Having built their 2016 rosters, fantasy players in search of a difference-making edge might begin by examining each MLB team's starting pitching depth. Injuries already have forced some teams to dip into that depth. Last week, for instance, Dodgers announced that Ross Stripling would serve as the team's 5th starter, at least until the return of the injured Mike Bolsinger, who was replacing the injured Brett Anderson. While Stripling and Bolsinger are unlikely to make much of a difference in any league, there are some pitchers on the horizon who could provide immediate help.
The purpose here is to identify and evaluate (in brief) the one starting pitcher on each team who, via injury or performance, might be next in line for a call to the rotation. This list does not include injured starters such as Baltimore's Kevin Gausman, who, upon returning to health, should reclaim his rotation spot. Nor does it include, for instance, a pitcher such as Erasmo Ramirez, an incumbent starter who, according to Rays Manager Kevin Cash, will work out of the Tampa bullpen until closer Brad Boxberger returns from injury.
The following recommendations are based on standard, 12-team, re-draft leagues with limited bench space. In such leagues, very few of the 30 players listed below will be drafted or owned. On the other hand, I play in a deep dynasty league with a 70-man roster (30 MLB, 40 MiLB), and in that league all 30 of these pitchers are owned. Everything, of course, depends on your league's size and parameters.
Draft and Stash - A player with this designation is well worth a late-round flier or an immediate add if your draft is complete, as it likely is.
Add on Arrival - There's no need to draft this player, but he's worth an immediate add upon callup.
Monitor - There's no need to add this player right away, but a few good starts could make him worth using.
Avoid until Further Notice - Only a lengthy string of good starts would make this player usable in mixed leagues.
Baltimore Orioles - Vance Worley. Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson appear to have won the final two spots in the Baltimore rotation. Neither is worth a roster spot in any but the deepest of leagues. The same is true of Worley, who will work in long relief and is an option for the rotation only because the Orioles farm system is so bereft of talent. Recommendation: Avoid until Further Notice
Boston Red Sox - Roenis Elias. Knuckleballer Steven Wright beat out Elias in the competition to serve as Boston's fifth starter at least until Eduardo Rodriguez returns from injury. The move from pitcher-friendly Seattle to Fenway Park is not likely to help Elias improve upon a career 3.97 ERA and 1.31 WHIP. Recommendation: Avoid until Further Notice
New York Yankees - Ivan Nova. Bryan Mitchell's injury makes Nova the obvious choice to fill in should one of the Yankees' starters underperform or suffer an injury. Nova's not a great option, but he does have two seasons of 20+ starts and a sub-4.00 ERA on his resume, and he once finished 4th in the AL RoY vote. Recommendation: Monitor
Tampa Bay Rays - Blake Snell. Baseball America's 2015 Minor-League-Player-of-the-Year looks to be Tampa's next homegrown superstar. He's already on the 40-man roster, so he's close. Recommendation: Draft and Stash
Toronto Blue Jays - Drew Hutchison. In 2014 Hutchison posted a 3.85 FIP, 1.26 WHIP, and 9.0 K/9 in 32 starts for the Blue Jays, but he endured a rough 2015 and will open this season in Triple-A. He's still one of Toronto's five best starters, and he's only 25. Recommendation: Monitor
Chicago White Sox - Erik Johnson. Johnson started the 2015 International League All-Star Game and was one of the best pitchers in Triple-A, finishing 11-8 with a 2.37 ERA and 136 strikeouts in 132.2 innings. He also pitched well following a September callup. He's never received an extended look in the Majors, but the back end of the White Sox rotation appears to be pretty weak, so he could get that look in 2016. Recommendation: Monitor
