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The key to assembling a quality starting rotation in fantasy baseball is identifying workhorse pitchers who can go deep into games while possessing good strikeout stuff.
Of course, it helps to understand what “good strikeout stuff” means.
Some pitchers attack hitters with power, a mix of velocity and sharp breaking balls. Others use their full arsenal of pitches and craftiness to keep hitters off balance. But a quality fastball-changeup combination is as good as key to success for starting pitchers.
Cincinnati Reds right-hander Luis Castillo is just 27, but that same combination could make him one of the best pitchers in baseball for years to come.
Here is some more on Castillo and other pitchers on the rise.
Fantasy Baseball Pitchers on the Rise
Luis Castillo, Cincinnati Reds
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Castillo showed glimpses of his potential during the 2017 season, when he had a 3.12 ERA in 15 starts for the Reds. He regressed in 2018, though Castillo still had a respectable 4.30 ERA.
But the Dominican excelled in 2019, going 15-8 with a 3.40 ERA and 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings, repeatedly fooling opposing hitters with a changeup that falls off the table.
Opponents hit just .128 with a 48 percent whiff rate against Castillo’s changeup in 2019, per Baseball Savant. He also boasts a wipeout slider that backs up on lefties, and his average fastball velocity was 96.4 mph.
Fantasy owners are clearly respecting Castillo’s potential. His average draft position (ADP) of 43 ranks him 13th among starting pitchers.
The Reds are hoping to surpass their dark-horse status to become a real contender in the National League Central. They will need Castillo to cement himself as an ace for that to happen. The key will be whether he can have better success with the heater. Though he has the velocity, opponents slugged .504 against his fastball last season.
Considering he makes half his starts in the hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park, Castillo will have to establish the fastball and keep the homers down. If he can do that, he might be in the Cy Young conversation.
Zack Wheeler, Philadelphia Phillies
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Zack Wheeler signed the richest contract of any pitcher not named Gerrit Cole this past offseason, and with good reason.
The 30-year-old is coming off the two best seasons of his career. Wheeler had a 3.96 ERA last year, but his 3.48 fielding independent pitching (FIP) mark, per FanGraphs, suggests he had bad luck. That makes sense given the New York Mets’ defensive deficiencies last year.
Moreover, Wheeler has remained healthy. He threw more than 180 innings in 2018 and tossed a career-high 195 ⅓ frames this past season.
Wheeler had 9.0 strikeouts per nine innings last season, but the right-hander also routinely avoids hard contact. Wheeler ranked in the 90th percentile in terms of average exit velocity in 2019, per Baseball Savant. This is no fluke, either, as he was in the top 4 percent of all pitchers in that same metric in 2018.
The new Phillies starter’s 104 ADP is decent value. Wheeler has tremendous success with the four-seamer and is equally effective when using the changeup and his breaking pitches. He strikes out opposing hitters at a decent clip, does not give out many free passes and induces tons of soft contact.
Those factors should make him a coveted asset for fantasy owners.
Julio Urias, Los Angeles Dodgers
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Julio Urias’ value is hard to pin down.
The Mexican made his MLB debut at just 19, and he seemed like a future Dodger staple. But injuries muddied that outlook a bit, and Urias has since bounced between the bullpen and the rotation.
However, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts named Urias the fourth starter in February, and the 23-year-old was primed for a big season.
Urias struck out 9.6 hitters per nine innings en route to a 2.49 ERA last season. Like Wheeler, he also induces tons of soft contact, ranking in the top 1 percent in both average exit velocity and hard-hit percentage last season, per Baseball Savant.
The left-hander’s fastball-slider combination is as good as any in baseball, and he is able a little something extra off his changeup from time to time.
Another reason to buy high on Urias? He pitches in front of one of the best defenses in baseball—one that added the best defensive right fielder in the world, Mookie Betts, this offseason.
Urias’ 144 ADP ranks him 40th among starting pitchers and 55th among all pitchers. But he could easily surpass expectations given his makeup and track record.