Welcome back, Baseball Fans! We are working our way through the Top 60 pitching prospects for 2019. This list is intended to provide something for everyone regardless of if you are playing in a redraft, keeper or dynasty league and regardless of size. This week is part two covering players #16 thru #30. As a refresher, I did not just go straight down the list based on talent and stuff. I weighed different aspects of the pitcher and tiered them up in a way that could be easily referenced depending on what you are looking for. The pitchers in each tier could easily be interchanged but they are grouped together due to similar impact. Here are the criteria I used to generate this list…
- Previous Success
- Proximity to the Majors
- Injury History
- Gut Feeling
I did get some feedback that some of you felt I snubbed certain players. Rest assured that all those that were brought up to me are in this next group and are well represented. With all that being said, part two of our pre-season pitching prospect rankings…
16. Josh James, HOU — ETA Opening Day 25 Man Roster, 2019
James came out of nowhere last year to make a huge splash in Houston resulting in a spot in most site’s Top 100 prospects for 2019. He wasn’t even on the rosters of any of the deep dynasty leagues I participate in. MLB has him at #62 and Fantrax has him at #98. There are three reasons that he wasn’t high on anyone’s list going into last season. First, he had four seasons of pro ball that were mediocre at best and he split time between being a starter and coming out of the bullpen during those years. Second, the righty struggled with his command and control leading most to believe he was destined to be a reliever. He’s already a bit older at age 24 last season. Well, apparently, during the 2017 season he began taking his health more seriously, got in better shape and started using a C-Pap machine to handle his sleep apnea. As a result, he entered camp last year with increased velocity and command featuring two plus pitches (fastball and changeup) with an above average third offering in a slider. They tried him as a starter and he responded with a combined 3.23 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 13.46 K/9 and 3.86 K/9 in 114.1 INN between AA and AAA. He was hitting triple digits and keeping the ball in the back. He earned a September call-up and made the postseason roster after an incredible showing. One year of dominance does not a pitcher make, especially with four years of mediocrity prior. However, I have him at the top of this tied because I believe with his lifestyle adjustments and improved conditioning, his dominate three pitch mix can succeed as a starter at the Major League level and he has a great chance to grab the 5th spot in the Astros’ rotation out of camp. Grab him in all leagues and enjoy production in both points and category leagues as a value pick in the later rounds of your drafts.
17. Justus Sheffield, SEA — ETA Early-to-Mid 2019
Sheffield has been a “top prospect” for a long time now. He was drafted #31 overall by Cleveland back in 2014. Five years later, he is joining his 3rd organization and a Top 5 LHP prospect going into 2019. Seattle’s top prospect comes into 2019 as MLB.com’s #43 ranked prospect and Fangraph’s #60. Like James, he has a plus fastball and changeup with an above average slider. His slider is close to a plus-plus pitch and just nasty coming from the left side. He dominated in AA this year was good in AAA and had a rough “cup of coffee” in the Bronx. His minor league combined stats were 2.48 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 9.54 K/9 and 3.88 BB/9 over 116 INN. Sheffield has shown top of the rotation “stuff” since he entered pro ball but his command has been inconsistent at best. What really works in his favor is this ability to limit home runs. Despite giving up one in his short MLB stint (2.2 INN), he only gave up four (4) over the 116 innings pitched in the upper Minors during 2018. He has more name recognition than James but for 2019, I draft James before him. Sheff should get some run this year, but I don’t think he earns a roll out of camp. He likely gets the first crack if the likes of Mike Leake, Marco Gonzales, King Felix or Wade Leblanc craps out as the season progresses. He’s worth a late flyer if you have roster space to stash him. Dynasty leagues, his overall package is likely more valuable than James and Justus is 3 years younger. For 2019, I stand with Josh but in the long run, Sheffield will get Justus for this snub.
