. The excitement for me lies in his off-season effort. He has lost weight, worked on his mechanics and improved his slider. His 70-grade four-seam fastball sits in the mid-90s but his inconsistently delivery offset the healthy mix of pitches that includes a changeup. He has worked his pitching coach to repeat his delivery and change the grip on his slider. He’s in the best shape of his pro career and it shows with a great camp so far, 5 INN, 8 Ks, 1 SV. Although his command may be a struggle, he has a clean slate with a new coach and a lot of optimism by the organization about him going into the season. It’s unlikely he will supplant Shane Greene as closer, however, if he is consistent and can throw strikes at all, the bullpen is ripe for picking up high leverage situations with plenty of potential counting stats.
Wilmer Font, RHP (LAD)
2017: 3 G, 3.2 INN, 0 W, 0.75 K-BB, 0 SV, 17.18 ERA, 3.00 WHIP, 4.91 HR/9, 0 IRS+H
And the winner for the worst stat line goes to…Wilmer Font. You may think I’m smoking crack for this one, but my gut says Font could be a sleeper this year. He is not being drafted but for the deepest of leagues and has had a weird journey to this point where he likely starts the season as the Dodger’s long man out of the pen because he is out of options. How is he out of options when he has only pitched 7.0 career Major League innings? Funny story…he’s had 11 years of pro ball and debuted in the Majors in 2012. He has had Tommy John Surgery and a wild ride through the minors with no one giving him a chance. That changed in 2017 when the Dodgers signed him as a free agent that previous off-season. He responded by pitching 25 games in AAA, all starts, with 134.1 innings and notching 10 wins. He was a PCL All-Star that featured four pitches with outstanding command and deadly strikeout rates. In those 134 innings, he held hitters to 0.74 HR/9 with an incredible 25.8% K-BB rate. His fastball can hit the mid-90s and he knows uses it as a put-away pitch up in the zone after setting up hitters with a plus curveball early in the count. He mixes in a solid slider and developed a cutter last year. Listen, this guy is 27, he could be nothing and released by mid-season. What I think could happen…Font takes the long-relief role and racks up strikeouts due to multiple-inning appearances. They can then easily stretch him out to spot start and he becomes the newest late-bloomer to take the league by storm and the Dodgers cash in at the trade deadline to fill a need. If you find yourself in the last round and feel like making a “what-the-hell” pick, you could be the genius of your league predicting his successful breakout from left field. The worst that happens is you drop him and pick up the guy with the hot start in April. Live a little, have fun, perhaps steal league bragging rights. You could do a lot worse than 35% K rate and 6% BB rate in 25 starts. I get it, Major League hitters are better than minor league hitters. He has enough experience, his control and command should play at any level and that is a key to success.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join Corey D Roberts, and Kyle Amore live on Thursday March 15th, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #106 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will the latest information in the world of fantasy baseball.
Our guest this week is Kevin Bzdek. Kevin is a writer with Major League Fantasy Sports and part of the editing staff. Kevin’s articles publish every Friday morning at 7am.