Cleveland Indians - Mike Clevinger. During Bold Predictions Week here at faketeams.com I pegged Clevinger as a possible AL RoY candidate. (I also wrote that the Pirates would trade Gregory Polanco, who yesterday signed a 5-year extension, so there's that.) Then, John Sickels rated Clevinger his #28 overall prospect for 2016, and I felt even better. Cleveland's rotation is stacked at the top, but Clevinger could force his way into one of the final two spots if he dominates Triple-A. I think he will. Recommendation: Add on Arrival
Detroit Tigers - Matt Boyd. Boyd had an outstanding 2015 season in the minors but posted a 7.53 ERA in 12 Major-League starts between Toronto and Detroit. He came to the Tigers as part of the David Price trade, and he has shown some pitchability, but there's not much upside here. Recommendation: Avoid until Further Notice
Kansas City Royals - Kyle Zimmer. Kansas City's top pitching prospect, Zimmer could unseat #5 starter Kris Medlen with a strong Triple-A debut, though the change likely wouldn't happen until later this summer. Recommendation: Add on Arrival
Minnesota Twins - Jose Berrios. In 2015 Berrios logged 75.2 Triple-A innings. He struck out 83, walked only 14, and posted a 2.62 ERA. He's already the Twins' best pitcher, and he won't turn 22 until May. Recommendation: Draft and Stash
Houston Astros - Michael Feliz. The Astros' farm system remains strong, but it has been depleted by trades and no longer teems with Major-League pitching talent at the upper levels of the minors. Feliz has been an exception. In 2015 he dominated at Double-A Corpus Christi and could replace Doug Fister or Scott Feldman in a pinch. Recommendation: Monitor
Los Angeles Angels - Nick Tropeano. C.J. Wilson is injured, and in spring training Jered Weaver pitched like he was. The Angels' farm system is a barren wasteland, so Tropeano and his career 9.26 K/9 ratio in the minors looks to be their best option by far. Recommendation: Monitor
Oakland Athletics - Jesse Hahn. Depending on the results of Felix Doubront's MRI, Hahn could get the call as early as Friday. Hahn has had his moments in the Majors but is generally an uninspiring option. Recommendation: Avoid until Further Notice
Seattle Mariners - James Paxton. "If Paxton could stay healthy" is a common refrain. But he hasn't, and he's 27. There's still talent and potential here, but he lost the competition for Seattle's final rotation spot to Nathan Karns, so he now must wait for another opportunity behind five starters who are better than he is. Recommendation: Monitor
Texas Rangers - Chi Chi Gonzalez. Chi Chi got 10 starts with the Rangers in 2015 and started strong before fading and eventually being demoted. He's a former Top 100 prospect, and there's not much ahead of him in the Texas rotation, but a career K/9 rate of 6.81 in the minor leagues suggests that fantasy owners should temper expectations. Recommendation: Avoid until Further Notice
Atlanta Braves - Mike Foltynewicz. In 34 MLB appearances (15 starts), Foltynewicz has been hit hard (5.64 ERA). He also has a career 3.95 BB/9 ratio in the minors. Still, as a former Top 5 organizational prospect (at that time with the Astros), Foltynewicz, 24, might be the best short-term option for a Braves rotation filled with mediocrities behind Julio Teheran and Matt Wisler. Recommendation: Monitor
Miami Marlins - Justin Nicolino. Like the Braves, Miami's rotation is mediocre beyond its top two starters. Unlike the Braves, Miami has a putrid farm system with little help on the way. Nicolino has the pedigree of a former top prospect but has performed like a #5 starter or long reliever. His low strikeout totals are actually difficult to believe. Recommendation: Avoid until Further Notice
New York Mets - Rafael Montero. The Mets, you might have heard, have a loaded rotation. Behind their studs, however, they don't have many MLB-ready arms. Montero's my guess despite the fact that he missed most of 2015 with shoulder tightness and was among the first cuts in spring training. Recommendation: Avoid until Further Notice
