The baseball season is set to begin this Sunday, and one thing that we all know is that every season is filled with surprises. One of my favorite things to watch each season is to see certain players, who have previously struggled or not received playing time, rise from obscurity and put up All Star numbers.
Here, I have listed ten players who are not considered mega stars, but are primed to break out this year. Note that although this is not a fantasy baseball article, I do highly recommend drafting or trading for everyone here if you are in a fantasy baseball league, since all of these guys have great potential.
Patrick Corbin, Diamondbacks starting pitcher: OK, this one isn’t exactly the best-kept secret. ESPN included Corbin as one of its breakout pitchers for 2016. But I am also fully on-board. I am huge on pitchers who generate a high volume of strikeouts, and that always has been a good part of Corbin’s game. However, it is his low walk rate which really intrigues me. His 1.80 walks per nine innings last year would have placed him at tenth best of all pitchers had he qualified, just ahead of Chris Sale and just behind Jacob deGrom. He only pitched 85 innings last year, but his excellent numbers in strikeouts per nine innings and walks per nine innings should capture your interest. Pitchers who are strong in both categories over a large enough sample size of innings will usually be very effective.
Yordano Ventura, Royals starting pitcher: OK, this one is more of a boom or bust pick. He could totally flame out. But if he manages to put it all together, you are talking about a pitcher with as high of an upside as anybody. I think we will see some growth here, but the question is how much? His ERA was almost a half run higher than his FIP and xFIP, so that is very encouraging. He also throws one of the highest velocity fastballs in the game. If he can develop his secondary pitches further, we could be looking at a superstar. His growth just last year was huge. Eight of his last 11 starts were quality starts, and his K-rate jumped to over a batter per inning in that span. He still walks far too many hitters, so some slight improvements in his control could come a long way.
Joe Ross, Nationals starting pitcher: Tyson’s younger brother earned his promotion to the big leagues due to a fantastic performance in the minor leagues and some good fortune. The Nats’ rotation at first looked too deep for them to be able to hand out any innings to unproven rookies, but that changed when Stephen Strausburg and Doug Fister had numerous problems staying healthy. Then, last year in roughly 75 innings pitched, Ross proved himself enough to become a permanent part of the rotation plans. The drawback is that he may have an innings cap this year, similar to Strausburg in the past. However, he looks like he can be a very good pitcher if given time, with his fairly good strikeout rate and excellent breaking stuff.
Andrew Cashner, Padres starting pitcher: For the last of my pitchers, I will take a guy that has received some attention in the past. For years, fantasy owners have chased after Cashner, intrigued by his potential. His strikeout rate climbed after posting poor ones in 2013 and 2014. In addition to his FIP and xFIP being a half run better than his ERA, Cashner was unlucky in his left-on-base percentage, posting the lowest one of all qualified pitchers. Also, he still pitches in the friendly confines of Petco Park. Ignore the ERA and the 6-16 record. This is a guy is still one of the hardest throwers in baseball, and there were more positives to take away from last year than you would think.
Byung Ho Park, Twins first baseman/designated hitter: One thing is for sure, this guy has some huge power. I was at a Twins spring training game this year, and Park hit a massive home run over all of the outfield grass seats. Based on his profile from Korea, more power should be coming. Granted, with guys like this, the batting average is anyone’s guess. So actually, is this any different than Miguel Sano? Sano, who is on the radar of a lot of people, also has a huge power bat but poses a batting average risk. He and Park are in a similar mold. They might not be able to get on base enough to play every day. But if either of them can get on base, the huge power bats will make either one a player to watch.
Stephen Piscotty, Cardinals outfielder: I was impressed by the Cardinal in his first year. Although just a rookie, he looked like a professional hitter, spraying line drive base hits throughout the field. He was also a fairly tough out down the stretch for the Cardinals. He never showed great power in the minors, but he is working on his swing to make it a bigger part of his game. I predict he remains a fixture in the Cards’ outfield picture and has a solid career.
Gerardo Parra, Rockies outfielder: Several times over the years, I have heard people say that Parra is nothing more than a fourth outfielder. After being able to watch him a couple of times while also seeing his stat line, I really don’t get why people are saying that. Last year, he had a tough April and September, but was fantastic in between, with a .316 batting average in that span. Simply put, I know from watching him that this guy can hit, and he has the speed to turn hits into extra base hits. Now in hitter-friendly Coors Field and with a clear role as a starter, he should put up huge numbers. He has also long been known as a strong defensive outfielder. While the analytics say that he took a step back last year, he is still capable of making some excellent web-gem quality plays in the field.
Jonathan Schoop, Orioles second baseman: In just half of a season last year, Schoop showed some power that we hadn’t seen yet with 15 home runs in 321 at-bats. He has always been a pretty good hitter, but if he can keep up the power upswing over a full season, we are talking about a player with a lot of potential. The kind of numbers that he is capable of putting up are much more than you would expect from the second base position.
Trevor Story, Rockies shortstop: He has had an excellent spring training, allowing him to claim the Rockies’ starting shortstop job while Jose Reyes resolves some legal issues. This is a guy who first caught my eye while I was watching him play in Triple A Albuquerque. Granted, I know how Albuquerque is a ridiculous hitters park just like Coors Field. However, he caught my attention as someone who just looked like he could be a solid, professional hitter. Also the power was strong for the shortstop position. I am interested to see what he does with the opportunity that has opened up for him in Denver.
Travis Shaw, Red Sox former first baseman and now third baseman or maybe outfielder: This is another guy having a great spring who I am curious to see over a full season. However, unlike everyone else on this list, he does not clearly have a starting role, so playing time is a question. The Red Sox seem to be falling out of favor with Pablo Sandoval however, which makes it likely that Shaw will see time at third base. His dad, Jeff Shaw, was a major league reliever, so he has been around the clubhouses since he was young. Also, he managed to hit 13 home runs in a small amount of at-bats. If given playing time, all signs point to a guy with some good power who is not likely to kill you with his batting average either.