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6 Late-Round Draft Targets: Rookie Pitchers (2024 Fantasy Baseball)

6 Late-Round Draft Targets: Rookie Pitchers (2024 Fantasy Baseball)

Dynasty and keeper formats are not the only ones in which to pay attention to rookies. It can be difficult to trust prospects getting their first extended look in the bigs in redraft leagues also. However, as far as the late rounds are concerned, why not go for the upside?

The list of rookie pitchers below sitting outside the top 200 in FantasyPros’ consensus ADP at the time of writing should get the opportunity to log significant innings this year. Each has the potential to pay off solid fantasy value in 2024, whether as a reliever, a starter or perhaps both.

2024 Late-Round Rookie Starting Pitchers to Target

Shota Imanaga (SP – CHC)

Okay, Shota Imanaga is not a traditional rookie, having already pitched eight years as a professional in Japan. Yoshinobu Yamamoto garnered more headlines as far as signings from the Far East go this offseason but the Cubs were willing to spend well over $50 million to bring Imanaga stateside. The 30-year-old southpaw has logged just over 1,000 innings in the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) league – Japan’s top level pro baseball league – posting a 3.18 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 25.0 K%.

Imanaga has been even better the last couple of years, putting up a 2.53 ERA across 291 2/3 innings for the NPB’s Yokohama Bay Stars. There are questions regarding his smaller stature and low-90s velocity. However, with his excellent command of a four-pitch repertoire, he should more than hold his own in the middle of the Cubs’ rotation. Imanaga displayed his arsenal against some MLB competition in the 2023 World Baseball Classic Championship game.

Kyle Harrison (SP – SF)

Another lefty who also ranks among the pre-season favorites for National League Rookie of the Year, Kyle Harrison did gain some notable experience against MLB hitters last year. The third-round pick from 2020 made seven starts for the Giants down the stretch, posting a 4.15 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 23.8 K% across 34 2/3 innings. Harrison’s improved control following his promotion to the big leagues was quite encouraging, too, as he walked just 11 batters (7.5%) after posting a somewhat concerning 12.3 BB% over 69 minor-league starts.

That progress will need to be maintained for Harrison to reach his full potential. Even if the walk rate slips a bit, which would not be surprising, Harrison’s home field in San Francisco is quite forgiving for pitchers. Harrison took advantage of that last year, recording a 2.66 ERA in four starts at Oracle Park.

Jordan Wicks (SP – CHC)

Unlike his teammate Imanaga, Jordan Wicks will be competing for a spot in the Cubs’ rotation this spring. Given the fact that he has three minor-league options remaining, it may be a difficult task for him to win one, especially with veteran Drew Smyly having far more experience and set to make more than $10 million. Still, if not right out of the gate, Wicks figures to get another shot in 2024 after some respectable results during his first stint in the majors last year.

Over his first six starts for the Cubs following his callup from Triple-A, Wicks turned in a 3.00 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 23-to-10 K/BB ratio across 33 innings. A rough start at Milwaukee closed out his season on a sour note and drastically damaged all those numbers. Wicks utilizes a variety of pitches to induce weak contact (32.1% Hard-Hit, 88.1 mph EV) and plenty of groundballs (46.8%). The 2021 first-rounder should also be ready for a decent workload after logging 126 innings in 2023.

Robert Gasser (SP – MIL)

The Brewers made headlines by dealing away ace Corbin Burnes at the beginning of February. That may not signal a total rebuild in Milwaukee, but it does open up the chance for some prospect pitchers to emerge onto the scene. Robert Gasser could, and should, get the first shot following a strong season at Triple-A Nashville.

In 2023, Gasser went 9-1 with a 3.79 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 28.0 K% across 135 1/3 innings. Another lefty who deploys a mix of pitches to keep hitters guessing and off balance, Gasser features two different fastballs as well as a “plus” slider, cutter and the occasional changeup. Gasser may not become a front-line starting pitcher but he could be on the cusp of becoming a back-end staple in Milwaukee’s rotation.

2024 Late-Round Rookie Relief Pitchers to Target

Yuki Matsui (RP – SD)

Josh Hader is gone and while the Padres currently have no one in their bullpen with notable MLB closing experience, they added a pair of relievers this offseason who have saved plenty of games in their native Asian countries. Woo Suk Go converted 139 saves in the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) over the last five years but it’s Matsui who is the likely frontrunner for the closer gig.

Matsui is a 28-year-old lefty who has dominated in Japan over the past decade. He has been absolutely ridiculous over the last three years, saving 95 games while putting up a 1.42 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 36.4 K%. Despite standing just 5-foot-8, Matsui possesses low-to-mid 90s heat, which plays up as well as a nasty splitter and a slider. The Padres believe in Matsui’s stuff, inking him to a five-year deal worth $28 million.

Orion Kerkering (RP – PHI)

After tearing through three levels of the Phillies’ organization with a 1.51 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 79-to-12 K/BB ratio across 53 2/3 innings last year, Orion Kerkering made his MLB debut on September 24. The young righty ended up making three appearances out of the Philly pen during the final week of the regular season, giving up just one run on three hits while striking out six of the 14 batters he faced. That earned him a spot on the playoff roster.

Going into spring, Kerkering has to be viewed as a potential source of saves given the current construction of the Phillies’ bullpen. For formats that count holds, his fantasy value is even higher. Armed with high-90s heat and a wipeout slider, Kerkering should, at minimum, register a ton of punchouts and strong ratios.

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Nate Miller is a featured writer at FantasyPros and a 9-year veteran of the fantasy sports industry. For more from Nate, check out his archive and follow him on Twitter @Miller_RotoDad.

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