Every year there are a few pitchers who break out from our perceptions and emerge as Fantasy aces. Last year the big name was of course, Cy Young winner, Corey Kluber. He did some really nice things in 2013, but I don’t know that anyone saw him as a pitcher you could build your staff around. Yet, I’m sure that there were plenty of Fantasy championships won on his back last year and if you snagged him in a keeper league, you’re sitting pretty.
Johnny Cueto was a similar story in the National League. He’d experienced more success than Kluber had priot to last season, but he was still coming off an injury plagued 2013 and had never struck out more than 170 batters in a season. He didn’t get the Cy Young due to that Kershaw fella, but his numbers were certainly worthy.
Two other pitchers I considered adding to the list for this year were Carlos Carrasco and Jake Arrieta. Neither one topped 10 wins or had enough innings pitched to approach 200 strikeouts, but with ERAs of 2.53 and 2.55, their breakout has already happened. They’re both going inside the Top 30 starting pitchers in early NFBC drafts, but if you’re able to grab them after that in your league please do so.
For our list those two are too obvious. All they have to do to “break out” is continue what they did for much of last year. We want to dig a little deeper and look for the big profits.
Potential Breakout Pitchers of 2015
What follows is not a prediction that these pitchers will follow the path that Kluber and Cueto did last season. Nobody knows that. What I’m trying to do is identify pitchers with the talent and opportunity to pull something like that off. These are all pitchers who have attained a bit of success, but still have room to grow into something special.
Kevin Gausman, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
Age: 24 FantasyPros Consensus ADP: 244.7 (2oth Rnd)
As his ADP indicates most of the hype has died down about Gausman. He’s been a bit inconsistent thus far in his career, but much of that can probably be pinned on the Orioles and the way they’ve used him. There have never been any doubts about his talent. After seeing him pitch multiple times last year, I’ve convinced he’s going to put it together at some point. He’s just got to be more aggressive and have confidence in his offerings.
What he needs to do to pull a Kluber: Trust his fastball and learn to put batters away with an improving slider. Limiting the walks a little better also wouldn’t hurt.
Drew Smyly, LHP Tampa Bay Rays
Age: 25 FantasyPros Consensus ADP: 196.0 (16th Rnd)
The initial reaction to the haul the Rays received in the David Price trade was lukewarm at best. People in Tampa Bay were a little happier after Smyly took the mound a few times. It was just 47 innings, but Smyly bumped up his K/9 to 8.31, drop his BB/9 to 2.08, and average 6.74 innings per start. The Rays seems to be able to squeeze every last drop out of a pitcher’s talent (see Jake Odorizzi), so despite the small sample, I’m buying in.
What he needs to do to pull a Kluber: Smyly may never have the strikeouts to do exactly what Kluber did, but if he can maintain the effectiveness he showed in his short time in Tampa Bay, you’ll still get value.
Michael Pineda, RHP, New York Yankees
Age: 26 FantasyPros Consensus ADP: 163.7 (14th Rnd)
Pineda isn’t sliding as far down the draft board as the first two options, probably due to the Yankee effect. While injuries have certainly derailed (delayed) his career, last year’s injury was a strained muscle in his upper back. He came back strong from that injury and is headed into 2015 with a clean bill of health. The ballpark is a challenge for Pineda, but he has the type of stuff to dominate at any venue.
What he needs to do to pull a Kluber: Health is the first part of the equation, but Pineda also needs to find a way to convert his raw stuff into strikeouts. He had a 9.11 K/9 during his 2011 rookie season in Seattle, but that fell to 6.96 in his 76.1 innings last season.
Marcus Stroman, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
Age: 23 FantasyPros Consensus ADP: 144.0 (12th Rnd)
I love when experts dismiss a starting pitcher because he’s too short. Pedro Martinez didn’t exactly see eye to eye with Manute Bol you know. Stroman had a great rookie year and displayed all the intangibles scouts talk about. His overall numbers would be a lot better if not for a couple rocky outings in August. The funny (in a cruel way) thing is that Stroman was much better over the second half of the season (4.05 ERA to 3.38). While second half stats aren’t always predictive, I tend to buy in when there was a concrete change made. Stroman developed a new pitch midway through the season and it started helping immediately. Jeff Sullivan covers it all pretty well here, and I’m jumping on board.
What he needs to do to pull a Kluber: Stroman’s 7.65 K/9 is middling at best, but his minor league numbers indicate that there’s room for growth. Stroman also needs to pitch better on the road (5.60 Road ERA) in order to take another step forward.
[Tweet "Stroman is the pitcher I feel most safe with. Just a matter of how dominant he can be."]
Danny Salazar, RHP, Cleveland Indians
Age: 25 FantasyPros Consensus ADP: 223.7 (18th Rnd)
I know Salazar hurt some feelings with his complete meltdown at the beginning of last season. He was on a majority of my teams, so I felt the pain as well. The thing is pitchers don’t follow a formula. Greg Maddux may be the best pitcher of all time and he had ERAs over 5.50 over his first two seasons. This was in 1987 when offense hadn’t quite kicked it into PED mode. Anyway Salazar couldn’t live up to the hype and you might be bitter. Jeff Zimmerman recounts all of the negatives of that first half, but maybe it wasn’t quite as bad as it looked. It surely wasn’t when he returned from a triceps injury and a trip to the minors. Salazar’s fastball went back to the 95+ mph weapon it had been and his control rebounded. His second half splits were more of what we expected.
What he needs to do to pull a Kluber: Salazar needs to maintain the strides he made with his control in the second half, and somehow find a way to work deeper into games. In his 30 career Major League starts Salazar has pitched just 152 innings. Salazar might have the most dominant stuff of any pitcher on this list, but he’s also probably the most volatile.
Trevor Bauer, RHP, Cleveland Indians
Age: 24 FantasyPros Consensus ADP: 273.0 (22nd Rnd)
Add Bauer to Kluber, Carrasco, and Salazar, and the Indians pitching staff could be an incredible source of Fantasy goodness. I honestly didn’t realize Bauer was still just 24 (coincidence? Hmmm, Jack Bauer). The hype has long faded and most people have moved on. I’m still holding on though. Bauer did some promising things in 2014 and the Indians seem to finally be willing to just let him do his thing and see how it goes. If you haven’t heard about Bauer’s unique warm-up routine you need to watch the video at the bottom of the page.
What he needs to do to pull a Kluber: It’s all about the control. Cutting down on the walks is part of it, but it’s also about pitching ahead in the count. Bauer is the long shot of this group, but it won’t surprise me if he suddenly “figures things out” and becomes a top flight Fantasy starter.
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