10 Underrated Starting Pitchers To Target On Draft Day

Nick Pollack details the 10 starting pitchers that need to be on your radar in your fantasy baseball drafts.

It’s the final weekend of draft season and it’s time to talk about the pitchers who still aren’t getting enough love in drafts. Target these sleeper arms (well, not all are sleepers…) at their current cost and make out like a bandit.


Derek Holland & Jeff Samardzija (San Francisco Giants)


If you’ve been following Pitcher List this off-season, this list of starters will not surprise you. Derek Holland is going well past the 300th pick of drafts, yet he finished strong last season, featuring a 2.87 ERA (3.39 FIP!) and 25% K rate over his final 19 starts. Those strikeouts were backed by an 11.5% swinging strike rate, which I’d expect Holland to hover around again after shifting on the rubber in June of last year. He won’t turn into an SP #3 for your squad, but at the price of free, Holland is well worth your roster spot.

Meanwhile, his teammate Jeff Samardzija is looking like a great late snag as well. Samardzija’s 2018 season was plagued by an inflamed shoulder, reducing him to just 10 starts after five straight seasons of 200+ frames. Now healthy, look for Samardzija to replicate the 1.20 and 1.14 WHIP marks from 2016/2017, while sporting a 22%+ strikeout rate and sub 4.00 ERA. It’s not the sexiest pick out there, but 200 frames could be in order as the Giants will let him fly.


Trevor Bauer (Cleveland Indians)


It feels wrong to focus only on late round picks while I believe Trevor Bauer still isn’t getting the full love he deserves. Those knocking his inability to get to 200 frames in a season over the course of his career should consider how a) he would have in 2018 if it weren’t for a liner to the shin and b) he would have in prior seasons if he was as good as he is now. Bauer has been an elite starter for 1.5 seasons, dating back to 2017’s second half when he transformed his cutter into a slider. From July 27th, 2017 through the end of last season, Bauer has returned a 2.27 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 30% strikeout rate, and 12.5% swinging strike rate across 253 innings.

That’s elite and there’s little reason why he can’t do it throughout the 2019 season.

Bauer is currently going off the board as the 9th SP, yet I see more stability and dependability here than with the likes of Blake Snell, Corey Kluber, and Aaron NolaDon’t look at the ADP and instead trust Bauer as the 5th best starter option in your drafts.


Caleb Smith & Pablo Lopez (Miami Marlins)


I like grouping players from the same team together and it makes sense for a few reasons here with Caleb Smith and Pablo Lopez. First, one may not be in the rotation to start the year — which is dumb — meaning you can either handcuff them in the final two rounds or be quick on the waiver wire to make the swap if either goes undrafted.

I really hope they both get their shot out of the gate, though, as they possess similar skill sets that should tantalize. Each hold a pair of secondary pitches they can earn whiffs with (16% swinging strike rates!) while boasting impressive fastballs. Smith may have a tinge more upside in his heater, possibly transitioning it into a 10%+ swinging strike option this season, while Lopez has more command of his heater without the ability to overpower. Smith needs a bit of command polish while Lopez needs to refine his secondary approach, but I could see both taking major steps forward and turning into legit SP options in 2019.

Pitching in the revamped NL East may be a bit of a hindrance, but a breakout season could be on the way for either arm as long as they get the innings. Take a shot on either one (or both!) in your final rounds and it could return dividends quickly.


Corbin Burnes & Brandon Woodruff (Milwaukee Brewers)


The Brewers had a surprising announcement this week as they tabbed both Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff as starters, demoting Chase Anderson to the pen. This should excite you.

Woodruff’s heater did plenty of damage last season, inducing just a .219 Batting Average in nearly 500 thrown as he sat in the mid-90s. There are still questions about his secondary options (a slider with a 12.5% whiff rate and changeup with a 13% mark,) though he’s a strong option to choose out of the gate and see how he performs early.

His teammate Burnes may have the better shot of becoming a season-long addition to your staff. Burnes has the best pitch between  them with a filthy slider that easily acted as a money pitch — 47% O-Swing, 47% Zone rate, and 25% Swinging-Strike rate. Unreal. With that pitch in his arsenal and a mid-90s heater, Burnes can instantly produce in the starting role. The only question is if his curveball is good enough to allow him to stick around through the sixth inning…but we can worry about that later in April.


Julio Urias (Los Angeles Dodgers)


Now that Rich Hill and Clayton Kershaw will start the season on the IL, the Dodgers have labeled Julio Urias as a member of the rotation to begin the year and this should excite you. Urias showcased elite talent in his brief 2016 stint with a 25% strikeout rate as only a 19-year-old. Despite sitting at 93mph in previous seasons, Urias has been hitting 95mph consistently this spring, backed by his excellent command, a wicked curveball and strong slider. Given 180 frames, Urias could be this year’s Patrick Corbin

…but he won’t get that far. And that’s what has driven his price way down in your drafts to the point where Urias holds excellent value. The Dodgers will most likely limit Urias to about 150 frames this year but with the possibility of the aging Rich Hill missing plenty of time, Kershaw’s back ailing, and Hyun-Jin Ryu getting hurt blinking his eyes, Urias could find his way to 25 starts this year. Expect great things with Urias on the mound and snag him late.


