Francisco Liriano helped me win my fantasy league in 2010.
After he battled injuries and seemingly lost the form that saw him burst onto the scene in 2006, I read reports during the spring of 2010 that Liriano had thrown the ball well in spring training and could be in line for a solid season.
And he didn't disappoint. Liriano finished that year 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA, a 1.26 WHIP and 201 strikeouts. He was a fantasy stud who generally went undrafted and the type of sleeper you need to identify if you are going to win your league.
So, which pitchers have the chance to be this year's version of Liriano from 2010? At the very least, which players with major sleeper potential should you be keeping a close eye on? Let's find out.
Michael Pineda, New York Yankees
Michael Pineda hasn't pitched a regular-season game in the MLB since 2011. But he's healthy now, and he was announced as the Yankees starter on Tuesday. From Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com:
"He threw extremely well," [manager Joe] Girardi said. "It was what we wanted to see from him. He improved each outing. At times he was dominant. We liked what we saw."
In four appearances (three starts) this spring, Pineda went 2-1 with a 1.20 ERA. He did not allow an earned run until this past Sunday after throwing 13 scoreless innings, and struck out 16 batters in 15 innings, walking just one.
This is a pitcher who went 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP and 173 strikeouts in his rookie season. There may be concerns that his velocity will have dipped as a result of his torn labrum, but he's just 25 years old and continuing to get stronger. Expect his velocity to be just fine this season.
Pineda is a wild card for sure, but later in your draft (or in free agency, if you've already had your draft), he's absolutely worth a speculative selection. If he regains his form from his rookie year, you'll get a solid fourth or fifth starter at an extremely low price.
Drew Hutchison, Toronto Blue Jays
Here's the first thing you should know about Drew Hutchison: He had a 1.80 ERA this spring. Here's the second thing you should know: He's currently the No. 2 starter in Toronto's rotation and will start for the team against the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday.
Here's the third: Hutchison was one of the top prospects in the Blue Jays farm system before undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2012. He's located well and has had a lot of zip on his pitches this spring, and he could be primed for a breakout performance this season.
For the moment, he's only a consideration in AL-only or deeper leagues, but he's absolutely a player you should be monitoring closely.
Most of the Tampa Rays Staff
OK, OK. That's an exaggeration, but you should consider both Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi to be excellent sleeper candidates this season. Archer will generally be drafted, albeit probably outside of the top 200, but you can wait on Odorizzi and look to make an early add on the waiver wire if he starts strong.
Every year, a young pitcher from the Rays seems to take the MLB by storm. Both Archer and Odorizzi could continue that trend this year.
Rick Porcello, Detroit Tigers
Porcello was Law's No. 5 pitching prospect (No. 10 overall) entering his rookie year of 2009. Porcello also shares another [Homer] Bailey trait: He has improved his K-to-walk ratio in every one of his five big league seasons. And while Porcello's 2013 fell considerably short of Bailey's, consider that he's already ahead of where Bailey was at a similar age, with his 4.32 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 3.38 K-to-walk ratio besting Bailey's 4.46, 1.37 and 2.50 during their age-24 seasons. It's sometimes easy to forget that Porcello is just 25 years old.
Am I stuck in the perpetual cycle of hoping Porcello will become what we always though he was? Maybe. Or maybe we expected too much early on and the best is yet to come.
Either way, you won't have to pay a stiff price to find out if Porcello really can have a breakout season. I think he's a guy you should take a chance on this year.