Fantasy leagues are won and lost by late round gems, diamonds in the rough and surprise performances. If every high player performed as well as expectations, fantasy sports would be pretty boring. Every year we try to find the next breakout season, the next Chris Davis, Michael Brantley and Charlie Blackmon (at least for the first half). Teams that wind up with a couple of these kind of guys will run the league.
In this article, I’ll dissect a few guys without any fanfare who have just as much of a chance to boost your team as any of the blue chip prospects. For every Stephen Strasburg (blue chip) there is an Alex Cobb (unheard of before MLB debut). For every Tim Lincecum there is a Corey Kluber. For every Carlos Rodon, there is a Nathan Kar- well, let’s get started after a little more explanation.
I’m not going to just regurgitate pitchers at the tail end of the top 100 lists; these are guys who don’t make any list (or maybe just one, it’s hard with so many out there). These are also guys in Double or Triple A, who are going to give you value this season. That way there are more applications than just dynasty leagues. And where I will put some emphasis on open spots to win out of camp, it’s also important to understand the amount of injuries pitcher go through. The average team will use over eight different starting pitchers in 2015. The guys I am going to list have talent, polish, and they will earn playing time.
So without further ado:
Nathan Karns – Rays
Finding more great young arms in the Rays’ farm system almost seems too easy, but Karns is different from other former members. He came over from the Nationals’ system just a year ago in a swap for backup catcher Jose Lobaton. Karns’ awkward mechanics, namely a stiff front foot when he plants to throw, have limited his ceiling to many evaluators. His awkward motion and apparent lack of durability (despite rarely missing starts) have kept his name from appearing more often in prospect guides.
What makes Karns such a catch is his easy plus curve. I’ve heard it ranked up to 75 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He will sometimes lose his feel and control for the pitch, the only knock on it. It’s a complete drop off the table type of curve, one that would earn him a spot as a late inning reliever if he didn’t show so much starting potential. His curve helped fuel his 24.5% strikeout rate, second in the International League (AAA).
The Rays have a stacked rotation heading into 2015, but don’t forget about Nate here. He could easily be one of the best rookie pitchers once given the call, whether it’s due to an injury or an ineffective pitcher in the rotation.
Nick Tropeano – Angels
Despite a great season in the PCL (AAA) in 2014 where Tropeano finished third in strikeout rate with 24.7% and a measly 3.03 ERA in a very hitter friendly league, he still is getting left off many major rankings. Part of the reason is a pretty average outing in his Double A stint in 2013, but worries about that should be put aside after his 2014 campaign and a history of success at every other level.
What’s so interesting about Tropeano is a great strikeout rate that he also couples with an ability to avoid walks; just 6.8% of opposing hitters got a free pass from Trope, another great mark to post in an environment that eats pitcher for breakfast, lunch, and midnight snacks.
NiTro (the best nickname you’ll hear all season) flies under the radar with a low velocity fastball and a plus changeup that he can use against both hands. He’s reminiscent in a way of James Shields all those years ago, and his ceiling isn’t too far off depending on how he develops his slider. The Astros have success with making breaking pitches work for non-prospects (Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh), let’s see if the Angels have that same success with Tropeano.
Jose Urena – Marlins
Urena is one of the more obscure prospects that will be mentioned here. He is still a strong candidate to challenge for a rotation spot out of Spring Training despite not pitching an inning in Triple A. As the Marlins showed (almost idiotically) with Jose Fernandez, they are not afraid of having their pitchers skip levels. Even with a wealth of young pitchers, Urena shows enough polish and stuff to make the opening day roster.
His control is one of his biggest pluses, while always maintaining an elite strikeout rate. The last two seasons he has kept his walk rates below 5%, an unthinkable number for a pitcher so young in his levels. He shows great run suppression ability as well, keeping his FIP and ERA under 4 since 2011.
His biggest weapon is a mid-90s fastball with heavy movement which he uses well with an average to plus changeup. His major league impact will depend on how well he can develop his slurve-y breaking ball. It has inconsistencies, both in its shape and control. If Urena can simply make his breaking pitch an average one, he could easily be dominating in the Show this coming season.
Tyler Pill – Mets
Pill has maybe the quickest route to major league starts, having already crept up to Triple A in a Mets system that would love his young pitching potential. Pill led the Easter League (AA) in K-BB% with a 17.9% mark (K-BB% is one of the best metrics to judge pitching prospects, and unsurprisingly all other names mentioned finished high in their respective leagues).
Pill has rarely had his name mentioned anywhere, thanks in part to lackluster performances mixed with injury. When he was evading one, it seemed the other found him, but 2014 was one of his first seasons he’s put it all together, much to the joy of Mets’ fans and front office members.
Similar to NiTro (still can’t get over this nickname), Pill throws low 90s but compensates with secondary stuff. Instead of one elite off-speed pitch however, Pill throws about four different offerings besides the hard stuff. His changeup, curveball, slider and slurve-hybrid are all at least average, but give him tons of options against different hitters.
Pill was a hitter in college, but found himself to be a better pitcher with the Mets system. This gives him the rare mindset of understanding how to approach a hitter effectively, something most minor leaguers lack. Smarts, a wide arsenal and good results have Tyler Pill trending upwards and if you were smart, trending towards your fantasy team.
Here are four guys for you to take and make yourself look like a genius. They all offer sky-high potential with little risk, provided you take them last or in free agency. Make sure to sit back, relax, and laugh as hard as humanly possible as the rest of your league takes highly regarded pitching prospects way too early while you pick up a few diamonds in the rough.