Trevor Rogers undoubtedly spurred many fantasy managers to championship seasons in 2021, if not deep playoff runs in the fantasy playoffs.
The left-hander threw 133 innings for the Miami Marlins last season, striking out 10.62 batters per nine innings while walking 3.11 batters per nine frames. He also registered seven pitcher wins while notching a 2.64 ERA and a 2.55 FIP.
A mid-to-late round pick in many drafts, Rogers will almost assuredly have a much higher ADP this spring after his breakout season.
Per NFBC, Rogers’ current ADP sits at 95.38.
Finding pitchers who could replicate the left-hander’s success as a mid or late-round steal is easier said than done. And while it’s unreasonable to expect these pitchers to have the exact same metrics as Rogers in a breakout season in terms of strikeouts, walks, or ERA, there could be several pitchers late in drafts next spring who might just see their fantasy value skyrocket next season if their 2021 numbers are anything to go by.
These are those pitchers.
To qualify for this list, a pitcher had to have less than three years of Major League service time, like Rogers. So, they aren’t just pitchers with low ADPs. With that in mind, hurlers like Alex Cobb, who is an interesting candidate and potential steal at his current ADP of 286.69 (per NFBC) weren’t included.
To say that Triston McKenzie showed flashes of brilliance and dominance at times during the 2021 season is the definition of an understatement.
After a promising 33.1 inning debut (spanning eight appearances, including six starts) in 2020 that saw the right-hander pitch to a 3.24 ERA, a 3.91 FIP, 42 strikeouts, and nine walks, McKenzie’s production this past season resembled more peaks and valleys.
The peaks were rather high, but the valleys, well—they weren’t ideal.
In nine of McKenzie’s 24 starts, he threw at least five innings while allowing one or no runs. Each of those starts included at least five strikeouts.
However, in 11 other starts, he failed to reach five innings pitched, and in five of those 11 starts, he was tagged for five runs or more.
Still, it’s the peaks and the promise of McKenzie’s bat-missing ability that make him such an intriguing pitcher to draft ahead of next season.
The 24-year-old compliments his four-seam fastball with a slider, curveball, and changeup. The changeup he only threw 25 times, but it’s the slider and curveball that should get fantasy managers’ attention.
Essentially, when he throws them, good things tend to happen.
Triston McKenize’s Slider and Curveball
Those two pitches helped McKenzie put together a dominant run in the second half from July 9 to September 14 that saw him pitch like a frontline pitcher and top 25 fantasy starter. Or at the very least, a starter with a fairly comparable stat line to fantasy stalwarts Sandy Alcantara and Charlie Morton.
It’s a fairly specific sample size, but it’s also one that speaks to McKenzie’s elite upside as a starter.
The question now becomes whether he can sustain that kind of pitching. He showed up well in 2020 and had a sustained run in the second half of last season, but that stellar run was also followed up by a three-start sequence to finish the year where McKenzie allowed a combined 18 hits, 14 runs, seven walks, and five home runs while striking out just nine batters in 10.1 combined innings against the Royals, White Sox, and Rangers.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find many pitchers going off the board from that point on who could potentially produce like an ace and have previously done so for stretches in the past.
Due in part to trades and injuries, Cleveland’s status as a contender waned to a degree last season. The Guardians finished below .500 at 80-82, but that didn’t stop the franchise from continuing to feature promising young starters. Shane Bieber is the latest example of a frontline pitcher the Guardians have developed, and McKenzie could be the next, but Cal Quantrill is certainly worth keeping an eye on for fantasy managers in drafts this spring.
Acquired in the Mike Clevinger trade with the San Diego Padres in August of 2020, Quantrill initially spent much of his time in Cleveland as a reliever first in 2020 and then during the first half in 2021.
Then he stepped into the rotation full time on June 15.
And he didn’t look back.
The former Padre pitched to a 2.79 ERA and a 4.04 FIP in 116 innings while striking out 7.22 batters per nine frames and surrendering 2.72 walks and 1.01 home runs per nine innings.
The FIP, at least paired with a much lower ERA, and the lower strikeout numbers certainly aren’t ideal, but there’s still some intrigue here.
Quantrill’s sinker, his most used pitch with a 36.6% usage rate, helps him generate a bunch of weak contact. His overall hard-hit rate (34.5%) finished in the 81st percentile league-wide and the sinker (34.7% hard-hit rate) was certainly a big part of that.
And while the 26-year-old did register rather low strikeout totals in part due to the heavy sinker usage, his slider showed plenty of promise as well with a -13 run value, a 30.5% whiff rate, and a .293 xwOBA against. The whiff rate wasn’t incredibly high for a slider, but the pitch was instrumental in Quantrill’s success.
