WTNYMarch 04, 2004
Break Out! Part 2
By Bryan Smith

I’m not going to touch the steroids issue, instead letting some of my esteemed colleagues handle that. Instead, I want to point you to the All-Baseball homepage, where we have added a new ‘feature’ if you will. Christian has put up the top entries of the offseason for each of the All-Baseball sites, so I highly recommend walking down memory lane and reading some of our favorite posts, there’s a lot of good writing here.

Today I’m going to handle my top 10 potential breakout pitchers, after handling the hitters yesterday.

Adam Eaton- RHP- Padres- Last season was Eaton’s first full year back from arm surgery, and he was at times dazzling. I love pitchers that post sub-9.00 H/9 ratios, and barely ever draft anyone who succeeds that margin. I truly believe that control can be learned, and while Eaton’s 1.32WHIP is a little high, you should see a decline this year. While he won’t have the friendly confines of Qualcomm anymore, Eaton should take a big step forward this year. Do not be surprised if Eaton is the best Padre pitcher by year’s end.

Jeff Weaver- RHP- Dodgers- In Peter Gammons latest, he quotes Gabe Kapler mentioning Jeff Weaver in the NL Cy Young race. Pat Jordan in an interview with Alex Belth last year said, “Weaver is a fucking wimp...Weaver has good stuff.” No one questions this kid’s pitching ability, instead they question his head. Jeff has always gotten mad after giving up a home run, a trend that should greatly decrease in Dodger Stadium this year. The pressure is off Weaver, he’s close to his brother, and in a huge stadium. An ERA under 4.00 is almost a certainty.

Carl Pavano- RHP- Marlins- I know that Beckett and Penny left baseball fans breathless in the playoffs this year, but I was equally impressed by Carl Pavano. Seventeen hits in nineteen and one-third innings with fifteen strikeouts, 3 walks, and a 1.40ERA. Finally, the man once traded for Pedro starts to make himself worth something. Pavano is an imposing character at 6-5, 235, and his sinker is impressive. He really struggled outside of Pro Player Stadium, and I think his road ERA should go down from 5.51. My guess is that Pavano finishes with an ERA in the 4.00 range with about 150 strikeouts.

Victor Zambrano- RHP- Devil Rays- Is Bryan really putting the 2003 walks leader on his breakout list? Yes. Zambrano’s H/9 was extremely low last year, keeping his WHIP under 1.50. I would like him a lot more if his K/9 was over seven, but hey, I’m reaching here. Zambrano has filthy stuff, but Piniella and company need to teach him to keep that under wraps. I'm also worried about the fact that Zambrano has been named Opening Day starter, which means he’ll be facing the opposing aces...a lot of losses. But if you need an innings-eater who could provide a low ERA, some strikeouts, and one helluva H/9, Zambrano is a good late-round pick.

Jose Contreras- RHP- Yankees- There’s only one real worry about Contreras...health. El Duque has proven to us that Cuban pitchers aren’t the most durable of source, despite being great hurlers. The rest about Contreras I love, especially his stuff. I caught his September domination of the White Sox on TV and was wowed, saying Contreras had better stuff than any other Yankee. Contreras’ ERA while starting was only 2.34, his WHIP 0.99, and a K/9 right around 9.00. He’ll get very good run support, and will be facing pitchers at the back end of their rotations. He’s worth a mid-round pick for sure.

Jeremy Affeldt- LHP- Royals- Watch Jeremy Affeldt, and you wouldn’t believe he’s not a superstar. His curve is one of the best in the Major Leagues, but like Josh Beckett before him, is really struggling with blisters. If this problem goes away, and Kansas City brass believes it has, Affeldt would turn into the best Royal starter immediately. He’s a real stud, and if he’s not starting he could get closing opportunities. After watching him in an interleague game against the Diamondbacks, I’m hooked.

Matt Riley- LHP- Orioles- Definitely in the running for AL Rookie of the Year, Riley was listed even before hot prospect Greg Miller on the Baseball Prospectus top 50. An injury looked like it ruined Riley’s prospect status two years ago, but he’s back on the scene. Riley dominated the Eastern League last year, a K/9 over 9.00 and a WHIP under 1.10. His peripheral numbers looked good in AAA, although in both cases his ERA wasn’t that great. I’m not fond on the thought of drafting rookies, but Riley could rack up strikeouts in the Baltimore rotation this year, keep an eye on him.

Jake Peavy- RHP- Padres- This seems to be a pretty consensus choice around the Internet. Peavy is another player that will have to learn control to take it to the next level, but he also has one either monumental problem: he gives up home runs. Last year Peavy allowed 33 home runs, and this was with half his games being in Qualcomm Stadium. That fallback option is gone this year, and Peavy will have to learn to keep his stuff down. I love the batting average against and K/9 though, and more often than not, that will indicate a player about to fly through the roof.

Cliff Lee- LHP- Indians- Another example of me being mystified in person, watching one of Lee’s September starts caught me by surprise. I had listened to Gammons call Lee the key to the Colon trade, but never really believed it. Well that is until now. Lee handled his 50+ Major League inning trial very well, and is one of the few locks for the Indians’ rotation this year. He tired a bit in September, seeing his BB rate jump extremely high. That shouldn’t happen this year, Lee will be able to keep the walks to a minimum. It’s too bad he doesn’t qualify as a prospect anymore, or he’d be high in the running for Rookie of the Year.

Oliver Perez- LHP- Pittsburgh Pirates- I’ll never forget reading a Barry Bonds quote calling Oliver Perez one of the best young left-handers he’s seen in awhile. When the greatest hitter in the game says something like that, it sticks with you. Perez was the key to the Brian Giles trade, and will be the Pirates third starter this season. His K/9 was above 10.00 last year, which should leave you drooling. Twenty-two home runs in less than 130 innings is WAY too many, but a majority of those came in a very rusty April. Watching Perez in Spring Training will be key, because there will be no room for him on your fantasy team with another 8.00 April ERA.

That’s my wrap-up of pitching breakout players. Leave your suggestions in the comments.

For now, and for what could be a daily occurrence on my site, I’m going to look at the Spring Training box scores, and specifically how things are going for prospects. Yesterday was the first head-to-head game of the year, which should be celebrated as a holiday. For play-by-play analysis I’ll turn it to Aaron Gleeman, but this is how the prospects did yesterday:

- First of all, big props to James Loney. Three for three, seven total bases, one home run. He struggled with a wrist injury last year, but this is a nice way to tell his critics that his problem is long gone. Loney has no chance to make the team, but hey, maybe he could be the 2004 version of Miguel Cabrera?
- Also in that game was Jeremy Griffiths, the Mets pitcher who didn’t suffer a fate so good. In a battle with Aaron Heilman and Scott Erickson for the last rotation spot, Griffiths planted himself in last by being charged with six earned runs in one-third of an inning. Not a great way to impress the new pitching coach Jeremy.
- Not much to report in Atlanta’s game against University of Georgia. Adam LaRoche had two hits, Brett Evert threw two nice innings, J.D. Drew went yard.
- Bobby Hill going yard for Pittsburgh? Great to see, especially since Freddy Sanchez recently got injured. If Hill has a good spring he’ll start the season where he should have been a year ago, on a Major League roster.
- The Marlins almost lost to a college team. Sigh.