Fantasy Baseball 2012: 10 Young Pitchers Who Will Finally Become Aces
Starting pitching is one of the deepest positions in fantasy baseball this season. You can get solid starters in the middle rounds and possibly even into the later ones. There are plenty of players waiting in these rounds that can break out and help a team win its league.
You don't have to pick a top-10 starting pitcher in order to draft a real ace. Fantasy aces, found among potential 2012 breakout candidates, can be drafted in the middle rounds.
Here are 10 young (27 or younger) starting pitchers who are outside of the top 10 in ESPN's fantasy rankings that will surprise this year with ace-like campaigns.
Honorable Mention: Jaime Garcia
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ESPN SP Ranking: 46th
Jaime Garcia followed his breakout 2010 campaign with a less impressive 2011 season, but he still put up solid numbers for the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.
Garcia's walk rate dropped substantially in 2011, a great sign for a young pitcher. The 25-year-old is looking to improve on his 3.56 ERA last season and move into the group of elite pitchers in 2012.
He may not be ready to become an ace just yet, but you can expect good numbers this year. Garcia has the potential for 15 wins with an ERA around 3.00, but he won't be a guy that can give you 200 strikeouts.
He has tremendous value for where he is being drafted.
Honorable Mention: Jordan Zimmermann
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ESPN SP Ranking: 32nd
When you think about the Washington Nationals pitching staff, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez instantly come to mind, but Jordan Zimmermann had the best year out of all of them in 2011.
Despite an 8-11 record, Zimmermann posted a 3.18 ERA with a 1.15 WHIP as a 25-year-old. His most impressive stat, though, was his 1.73 BB/9, which would have been good enough for eighth in the majors if he had enough innings to qualify.
Zimmemann is another guy that won't strike out too many batters; he uses his control to get his opponents out.
He may also be a couple of years from ace status, but he can give you good ERA and WHIP numbers while earning about 13 or 14 wins in 2012. Draft with confidence.
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ESPN SP Ranking: 35th
Brandon Beachy is a great sleeper pick for this year. The 25-year-old right-hander is coming off of a season in which he struck out 169 batters in 141.2 innings and put up a 3.68 ERA.
Beachy is ready to show fantasy owners that if they wait on pitching, there are plenty of diamonds in the rough that can pitch almost like fantasy aces in 2012.
A big year is coming for Beachy; look for a solid ERA hovering around 3.00 and a low WHIP with wins in the low teens and over 200 strikeouts. Not bad for the 35th pitcher off the board.
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ESPN SP Ranking: 22nd
The San Francisco Giants rotation is talented enough with Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain leading the way. But just for good measure, Madison Bumgarner emerged as a future ace in the third spot in the rotation.
His 3.21 ERA and 191 strikeouts in 2011 are enough to show that the 22-year-old is headed for stardom, but it's his second-half stats that are mind-boggling. In 15 starts after the break, he went 9-4 with a 2.52 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP.
If he can hold those numbers up for a full season, he puts himself in the running for the Cy Young. We'll hold off on the award talk for now, but Bumgarner will be great in 2012.
Expect an ERA at or a touch below 3.00 with a great WHIP and 180 strikeouts this season. Wins may be tough to come by in San Francisco, but he can win 14 or 15.
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ESPN SP Ranking: 14th
Many baseball fans know that Matt Cain is good enough to be an ace on most teams, but he still hasn't cracked the top 10 in fantasy starting pitcher rankings, mostly due to his career high of just 14 wins.
Cain did post a career low in ERA in 2011 at 2.88 but had just 12 wins to show for it. This is the year that the 27-year-old righty takes his game to the next level, with the much-improved Giants offense helping him out.
Cain is capable of lowering his ERA to somewhere in the 2.7s with a WHIP under 1.10 and upwards of 190 strikeouts. The wins will be there this year too, with Cain posting a career high around 16-17.
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ESPN SP Ranking: 36th
Yu Darvish has a lot of hype surrounding him, which is a bad thing for fantasy owners looking at him as a sleeper option. The problem with guys that are all hype is that somebody always takes them way too early, which ruins their value.
If Darvish does happen to fall somewhere around where he's supposed to be drafted, you should take him. Though he has never pitched in the majors, and the track record for pitchers coming over from the Japan Pacific League isn't great, his upside is definitely worth the risk.
