Baseball season is underway and fantasy drafts are mostly complete. Now is the perfect opportunity to take advantage of free agency and discover some starting pitching that may have slipped through the cracks. The following are 10 pitchers that are being vastly undervalued. These pitchers are owned in less than 50 percent of most fantasy leagues and can likely be scooped off the waiver wire. By the end of the season their ownership will likely be closer to 100 percent, so now is a good time to take advantage of these pitchers when they are still relatively free.
10. Adam Conley (Miami Marlins)
Conley was completely off the radar when 2015 began after missing the majority of 2014 with elbow problems. This injury during a key part of his development had the majority of prospect prognosticators discarding Conley and his funky delivery. However, Conley was immediately successful during 2015, leading The Pacific Coast League in ERA before being called up and holding his own in the majors. Included in his MLB run was holding the surging Mets offense scoreless over seven innings late in the season. Looking at his final numbers, he posted a very healthy strikeout rate and seems poised to continue developing. This left-hander has plenty of velocity and could really thrive while pitching in the modest NL East division. At 25-years old, Conley could experience major gains during his peak years, particularly when factoring in that he is still a year behind in his development after missing 2014. Conley has the skills to breakout into a pitcher reminiscent of Patrick Corbin and can currently be had for a fraction of the price.
9. Brandon Finnegan (Cincinnati Reds)
Finnegan was a highly touted prospect of the Royals who got to move to the NL after being involved in last season’s Johnny Cueto trade. He was called up almost immediately by Cincinnati to fill a hole in their rotation and held his own not only with surface numbers (3.56 ERA, 1.21 WHIP), but also with an impressive strikeout rate. Finnegan struck out 45 batters in 48 innings during his rookie cup of coffee, which is an elite rate. With all that said, Finnegan and his immense upside shouldn’t really be a sleeper at all. However, here he is available in 94 percent of fantasy leagues thanks to Yahoo’s preseason rank of 407 burying his potential. Finnegan is flying under the radar due to his current status as a Cincinnati Red. That team may be dreadful, but when bargain hunting these ratios and strikeouts can’t be ignored.
8. Jonathon Niese (Pittsburgh Pirates)
The case for Niese can actually be summed up in two words: Ray Searage. The pitching guru is slated to serve as his coach and mentor and along with the friendly pitching confines of Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, Niese carries appetizing 2016 appeal. Searage has proven particularly adept at molding left-handed pitching, transforming J.A. Happ from a journeyman into one of the National League’s best pitchers down the stretch of 2015. Niese has been a solid starter for years, anchoring a rebuilding Mets staff and being quite serviceable. No longer needed on the Mets, Pittsburgh will be glad to have him on their staff and the feelings should be mutual for Niese. The NL Central is a great home for left-handed starters since the division lacks a great deal of power hitters that can attack left-handed pitching. This has allowed Jason Hammel to succeed with an elite strikeout rate in the NL Central, when he has failed almost everywhere else. Niese should be plenty safe and also carries great upside, which is a combination that’s not common in a free agent pitcher.
7. Matt Moore (Tampa Bay Rays)
Only 26 years old, it seems that Matt Moore has been around forever, but in fact this young phenom simply arrived to the majors at a very young age. It may be a very small sample size, however, Moore’s final four starts during 2015 continue to draw in fantasy owners who wish to gamble on immense upside with their final bench spot. Moore’s dominant run included a 1.35 ERA and a 23/7 K/BB ratio over 26 2/3 innings. Moore’s velocity has dropped significantly since he entered the league in 2012, so he no longer possesses the upside he once seemed to have; however, he still has ample enough speed on his fastball for a left-hander and has far more upside than someone found on free agency typically has. His velocity continues to creep up following his 2014 Tommy John surgery, and all signs appear positive this spring regarding Moore. He should have been soaring up draft boards with these results, but for some reason he is widely available to be pounced on in fantasy leagues.
6. Robbie Ray (Arizona Diamondbacks)
We at Goliath have been attempting to dissect why Robbie Ray isn’t receiving more hype. The conclusion is simply that fantasy owners need to open their eyes and snag this potential breakout if he’s still sitting on a waiver wire. Ray’s 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings are just under top of the rotation stuff, giving him literal ace upside. He is very young and will play the entire season at 24 years old. He already has a full season in the majors at the age of 23 where he put up a mid-3’s ERA with that awesome whiff rate. There’s a lot to like with Ray, who could become one of the National League’s very best left-handed starters if he is able to bring down his walk rate even slightly. His velocity was trending upward this spring giving even more room for optimism. On strikeout potential alone, ensure that Robbie Ray isn’t floating around on any waiver wire.
