Draft list: 15 undervalued pitchers
Nolasco, Anderson lead wave of promising young talent
1. Ricky Nolasco, Marlins
'09 stats: 13 W, 195 Ks, 5.06 ERA, 1.25 WHIP
'10 prediction: 14 W, 201 Ks, 3.87 ERA, 1.23 WHIP
Don't be fooled by last year's ugly ERA; Nolasco deserved much better than his overall 5.06 mark. The strong-armed righty was victimized by a lofty .336 BABIP -- a figure well above his career .311 average -- that was in large part due to Florida's porous defense. Despite some bad luck, the young hurler delivered the goods in several key pitching departments, including a fantastic 4.43 K/BB rate and a 9.49 K/9 mark that ranked seventh among all big league starters. While the Marlins did not take any noticeable measures toward improving their team defense, it's unlikely Nolasco, entering his age-27 season, will be as unlucky again.
2. Brett Anderson, A's
'09 stats: 11 W, 150 Ks, 4.06 ERA, 1.28 WHIP
'10 prediction: 14 W, 173 Ks, 3.77 ERA, 1.26 WHIP
After getting touched up in the early going of his rookie campaign -- not surprising considering that he entered the year with a total of 31 innings logged above Class A -- Anderson stepped up his game in impressive fashion in the latter stages of '09. From July through the end of the year, the 22-year-old southpaw compiled a 3.03 ERA with an ace-like 98/23 K/BB ratio over 101 innings, including a 4-1 September that featured the first 10-strikeout game of his career. Anderson possesses the sort of poise and polish that are uncommon for a pitcher of his age, so don't hesitate to snatch him up after the bigger-name starters are off the board.
3. Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox
'09 stats: 4 W, 54 Ks, 5.76 ERA, 1.87 WHIP
'10 prediction: 14 W, 180 Ks, 3.90 ERA, 1.37 WHIP
Most owners will take one look at Matsuzaka's injury-marred '09 performance and simply think, "pass." But consider the fact that at season's end, the right-hander admitted to pitching hurt all year, with hip and shoulder issues lingering from his preparation for the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Now healthier than he's been in some time, a rejuvenated Dice-K will try to round himself back into the form that produced a 33-15 record with a 3.87 ERA and an 8.6 K/9 ratio over his first two Major League campaigns. After the second tier of starters get gobbled up, plunk down a few bones on Dice-K and enjoy the double-digit wins and hearty strikeout contributions.
4. Jonathan Sanchez, Giants
'09 stats: 8 W, 177 Ks, 4.24 ERA, 1.37 WHIP
'10 prediction: 12 W, 190 Ks, 4.22 ERA, 1.36 WHIP
Sanchez is about as underrated as a hard-throwing 27-year-old with a no-hitter already under his belt could possibly be. He can thank his career 4.7 BB/9 rate and 4.81 ERA for that. And while the erratic lefty was still far too generous with the free passes last season, he compensated by refining his slider to complement his fastball, resulting in a career-high 9.75 K/9 rate. San Francisco rotation mates Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain will certainly draw the most attention on draft day, but it might not be long before Sanchez gets his due as part of the Bay Area's new Big Three.
5. Rafael Soriano, Rays
'09 stats: 27 SV, 102 Ks, 2.97 ERA, 1.06 WHIP
'10 prediction: 33 SV, 84 Ks, 2.83 ERA, 1.08 WHIP
Arm troubles have done a number on Soriano over the years, but few relievers are as nasty. The 30-year-old powered his way out of an early-season closer timeshare for the Braves in '09, emerging as skipper Bobby Cox's ninth-inning man of choice en route to 102 strikeouts over 75 2/3 innings and a 1.06 WHIP. More importantly, his arm looked to be in tip-top shape, as he increased the average velocity on his fastball, changeup and slider from the previous campaign. Set to close in Tampa Bay, Soriano should be handed plenty of leads from his new team's deep and talented staff. If he can keep himself on the field, he could finish as one of the AL's Top 5 closers.