Philadelphia Phillies - Adam Morgan. Morgan pitched well enough last season and in the Grapefruit League to win the #5 job, but that final rotation spot went to Vince Velasquez. A little patience, however, and Morgan should see plenty of opportunities, especially with Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton in the picture. Recommendation: Monitor
Washington Nationals - A.J. Cole. Lucas Giolito, the Nats' #1 prospect and arguably the best in all the minors, would get this spot were it not for the fact that he has logged only 47.1 innings above High-A. Cole, on the other hand, has thrown 294.1 innings above High-A and has posted a strong 8.61 K/9 rate. He would be a solid replacement for the underwhelming Tanner Roark. Recommendation: Monitor
Chicago Cubs - Adam Warren. Acquired from the Yankees in exchange for Starlin Castro, Warren has pitched well in his career both as a starter and reliever. The Cubs' rotation is set, so Warren will work in long relief, though he would be a capable fill-in should the need arise. Recommendation: Monitor
Cincinnati Reds - Robert Stephenson. Here's a spot where talent should meet opportunity. The rebuilding Reds' rotation is such a mess that last week they claimed Dan Straily off waivers and might start him in the season's third game. They'll call up Stephenson, their top pitching prospect, as soon as they're ready to start his arbitration clock, and at that point he'll be in Cincinnati to stay. Recommendation: Add on Arrival
Milwaukee Brewers - Zach Davies. Milwaukee acquired Davies from Baltimore at the 2015 trade deadline in exchange for OF Gerardo Parra, and so far it looks like a good deal for the Brewers. Davies amassed a 3.50 ERA and 7.79 K/9 rate in 501.1 minor-league innings despite always being one of the youngest players at his level, and his 2015 debut with Milwaukee was impressive. He has mid-rotation upside and could displace Matt Garza or Chase Anderson at a moment's notice. Recommendation: Monitor
Pittsburgh Pirates - Tyler Glasnow. In truth, 38-year-old Ryan Vogelsong looks to be next-in-line here--at least until June--but fantasy players don't need a recommendation on him. Glasnow, on the other hand, is one of baseball's Top 10-15 overall prospects. He should be owned and stashed in all leagues. Fans in Pittsburgh eagerly await his arrival this summer. Recommendation: Draft and Stash
St. Louis Cardinals - Tyler Lyons. The Cardinals' farm system is surprisingly devoid of impact-talent at the upper levels. Lyons is not an impact-talent, but he is a bit underappreciated as a source of strikeouts. He could be used in the right matchups once Jaime Garcia gets hurt. Recommendation: Monitor
Arizona Diamondbacks - Archie Bradley. Starting pitching depth in the NL West is pretty weak overall. Bradley, a former top prospect and still only 23, could be an exception. He'll get his chance if either Rubby De La Rosa or Robbie Ray falters. Recommendation: Monitor but don't wait long.
Colorado Rockies - Eddie Butler. Move along. Recommendation: Avoid until Further Notice Los Angeles Dodgers - Carlos Frias. Move along. Recommendation: Avoid until Further Notice San Diego Padres - Robbie Erlin. Nothing to see here. Recommendation: Avoid until Further Notice San Francisco Giants - Chris Heston. OK, here we go. Last season Heston did an admirable job of filling in for the injured Matt Cain, and there's a good chance he'll do so again. Recommendation: Monitor There you have it: a few exciting names, some intriguing ones, and a lot of question marks among the pitchers who are only one call away from a Major League rotation.
Colorado Rockies - Eddie Butler. Move along. Recommendation: Avoid until Further Notice
Los Angeles Dodgers - Carlos Frias. Move along. Recommendation: Avoid until Further Notice
San Diego Padres - Robbie Erlin. Nothing to see here. Recommendation: Avoid until Further Notice
San Francisco Giants - Chris Heston. OK, here we go. Last season Heston did an admirable job of filling in for the injured Matt Cain, and there's a good chance he'll do so again. Recommendation: Monitor
There you have it: a few exciting names, some intriguing ones, and a lot of question marks among the pitchers who are only one call away from a Major League rotation.