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Mound Musings: 2012 Breakout Candidates

David Regan

David Regan is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner, including the 2015 Baseball Article of the Year.

If you're normal like me, you don't win each and every league you're a part of. Some years I'll get on a role, and others (like this year) don't go so well. I'm in one league in which Joe Mauer, Hanley Ramirez and David Wright were the keys to my offense. Yeah, that didn't go well. As we look at our keeper teams either pushing toward a title, or pushing toward 2012 relevance, let's look at a handful of pitchers who I think will see their value climb next year. Just to do something different, I'll organize this by division.

NL West

In Los Angeles, don't expecting the ownership situation to be resolved prior to the setting of the 2012 roster. The rotation appears 80 percent filled, with Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly and 2011 newcomer Nathan Eovaldi expected to comprise four slots. Assuming Ned Colletti is still at the helm, expect the usual assortment of mediocre soon-to-be-hurt veterans to compete for the fifth slot, but while the team waits on Zach Lee, the best in-house option might be Allen Webster. The stuff is bigger than the results (5.23 ERA, 7.3 K/9) so far in Double-A, but he could make a leap next year.

The Diamondbacks are loaded with young pitchers, with Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs and Jarrod Parker all top prospects and all likely to make their big league debuts in 2012. I rank them in that order in terms of long-term upside, but expect Skaggs (2.99 ERA, 10.9 K/9) to make the biggest 2012 impact.

The Giants rotation should be set depending on what the team does with Barry Zito. Eric Surkamp is the prospect to watch here, as he could see a few 2012 starts.

In Colorado, I hope Juan Nicasio recovers from getting hit in the head by a line drive, as I like his long-term upside. Among the prospects who came over in the Ubaldo Jimenez deal, I like Drew Pomeranz most, but Alex White will make the bigger 2012 impact. He's generating groundballs at a 55 percent clip this year.

In San Diego, I think Heath Bell returns. On the starter side, a maturing and improving Mat Latos looks like a breakout candidate given he's one out shy of 11 straight quality starts. Lefty prospect Robbie Erlin has a 78:10 K:BB in 83.2 innings and could be a future No. 2.

NL Central

His control occasionally wavers and the 21 homers are a few too many, but James McDonald is a 2012 breakout candidate. Since May 13, McDonald has a 3.39 ERA and with a 7.5 K/9, he already misses his share of bats.

Matt Garza always seems to pitch great when I watch him, and even with a solid NL debut (9.3 K/9), I think there's another level to his game. The only other Cub I see as a breakout candidate is Andrew Cashner because you can't teach mid-90s stuff, but he's coming back from a shoulder injury.

Johnny Cueto has already had his breakout and I'm tired of predicting one for Homer Bailey, so let's go with Aroldis Chapman. Chapman appears to have a clear path to the closer position next year with Francisco Cordero an impending free agent, but the rotation has needs as well. Bronson Arroyo could be a trade candidate, and even the Reds probably don't know what they have in Dontrelle Willis. Chapman won't maintain a 14.1 K/9 as a starter, but he generates plenty of groundballs, and assuming his control doesn't go south again, he has the stuff to be a top-shelf starting pitcher.

Sadly, in Houston, there really isn't anyone who profiles as a current or future No.1/2 starter. I like Bud Norris and Jordan Lyles, but both have a relatively limited ceiling, and while both should show development over the next few years, it's hard to get excited about either. I guess I'll go with Wilton Lopez, only because Mark Melancon is vulnerable at the closer position. A sleeper prospect could be Xavier Cedeno, as he's left-handed and posted an 8.9 K/9 at Double-A this year, but there's really not much to be excited about in Houston.

He's a bit under the prospect radar, but expect Wily Peralta to make a big splash in Milwaukee next year. True, the rotation doesn't have any obvious projected openings now, but someone will get hurt or lose his job (Chris Narveson?). Peralta has a 1.80 ERA and 24:3 K:BB in 20 innings since his promotion to Triple-A, and over the last month, he's showed good progress in his Achilles' heel - control.

Lance Lynn is a first-round pick of the Cardinals who looked very good in relief before suffering a strained oblique. The Cardinals could choose to keep him in that role long term, but he came up through the system as a starter. There doesn't appear to be a 2012 rotation spot available for Lynn, however, as pending free agent Edwin Jackson likely will be replaced by Adam Wainwright.

NL East

The Braves are so loaded in the pitching department that it's hard to pick one guy, but with a fastball that can touch the upper-90s, I'll go with Arodys Vizcaino. Vizcaino is pitching out of the bullpen for now to limit his innings, but long term I think he winds up in the rotation where he had a 100:28 K:BB in 97 minor-league innings this year. The Braves could deal Derek Lowe and perhaps even Jair Jurrjens to open up spots for the next wave of young talent that also includes Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado.

My pick in Florida is Edward Mujica. He's not a fireballer (averaging 91.6 mph with his fastball), but Mujica has a 2.76 ERA and excellent 0.90 WHIP. Even better, he has a 2.09 ERA since the end of April, and with Leo Nunez's escalating salary and declining performance (nine runs in his last 2.2 innings), why not Mujica for 2012 closer? This said, Mujica couldn't convert the save Wednesday and had to be bailed out by Steve Chisek, so perhaps Chisek is the sleeper.

Prospect Matt Harvey comes to mind as a breakout candidate for the Mets, but I'll go with some guy named Johan Santana. Santana hasn't made 30 starts in a season since 2008, but he's still just 32, and I'm not convinced he's done. Roll the dice for a few bucks and hope for the best.

