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Eight Break-Out Players to Watch in 2013

If you play fantasy baseball, or even if you just like to read about which ball-players are likely to come through big in the upcoming baseball season, this is the time of year when most baseball fans begin to research the players and teams that interest them.

My goal, then, for this post is to alert you to eight players who aren’t necessarily household names, but who I believe will enjoy significantly productive seasons.  There are, of course, many other players that I could have chosen to write about, but these are the ones who’ve caught my attention thus far.

1)  Jordan Zimmerman:  Nationals – The forgotten man in a rotation that includes, Strasburg, Gonzalez and Haren, Zimmerman produced the fifth best ERA+ (134) in 195 innings last season.  He averaged over 3 1/2 K’s per walk, and is entering his age 27 season.  Likely to receive plenty of run support, while probably reaching the 200 inning pitched level for the first time in his career, Zimmerman could be primed for a very impressive season.  He won 12 games last year, but could win half a dozen more this time around.

English: Ike Davis

English: Ike Davis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2)  Ike Davis:  Mets – Among all first basemen, Davis is one of the likeliest to be overlooked going into the 2013 season.  His low .227 batting average and equally poor .308 on-base percentage tarnish his otherwise impressive power numbers (32 homers and 90 RBI.)  But given his track record, Davis is likely to increase his batting average by around 25 points, and has stated that his goal is to draw a hundred walks.

Even if he draws around 80 walks, coupled with a .260 batting average, his natural power should allow him to at least match, and perhaps exceed, last season’s power numbers.  In an era where 35 homers once again represents a significant total, Davis, now just entering his age-26 season, will be a player that should not be ignored.

3)  Michael Morse:  Mariners –  After a big 2011 season, Morse played just 102 games last year for the Nationals, swatting 18 homers with 62 RBI.  He has since moved on to the Mariners, where under normal conditions, it is often wise to allow someone in his situation to fall completely off your radar screen.  But Morse, still in his power-prime years (he turns 31 later this month), slugged 31 homers, drove in 95 runs, and batted .303 just a couple of years ago.

Also, the Mariners have brought in the outfield fences this year, especially in the power-alley in left-center field (favorable to right-handed batters sluggers like Morse.)  Hitting in the middle of what could turn out to be the most productive Mariners’ offense in several years, Morse should provide a nice boost to any fantasy squad this season, even if he doesn’t quite reach a .300 batting average again.

4)  Brett Anderson:  A’s – Just a couple of years ago, Brett Anderson was considered the future of the A’s rotation.  Then he blew his arm out.  But the big 6’4″, 235 pound lefty out of Midland, TX looked good upon his late-season return to the A’s rotation last year.  In six starts, covering 35 innings, he struck out 25 batters while walking just seven, good for a 1.029 WHIP.  His ERA+ was a very impressive 156.

Then, in his one post-season start, he shutout the Tigers through six innings, fanning six, while surrendering just two hits and no walks for his first post-season win.  Anderson, still just 25-years old, is not only capable, but likely to recover the form that made him a huge prospect a few years ago.  Pitching for an A’s team that won their division last year, Anderson is likely to conclude the year as one of the top young starting pitchers in the A.L.

Peter Bourjos

Peter Bourjos (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

5)  Peter Bourjos:  Angels – A couple of years ago, the speedy Bourjos, in his first full season as an Angels’ outfielder, led the A.L. in triples, displayed reasonable power (12 homers) and posted an OPS+ of 116 while playing excellent defense.  Last year, the Angels played the remains of Bobby Abreu, along with Torii Hunter and eventually Mike Trout leaving Bourjos as the odd-man out.  As a result, Bourjos ended up scuffling through 192 uninspiring plate appearances.

He appears to have a starting gig again this season, and on a super-loaded Angel’s offense, he should be expected to score lots of runs, steal bases, and hit the occasional homer, regardless of where he hits in the lineup.  His glove alone should keep him in the field.  Entering his age-26 season, there is a lot of potential here now that his opportunity to play seems to be secure.

