2009 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers: Pitchers

Lawrence BarrecaAnalyst IFebruary 5, 2009

Now that we have touched on the hitting sleepers of 2009, we turn our attention to the pitchers who could have breakout years during the upcoming season.

Last year, we had many pitchers rise to the occasion unlike anything we had ever witnessed before.

We experienced the return of Kerry Wood, a player whose career has been plagued with countless injuries. In 2008, he returned to the Chicago Cubs to produce 34 saves and helped lead the team to the playoffs.

Another name is Cliff Lee. Did any of us know who this guy was before the ‘08 season? He made himself known, though, going 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA and 170 strikeouts.

Remember him now? He is the reigning American League Cy Young Award Winner.

If anything, he was the true definition of a sleeper. So does any player have a shot to become the next Wood or Lee?

Below are 12 pitchers that I believe could be breakout stars in 2009.

David Price (SP) (TB) - The Tampa Bay phenom astounded us all as he performed as a reliever under pressure during the American League Championship Series. Now, he is back as a starter.

The current favorite by many to win the American League Rookie of the Year award, Price fills the spot recently vacated by Edwin Jackson in the Rays' rotation. This gives Price the opportunity to start against other fifth starters.

Imagine this scenario: Price vs. Dustin Moseley (LAA), or maybe even Price vs. David Pauley (BAL).

Everyone knows who is going to win these matchups. The talent is there, and the potential to succeed is brewing.

As far as fantasy baseball goes, Price may be a better pick than many are expecting. Pitching every fifth day against below average starters, Price’s win total should gradually increase as the season progresses.

If you need a guy that will rack up the wins, Price is your guy. He may just end up being one of the top pitchers in baseball come 2010.


Chris Volstad (SP) (FLA) - The Florida Marlins’ top selection in 2005, Volstad proved in 2008 that he was worth the pick. Last season, he went 6-4 with a 2.88 ERA and 52 strikeouts. This year, he’s looking for a bit more.

This 22-year old righty will be taking the mound as the third starter in Florida’s rotation, hoping to step up and help the rebuilding Marlins reach their playoff aspirations.

The only concern with Volstad is the division that he pitches in. The National League East is a dangerous place for a youngster. However, I believe that he can live up to the pressure.

As a fantasy player, Volstad will most likely be on the board for the majority of the draft, giving you plenty of time to grab him. In the end, he may just show why the Marlins organization is so high on him heading into the ‘09 season.


Sean Gallagher (SP) (OAK) - During the 2008 season, Gallagher was dealt from the Chicago Cubs to the Oakland Athletics in the grand Rich Harden deal. Now, he’s in the A’s starting rotation and looking for the opportunity to become a star in the Bay Area.

Last season, he went 5-7 with a 5.15 ERA and 103 strikeouts. I know, I know, these numbers don’t look fantastic. Let us not forget a few things, though.

First off, he was a reliever in Chicago, turned starter with Oakland. To say the least, that is not the easiest transition in sports. Also, the switch from the National League to the American League is something to get used to, and Gallagher did not have a sufficient amount of time to adjust to the change.

In 2009, he will be starting fresh, giving him every shot to become a premier starter in the American League. If you plan to grab him on draft day, wait until the later rounds. If anything, he should provide an abundant number of strikeouts, helping fantasy owners in the head-to-head category. He’s a fire-baller with plenty of upside. If you do grab him, don’t be surprised if he’s one of your better starters at year’s end.


Carlos Marmol (RP) (CHC) - With Kerry Wood finding himself in Cleveland, Carlos Marmol now has the closer job in Chicago. In 2008, Marmol went 2-4 with a 2.68 ERA and seven saves. Seven saves seems like a joke going into ‘09. In fact, seven saves won’t even be a bleep on his radar at the end of the year.

Marmol’s nasty slider and high heat should give him a colossal advantage over opposing batters. So how many saves do I believe he will get? Twenty? Thirty? Forty?

