Art Warren
Cincinnati Reds' Art Warren pitches against the Washington Nationals during the ninth inning of a baseball game Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)


Mike Shara

With an abbreviated spring schedule this year, pitchers have been feeling a bit of pressure to ramp up quickly. This is already causing some injury problems and the regular season hasn’t even begun yet. Many key starters (and a few relievers) are already nicked up, some more seriously than others but it has certainly opened up some opportunities. Especially with rosters expanding to 28 players until the end of April, there will be unique chances for guys to help their team and for those same pitchers to help your fantasy squad. Here are a few pitchers who’ve shown signs they could be more valuable this year than we’d have thought just a month ago.

ALEX COBB, San Francisco 
In 2018 Cobb signed a 4 year $60 million contract with Baltimore, which (understatement alert!)…did not go well. He won just 7 games and threw just 217 innings in those four seasons, with a delightful 5.10 ERA to put a cherry on top of it all. Last year he resurrected his career somewhat, relying almost entirely on a splitter/sinker mix which resulted in almost 100 innings with above average peripheral numbers for the Angels. After signing with the Giants in the offseason he looks like he’s found another level at age 33. Since revamping his delivery this winter, his fastball has been clocked at over 97 mph this spring (last year it was averaging around 93) and he has been dominant in his first few appearances (1.23 ERA). San Francisco seems to have become a haven for older pitchers looking to reinvigorate themselves and if he can reach 140/150 innings this year with his improved stuff he’ll be a steal for you – especially in roto leagues. 

ART WARREN, Cincinnati
With Amir Garrett traded away, T.J. Antone out for the season and Lucas Sims temporarily sidelined, the closer’s role in Cincinnati is up for grabs. One of the few serious contestants for that role is Warren, a 29 year-old who has thrown just 26 MLB innings in his career, but has landed in a situation that’s pretty close to ideal for him. He’s had dominant relief seasons in AA as recently as 2018 and 2019 but lost any chance at a high leverage role for the Reds last season due to an oblique injury. Now healthy, he’s yet to allow an earned run this spring in 4 appearances and looks like he’ll get a chance to at least share the closer’s role with Hunter Strickland to start the year. Strickland has a shaky history in his previous closing opportunities (understatement alert #2) and Sims is hardly a lock for the job when/if he returns from shoulder and back discomfort anyway. It’s very possible Warren takes the job this week and never gives it up, if for no other reason than that Cincinnati’s other options aren’t that great. 

There has been some uncertainty about who the Marlins’ closer will be this season, with rumors of a committee approach between Bender, Anthony Bass and Dylan Floro. However, Floro is already injured and last we heard, Anthony Bass remains Anthony Bass. Even if manager Don Mattingly isn’t officially committing to him yet – this will only be his second MLB season, after all – it will be hard for him not to call on Benger in close games and closing situations. Last year he had a 2.79 ERA in over 60 innings with a 1.060 WHIP and this spring he has made 6 appearances, all of them scoreless. I think the Marlins are going to win more games than people think this year.  If you’re light on saves near the end of your draft or are scouring your league’s waiver wire for a few more, he’s probably available now. I don’t think he’ll be nearly as available by the end of April. 

The Mariners are going all-in with their prized rookies this season, already announcing that Brash and Julio Rodriguez will both be playing key roles from Jump Street. Brash is lighting the Cactus League up at present, boldly claiming Seattle’s fifth starter spot by brandishing a stronger repertoire of pitches, which include a 100+ MPH fastball, devastating slider and an improving changeup. The Canadian native was a Baseball America top 50 prospect going into the season and has proven he deserved the hype, throwing 12 strikeouts and just 2 walks over 9 innings in Arizona to the tune of a 0.96 ERA this March. He may not spend all year in the rotation because of innings limits but even as a high-leverage reliever, he should be an above average source of strikeouts for your team all year. 

He is getting selected in most drafts I’ve been in, but in my opinion he’s going way too late. Of the Tigers’ three vaunted young starters, I think he is currently the most ready to dominate at the MLB level. Matt Manning doesn’t miss enough bats yet and Casey Mize’s numbers from last year were encouraging but show he may have also had a lot of good fortune, which could mean a regression this year. All of the factors you like to see from a young pitcher are happening for Skubal right now : improving velocity and walk rate, more ground balls and less fly balls (less HRs) and he’s starting to turn pure stuff into real pitchability. He threw 5 shutout innings with 8 strikeouts and 0 walks against Toronto’s “A” lineup on Monday, vanquishing what might be the best offense in the A.L. If you can still get him, get him now. If you can trade for him by offering a more established name like Chris Bassitt or Blake Snell, I’d make that trade, too, while you can.

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