6. Clay Buchholz, Red Sox
'09 stats: 7 W, 68 Ks, 4.21 ERA, 1.38 WHIP
'10 prediction: 13 W, 160 Ks, 4.11 ERA, 1.30 WHIP
Boston's 25-year-old blue chipper made good on his considerable potential after last year's late-summer callup, rattling off a six-start stretch in which he went 5-1 with a 1.32 ERA and 31 punchouts over 41 innings. The lanky righty proved particularly adept at keeping the ball on the ground, and if he's able to replicate his 1.88 GB/FB ratio going forward, he should prove to be awfully stingy in the long-ball department. Buchholz also should feel an increased sense of calm knowing that slick-fielding newcomers Adrian Beltre and Mike Cameron are helping to patrol the yard behind him, a factor that can only help boost his output in ERA and wins.
7. Madison Bumgarner, Giants
'09 stats: 0 W, 10 Ks, 1.80 ERA, 1.10 WHIP
'10 prediction: 11 W, 144 Ks, 3.51 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
If given the chance to build a keeper-league pitching staff around any prospect in the game, you'd be hard-pressed to select a better candidate than the 10th overall pick of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. To say that Bumgarner has outclassed his Minor League opponents over the course of his first two pro seasons would be an understatement, as the 20-year-old has gone 27-5 with a 1.65 ERA and 256 strikeouts over 273 frames on the farm. Despite his minimal experience above Class A, the left-hander impressed after getting called up in the middle of a pennant race last season, fashioning a 1.80 ERA over three relief appearances and one start. The team likely will take a cautious approach with Bumgarner's power arm, but if the Giants let him rip, there's little doubt that he can make an immediate mixed-league impact.
8. Octavio Dotel, Pirates
'09 stats: 0 SV, 75 Ks, 3.32 ERA, 1.44 WHIP
'10 prediction: 26 SV, 87 Ks, 3.72 ERA, 1.24 WHIP
Dotel has bounced around the Majors and dealt with his share of injuries over the years, but his 11.62 K/9 rate since the start of '08 ranks second among all big league relievers in that span. Now, he'll get the chance to use his power stuff in the ninth inning after spending the majority of the past five seasons working in middle-relief and setup roles. Naturally, his opportunities will be limited as part of a Pirates squad that hasn't posted a winning mark in nearly 20 years, but as long as he's healthy and mowing down batters at his usual high rate, he should give owners plenty of bang for their late-round buck.
9. Ben Sheets, A's
'09 stats: Injured
'10 prediction: 12 W, 158 Ks, 3.80 ERA, 1.22 WHIP
There's plenty of risk involved with drafting Sheets, who missed the entire 2009 season while recovering from elbow surgery and hasn't logged as many as 200 innings since '04. Quite frankly, owners who plunk down top dollar expecting a guaranteed 30 starts will deserve what they get if the brittle 31-year-old comes up lame again. However, it makes plenty of sense to target Sheets as a late-round mini-gamble. The veteran righty's fly-ball tendencies are perfectly suited for cavernous McAfee Coliseum, and the club's addition of Coco Crisp should shore up an already strong outfield defense. Be careful not to overbid on Sheets, but don't completely discount him, either.
10. Brian Matusz, Orioles
'09 stats: 5 W, 38 Ks, 4.63 ERA, 1.48 WHIP
'10 prediction: 10 W, 136 Ks, 3.92 ERA, 1.36 WHIP
Matusz rocketed to the bigs after ringing up an 11-2 record with a 1.91 ERA and a 121/32 K/BB ratio over 113 Minor League frames in '09, his first professional season. And although he had his share of ups and downs after arriving in Baltimore, Matusz won five of seven decisions and completed at least seven innings in each of his final three starts. The power southpaw is set unleash his 94-mph heater on opposing hitters as part of the O's 2010 rotation and could pay immediate dividends without requiring a steep investment price. Keeper-league owners should take a more aggressive approach and do whatever it takes to get him on board.
11. Neftali Feliz, Rangers
'09 stats: 1 W, 39 Ks, 1.74 ERA, 0.68 WHIP
'10 prediction: 9 W, 138 Ks, 3.07 ERA, 1.20 WHIP
The only thing holding back Feliz is his uncertain role within the Rangers pitching staff. Operating exclusively out of the bullpen in his first tour through the Majors last season, the 21-year-old phenom stitched together a startling 0.68 WHIP and 39 strikeouts in 31 innings. Given that he accumulated just over 100 innings between the Minors and Texas in '09, it's likely Feliz will be limited to something in the neighborhood of 140 frames this year. That may not be enough to make a huge mixed-league impact, but keeper-league owners will want to stash him away anyway, as few can match his potential.
12. Wade Davis, Rays
'09 stats: 2 W, 36 Ks, 3.72 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
'10 prediction: 12 W, 153 Ks, 4.13 ERA, 1.31 WHIP
A highly touted prospect, Davis showed what the fuss was all about when he turned in a four-hit, 10-strikeout shutout vs. the Orioles in his third big league start last September. The 24-year-old has displayed solid control and a live fastball over the course of his pro career, averaging nearly a strikeout per inning in the Minors. The young righty has also proven that he can handle a full workload by slinging at least 146 innings in each of his six professional seasons, so the Rays should have no qualms about turning him loose ASAP. Projected to slot in as Tampa Bay's No. 5 starter in '10, Davis has the stuff to make a run at double-digit wins.
13. Ryan Madson, Phillies
'09 stats: 10 SV, 78 Ks, 3.26 ERA, 1.23 WHIP
'10 prediction: 16 SV, 70 Ks, 3.47 ERA, 1.23 WHIP
With Brad Lidge's status for Opening Day in question after a pair of offseason operations, Madson may wind up logging his share of saves out of the starting gate. Although he had his share of difficulties when filling in for Lidge last season, the right-hander has crafted a solid 3.12 ERA since the beginning of '07, while his strikeout rate has trended upward for four straight years. The Phillies brought in ex-closer Danys Baez as bullpen insurance should Lidge falter again, but Baez hasn't posted a sub-4.00 ERA since '05, making it likely that skipper Charlie Manuel will tab Madson as his main backup guy.
14. Derek Holland, Rangers
'09 stats: 8 W, 107 Ks, 6.12 ERA, 1.50 WHIP
'10 prediction: 11 W, 159 Ks, 4.42 ERA, 1.40 WHIP
After making short work of Minor League hitters in 2008 (13-1, 2.27 ERA), Holland was summoned to provide relief for a Rangers staff decimated by injury last season. Yanked between the rotation and bullpen at various points, the electric lefty was rocked for a 6.12 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP, causing many onlookers to prematurely label him a bust. But keep in mind that the 23-year-old rookie made just a single start in Triple-A before being called up to the bigs, and that last year's .321 BAABIP suggests he fell victim to some poor defensive work from his teammates. Holland induces enough grounders to survive at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, and with a little more luck in his sophomore campaign, he could nail down at least 10 wins for a bargain-basement price.
15. Marc Rzepczynski, Blue Jays
'09 stats: 2 W, 60 Ks, 3.67 ERA, 1.32 WHIP
'10 prediction: 9 W, 140 Ks, 4.02 ERA, 1.30 WHIP
Rzepczynski has the goods to become the 2010 version of rotation 'mate Ricky Romero, who landed on mixed-league radars while posting 13 wins in his rookie campaign. The 23-year-old Rzepczynski showed promising form in his own right last season, rattling off four straight quality starts with a 2.59 ERA and 23 strikeouts in his final 24 1/3 innings. With a career 9.8 K/9 rate and 2.76 ERA at the Minor League level, the overlooked lefty offers a cheap, high-upside option for the back of mixed-league rotations.
Chris Stryshak is a fantasy writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.