Merrill Kelly (Arizona Diamondbacks)


Few are jumping on the Merrill Kelly train and it’s for a sound reason: “He held a 4.09 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in the KBO, so why would you expect better in the majors?”

Well, we’ve seen pitchers improve when transferring leagues (think Miles Mikolas move from Japan) and during his last season Kelly still held over a strikeout per inning. I watched a good amount of his starts from Spring Training and what I saw was an arm capable of going deep into games on the back of a versatile repertoire. He earned plenty of outs against lefties with his changeup, improved his fastball command in his final start, and displayed a strong pair of breakers to miss bats.

This isn’t a starter that will transform your squad, but many of you will be looking for sturdy SP help in the final rounds of your draft. Don’t go for the Keuchels, Arrietas, Quintanas, etc… go for Kelly instead, who will put up similar ratios — if not better — while holding better strikeout upside.


Yu Darvish (Chicago Cubs)


I know, he’s often injured — there was even a blister scare this past week that, thankfully, isn’t holding him back to start the year — but to simply neglect Darvish’s upside based on his injury history isn’t taking into account what he can do when on the field.

Throwing 2018 out the window because, well, you should given how damaged his elbow was, Darvish has always held an ERA under 3.90, maintained a 27% K rate or better, and owned a WHIP above 1.16 just once since 2013. The skills are still there for Darvish to act as a SP #1.5 for your squad — think Carlos Carrasco — though questioning his longevity is certainly valid. But look at the other names going near his ADP: JA Happ, Luis Castillo, Kyle Hendricks, Robbie Ray, Masahiro Tanakaand Chris Archer. All are going ahead of Darvish and they each have large warts and injury histories of their own.

James Paxton is currently being drafted inside the Top 15 pitchers, yet he has never pitched over 170 frames. Instead of grabbing Paxton in the fourth or fifth round, consider Darvish near the 10th as your SP #3 and watch as he tosses over 150 innings at a 27% strikeout rate. You’ll be happy you did.

(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

Nick Pollack

Founder of Pitcher List. Creator of CSW, The List, and SP Roundup. Worked with MSG, FanGraphs, CBS Sports, and Washington Post. Former college pitcher, travel coach, pitching coach, and Brandeis alum. Wants every pitcher to be dope.

16 responses to “10 Underrated Starting Pitchers To Target On Draft Day”

  1. Steven says:

    Why no love for Freddy Peralta?

    • fucc says:

      Agreed, should be listed here over Burnes

      • Jordan says:

        Freddy P has a much better track record as a starter across the minors and majors.

        • Jordan says:

          Woodruff hasn’t been particularly impressive as a starter since 2016. His success came out of the pen in 2018 (his era was over 6 in 15 innings as a starter). Peralta has been more or less dominant in the minors his entire career, and was pretty effective as an MLB starter in 2018 (average-ish siera, a ton of ks). Peralta is also dominating this spring, and throwing 93-94, a couple miles per hour harder than his 2018 velo.

          • Jordan says:

            I agree burnes and woodruff are underrated nonetheless, but Peralta’s performance deserves more love in comparison, two-pitch-mix be damned.

  2. Jesse says:

    If Merrill kelly is on the wire in a 14 team would you consider him a must add if your pitching staff is mediocre?

    • Jordan says:

      Woodruff hasn’t been particularly impressive as a starter since 2016. His success came out of the pen in 2018 (his era was over 6 in 15 innings as a starter). Peralta has been more or less dominant in the minors his entire career, and was pretty effective as an MLB starter in 2018 (average-ish siera, a ton of ks). Peralta is also dominating this spring, and throwing 93-94, a couple miles per hour harder than his 2018 velo.

  3. Paul says:

    Thanks as always Nick. I got sucked into the Kyle Wright hype with his impressive Spring (save for his last outing) and he’s noticeably absent from this list. Safe to drop for Urias/Smith/Lopez/Burnes?

    • AJ says:

      Look at the list to the right of the artlcle:

      Wright is #82
      Urias #52
      Lopez is #79
      Smith isn’t listed
      Burnes isn’t either.

      There’s your answer…. He likes Urias the most, unless, perhaps, you are in an NL-only where you need to ensure you get innings, but in that case, none these players would be on waivers.

  4. Chucky says:

    Thoughts on two guys, one who misses bats, Sean Newcomb and one who doesn’t, Brad Keller. Both guys sitting at the edge of my bench. WW availability notwithstanding, should I begin looking elsewhere?

  5. AJ says:

    Any reason why you mentioned Smith / Lopez, but not Richards? Looks like you have Lopez highest on the list, but Richards next, and Smith not listed? So is this just an ADP thing?

    • Jason says:

      Probably more to do with upside. Richards has only one good pitch, which is his changeup. His fastball is really bad so he doesn’t have a whole lot of upside where Smith could rack up a ton of strikeouts.

  6. Jason says:

    Lopez, Peralta and Kelly are all on my WW. How would you rate them (plenty has happened since the last list) and are they close? Thanks!

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