2014 Fantasy Baseball: Breakout Hitters and Pitchers

2014 Fantasy Baseball: Breakout Hitters and Pitchers

Shawn Childs, High Stakes Fantasy Baseball Winner and Contributor from scoutPRO.com is helping FFToolbox readers dominate their fantasy baseball leagues this season.

Michael Wacha made the jump from the minors to the majors after just 106 innings where he had a 2.29 ERA with 113 K's in 106 innings. His success with St. Louis was even better than his AAA results. He had solid command (2.6) with a very good K rate (9.0). Michael allowed no runs in 3 of his 5 starts in September (1.91 ERA). Wacha was almost unhittable in his first 4 playoff starts (4-0 with a 1.00 ERA, 0.703 whip, and 28 K's in 27 innings before blowing up in the 6th game of the World Series (6 runs in 3.7 innings). His AFB was 93.5. His #2 pitch is a plus changeup, but he really doesn't have a breaking pitch of value. Michael threw a low level curveball and a weak cutter. Wacha had more success against lefties (.197). He wasn't a great a pitcher on the road (4.34 ERA - 2.15 at home). Michael gives St. Louis a 3rd possible ace. His command is better than Miller and his changeup is a plus, plus pitch. He should pitch 200 innings this year, which gives him 200 K upside and plus wins.

Gerrit Cole has an electric arm. His AFB was 96.1. He throws a true swing and miss slider (batter hit .162 against it) plus a solid curveball (.139), and an improving changeup (.175). Gerrit will throw a four seam fastball (.313) and a sinker (.308), but his command in the zone is quite there yet. Cole does a nice job getting ground balls (49.1 %), which led to a short FB rate (26.1 %). He allowed 2 runs or less in 11 of his 19 starts and he allowed more than 3 runs only once all season. As good as he was, he didn't dominate RH (.255) or LH (.250) batters. His walk rate (2.1) was much better than his short minor league career (3.3). His K rate (7.7) showed more upside in the minor. Cole was 14-10 in his minor league career with a 2.84 ERA and 183 K's in 200 innings. He has elite upside especially when his changeup make another step forward. The key to his success in year two with be his command. He had a solid first strike % (64 %) in 2013, but it looked like it was better than his minor league career. Gerrit has the stuff to be an elite ace, but his command may hold him back a bit in 2014. Possible sub 3.00 ERA with 200 K upside. He should be good to go to pitch 200 innings this year.

Boston called up Xander Bogaerts on August 20th last season. He had part time at bats (44) over the last 6 weeks of the season. Xander hit .250 with 1 HR in 5 RBI in the regular season. The Red Sox played him in all 6 games in the World Series at 3B due to his value with the glove. With Stephen Drew no longer on the roster, Boaerts is expected to be the starting shortstop this season. He has shown 20 HR power in the minors with an improving approach at the plate (12.2 % walk rate in 2013). His K rate (19.0 %) was about the major league average in his minor league career. With full time at bats with Boston, his K rate will most likely rise. In his 71 at bats in the regular season and the playoffs, Bogaerts had 21 K's (25 % K rate) and 11 walks (13.1 %). Xander will be an intriguing young player in 2014. With no changes to the Red Sox roster on the left side of the infield, he should get 500+ at bats. I expect 20+ HR's in his first full season and Bogaerts will be one of the early favorites for rookie of the year. I'd set then bar around .265 in batting average. His talent suggests he has upside in this area with more experience.

Michael Pineda was able to return to the minor last year, but he was shutdown in mid August with right shoulder stiffness. In his 10 starts in the minors with low pitch counts, he has a strong K rate (9.1) and batters only hit .206 against him. In his 6 starts at AAA, he showed better command (2.3) with a higher K rate (10.0). Pineda has one solid season on his major league resume. With a full offseason, he should be ready to compete for a starting job with New York. His innings will most likely be limited to less than 150 in 2014. It will be important to follow his progress in spring training. His average fastball (AFB) in 2011 with the Mariners was 94.7. If he has his fastball, the rest should follow.