6)  Eric Hosmer:  Royals – There’s just no other way to say it, but first baseman Eric Hosmer sucked last season.  Suffering through a terrible sophomore slump, Hosmer batted just .232, 61 points lower than in his rookie season.  His power numbers suffered as well; he hit five fewer homers (14 total) in 12 more at bats.  But Hosmer, now just 23-years old, batted over .400 in his final one-hundred Triple-A at bats, and, though it’s a small sample size, he’s looked great this spring with eight hits — four for extra bases — and seven RBI in his first 20 at bats.  Hosmer should be one of the young Royals hitters that will impress people this season.  Also useful on the basepaths, Hosmer swiped 16 bags in 17 attempts last year.

Jay Bruce before his MLB Debut in May of 2008

Jay Bruce before his MLB Debut in May of 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

7)  Jay Bruce:  Reds – After five seasons in the Majors, outfielder Jay Bruce of the Cincinnati Reds seems to have settled in as a 30 homer, 90 RBI guy who will hit around .260 with 150 strikeouts.  A good player, but not a great one.

That could change this season.  Bruce, who will turn 26-years old in April, has increased his homer production for five straight seasons: 21, 22, 25, 32, 34.  Similarly, his doubles have also generally increased as well: 17, 15, 23, 27, 35.  Though his OPS+ held steady at 118 for the second consecutive year, he did set career highs in runs scored (89), RBI (99) and slugging percentage (.514.)

Now just fully entering his power prime, and with no significant injury history to speak of, the addition of high on-base player Shin-Soo Choo at the top of the Reds lineup will provide Bruce with the opportunity to become one of the top run-producers in the Majors this year.  A 40 homer, 120 RBI season with a hundred runs scored is not out of the question.

8)  Paul Goldschmidt:  Diamondbacks – The 25-year old Goldshmidt started slowly last season, but hit 18 homers over the last four months of the season, including five homers in a seven-game span.  The right-handed batting first-baseman actually led the Majors in line-drive rate last year.  If just a few of his 43 doubles turn into home runs this year, Goldschmidt could be on his way to 30+ homers, along with about a .280 batting average.

A fly-ball hitter (Goldschmidt led the league in Sac. Flies last year) who plays his home games in one of the best hitter’s parks in the league, is off to a fine start in spring training posting a .429 average to date.  Also, he’s not merely a slugger, but an athlete who stole 18 bases in 21 attempts last year.  Goldschmidt is one of this generation’s most promising young baseball talents.  He could become a right-handed swinging Jim Thome.

Others to follow closely:  Jason Kipnis of the Indians; Matt Harvey of the Mets, Adam Eaton of the Diamondbacks, Brandon Morrow of Toronto (yes, him again), Matt Adams of the Cardinals, Salvador Perez of the Royals (there will be many All-Star Game appearances in his future), and Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs.

Six months from now, I hope you are celebrating a championship season, and that at least one of the players on this list was a key contributor to your team’s success.

Fantasy Baseball Sleepers 2011: The Pitchers

Tommy Hanson

Image via Wikipedia

The following pitchers are among the players I will target on Draft Day.  The value they will accrue during the course of the season should exceed their relative Draft Day position and / or cost.

Some of these pitchers were a disappointment last season; others were injured.  Pitchers, even more so than hitters, fluctuate dramatically from year to year as far as their production is concerned.  And that’s why your opportunities to discover the pitchers who will be “sleepers” in 2011 are plentiful.

In no particular order, then, here are your fantasy baseball “sleeper” pitchers for 2011:

Brandon Morrow – Blue Jays: There is a damn good chance that Morrow will lead the A.L. in strikeouts this year.  He struck out 178 batters in only 145 innings last year.  Although he might not reach 200 innings pitched this year, he is capable of striking out 200+ batters in 180 innings.  He struck out 17 batters in an August game against Tampa Bay last season, and he is capable of that kind of dominating performance every time he takes the mound.  His ERA was high last year (4.49), but he has just about learned how to pitch.  At 26-years old, he is ready to take the next step forward.

Ian Kennedy – Diamondbacks:  He pitched better than his 9-10 record indicates.  On Draft Day, some of your fellow owners will focus too much on his win-loss record, but that’s how you find your bargains.  Wins tend to be a fickle category.  Case in point:  Kennedy posted a 1.55 ERA in five September starts last year, along with a 0.93 WHIP.  But he was not credited with a single win to reward his performance.  Like Morrow, Kennedy is 26-years old.  Take him in the mid-rounds and reap the benefits.

