The unpredictable nature of pitching means that every season we see a handful of hurlers rise from relative obscurity to become mixed-league stars. With so many closer roles in flux and many clubs struggling to find five rotation members, this is a great year to use late-round picks on a handful of boom-or-bust arms.
Here are some of the best options to choose from once a draft progresses by pick 200.
You can check out my sleeper bats here.
Freddy Peralta (SP/RP), Milwaukee Brewers
Peralta has been incredibly inconsistent as a Major Leaguer, and the total of his 163.1 innings with the Brewers (4.79 ERA, 1.30 WHIP) has fantasy managers disenchanted enough to leave him for the late rounds of drafts. But he dealt with some tough luck last season (.343 BABIP) and has the swing-and-miss skills (11.6 K/9 rate) that managers dream of. Peralta is someone to watch this spring, as improving his control skills (4.2 BB/9 rate) could result in a rotation spot and significant fantasy value.
Jose Urquidy (SP), Houston Astros
Despite all the recent controversy, the Astros present a very favorable situation for their starting pitchers. After all, the club has a pitcher-friendly park, plays excellent defense and will boast a successful lineup even when they have to play things straight up. Urquidy is in a great spot to reap the rewards of these benefits, as he should slot fourth in Houston’s rotation. The 24 year old has succeeded in the Minors (career 3.37 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) and a brief trial with the Astros (3.95 ERA, 1.10 WHIP), making him one of the best late-round gambles for 2020.
Aaron Civale (SP), Cleveland Indians
Like Urquidy, Civale is set to take advantage of a favorable situation. Cleveland remains one of the better teams in the American League, and their division contains two of the worst lineups in baseball (Royals, Tigers). Although he lacks elite swing-and-miss skills, Civale has excellent control and has thrived in the Minors (career 3.12 ERA, 1.10 WHIP) and the bigs (2.34 ERA, 1.04 WHIP). The righty will need to earn a rotation spot this month, but his 2019 success should give him a leg up on Adam Plutko and Logan Allen.
Mitch Keller (SP), Pittsburgh Pirates
Keller’s initial Major League struggles are baffling. After all, this is someone with a high-end prospect pedigree who has excelled across 539.1 Minor League innings (3.12 ERA, 1.16 WHIP). I fully expect the right-hander to find his groove with the Bucs this season, and his pitcher-friendly home park should help him to get on track. Although Keller may not log a high win total on an also-ran team, he has the potential to strike out more than 180 batters.
Dylan Bundy (SP), Los Angeles Angels
There are few stat-related reasons to tout Bundy, whose poor career stats (4.67 ERA, 1.33 WHIP) are well-deserved. But pitching for the Orioles in recent seasons has been the type of uphill battle that can take a toll on a young starter, and Bundy deserves credit for making at least 28 starts in each of the past three seasons. Now with the Angels, he will enjoy major upticks in home park and defensive support. This might be the fresh start that the former elite prospect needs to finally reach his immense potential.
Adrian Houser (SP), Milwaukee Brewers
Houser came out of nowhere to have plenty of success in his rookie season (3.72 ERA, 1.24 WHIP). And the advanced stats back up those initial results, as he excelled at keeping the ball on the ground (53.4 ground ball rate) in an era where fly balls are more dangerous than ever before. The 27 year old does not own stellar Minor League numbers and could end up being remembered as a flash in the pan, but his 2019 statistics warrant a late-round speculative pick in shallow leagues.
Nate Pearson (SP), Toronto Blue Jays
Pearson is arguably the best prospect stash at the pitcher position this season. The right-hander has been nothing short of sensational at the Minor League level, posting a 2.30 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP and a 119:27 K:BB ratio across 101.2 innings. Pearson should debut by the summer, at which point he will instantly become a hot commodity in even the shallowest of leagues.
Brandon Kintzler (RP), Miami Marlins
Although the strikeouts won’t be there, Kintzler should be a cheap saves source in roto formats. The right-hander is the most likely closer option for a Marlins team that is ready to take a step forward, and he is just two years removed from collecting 29 saves in 2017. He also posted excellent ratios (2.68 ERA, 1.02 WHIP) as a setup man with the Cubs last year.
Matt Magill (RP), Seattle Mariners
An afterthought in most leagues, Magill is the likely closer in Seattle after excelling down the stretch last season. The right-hander was sensational in his final 18 outings, collecting three wins and five saves while logging a 2.65 ERA, a 1.12 WHIP and a 7.7 K:BB ratio. Wise managers will pick up Magill in the reserve rounds and hope for 20-30 saves.
Josh James (RP), Houston Astros
Among the contenders for the final rotation spot in Houston, James is certainly the one with the most upside. Blessed with insane strikeout skills (career 13.8 K/9 rate), the right-hander needs only to improve his control (lifetime 4.5 BB/9 rate) to become one of this season’s breakout starters. And he may have taken a step in the right direction when he issued just two walks in his final nine innings of 2019.