Early 2014 rookie/sophomore pitcher rankings — UPDATED 12/30/13

As my father said, more and more young players are making a greater impact on fantasy baseball than he could remember. Here is a compilation of young, fantasy-relevant pitchers, including sophomores, freshmen and young pitchers you may have forgotten or not heard of. You won’t see breakout pitchers like Patrick Corbin or Hisashi Iwakuma on this list because they have closer to two years than one under their belts.

The pitchers are ranked best to worst and divided into separate categories: Top 60, Top 90 Consideration, and Not Worth Drafting. For example, I would draft Jose Fernandez and Gerrit Cole before anyone else on this list.

Rookies are denoted by orange text.

OK, enough chatter. Let’s go.

TOP 60:

Jose Fernandez, MIA | 2013: 12-6, 172-1/3 IP (28 GS), 2.19 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 3.0 BB/9
There’s nothing I can say about Fernandez’s dominance that hasn’t been said. What I will say is Fernandez benefited from some good luck, as indicated by his .244 BAbip. It could be legit, but even Pedro Martinez‘s career BAbip is .282 with a season-best .237, and Clayton Kershaw‘s career mark is .275. Even with a depleted win-column, he’s a top-15 pick at worst with upside.

Gerrit Cole, PIT | 2013: 10-7, 117-1/3 IP (19 GS), 3.22 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, 2.1 BB/9
Cole has reverted to becoming more of a control guy, cutting down on walks at the expense of the kind of strikeouts you expect from a power pitcher. Still, he’s a must-draft with top-15 upside out of the gate.

Michael Wacha, STL | 2013: 4-1, 64-2/3 IP (9 GS), 2.78 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 9.0 K/9, 2.6 BB/9
Wacha has gone at least seven innings allowing two hits or fewer in more than a quarter of his career starts. I know nothing about inning limits or manager Mike Matheny’s plans with them, but honestly, not drafting a potential ace because of an innings cap is a stupid strategy anyway.

Danny Salazar, CLE | 2013: 2-3, 52 IP (10 GS), 3.12 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 11.3 K/9, 2.6 BB/9
All Salazar has done since he debuted is humiliate batters. The only starting pitcher with at least 10 starts that has more K’s-per-nine than Salazar is Yu Darvish. The Indians have been very careful with his innings and pitch counts, though, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it carried over into 2014 given his Tommy John history.

Sonny Gray, OAK | 2013: 5-3, 64 IP (10 GS), 2.67 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 9.4 K/9, 2.8 BB/9
The strikeout rate is (probably) unsustainable. Regardless, don’t be surprised if he is Oakland’s Opening Day starter for 2015.

Julio Teheran, ATL | 2013: 14-8, 185-2/3 IP (30 GS), 3.20 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 2.2 BB/9
Teheran was the same pitcher all year, despite how badly he started and how solidly he finished. He’s a good pitcher, but he over-performed: the number of runners he stranded (and, thus, his ERA) was not sustainable given his peripherals. His control and strikeout ability makes him a solid bet regardless, but he may be a bit overvalued come draft day.

Hyun-jin Ryu, LAD | 2013: 14-8, 192 IP (30 GS), 3.00 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 2.3 BB/9
Solid first year from the Korean import, but expect the ERA to rise. He’s entering his age-27 season — if you have expectations of improvement, keep them in check.

Tony Cingrani, CIN | 2013: 7-4, 104-2/3 IP (18 GS), 2.92 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 3.7 BB/9
It’s hard not to be totally enamored with Cingrani, but beware his .241 BAbip and astronomical 82.1-percent strand rate. Still, the strikeout rate is what dreams are made of, and it will help temper some of the regression headed Cingrani’s way.

Shelby Miller, STL | 2013: 15-9, 173-1/3 IP (31 GS), 3.06 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, 3.0 BB/9
Miller will should improve upon his 2013 performance, but don’t be upset when the ERA backpedals. He’s due for regression, much like Julio Teheran, because of an abnormally high left-on-base percentage.