5. Andrew Heaney (Los Angeles Angels)
Heaney has received the tag of being a “low-ceiling” type of player ever since being drafted, and this prospect pedigree has followed him into the major leagues. Fantasy owners are constantly seeking upside, and rightfully so, making players such as Andrew Heaney, who are bandied about with the terms “safe” and “reliable,” seem less appealing. This is a huge mistake, as the clearly above-average Heaney can help any fantasy staff extend its depth. Situationally, he is built to succeed in one of the American League’s absolute best environments. His home ballpark skews toward being pitcher-friendly, and the division is relatively weak while containing other large ballparks. Finally, the addition of Andrelton Simmons will help all the Angels pitchers tremendously and the young Heaney is set to benefit. A very safe selection on the Angels’ staff, Heaney is an excellent addition to boost the overall statistics of a fantasy team.
4. Eduardo Rodriguez (Boston Red Sox)
Eduardo Rodriguez was a very projectable left-handed pitcher that has averaged 94 mph on his fastball since arriving in the Red Sox organization. That velocity placed Rodriguez in the top three for left-handed starters in the majors last season and hints at the potential upside that he possesses. Unfortunately, his fastball has been described as being slightly flat and lacking horizontal movement, which limits his potential. With a good change-up and a great slider he is able to compensate for his shortcomings, but it’s important to note that he is not a guaranteed stud as he does carry some risk. After all, this is how Boston inherited him in the first place during the Andrew Miller rental trade, as he would not have been available if he didn’t carry some risk. Rodriguez’s potential is still tantalizing and on the off-chance he is able to adjust and make improvements, he could be a staff ace. It’s risky to leave that type of upside floating around free agency despite his early season injury. Rodriguez’s health is a non-issue as he will return shortly and prove he deserves ownership.
3. Phil Hughes (Minnesota Twins)
Phil Hughes should be one of the steadiest arms available on free agency, and a vast majority of fantasy teams would benefit from adding his services. Hughes claims that back pain was the main culprit in a disappointing 2015 season that saw his K/9 dip from 8.0 during his first year in Minnesota to 5.4 last season. A strikeout rate below six per nine innings is generally not even worth entertaining in mixed fantasy leagues; however, there may still be some untapped upside in Hughes. He is apparently back to full health and his velocity this spring has returned to pre-2015 levels. Since he hardly ever walks anyone, Hughes is a very safe bet to rebound. With what should be a sneaky good strikeout rate assuming full health, helpful ratios and plenty of wins thanks to how deep Hughes is able to pitch into games, Hughes contributes across the board and is a fantastic addition to a fantasy staff.
2. Derek Holland (Texas Rangers)
Derek Holland was once one of the finest left-handed pitchers in the game and one of the most promising overall arms in the majors; unfortunately, his career has stalled in recent years due to injury. Holland hardly pitched in 2014 after suffering a freak knee injury during the off-season, and during 2015 he encountered shoulder soreness that he struggled with throughout the year. There’s no guarantee of health for Holland, whose lack of statistics the past two seasons has caused him to be forgotten in fantasy leagues. However, for those looking for upside from a starter that has gone largely undrafted this season, Holland is a very reasonable choice to add. Holland offers great strikeout upside and should rack up his fair share of wins. He pitches in a weak division and appears to be healthy. Take advantage of Holland being forgotten and add him promptly.
1. Vincent Velasquez (Philadelphia Phillies)
Vincent Velsquez was the biggest piece to head Philadelphia’s way during this off-season’s Ken Giles trade with Houston. The Astros will likely come to regret this move as Velasquez has ace potential and is poised to thrive in a shift to the National League. Velasquez’s 95 mph fastball has late rising movement and appears to be a tremendous weapon. A fantastic curveball and a wipeout slider complete his main arsenal as he seldom uses his change-up. That change-up will need to be honed, but that will likely arrive further down the line. Dynasty owners can salivate knowing that Velasquez will likely only improve next season with the addition of the change-up. For 2016, he is still easily the top pick-up available in over 80 percent of leagues. There’s no pitcher with his upside available and it’s certainly safer to own him before he breaks out rather than be required to face him on an opponent’s team.