18. Touki Toussaint, ATL — ETA Early 2019
Touki comes in as the 3rd pitcher from the Braves’ organization to make this list. Arguably, there are two Atlanta prospects that will likely be better than Toussaint, but this list gives added weight to proximity to the Show and he already had a taste of it last season pitching 29 INN for Atlanta. Like Sheffield, he was a first-round selection in 2014 by Arizona as a teenager with raw tools, high ceiling, and high bust potential. He brings a four-pitch mix featuring a plus fastball and plus curveball. He also possesses a league average changeup and cutter. He was inconsistent over his first four years of pro ball but has skyrocketed up the charts after a breakout 2018. He comes into 2019 at #50 on MLB.com and #56 on Fangraphs. He has always struggled with his command but lowered his walk rate considerably in the upper levels in 2018. His stats last season between AA and AAA were 2.38 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 10.76 K/9 and 3.50 BB/9 over 136.1 INN. These are excellent numbers and have now put him squarely in the mix for the 5th and final rotation spot to bring 2019. He is up against five (5) other prospects that are on the 40 Man roster and have all tasted the Majors. I’m not sure which way they will go although I think they may go with Mike Soroka with the better command or Max Fried with more experience. Unless he shows consistent command in camp, I would bet he starts in AAA for a few weeks until there is a need due to injury or ineffectiveness in the rotation. When its all said and done, I have him at #18 because I think he will have the most INN pitched out of all the impressive Atlanta prospects this season. I’m targeting him in dynasty leagues as owners may be more willing to part with him than the hot names in their the Braves’ organization. Redraft leagues can leave him on the waiver wire unless you draft in late March and it looks like he will win the last rotation spot. I am looking forward to seeing if he continues with consistent control that he flashed last year or he regresses to what we have known as in the four seasons prior.
19. Yusei Kikuchi, SEA — ETA #1 Starter in Seattle on Opening Day
Kikuchi isn’t so much a prospect, but he is a rookie after eight (8) seasons playing in the NFB in Japan. The 27-year-old signed with the Mariners this off-season and will anchor a “re-imagined” rotation that will likely struggle in 2019. Frankly, most of the projections do not paint a pretty picture for him in year one. Fangraphs does predict a WAR of 1.5 but his ratios will likely be OK. He’s this high on my list due to the fact that he will be a starter the entire season barring injury which is worthy of rotation depth in most fantasy leagues. With the exception of an incredible breakout season in 2017, the rest of his career in Japan has been a decent, innings-eater pitcher that was a better actual pitcher than fantasy stat producer. His fastball is barely league average, but he has a plus curve and decent cutter and changeup. The four-pitch mix could leave hitters off-balance and cause weak contract but I don’t expect much in the way of strikeouts. In 2017 he had video game numbers with a 1.97 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 217:49 K:BB and 16 HR in 187.2 INN. This output is an outlier as his career numbers are 2.77 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 8.0 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 and 0.7 HR/9 over eight (8) seasons. Coming from the left side, he could be effective but his solid repertoire does not have anything nasty to get excited about. He has also had a history of shoulder issues can durability could be an issue. Draft him as late round depth or back of the rotation help in deep leagues. Ultimately, he has the least amount of raw talent than anyone in the Top 30, but his guarantee of innings puts him just inside the Top 20.
20. Kyle Wright, ATL
Wright and Ian Anderson are probably the most talented of all the Atlanta pitching prospects. He is already polished coming out of an excellent college program at Vanderbilt with two plus pitches (fastball, curveball) and two other solid offerings (slider, changeup). He had a short ineffective stint in the Majors last season and overall his command was far below what his college resume suggested. He walks a tick more and strikes out less than what we think he will. He needs to spend most of 2019 for more seasoning and should see time in the Majors later in the Summer. 2020 is when his impact should be felt.
21. Chris Paddack, SD
I really like Paddack and was tempted to have him much higher. I only dropped him to #21 because I gave preference to those that would spend most of 2019 in the Majors. Those of you that have read my articles of the years know that I push high control/command guys. If they can establish this early on, they have a much better chance of success in the Majors regardless of their wipeout stuff. In Paddack’s case, he has a 70-grade changeup with a plus fastball and plus-plus command. Paddack had a 0.82 WHIP between A+ and AA over 90 INN in 2018. His career Per 9 numbers are outstanding, 11.7 K/9, 1.0 BB/9, and 0.5 HR/9. With less than 40 INN at AA, he likely starts there and moves quickly to AAA. The signing of Manny Machado may move up their timeline to compete which gives him a chance to join the Big League club in the late Summer if they are in striking range of a Wild Card spot. He is dynasty gold but should be on the radar of all baseball fans.
