In today’s Fantasy market, a Fantasy owner needs to build a foundation of his pitching staff with a couple of elite aces plus find an upside arm or two to finish off the backend of the pitching staff. Over January and February, I did the research of all 30 teams at ScoutFantasySports.com on the Team Outlook Page. Here are my top five sleeper pitchers in 2018 with their player profile from the team outlooks:
Walker Buehler, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers selected Buehler 24th overall in the 2015 MLB June Amateur Draft after having TJ surgery. In his first full season in the minors, Walker went 3-3 with a 3.35 ERA and 125 Ks over 88.2 innings while pitching at three levels. His quick success led to a call-up to the majors where Buehler battled his command (7.7 walks per nine) and home runs (1.9 per nine). His AFB (98.4) was elite while offering a curveball (.182 BAA) with upside and low volume slider. Intriguing arm with explosive upside once he figures out how to throw more strikes in the majors. Must follow this spring while keeping a close eye on his minor league success in 2018 if he doesn’t pitch out of the bullpen.
Take: There’s a lot to like here, and Buehler is well respected in the high stake’s market in the early draft season. The Dodgers sent him back to AAA in mid-March, which may lower his draft value and possibly create a better window to draft him. LA has strength in their starting rotation, but one or more backend starters should miss some time on the DL. Walker is a very good stash player in shallow leagues and a top target at the backend of the pitching pool.
Tyler Glasnow, Pittsburgh Pirates
Glasnow made the Pirates starting rotation out of spring training. They gave him 12 starts to hang himself (7.45 ERA. 326 BAA, 1.914 WHIP, and 12 HRs over 54.1 innings). Tyler lacked confidence and command (6.4 walks per nine) in the majors. His AFB (95.2) had plenty of life while his curveball (.206 BAA) had winning upside. Tyler was again electric at AAA (9-2 with a 2.03 ERA and 140 Ks over 93.1 innings). He even showed growth in his walk rate (3.1). Over six years in the minors, Glasnow went 45-21 with a 2.02 ERA and 785 Ks over 593.1 innings while dominating at AAA (19-6 with a 1.95 ERA and 321 Ks over 245 innings). In September back in the majors, Tyler issued 15 walks over 7.2 innings leading to a 9.39 ERA. There’s greatness in this arm, but his disaster command does force many Fantasy owners to wait on the sidelines until he throws more strikes. Priced to pay off in a big way in 2018 (ADP of 368 in the early drafts in 15-team leagues). Buy the upside in strikeouts while managing his downside risk if he struggles out of the gate.
Take: This is the type of arm that wins Fantasy championships if he finds his command. Glasnow hasn’t pitched well this spring (10 runs and 15 baserunners over 7.2 innings), but he has 13 Ks with reasonable command (three walks). His lack of success in March and 2017 struggled in the majors will keep many Fantasy owners away. Spring training stats tend to be a trap as many pitchers are working on mechanics or a pitch to help them during the season. I have a close eye on Tyler in the high stake’s market, and I plan to roster on my bench to see if Glasnow turns into a stud in 2018.
Joe Musgrove, Pittsburgh Pirates
Musgrove just wasn’t ready to be a relevant major league starter in 2017. Over his first 11 starts, Joe went 4-5 with a 4.81 ERA, 1.412 WHIP, and nine HRs allowed over 58 innings. He did flash at times over that stretch (two runs or fewer allowed in six games), but his disaster games crushed his stats. Two bad starts later (14 runs, 21 baserunners, and five HRs over 9.1 innings), Musgrove was back at AAA for just one start (seven shutout innings with one hit and seven Ks). Houston gave him two more starts in July (6.75 ERA) before shipping to the bullpen for the rest of the year. As a reliever, Joe pitched at a high level (1.44 ERA with 31 Ks over 31.1 innings). In the end, his walk rate (2.3) and K rate (8.1) just about match 2016 in the majors while his minor league walk rate (1.1) points to better command. Musgrove didn’t have an edge over RH (.285 BAA) or LH (.268 BAA) batters. His AFB (93.8) was a career high. Both his slider (.183 BAA) and his curveball (.200 BAA) graded favorably with the Astros. Over seven seasons in the minors, Joe went 29-11 with a 2.77 ERA and 327 Ks over 344.1 innings while pitching well at AAA (3.41 ERA and 64 Ks over 66 innings). The move to Pittsburgh should work in his favor where double-digit wins, a sub 3.75 ERA, and 150+ Ks should be in the cards with a full season of starts.