Will he break Francisco Rodriguez’s (AKA “K-Rod”) record of 62? Whew, I need to catch my breath. Obviously, he’s not going to come near K-Rod; however, he should put up fine numbers for his first full season in the closer role. I am expecting anywhere from 30-45 saves, with 45 being a bit optimistic.

For now, Marmol looks to be one of the better relievers in all of fantasy baseball. Let me say this: If you want him, you may have to grab him early. We all know how Cubs’ fans can be (not in a bad way). They are passionate, and some of them like to grab the whole major league club on draft day (exaggerating a bit, of course).

It is your call on when to grab him. My guess would be anywhere from rounds 5-10, though I would never waste my fifth pick on a closer. If you do have the luxury of picking him, be on the lookout for plenty of saves coming your way during the 2009 season.


Kyle Davies (SP) (KC) - Ah, yes, the Kansas City Royals. I just had a flashback. The team was 3-0 after three games following a sweep of the highly touted Detroit Tigers. I cannot remember much after that.

What I do recall; however, was their slew of young pitching studs. This group includes Brian Bannister, Zack Greinke, and Kyle Davies. Today, Davies is our topic for discussion.

In 2008, he went 9-7 with a 4.06 ERA and 71 strikeouts. Once again, the numbers don’t exactly stick out, right? It wasn't his numbers throughout the year that impressed me; it was his stats as the season came to a close that did.

In September, he went 4-1 with a 2.27 ERA and an opponents’ batting average of .198. Now you see why I like him? After showing off his talent in ‘08, he heads into 2009 as the No. 4 starter for the Royals.

In your upcoming fantasy draft, he should be available for most of the event. In fact, he may not even be picked. This leads to sweet satisfaction for you. If Davies can mimic the numbers that he produced last September, he will be a top starter for your squad before you know it.


Kenshin Kawakami (SP) (ATL) - You had to believe that he would be on this list. The new starter in the rebuilt Atlanta rotation is a newcomer to American baseball, as he arrived from Japan earlier this offseason.

In 11 seasons across the Pacific, he won 112 games and a Central League MVP Award. There are a few concerns with Kawakami, though. First of all, he has to get used to the new baseball that us Americans use to play the game.

This shouldn’t be too huge for Kenshin, although it may cause some problems at the beginning of the season. He must also get used to playing against MLB rosters. The players here in America are stronger. Simple as that.

He will have to utilize the many pitches in his arsenal if he wishes to succeed. For now, Kawakami looks to be a sleeper do to his tremendous potential and upside. Some say that he could produce Hiroki-Kuroda-like rookie numbers, a prodigious compliment to an unproven starter in the majors.

If you plan to draft him, grab him anywhere in the middle rounds. He could very well be one of the better starters in the National League before it is all said and done.

Brian Fuentes (RP) (LAA) - Out with the old, in with the new. This was the Angels’ philosophy when they decided to let former closer Francisco Rodriguez walk during the 2009 offseason.

Now, Brian Fuentes looks to take over the closer's role in Los Angeles. With Colorado in 2008, Fuentes went 1-5 with a 2.73 ERA and 30 saves. The record doesn’t look pretty, but don’t get me wrong. 30 saves on a Colorado team with a poor starting rotation isn’t half bad.

Now with the Angels, Fuentes should have plenty of opportunities to pick up saves. The team has proven in the past that they can put their closer in the position to grab a save, as they helped K-Rod close 62 games last season.

In fantasy, Fuentes looks to be a solid closer in 2009, so look for him in the later rounds. He should add plenty of points to many fantasy-goers during the year.


Yovanni Gallardo (SP) (MIL) - During the 2008 campaign, Gallardo was hit hard with an injury to his knee, causing him to miss most of the regular season. He did make an appearance in the playoffs, though. He pitched three scoreless innings in Game 4 of the National League Divisional Series, allowing only one hit and recording one strikeout.

The Brewers are expecting great things out of Gallardo in 2009, as his upside is tremendous going into the year. He did show great potential in 2007, when he went 9-5 with a 3.67 ERA.

