Fantasy Baseball 2018: Does Luke Weaver have top-20 potential?

The Cardinals have two young pitchers in their system. One is hurt and the other is going unnoticed. Can Luke Weaver crack the top 20 this season?

The St. Louis Cardinals, like the rest of the division, have been busy this offseason. The team added outfield slugger Marcell Ozuna while trading away two other outfielders. The starting rotation looks good on paper and will be as long as they stay healthy. One pitcher entering this season with little fanfare is sophomore pitcher Luke Weaver.

Weaver spent the first three months of the 2017 season in Triple-A after making nine appearances with the Cardinals in 2016. In his first stint, Weaver pitched to a 5.70 ERA, 1.596 WHIP, 11.1 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9. While ERA and WHIP were a little high, he was able to strike out a lot of batters and limit his free passes.

Weaver improved a lot in his second time in the majors. After 10 starts, 13 games, he posted a respectable 3.88 ERA, 1.260 WHIP, 10.7 K/9 and 2.5 BB.9 with a 7-2 record. In just 60.1 innings, he struck out 72 batters and walked just 17. Weaver made four quality starts in his 10 starts.

The downside to Weaver last season was that he didn’t pitch deep into games. In his 10 starts, he lasted just over five innings per game. That is enough to qualify for the win but not enough to log a lot of strikeouts and innings.

Weaver saw a big jump in his ground ball rate last season, going from 30.7 to 49.4 percent. His fly ball rate dropped about six percent as well. He was getting more first-pitch strikes and pitches in the zone while his contact rates stayed the same.

The National League Central has some pretty good offenses in the Cubs and revamped Brewers. The Reds are also a sleeper offense, especially in hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark. The team scored the 14th-most runs last season.

He may see a jump in his ratios but the skill is there to keep opposing runners off base and the scoreboard. Steamer projects a fairly improved season for Weaver. Over 145.0 innings, 26 starts, Weaver will pitch to a 3.82 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 8.98 K/9 and 2.64 BB/9. The strikeout rate takes a hit but he maintains the rest of his stats. That is likely on the low-end of the spectrum, though.

I project a 3.75 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 10.1 K/9 and 2.54 BB/9 over 165.0 innings, or 30 starts. I may be bullish on the strikeouts, but three of his four division opponents finished no worse than 16th in team strikeouts.

Weaver ranks just outside my top-40 starting pitchers. With a full season ahead of him, he has the potential to strike out a lot of batters and make a run at a career-defining season. If you can get him after Round 12, you’ll have an SP4 pitching like an SP2 in your lineup.