Fantasy Baseball 2011: Predicting the Top 20 Breakout Players

Jed ZaslowContributor IJanuary 12, 2011

Fantasy Baseball 2011: Predicting The Top 20 Breakout Players

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    Every year in baseball, sluggers and pitchers alike play to the best of their abilities and shine as the league's biggest stars, while other players perform in their shadows only to eventually become stars themselves.

    Both the National League and the American League are filled with talented young players who are yet to have their breakout seasons, making it difficult to predict who the breakout stars of 2011 will be.

    Here are my top 20—enjoy:

20. Tsuyoshi Nishioka

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    Infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka played in Japan last year on the Chiba Lotte Marines. In his 2010 season with the Marines he hit .346 with 11 home runs, 59 RBI's, 22 stolen bases and 206 base hits. The last player to hit over 200 base hits in a season in Japan is Japanese superstar Ichiro Suzuki, who will enter the 2011 season with 10 consecutive years of 200+ hits, golden gloves and all-star appearances.

    Nishioka, who is now a Minnesota Twin, may not ever be as good as Ichiro, but he's got a similar background.

19. Aroldis Chapman

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    Relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman of the Cincinnati Reds is a young left-hander who can consistently throw the ball 100 mph. Last season he hurled the fasted pitch ever recorded at 105 mph. In the 13.1 innings he pitched in 2010, he struck out 19 batters while maintaining a 2.03 ERA.

    When Aroldis Chapman's innings go up next season and he develops better control of his power pitches, expect him to produce very good numbers. His value will all come down to what his job is in 2011, whether he remains reliever, is promoted to closer, or is promoted to starting pitcher (I do not believe he will be a starter).

18. J.A. Happ

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    J.A Happ is a starting pitcher for the Houston Astros, and although he is aging, he still has not yet reached his prime.  

    In 2009, Happ came in second to Florida Marlins outfielder Chris Coghlan for the NL Rookie of The Year Award, pitching his way to a 12-4 record with a solid 2.93 ERA.  In 2010, Happ was traded to the Houston Astros in a deal that sent starting pitcher Roy Oswalt to the Philadelphia Phillies.  Happ started 13 games for Houston and had a 5-4 record with a 3.75 ERA.  

    Happ, who will have to learn to deal with the lack of run support the Astros will give him, can put up great numbers when he is healthy. Hopefully he will remain healthy and be able to proceed with the work he started in 2009.

17. Desmond Jennings

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    Tampa Bay Rays' outfielder Desmond Jennings is currently the team's number one prospect.  In 2010 AAA minors, Jennings batted .278 with 111 hits in 109 games and stole 37 bases.  

    On the Tampa Bay Rays' depth chart, Jennings is positioned to start at left field for the Rays.  As an everyday starter, Jennings can quickly adjust to the big leagues and put up good numbers just as he is expected to.

16. Gaby Sanchez

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    The Florida Marlins' starting first baseman Gaby Sanchez was fortunate to play 151 games at first base last season.  In those games he batted .273 with an OBP of .341, while he hit 19 home runs and drove in 85 batters.  

    Those are pretty solid numbers for a rookie, and being that he will start at first base for the Marlins again all season, I would say that his numbers will get even better—let's just hope that he does not pull a Chris Coghlan.

15. Dustin Ackley

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    Seattle Mariners' second baseman and top prospect Dustin Ackley was drafted second overall in the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft.  Since then he has been in AA and AAA minors and has batted .267 with an OBP of .368 while hitting 7 home runs and driving in 51 runners.

     In the 2010 Arizona Fall League, Ackley claimed the MVP award batting .424 with an OBP of .581 while hitting 4 home runs and driving in 15 batters.

    With luck, Mariners' starting second baseman Brendan Ryan will not put up such good numbers and the Mariners fans will witness Dustin Ackley take shape in the majors this coming season.

14. Jhoulys Chacin

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    The Colorado Rockies' starting pitcher Jhoulys Chacin is not a name that flows off the tongue of most baseball fans.  He is a 23-year old power pitcher who started off his season in the bullpen, but was promoted to a starting job and went 9-11 with a 3.28 ERA striking out 138 batters in 137 innings.  

    Now that Chacin is a regular member of the Rockies' rotation, his innings will pick up. He has the potential to strike out 200 batters.

13. Starlin Castro

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    21-year old Chicago Cubs' shortstop Starlin Castro has loads of potential. In 2010 Castro appeared in 125 games and batted .300 with 3 home runs, 41 RBI's, 139 hits, 31 doubles, and 5 triples while stealing 10 stolen bases.  

    A player like Castro can potentially have a 200 hit season.  Will it happen next season, no.  However, look for Castro in the league leaders for batting average.

12. Danny Valencia

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    The Minnesota Twins' third baseman Danny Valencia is rising fast.  In his rookie season in 2010, Valencia appeared in 85 games and batted .311 with 18 doubles, 7 home runs and 40 RBI's.

    Now that Valencia holds the starting job at third base, he will get a lot more at bats and his numbers will only increase.

11. Chris Johnson

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    No, not the football player.  Chris Johnson is the third baseman for the Houston Astros.  In his rookie season, Johnson made 94 game appearances and batted .308 with 105 hits, 11 home runs, 52 RBI's, and 22 doubles.

     Johnson, much like other 2011 sophomores, will be a starter.  More games, more experience, better numbers.

10. Logan Morrison

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    Logan Morrison, the left fielder for the Florida Marlins only played 66 games last season in his rookie year, but boy what a great 66 games it was.

