Top 5 Prospects at Pitcher (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
This year’s top-five pitching prospects features a pair of starters I’ve ranked inside my top-40 and three more within the top-70. The top duo’s separated by only one spot in my fantasy pitcher re-draft rankings, and they’re best viewed as one and 1A here. All five hurlers pitched in the bigs last year, and they all have the upside to make waves in re-draft leagues this year.
5. Triston McKenzie (CLE)
McKenzie didn’t pitch at all in 2019 due to injury. He flashed his upside for Cleveland in 2020 despite the lost year of development. McKenzie dazzled in his debut, holding the Tigers to one run on two hits, one walk, and 10 strikeouts in six innings. His overall line was eye-catching, too.
He tallied a 3.24 ERA, 3.25 SIERA, 0.90 WHIP, 7.1 BB%, 33.1 K%, and 12.4 SwStr% in 33.1 innings, per FanGraphs. The youngster started his first six games before concluding his 2020 campaign with a pair of relief appearances. McKenzie’s numbers without context would warrant a higher rank in this space.
McKenzie’s upside’s immense, as evidenced by his work last year, but his injury history and decreasing velocity in each of his starts need to be baked into his ranking. McKenzie’s SP52 ranking and 165.3 average draft position (ADP) overall are a little rich for my blood as I have him ranked as SP62. He has top-50 SP upside.
4. Nate Pearson (TOR)
Pearson has more electric stuff than McKenzie, but he also carries injury risk. The flame-throwing righty pitched 18.0 innings spread across five appearances (four starts). He was placed on the injured list after four starts with elbow stiffness. However, Pearson threw top-shelf cheddar out of the pen with an average velocity of 99.1 mph in his regular-season relief appearance, according to FanGraphs, when he returned from injury.
A currently healthy Pearson’s bat-missing arsenal is enticing. He backs his heater that MLB Pipeline grades as an 80 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale with a plus slider, changeup, and curve. His curve generated a 16.0 SwStr%, the slider was even better with a 17.2 SwStr%, and Pearson’s changeup led the way with a 20.0 SwStr%.
Pearson’s 19.8 K% feels light for his swinging-strike percentages on his arsenal, and his 16.0 BB% is dreadful as well. Both are outliers compared to his work in the minors. I’m bullish on Pearson’s odds of building on his flashes of excellence. I have him ranked one spot higher than McKenzie as my SP61.
3. Deivi Garcia (NYY)
Garcia ranks two spots ahead of McKenzie and directly in front of Pearson as my SP60. His 4.98 ERA in six starts totaling 34.1 innings for the Yankees last year was nothing to write home about, but his 4.21 SIERA suggests he suffered from some bad luck. Garcia took a big step forward from his minor-league days in the control department, walking only 4.1% of the batters he faced.
He also struck out a respectable 22.6% of the batters he faced, but an 11.3 SwStr% that’s identical to last year’s league average could portend to more punchouts. The 21-year-old pitcher has a four-pitch mix, with three of those offerings generating a 14.3 SwStr% or better. Garcia also posted gaudy strikeout rates in the minors. He should help fantasy squads in punchouts, could help in WHIP if his control gains stick, and is backed by an offense that’s capable of providing run support for wins. There’s some ERA risk for a young pitcher who calls a hitter-friendly park, Yankee Stadium, home, but he’s a high-upside SP5/SP6 option who’s being grossly undervalued as SP107 with an ADP of 287.0.
2. Ian Anderson (ATL)
Anderson was awesome last year. He spun a 1.95 ERA, 3.82 SIERA, 1.08 WHIP, 11.0 BB%, 23.8 K%, and 11.9 SwStr% in six regular-season starts totaling 32.1 innings. He was even more dominant with a 0.96 ERA, 3.84 SIERA, 1.13 WHIP, 13.0 BB%, and 31.2 K% in four postseason starts spanning 18.2 innings. Anderson’s walk rate was high, but MLB Pipeline grades his control as average with a 50 on the 20-to-80 scale.
Anderson did a masterful job of avoiding well-hit balls. He allowed only one barrel on 81 batted-ball events, according to Baseball Savant. Anderson also missed lumber entirely at quality rates with a 14.3 SwStr% on his curve and 18.9 SwStr% on his changeup. The 22-year-old’s ability to coax poor contact and strike hitters out should assuage concerns above his high walk rates. Add in the potential for closing the gap between his below-average control and his average control scouting grade, and Anderson makes for an exciting SP3/SP4 option for gamers.
1. Sixto Sanchez (MIA)
Sanchez’s 3.46 ERA and 4.18 SIERA both were a bit higher than Anderson’s marks. Still, he narrowly edges out his NL East foe for the top spot in these rankings. He has better control and an electric arsenal of his own. MLB Pipeline grades his control as a 60, and he walked only 7.0% of the batters he faced last year, well below the league average of 9.2 BB%.
Sanchez’s 20.9 K% is also lower than Anderson’s mark, but the former has a higher swinging-strike percentage (12.8%). The 22-year-old’s changeup is his put-away pitch with an 18.3 SwStr% and a 65 grade from MLB Pipeline, but it’s his blistering fastball that earned the highest grade from MLB Pipeline with a 70. He throws both a sinker and a four-seam fastball, and they’re upper-90s offerings. A repeat of last year’s work would make him a solid SP3, but he’s just scratching the surface and has upside for more.
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