It is difficult to predict numbers for Darvish, but he is a power pitcher and will pitch behind a big-time offense in Texas. It's not out of the question for Yu to win 15 games with an ERA around 3.30 and 170-190 strikeouts, so if you can afford to risk a pick in the middle rounds, Darvish is a good choice.
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ESPN SP Ranking: 16th
Yovani Gallardo will be a breakout star in 2012. He's been showing glimpses of brilliance in each of the last few seasons, but he hasn't gotten over the hump just yet.
If his second half last year is any indication of what is to come, this year will be the one. His 6.87 K/BB after the All-Star break was second best in the entire league, behind just Cliff Lee. He walked 15 batters in 90 innings while striking out 103.
Bases on balls has been a problem for Gallardo, with a 4.6 BB/9 in 2009, which improved to 3.6 in 2010 and 2.6 last year. This year, Gallardo will pitch like an ace with 17-18 wins, an ERA around 3.20 and 220 strikeouts.
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ESPN SP Ranking: 24th
Daniel Hudson's 3.49 ERA and 1.20 WHIP were overshadowed by Ian Kennedy's outstanding season in 2011, but the 24-year-old righty may be the best pitcher on his team.
Hudson was much better in the second half of last year than he was in the first half, and he put up a sub-3.00 ERA in both August and September to finish out a very strong 2011. He may pitch in a hitter-friendly park, but his 3.17 home ERA shows that it doesn't have much effect on his stats.
The talented D'Backs offense can help Hudson win 16 games again in 2012 while he improves his ERA and WHIP to 3.30 and 1.15, respectively. Hudson may not be a 200-strikeout pitcher, but he can give you 180-190 in a good year.
All of these numbers are plausible, but Hudson has the potential to even exceed them and launch himself into stardom. Either way, by the end of this season, he'll be the best pitcher on the Arizona staff.
Rich Pilling/Getty Images
ESPN SP Ranking: 27th
Mat Latos is one of the best young pitchers in the game today.
His offseason trade from the Padres to the Reds was a bittersweet one. On one hand, he'll get some run support after a 2011 campaign in which he managed nine wins with a 3.47 ERA. On the other, he moves from pitcher-friendly Petco Park to the Reds' Great American Ballpark.
His home numbers weren't too much better than his road splits last season though, with a 3.24 ERA at home compared to 3.68 on the road. Latos pitched brilliantly in the second half regardless of venue with a 2.87 ERA in 14 starts.
His ERA may not change too much with his move to a hitter's park, but he should be able to win 15 games and post 200 strikeouts with relative ease and make the Reds happy they made the move to get him in the offseason.
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ESPN SP Ranking: 19th
Matt Moore, like Yu Darvish, doesn't have enough experience in the majors to be able to predict what he will do, but I do think he is a must-draft option in almost all leagues.
He has an almost uncapped upside, and at just 22 years old, the lefty showed flashes of dominance in his short stint with the Rays in 2011. He shut down both the Yankees' and Rangers' offense on the road (one in the playoffs) and allowed zero runs in his two starts last year.
Moore can win 13-14 games with an ERA around 3.10 and 190 strikeouts, but he has the potential to do so much more, even at a young age. For those worried about not having him for the full year, NBC Sports' Craig Calcaterra says Moore won't have an innings limit in 2012, so you can depend on him being able to pitch all year long.
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ESPN SP Ranking: 25th
In one of the most intriguing trades of the offseason, Michael Pineda was moved from the Mariners to the Yankees for Jesus Montero. Like in Mat Latos' case, this will help him with run support but will likely hurt his ERA and WHIP.
Pineda had a 3.74 ERA in 2011, but he showed signs of inconsistency in his youth. Still, the talent he has is extraordinary, and he should be able to put up decent numbers even at Yankee Stadium.
His ERA should be somewhere around 3.50, but his wins will get a huge boost, and he could be in line for 15-16 of them. That, along with a strikeout total approaching 200, will give you great value if you choose to wait on pitching in your draft.
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ESPN SP Ranking: 20th
Last but not least, it's Stephen Strasburg. One of the most hyped prospects of the last decade is looking to play in his first major league season in 2012, and if he can stay healthy, it will be a dominant one.
His career 2.54 ERA in 17 career starts and 116 strikeouts in 92 innings show that the hype is all warranted. Draft him with confidence in a roto league, and know that if you are in an H2H league, Strasburg won't be there for the playoffs due to an innings cap.
Even with the innings cap, look for Strasburg to have an ERA around 2.60 with 13 or 14 wins and 180 strikeouts.