Seth Trachtman

Draft Strategy

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2018 Category Sleepers - SO

Thursday, January 4, 2018


It’s never too early to prepare for your draft, and some of us draft fiends are already setting our draft dates for 2018 or even drafting now. The hot stove league is just taking shape, but it’s still a fun time to look toward the 2018 fantasy baseball season.

 

For the fourth year in a row, I’ll be breaking down category sleepers at each of the 5x5 roto categories. The first three articles in the series were batting average, WHIP, and home run sleepers. This week, we’ll be looking at possible pitcher strikeouts sleepers. Over 10 weeks, I will be providing a list of sleepers for each 5x5 roto category (BA, HR, RBI, R, SB, W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV).  Since the hot stove league still has a long way to go this offseason, for the next few weeks we will focus on players in categories that are less based on opportunity and more based on skill.  Other roto categories that are more dependent on opportunity, supporting cast, and batting order spot (R, RBI, SB) or team and manager (W, SV) will be discussed in the latter half of the 10-week series.

 

Before reading any further, it’s important to note the definition of a sleeper. In this case, it’s a player who will exceed draft day ADP AND projections in a particular category. The players are broken down by mixed league sleepers and single league sleepers.

 

 

Mixed League Sleepers

 

Jake Faria, SP, Rays

 

It feels odd to have to build a case for Faria as a sleeper after what he accomplished in his MLB debut. He was a great pick up for fantasy owners after being promoted from Triple-A Durham in early June last season, posting a 3.43 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 8.7 K/9 in 86.2 innings. However, Faria finished the season in the bullpen after returning from an abdominal injury due to the team’s rotation depth, and their lack of offseason movement thus far still likely leaves him on the outside looking in on a rotation spot if the season started tomorrow. His ADP currently sits at 245 in NFBC, well down on the pitchers list.

 

Fortunately, the season doesn’t start for nearly three months, so the Rays have plenty of time to reshuffle their pitching deck. If Faria has shown anything during his minor league career, it’s that he can miss bats. The right-hander had a staggering 12.9 K/9 in 58.2 innings at Durham last season and also had more than one strikeout per inning during his previous two minor league seasons. Despite a fastball that only averages 92 mph, below average these days from the right side, Faria does an excellent job of mixing in his slider and changeup, and he was able to keep his walk rate down in his debut (3.2 BB/9) after struggling with walks in 2016. Faria has never thrown more than 151 innings in a professional season, but that workload could be expanded somewhat this season at age 24. As long as he earns a rotation spot at the beginning of the year, something in the 180-200 strikeout range isn’t an unreasonable expectation.

 

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Luiz Gohara, SP, Braves

 

Acquired before last season for Mallex Smith, Gohara emerged as a truly elite prospect for the Braves. Unfortunately, due to a deep farm system, he didn’t get the attention that he deserved. That should have changed with his major league debut, but based on Gohara’s NFBC ADP (296), it doesn’t look like it did. Gohara had a 4.91 ERA in five starts, but he also had a 2.75 FIP, 9.5 K/9, and 2.5 BB/9 in his limited 29.1 innings. Most impressive was Gohara’s pure stuff, with a fastball that averaged 96 mph from the left side. That average velocity was fourth best in baseball among starting pitchers, and easily first among lefties, nearly one mph better than No. 2, James Paxton.

 

Prior to his major league promotion, Gohara was spectacular between three minor league levels last season. He had a 2.62 ERA and 10.7 K/9 in 123.2 innings between High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A. His 153 inning total was easily tops in his pro career, which is both indicative of Gohara’s past shoulder issues and his age (20). Both of those factors are worth taking note and should temper expectations, but Gohara already shows elite ability that resembles what we saw from Francisco Liriano when he was promoted by the Twins in 2006, along with the health concerns. Though, for the current price relative to immediate upside, I’m taking Gohara and running.

 

 

Mike Minor, SP, Rangers

 

Minor didn’t appear in a major league game in either 2015 or 2016 due to shoulder problems that eventually required surgery, but he was a boon for the Royals last season. Emerging as a setup man, the lefty had a 2.55 ERA, six wins, and six saves with a dominant 10.2 K/9 and 4.00 K/BB ratio. He also proved the shoulder was healthy with a four mph increase in velocity compared to 2014, and he turned his slider into a featured pitch, throwing it nearly 36 percent of the time, compared to only 15 percent previously.

 

The Rangers were more than a little intrigued, signing Minor to a three-year, $28 million contract early in the offseason and reportedly giving him a shot at starting in spring training. While there was plenty of value to be had as a reliever, Minor could be gold with a return to the rotation. Remember, Minor has been quite valuable in the rotation in the past, peaking in 2013 by going 13-9 with a 3.21 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 8.0 K/9, and 3.93 K/BB ratio with the Braves. It remains to be seen how his velocity and slider usage will hold with a move back to the rotation, but the odds are good that he earns a spot as a starter in a Rangers rotation that is still super thin after losing Yu Darvish and Andrew Cashner, along with Martin Perez’s bizarre injury. If the improvements from last year hold at all, it’s not a stretch to expect one strikeout per inning, and for an economical price currently beyond pick 278 in NFBC ADP.

 

 

Bryan Mitchell, P, Padres

 

Now entering his age 27 season, Mitchell has yet to top 32.2 innings in a major league season, but that’s not for lack of talent. The former Yankee has been solid at Triple-A since 2014, posting a 3.18 ERA and 8.3 K/9 in 189.1 innings. He’s also really impressed in spring training over the last two seasons, with a 0.57 ERA in 15.2 innings in 2016 and a 4.37 ERA and more than one strikeout per inning in 22.2 innings last year. Unfortunately, the Yankees pitching depth has limited Mitchell’s opportunities, but that’s about to change after being traded to San Diego in the Chase Headley salary dump.

 

Over four seasons of appearances in the majors, Mitchell has averaged nearly 95 mph on his fastball and has also shown a groundball rate better than 51 percent during his pro career. Those are both strong signs that make it befuddling that he hasn’t seen a more extended major league opportunity, as Mitchell clearly has the stuff of a major league pitcher. He was at his best at Triple-A last season, posting a 3.25 ERA, 9.3 K/9 and 5.08 K/BB ratio in 53.2 innings, almost all as a starter. Still in rebuild mode, the Padres have two clear openings in their rotation currently behind Clayton Richard, Luis Perdomo, and Dinelson Lamet. If Mitchell shows anything close to what he did over the past two spring trainings, he should fill one of those spots, and his minor league history indicates that the strikeouts could be an asset, at the very least.

 

 

Single League Sleepers

 

Jose De Leon, SP, Rays

 

De Leon was listed here last year, but after a year of injuries he’s somewhat off the fantasy radar. He threw only 41 innings last season, missing significant time with elbow and lat injuries. While on the mound, he did look okay between three minor league levels, with a 3.05 ERA and 10.3 K/9. The right-hander has been a strikeout artist during his minor league career, with a career 12.0 K/9 due to a mid-90’s fastball and elite changeup, and he was considered a top prospect as recently as last offseason, ranked 29th overall by Baseball America.

 

The reports of De Leon’s injuries last season seemed relatively minor, even if the recurrence of those issues was concerning. At the very least, the injuries have set him back on the organizational depth chart behind Jake Faria and Brent Honeywell, making it more difficult for De Leon to carve out a meaningful role early in 2018. Still, there are few minor leaguers more capable of missing bats, and De Leon is still just entering his age 25 season. If he’s healthy in spring training, De Leon will be a smart AL-only and keeper stash.

 

 

Michael Kopech, SP, White Sox

 

Kopech is a well-known prospect acquired from the Red Sox along with Yoan Moncada in the Chris Sale trade last offseason. Flashing triple digits on the radar gun, the 33rd overall pick in the 2014 draft out of high school has a career 11.5 K/9 in the minors that was matched last season. Making 22 starts at Double-A Birmingham and three starts at Triple-A Charlotte, Kopech posted a 2.88 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and 11.5 K/9 over 134.1 innings.

 

Still, he has only three starts above Double-A, and the White Sox have given no indication they’re ready to be truly competitive in 2018, so we should expect patience. That means Kopech is more likely to be a post-All-Star break contributor this year. That’s especially the case considering his mediocre 4.4 BB/9 last season. Kopech was drafted in Rotoworld’s recent 12-team mixed Draft Guide mock (appearing on newsstands by the end of January), but given the inexperience and lack of polish, it’s optimistic to expect more than AL-only value this year.

 

 

David Paulino, P, Astros

 

Despite a PEDs suspension last year, Paulino has shown the talent that shouldn’t be dismissed. He made six starts before the suspension in Houston last season, posting a 6.52 ERA, but Paulino also had an outstanding 10.6 K/9 and 4.86 K/BB ratio. He also entered last season on most top 100 prospect lists, and backed up that hype with his minor league performance. During the 2016 season, Paulino posted a 2.00 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 10.6 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 between three levels, including Triple-A.

 

It’s clear Paulino has the polish to pitch at the highest level already, but the immediate opportunity remains to be seen. He couldn’t have endeared himself to the Astros organization after missing so much time last year, and the team already has one of the deepest pitching staffs in baseball. Paulino also had surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow late last season. That said, he’s pretty much off the fantasy radar now, sitting at 556 in NFBC ADP. There aren’t many better fliers at that price range, given Paulino’s track record.

 

 

Tanner Scott, P, Orioles

 

Baltimore hasn’t produced much of note from their farm system in recent seasons, but Scott has a chance to be a blue chipper. The lefty had an effective year at Double-A Bowie last season, with a 2.22 ERA and 11.3 K/9 in 24 starts last season. Though, it should be noted that he threw only 69 innings in those 24 starts, meaning that Scott averaged less than three innings per outing. That was not only due to the team’s conservative usage but also Scott’s terribly high pitch counts, as he had a terrible 6.0 BB/9. The control struggles continued in the Arizona Fall League, with 11 walks in only 9.1 innings.

 

For all the control issues, there’s major reason for fantasy owners to track Scott. Simply put, he might have the best stuff we’ve seen out of a lefty short of Aroldis Chapman. Scott reaches the triple digits on his fastball, and he has a career 11.4 K/9. With Zach Britton set to miss the first half of 2018 with a torn Achilles, the O’s will at least have another bullpen spot available and possibly even something more high leverage. Of course, a chance at starting can’t be ruled out, either, but Scott’s inability to avoid free passes consistently makes that prospect optimistic in the short term. At worst, Scott is worth tracking if he gets a look during spring training, and is also a keeper stash.



You can find Seth Trachtman on Twitter @sethroto.
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