by Will Overton
Getting a read on a hitter in the early part of the season isn’t too difficult when they are taking the field 5–7 times per week. You still have to watch your overreactions, but you can get a sample size a lot faster than with a pitcher who takes the mound once a week. So far this season we have focused our attention on the bats that are easier to judge, but now that we’re at a point where guys have taken the mound a handful of times we can start looking a little bit closer at the pitching.
Today I am going to highlight three starting pitchers that I have my eye on to grab off the waiver wire:
Caleb Smith – Miami
Smith has made the rounds against the NL East teams and he has looked really strong doing it. He has three quality starts in four games and has won his last two outings, allowing one run in 12 innings. Part of the big appeal is his strikeout prowess as he has 29 K in his first 23 innings, striking out no fewer than six batters in any game.
Smith came on the radar last season when he looked decent in 16 starts for the Marlins, while flying under the radar despite a 10.24 K/9 rate. He has struggled at points as a minor leaguer with control. This is something you will need to watch out for as the season goes along, but so far he’s been able to keep things going. Smith isn’t a can’t miss because there is a risk that the wheels still fall off, but there’s a solid amount of upside to him and he’s worth rolling with in any format.
Sonny Gray –
Fantasy owners have good reason to be hesitant when they hear the name Sonny Gray. Going into last season some thought he could be a sleeper candidate for AL Cy Young and by the end of the season he had lost his spot in the rotation. He finished the season with a 4.90 ERA and a bloated 1.50 WHIP.
It’s a new season and Gray is no longer a Yankee, which is very much for the best. He is now on the Reds where there is really no significant pressure to perform and the much more relaxed Gray looks a whole lot better. He got off to a rough start in his first outing, but in his last three starts he has 22 K in 16.2 IP and only four runs allowed. He was solid in 2017 and in his first three years in the league he looked like he was going to be a perennial All-Star. Last year was bad, but I haven’t completely thrown in the towel because of it and I think being on the Reds might be just what he needs to bounce back.
Vince Velasquez –
This one is for the deeper leagues out there. Velasquez has always felt like one of those guys who has the upside, but has just never been able to put it all together. He has a career K/9 rate of 9.7 over 423 IP in the Majors, so it’s clear that he has the strikeout upside you want in your fantasy pitcher. Yet he has a career ERA of 4.51 and WHIP of 1.34.
Velasquez only has three starts this season, and in the early going he has had a solid amount of luck on his side, but the numbers are impressive. He is keeping guys off the bases and he’s walked just four batters. He’s not going to be able to keep giving up a HR per game, but there are some good signs pointing towards Velasquez taking a step in the right direction. This is no sure thing, but right now I think riding with he for a bit to see how this goes from here makes a lot of sense.