    Morrison went 42 consecutive games of getting on base, which helped him finish with a .390 OBP.  He also finished with a .283 bating average, 2 home runs, 18 RBI's, 20 doubles, 7 triples, and 69 hits.  Now that he is starting in left field all season for the Marlins, his numbers could at least double.

9. Bryce Harper

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    Outfielder Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals was the number one pick overall in the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft.  At only 18 years old he is already one of the most highly anticipated prospects in major league history.

     In his junior year at College of Southern Nevada in a wooden bat league, Harper started 66 games and hit .443 with an OBP of .526 while hitting 101 base hits, 31 home runs, and driving in 98 runners.

    If Bryce Harper can make it into the majors at any point during the season, he will wreak havoc on major league pitchers.

8. Andrew McCutchen

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    Pittsburgh Pirates' center fielder Andrew McCutchen is expected to explode any minute with five-tool abilities that blow away pitchers and base runners.

     In his first two seasons in the majors, McCutchen has not been the most solid of hitters, but he shows signs of brilliance.  Last season he batted .286 with a .365 OBP while hitting 16 home runs and driving in 56 runners.  He also had 94 runs and 33 stolen bases.  The Pirates need him to breakout now and that is just what he will do.

7. Mike Moustakas

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    Kansas City Royals' third baseman prospect Mike Moustakas was drafted second overall in the 2007 MLB Amateur Draft.  He is now probably going to be rated the number one prospect in all of the majors due to his outstanding skills with the baseball bat.  In 118 minor league games between AA and AAA, Moustakas batted .322 with 36 home runs, 124 RBI's, 44 doubles and 156 base hits.  

    This super-prospect does not have to do a lot to get the starting role as the Kansas City Royals starting third baseman.  He will probably begin the season in the minors, but when he comes up he will hit.

6. Carlos Santana

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    The Cleveland Indians catcher prospect Carlos Santana was supposed to be the Indians' everyday catcher, but injury sidelined him as he only appeared in 46 games.  In those 46 games, Santana hit .260 with an OBP of .401 while hitting 6 home runs, 13 doubles, and driving in 22 runners.

    Carlos Santana is expected to significantly help the Indians in 2011 and show them why he was their number one prospect in 2010.

5. Gio Gonzalez

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    Starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez for the Oakland Athletics was a very dominant pitcher in 2010.  In 200 innings of work he gave up only 171 hits and struck out 171 batters while maintaining a 3.23 ERA.

    In a rotation filled with young talented starters, Gonzalez was one of the best.  In a league full of pitchers going into the 2011 season, Gonzalez has more potential than most of them.

4. Jeremy Hellickson

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    Jeremy Hellickson is a 24-year old starting pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays.  Last season he went 4-0 with a 3.47 ERA while striking out 33 batters in 36 innings.

    In 2011, Hellickson will get the opportunity to start the season in the majors, which will result in an increase of innings and subsequently, an increase in numbers.  Hellickson will be a fantastic number two starter for the Rays.

3. Jay Bruce

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    24-year old outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds, Jay Bruce, has already been in the majors for three seasons.  Like McCutchen it is only a matter of time before Bruce has his breakout.  

    Last season in the hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark, Jay Bruce batted .281 with 25 home runs, and 75 RBI's.  It is time for Jay Bruce to show us that he is the productive power hitter that scouts described him to be, and he will do that in 2011.

2. Mike Stanton

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    Mike Stanton is a power-hitting outfielder for the Florida Marlins.  Last season in his rookie year, the 21-year old batted .259 with 22 home runs, and 59 RBI's.  

    Stanton's power numbers are expected to go way up throughout his career and many believe they will start to increase in 2011.  This guy has power and he will learn to make more contact with the ball, so his batting average should increase a bit too.

1. Madison Bumgarner

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    In 2010, San Francisco Giants' starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner became the fourth youngest starting pitcher, at age 20, ever to pitch a World Series game.  

    In his career in the minors, Bumgarner went 34-6 with a 2.00 ERA pitching a total of 63 games and 355 innings as he struck out 315 batters while allowing only 299 hits.

    In his rookie season of his major league career, Bumgarner pitched 18 games and finished with a 7-6 record while maintaining a 3.00 ERA and striking out 86 batters. 

    In his five starts in September and October he went 2-2 with a 1.13 ERA while striking out 32 batters in 32 innings of work.

    Bumgarner is one of the youngest pitchers in baseball and he already has a starting job, a World Series win and a World Series ring.  He will be an absolutely magnificent pitcher this coming season for the World Champion San Francisco Giants.

Honorable Mentions

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    As this was a very tight list, there are still many players I feel deserve honorable mention in this category and one may also hear their names a lot this coming season.

    Honorable Mentions: 1B Ike Davis, Mets; OF Dominic Brown, Phillies; C Matt Wieters, Orioles; SP Travis Wood, Reds; SP Ivan Nova, Yankees; SP Wade Davis, Rays; SP Mike Leake, Reds; 3B Pedro Alvarez, Pirates; 2B Neil Walker, Pirates; SP Dallas Braden, Athletics; RP Drew Storen, Nationals; SP Kyle Drabek, Blue Jays; SP Ricky Romero, Blue Jays; SP Brandon Beachy, Braves; 2B Omar Infante, Marlins; SS Ian Desmond, Nationals; OF Austin Jackson, Tigers; OF Lorenzo Cain, Royals; 1B Brandon Belt, Giants.

    Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed!