Fantasy Baseball 2014: 5 Young Starting Pitchers to Target in Keeper Leagues

Justin OlexaContributor IIIMarch 7, 2014

Fantasy Baseball 2014: 5 Young Starting Pitchers to Target in Keeper Leagues

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    Jose Fernandez
    Jose FernandezLynne Sladky/Associated Press

    In keeper leagues, stockpiling young starting pitchers can be a good strategy. So, who are some good young pitchers to target? 

    For this list, I made the cutoff age 23. The Clayton Kershaws and Stephen Strasburgs of the world are obviously not bad picks. They are just a bit too old for this list. 

    To be included, a pitcher had to make at least 10 starts in 2013 (playoffs included). The rankings are based on past success, prospect rankings and future outlook. 

    These players are expected to excel in the standard fantasy stats used for starting pitchers: wins, ERA, WHIP and strikeouts.

    **All stats from unless noted otherwise

No. 5 Zack Wheeler

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    Zach Wheeler
    Zach WheelerKathy Willens/Associated Press

    Zack Wheeler made his major league debut in 2013 and did not disappoint. Of the group, he is the furthest away from becoming an ace. He has great stuff, but is still polishing his game. His control wavered during his time in the majors last season.

    He won't win you your league this season, but he should contribute solid numbers and continue to improve. He came into last season as Baseball America's fifth best pitching prospect. Wheeler has the potential to be a top-of-the-rotation starter; he just needs to polish his command.

    Wheeler is a great guy to take now and be rewarded later once he comes into his own.



No. 4 Gerrit Cole

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    Gerrit Cole
    Gerrit ColeCharlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Gerrit Cole came into 2013 as Baseball America's fourth-best pitching prospect. He looked like a decent pitcher in his first three months in the bigs, but really turned it on in September. 

    In the final month of the season, Cole went 4-0 with a 1.69 ERA. He also struck out 39 batters in 32 innings. He looked like the ace that the scouting reports predicted.

    While he most likely won't be able to carry those numbers through a whole season, he will be able to take the confidence he gained into 2014. He gets to pitch in a very pitcher-friendly PNC Park, and should be the Pirate's ace in the near future.

    As good as Cole was in 2013, the three players above him performed even better.



No. 3 Shelby Miller

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    Shelby Miller
    Shelby MillerJeff Roberson/Associated Press

    After Michael Wacha took the national media by storm, Shelby Miller became the forgotten man in St. Louis. Remember Miller pitched for the Cardinals all season and pitched very well. He finished with 15 wins and an ERA just above three at 3.06. 

    Miller came into 2013 as Baseball America's third-ranked pitcher. He gets the edge over Cole for the higher prospect rating and better overall stats. 

    After being bumped out of the postseason rotation by Wacha, he gets bumped back here as well. The Cardinals picked Wacha over Miller, so why shouldn't I?

    Wacha performed so well on the biggest stage in baseball that it is hard to rank Miller ahead of him.



No. 2 Michael Wacha

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    Michael Wacha came into 2013 as Baseball America's 27th-ranked pitcher. However, he performed as good as anyone on the list not named Jose Fernandez. Just look at his start against the Washington Nationals (video above).

    His performance puts him above the other three pitchers that were rated above him on the prospect list. Wacha performed brilliantly on the biggest stage. In the playoffs he had a record of 4-1 with an ERA of 2.64. 

    He finished the year averaging more a strikeout an inning and an ERA of 2.78. Wacha plays for a winning team and has proven himself in the postseason. He makes for a great long-term investment for keeper leagues.



No. 1 Jose Fernandez

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    Jose Fernandez takes the top spot for the keeper picks. Turning 21 last July, Fernandez took the league by storm in his rookie season. Just look at his dominating performance against the San Diego Padres above.

    Wacha pitched great in his time up in the majors, but Fernandez was even better. He started 28 games and had an ERA of 2.19. He struck out 187 batters in 172.2 innings. 

    Some expected Fernandez to hit a wall during the season, but he only got better. He may have been the best pitcher in all of baseball in the second half. He finished the second half with an ERA of 1.32 and a 7-1 record. 

    Outside of Clayton Kershaw, there may not be a better pick than Fernandez at pitcher.