So far, all my prospect writeups have focused on position players hailing them all as potential Phenoms. Today I’m going to try my hand at evaluating pitchers. As many do in fantasy, I buy into the adage of there is no such thing as a pitching prospect (shorted to TINSTAAPP, still a mouthful but wouldn’t call people in the fantasy baseball community creative, so we might have to outsource for a better name). Instead of spending an entire article on one pitching prospect and most likely looking like an idiot when he doesn’t turn out. I’m going to hedge my bets a bit and highlight 2 of my personal favorites when it comes to young arms. This way I double my chances of picking a successful pitcher down the line.
Brusdar Graterol, MIN
First up, is Brusdar Graterol from the Minnesota Twins. Graterol was signed out of Venezuela in 2014 for a measly $150,000 as a 16-year-old. When he was originally signed really wasn’t anything special and was topping out in the high 80’s by the look of most early reports I read. Well, only 4 starts into his professional career he heard those 3 letters no pitcher wants to hear, UCL. Yep the reaper of young pitchers claimed another victim.
Graterol took his off time from pitching and dedicated his life aspiring to be a bodybuilder or something because by the time he returned to the mound he put on 60 lbs of muscle! He went from 170 to 225 in his two years away from baseball and suddenly, he became a fire breathing dragon on the mound. Somewhere Daenerys is seductively saying “dracarys”. Suddenly, he was able to hit triple digits with the fastball and usually sat in the upper 90’s during games. His fastball is now receiving plus to elite grades.
While having an elite fastball is enough to get scouts raving about a pitcher, Graterol also has 3 other pitches that could potentially be at a minimum average offerings. His slider is currently his second-best pitch which flashes plus and sits mid to upper 80’s. The curveball is an average offering now but has some good movement to it and could become an above average pitch for him. As is the case with many young pitchers, the changeup is lagging behind his other offerings. He shows some good feel for the pitch and there is some optimism that it can be an average pitch for him. This is his second year back from missing two years from TJS and the hopes were that he would take big steps in his development and he delivered pitching in A and A+ ball this season:
He was flat out dominating A ball, putting up oustanding numbers. The GB% is probably much higher than you can reasonably expect which explains why he was outpacing his FIP by a substantial margin. He then earned a promotion to A+ which is huge jump for a pitcher and he’s done well. It’s disappointing that his K/9 dropped and BB/9 rose but that can probably be chalked up to facing more advanced competition and not as many free swingers as the lower levels. Based on his BABIP he’s been fairly unlucky at the level and there’s reason to think his numbers should be better, considering his ERA is still a tiny 3.12 is pretty terrifying.
I do have some reservations about Graterol which stems mostly from his pitching motion. He doesn’t use as much of his legs as you would like from a pitcher with his strong lower half. His velocity mostly stems from how he violently whips his arm across his body. He’s also only 6’ 1” (average height for a MLB starting pitcher is around 6’ 3”), so combine his smaller stature with his injury history and his violent delivery there is some durability concerns. Graterol is incredibly talented pitcher with as high of a ceiling as any pitching prospect but there are concerns, as there are for any pitcher ever. Looking at a potential true number 1 (top 10 pitcher) but could also develop more injury issues and never sniff the majors. If he stays relatively healthy, his floor is a high leverage reliever with a devastating fastball-slider combo.
Matt Manning, DET
Okay I’m going to get this off my chest real quick, I’m a huge Detroit fan (Imagine that Wolverine Meme and he’s holding the picture of the 2013 Tigers, thinking what should’ve been). Manning has been a personal favorite of mine and I’m going to my best to not show my bias too much in this next section but I’ll admit my views on Manning are possibly a tad clouded with orange and navy. Manning was drafted 8th round in the 2016 MLB draft (huh this might be the first prospect I write about that wasn’t an international free agent). He was a two sport star in high school playing both baseball and basketball so he was considered incredibly raw when he was drafted. Manning is an elite athlete but never 100% focused on baseball until drafted so he was considered an incredibly risky prospect. His control and consistency have been issues he has battled throughout out his minor league career, but in 2018 he made great strides with both. Manning has three pitches. His fastball is a plus pitch that sits mid 90’s with good movement. His curveball is the main act though. He has struggled throwing it with consistency but when it’s on it is one of the best curves in all of baseball. Just take a look at this video from behind the plate taken by Kiley McDaniel from Fangraphs:
Here's that Matt Manning curveball I was talking about from two nights ago. 82 mph, about as good as of hook as you'll see pic.twitter.com/vsvFHd4ApC
— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) August 25, 2018
That is absolutely nasty and makes the hitter look silly. You can get look of his delivery in the video as well. Comes from an upper 3/4 arm slot and does a good job getting downhill using his 6’6” frame to his advantage. His length has caused issues from his with repeating his delivery, but his athleticism and youth are on his side that he can figure it out and get more consistent replicating his delivery. I often look for plus athletes on the mound with at least two above average pitches. This is regardless of control issues, because I believe the better athletes are more capable maximizing their delivery on the mound to develop more control.
Once again, we reach the pivotal “3rd pitch”, the dreaded changeup. Prior to this year he has shown very little feel for the changeup, trying multiple grips to try and gain a feel for the pitch. This year, it seems he found a grip he likes and is steadily making progress on the pitch. In this video, courtesy of BlessYouBoys (the Tigers SB Nation site), the very first pitch of the sequence is a changeup:
That was a great changeup with good fading movement away from the lefty, so his changeup has potential, but the issue is his ability to throw it consistently. He often has issues leaving it up in the zone and getting on top of the pitch.
Manning has climbed 3 levels this year, starting at Low A West Michigan and making a brief cameo at AA after spending most a good portion at A+:
He has had a tremendous season this year and deserves a lot of love in the prospect community right now. The K/9 ratios are salivating from a fantasy perspective, and it was awesome to see the BB/9 drop when he made the jump to A+ and AA. It’s still a little high, but this kid is 20 years old so still has time to develop and continuing to work on his control. In his two starts at AA, it was a bit of a mixed bag. He dominated in his first start. Throwing 6 shutout innings with only 3 hits allowed, 1 walk, and 8 K’s. His second start (his last of the season) didn’t go as well. He only lasted 4.2 innings and allowed 6 runs (5 earned) and walked 3 batters with 5 K’s. Based on the BABIP, FIP, and xFIP data points above its possible that he just got really unlucky in that last start but not enough of a sample size to say for sure. Overall Manning is still a risky prospect but one that is showing great signs of development and his floor is rising. Manning has a similar ceiling to Graterol where he could be a true number 1 (top 15 guy) but his floor is a high leverage reliever (common trend with these type of pitchers).
These are just two of my favorite pitchers in the minors right now and they are gaining momentum quickly in prospect lists and around the fantasy baseball community. They are probably already owned in many dynasty leagues, but if you are targeting a pitching prospect with upside I would gamble on one of these two. I’d still argue that you should avoid pitching prospects altogether, but they do have great trade value due to everyone always looking for pitching and getting desperate hoping they found the next Verlander or Scherzer (man do I miss that 2013 Tigers rotation). As always, let me know what you think about Graterol or Manning or other prospects you’d like to see a write up about.