Written By: Matt Heckman
Follow Him on Twitter: @Heckman_Matt115
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The key to dynasty and keeper leagues is staying ahead. Success comes from the ability to stay one step ahead of the other players in your league. An important part of this is staying up to date on fast rising prospects. Looking at top 100 lists or AAA stats are not enough to build a team for long term success. A key skill is finding players that are in the lower levels and adding them to your team before they breakout. Shane Baz is a perfect example of this. He was putting up incredible numbers for Tampa’s lower-level affiliates before bursting on to the scene and seeing his fantasy stock soar through the roof. In this article, I am going to briefly discuss three pitching prospects that have not pitched above High-A that I think you need to add to your roster before it is too late.
Taj Bradley – Tampa Bay Rays
As Bradley continued to grow into his body, he struggled to stay in shape. A fifth round pick out of high school back in 2018, Bradley knew that he needed to make a change if he wanted to reach the bigs one day and took the 2020 season as an opportunity to reset his career. Entering 2021, Bradley dropped 30 pounds to help him maintain success on the mound. After sitting in the low 90s throughout his early career, he saw an increase in his fastball velocity ranging from 95-97mph in 2021. This velocity bump instantly brings Bradley’s potential from a backend-starter up to at least a mid-rotation guy.
Not only did Bradley improve his velocity, but he also worked on his pitch mix detailing how he felt overwhelmed during his first two seasons with the adjustments being thrown at him. He said he felt like he had too much to focus on and that he could not keep up. The ability to reset and refocus during 2020 might have helped his development more than any live baseball could have. Bradley has always had a wipeout slider that allows him to get right-handed hitters out. During the break, he worked to develop his curveball. He already had a very good cutter, but he needed an out pitch to righties. This is when he changed his grip on the curve to be more like a 12-6 curve. In addition, he started developing a changeup to get lefties out. This pitch was still new to Bradley in 2021, but had instant success as lefties ended up hitting just .207 off him.
In a lot of dynasty and keeper leagues it might already be too late for Bradley. He won the Minor League Baseball Top Starting Pitcher Award for 2021. The development and changes Bradley has made make him a candidate to move fast through the Rays system. At 21-years-old there is chance Bradley is up early in 2023 and could be an ace for the Rays and your fantasy team. Get in on Bradley now if you can as the Rays have a strong track record of developing pitchers and you do not want to miss out on their next great one!
Daniel Espino – Cleveland Guardians
Cleveland seems to be an organization that has had phenomenal success developing pitchers. Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber, and Corey Kluber are all home grown pitchers and now, Daniel Espino might be the next great. After being drafted out of high school in 2019, Espino has had excellent success in the minor leagues. His fastball has been the primary reason for his ascent. Minor league hitters have had trouble catching up to the pitch, as it typically sits in the upper 90s. This pitch is excellent and has helps set up his other pitches. Espino also throws a wipeout slider that is affective at getting right-handed hitters to swing and miss. These two pitches are a primary reason his strikeouts per nine were 14.92 in 2021.
The key to Espino’s future success might be his ability to develop a third elite pitch. Right now, Espino has the fastball and the slider. He also throws a curve and changeup, but neither one has been super effective. They both have excellent movement like his other two pitches, but he needs to work on the control in order to prevent getting burned. If either of these pitches becomes an elite put away pitch against lefties, there will be little holding Espino back.
Espino put up video game strikeout numbers with a K% north of 40 in 2021. Opponents hit just .191 off him and there were moments in which Espino looked untouchable. When I am drafting prospects from the lower-levels, I think that it is important to look at their ceiling. Any time a pitcher can post a strikeout rate over 40%, they clearly have the potential to be an ace. Players with mid rotation potential are common and it is easy to find replacements on the waiver wire. Drafting a prospect with ace potential has a chance to be a game changer for your fantasy team. There are very few pitchers in the minor leagues that have shown the stuff to be an ace one day, but Espino is one of them. Go get shares of him now before it is too late!
Bobby Miller – Los Angeles Dodgers
I am cheating a little bit including Miller in this list. He was promoted to AA last year and pitched 9.1 innings there last season. I still decided to include him because it is likely he still starts in AA this year. He was a first round pick by the Dodgers in 2020 and has wasted no time moving through their system. Across 11 starts, Miller posted a 1.91 ERA, 10.72 K/9, and a 2.11BB/9 in High-A. His fastball sits in the mid 90s and he also mixes in a two-seam fastball that is particularly affective against righties.
What sets Miller apart from most prospects is the polish on his secondary pitches.
Miller doesn’t have just one secondary, but has an arsenal of 3 additional pitches to throw on top of his fastball. His slider is viewed as his best one, but he also has a curveball and a split-change. While none of them have the best spin or the biggest movement, Miller is able to control all of them and use them to get batters out. A lot of prospects falter when they get to higher levels due to a lack of control. Miller walked less than 6% of the batters he faced last season and will likely be able to move faster through the system because of his ability to control his pitches.
While I talked about elite ace potential with Espino, Miller profiles as more of a mid-rotation starter. The reason I like Miller so much is I think he will continue moving fast through the Dodgers’ system. He is already 22 and will be 23 at the beginning of April. There is a chance that Miller will be up at some point in 2022 and by 2023 at the latest. Miller has excellent control and could be a valuable big-league starter. Miller will likely start receiving more attention in 2022 and now is your chance to get him before he becomes more well known!
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