Prospect Battle Pitcher Version Matt Heckman vs. Martin Sekulski

Debating the dynasty value of four top prospects

After Martin and I had so much fun the first time, we decided to bring our Prospect Battle back for a pitcher edition. The dynasty community is great but it can be tiring reading the same opinions over and over again. Each analyst and writer has a different opinion on each prospect. In this article, Martin and I debate four different prospects and assess their dynasty value moving forward.

Be sure to head over to the Pitcher List dynasty page for more content from the team on all things prospects.


Prospect Battle- Pitcher Edition

Daniel Espino – SP, Cleveland Guardians


The Pro-Espino Argument – Matt Heckman

As Martin and I were comparing our prospect ranks, Daniel Espino stood out as an anomaly. Full disclosure, I am not the high man on Espino and never have been. His injury history is lengthy and that is undoubtedly what Martin is going to hit on. However, there is a certain point at which his profile needs to be intriguing for all dynasty managers.

There is clear relief risk in Espino’s profile but there are only a handful of pitching prospects that lack any relief risk. Pitching prospects are inherently risky. Andrew Painter seemed like a sure-fire bet to be an impactful Major League arm in 2023 and now he will miss the entirety of both 2023 and 2024. Dynasty managers need to accept that injuries happen and not overreact when they do. Factoring in health risk is an important step in any evaluation, but there is a fine line between being cautious and overreacting.

Unlike many of the other risky pitching prospects, Espino has ace potential. Ace potential is not a term that is thrown around lightly, but his pure stuff is good enough to lead any Major League pitching staff. Espino deploys a four-seam fastball that sits in the upper 90s and can easily touch triple-digits. He pairs that with a wipeout slider which can make opposing batters look silly. On top of those two plus-plus offerings, Espino adds in a changeup and curveball which both profile as at least average pitches. This is a starter’s arsenal and has helped fuel a 40.9% career strikeout rate through his first 133.2 professional innings. For reference, the highest strikeout rate in the Major Leagues last season was 36.8%.

Yes, I am sure you noticed the 133.2 innings. Espino has failed to ever post a starter’s workload despite making his debut in 2019. The risk is there and I am sure Martin is going to tell you all about why that means you should stay away. However, the floor is a dominant back-end reliever. The ceiling is a frontline starter that is capable of posting elite strikeout rates. In terms of upside, few pitching prospects have as much of it as Espino. Reports are that he is healthy entering 2024, making now the perfect time to buy-low.


The Flip Side – Martin Sekulski

Let me start this with the most contradictory statement to my argument. Daniel Espino is an elite talent. There, I said it, and I don’t regret it. My “anti-Espino” position has nothing to do with his ability as a pitcher, nor does it involve negativity toward his skills. The single reason why Espino is not on my radar is health. As I’m writing, Espino is in his ninth month of recovery following shoulder surgery that he underwent in May of 2023. The most recent surgery was to repair an anterior capsule in his right shoulder. The anticipated recovery timeline was 12 months, according to the initial report. However, in a February 2023 report by the National Library of Medicine, the average “return to action” time of their eight active pitching patients was just under 19 1/2 months. With that in mind, Espino should be back on the mound by Opening Day 2025.

That bulky right shoulder isn’t Espino’s first injury. He has not thrown a competitive pitch since April 29th, 2022, when he tossed 4.2 innings at Double-A Akron. Assuming that baseball starts on April 1st, 2025, Espino will have gone 1069 days without toeing the rubber. I cannot invest in that as a Dynasty owner. 

When Espino is on the mound, he’s an elite talent. He was a first-round pick of the then-Indians (now Guardians) in 2019 and has thrown 133.2 career innings. Espino has a 40.9% strikeout rate, 14.9 K/9, and a 1.06 WHIP. Unfortunately, we’ve not seen any Statcast data because Espino hasn’t pitched since it reached the Minor leagues. When we last saw Espino, he featured an 80-grade fastball that sat in the upper 90s and touched 102mph. It worked well up in the zone and had a ton of arm-side run. He also had two breaking pitches, a slider and curveball, and a diving changeup. The slider was a hard, sharp breaker that worked in the upper 80s, the best of his two breakers. His changeup was a sinker that worked in the mid-80s as well. 

