When the Major League Baseball season begins, a few of the game's top arms will be on the sidelines.
Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets hurler Noah Syndergaard are both out for the season after recently announced plans for Tommy John surgery. Houston's Justin Verlander will pitch in 2020, but he is recovering after undergoing groin surgery in March.
The wave of injuries have altered the starting pitcher depth chart for fantasy baseball drafts. But even after the list is reorganized, a handful of starters could fly under the radar and end up as hidden gems.
Hidden Gems to Draft
Kenta Maeda, SP, Minnesota Twins
Kenta Maeda appeared in at least 29 games in each of his four seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he was not viewed as a consistent fantasy pitcher because he was swapped in and out of the starting rotation.
Two years ago, 20 of Maeda's 39 appearances were starts, while he opened 26 times in 37 trips to the mound in 2019.
In his new role with the Minnesota Twins, Maeda should be a consistent figure in the rotation—one who could have value in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts.
The 31-year-old struck out 10 batters and gave up two earned runs over 8.2 innings in three Spring Training starts. After his March 8 outing versus the Red Sox, Maeda earned praise from Twins manager Rocco Baldelli for his command, per MLB.com's CJ Haddad.
"He commanded all of his pitches exceptionally well today," Baldelli said. "His fastball command allowed everything else to play up really well. You really got to see a tremendous version of Kenta out there, and it's fun to watch."
Before he was moved to the bullpen in September by the Dodgers, Maeda produced six starts with seven or more strikeouts.
In his final four starts last season, Maeda had six or more punchouts on three occasions and conceded three earned runs or fewer. If he puts up similar numbers in the American League, Maeda could end up with his fourth 10-win season and be considered a steal in the middle to late parts of fantasy drafts.
Andrew Heaney, SP, Los Angeles Angels
Upon first glance, Andrew Heaney's career numbers are not promising, but if you dig a bit deeper, there are some qualities that make him a low-risk, high-reward draft pick.
When he went 9-10 in 2018, the left-handed hurler struck out 180 batters in 180 innings. A year ago, the 28-year-old fanned 118 opponents over 95.1 innings in 18 appearances.
Heaney was named the Los Angeles Angels' Opening Day starter, and he trusts that he has the quality to succeed in 2020, per Maria Torres of the Los Angeles Times.
"I know how good I can be when I go out and pitch for a long stretch," Heaney said. "To myself, I've proven that I know how good I can be whenever I have long stretches where I'm healthy and am able to take the ball every five or six days. I definitely have all the confidence in the world in myself."
If Heaney maintains his high strikeout rate and brings his ERA under 4.00, he could turn into a solid fantasy contributor.
Since he has a single season with a record over .500, Heaney should not be taken earlier than the middle rounds of any draft. But in a 12-team league, he could provide value right away with his strikeout ability.