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Fantasy Baseball SP Sleepers 2023: Best potential breakouts, values, draft steals at starting pitcher

No matter your fantasy baseball drafting strategy, you’re going to need a solid pitching staff if you expect to win a fantasy championship. We typically like to select our SP1 by the end of Round 3 and our SP2 by Round 6 or 7, but no blueprint can be fully followed in a snake draft with up to a dozen or so different minds in the draft room. If you wind up with sizzling-hot batters in the first three rounds and have just one starting pitcher entering the eighth, you’re going to want a backup plan. That’s where our SP sleepers, steals, and value picks can come in as your go-to guide. 

We love drafting pitchers. It’s the deepest and most widely misunderstood position in fantasy baseball, and it’s the gift that keeps on giving to studious owners like us. Anyone who puts 70-plus percent of their draft prep into hitters and relies on blanket lists to select “best available” SPs is going to have a long season. You can punt wins and strikeouts or ERA and WHIP all you want, but if you don’t win 80 percent of the rest of your pitcher categories, your squad will be screwed. Just like in real-life baseball, you can’t ignore starting pitching.

You can, however, draft pitchers based on value. Tell me about an owner who grabbed Gerrit Cole in the first round last year, and I’ll tell you about a guy who didn’t make the championship round. You’re much better off with Alek Manoah in the fourth, Triston McKenzie in the seventh, and five solid hitters than you are grabbing two SPs in the first four or five rounds and then realizing you can’t make up ground in the hitting categories. 

You can always make up ground at pitcher if you simply do your homework. Hunt values! Look for guys who excelled two years ago but regressed last season for explainable reasons. Look for the vets coming off injuries or fully rehabbed from Tommy John surgery. Target the guy who enjoyed a sizzling second half but whose stats looked awful on the whole. Most of the time, if you do more research than your opponents, you’ll bag the best value pitchers on draft day. 

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As we have been saying in all our positional sleepers columns, to us, “sleeper” just means a player we value much higher than his ADP might otherwise tell you that he’s worth. We use stat analysis, advanced data and metrics, spring training performances, and injury evaluations to ensure we are targeting players who can and should outperform their average draft positions (ADPs). 

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After every fantasy season, we look back at our draft boards and note how many sleepers and steals the ultimate champion landed. Let’s see if we can help you become that champion this year. A big step in that direction will be compiling our sleepers at starting pitcher, arguably one of the three most important positions in fantasy baseball. 

Let’s get right into our favorite sleepers at pitcher, with a brief explanation as to why we value each of them well ahead of their ADPs.

Fantasy Baseball SP Sleepers 2023: Breakouts, values, draft-day steals

Position eligibility based on Yahoo’s default settings. ADPs courtesy of Fantasy Pros.

Alek Manoah, Blue Jays (53)

You may wonder what a guy getting drafted at 53 overall on average might be doing in a “sleepers” column, but let’s just say that we think Manoah has as much SP1 upside as Spencer Strider, Shane Bieber, and Zack Wheeler. He’s 6-6, 285 pounds, and just 25, and he’s coming off an All-Star sophomore season in which he went 16-7, logged a 2.24 ERA and 0.99 WHIP, and struck out 180 batters in 196.2 innings. He’s a horse, and his team is straight-up fire. A 20-win, Cy Young season is not out of the question for a pitcher of his caliber, and we’d be crazy to pass him up at even the beginning of the fourth round if we don’t yet have an SP. 

Triston McKenzie, Guardians (ADP: 83)

Again, not a textbook “sleeper,” but McKenzie yields way more value than his 83 ADP suggests. The lanky righty struck out 191 batters last season, propelled mostly by his magnificent curveball. He shaved his walk rate in half from the season prior, finishing with 2.07 BB/9 to go along with a dazzling 2.96 ERA and 0.95 WHIP. That’s ace numbers, people, so don’t sleep on him to the seventh round like most of America. He’s a no-brainer SP2 for your squad with SP1 upside.  

Nick Lodolo, Reds (ADP: 127)

He plays for the Reds and has endured some back injuries in recent history, but Lodolo has plenty to like beyond those two truths. He recorded a whopping 131 strikeouts in just 103 innings last season (11.41 K/9) and had a 3.57 FIP. That’s the same exact territory as Gerrit Cole on both fronts. Cincy doesn’t deserve this 6-6, 220-pound behemoth, but Lodolo does deserve a nickname. I’m gonna shoot my shot: Dolo Baggems. Okay, I quit. But we can’t quit Nick — we’re ranking him as SP28 and picking him as early as the ninth round. 

