This is a weekly column written for those who play in deeper dynasty formats, where I will be focusing on a player who is owned in less than 20 percent of Fantrax leagues – as that is the most commonly used platform for dynasty leagues.
As I discussed in the intro of my initial dynasty deep dive piece two weeks ago about Orioles’ second baseman Jahmai Jones, this season—perhaps more than any in recent memory—will be about pop-up prospects. It’s been well over a year since we last saw minor league baseball, and many guys have been quietly developing behind the scenes, some via pitch mix changes, swing changes, or just simply getting stronger/faster/better – meaning many previously unheard of prospects will blow us all away when the minor league season rolls around.
This weekly column will focus heavily on those pop up guys throughout the summer, because getting the jump on those players in deeper dynasty formats can be paramount in building a contending roster in future years.
However, while we wait for the minor leagues to get started, for now this column will detail other young players who are undervalued in dynasty leagues who I believe have the potential to be very useful pieces, potentially in both the short and the long term.
Today’s article will focus on Milwaukee Brewers‘ right-handed reliever Drew Rasmussen, a flame-thrower with a power breaking ball who looks like the next great Milwaukee bullpen ace, a massive area of strength in the team’s developmental system that I think could lead to great real life (and fantasy) value for Rasmussen.
How Did We Get Here?
Rasmussen starred at baseball powerhouse Oregon State University from 2015-2017, going 14-5 with a 2.65 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP in three seasons while primarily throwing to superstar catcher Adley Rutschman. He dominated as a freshman in 2015 and as a sophomore to begin the 2016 campaign, but he ended up getting Tommy John surgery in March and missing the rest of the year, returning in late April in 2017 and pitching well down the stretch.
That was enough for the Rays to snag him 31st overall in the 2017 MLB draft, but they ultimately didn’t sign him after concerns about his post-draft MRI. Rasmussen intended to return to Oregon State for the 2018 season, but he did end up undergoing TJ for a second time, missing the entire year.
Still, the Brewers were confident enough in Rasmussen’s ability to recover from the surgeries to snag him in the sixth round in 2018, signing him for just $135,000. Rasmussen has made good on that deal and then some, rocketing up from Single-A to High-A to Double-A in his first minor league season in 2019. In 27 minor league appearances, Rasmussen made 23 starts and posted a 3.15 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and a stellar 11.6 K/9 – doing most of his damage for the Biloxi Shuckers in the Double-A Southern League.
2020 saw Rasmussen make his major league debut, and while he struggled to a 5.87 ERA in 15.1 innings, he had a far more palatable 3.75 SIERA, along with a 29.6% strikeout rate. Through just six appearances in 2021, Rasmussen has posted a 11.81 ERA with a 25% strikeout rate – with all of his major league appearances coming out of the bullpen.
Like many Brewers pitching prospects, Rasmussen is unlikely to make his living as a starting pitcher. Milwaukee has proven quite apt at developing excellent relief prospects, but until very recently they have not been able to churn out many starters – in part because the pitching archetype they seem drawn to in the draft are often hard throwers with 1-2 good secondaries, but rarely a complete four-pitch mix.
Rasmussen may have started in his collegiate career and in his one minor league season, but his profile has always been destined for the bullpen. After all, a pair of Tommy John surgeries, questionable control (he has a career 12.1% walk rate) and a lack of a truly dominant third pitch behind his fastball/slider combo certainly looks more like a late inning weapon (a la Josh Hader or Devin Williams) and not a back end of the rotation guy.
Still though, dynamic multi-inning relief weapons have become much more usable in many fantasy baseball formats, and if you are going to gamble on a lesser known reliever then you definitely want one with Rasmussen’s stuff – and in an organization like Milwaukee where he will likely be best utilized in the short and long term.
Let’s talk about that stuff. Rasmussen’s four-seam fastball sits about 97 miles per hour, and this year he has been using it about 66% of the time. It comes in with just over 2500 RPM of spin so far in 2021, and was in the 87th percentile in spin during the 2020 campaign.
You’d like to see him elevate in the zone a little bit more, especially since he’s good at dropping his slider down in the strike zone, and that change toward the Blake Snell Blueprint could make him even more effective.
As for the slider, well, take a look first:
Paired with a high spin rate fastball up in the zone, you can see why this combination of offerings could serve Rasmussen extremely well. The slider comes in at 87 miles per hour and averages about 18% more drop than the rest of the sliders in the league. The results haven’t been there yet in 2021, but he has only thrown 27 of them and the movement profile should make this a nasty pitch if he can locate it better, and pair a high fastball with it.