22. Griffin Canning, LAA
Griffin was a polished arm out of UCLA that didn’t pitch at all for the Angels after being drafted in the 2nd round in 2017. He started strong in 2018 and covered three levels over 113.1 INN and ended in AAA. He will definitely need time in AAA (perhaps even AA) to regain his command, but he has four pitches that should play and could be in the rotation by the end of the season as the Angels always seem to struggle with injuries to their starting pitching. His stuff is limited perhaps, but he already has a pro approach and should succeed with good ratios across the board. His ceiling is probably a #3 starter and worthy of a look in deep leagues when he is called up.
Uber-Talented But Needs More Seasoning
23. Hunter Greene, CIN
Greene slots in at #23 due to potential. He could be one of the best pitchers in the league at some point with an 80-grade fastball that needs time to develop. He has a great approach but is still a teenager and will need to reps that have been slowed down due to injury. Raw and talented, Greene has perhaps the highest ceiling of everyone on this list but we won’t see him until 2021 at the earliest.
24. Dustin May, LAD
Master of breaking balls, May has a fantastic spin rate and all four pitches sink. All four should be Major League average or better with the potential of two plus (fastball, curveball). He had under 2 BB/9 in 132.2 INN ending in AA. May is the Dodger’s best pitching prospect and should be ready for Chavez Ravine in 2020. Should slot in nicely behind Buehler one day soon and was a deal-breaking in the Machado talks last year. The Dodgers got their rental and kept their stud pitcher. They may have not done much this off-season but they are still balancing a win-now and future approach.
25. Brusdar Graterol, MIN
Brusdar has a “plus” name as well as two plus pitches (fastball, slider). He has come back for TJS in 2016 to have a solid 2018. He is probably at least a year away as he has yet to pitch in AA. He has the stuff and makeup to form a nice 1-2 punch with Berrios at the top of the Twins rotation. His command is improving and ultimately that will determine his ceiling.
26. Brady Singer, KC
Seemingly a steal at #18 overall in the 2018 draft, Kansas City’s top pitching prospect didn’t pitch has yet to make his pro debut. The three-year college starter from a great Flordia Gators program is expected to move quickly through the system with a potential plus a fastball/slider combo with advance command. He will likely debut at High A and could be in Kansas City by 2020.
27. Matt Manning, DET
Manning is the 2nd ranked Detroit pitching prospect (behind Casey Mize) who is part of a great group of young pitchers that should hit the Majors in the next few years. Since the Tigers are years away from contending, they are in no hurry to develop and advance these guys so Manning likely waits until 2020 to show off his plus fastball/curveball combo as he works on his command in the high minors.
28. Adrian Morejon, SD
#3 San Diego pitcher on this list with the potential for three plus pitches and plus command. None of those pitches are actually there yet as Adrian is likely two years out. Probably opens in High A, he should spend most of the year in AA developing against top talent.
29. Luis Patino, SD
#4 San Diego pitcher in the Top 30 firm places San Diego as the top pitching farm system. Atlanta is right there and definitely is closer to contributing, but this teenager also has the potential to develop three plus pitches. San Diego’s scouting and ability to sign young international prospects has completely changed the outlook of their future. At best he starts at High A and will need at least two years before he is ready to join Manny in Petco Park.
30. Matthew Liberatore, TB
Liberatore is a rare polished teenager that had a fantastic pro debut and is advanced for his age. As the two Padre specs above, he could potentially develop three plus pitches but his fastball has good movement but is likely going to be 3rd on the list as his curveball/slider combo could be special. I expect the last five guys in this tier to make a huge jump and perhaps push for the Top 15 going into 2020.
That is all for today. Next week we digger deep with pitching prospects #31-45. We will see a mix of MLB ready pitchers with exciting stuff that is likely going to play better out the pen, at least for 2019. Then we will see the next wave of young guys looking to prove themselves in the lower levels and try to jump into the Top 30 for 2020. Until then, enjoy the Spring Training games that start today!
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Brian Roach, Jr, and Cole Freel live on Sunday February 17th, 2019 from 8-9:45pm EST for episode #138 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. You can listen live on blogtalk, majorleaguefantasysports.com, or download the podcast on I-Tunes or any Android podcast app. This week we will break down the N.L. Central.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join Corey D Roberts, and Kyle Amore on Thursday February 21st, 2019 from 8pm – 9:45pm EST for the Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show. Call in number is 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. You can listen live on blogtalk, majorleaguefantasysports.com, or download the podcast on I-Tunes or any Android podcast app. Our topic for tonight will be the A.L. West.
Be sure to check out our Sunday night show February 24th from 8pm to 9:45pm EST. They will cover the N.L. West.