Max Scherzer – Tigers: Yet another 26-year old future ace.  Scherzer was inconsistent last season, pitching better at home than on the road.  But he improved dramatically as the season went along.  Over his final 15 starts, he posted a 1.14 WHIP and averaged about 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.  He throws hard, and if Morrow doesn’t end up leading the A.L. in strikeouts, Scherzer could.  Detroit figures to improve on its .500 record last season, and so, too, should the 12-11 Scherzer.

Francisco Liriano – Twins:  The 27-year old Liriano is now almost three years removed from Tommy John surgery.  His performance last year was solid:  14-10, 191 innings, 201 strikeouts.  But he is capable of doing even better than that.  Could very well land on someone’s fantasy team as a #3 or #4 starter, but is likely to pitch as well as many #1 or #2 starters.  He should break 200 innings this year to go along with 200+ strikeouts and a declining ERA of around 3.25.  What’s not to like?

Tommy Hanson – Braves:  Some observers might believe that Hanson had a somewhat disappointing season last year, as indicated by his 10-11 record.  But few pitchers in baseball were victimized by poor run support and a faulty bullpen as much as Hanson was last year.  Admittedly, he did get pounded in a few of his starts.  But after July 1st, he posted an ERA of 2.40.  You’ve got to love those young pitchers who finish strong.  At just 24 year of age, Hanson is even younger than many of the others on this list.  He is growing into a future ace.  The fifteen wins he should have enjoyed last season are a nice starting place for what you can conservatively expect from Hanson this year, along with about 200 strikeouts and an ERA somewhere between 3.00-3.50.

James McDonald – Pirates:  No, that’s not a typo.  There really is a Pirates pitcher on this list.  So how does a pitcher who was just 4-6 with a 4.02 ERA pitching for one of the very worst teams in baseball qualify as a sleeper?  Because he has averaged a little under a strikeout per inning so far in his brief Major League career, fanning 122 batters over his last 135 innings pitched.  At 26-years old, this former Dodgers prospect is finally receiving an opportunity to display his stuff at the Big League level.  You will be able to land him late in your draft, but he could end up paying dividends at a bargain-basement price.

Jhoulys Chacin – Rockies:  Don’t worry; I don’t know how it’s pronounced either.  What I do know is that, in 21 starts last season, this 23-year old struck out 138 batters in 137 innings, and posted a very impressive 3.21 ERA while calling Coors Field home.  His 61 walks in 137 innings could be cause for some concern, but his raw talent should not be overlooked.  If you find that he is overlooked during your Draft, by all means, grab him.

Jeremy Hellickson – Rays:  Other than perhaps David Price, Hellickson is the most talented pitcher to come out of Tampa Bay’s remarkable farm-system over the past few years. He most certainly has future ace stuff, as his incredible Major League debut revealed last year.  His most impressive stat, just eight walks allowed in his first 36 innings pitched.  He also struck out 33 batters, and averaged over nine K’s per nine innings in Triple A last year.  By 2012, Price and Hellickson could very well be the best 1-2 punch in Major League baseball.

Shawn Marcum – Brewers: At 29-years old, Marcum may be a little older than you think.  But that certainly doesn’t mean his career isn’t trending in the right direction.  Pitching in baseball’s toughest division last year with Toronto, he posted a 1.15 WHIP in 195 innings pitched, along with a respectable 3.64 ERA.  Keep in mind that despite Marcum’s 13-8 overall record last year, he was 12-2 when NOT pitching against the Yankees, Red Sox, or Tampa Bay.  This year, in the N.L. Central, he should thrive.

Brett Anderson – A’s: Some Fantasy Baseball owners will be scared off by Anderson’s elbow problems last year.  While not trying to downplay the injury, the talent here outweighs the risk, assuming he looks healthy in Spring Training.  Only 23-years old, Anderson already has nearly 300 effective innings pitched under his belt as a Major League starter.  A mid-round pick here could pay-off nicely for you in 2011.

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