The ability to pair that out pitch with the sinker makes Quantrill someone to consider later in drafts, especially at his current ADP. Per NFBC, it’s presently 242.51. If the slider continues to be something of an out pitch and helps Quantrill see an uptick in strikeouts, he could be a steal.
Though even if his ERA, FIP, and strikeouts stay in the same vicinity for a full season’s worth of innings, the right-hander should easily outperform his draft position. According to NFBC’s he’s currently the 69th starter going off the board and the 90th pitcher overall.
Quantrill, including his work as a reliever, actually wasn’t too far behind those two, finishing as the 37th-best scoring starter in ESPN standard scoring, head-to-head leagues.
With a full season’s worth of innings as a starter, Quantrill should only be more productive in fantasy leagues next season.
Regardless of how good the Twins are next season, their rotation is far from settled. Right now, Ober, Joe Ryan, and free-agent signing Dylan Bundy look like the only locks to pitch every five days for Rocco Baldelli and company.
That fact probably doesn’t help Minnesota’s potential playoff push, and things could change once the lockout ends, but for now, it elevates and solidifies Ober’s fantasy value.
The rookie turned in a solid 2021 campaign, making 20 starts and soaking up 92.1 innings for the Minnesota Twins, checking in with better than league average metrics in several categories.
Now, obviously, there are some things not to like here. Batters turned in a .418 xwOBAcon against Ober last season and his other run prevention metrics besides his ERA like xERA (4.57) and FIP (4.56) leave plenty to be desired. But these are mid-to-late round picks we’re talking about. Upside plays. If Ober had a more sparkling treasure trove of advanced metrics, he’d probably have a higher ADP right now.
Still, the Twins starter a pitcher who is locked into a rotation role has a history of limiting walks and jas showed promise missing bats. Ober walked just 26 batters in 197.2 career minor league innings, so his rather small walks per nine inning rate in 2021 was nothing new.
You’re drafting upside with the 26-year-old, who was one of nine starters (minimum 90 innings) to log a K/9 rate north of 9.00, a BB/9 rate below 2.00, and a swinging strike percentage above 11% during the 2021 season.
The other eight?
You may have heard of them.
That’s not to say Ober is suddenly going to produce like Scherzer or deGrom but limiting walks and striking out batters at an above-average rate is a valuable ability to have in fantasy baseball. That Ober checks both boxes makes him someone you should consider drafting, especially with an ADP of 275.94, according to NFBC.
From a fantasy standpoint, few incumbent starters have benefited from their team’s pre-lockout offseason work than Casey Mize.
Javier Báez signing in Detroit will draw the headlines. And rightfully so. He’ll help shore up the shortstop position for the Tigers while also providing the team with an above-average run producer. That second bit is crucial in general, but especially for Mize’s fantasy prospects.
Among the 119 pitchers who made at least 20 starts last season, only 16 received less run support per game than Mize (3.9 runs).
Pitching with the lead is generally better for most pitchers, but it’s especially true for the former first-overall pick.
Mize won seven games last season in 30 starts for a 77-win Detroit team. And that was with the team limiting his starts to three or four innings for stretches in July and September.
Reaching 12 or 13 wins, while purely speculative, certainly isn’t out of the question for Mize this coming season with an improved Tigers roster.
Elsewhere, Tucker Barnhart’s arrival should pay dividends for Mize as well.
No Detroit catcher had a positive runs from extra strike metric last season, and just one (Grayson Greiner) had an above league average strike rate.
Enter Barnhart, who finished with the fourth-best runs from extra strike metric (+5) in baseball and also tied for 11th in strike rate (49.4%).
Overall, the one-run chasm between Casey Mize’s FIP (4.71) and his ERA (3.71) isn’t ideal. Neither is a 7.06 strikeouts per nine innings rate for a pitcher who made a name for himself first as a draft prospect and then as a minor leaguer for having such a deep arsenal to attack hitters with.
But, all that doesn’t mean you should shy away from drafting Mize.
Improved run support and throwing to Barnhart regularly should help. So too should continuing to work with pitching coach Chris Fetter.
It’s perhaps the least quantifiable statement via statistics to make on a pitcher by pitcher basis, but Fetter had a tangible impact on the Tigers’ staff last season, his first in Detroit.
Mize should only improve.
And for as much as his ERA/FIP difference and low BABIP (.254) are causes for concern, the starter’s pitch arsenal showed promise, especially considering his average velocity on his four-seam fastball crept up from 92.2 MPH in 2020 to 93.6 MPH last season.
More pitcher wins should certainly be in the forecast for Mize, and if he can take a step forward, he should be able to easily outperform his ADP of 254.13, per NFBC. For reference, that’s as the 94th pitcher, and 72nd starter, off the board.
Photos by Allan Dranberg & Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)