Finishing Strong: The Arms that Held Serve to Close Out 2019

This article is based on excellent data provided by Prospect Live's own Chip Bourne. Thank you for your assistance!

We reviewed hitters who finished well previously, and big finishes to a season can be a great indication to a breakthrough the next season. One downfall to pitching breakouts is spotting the little things at the end of the season. For instance, noticing that Joe Ryan moved to longer starts on July 28 last season. He finally was allowed to go five innings for just his final two starts of the year, but those two starts gave a foreshadowing of his 2019 breakout as he tossed ten combined shutout innings, allowing a total of four hits, a walk, and striking out 16. Ryan then blew up for a monster year where he reached Double-A this year, climbing through three levels, posting a 1.96 ERA and 0.84 WHIP over 123.2 innings with an incredible 183/27 K/BB ratio.

While the sample sizes are often 3-5 starts (and perhaps playoffs), these are some guys who really showed up with big stats in the last month or so that should be noted as a dynasty team is building its roster for 2020.

Note: the ownership percentages for each player is based on Fantrax ownership percentage, which would include some of Fantrax's single-season leagues, but should give a good idea overall of how much the player is owned.

Astro Arms

On top of having the best record in the major leagues in 2019, the Houston Astros saw a number of pitchers really breakout. While guys like Cristian Javier and Jojanse Torres got a lot of notice, three others made this list for their late-season work, though they're owned in a combined 1% of Fantrax leagues, so they're certainly out there to be picked up currently.

In his first full season in the Houston Astros organization, Shawn Dubin moved quickly from Low-A to High-A and ended up leading the Carolina League in strikeouts. Using a fastball that ticked up to mid-90s, touching 97-98 along with a fringe-plus slider and a change that would flash above-average but struggled with consistency, Dubin put together a full-season stat line that fulled up a stat sheet, tossing 110.2 innings, making 19 starts over 25 appearances, with a 3.58 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 9.9 BB%, and 32.4 K%. He even saved three games.

Dubin out-pitched his 18th round pedigree in the final homestretch of the 2019 season, however. He closed out the regular season on a roll and added in another elite start in the postseason for High-A Fayetteville. Altogether, from Aug.1 through the postseason, Dubin made seven starts, amassing 36.1 innings with a 1.99 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 7.6 BB%, and 37.9 K%.

A "late signee", Luis Garcia made his pro debut after signing from Venezuela in 2017. He opened the 2018 season with a short-season team but still pitched enough to tally 85.1 innings, but nothing indicated the sort of year he'd have in 2019, tossing 108.2 innings between both full-season A-ball levels with a combined 2.98 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 11.3 BB%, and 38.1 K%. The incredible part is that he actually outpitched teammate Dubin in the last part of the season, making some adjustments and moving back into the Fayetteville rotation to close out the year. Over his final seven starts between the regular season and postseason, Garcia tossed 39.1 innings with a 1.60 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 8.7 BB%, and an astounding 49 K%. Yes, you read that correctly, he struck out nearly half the batters he faced over a seven-start stretch!

Similar to Garcia, Jose Alberto Rivera was signed late, signing at 20 years old in December of 2016. He pitched in the Dominican in 2017, came stateside in 2018, and pitched in his first full-season league in 2019. He was held in extended spring until mid-May, and his season-long numbers for Low-A Quad Cities were middling, with a 3.81 ERA and 1.28 WHIP over 75.2 innings, posting an 11.3 BB% and a 29.8 K%.

Rivera began to harness his wicked fastball that can touch triple digits along with an average slider and change that he began to locate better as the season went on. If you go back to July 1, Rivera had an impressive run to close the season, including a postseason appearance, tossing 56.1 innings paired in Houston's system of working pitchers together to manage innings. He posted a 2.40 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, a 9.9 BB%, and a 35.6 K%. He'll likely open in High-A next season, and the big challenge will be adding innings to his arm while continuing the progress in consistency he showed in the second half. If he can do that, this is a potential top 50 overall prospect sort of arm.

Elite Year Finishes Strong

These next three guys all had incredible year-long numbers, but surprisingly, they somehow out-pitched those stellar numbers to close out the year!

While another smallish righty was catching plenty of attention in the New York Yankees system, Roansy Contreras was arguably even better in 2019 than his org mate Deivi Garcia. Just 19 all season long and listed generously at 6 feet and 175 pounds, Contreras spent the entire year at Low-A Charleston, where he had a great year, posting a 3.33 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 6.7 BB%, and 21.1 K% over 132.1 innings.

However, when you look at his end of season, it was even better, as he went 5-0 over 6 starts from Aug.1 through the end of the season, posting a 0.97 ERA, 0.54 WHIP, 3.8 BB%, and 28.5 K%over 37 innings. Impressively, using his mid-90s fastball, fringe-plus curve, and average change along with plus command over the last month, he went at least 6 innings in every single start during that time.