Kevin Gausman, BAL | 2013: 3-5, 47-2/3 IP (5 GS), 5.66 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 2.5 BB/9
Not all prospects dazzle upon first glimpse. Gausman, Baseball America’s No.-26 prospect for 2013, struggled out of the gate, posting a 7.66 ERA and 1.62 WHIP across five starts before being shipped to the bullpen, where he cleaned up his act. His devalued stock makes him a potentially very cheap, and very valuable, post-hype sleeper worth a late-round flier or cheap bid at auction.

Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, PHI | 2013: did not play in U.S.
Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is the latest of many highly talented Cuban players to defect in the past couple of years, following Yasiel Puig, Jose Fernandez, Aroldis Chapman and Yoenis Cespedes. Gonzalez was on the verge of signing the most lucrative contract of all the aforementioned names — his $10 million per year would have exceeded Cespedes ($9 million), Puig ($6 million), Chapman ($5.05 million) and Fernandez ($490,000) — before concerns arose about his shoulder health. Salary (typically) indicates ability, and considering the contract Gonzalez almost signed, I’ll venture to say he has a whole lot of ability. Because he won’t start throwing for the Phillies until spring, he could be 2014’s best-kept pitching secret.

TOP 90:

Michael Pineda, NYY | 2013: did not play … 2011: 9-10, 171 IP (28 GS), 3.74 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, 2.9 BB/9
Tendinitis turned into an anterior labral tear in Michael Pineda’s throwing shoulder, sidelining him for all of 2012 through July 2013 when he was optioned to Triple-A. He was fantastic in the minors before his debut, and he was equally fantastic in 2011. Pineda could be the definitive post-hype sleeper. He was Baseball America’s No. 16 prospect heading into 2011, and he could very well pitch like it again — assuming he’s fully healthy.

Taijuan Walker, SEA | 2013: 1-0, 18 IP (3 GS), 3.60 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 2.4 BB/9
Walker will likely enter 2014 as a sleeper on many lists because of his strong 2013 performance, albeit across a small sample size. Keep an eye on Walker’s walk rate during spring training — free passes were his only major struggle in the minors, and they could be what hold him back in the bigs if his strikeout rate doesn’t fully rebound.

Chris Archer, TB | 2013: 9-7, 128-2/3 IP (23 GS), 3.22 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 7.1 K/9, 2.7 BB/9
Archer has, for the time being, become a control guy, which means fewer strikeouts but also fewer walks. He’s pitching more to contact, though, so his .253 BAbip will be hard to sustain. Owners will miss the upside strikeout potential — and it may reemerge as Archer develops — but the lack of K’s makes him less desirable than his sophomore counterparts.

Alex Wood, ATL | 2013: 3-3, 77-2/3 IP (11 GS, 9 GF), 3.13 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 3.1 BB/9
Wood’s ERA is not reflective of his WHIP — it should be much higher — but, fortunately, his WHIP is not reflective of his actual performance, with a .333 BAbip inflating his ratio. Also, his low ERA is a testament to his ability to strand runners as a reliever. It may not translate as well as a starter, but I would never doubt an Atlanta Braves pitching prospect.

Tyler Skaggs, LAA | 2013: 2-3, 38-2/3 IP (7 GS), 5.12 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, 3.5 BB/9
The strikeouts are there, but Skaggs has continued his trend from Triple-A of being very hittable and walking too many batters. He was the No. 10 and 12 prospect by MLB.com and Baseball America (respectively) for 2013, so he has potential, but with all the young pitching talent, I’d rather take a late-round flier on someone else.

Zack Wheeler, NYM | 2013: 7-5, 100 IP (17 GS), 3.42 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 4.1 BB/9
Wheeler gets a lot of hype, but I’ll buy when I see results. Wheeler continued his disconcerting trend of walking batters; it has been almost 500 professional innings and it seems he still has yet to make a serious adjustment. Don’t let his ERA fool you. I’m sure he has elite potential, but the walks simply will not cut it for me, especially on a Mets team that will flirt with mediocrity sooner than it will playoff contention.

LATE-ROUND FLIER? (in no particular order):

Carlos Martinez, STL | 2013: 2-1, 28-1/3 IP (1 GS, 5 GF), 5.08 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 2.9 BB/9
Massive upside, but he hasn’t shown us much yet. He has a chance to crowd Lance Lynn (or Jaime Garcia) out of a spot in the rotation, but I wouldn’t put my money on it.