It's really impossible to pick a breakout candidate in Philadelphia, as it's a loaded veteran group, and the token kid, Vance Worley, has already broken out. Keep an eye on prospect Trevor May, though. He'll likely open 2012 at Double-A; this year's numbers are pretty spectacular, especially that 12.1 K/9.

The Nationals have plenty of breakout candidates. Brad Peacock is one, and we'll reportedly see Peacock in Washington next month. Ross Detwiler, though, is my choice. Detwiler, if you recall, was a No. 6 overall pick. He entered the season with a 4.74 ERA and 1.58 WHIP is little more than 100 big-league innings, but this year improved velocity and control has led to a 2.61 ERA in 38 innings. He also dealt with a hip injury last year, so a 100 percent healthy Detwiler is a solid breakout candidate for next season.

AL West

I want to see what he can do against stronger offenses over a longer period, but for the Angels, Jerome Williams was a great story after his win Sunday. Between Tyler Chatwood and Garrett Richards, the Angels have a few in-house options for the fourth and fifth slots next year. Long term both are likable, but both pitchers were rushed and could use more minor league development.

Derek Holland is my breakout candidate in Texas. Consistency has eluded him this year, but Holland has four shutouts, and his velocity is increasing as the year goes on. I'll target him aggressively in trades and 2012 drafts.

Trevor Cahill has taken a step back this year after a solid sophomore campaign in 2010. It's also gotten worse after the break with a 7.62 ERA in seven starts. Encouragingly, Cahill has taken his K/9 from 5.4 to 6.5 year-over-year, but with his BABIP skyrocketing 63 points over last year's .238, his ERA has taken a similar trajectory. On a positive note, Cahill's GB/FB ratio is a solid 2.4:1, so if he can improve his control a bit next year, a sub-4.00 ERA is possible. Remember, despite having 89 big-league starts on his resume, Cahill doesn't turn 24 until March.

Look for Mariners lefty James Paxton to make another big leap in 2012, likely to the big leagues. Paxton skipped the High-A Cal League this year after posting a 2.73 ERA and 12.9 K/9. He's handled the leap just fine with a 1.85 ERA and 11.8 K/9 to go with improved control. Keep his name in mind in keeper formats.

AL Central

Zach Stewart has looked a little less dominant as he's climbed through the ranks, but look for White Sox general manager Kenny Williams to deal one of his starters this winter, theoretically opening up a spot in the rotation for Stewart. A true breakout pitcher, though, could be Chris Sale, who has a 2.65 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 9.1 K/9 in relief this year. He's also allowed just one run in his last 15.2 innings and is likely to be converted back to a starting role next year.

The Indians saw breakout seasons this year from Justin Masterson (2.83 ERA, 1.19 WHIP) and Josh Tomlin (4.03 ERA, 1.03 WHIP). Next season? It could be closer-in-waiting Tony Sipp if Chris Perez's K:BB remains mediocre (30:24 in 48.2 innings). Another to watch is Carlos Carrasco, who has a pretty solid minor league track record and had a 0.98 ERA in a five-start stretch in June before things went sideways and he got hurt.

This one might be a little obvious, but with 22-year-old Rick Porcello showing little, if any, progress in Year 2, I'm going with 2009 first-round pick Jacob Turner. I saw every bit of Turner's big-league debut against the Angels and was amazed with his confidence, poise and quality stuff. Turner has shown a much better minor league strikeout rate than Porcello (7.7 vs. 5.4), so I'm pretty optimistic.

Savvy fantasy owners wouldn't call him a sleeper, but Aaron Crow is a pitcher I'll target next year. Danny Duffy is just the first in a wave of pitching talent that will hit Kansas City in the coming years. Crow has a 2.41 ERA and 56:28 K:BB in 56 innings this season, and while he's had some control issues since hitting the Double-A level last year, his stuff is fantastic. I wouldn't be surprised if he was the Royals' best starter next year (insert joke here).

He's struggled since his promotion to Triple-A (6.11 ERA in seven starts), but since the 2010 season, Liam Hendriks has an amazing 205:33 K:BB in 234 innings. He could be a contributor for the Twins at some point next season.

AL East

Brian Matusz was the second overall pick in the 2008 draft, and I still think he can turn things around. Remember, Matusz had a 4.30 ERA and 7.3 K/9 for the Orioles in 2010. This while pitching in the AL East and having just nine professional starts above the A-ball level. Far too early to write him off.

In Boston, Dan Bard's fantasy value will skyrocket should Jonathan Papelbon leave as a free agent, but my hunch is the Red Sox will retain Papelbon. Among the starters, I'd like to say that Clay Buchholz is my breakout candidate given his quality stuff and 2010 results, but I'm worried about how he'll be after a stress fracture in his back. Watch his progress over winter and next spring carefully.

With all the information out there for fantasy owners to consume, is there really a sleeper anymore? This particularly holds true for Yankees considering their high profile. I do like Phil Hughes next year (and this), as Hughes has a 1.75 ERA in his last four starts, and he's still just 25.

With a 3.04 ERA and 1.16 WHIP, you could say Jeremy Hellickson has already broken out, but he can do better. There is plenty of room for Hellickson to improve his control, as coming up through the minors his BB/9 was a superb 2.2. This year it sits at 3.2. If he can drive that number down, the ERA could follow, though an expected rise in his .238 BABIP could offset some or all of that.

Kyle Drabek has struggled since his demotion to Triple-A and sits with a 6.51 ERA. Drabek, though, did have a solid outing Wednesday, is still just 23 and his pedigree is impressive. Don't give up. It may not happen in 2012, but there's still a chance that light eventually does go on.

Regan, a four-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner, was named the 2010 Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year.

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