Everyone is always looking for the next breakout star, especially on the mound. Pitchers come and pitchers go, with injuries always looming large (just look at Griffin Canning, who was a popular sleeper heading into the season, as well as big names like Luis Severino and Chris Sale). While there are a lot of potential options who could emerge in ’20, here are three that should be fairly high upon your breakout list:
Max Fried – Atlanta Braves
Over 165.2 innings in the Majors Fried posted a pedestrian 4.02 ERA, though he showed all three skills that we look for from a starting pitcher:
- Strikeouts – 9.40 K/9 (11.5% SwStr%)
- Control – 2.55 BB/9
- Groundballs – 53.6%
His Barrel% stood at 4.4% (the league average was 6.3%), the 16th lowest mark among qualified pitchers (242 qualified). So he was avoiding hard contact, meaning his .336 BABIP should improve. You put that all together and what’s not to like?
Last year Atlanta saw Mike Soroka emerge and this year Fried could follow suit, creating an impressive 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation.
Jose Urquidy – Houston Astros
There is one key question facing Urquidy, and that’s whether or not he can keep the ball in the ballpark at the highest level. He failed to generate many groundballs in 2019, regardless of the level that he pitched:
- Double-A – 41.9%
- Triple-A – 32.4%
- Majors – 37.1%
If he could limit the home runs the upside is obvious, considering his swing and miss stuff (12.0% SwStr% in the Majors, 16.4% in the minors), potentially elite control (1.53 BB/9 in the Majors, 1.83 in the minors) and obvious opportunity. There could be some bumps along the way, and if he struggles with home runs the results won’t be there. However there’s enough upside to make him worth rolling the dice on.
Mitch Keller – Pittsburgh Pirates
Keller was considered one of the elite pitching prospects heading into 2019, but he failed when given the opportunity in the Majors (7.13 ERA over 48.0 IP). Those struggles create an intriguing buying opportunity for fantasy owners, as a lot of the problems stemmed from poor luck (.475 BABIP, 59.6% strand rate). A lot of those issues came off his fourseam fastball (.461 BAA/.719 SLG), and that’s not something you’d expect from any pitcher. Utilizing his changeup more could go a long ways in keeping opposing hitters honest, an alteration the Pirates should address.
The other issue was home runs, though he’s shown more than enough groundballs coming up through the minors (44.7% at Triple-A, 39.2% in the Majors). Couple an improvement there with his swing and miss stuff (11.8% SwStr% in the Majors), strong control (3.00 BB/9 in the Majors) and improved luck, and he could easily reach expectations in Year #2.
Sources – Fangraphs, Baseball Savant
Make sure to check out all of our 2020 preseason rankings: