A year ago at this time, Blake Snell was an underthe-radar bargain. The Tampa Bay Rays lefty had not done much in his first two years in the majors, and few people were paying close attention when he started to take off in his third season.
But baseball bettors who were ahead of the curve found an ace in Snell, who finished 2018 as the American League Cy Young Award winner. He went 21-5 with a 1.89 ERA and 221 strikeouts in 180 innings. Now, the price tag on Snell is much higher when he starts.
One of the keys to winning at the betting window is to scout young starting pitchers and find value. Jameson Taillon was one of those guys last year, when he won 14 games for Pittsburgh. The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Hyun-Jin Ryu, who has a 31-inning scoreless streak going, is too obvious now.
Handicappers would be wise to watch these six young guns:
CALEB SMITH, MARLINS
The Yankees drafted the left-hander in the 14th round in 2013 and he was traded to Miami before the 2018 season. That was one trade Derek Jeter got right. The Marlins took a rare three-game win streak into Smith’s start Tuesday at Detroit. Smith’s control gets better and better, he’s a very confident guy on the mound, and as his walks go down his dominance goes up. In 48 innings this season, Smith has allowed only 30 hits with 14 walks and 64 strikeouts. In the big leagues, he has limited batters to a .210 average while posting a career 1.19 WHIP. It’s never easy to bet on the Marlins, but Smith will give a bad team a good chance to win. It’s not a stretch to draw comparisons between Snell last year and Smith this year.
SHANE BIEBER, INDIANS
Cleveland picked Bieber in the fourth round in 2016 out of UC Santa Barbara. He went 11-5 last year and is 3-2 this year, but his numbers are more impressive than his record this season. In 58 innings, Bieber has allowed 46 hits and 13 walks while striking out 69. In 2017 in the minors, he allowed only 10 walks in 173 innings. He has great control with low hit, low walk and high strikeout numbers — a dominating trio. The 23-year-old threw his first career shutout, with 15 strikeouts, last week in a win against Baltimore. He issued no walks on 107 pitches.
BRAD KELLER, ROYALS
Keller is a big right-hander at 6-5 and 230 pounds, but he’s not a big strikeout guy. Arizona drafted him out of high school in the eighth round in 2013. With a split role between the bullpen and starting rotation last year as a rookie, he led Kansas City in ERA (3.08) and had nine wins. Keller is 2-5 in 10 starts this season, walking 37 and striking out 42 in 58 innings. When he keeps walks down, he is great. His pitches have good movement and he’s smart on the mound. Of course, an awful Royals team is his main concern, but keep an eye on Keller in the future.
CHRIS PADDACK, PADRES
The rookie right-hander was drafted by Miami in the eighth round in 2015, and the Marlins traded him to San Diego for Fernando Rodney the next summer. Paddack needed Tommy John surgery late in the 2016 season. Paddack (4-2, 1.93 ERA, 0.76 WHIP) is confident and cocky on the mound. In 51 innings, he has allowed only 28 hits and 11 walks with 56 strikeouts. The Padres probably have found their future ace. Where is Rodney now?
LUKE WEAVER, DIAMONDBACKS
Weaver and Paddack dueled Monday night in San Diego, and Paddack came out on top while both starters pitched well. Paddack allowed one run and struck out seven in six innings. Weaver allowed two runs and struck out seven in six innings. A star for Florida State, Weaver was a first-round pick by St. Louis in 2014. He struggled at times for the Cardinals and was traded to Arizona in the Paul Goldschmidt deal in December. In 10 starts this season, Weaver has been impressive with 62 strikeouts to 12 walks.
MIKE SOROKA, BRAVES
The 21-year-old from Canada has the right stuff and a live fastball. The 6-4 right-hander has allowed no more than one earned run in each of his seven starts and has a 1.01 ERA. In a career-high eight innings Monday at San Francisco, he gave up two hits including a home run, stopping his streak of consecutive innings without allowing a homer at 61 dating to last year. The low homers rate tells you all you need to know about his movement and late life. In 45 innings this season, Soroka has 41 strikeouts and 14 walks.
When a pitcher has low hit and walk numbers while striking out more than a guy per inning that puts him in Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander company. Few guys in the game can do that stuff and be dominant inside the strike zone.
Former major-league pitcher Josh Towers cohosts Betting Across America on Saturdays (10 a.m.-1 p.m. ET/7-10 a.m. PT).