The Next Danny Salazar: Fantasy Baseball Sleeper Pitchers
Danny Salazar was not a top-100 prospect entering 2013, yet he racked up 1.2 WAR in only 52 MLB innings. Forgotten amongst fantasy baseball sleeper pitchers, Salazar showed a plus fastball, averaging 96.2 MPH, and an above-average change-up and slider fueling 11.25 K/9. His pitch usage shows him relying on his change-up frequently, even against right-handers, which shows his confidence in the pitch.
Salazar was so good, so early, he was the key piece in a deep dynasty league trade Managing Editor Mike Newman which netted Andrew McCutchen. Still, his performance was largely seen as a surprise. Need proof? review last season’s fantasy baseball sleeper pitchers and find mentions of Salazar.
Did you know Salazar was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2006? Or that he had Tommy John in 2010? It was the 47 innings combined between 2010 and 2011 that left him an unknown, not his talent. In his breakout 2012 campaign, Salazar logged 87.2 innings and advanced to Double-A. He earned recognition as one of Cleveland’s top-10 prospects entering 2013, but he was still widely ignored.
Instead, dynasty league owners fawned over big name rookie pitchers like Jose Fernandez and Gerrit Cole. Readers knew all about Fernandez’s story, from his big stuff to his harrowing escape from Cuba, and had to own the young right-hander. As for Cole, how can an fantasy baseball owner not consider the #1 overall pick out of UCLA a must-draft after he famously turned down pinstripes?
2014 Fantasy Baseball Sleeper Pitchers
Danny Salazar deserved more love and attention from fantasy owners. However, knowing more about Salazar doesn’t help you find the 2014 version. So let’s set out some further distinctions:
-Must have a conceivable shot at the bigs. They should be ticketed to start at Double-A or Triple-A.
-No Archie Bradley’s or Taijuan Walker’s. I’m not going out on a limb by saying that Eddie Butler, Kyle Zimmer, or Robert Stephenson will be impressive if given an extended chance this year either. Even with that caveat, I’m sure the names below will be familiar to most of the readers here.
-Look for guys being overshadowed by “bigger names.” Case-in-point, fantasy owners expected Trevor Bauer to be the impact arm in Cleveland, not Salazar.
Without further adieu, here are my fantasy baseball sleeper pitchers:
Raul Alcantara, RHP, Oakland Athletics
The inclusion of Raul Alcantara here might be the biggest demonstration of opportunity. With Jarrod Parker now scheduled for his second Tommy John surgery, AJ Griffin ailing, and Scott Kazmir experiencing triceps tightness, the Athletics have had a terrible week. Alcantara commands his 92-93 mph fastball well and also brings an above-average changeup and slider, though his slider does need more consistency.
Alcantara advanced to High-A Stockton last year and was strong in five starts. Might he begin the season in Double-A? Having thrown 150-plus innings in 2013 alleviates workload concerns. While fantasy owners debate the value of Tom Millone and former first round pick turned reclamation project, Drew Pomeranz, Alcantara patiently waits his turn.
Nick Kingham, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Jameson Taillon, and Tyler Glasnow have higher ceilings in Pittsburgh, but Nick Kingham is also a top-100 prospect. His fastball sits in the low 90s, but touches 95. He also brings a power curveball topping out a 85 mph and solid change-up. The three-pitch mix resulted in a 2.85 xFIP in Double-A. Across 143 innings last season, Kingham struck out 144 batters against 44 walks. Taillon will likely get the first crack in MLB due to pedigree, but Kingham is ready to make a final push to Pittsburgh too. Of this group of sleepers, Kingham has the best chance to pitch for the big league club this season.
J.R. Graham, RHP, Atlanta Braves
Mike wrote about the importance of the Braves signing Ervin Santana, noting that Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, and David Hale won’t be required to exceed innings limits. Another pitcher capable of earning late season starts is J.R. Graham. Graham has explosive stuff, with a mid-90s heater and above-average slider that will flash plus. The continued development of his change-up will determine if he’s ticketed for the bullpen, as Mike noted over at FanGraphs. Has his stuff bounced back after a shoulder ailment shortened his 2013 campaign? Graham’s progress is worth monitoring. Many owners are focusing on Alex Wood, whose current average draft position pegs him as a top-70 starting pitcher. Adding Graham at a fraction of the price is a speculative play worth making.
For now, add the right-handed pitchers to prospect watch lists. In deep dynasty and keeper leagues, the three fantasy baseball sleeper pitchers are worth the speculative add now. The only way to acquire the next Danny Salazar is to add potential lottery tickets early.
20 Mar 2014 / Ben Flajole / 1
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