Take: Musgrove started off spring training in mid-February with sore right shoulder, which puts the air breaks on his draft value. His best asset is his command. In his first appearance on March 15th, Joe allowed two runs, a hit, and three walks over 2.2 innings with five Ks while still battling some shoulder stiffness. Control WHIP in Roto formats is key to winning, so Musgrove fits that profile perfectly. Fairly priced and the move to the NL can only be a positive. Just make sure to pay close attention to his injury status.
Matt Harvey, New York Mets
Over the last two seasons, Harvey lost more than two mph off most of his pitches. Batters crushed his four-seam fastball (.330 with 15 HRs allowed over 206 at-bats) and his curveball (.370 BAA). His slider (.228 BAA) and changeup (.241 BAA) still offered an edge, but Matt pitched behind in the count to too many batters. His walk rate (4.6) was well below his elite levels in 2013 (1.6) and 2015 (1.8) while his K rate (6.5) is fading to soft tosser territory. Harvey served up 21 HRs in 92.2 at-bats (2.0 per nine). His troubles were magnified against lefties (.331 with 12 HRs over 172 at-bats). There has been any offseason news giving a Fantasy owner hope if a rebound in 2018. For now, we have to place our decision on his success or failure in spring training. His decline and lost value came on the heels of TJ surgery, and a bum left shoulder last year. His price point is free so a wise gambler might be rewarded with a season of value.
Take: By name value, Harvey isn’t a sleeper. His disaster 2017 season and possible injury crushed his winter draft value. Fantasy owners wanted to see him on the mound in spring training before deciding to invest in him in the high stake’s market. Matt created a slight buzz after his first outing on March 5 (three shutout innings with one Ks, but a poor game in his next start (five runs and seven baserunners over 4.2 innings) led to more head scratching and questions about his 2018 value. On March 15th, Harvey flashed K ability (eight strikeouts over five innings). His direction and his path points to a rebound season. Ace upside with bottom trolling value sets the stage for must buying opportunity. Matt will be a free agent next season, which is plenty of motivation to produce a big year.
Tyler Mahle, Cincinnati Reds
Over five seasons in the minors, Mahle has a 43-28 record with a 2.85 ERA and 515 Ks over 558 innings. He pitched great at AA (7-3 with a 1.59 ERA and 97 Ks over 85 innings) and AAA (2.73 ERA with 51 Ks over 59.1 innings) earning him a call-up to the majors in 2017. His walk rate (1.9) in the minors was elite with a solid K rate (8.3). With the Reds, Tyler repeated his ERA (2.70) over four starts, but he walked 11 batters over 20 innings (5.0 per nine). His AFB (93.3) is about league average while throwing a slider (.091 BAA) with success over short innings in the majors. His changeup still needs development. Mahle is a fastball pitcher who will have some growing pains in the majors until his secondary stuff becomes more relevant. He should win a starting job out of spring training. I’d set his bar at 3.75 ERA with 150+ with over 175 innings pitched in the majors while understanding his arm has more upside.
Take: The injury to Anthony DeSclafani does open up a job in the starting rotation, which Mahle looks poised to take. Tyler allowed four runs over 14.2 innings this spring with two walks and nine Ks. His arm looks major league ready. With a full season of starts in the majors, Mahle has the talent to make a run at rookie of the year.
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