At this point, we should take what we can get. As a dynasty owner, I’m too risk-averse to invest in guys like Espino. Profiles like his remind me of Tyler Glasnow, a game-changing talent that always has me asking the “What Ifs.” In a vacuum, any fantasy owner would love to roster the most talented players. But we play a game heavily influenced by safety and reliability, leaving Espino on the outside looking in. 


Kyle Hurt – SP, Los Angeles Dodgers


The Pro-Hurt Argument – Martin Sekulski

So, let me start with this nugget. I believe in Kyle Hurt, but he’s far from my favorite starting pitcher prospect. Entering his age-25 season, I have him ranked as my #166 overall prospect, and my #44 starting pitcher. That’s a fair assessment for Hurt, who was mediocre in his first two professional seasons before taking a big step forward in 2023. The Marlins selected former USC Trojan Kyle Hurt in the 5th round of the shortened 2020 Draft before trading him to the Dodgers early in 2021. In his first two seasons in the Minors, Hurt lived up to his name after being limited to 92 combined innings due to numerous injuries. When he did pitch, Hurt struggled with his command, walking hitters at a 16.2% clip, albeit with a 34.1% K-rate. The ability to miss bats was never in doubt for Hurt, but could he throw enough strikes?

Things turned around in 2023. First, his walk rate fell to 11.3%, an improvement of nearly 5%. Hurt also took a big jump with his health, throwing 94 innings, including two in the Majors. His 39.2% strikeout rate and 27.8% K-BB rate led all MiLBers with at least 90 innings of work. A 3.00 xFIP, compared to his overall ERA of 3.91, indicated that Hurt was unlucky. He spent 2/3 of his season at Double-A, where Hurt generated a 34.8% CSW, 40% Whiff rate, and an overall Swinging Strike rate of 19.6%.

In a much smaller Triple-A sample, Hurt continued to shove. His 35.4% CSW and 19.4% SwStr rate were both elite marks. His changeup had a 52.2% Whiff rate and a 30.2% SwStr rate, finishing in the top-5 for all changeups at the level. In addition to the changeup, his arsenal consists of a mid-90s four-seamer and a low-80s curve. The fastball has been successful overall, producing a 14.7% SwStr rate. The concern is a 14.5 IVB, a subpar number for a four-seamer. If his changeup remains an elite pitch, he has enough to be a back-end arm in the Majors.

Again, Hurt isn’t among my favorite prospect arms, but he’s far from unusable. The Dodgers have a litany of arms in their system, and Hurt may stay a Quad-A piece until he’s traded. But if he gets a chance, with his strikeout upside and team context, Hurt has solid value in Dynasty.


The Flip Side – Matt Heckman

There are some similarities between Espino and Hurt. Both have generated high strikeout rates throughout their professional careers and both have significant relief risk. Being that they are so similar, it is kind of funny that Martin and I flip-flopped on the two of them.

The biggest difference between Hurt and Espino is that we already know what Hurt is. Now 25 years old, Hurt is destined for a relief role with the Dodgers. Since being promoted to Triple-A last season, Hurt has started just one game. While there is nothing wrong with a relief pitcher (this was even brought up as a potential reason to invest in Espino), they are a dime a dozen. Every season there is a new breakout reliever that can help your fantasy teams. A high-leverage relief role is not a bad floor to have (a la Espino), but considering this is Hurt’s ceiling, dynasty managers should be looking elsewhere.

The other part of this is that it is not like Hurt is a perfect relief prospect. He has struggled to throw strikes throughout his professional career. Hurt is also more fastball/changeup than he is fastball/breaking ball. He relies heavily on his change (albeit a good one) which is not an approach that has found high rates of success at the Major League level. Both of his breaking pitches profile as slightly below average and are pitches he does not have consistent feel for.

All in all, Hurt is a fine relief prospect. He has a good fastball, an excellent changeup, and will likely generate plenty of strikeouts. However, he walks too many batters to move into a closer role and lacks a true breaking ball. He is unlikely to be a ratio savior in fantasy leagues and is not somebody that dynasty managers need to prioritize.