James Paxton, SEA | 2013: 3-0, 24 IP (4 GS), 1.50 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 7.9 K/9, 2.6 BB/9
Another blossoming Mariner young gun. Small sample size, great results. He never exhibited great control in the minors, but there’s strikeout potential, and he will fight for a spot in the rotation this spring.

Brandon Workman, BOS | 2013: 6-3, 41-2/3 IP (3 GS, 5 GF), 4.97 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 10.2 K/9, 3.2 BB/9
Workman’s ERA and WHIP are largely the doings of an inflated BAbip in a small sample size. In the meantime, try not to drool over the strikeout potential. Unfortunately, there’s no knowing now whether he’ll be in the rotation or the bullpen.

Rafael Montero, NYM | 2013 (AAA-AA): 12-7, 155 1/3 IP (27 GS), 2.78 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 2.0 BB/9
Montero is all but guaranteed a rotation spot in 2014, especially in light of Matt Harvey‘s elbow surgery. His minor league numbers are incredibly impressive for someone who hasn’t cracked any top-prospect lists, although his performance dipped after his promotion to Triple-A. He’ll likely go undrafted, but I will watch him closely from his first pitch onward.

NOT WORTH DRAFTING in standard leagues:

Dylan Bundy, BAL | 2013: season shortened by Tommy John surgery
Don’t expect him until mid-2014, and even then he’ll start work in the minors.

Jarred Cosart, HOU | 2013: 1-1, 60 IP (10 GS), 1.95 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 5.0 K/9, 5.3 BB/9
A 1.95 ERA with a 1.35 WHIP… I didn’t even know that was possible. He one-upped Joe Kelly! Walks and lack of strikeouts are huge problems. Ignore.

Erik Johnson, CHW | 2013: 3-2, 27-2/3 IP (5 GS), 3.25 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 5.9 K/9, 3.6 BB/9
I wouldn’t be surprised if he outperforms Sonny Gray in 2014, but a small sample size with poor results hasn’t left a very good impression. He also plays for the White Sox. Pass for now.

Martin Perez, TEX | 2013: 10-5, 119 IP (19 GS), 3.55 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 6.0 K/9, 2.6 BB/9
Am I the only one who is underwhelmed by Perez? What about him points to him turning into a viable fantasy option? I’d rather gamble on a slew of young arms other than his.

Burch Smith, SD | 2013: 1-3, 36-1/3 IP (7 GS), 6.44 ERA, 1.651 WHIP, 11.4 K/9, 5.2 BB/9
Ignore the stats you just read. Now focus on the fact that he struck out 46 batters in just more than 36 innings. The walks are a huge problem and could ultimately relegate him to a relief role. But he exhibited great control in the minors (along with the strikeouts, so they’re not a fluke), so I wouldn’t discount him yet. But until he recovers his control, he’s not worth the speculative draft pick. Remember the name, though.

Danny Hultzen, SEA | 2013 (AAA-AA): 5-1, 35 2/3 IP (7 GS), 2.02 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 10.6 K/9, 1.8 BB/9
Annnnd the third of three Mariners prospects… They could be decent in 2014, you know? MLB.com’s No. 18 prospect will likely battle for a rotation spot in the spring. Control issues plagued him throughout the minors this year, when he made one start in Double-A and took the step up to hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, where he posted a 2.05 ERA and 10.0 K/9 across six starts. It’s a small sample, but if he continues to exhibit control during the spring, he’s definitely worth a speculative draft pick. 12/30/13 update: Signs point to Hultzen being left out of the rotation, or at least battling for the No. 5 spot during spring training with Erasmo Ramirez and James Paxton. 

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2 comments

    • Need a Streamer?

      Tony,

      This reminds me to add a handful of young players to my list — namely, Anthony Ranaudo, Noah Syndergaard, Jameson Taillon and Archie Bradley, to name a few. As for the quick scoop: He’s filthy but wild, walking way too many batters at a low level, and I think a stint in Triple-A would do tons for his development rather than jettisoning him straight to the bigs. I don’t expect him to make the rotation in the spring, therefore I will probably ignore him until he gets the call. If he does make the rotation, well, he has my attention. So let’s say he does: I would consider him a “might draft,” aka a potential late-rounder slotted behind Workman and before Paxton.

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