Buying The Farm: A Deep Dive For Some Pitching Pearls

Stop me, or tweet angrily at me, if I’m wrong here, but it feels like there’s a massive disdain for “rebuilding” in Fantasy Baseball. I get it (to some degree)....

Stop me, or tweet angrily at me, if I’m wrong here, but it feels like there’s a massive disdain for “rebuilding” in Fantasy Baseball. I get it (to some degree). Losing, as like…a thing, totally stinks. And no one wants to admit they blew it, ever. Not to your buddies who’re gonna razz you all winter, or that random dude who’s been emailing you every two days asking if you’re selling or not (I’m %100 that guy). Trading some of the best names in the game for prospects is a journey into the dark unknown. Freaky stuff for us humans. But it’s not like we fantasy baseball humans are 16th century seafarers here, relying on maps filled with mysteriously dangerous sea-beasts. We have some serious data on our side to guide us. We’re armed with sabermetrics. And even if we do know that roughly 70% of all prospects fail, (thanks to Jon Shepard and Scott McKinney for their work on that here) we’ve gotten better at identifying what to look for in those that succeed. Read that piece and you’ll see some exciting trends developing in prospect coverage.

If you’re in a keeper, or dynasty, league and your current roster ain’t cutting it this year it’s time to sell. I know. It hurts. But if you’re able to realistically manage your expectations you can get a big leg up on your league for ’17. Put the big names on the block and ask for multiple prospects. Stockpile. Give yourself multiple shots at hitting 21. Remember that even though it’s a “lost” year you have serious leverage here as the guys you’re selling to are desperate to win. With this in mind let’s take a look at some pitching prospects, and let’s get bold about it. Top-50? Please. Alex Fast has already written about those dudes here and, in the age we live in, those guys already have a crazy amount of eyes, either digital or sentient, on them. Join me, Maxwell Eddy, as I dive deep and take a look at some arms poised to bust the odds.

Ronald Herrera – (RHP, Yankees) – Herrera held his own last season after the Padres promoted him to their AA in the hitter friendly Texas league. His 4.53 ERA there was undoubtedly inflated somewhat by a poor 67.3% strand rate. And, despite his less than sexy 4.05 FIP, when you consider his respectable 7.21 K/9 2.89 BB/9 split which he accomplished as a 20 year old in a league where the average hitters age was 24.2, one begins to wonder. Well, the Yankees certainly did and they acquired him on the cheap in the offseason. Herrera hasn’t disappointed either.

In 83 IP this season at AA Trenton Herrera’s posted the third best K%-BB% in the league. Unfortunately the bad luck seems to have followed him as his .346 BABIP and 63.2% strand rate are the likely culprits for his 4.32 ERA. FIP would certainly suggest that as his current mark sits at a glowing 2.87. Even more impressive is the jump in his strike out rate. He’s posted an excellent 24.2%, up from 18% last year, all while cutting his walks down from 7.2% in ’15 to 6.3% ’16.

The Yankees brass rewarded his progress with a recent promotion to AAA where he struck out 8 batters in 5IP, though he did allow 3 walks. Nonetheless, this dude has posted excellent BB/9 numbers throughout his minor league career and displays an equally impressive ability to keep the ball in the park.

Listed at 5’11 185 Herrera will likely fly under the eyes of many scouts who idolize the 6’4″ 220+ behemoths, but this kid has legitimate promise.

Anthony Banda – (LHP, D-Backs) – If you saw the futures game last week you saw Banda allow this ridiculous laser beam homer to arguably the game’s best prospect. Taters. Gonna. Tate. Pay no mind to that bad man Moncada. Banda has flashed some impressive skills through his minor league career. One of them being a penchant for keeping the ball in the yard having posted a HR/9 north of 0.65 once in a relatively small 60.2IP sample in 2013. He’s worthy of our attention.

After posting a 3.32/3.31 ERA/FIP through 151.2 IP, while striking out a batter per inning, in High-A last season Banda earned a call up to AA this year and quite simply, he be clownin’. Through 13 starts he’s posted a 9.9 K/9 next to a sparkling 2.12. The walks jumped up from last year’s awesome 2.31 BB/9 to a middling 3.30, and that’s likely the disparity between his ERA and 2.95 FIP. However, the lefty continued to display an uncanny ability to keep the the ball in the yard. His below league average HR/9 of 0.47 has come while pitching in a home park with a 171/110 R/L HR park factor according to Stat Corner.

With a recent promotion to AAA Reno the 23 year old Banda appears to be on the fast track. And while he’s scuffled since the call-up, posting a 5.32 ERA in 22IP, a look at the underlying stats reveals some bad luck. His BABIP at AAA has jumped to .375 and nearly half of the runner’s he’s left stranded have come around to score. His Ks have come down (8.18 K/9), but so have the walks (2.45 BB/9), and in 22IP small sample caveats apply. Oh, and then there’s the fact that he’s now pitching in the PCL where games average 4.89 Runs Per Game. For perspective that’s a jump up from the 4.14 environment Banda pitched in at his time in AA.