Robby Snelling, SP San Diego Padres


The Pro-Snelling Argument – Martin Sekulski

I can honestly say that I was not expecting to see Snelling, a pitcher I have listed inside my top 40, in this debate. But since Matt wants to give me an early edge, I’ll take it! The Padres grabbed the 6’3″ southpaw in the 2022 Competitive Balance round, offering him a $3M deal to forego his commitment to LSU. Consider Snelling, Paul Skenes, and Ty Floyd at LSU…WOW.

Instead, Snelling made his pro-debut in 2023, dominating across three levels. He finished 11-3 with a 1.82 ERA and 1.12 WHIP, albeit in just 103 2/3 innings. In two stops at A-ball, Snelling made 18 starts, producing a 29% Whiff rate, 14.4% SwStr rate, and 31.3% CSW. That’s an impressive run for a 19-year-old making his professional debut. In a four-game sample at Double-A, Snelling did see a jump in his walk rate, but I have no concerns with his control. He pounds the zone and has the stuff to challenge any hitter.

Snelling has the makings of a front-line starter. His 6’3″, 220-pound frame is well developed and built for durability. To give you an idea of his size, Snelling was a high school linebacker and quarterback. From the left side, he stands tall with a slight rocking motion, delivering from a 3/4 arm slot with an athletic finish. His four-seam fastball works in the mid-90s and can tick up to 97-98. Snelling has a versatile mid-80s breaking pitch that he can spin in the zone for called strikes, or force hitters to chase as it dives out of the zone. His changeup is progressing and has shown to be a plus offering in limited use. The scariest part is that Snelling has dominated with his two primary pitches so often that his change was an afterthought.

Snelling is the type of pitcher you dream of. With two plus pitches and a third in the works, the 20-year-old is already a top prospect, and the sky is the limit. In his first season, Snelling was incredible, and 2023 is only the start of his journey. We cannot rule out Snelling moving into the Padres rotation by the end of 2024, especially as they progress toward a rebuild.



The Flip Side – Matt Heckman

There is no debating that Robby Snelling’s debut season was fantastic. To reach Double-A as a 19-year-old pitcher speaks to how highly the Padres view Snelling’s potential. The dynasty hype surrounding him seems to grow larger each month. Many 2024 prospect rankings have Snelling firmly inside of the top 50 prospects in baseball. A quick glance at his stat line backs that up, but digging deeper provides some reason to pump the brakes.

The best place to start is with Snelling’s fastball. Most pitching prospects that fly up prospect lists have a big heater. This is the most used pitch for young pitchers and can often speak to a guy’s Major League ceiling. Snelling consistently sits 92-94 with his four-seam. His arm slot helps give the pitch some deception, but this pitch still profiles to be closer to average.

With an average fastball, Snelling will need to rely heavily on the rest of his arsenal to find consistent success at the Major League level. While his curveball does profile as a plus pitch, Snelling lacks a true third offering. He mixes in a changeup but lacks a consistent feel for the pitch. While his stat line split is actually better against right-handed batters, the strikeouts take a significant step back. He struck out 33% of left-handed batters and only 26% of right-handed batters. His curveball is not as effective against righties, and he lacks the changeup to help keep them off balance. We could continue to see his strikeout rate trend downward as he continues to progress through the Padres’ system.

Few starting pitchers in baseball can find success with a two-pitch mix. Spencer Strider is the one name that instantly comes to mind, but he utilizes a four-seamer that consistently sits 97 and a slider that generates a whiff rate of over 50%. Snelling not only lacks the fastball velocity but deploys a curveball as opposed to a slider. For a pitcher to find success as a starter with two pitches, both pitches need to be at least plus offerings. Snelling only has one. Yes, he just turned 20 years old, but adding a third pitch is a significant challenge for his future production. The hype surrounding him has gone too far.

One extra note from the Pitcher List dynasty discord: Can we really count on Padres’ pitching prospects? Ryan Weathers, Adrian Morejon, and Luis Patino are just a few with high expectations who have failed to produce at the Major League level. This is not an analytical argument but still seems relevant to this debate.


