2014 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Undervalued Players: Pitchers

by Tim Heaney and Nicholas Minnix on March 25, 2014 @ 06:00:00 PDT


When using 2014 fantasy baseball rankings, identify promising assets. In fantasy baseball drafts, sleepers and undervalued players will allow you to make the most of your picks.

SP Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants

Don't judge him by that anomalous first half; his control slipped a little, which led to more homers allowed. Not much else changed, though, and he's still a fine SP1 alternative to the bigger names. -TH

SP Mat Latos, Cincinnati Reds

No reason yet to worry about his knee and elbow. If he's fine in March and your opponents still doubt him, bonus: His skills remain excellent. Though he still pitches home games in GABP, Latos has limited the long ball, putting him in near-ace territory. -TH

SP Danny Salazar, Cleveland Indians Sleeper Spotlight

Milwaukee Brewers SP Marco Estrada
Estrada's skills are overlooked

Good pitching has become plentiful. If good becomes common, then fantasy owners would be well served to search for great.

This RHP was a "prospect" in 2010, before he underwent elbow-ligament replacement in August of that year. But he certainly wasn't as intriguing then as he is exciting now. Salazar's Tommy John surgery success story is one of the highest order: His velocity and command improved dramatically (thanks also go to a rebuilt delivery) as he distanced himself from the procedure.

These days, the 24-year-old's four-seamer sits in the upper 90s with ease. He also has a changeup that Baseball America labeled the best in the system in 2012. And Salazar can excel with just two plus offerings. It's unfortunate for the opposition that he occasionally unleashes a quality slider.

Salazar reached his career high in innings as a pro (145) last year. The club says that it doesn't intend to limit him in any way in 2014, however. That may worry some people. Hey, even if he doesn't make 30 starts or win more than 10 games, when he pitches, Salazar should be fantastic. Think Stephen Strasburg's 2012 (a 3.16 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP and 197 strikeouts in 159 1/3 frames), minus the top-50 pick or $20 he probably cost in a mixed league that year. -NM

SP Doug Fister, Washington Nationals

The control freak's grounder inducement reached an apex last year. He gains a much better infield defense than Motown's, which should curb that insanely high .332 BABIP. Early-spring forearm stiffness looks like it isn't a problem anymore. He's a bargain version of Jordan Zimmermann. -TH

SP Marco Estrada, Milwaukee Brewers Breakout Player

Durability, velocity and homer prevention leave some to be desired, but the rest of his outlook points to better things, especially at his middle-rounds price. He's had back-to-back second halves of skills growth, and in this past one, he enhanced his changeup. Even if his K-9 dips (it shouldn't, by much), his low-WHIP outlook could make him one of the most valuable SP bargains. -TH

SP Ian Kennedy, San Diego Padres

A tweak in his leg kick helped Kennedy finish 2013 with momentum. His homer problems won't vanish but will subside at PETCO Park. Few late-rounders boast this combo of skills, experience and ambience-fueled optimism. -TH

SP Drew Smyly, Detroit Tigers Breakout Player

This LHP spent the entire 2013 campaign in Detroit's bullpen -- because he was just too effective to leave off the staff. Smyly, 24, showed glimpses of his upside as an MLB starter in 2012 (8.5 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 in 99 1/3 innings). The former top prospect is prepared to put up numbers that will be significantly better than their cost. -NM

SP Dan Haren, Los Angeles Dodgers

Haren turned around his 2013 by keeping the ball down in the zone. He lands in one of the best pitcher's parks with a strong supporting lineup and, if all goes right, should kiss his recent 4.00-plus ERAs goodbye. -TH

SP Dan Straily, Oakland Athletics

Straily, 25, is entering what will essentially be his second full season in the rotation. Based on his farm record and mild skills growth, there's a bit more room for improvement. The K/9 may improve beyond 7.3, but it's another significant step in BB/9 (from 3.7 to 3.4 to?), and thus run reduction, that makes him alluring. -NM

SP Scott Kazmir, Oakland Athletics

Kazmir was resurrected after regaining the flexibility and balance in his delivery. His injury history has scared off many fantasy players. But he's hardly being charged what 2013 should dictate, and he moves to one of the best pitching environments and organizations in baseball. Even if you max him out at 160 frames, they'll be high-quality stanzas. -TH

SP Ivan Nova, New York Yankees

Fantasy owners have a hard time buying this RHP's 2013 after his subpar first few years in the majors. His development is legit, people! Nova, 27, keeps the ball out of the air, essential at Yankee Stadium and in the AL East. His solid control continues to inch forward, and his K/9 spike of the last two years coincides with his mastering of his curve. He's a great bargain. -NM