I keep mentioning the Blake Snell blueprint because we have video evidence that Rasmussen has effectively used it in the past. Here’s a look at an at-bat of his from 2019 while at Double-A:
This three pitch sequence from Drew Rasmussen last September is why I'm unrealistically high on him going forward. I know @PitcherList will love it. Heaters up, breakers down. @AlexFast8 @HoothTrevor @ShellyV_643 @CalebJanowski pic.twitter.com/WfIpQW7eB3
— Andy Patton (@andypattonPNW) April 6, 2020
Good morning, good afternoon, and good night. Two fastballs up at the top of the strike zone, followed by a hammer breaking ball that would make our nastiest pitches article on the regular. That looked more like a curveball than the current iteration of his slider, but the sentiment still stands – if Rasmussen can locate his fastballs up and his breaking stuff down, there’s an easy recipe for sustained success as a relief ace here.
And as it so happens, he’s in quite possibly the best organization to find success in that role.
Milwaukee’s Bread and Butter
I alluded to this earlier in the piece, but the Brewers have had a ton of success developing exactly this type of player into the best version of themselves over the past few years.
Josh Hader was a 19th round pick by the Orioles out of high school. He was jettisoned to the Astros and then the Brewers, and even though he dominated as a starter for Milwaukee in the minor leagues, he got his first chance in the big leagues as a reliever because of his still underdeveloped changeup and command issues. Sound familiar?
Devin Williams was a highly-touted starting pitching prospect who underwent Tommy John surgery while in the minor leagues, which pushed Milwaukee to convert him into a reliever to fast-track him to the big leagues, where he found success relying on two pitches and increasing his fastball velocity thanks to shorter stints. Sound familiar?
Both Freddy Peralta and Corbin Burnes looked like failed starting pitching prospects before they converted to the bullpen, found some success, and are now back and cruising in the rotation. While it is possible that path could happen for Rasmussen, I think he is more likely to follow a hybrid Hader/Williams path and settle in as a top-tier multi-inning reliever, barring a grip adjustment that unlocks his changeup and turns it into a plus offering.
Rasmussen has as much, or more, pedigree as Milwaukee’s recent pitching success stories, and while he doesn’t have a pitch quite as filthy as Hader’s fastball or Williams’ changeup, his fastball/slider combo has already proven to be a strikeout weapon at the big league level. If he can hone in his command, he should rack up plenty of K’s in Milwaukee’s middle innings.
Of course, any fantasy player who is considering rostering Rasmussen will need to have a strong understanding of their league’s rules. Standard 5×5 scoring, where the pitching categories are wins, ERA, WHIP, saves, and strikeouts, probably won’t find as much use for a player like Rasmussen than leagues where either K/9 or holds are counted.
These multi-inning “relief aces” are becoming far, far more popular in real baseball, with teams like the Rays, Astros, Yankees, and Dodgers all having a ton of success utilizing these players. However, fantasy baseball, by and large, has not caught up with the real game on the field.
Wins have always been a stat that is about luck more than anything else, and quality starts – a common replacement for wins – is really rough in today’s game where starting pitchers are frequently pulled before they face the lineup a third time, usually before the end of the sixth inning. This means some leagues are starting to turn toward stats that value these high volume relievers, such as holds, SV+HD, or even K/9, as a way to more accurately have rosters reflect the true value of these players in fantasy leagues.
Rasmussen is, at best, third in line for saves in Milwaukee – so expecting much value in that category is foolish. He could sneak a win every now and again, and he will rack up plenty of strikeouts, but otherwise he’s not going to be a must-roster player in standard fantasy formats for right now.
But, in those ever more popular leagues that are starting to count holds and/or K/9, Rasmussen is the kind of dark horse reliever that dynasty owners should be adding and watching very closely.
Considering the caliber of stuff he already possesses, the slight tweaks he could make that could unlock even more strikeout potential, and the pedigree of Milwaukee’s development system that turned Hader and Williams into fantasy studs, Rasmussen is a guy I’d be more than happy to take a look at in deeper dynasty leagues.
Photos by Russell Lansford, Nick Wosika and Jimmy Simmons/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Jacob Roy (@jmrgraphics3 on IG)