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Breakout MLB Fantasy Starting Pitchers for 2017

[the_ad id=”567″]As is customary in these types of articles, I suppose we need to define the term “Breakout.” One person’s breakout might be considered another person’s “sleeper.” To others, it could mean a Jacob DeGrom type of emergence from relative prospect unknown to borderline fantasy ace. While the latter is harder to project than the former, for my purposes, it is much simpler than either. The list below represents who I believe will show dramatic improvements over previous performances and expectations. The only criteria is that they have yet to pitch a full season in the major leagues and thus potential and opportunity are still present.

Indeed these two factors must co-exist for any breakout to occur. Look no further than DeGrom’s 2014 season as an example. One would have to agree he wasn’t exactly dominating AA and AAA hitters before his call-up. The potential, however, must have been recognized by someone in the Mets organization. When the opportunity arose, he went on to have 22 starts, a 2.69 ERA, and 1.14 WHIP; winning N.L. Rookie of the Year honors. There can be very few fantasy players admit they saw that level of performance coming.  That isn’t to say that any of the below will reach this level of success. That is merely to point out what I consider the main ingredients of a breakout performer.  Both potential and opportunity must exist and coincide at just the right time.

James Paxton, LHP, Seattle Mariners

Paxton shouldn’t come as much of a surprise here as his name is pretty high on everyone’s list of potential breakouts. This primarily based on the improvements he was able to show in 2016. Paxton had career-best K/9 (8.7) and BB/9 (1.8) rates. He did have a bit of bad luck with a high BABIP (.347), which should drastically improve. Paxton has the pedigree of a high draft pick and top rated prospect. He has not, however, been able to put it all together in the majors for an entire season. Fortunately, most of his injuries and missed time have been of the fluky variety. Look for Paxton to improve on his high of 20 games/121 innings pitched in 2017. At age 28 he has the tools to finish near the top of starting pitcher lists. He should be locked in as Seattle’s #3 starter, if not higher.

Joe Ross, RHP, Washington Nationals

At times Ross’ talent tends to get lost a bit within his own team’s formidable rotation mates. His start to the 2016 season was going quite well until he lost over two months to a shoulder injury. Shoulder injuries can be a bit scary and hard to predict as recovery and recurrence always be an issue. Similar to his older brother, (Tyson), this durability may be the largest issue facing the 23-year-old. His ability and potential, though, should have him high on everyone’s breakout list in ’17. Though a small sample size, his minor league numbers suggest a very useful fantasy pitcher.  In 79 starts over 389 innings, he has a 3.63 ERA, 322 K, 2.57 BB/9, and a 1.26 WHIP. Right now Ross is locked in as Washington’s #5 starter. His talent should out produce most other #5 pitchers.

Jharel Cotton, RHP, Oakland Athletics

Cotton’s inclusion on this list comes off an adamant, admittedly small, late season debut in ’16, (5 starts, 29 IP).  The 25-year-old rookie is a strong candidate to breakout here in ’17 based on his strikeout potential and very successful minor league track record, (1.11 WHIP, 10.05 K/9, 2.62 BB/9 in 447 IP).  With each Spring Training start his stock continues to rise as his performance has done nothing to create doubt in his talent.  Blocked by sheer number of pitchers in LA the trade sending him to Oakland for Rich Hill and Josh Reddick was a boon to both his opportunities and Oakland’s pitching corp.  He is locked into a starting rotation spot here to begin ’17. He is a potential dark horse rookie of the year candidate in the A.L.

Tyler Anderson, LHP, Colorado Rockies

In years past it has always been counter-intuitive to pick a Rockies starting pitcher to have much success. However, it appears that the team is turning a corner in that regard with the young hurlers they are bringing along. Anderson is coming off a fine rookie performance in ’16 after injury derailed him at the end of ’14 and all of ’15. He utilizes a ground ball approach with excellent control more so than an overpowering arsenal. This limited opposing hitters to the lowest average exit velocity in the Majors at 85.1 mph, according to Statcast (min. 200 balls in play). This should be useful in limiting opponents at Coors Field and very useful when on the road. He has a starting rotation spot locked up heading into the season and is pitching well this spring.

