4 AA Pitchers You May Not Know About… But Should

 When it comes to finding fantasy baseball prospects you should know about – Moxyball has you covered.

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Zach Davies

Baltimore has been churning out some elite pitching prospects over the past few years. Whether or not they turned out to be the All Stars we thought they would be, they’ve been quite successful overall at having major league careers. Names like Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy are all familiar in fantasy circles for a number of reasons.

Zach Davies may not have the same kind of prospect status as the guys above did, but he’s certainly someone making waves this year in AA. At only 21 years old, his numbers in 2014 are fairly eye-popping when you consider he’s got a very small frame (6’ tall, 160 pounds). With a K rate just under 9 (8.92) and a nice BB/9 at 2.62, he has a really nice baseline to build on. Interesting to note that he was able to increase his K rate moving from A+ to AA this year which is great to see.

He works quickly and has a nice, fluid delivery. He’s known for being able to pound the bottom part of the zone, which is critical for a guy that doesn’t have overpowering stuff. He throws  4-seam and 2-seam fastballs, which average about 90 mph on the gun. He compliments that with a 82 mph slider and his best pitch – a 74 mph change-up.

He’s a prospect who is a bit more difficult to project considering his age (21) and body (160 lbs) still have a long way to go. With all this being said, he has a good chance at being a serviceable major leaguer either at the back-end of the rotation or as a long man out of the pen. His ability to keep hitters off-balance and command the zone will help him be effective as he progresses in the ranks against more advanced pitching.

Clayton Blackburn

Continuing with the trend of 21 year olds finding success in AA, we take a look at the San Francisco Giants farm hand. He’s my favourite prospect of this bunch and is likely to have the best major league career. Blackburn has turned in terrific numbers in 2014 with a 8.23 K/9 (22% of batters) and 1.94 BB/9 (5.2%) tandem that is among the best in the minors this season.

He’s the opposite of Davies from a body build perspective. He stands in at 6’4” and 225 lbs, which is a lot easier to project from a stature perspective. One of the things that may be keeping him off top prospect lists right now is that his FIP (2.54) is almost a run lower than his actual ERA (3.29). This is due in large part to an inflated BABIP (.341) and low strand rate (67.7%), which show he should be even better than what he’s looked like thus far. His solid WHIP of 1.23 should easily be in the 1.13-1.17 range if you take the BABIP into consideration as well. He works from a ¾ arm slot and has terrific command of all his pitches. Another thing I love to see is that he’s only given up a single HR on the season. Just one across 93 innings! He keeps the ball down in the zone and uses his 2-seamer, change-up and curve to prevent batters from truly squaring it up.

In my opinion, he is a pretty low risk prospect as you think about his path to the majors and the kind of success he should be able to have. The Giants aren’t desperate for reinforcements right now, so they will give him time in 2015 to continue progressing. He’ll likely start in AAA and could reach the majors later in the year if all goes well. He’s heading to the AFL later this year and could be a guy many in the prospect circles are talking up considerably if he continues to show well.

His future could be as a #3 starter in a pitcher’s park for a very good San Francisco team. It wouldn’t surprise me by any means to see seasons in his future where he gets 15 Wins with 150+ Ks and a 3.65 / 1.25 WHIP combo in his prime. Certainly someone who is going to have fantasy value when he arrives.

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**The Astros may not have much to be excited about at the major league level right now, but there are some prospects in AA making noise…**

Kyle Smith

Another 21-year-old, he was a 4th round pick in 2011 by Kansas City. Last year he was the piece the Royals moved to the Astros in exchange for Justin Maxwell. He was a middle of the pack prospect at the time, but has made nice progress this year at AA in his third professional season.

In 95.1 innings he has a 9.06 K/9 and 2.36 BB/9 – the combination of swings and misses and free passes that I like to see from a baseline skills perspective. Unfortunately Smith has had trouble keeping the ball in the yard this year, with a 1.32 HR/9 rate (14 HR total) in AA. While this is definitely something Smith will need to work on, his 3.86 FIP shows he’s actually been pretty solid overall – even with a 4.34 ERA.

