Pitchers tend to be more volatile than hitters, both in terms of performance and durability. For this reason, there are many hurlers each year who enjoy rapid rises to fantasy fame, going from late-round afterthoughts in March to lineup locks by the time the weather warms up.
Here are nine great candidates to key your fantasy title run from the later rounds (past pick 200) of your draft.
Patrick Sandoval (SP, Los Angeles Angels)
Sandoval fits the profile of an effective starter, as he gets plenty of strikeouts (career 24.1 percent strikeout rate) and oodles of ground balls (lifetime 49.3 percent ground-ball rate). With minor improvements on a 9.6 percent career walk rate that is already better than egregious, the left-hander could become a No. 2 mixed-league starter. Sandoval’s floor is still worth his current Yahoo ADP (pick 227), as he logged a 3.17 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP across 2021-22.
Noah Syndergaard (SP, Los Angeles Dodgers)
Betting on the Dodgers to improve the production of their newly acquired fantasy starters is almost always a great move. Such is the case with Syndergaard, who showed enough to the Los Angeles brass while posting a 3.94 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP last season that they chose to add him in early December on a one-year contract. The right-hander is a great option at his current Yahoo ADP (pick 235), as he could be this year’s version of Tyler Anderson, who came out of nowhere to post a 2.57 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP with Los Angeles in 2022.
Justin Steele (SP, Chicago Cubs)
Managers can think of Steele as a poor man’s version of Sandoval, as the 27-year-old has posted a lifetime 24.3 percent strikeout rate and 50.9 percent ground-ball rate. He made small strides in his walk rate in 2022 (9.8 percent), and another step forward in that area would turn him into a breakout starter. I’m happy to draft Steele at his current Yahoo ADP (pick 257) and hope that the final piece of the puzzle falls into place.
Zach Eflin (SP/RP, Tampa Bay Rays)
My case for Eflin is similar to that of Syndergaard. The Rays typically get the most out of their pitchers, and they must believe that Eflin has the potential to take a major step forward, as they signed him to a three-year contract during the offseason. Many drafters will be turned off by Eflin’s 4.04 ERA from last year, but I see the glass half full by virtue of his 3.62 FIP and 1.12 WHIP. I’ll happily draft him at his current Yahoo ADP (pick 241).
Hunter Brown (RP, Houston Astros)
Brown is a full-time rotation spot away from being one of the biggest stories of the 2023 season. The 24-year-old can accumulate whiffs at a great rate (career 11.7 K/9 rate in the Minors). And with the support of Houston’s pitcher-friendly home park, productive lineup and shutdown bullpen, he could be the 2023 AL Rookie of the Year.
Brown just needed an opportunity, and he got one when Lance McCullers Jr. was ruled out of Opening Day due to a right arm muscle strain. Every manager should be happy to draft Brown at his current Yahoo ADP (pick 216) and hope that he is too good to remove from Houston’s starting quintet.
Garrett Whitlock (SP/RP, Boston Red Sox)
Drafting Whitlock is an example of following the longtime fantasy mantra of acquiring skills and not roles. The 26-year-old has undeniable ability, having logged a lifetime 163:32 K:BB ratio across 151.2 innings. He is competing for a spot in the rotation during Spring Training, and the guess here is that Whitlock grabs one of the five opportunities, either due to his immense talent or because some of the oft-injured veterans ahead of him on the depth chart succumb to injuries. And in the event that the right-hander opens 2023 as a bulk reliever, he could still justify his current Yahoo ADP (pick 236).
Drey Jameson (SP, Arizona Diamondbacks)
Fantasy managers should look past Jameson’s poor Triple-A numbers last season, as dealing with the Reno Aces home ballpark is a tough task for any young hurler. The 25-year-old remains a coveted young starter, and he turned heads by logging a 1.48 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP and a 24:7 K:BB ratio across four starts with Arizona down the stretch. Jameson is battling Ryne Nelson for the D-backs' final rotation spot, and he could end up in a similar situation to Brown, where an injury to a veteran gives him an additional opportunity. Going undrafted in many Yahoo leagues, Jameson is worth a final-round gamble.
Evan Phillips (RP, Los Angeles Dodgers)
Predictably, Phillips blossomed as an elite reliever once under the Dodgers' tutelage for a full season, logging a 1.14 ERA and a 0.76 WHIP in 2022. The right-hander is now arguably the best reliever in the Los Angeles bullpen, which makes him a great candidate to win a wide-open competition for the team’s closer role. At the very least, Phillips shares the ninth inning and justifies his current Yahoo ADP (pick 205). And in a best-case scenario, he collects 35 saves and proves to best the best RP value pick of 2023 drafts.
Carlos Estevez (RP, Los Angeles Angels)
Estevez can thank Coors Field for his poor lifetime ratios (4.59 ERA, 1.41 WHIP), as he owns a career 3.51 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP when pitching at all other venues. The 30-year-old signed a two-year, $13.5 million contract with the Angles in the offseason and is now the leading candidate to anchor a bullpen that operated without a true ninth-inning man down the stretch last year. With a current Yahoo ADP of pick 235, Estevez makes sense as a late-round dart throw who can be dropped if he does not receive a save chance in early April.