Before the 2019 season, most would only know Bailey Ober due to his monstrous size as he got off the team bus as Ober stands 6'9" and is listed at 260 pounds. Unlike most guys at his height, Ober has exceptional control with his tremendous reach allowing his low-90s fastball to play up, though he's struggled with injuries. Those injuries limited him to just 78.2 innings in 2019, posting a 0.69 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, a 3 BB%, and a 33.8 K%.

Ober worked his way up to Double-A by the end of the season, and if you look at his final six starts of the season (he was held to a pitch count his first two starts back at High-A, but those counts were reportedly removed going forward), Ober was somehow even better than those incredible full-season numbers, posting a 0.50 ERA, 0.61 WHIP, 1.5 BB%, and 39.2 K% over 36.1 innings. Even after his huge year, Ober is only owned in 1% of leagues.

The Diamondbacks initially drafted Tarik Skubal out of Seattle University in the 29th round in the 2017 draft coming off an injury-riddled season, but he chose to return to school, having a mediocre season and ending up with the Tigers in the ninth round. Skubal worked up to Low-A in his draft year, pitching almost exclusively out of the bullpen, and many thought that he might have a future as a dominant multi-inning lefty relief option.

Skubal opened 2019 with the Tigers High-A club, dominating over 15 starts before a promotion to Double-A when he simply exploded and was arguably the most difficult pitcher to hit in all of minor league baseball. The lefty's overall numbers were elite, posting a 2.42 ERA and 1.01 WHIP combined in 122.2 innings with a 7.6 BB% and a 36.5 K%. Somehow he put up even better numbers to close the year out, from June 1 through the end of the year putting up huge numbers, making 14 starts and tossing 72.1 innings with a 1.49 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 8.7 BB%, and a remarkable 42.7 K%. He is owned in 22% of leagues, so the word is definitely out on Skubal, but if you can get your hands on him, there may be even better yet to come with him.

Sturdy Rotation Arms

While elite guys are definitely needed to win a fantasy league, finding guys who will eat innings with quality numbers can be very valuable. Three guys could very well move quickly to the majors and provide quality innings by the end of 2020, but none is very well-owned at this point.

With the coverage of the Chicago Cubs, one would assume Cory Abbott would get more publicity and be owned in more than 2% of leagues, but here we are. The 2017 2nd rounder has moved quickly and spent the entirety of 2019 in Double-A, tossing 146.2 innings with a 3.01 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 8.7 BB%, and 27.8 K%. He's not a guy with an elite fastball, working in the low-90s, but he has a plus cutter that can even flash double-plus along with a change and curve that work at average. When he is above-average with his command, he's extremely tough for hitters to square up, but he does give up the long ball, in large part due to a less-than-impressive fastball.

Abbott took his excellent 2019 to another level as he really honed in on the use of his cutter as the season wore on. From mid-July on, he was dominant, making nine starts from July 15 through the end of the regular season, throwing 53.2 innings with a 1.17 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 9.6 BB%, and 34.5 K%. He'll take on Triple-A in 2020, but the Cubs currently look to have some potential need at the back of their rotation in 2020, and Abbott could assert himself in spring and hold on once he arrives.

The Texas Rangers acquired Jason Bahr from the San Francisco Giants in 2018 as part of a salary dump by the Giants, essentially the Giants' way to convince the Rangers to take on dead money. In the end, it may turn out to be an excellent move on the part of the Rangers. Bahr split his 2019 between High-A and Double-A, posting a 2.51 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 10.4% walk rate, and 25.8% strikeout rate. However, he was even better to help close out the year, Bahr was impressive over the month of August, with a 1.20 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, 9.3 BB%, and 31.8K%. Bahr's four-pitch mix is essentially average across the board, but he gets excellent extension and has some delivery deception that would allow him to potentially toss extended innings each season as a mid-rotation starter.

Abbott's teammate to open 2019, Thomas Hatch was originally a 3rd round selection out of Oklahoma State in 2016, and if it weren't for health concerns in his draft year, he may have gone even higher. Hatch has shown moments of dominance mixed with times of difficulty commanding his stuff over his minor league career. He repeated the Double-A level in 2019, and between the Cubs and the Blue Jays Double-A club in New Hampshire after he was traded, he tossed 135.1 innings with a 4.12 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 7 BB%, and 22.7 K%.

Hatch located very well with his new organization and it made a huge difference. In six starts with the Fisher Cats, Hatch tossed 35.1 innings with a 2.80 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, a 1.6 BB%, and a 26.6 K%. Hatch isn't a guy who will get a ton of strikeouts, but if he's able to command his stuff, he can be an asset to your WHIP and tally innings, and right now, he's only owned in 1% of leagues.

Potential backend guys

The Mariners had a few excellent control and command lefties have excellent seasons in 2019, and while most noticed the big year that Ljay Newsome had, many missed Anthony Misiewicz having a solid season in large part due to the crazy numbers that Triple-A hitters were putting up, swelling his ERA. Overall, between seven Double-A starts and 19 games at Triple-A, Misiewicz tossed 131.1 innings, with a 4.59 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 6.4 BB%, and 22.9 K%.