Jose Abreu signed a 5 year $68 million contract in October with the White Sox. He will take over at first base. Jose hit 30 HR's or more in each season from 2010 to 2012 while only playing in 263 games. Abreu has had an elite approach at the plate over his last 4 seasons in the Cuban league (276 walks - 113 intentional and only 178 K's). His walk rate was 19.5 % during that stretch with a 12.9 % K rate. Last year his power took a step back. and his SLG % (.604). There isn't much video available on Abreu. He had massive power in short at bats in Cuba, but the ball parks are small and the pitching talent lacks depth. Cespedes and Puig have played well in the majors after their transition for Cuba. It appears Abreu is willing to go the other way, which will help him keep his contact rate in line. I'm looking forward to watching him in spring training. I'll set the bar at .275 with a 25/90 skill set until I see him in live action.

Adam Eaton was expected to be the leadoff hitter for the Diamondbacks last season, but he suffered a sprained UCL in his left elbow. He didn't return to the majors until July 9th. Adam was unimpressive in his 250 at bats, but he does have a knack for scoring when he gets on base (over 50 % in his short major league career). Last year his walk rate (6.1 %) wasn't in the elite area he showed in his 85 at bats in the majors in 2012 (13.6 %) and in his minor league career (11.5 %). For whatever reason, Eaton didn't steal bases last season. He is career .348 hitter in the minors with 106 steals in 1300 at bats. Adam should have 30 steal upside in the majors with 7 to 10 HR power. The White Sox acquired him over the winter and he has the best skill set to be their leadoff hitter. The elbow injury last season has to be a concern as it could lead to TJ surgery down the road. He has an intriguing skill set with upside in batting average and his price point should be fair in the 2014 draft season.

Erik Johnson has shot up through the White Sox system over the past 2 seasons. He is 18-8 in his minor league career with a 2.21 ERA and 220 K's in 236.3 innings. His success in 2013 led to a September call up. Chicago gave him 5 starts in September. He finished with a solid ERA (3.25), but his command (3.6) couldn't match his minor league career (2.7). It led to a low K rate (5.9) and a huge HR rate (1.6). Lefties crushed him in the majors (.348 with 4 HR's allowed in 69 at bats). His AFB was 92.0. Erik threw a slider as his #2 pitch plus a solid curveball and occasional changeup. Johnson has an upside arm. His fastball can reach the mid 90's. Both his slider and curveball are plus pitches. Erik is expected to start the year in the starting rotation. Johnson has enough talent to make a nice step forward in 20124, but he needs to prove he can handle left handed batters. I expect some growing pains, but his end results will be more than serviceable. His innings shouldn't be capped this year.

Danny Salazar pushed his way quickly through the Indians system last season. He had an electric K rate (12.5) in the minors in 2013 with solid command (2.3). Danny had a 2.71 ERA at AA and AAA in 20 starts. Cleveland gave him a token start in mid July (1 run in 6 innings with 7 K's) before calling him up for good on August 7th. Salazar allowed 2 runs or less in 7 of his 10 starts, but he only pitched over 6 innings once as the Indians tried to limit his pitch count. He has an elite fastball (96.2) with a solid changeup and serviceable slider. He has enough talent to be Cleveland's #1 starter in 2014, but he does come with some risk. He had TJ surgery in 2010 and last year he threw over 110 innings for the first time in his career. His K rate (11.3) remained elite in the majors with solid command (2.6). Salazar has the most talent of any of the Indians returning starters, but his innings will be capped in 2014. I like his upside and I see him delivering 180 plus innings this year.

Trevor Bauer was brutal at AAA last year. His walk rate (5.4) exploded upward, which send his K rate (7.9) to a career low. Trevor also hit 13 batters in the minors. He is 2-4 in his major league career with a 5.67 ERA with 28 K's in 33.3 innings. Bauer has a walk rate of 7.8 with the Indians. While with Cleveland, he threw 46 % fastballs (92.8) plus a slider, curveball, changeup, and split-finger fastball. It's almost like he is confused on his approach to batters. Bauer needs to define which secondary pitch he trusts the most and what pitch will help him the most to get left handed batters out. Over the winter, the Indians coaching staff has been working on cleaning up his mechanics. The results have been positive. Bauer is a high upside pitcher with poor command. A player to watch for sure in spring training. If the walks are under control, Trevor could offer upside in K's.

