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Into the 'K'-Zone: The Kurious Kase of Austin Pruitt

Michael Schwarz identifies one obscure starting pitcher on whom dynasty-league owners might want to take a chance.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

With approx. 150 games remaining in the baseball season, the objective for fantasy players remains the same as it was on draft day: it's all about finding an edge. But how does one find that elusive edge in a season still so young?

As always, it depends upon the size and nature of your league. I play in a 12-team redraft league, 5x5 roto, with 3 annual keepers and only 3 bench spots. At the moment I am using 2 of those 3 bench spots to stash pitchers Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell. That's how I've chosen to pursue my edge. In the short run I will sacrifice some counting stats from players who otherwise would have made spot starts in my lineup. In exchange, sometime around May or June, when Glasnow and Snell receive their respective calls to the Majors, I expect to add a pair of Top 50 starters to my rotation.

I also play in a 16-team dynasty league, H2H points, two match-ups per week, 30-man MLB roster, and 40-man MiLB roster. Every regular starting pitcher in the Majors is owned, as are many organizations' top 20-25 prospects. The best way to acquire talent is through trades and drafts, though league owners are stingy with young pitching. Difference-making free agents are rare. On the flip side, with so many available roster spaces, the cost of "missing" on a free agent is negligible, so there's no harm in taking a shot on an under-the-radar performer you hope might provide you an edge.

In short, like many active dynasty-league owners, I'm searching for the next Corey Kluber or Dallas Keuchel.

If you have played fantasy baseball for more than two years, then you know about Kluber and Keuchel, a pair of late-blooming starters who overcame terrible seasons in both the Minors and Majors on their way to winning the last two AL Cy Young Awards, Kluber in 2014 and Keuchel in 2015. Today it is easy to forget how awful they once were. In 2011, at the age of 25, Kluber posted a 5.56 ERA and 4.18 BB/9 rate in 27 starts...with the Triple-A Columbus Clippers. In 2012 Keuchel started 16 games for the Astros, finished with a 5.27 ERA and a 39:38 BB:K ratio, and was arguably the worst pitcher in baseball.

At one point, therefore, Kluber and Keuchel sat on the pile of free agents in even the deepest of fantasy leagues. If the next Kluber or Keuchel is there now--the ‘K'-zone, we'll call it--I want him on my dynasty team.

So this morning I picked up Austin Pruitt.

Folks who have a more diverse assortment of hobbies than I do might wonder who the heck is Austin Pruitt. He is a RHP for the Tampa Bay Rays, or rather the Durham Bulls, Tampa's Triple-A affiliate in the International League.

I added Pruitt to my roster because he is pitching lights-out in Durham. In his first start, at home against the Charlotte Knights (White Sox), Pruitt posted impressive numbers (6 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 11 K). At Charlotte five days later he tacked on one more inning but otherwise duplicated his stats (7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 11 K). That's 22 strikeouts and zero walks in 13 innings. Those kind of performances are not ignored for long.

Granted, odds are slim that Pruitt will become the next Kluber or Keuchel. Pruitt is not on the Rays' 40-man roster. He stands 5'11" tall, which is not ideal height for a starting pitcher. And he is 26, which is too old to be considered a prospect.

On the other hand, those odds are exactly what make him the next possible Kluber or Keuchel. Kluber never ranked higher than 26th on Baseball America's annual lists of organizations' top 30 prospects, and Keuchel never came in higher than 17th. Unlike Kluber and Keuchel, Pruitt never has posted an ERA higher than 3.73 for a season. Pruitt has made exactly two starts above Double-A, so he certainly will need more time at Durham. If he continues to pitch the way he has in these first two starts, though, he might not remain in Durham for long.

Chasing the next Kluber or Keuchel can be a fool's errand in redraft leagues, where bench space is limited. If you have the space, however, then what would the errand cost you? It's one way to pursue that elusive edge.