Joe Ryan, Twins (ADP: 143)

Ryan fits the textbook “underrated starter” archetype because he plays in Minnesota and serves up more home runs than the naked eye likes seeing at a moment’s glance on draft day. Let’s look at all the positives, though: He went 13-8 last season, struck out 151 batters, and maintained a 3.55 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. He’s 26 in a pitcher-friendly park with a solid team around him. You can take Ryan at 143, but we probably won’t let him slide past 125-130. 

Pablo Lopez, Twins (ADP: 159)

Pablo Lopez might be the man who never met a changeup call he didn’t love, but we all have to commit to our strengths. My shot in hoops was the finger roll, which ultimately landed me the nickname Iceman Gervin in high school. Now that you’ve learned something about me, let’s learn something about Pablo. He’s posted a 3.75 or better ERA three years in a row and just logged 174 strikeouts in 180 innings last season. He did serve up 21 dingers — which is never ideal — but we like what we’ve seen out of him so far this spring (3.00 ERA, 0.833 WHIP, 7 Ks in 6 IP). I don’t mind Lopez as my second- or third-best pitcher. 

Freddy Peralta, Brewers (ADP: 139)


Here’s another case of what looks like “what have you done for me lately?” Peralta was an All-Star just two years ago with a 10-5 record, 2.81 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings. Last year, he struggled with injuries and managed just a 4-4 record, 3.58 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and under 11 strikeouts per nine for the first time in his five-year career (actually, he was under 10 K/9). But look, you want to take on some healthy risk in life just like low-interest mortgages and Roth IRAs. Freddy can be a decent SP4 for you who spends some time on your IL at worst, but he’s a borderline ace if he bounces back and enjoys a fully healthy campaign. Your call, but I’ve got him as my SP37. 

George Kirby, Mariners (ADP: 116) 

Kirby has skinny-boy swag and brought passion to the mound every time he got a start in his 2022 rookie season. His absurd 6.05 K:BB ratio would have ranked above names like Justin Verlander and Shane McClanahan if he had enough innings. Some have him as low as 150, likely worried about his tendency to get hit hard at times (he did give up 13 homers in 130 innings last year). That said, anyone who averages right around a strikeout per inning while issuing just 22 total free passes across 25 starts seems like a great SP3 or SP4 for your fantasy squad to me. I’ve got him as SP40 overall, and that might be low. 

Edward Cabrera, Marlins (ADP: 235)

A lot of people don’t realize because he only pitched 99 innings last season, but Tigers-turned-Marlins starting pitcher Edward Cabrera finished the 2022 season with a 3.01 ERA and 2.1 WAR. The 235 ADP is as bonkers as the movement on his changeup:

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Cabrera has a 1.86 ERA and 1.03 WHIP through three Grapefruit League games this spring, and he looks healthy and ready to go. As you can see, he has one of the filthiest changeups in baseball, made even more effective by his high-90s heat. If the change is on, the opposing hitters are off. Will he rack up walks and hits at certain stretches of the season? Sure. Will he give up some bombs? Yup! But we’re venturing to guess Cabrera will be more good (and sometimes great) than bad and well worth a pick in the top 175 before your other sleeper-snaking leaguemates nab him.

Jeffrey Springs, Rays (ADP: 154)

According to FantasyPros, some so-called analysts have Springs as low as 235. This guy went 9-5 last season with a 2.46 ERA and 1.07 WHIP to go along with 144 strikeouts and 31 walks. Yet, his ADP is 154? Folks just aren’t paying attention or they’re biased against pitchers who heavily utilize fastball-changeup combos. Draft Springs around SP50, and he could make it a fruitful summer for your squad.

Grayson Rodriguez, Orioles (ADP: 182)

Casuals have been drafting Mr. Gray around pick 175, but experts in keeper leagues are grabbing him by more like 75. The No. 6-ranked prospect entering the season, Rodriguez would likely already be a household name in the baseball universe if not for his late-summer lat strain last season. In 75.1 innings in Triple-A, he had gone 6-2 with a 2.62 ERA alongside 109 strikeouts. In a redraft, target him in the SP50-55 range.