It’s time to hop on the Banda Wagon…(I can’t stop). 

Jacob Faria – (RHP, Tampa Bay Rays) – Faria saw a massive uptick in his strike out rate last season after his promotion to AA. He jumped up from a pedestrian 7.63 K/9 to an eye-popping, borderline nintendo-ish, 11.47 mark in 75.1 IP. Unfortunately there was an accompanying rise in his walk rate too as he went from a 2.66 BB/9 to a 3.58 BB/9. A similar walk rate has followed him into this year (3.89 BB/9), but the Ks are still strong (10.04 K/9) and his 3.21 FIP is a full run better than his ERA.

The Rays recently bumped him up to AAA and he’s done well. His 4.60 ERA is terrible, but largely the result of a cruel 48.2% strand rate, as his FIP is a radiant 2.50. His K’s are up at 10.91 K/9 and he’s brought his BB/9 down to 2.87, and even though we must respect the 15.2 IP small sample, changes in strike zone rates such as these portend improved command.

Faria doesn’t blow guys away with massive fastball velo. He uses his big 6’4″ frame to hide the ball well, while sitting low to mid 90s with a plus changeup. Scouts have dinged his curveball but  he’s just 23 with some room left to improve his arsenal. The Rays are known for their pitcher development, and the Trop is still a good pitchers park. Anyone Striking out close to 11 per 9 is worth a look, and a closer look at Faria shows a lot to be excited about.

Sal Romano – (RHP, Cincinnati Reds) – Big Sal is in the midst of a break out year in the AA Southern League. At 6’5″ 260 Romano’s a whole lot of dude up there on the mound, and he makes that presence felt with consistent high-90’s velocity. Critics have noted his lack of present command, but through 98 IP at AA this year he’s third in the league in K%-BB%. A shade better than his highly touted team mate Amir Garrett.

Romano’s another victim of a poor strand rate and BABIP which have inflated his 4.50 ERA despite a more appetizing 3.33 FIP. He’s been better at limiting the long ball this season surrendering only 8 in 98IP after serving up 4 in 23IP at AA last season. And over his last three starts he’s struck out 22 batters over 18.1 IP.

Continued refinement of his command could only help him more, but it looks as though Big Sal is really rounding into form.

Matthew Strahm – (LHP, Kansas City Royals) & Jake Junis – (RHP, Kansas City Royals) – Strahm and Junis are a welcome presence in a system struggling to produce quality SP candidates. They’ve both absolutely crushed the hitter friendly AA Texas League. Here are there respective lines with some pertinent nerdy-ness at the end. The K%-BB% rates are good for best and second best in the league, and second and third in all of AA baseball.

Strahm – 96 IP, 8.91 K/9, 1.78 BB/9, 3.56/3.57 ERA/FIP, 19.1% K%-BB%

Junis – 104 IP, 8.74 K/9, 1.99 BB/9, 3.03/3.30 ERA/FIP, 18.5% K%-BB%

At 24.8 years old Strahm’s definitely on the older side for his competition level, however his missed a ton of time recovering from TJS, including all of 2013. So with that in mind he’s still developing on a similar level to his peers. When you consider he only has 30 career starts as a pro, having primarily worked out of the pen early on, his production is even more impressive. Strahm’s been particularly tough on lefties with a 31:3 K:BB ratio in 26.1 IP against same handed batters. He’s also managed 0.95 Ground Out/Air Out ratio as well. You can understand why when you take a look at this sweet gif:

Junis is also relatively “baseball raw” having been a two sport athlete in High School. He’s never posted a BB/9 north of 2.56 at any level showing excellent feel for the strike zone. His relatively normal Strand rate and BABIP suggest he hasn’t really overachieved his ERA, and when you adjust for league context his work thus far in AA is even more impressive. He appears to have a nasty little slider too.

It’ll be worth watching what the Royals do in the standings over the next ten days. They currently have 5 teams ahead of them in the wild card, so a playoff run seems highly unlikely at this point. Good news for both these arms as they’d both benefit tremendously from pitching in Kaufman stadium.

This list may amount to nothing more than a watch list for you folks in shallower leagues, but it’s a great time to get a head start on prospecting for next year.

Max Eddy contributes for Pitcher List and spent his childhood watching and re-watching Ken Burnss Baseball. When he magically happened to attend Game 4 of the ‘99 NLDS, witnessing Todd Pratts walk off homer to clinch the series, his fate as a Mets fan was sealed. Coping mechanisms include Pacifco, BBQ, and playing as much fantasy baseball as possible. You can harass him on Twitter @maxwelleddy. 

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.

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