SP Josh Johnson, San Diego Padres

Johnson's 2013 Toronto numbers harshly skewed his steady underlying peripherals. His homer allowance was never as bad as last year's. Plus, he's landed in an ideal situation to facilitate a significant positive regression, which could deliver a violent profit perhaps resembling his 2009-2011 brilliance -- with health, of course. -TH

SP Hector Santiago, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

This screwball artist has tangled with control problems (4.4 BB/9 in 2013), but his ability to fan the opposition (8.3 K/9) offsets them. Take his fly-ball-generating arsenal out of the majors' top homer yard and stick it in a friendly one in Angel Stadium. Can you take a hit in WHIP? Another ERA around 3.50 is definitely doable -- and discounted. -NM

SP Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee Brewers

Last year, Gallardo lost velocity and relied too heavily on a mediocre slider/cutter. His innings are piling up. But despite his struggles last year, he posted a career-best rate of grounder inducement. He aims to use his curveball more, which should resurrect his dominance even if his fastball doesn't fully recover. At minimum, he'll repeat 2012, but by re-expanding his arsenal, he'll regain peak form for a door-busting discount. -TH

SP Michael Pineda, New York Yankees Sneaky Sleeper

When you're rummaging through what's left of the starters in your mixed league draft and you stumble upon this former top prospect, you have to praise your luck. Shoulder surgery is in the rearview. He proved that he can handle the bigs (3.74 ERA, 9.1 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 in 2011). The Yanks want him to clinch the No. 5 rotation spot. Go for it. -NM

SP Nathan Eovaldi, Miami Marlins

Easy to get excited about the highest average fastball mph among SPs last year, but little else about Eovaldi has polish. Increased efficiency among his other pitches, however, will change that. Now 24 years old, he's had enough experience to know how to become a pitcher. Keeping hitters guessing will set up the fireballer for more K's. Combine that with his pitcher's paradise of a home stadium and you'll land a penny stock that often could pitch like a top-20 hurler. -TH

SP Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals Sneaky Sleeper

When pitching gets thin, bank on skills, not role. "Baby Pedro" will find significant innings one way or another. Martinez's stuff means he's in line to become a mixed-worthy K-piling reliever and, eventually, the Redbirds' next breakout starting pitcher by overtaking overachiever Joe Kelly. Can't go wrong. -TH

SP Phil Hughes, Minnesota Twins

Hughes has a 4.82 ERA and a 1.79 HR/9 in 356 1/3 career innings at the current version of Yankee Stadium. Everywhere else: a 4.31 ERA and a 0.87 HR/9 in 424 1/3 frames. Hello, spacious Target Field. Hughes, 28, is still talented and won't miss the Bronx scrutiny, either. A.J. Burnett experienced the Javier Vazquez Effect. Hughes will, too, just a tad less pronounced. -NM

SP Jameson Taillon, Pittsburgh Pirates Sneaky Sleeper

After sending Taillon to minors camp, the Buccos will treat him the same way they treated Gerrit Cole in 2013. Your opponents may shy away a bit now that the timetable has been initiated, but the Pirates' pipeline will continue to show why it's one of the best. Taillon, for a reserve pick, should post something reflecting Cole's innings (117 1/3) and fantasy impact last season, which makes Pittsburgh's next ace a better 2014 grab than Archie Bradley or Noah Syndergaard. -TH

RP Joaquin Benoit, San Diego Padres

SD hasn't had a clear-cut successor to injury-prone stopper Huston Street in some time. No doubt Benoit, if healthy, is that guy. He doesn't waste many strikes, which sustains his talent, even at 36. -TH

RP Darren O'Day, Baltimore Orioles

This RHP may not ever be named his team's closer. His manager doesn't want to use him that way. But O'Day may still net some saves. Sounds a little like Koji Uehara, 2013, doesn't it? He's the only O's reliever who has consistently retired hitters from both sides of the plate in his career, save for last year's potentially luck-fueled platoon splits. Great rates. No risk. -NM

RP A.J. Ramos and Carter Capps, Miami Marlins Sneaky Sleeper

Mike Dunn is better versus southpaws and will probably be saved for them. Ramos walked a bit too many last year but forced more weak contact and maintained an elite K percentage. Capps bombed in Seattle but has a big arm. If Cishek has more rough patches (a la last year) or is sent packing, one of these two should step in, if they don't split duties. Ramos has the initial edge, but Capps could easily leapfrog him during the season. -TH

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2014 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Undervalued Players: Hitters | Pitchers

2014 Fantasy Baseball Busts and Overvalued Players: Hitters | Pitchers

About Tim Heaney

Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.

He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.

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