Hunter Brown, Astros (ADP: 215)

Brown is a tattooed cyborg, capable of throwing a 98-mph fastball one pitch and then a 93-mph slider or sinker the next. Take a look:

Brown gave up just two runs in 20 innings last season, striking out 22. He’s been whack-a-moled a couple of times this spring — and he’s dealing with lower back soreness — but he’s still well worth a grab-and-stash at 190-200. 

Alex Cobb, Giants (ADP: 220)


It seems like Cobb has been around forever (11 years, actually), and there are plenty of reasons for that. When healthy, he’s solid — good for a 3.76 or lower ERA and WHIP in the 1.30 range. He’s also turned up the gas with experience, averaging well over a strikeout per inning over the past two seasons. He started a whopping 28 games for the Giants last season, posting a superb 3.51 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 150 innings. Bob for the Cobb by pick 200.

Kodai Senga, Mets (ADP: 292)

This is why you have to do your homework, people! Senga’s ADP has been barely cracking the top 300, complete insanity for a pitcher of his caliber. What do we know about Senga? He’s from Japan, the reigning-champion nation of the World Baseball Classic. He maintained a 1.94 ERA across 144 innings with Japanese Pacific League team SoftBank last season. He’s 29, with 11 seasons of experience, a 104-51 lifetime record as a pro, and 1,486 strikeouts compared to just 509 walks. Senga has a ton in his bag — high-90s gas, 12-6 curveball, mean slider, and impossible sinker. Hell, there’s even talk around Queens of a homemade forkball. Senga belongs on rosters in 14-team leagues and deep 12s, even if he goes through some initial MLB growing pains. 

Garrett Whitlock, Red Sox (ADP: 277)

Whitlock has much better stuff than this ADP suggests — he has gone 12-6 across his first two seasons as a pro with a 2.76 ERA, 1.062 WHIP, and 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings. That’s the good news. The bad news: he has yet to reach 80 innings in either of his first two campaigns, he underwent hip surgery at the end of last season, and he has a 4.15 lifetime ERA as a starter. if he solidifies a spot in Boston’s needy rotation and puts it all together, he could be a difference-maker for his fantasy investors. 

Trevor Rogers, Marlins (ADP: 248)

This one feels volatile, especially given Rogers’ 5.47 ERA and 1.51 WHIP last season, but let’s not forget that he put together an All-Star campaign and finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting just two years ago. His numbers over 133 innings that year: 2.64 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings. When he’s not fanning batters, he’s getting them to hit grounders, which reminds us that he suffered a .330 BABIP last season. If he gets better defense this year, he should be poised for a bounce-back campaign. He’s in a pitcher-friendly park and he rarely surrenders home runs, so I’d be all over Rogers any time after pick 200.  

Kenta Maeda, Twins

Maeda missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and he’s about to turn 35. He’s been smashed around a bit this spring, and his velocity is nowhere near where he wants it to be. That said, he’s still well worth a flier in the 275 range just based on track record. Remember, in 2020, he went 6-1 with a 2.70 ERA and MLB-best 0.75 WHIP. If he works out this season, you get some semblance of that dominant pitcher. If he doesn’t work out, you cut him and stream someone else.

Jared Shuster, Braves (ADP: 492)

The Braves’ top prospect has been making a lot of noise during his preseason bid for Atlanta’s fifth spot in the rotation. Across his first 12.2 spring innings, the 24-year-old allowed just one run on five hits while striking out 16. A 6-3, 210-pound lefty, Shuster enters the final weekend of the preseason with a 1.45 ERA, 0.59 WHIP, and .113 opponents’ average. I’m not just drafting him late because he’s from the same city my children were born in (New Bedford, MA) — I’m drafting him because he’s legit!

Kyle Bradish, Orioles (ADP: 367)

Saving the best sleeper for last, baby! Look, we get that Bradish’s debut season was, well, less than ideal (that’s how my wife explains something was awful). He finished his rookie year with a 4-7 record, 4.90 ERA, and 1.40 WHIP, which gives the impression he sucks. But if you split up his season and just look at the second half, you’ll see that he’s got plenty of potential: .212 batting average against, 3.28 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and just six homers in 71 innings. He’s a penny stock with plenty to learn in his age-26 sophomore season, but he throws heat and has plenty in his toolbag to make some noise. Make him your 25th man!


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