Working with a fastball that hovers around 90 MPH, Misiewicz relies on his fringe-plus curve and average slider and change to work through innings. Even with the enhanced AAA numbers, Misiewicz excelled over his final half-dozen starts in 2019, dating from July 30 through the end of the season. He posted a 1.56 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 5.9 BB%, and 31.6 K%. Many have taken time to work with the new ball and found a way to spin the new ball to their advantage, and if that's what Misiewicz has done, he's on the right team to get an opportunity to succeed at the big league level if he's figured something out.

Primarily a reliever in college for Louisiana State, Nick Bush worked in the mid-90s with his fastball from the left side, warranting an 8th round selection by the Rockies in the 2018 draft. Colorado transitioned him to the rotation upon drafting him, and while his velocity works more around 90, touching 94-95 now, Bush uses his average curve and fringe-plus change along with his above-average control to have success in Low-A in 2019. He posted a 3.95 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 4.7 BB%, and 23.9 K% over 132 innings.

While Bush's numbers weren't incredibly noteworthy, he was in one of the most hitter-friendly home parks in Low-A. In the second half of the season, Bush really settled into his starting role, going at least five innings in 10 of 11 starts and at least six innings in seven of those starts. From July 1 through the end of the season, Bush tossed 65.1 innings with a 2.07 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 4.7 BB%, and 26.7 K%. Bush will likely open 2020 in High-A, and he could move quickly as a quality backend lefty.

After three years at Seton Hall as a swingman, the Boston Red Sox selected Andrew Politi in the 15th round in 2018. He's been used primarily out of the bullpen, but at the end of 2019, the Red Sox moved him into the rotation. Over the course of August, Politi made six appearances, starting the final three games and then added a playoff start as well. During the regular season, Politi made 33 appearances, five of them starts, with a 3.55 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 11.3 BB%, and a 29.4 K%. Over that final month plus the playoff start, Politi posted a 0.65 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 9.4 BB%, and 35.8 K% over 27.2 innings. With a fastball that works in the low-90s (touching 95) with a slider and curve that have received anywhere from average to fringe-plus grades and a change with excellent action but without consistency, Politi could have found a potential home as a backend rotation guy or even a multiple-inning reliever in a modern pitching staff, working with an opener, for instance.

Cleveland Hurlers

The Cleveland Indians have seen their recent team success built on tremendous pitching development in their farm system. Those pitchers often have taken huge strides just before working to the major leagues. Fantasy owners would be wise to check out pitchers making big strides in that organization.

Acquired in the massive midseason trade that sent Trevor Bauer cross-state to the Reds, Scott Moss was already in the process of having an exceptional season at Double-A. He made two starts with Double-A Akron with the Indians organization before bumping up to Triple-A, where he made 4 starts. On the year, the lefty from the University of Florida tossed 130.2 innings with a 2.96 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 12.7 BB%, and a 28.9K%.

Bases on balls have been an issue for Moss due to his crossfire delivery. At 6'6" without a blazing fastball or plus breaking pitch, Moss could work as a multi-inning reliever as well, but his time with the Indians was an impressive finish to the season as he tossed 28.2 innings with a 1.26 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 11.4 BB%, and 31.6 K%. He only is owned in 1% of leagues right now, which is something that may change quickly if Moss wins a job out of spring training.

Seemingly another of a host of Seton Hall alum that qualified for this post (the second featured), Shane McCarthy was an 18th round selection by the Indians in 2018 after a fairly forgettable four years where he was elite in his first two seasons but could not continue that success over his final two years. In his first full season, McCarthy missed time from mid-May through August due to injury, but when he returned, he was very sharp. Overall, he posted a 3.34 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 8.8 BB%, and a 30.3 K%. In his return at the end of the season, McCarthy was sharp, posting a 2.59 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 5.2 BB%, and 34 K% over 24.1 innings. He has been noted as a similar pitcher to recent success stories Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale, and Adam Plutko, so he'll be an interesting guy to watch in 2020.

The most owned of the three Indians arms mentioned here is Carlos Vargas, owned in just 3% of leagues. He's also got the most powerful fastball of anyone on this list, so he's a good guy to close things out. Vargas works in the mid-90s consistently and has touched 101 (with scattered reports of even more). The 6'3" Dominican teen spent his year with Mahoning Valley in the short-season New York Penn League, and his overall numbers were just okay at 4.52 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 7.4 BB%, and a 21.8 K% overall in 77.2 innings, but he closed out very well. Over August and September, he tossed 34 innings with a 2.12 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, an 8.1 BB%, and a 28.1 K%. With his raw velocity paired with an elite slider, he's at least got a future in the back of a bullpen, but the Indians will work to build on this close to the season to potentially develop him as a big-armed starter.


You should now have a jump on your league mates in your dynasty league this year in finding those guys who are primed to breakout in 2020. Set your follow feature or pick these guys up as you'll certainly be hearing much more from them!