As fantasy owners, we should be looking for the same kind of results next season. If you want him, he should be around on the draft board for a while. This gives you time to grab other players before you make your decision on him.


Justin Masterson (SP/RP) (BOS) - The Red Sox just keep on doing it. Somehow, someway, they always end up finding stud prospects. Masterson is just another example.

In 2008, Masterson went 6-5 with a 3.16 ERA and 68 strikeouts. Now, the Red Sox must decide exactly what to do with him.

They currently have two options: 1) Put him in the starting rotation and allow him to join Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jon Lester, and Tim Wakefield; or 2) Place him in the bullpen and convert him into a setup man for star closer Jonathan Papelbon.

Life just seems so good in Boston. In my opinion, Masterson will end up as a reliever, especially with the recent acquisitions of Brad Penny and John Smoltz. In the pen, look for Masterson to be the new setup man. With that comes plenty of strikeouts and a few wins added in.

As far as fantasy goes, Masterson should give owners a solid reliever to put on their roster. If you want him, grab him in the middle-to-late rounds. He should still be available by that time.


Huston Street (RP) (COL) - Well, it seems as though the Rockies liked the Angels’ mentality. Colorado also let their star closer go, only to grab another one later on down the road. The Rockies decided to go with Huston Street. In 2008, he went 7-5 with a 3.73 ERA and 18 saves.

Although his numbers looked solid last season, the fact of the matter was that he blew more saves than he should have. This is where a change in scenery should benefit him. Street has dominating stuff; however, he has not yet comprehended how to completely utilize his potential.

In 2009, we should see a jump in his number of saves. Look for his 18 saves of last season to increase to anywhere from 25-35. Because Huston is a well-known closer throughout the league, many fantasy owners may decide to make an early jump at the youngster. If you want him, he should make a solid reliever down the road for your squad.


Carl Pavano (SP) (CLE) - This is one of those players that I like to describe as “high risk, high reward.” I say this due to Pavano’s injury-ridden past. Let’s first look at his stats.

In 2008, he went 4-2 with a 5.77 ERA and 15 strikeouts in only 34.1 innings pitched.

Now let’s glance at reality. Pavano has a new home in Cleveland. Ultimately, a change of scenery may bode well for him. So why else do I believe that Pavano is a sleeper? Easy, when he’s healthy, he’s solid. That is the key. Staying healthy is the main concern for many fantasy owners.

As of now, he’s the No. 3 starter with the Tribe, matching him up against average opponents. Looking forward to draft day, this is a call that I would encourage you to make. I can guarantee you that Pavano will be on the board for the majority of the draft, giving you plenty of time to make a final call.

If I were making my picks, he would be one of my final additions to my fantasy roster. At the end of the 2009 season, don’t be alarmed if he helped to provide a large portion of your overall fantasy score.


Chris Ray (RP) (BAL) - We finally conclude our list of sleepers with Baltimore Orioles’ closer Chris Ray.

Ray missed the entire 2008 season with a ligament-reconstruction surgery. That hurts his fantasy value a bit. So instead, let’s take a look at his potential.

The back of the Orioles’ bullpen includes three studs: George Sherrill, Jim Johnson, and obviously Chris Ray. As of this moment, Ray is expected to be the seventh inning man behind Johnson and Sherrill.

As the season nears, though, many believe that Ray will slowly, but surely, retain the closers’ role. Before he went down with a season-ending injury in 2007, he was known for his mid-90’s fastball and wicked slider.

So how will his pitches look in 2009? I’m not sure that anyone truly knows. The hope of fantasy owners is that he will come back to full form and pick up where he left off only two seasons ago. As a fantasy owner, grab him in the late rounds for a solid sleeper and potential stud closer before season’s end.

Lawrence Barreca is a fantasy baseball/football columnist for www.fantasyfootballmaniaxs.com.  For more fantasy sports information, be sure to visit the Maniaxs.


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