Taijuan Walker, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks

It is hard to argue that Walker isn’t due for a breakout at some time. His minor league numbers suggest immense untapped talent as does a major league career WHIP of 1.21. A trade in the off-season might well have put him on the path as a prime change-of-scenery candidate. There is the caveat that he moves from one of the best pitchers parks in Seattle to a less so park in Phoenix, though. With this move, he must improve the HR ball, (lifetime 1.4 HR/9 rate). He is a talented righty with a power pitching repertoire that can still improve at age 24. The new staff in Arizona will need to work closely with him to harness his potential.  He does have a spot lined up in the opening day rotation and should be a pitcher to watch.

Joe Musgrove, RHP, Houston Astros

The only thing holding Musgrove back from a real breakout season may be opportunity.  There are enough questions on Houston’s staff that he may be able to earn a spot out of Spring Training.  If not immediately, it will be hard to keep him in the minors for long.  Especially based on last year’s first taste of the majors; (10 starts, 62 innings, 55 K, 1.21 WHIP).  That following a great Minor League career; (2.83 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 7.8 K/BB ratio, in 337 IP). He is only 24 so it will be interesting to see how things shake out in Houston after spring has run its course.  Thus far he is pitching well and looks to potentially have a spot depending on injuries.  Keep an eye on him and don’t be afraid to draft as a late round steal.

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Adam Conley, LHP, Miami Marlins

I will admit that it is very hard for me to be excited about left-handers. I’m not sure what it is about them, but I really have a hard time with them until they have proven themselves. With Conley there is a bit of intrigue based on performance last year and minor league track record. He had a decent ERA (3.85), a good K/9 (8.37), and started 25 games last year. All good signs that line up well with his minor league performance. He must, however, improve his control, (4.19 BB/9, Yikes!), which inflated his WHIP to 1.40. These look to be out of line from his career minor league numbers and could point to a potential breakout performance with improvement. He is in a great situation pitching in a spacious home field with a rotation spot all his in ’17.

 Luis Perdomo, RHP, San Diego Padres

Up to this point, I probably haven’t surprised anyone with the names on this list. My guess is this pick might come with some doubters. Perdomo was taken as a Rule 5 pick in ’16 from the Cardinal organization. That required a jump from Hi A straight to the major league roster for the full season. All things considered between starting and relieving he acquitted himself well. It is hard to say with any certainty what the Padres rotation will look like here in ’17. Perdomo possesses the upside to improve on last year and given a starting spot in that spacious park may be an excellent late-round NL-only pick. He only has 10 IP this spring, but thus far has a promising 2.53 ERA and 1.31 WHIP. Right now there is microscopic else to like on the Padres’ rotation.

Also Worth Noting:

  • [the_ad id=”693″]Julio Urias, Los Angeles Dodgers – Top prospect who actually performed well last year. One of those left-handed pitching bias I mentioned above. Doubtful rotation spot open for him, yet.
  • Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox – An uber-prospect the last few years. Still, needs polish to make major leagues. Not guaranteed a starting spot coming out of spring.
  • Tyler Glasnow, Pittsburgh Pirates – Another top prospect for several years. Glasnow has continued to struggle with command. Spring performance may have pushed him to AAA.
  • Jose Berrios, Minnesota Twins – Continuing with top prospects with something to prove. Berrios actually has a spot in rotation and talent to deliver. Last year’s rough debut still in our mind.
  • Mike Foltynewicz, Atlanta Braves – At 25 still upside and trending in all the right directions. Has plenty of opportunities, just unsure of potential for a breakout performance.
  • Luis Cessa, New York Yankees – Who!? Think DeGrom lite as another infielder turned pitcher. Good numbers in both MiLB & MLB; needs more opportunity. Risky HR issues, though.
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