Adam Mazur- SP, San Diego Padres


The Pro-Mazur Argument – Matt Heckman

I guess Martin and I just like to debate Padres’ prospects. Marsee last time, Snelling just above, and now we land on the team’s second-round pick from the 2022 draft. In terms of pedigree, Mazur is the least-known prospect that we have debated. He broke out during his final collegiate season at Iowa and has not slowed down since joining the Padres organization. The team waited to have him make his professional debut until this past season, when he threw 96 innings with a 2.81 ERA. For some reason, Mazur is not receiving the same level of attention as Snelling and it is time to change that.

The biggest critique scouts have had about Mazur has been his size. A bit wiry at 180 pounds, Mazur still maintains excellent body control throughout his delivery. His fastball has proven capable of sitting 94/95 on the gun and according to reports, he has touched as high as 99 mph before. He also mixes in a sinker with three other non-fastball offerings. His slider is a clear plus pitch and helps generate plenty of whiffs against right-handed batters. His changeup keeps lefties off balance while the curveball adds another pitch that batters have to worry about. This is a starter’s arsenal that helps mitigate any relief risk.

The best part about Mazur is his control. He is one of the best strike throwers in the Minor Leagues. While most young pitchers struggle to avoid walks, Mazur walked just 4.8% of batters last season. This should allow him to continue progressing quickly through the Minor Leagues. On top of great control, Mazur also has command. He effectively locates his pitches, avoiding the heart of the zone. He surrendered just five home runs last season which lowers his risk level moving forward.

In Snelling’s section above, I mentioned avoiding Padres’ pitching prospects. The difference between Snelling and Mazur is their perceived dynasty value. Snelling is one of the hottest prospect names in dynasty after his debut season, while Mazur is going virtually unmentioned. Quietly, Snelling’s FIP was a 3.07 while Mazur’s was a 2.91. We do not rely heavily on ERA as a measure of future success at the Major League level, so why should that be any different at the Minor League level? Mazur was the ONLY pitcher in Minor League baseball to throw at least 90 innings with a FIP below 3.00 and a walk rate less than 5%. He deserves more recognition from the dynasty community heading into 2024.


The Flip Side – Martin Sekulski

The Padres have polarizing players in their system, and Mazur makes the third prospect from their organization to be in our battle. The 22-year-old right-hander was a 2nd round pick in the 2022 Draft. Mazur pitched at South Dakota State in 2020 and 2021 before finishing at Iowa in 2022.

Overall, Mazur had a very pedestrian 4.25 ERA and 1.24 WHIP collegiately, which included a 26.2% strikeout rate and a 9.4% walk rate. I will give Matt some credit on this, though. I’m sure he’ll add that Mazur was Big 10 Pitcher of the Year, which is a fine accomplishment. It’s not the SEC, but it’s FINE. In his only professional season, Mazur finished with an outstanding 2.81 ERA across two levels, with most of his work coming at High-A. He was knocked around a bit at Double-A, yielding a 4.03 ERA, but the hitting environment in San Antonio isn’t ideal for pitchers. Unless, of course, you’re Robby Snelling and dominate everyone.

At first glance, Mazur is a good player with a safe, mid-level floor. He throws two fastballs, one a four-seamer and the other a sinking fastball. Both sit in the low-to-mid 90s with the potential to tick up, but neither is an above-average pitch, let alone elite. His changeup and curveball are average offerings but lack significant upside or a standout characteristic. The one attribute that I enjoy most about Mazur is his control. At his worst, he had a 5% walk rate in college, and as recently as last season, he posted a 4.3% walk rate in the Minors.

My “anti-Mazur” take is related to his lack of upside. In a best-case scenario, Mazur is a strikeout-per-inning pitcher with solid ratios. That’s pretty much Miles Mikolas, and that’s not exciting. Mazur is a stabilizer for dynasty rotations but has no carrying tool for fantasy. While that has some value in Dynasty leagues, it fails to get him inside the top 200 prospects, and I don’t see enough upside for a breakout.


Photos courtesy of MiLB | Adapted by Aaron Polcare (@bearydoesgfx on X)

Martin Sekulski

Martin is a Dynasty writer for PitcherList. He is a lifelong member of Red Sox Nation and attributes his love of baseball to his father, Marty. As a father and a husband, Martin now loves sharing his love of America's pastime with his family. You can find his work on Twitter and SubStack

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