He likes to live off his plus curve ball and advanced change-up to help make his low 90s fastball a lot more effective. He has a similar body profile to Davies, standing in at 6 feet tall and just about 170 pounds – making him tough to project as well since there’s some growth to come considering he’s just 21. His ability to throw strikes and use his off-speed pitches to get batters out makes him a guy to keep an eye on over the next season or two to see how he progresses. He could be an innings eater or middle reliever at the major league level if all goes well.

Jordan Jankowski

I’m breaking the trend of talking only about 21 year olds as I switch over to Jordan Jankowski. Interestingly enough, Jankowski was drafted twice by the Astros – once in 2008 and again in 2012 after he finished up college. He’s had a nice start to his minor league career across his first 3 professional seasons:

Year (Level) IP K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP
2012 (Rookie) 32.1 14.75 2.78 2.23 1.94
2013 (A/A+) 106.1 8.7 1.8 3.05 3.62
2014 (AA) 108 10.0 2.17 3.58 3.15

Taking a closer look, we can see his FIP this year is a half run better than his ERA. His strand rate (73.4%) is worthwhile noting as one of the marks causing for an inflated earned run average. I also like to see that he Ks over a batter an inning (currently at 10 Ks per 9 innings in 2014) and he also gets guys out at a healthy rate via the ground ball. He has a true starter’s arsenal with a low 90s fastball (including a 2-seamer that gets nice tail) to go along with a curve, change and slider (his best pitch).

Note: Credit to Jared Webb (@webberoo11) who put together a great article on Jankowski back in February in his Astros “treasure hunt for prospects” – definitely worth a read for more detail on this nice under the radar prospect.

Because of his age (25), Jankowski is likely going to get pushed to the majors as early as 2015. I can see him being an effective middle reliever or potentially a back-end starter when the Astros need someone to step in. He’s not someone to get overly excited about, but he’s close to MLB impact and is a prospect AL-only managers should keep on their radar due to his K potential alone.

Closing Thoughts 

Prospects can make you look like a genius at times, and they can also break your heart. Deep fantasy leaguers who have minor league rosters can certainly relate to this. We’ve seen big name prospects not live up to expectations (Jesus Montero, Mike Moustakas, Aaron Hicks, Kyle Drabek, Casey Kelly, Brandon Wood and Travis Snider to name a handful) and we’ve also seen guys who don’t appear on many top 50 or top 100 lists have productive major league careers. Just look at the kind of season Matt Shoemaker is having in LA… the same can be said for Garret Richards who was having a heck of a breakout year until a gruesome injury – and he was never a top prospect like Drabek for example.

My belief is that it is important to dive deep into the minor league player pool to see what you can find. Occasionally you’ll uncover a gem who bursts onto the fantasy radar without notice, just like Matt Shoemaker. Are Davies, Smith, Blackburn or Jankowski going to be one of those guys down the road? I can’t guarantee anything, but at least they’re on your radar now!

About the Author

About Jared Kwart

Jared is an expert fantasy sports player for both DFS and season-long formats. Specializing in DFS Baseball, Football & Basketball, with tens of thousands of dollars in career DFS earnings. Active player on FanDuel, DraftKings & FantasyDraft. Annual NFBC high stakes league participant.

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4 comments

  1. I`ll take an A+ arm over these 4: Miguel Castro – Blue Jays. Only 19, posted 78K`s over 80 with an ERA o` 2.68. Projectable, needs some work on command (30BB`s), but an outstanding prospect. MLB`s overlooked him.

  2. Love the deep Jays prospect shout-out, voidhelix! Without a doubt, Castro is looking like a very nice, underrated and overlooked prospect for the Jays. Good chance he sees time in AA next season to finish the year, like he did in 2014 (8.2 IP at A+)… As you mentioned, easy to project with a great pitcher’s framework 6’5″, 190 lbs and only 19 years old with the ability to throw 95 mph. Going to keep a close eye on him as he moves up the ranks in 2015 and beyond in the minors. Maybe a 2017 arrival if all progresses to plan. As a Jays fan too, I’m really excited to see how he builds on a great 2014 season!

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