The shortened spring training is going to have a big impact on how teams handle their pitching staff early in the season. Major League Baseball has expanded rosters from 26 to 28 for the first month and did not cap how many pitchers can be on the roster during that time.

I have a strong feeling we will see more pitchers to allow managers to ease the workload. There are already multiple teams that have decided or are strongly considering using a six-man rotation. This has a huge impact on our fantasy teams as pitchers only throwing once a week or having a strict innings or pitch count through the first month will make it extremely difficult to rack up the stats we need.

This is one of the reasons why we are not investing early in starting pitchers. Injuries and the concern of workload make it an easy decision to find quality arms later while loading up on hitters early.

New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom is already dealing with shoulder tightness after a season that saw him miss ample time. This is just another reminder that pitching is fragile and it’s difficult to invest heavily at the position.

If we’re not drafting pitching early, we need to find those quality arms later and these are the pitchers who are undervalued heading into the 2022 season.

Oakland Athletics Starting Pitcher Sean Manaea

After finishing in the top 25 in strikeouts in 2021, Manaea is currently being drafted as the 41st starting pitcher, according to FantasyPros.com. The 30-year-old proved durable last season, making 32 starts and finishing with a career high in strikeout per nine innings with 9.7. I don’t think it’s out of the question that his strikeout rate dips a little, but if he continues to be durable then he will easily crush his draft-day position.

The biggest question for the left-hander is how many wins he’ll rack up. We can’t predict victories, but the A’s have no interest in winning games this season, as they have already unloaded two stars in Matt Olson and Matt Chapman. The good news is that Manaea could be next. If the lefty is traded then he should be heading to a competitive team and the wins will follow. Regardless, a pitcher who will strike out close to nine per nine innings and post an ERA in the mid-3.00s and a WHIP around 1.20 is someone we want to invest in.

Baltimore Orioles Starting Pitcher John Means

We discussed in our undervalued hitters that the Orioles moved the left field fence back at Camden Yards while making it higher. There is one player who this will impact the most, and it will be in a positive way. That is Means.

The left-hander has allowed 66 home runs in his career which happens to be an equal split of 33 at both home and on the road. However, 12 of those 33 home runs at Oriole Park would not have left the yard under the new dimensions we will see in 2022.

That is a drastic amount of fly balls that would not have been home runs. This doesn’t mean they would have been outs, but at least they would not have resulted in four bases. Means will always be a fly ball pitcher so there will still be home runs, but if this can impact the left-hander in a positive way, that is good news for fantasy owners.

The 28-year-old has already proven he can pitch effectively in the tough American League East, so that eases any concerns we may have. One issue with Means that is concerning is his inability to stay healthy. The lefty has dealt with arm injuries in each of the last three seasons. He has made it a priority to find a way to stay healthy and has set a goal of pitching 200 innings. Until he does, it’s hard to believe that it will happen.

However, as the 58th starting pitcher currently being drafted, the risk is minimal. I expect him to pitch around 165 innings and strike out a little over eight per nine innings to go along with an ERA around 3.80. There’s nothing wrong with that from a pitcher we’re taking in Round 12.

Other Notable Targets

I’m lumping the next two together as both have shown flashes and can easily break out as late round targets. They don’t have the stability as Manaea or Means, but can be targeted to fill out your rotation.

Boston Red Sox Starting Pitcher Tanner Houck — The 25-year-old has made it to the big leagues in 2020 and 2021, but it appears he will be up for good in 2022. In both years, the right-hander has averaged better than 11 strikeouts per nine. He showed that ability in the minors as well. The AL East is a tough division to pitch in, but the strikeouts should be there for Houck. As the 69th starting pitcher being drafted according to FantasyPros.com, we can hope the ERA hovers around 4.00 and we get the strikeouts.

Detroit Tigers Starting Pitcher Tarik Skubal — This is another pitcher who has the ability to rack up the strikeouts but just needs more experience. Skubal did make 29 starts in 2021 and at the age of 25, he should be ready to take the next step. The left-hander averaged 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings last season, which is encouraging. The one glaring weakness for Skubal is the home runs. He allowed 35 last season. A good start can be ruined by one home run, so this is an area Skubal must fix. Skubal is being drafted as the 54th starter and has the potential to finish as a rock-solid SP3 in fantasy leagues.

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Phil Backert

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