by Ivar G. Anderson
There are always pitchers that are providing hope to their teams, and potentially to fantasy owners, in the lower levels of the minor leagues. They often flash great potential, before some fade out, or get injured and disappear from the scene. Not trying to jinx any of the following prospects, but instead let’s hope all three have productive careers, and that you, as a reader of this column, were able to grab them once their star began to shine just because you had an early warning about their potential.
Aaron Sanchez RHP TOR (Triple-A Buffalo Bisons/International League)
Sanchez earned a recent promotion to Triple-A this month, based on his results in 14 starts at Double-A New Hampshire (where he posted a 3.82 ERA and unremarkable 1.39 WHIP). His WHIP is elevated because of his lack of command, a problem that he does not seem to be able to overcome. In any level above Rookie Leagues, his BB/9 rate has never been lower than 4.18 (last season at High-A), and generally has been above 5.0.
The good news for Sanchez is that he also demonstrates great dominance, with a fastball that hovers in the 94-98 MPH range. He also generates a ton of groundball outs, at a 60%+ rate for the past three seasons. He features a plus curve that he uses as his out pitch, but will need to get a better idea of how to throw his below average change up to become the front-line starter the Jays envision.
The Blue Jays are promoting him with an eye to bringing him up to the big leagues this year, so if you can put up the with the bloated walk rate, as Toronto seems willing to do at this point, then now would be a good time to grab him and stash him on your bench.
Braden Shipley RHP ARI (High-A Visalia Rawhide/California League)
Shipley is a plus-plus athlete, on that the scouts are in agreement. He became a starting pitcher during his sophomore year, moving there from shortstop. Due to the late move to the mound, it is anticipated that he will need some additional time to develop as a pitcher.
That being said, he already features a plus fastball that sits generally in the 93-96 MPH range, but he has shown can reach 99 MPH in short stints. His changeup is also very good, and while his curve is just average now, expect that to develop into an average or better third pitch as he learns how to pitch with instruction as he moves up through the minors. He projects as a SP2 that can rack up the Ks.
Since the California League is tough on pitchers, Shipley is due to move up to Double-A this year at some point, potentially very soon. This is a pitcher to put on your radar, despite the expectation that he will be treated somewhat cautiously by the Diamondbacks due to his limited experience in the pitching role.
Robert Stephenson RHP CIN (Double-A Pensacola Blue Wahoos/Southern League)
Until he reached the Double-A level he had been extremely dominant, but his walk rate has jumped dramatically since his latest promotion. Even with some control problems, his K/BB ratio over 77 innings in 2014 sits at 80:39, not exactly shabby but still below what he flashed in Single-A.
He still is throwing his fastball in the high 90s, and has also has a developing change and curve, with the curve being the better pitch at the moment. His future as a starter with three plus pitches will hinge on his ability to reign in his control problems, but if all works out as it has in the lower levels of the minors, he projects as a SP2 with good to great strikeout potential and a very usable set of peripherals. His advancement track indicates that the Reds may be adding him to their 2015 rotation.
It really is never too early to target pitching in a dynasty league since you are taking a huge gamble on any young player, but with the rash of Tommy John surgeries we are seeing these days that is even more the case with pitchers. Depending on your league setup, you probably cannot secure every pitcher that looks as though he has potential, but you should keep a notebook or list somewhere for easy reference if an opening on your rookie/prospect roster pops up, and that is hopefully what these articles will aid you in doing.
I am always available to talk fantasy baseball, especially starting pitching and prospects. Feel free to drop me a note with any questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and inquire about your team. Just remember the advice is free and you get what you pay for in this day and age.