I’m going to say something that hasn’t been said enough this off-season.
There is a lot of starting pitcher depth this year.
That may be a bit of a surprise given the constant emphasis on getting aces early or leaving the first seven or eight rounds with three starters, but with every mock and real draft I’ve done, I’ve found myself with quality arms left on my queue in the final rounds.
You’re targeting most of these names already, maybe even all of them. At the very least, these ten arms should serve as a reminder that you do not need to chase elite arms early as there are plenty fewer impact bats left in the late rounds than quality arms.
I’ll be using Fantasy Pros’ aggregate ADP to gather the names past pick #400 and despite their price of “free” in standard leagues, these pitchers deserve heavy consideration in the final rounds.
Merrill Kelly (Arizona Diamondbacks, ADP #409) – This cheap price for Kelly is expecting his floor, while not embracing the possibility of his ceiling – a sub 3.70 ERA with a decent WHIP and a 20%+ strikeout rate. The Diamondbacks are going to let Kelly fly for as many innings as they can, especially when he has a lock on a rotation spot. It’s hard to find an arm with strikeout upside and a strong volume of frames without toxic ratios and I wouldn’t be surprised if the first person who owns Kelly retains him through the full year.
Wade Miley (Houston Astros, ADP #417) – Miley isn’t my favorite name listed here, though there are plenty worse rolls of the dice in the later rounds. Miley adopted a new cutter into his repertoire and soared with the Brewers last season, to the tune of a 2.57 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. I can see the Astros allowing Miley to enter the sixth inning frequently with the possibility that their analytics department pushes his horrid 15% strikeout rate closer to 20% – I don’t feel the need to echo the spikes in whiff rates for Astros pitchers lately. Throw in a good chance at an above-average win total and you have a startable arm incredibly late in drafts.
Lucas Giolito (Chicago White Sox, ADP #420) – We’ve been waiting ages for Giolito to be the pitcher we want him to be and this may seem a bit ridiculous after holding the worst ERA in the majors by over sixty points. Yikes. The good news is that Gioltio is sitting 93-97 this spring after averaging under 93mph last season. There was a moment of success for Giolito last season with a new arm-angle that accelerated his fastball and with a good fastball as a foundation, Giolito could utilize his slider and changeup effectively to return a strong year. It’s a little riskier than other picks in this list, but he shouldn’t be forgotten among the masses.
Justus Sheffield (Seattle Mariners, ADP #436) – The biggest question is when Sheffield gets his opportunity, as the moment Sheffield hits the Mariners’ rotation, he should be a solid play across all standard leagues. With a new changeup that becomes the perfect addition to his already strong fastball/slider combination, Sheffield has all the tools to make an instant impact. Seattle has little reason to hold him back once he gets the call – this isn’t the Yankees or Rays with their bullpen usage – and there’s even a chance he sees time before April ends, resulting in 150+ frames this year.
Jeff Samardzija (San Francisco Giants, ADP #456) – You can throw away the 2018 season as Samardzija has discussed his hurt shoulder and how he needed the off-season to recover properly. What we saw prior was five straight campaigns of 200 frames, back-to-back seasons of a 1.20 WHIP or lower, and a bump to a 24% strikeout rate in 2017. Don’t count out Samardzija for a bounce-back year as he’s sure to get all the volume you want for San Francisco.
Matt Strahm (San Diego Padres, ADP #462) – I’ve talked endlessly about the ceiling of Strahm, to the extent that some of you have just rolled your eyes. Still, if Strahm gets a rotation spot in San Diego, it returns a massive surplus of value as I could see Strahm pulling off something close to Joey Lucchesi’s 2018 rookie year…but plenty better than his 4.08 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. Grab him now and understand that you could own anyone else on this list if he somehow doesn’t beat Bryan Mitchell, Luis Perdomo, Eric Lauer, or Robbie Erlin for a starting job.
Shelby Miller (Texas Rangers, ADP #537) – Before Miller went under the knife in 2017, we were excited at his velocity spike at 95mph. He returned a little too soon in 2018, heading to the 60-day DL with elbow inflammation following his first four starts. The Rangers are taking a chance on Miller surprising in the opening months of the year and hoping to deal him at the deadline…which you can do yourself on your fantasy teams. This could fall flat in a heartbeat, but if Miller is pumping 94-95 out of the gate with a strong cutter and curveball, he may be one of the most popular pickups of the first two weeks. Worst case, he’s not cutting it early and you can drop him without worry.
Caleb Smith (Miami Marlins, ADP #562) – The next two arms could both make the rotation and carry surprising upside, though we may just see one of Smith and Lopez get the early call. Smith was a hot topic last spring, boasting a ridiculous 34% strikeout rate through his first seven starts. While that number is a bit inflated, a 25% rate seems well attainable with his slider and changeup each carrying a 16% swinging-strike rate, paired with a low-to-mid 90s heater that can be elevated effectively. His command was a bit spotty last year, though, and he’ll need to showcase polish to stick around all year, but it’s rare to find this ceiling so late in drafts.
Pablo Lopez (Miami Marlins, ADP Past #640/UNRANKED) – Lopez follows a similar mold as Smith, just from the opposite side of the plate and a touch better control. Both his curveball and changeup carry a – you guessed it – 16% swinging-strike rate, though his four-seamer/sinker mix leaves a bit to be desired. If Lopez finds the command to hit corners often, there’s enough here to propel him to many staffs in 12-teamers. Just make sure he leaves camp in the rotation.
Jerad Eickhoff (Philadelphia Phillies, ADP Past #640/UNRANKED) – Like others above, there is a chance Eickhoff doesn’t hold a starting job leaving camp, but there’s plenty of upside to be had if he earns his spot. Eickhoff is returning from injury and off-season carpal tunnel surgery, and his brief stint last year showcased and improved curveball – it helped him fan eight Atlanta batters in ten outs during his sole start – that should carry through a full year. Eickhoff’s 2016 season of a 3.65 ERA and 1.16 WHIP doesn’t seem so far off from possibility, even with an improved strikeout rate from his 20.5% mark with his polished hook. For a pitcher not even considered, there’s a lot to think about here.