Here are some pitchers whose name we all know, but what you may not realize is they could be on the cusp of a tremendous 2010 season. Let’s take a look at five of my favorite pitching sleepers for the coming year:
Marc Rzepczynski – Toronto Blue Jays
The left-hander made his Major League debut in ’09, posting a 3.67 ERA and 1.32 WHIP over 11 starts. He was slightly lucky (.280 BABIP), but also struggled with his control (BB/9 of 4.40). He had better control in the minors (3.5 BB/9), but also has a lot of upside in the strikeout department, which helps to offset his struggles there. He posted a K/9 of 8.8 last season and in the minors he was at 9.8.
He does a tremendous job inducing groundballs, posting a 54.8% rate in the Majors, which was down from his minor league mark of 63.8%. Needless to say, you put that type of potential together with some strikeouts and there’s a ton to like. If he can get his walks down as well, you have an ace in the making.
Obviously, the fact that he pitches in the AL East is a concern, though he showed that he could compete in 2009. He posted ERAs of 1.50 against the Red Sox and 2.00 against the Rays. Of course there were problems against the Orioles and Yankees, but the upside is there.
Is that negative big enough to shy away from him? Absolutely not. There are three things that you want to see from a starting pitcher: control, strikeouts and groundballs. He has two of the three for sure and if he gets the walks down? Forget about it. It won’t matter what division he calls home. Considering he’s being taken, on average, around #335, makes him a great buy on draft day.
Jeff Niemann – Tampa Bay Rays
He showed that he was capable in 2009, posting a 3.94 ERA and winning 13 games, but there easily could be better things in his future. While he has solid control (posted a 2.9 BB/9 rate in ’09), it could regress slightly (3.4 BB/9 for his minor league career).
The strikeouts, however, is where he should improve greatly, which will help to offset any increase in walks. He posted just a 6.2 K/9 last season, his first full year in the Majors, compared to a minor league career mark of 9.1. Before we just assume he feasted on the lower levels, he posted marks of 8.5 and 8.7 at Triple-A in 2007 and 2008.
You increase the strikeouts and there are less balls put in play, meaning even if he were to allow a few more walks, his WHIP would likely fall from last year’s 1.35. Considering he’s already proved that he can win games and post a usable ERA while pitching in the AL East, what is not to like?
Just consider that he’s going, on average, around #220 and realize that he could be a steal at that point in the draft.
Mike Pelfrey – New York Mets
I already discussed him a bit in a Wild Prediction (click here to view), so I’ll keep this brief. He was awful last season, we all know that, but he was also unlucky with a .321 BABIP and 66.7% strand rate. I also just don’t believe 5.22 K/9. I know, he just hasn’t shown much more than that, but if you sit and watch his stuff you can see the potential.
Armed with a fastball that averages around 92 mph, he showed flashes, posting a K/9 of 6.5 between July & August.
If he can maintain that rate, or more, along with a groundball rate of 50.0% and solid control (BB/9 of 3.40), good things should be in his future. Also keep in mind that he did not spend much time in the minor leagues and is entering his third full season as a Major League starter. It’s time for him to put up or shut up. He showed what the potential is in ’08 (3.72 ERA) and if you increase the strikeouts, he becomes a must own.
Hiroki Kuroda – Los Angeles Dodgers
The formula for Kuroda is simple, so this will be quick. Stay healthy and be a tremendous option for fantasy owners. He has a career WHIP of 1.19, but he’s thrown just 300.2 innings through two seasons.
The injuries have seemingly caused fantasy owners to simply forget about him, but that’s a huge mistake. Take him late and reap the benefits.
Felipe Paulino – Houston Astros
He’s armed with a fastball that averages over 95 mph, which tells you that the kid has a ton of potential upside. What he needs to do is harness it and control it and the sky is the limit.
Last season’s 6.27 ERA is skewed, as he suffered from terrible luck (.368 BABIP and 67.6% strand rate). The control wasn’t awful, however, with a BB/9 of 3.41, so with luck could come great results.
He’s not guaranteed a rotation spot, which means he’s likely to fall further out of fantasy owners’ sights. Don’t make that mistake. Keep the name in mind and be ready to pounce once he gets his opportunity.
What are your thoughts on these five pitchers? Which do you think has the best chance of breaking out? Who is the least likely?
If you would like to see a free preview of the Rotoprofessor 2010 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide (available for just $5) now including a Top 50 Prospects for 2010 List, click here.
If you are interested in this, check out some of the Rotoprofessor’s late round articles:
- 5 Late Round Strikeout Options
- 5 Late Round Stolen Base Options
- 5 Late Round WHIP Options
- 2 Late Round Catching Options
- 2 Late Round First Base Options
- 2 Late Round Second Base Options
- 3 Late Round Shortstop Options
- 3 Late Round Closer Options
Picture courtesy of Icon Sports Media, Inc.