When the Tigers traded Fister to the Nationals, their starting rotation didn't lose a beat. Drew Smyly had success as a starter in 2012 and he made a huge step as reliever last year. His command (2.0) is now in an elite area, which led to a plus K rate (9.6). His AFB was 90.9. He stopped throwing his slider, which led to his cutter being his #2 pitch. Drew also throw a curveball. He dominated LH batters (.189 with only 5 extra base hits in 122 at bats). Smyly was 11-8 in the minors with a 2.57 ERA and 155 K's in 143.7 innings. He is a high upside pitcher. His innings may be capped due to his year in the bullpen. He has 150 K's upside with a sub 3.50 ERA.

Rick Porcello continued his wild path in the majors. His ERA is 4.51 in his major league career, but he has 61 major league wins at age 24.. His command (2.1) has been elite in his first 868.7 innings, but last year was the first time his K rate (7.2) had any value. His GB rate (55.3 %) continues to rise and he allowed a career low 23.7 % fly balls. His AFB (91.2) was slightly less than 2012 (92.0). His changeup continues to improve. Last year he started using his curveball as his #2 pitch at the expense of his slider. Porcello had his most success against RH batters (.237) in his career. He had an elite BB: K rate (11:85) against righties. Rick has struggled with lefties in his whole career (.307) and his failure rate was the same in 2013 (.303 - 11 HR's in 347 at bats). Last year Porcello had a 6.28 ERA after his first 9 starts mainly due to his 9 run pasting by the Angels in 2/3 of an inning. On May 28th, he pitched an electric start against the Pirates (11 K's in 8 shutout innings). It was the first time in his career he showed plus K ability. On the year, he allowed 3 runs or less in 23 of his 29 starts. His weak ERA was due to 4 disaster starts where he allowed 30 runs in 16 innings. Without his bad starts, he had a 3.19 ERA. In September, he had back to back plus K game (19 K's in 12.7 innings). Porcello is one step away from being an elite arm. He needs to figure lefties. His resume looks like it has many shades of red, but he is really close to turning a profit. I see a breakthrough season with a sub 3.50 ERA with 150+ K upside.

It really make no sense for Houston to start George Springer in the minor this season. He played well in 219 at bats at AAA in 2013 (.311 with 18 HR's and 22 SB's). His K rate (24.2 %) was even improved from his AA results (29.7 %). Overall George has hit .299 in his minor league career with 223 runs, 62 HR's, 198 RBI, and 81 SB's in only 1026 at bats. His walk rate (12.2 %) is solid. Without his huge K rate (26.5 % - career), his skill set looks elite. His lack of contact make him a tough player to project in 2014. If he struggles to make contact early in the year, he could be send to the minors quickly. Just by looking at Chris Carter, we can see a minor league 23.5 % K rate translates into a much higher K rate in the majors. Springer could have all the talent in the world, but he can't have elite success in the majors with a 35 % strikeout rate. He has a 30/30 skill set, but we have no idea how far his batting average will fall in the majors.

Brad Miller outplayed Franklin last season in the majors. He was a better run scorer (39 %) and run producer (17 %). His K rate was a respectable 15.5 %, but his walk rate (7.2 %) came in short of the major league average. Brad handled himself pretty well against lefties (.270), but he hit all of his HR's (8) off of RH pitching. Miller hit .334 in his minor league career with 27 HR's and 30 SB's in 867 at bats. His minor league K rate (16.1 %) was in line with his major success and he did take more walks in the minor (11.3 %), which led to a career .409 OB %. Of his 215 career games in the minors, 199 have been at shortstop. Miller has a more stable skill set at this point of his career. I expect him to be the starting SS for Seattle and he has 15/15 upside with a possible plus batting average with 550 at bats. To me, he looks like the best option to bat leadoff against RH pitching.

Last year Christian Yelich started the year on the minor league DL at AA with a heel injury. In June, he developed a minor abdomen injury that led to another DL stint. Christian had enough success at AA (.280 with 7 HR's, 29 RBI, and 5 SB's in 193 at bats) that he was able to get a call up to the majors in July. Yelich finished with a nice average (.288) with the Marlins, but his K rate (24.2 %) was higher than his minor league mark (20.5 %), but he did do a good taking walks (11.4 %). Christian hit the ball well against righties (.362 with 3 HR's and 11 RBI in 149 at bats), but he no value against lefties (.165 with a .231 SLG %). Yelich was an extreme GB hitter (63.2 %) in his first half season in the majors with one of the weakest FB rates (13.8 %), but he did have a high HR/FB rate (16.7 %) when he did get some loft on the ball. In the minors, his GB rate was over 50 %. and he hit .269 against LH pitching. Yelich hit .313 in his minor league career with 36 HR's, 163 RBI, and 58 SB's in 1135 at bats. He has shown double digit power in the minors, but his swing path with Miami suggests he was more concerned with just getting on base. His AVH (1.377) was real short in the majors. His skill set is built to be the Marlins lead off hitter in 2014. He has 40+ SB upside with double digit power. He projects to be a .300+ hitter down the road, but his K rate says it won't happen in 2014. Let's set the bar at .275 with 100+ runs, a dozen HR's, 60 RBI, and 40 SB's.

Billy Hamilton is going to be an intriguing player in his professional career. He has dominating speed where he should be able to score 100+ runs in most seasons. Billy has 395 steals (82 % success rate) in 2015 at bats in the minors with a .280 batting average. His K rate (19.9 %) is a bit high for his skill set, which may bring some batting average risk early in his career. His walk rate (9.5 %) was just above major league average in his minor league career. It is an important part of his skill set going forward as a walk can easily turn into a double or triple with his speed. Hamilton showed some growth in his K rate (18.6 %) at AAA, but he took less walks (6.9 %), which led to a shorter batting average (.256). His AVH (1.341) was almost the same as 2012 even with a bump in HR's (6) so his power isn't a factor in his equation. The Reds gave him a shot in September mostly as a pinch runner. Bill stole 13 bags in 19 at bats while hitting .368. It's too bad he won't qualify as a middle infielder in most leagues. In his minor league career, Billy was the same hitter against RH (.282) and LH (.281) pitching. Hamilton is going to ruin many pitchers rhythm with his plus speed especially late in tight games. His skill set will carry fantasy teams in the SB category, but he will also crush them if he gets hurt. I've never been a fan of Judy players, but his exceptional speed will be a huge edge. I'd love to own him, but his price point is probably going to be too high for me. If you don't draft him, he can still finish 2nd in steal with the right team structure. Hamilton has 100 SB upside in his first season and he should have no problem scoring over 100 runs with 550 at bats. I see him as neutral hitter in his first full season (.270 range). His value should be higher in auction leagues when you can build a better structure around him.

Brandon Belt had some growth in 2013. He set career highs in multiple categories. His K rate (21.9 %) improved, but it is still below the major league average. His walk rate (9.1 %) has been asset in his short career. Brandon played his best ball over the last 2 months of the year (.346 with 7 HR's and 28 RBI in 191 at bats - 18.7 % K rate). He was a much better hitter against RH pitching (.297 with a .495 SLG %), but he held his own against lefties (.261). His HR/FB rate (10.6 %) went up by more than 50 % from 2012 (9.2 %). Belt is more of a FB hitter (41.3 %) with a solid LD rate (24.3 %). He was a career .343 hitter in the minors with a stronger K rate (17.8 %). His only negative is that Posey will steal some at bats from him at first base unless the Giants decided to let him play in the outfield, which didn't happen in 2013. Upside player that is really close to being a fantasy asset. This year he finally hits 20+ HR's with 80+ upside in RBI. He'll even throw in double steals.

Shawn Childs Shawn Childs -
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Forestdale, MA
FFToolbox Fantasy Baseball Writer since 2014
Over the past decade, Ive had the liberty to compete against the best fantasy players in the world. Ive won my fair share of leagues in multiple high stakes season long games in baseball and football. My strength is fantasy baseball where Ive won five National Fantasy Baseball Championship main event titles with four of those teams finishing in the top 5 overall. My success in fantasy sports has lead me to pursue a career in the fantasy market as a content provider and product development.