2011 Fantasy Baseball: Andrew McCutchen, Jay Bruce and the All-Breakout Team
In 2010, Joey Votto erupted for .324 AVG, 37 HR, 113 RBI, 106 runs and 1.024 OPS on his way to the National League MVP.
It's easy to list guys with breakout potential this season, as so many young players are in line for major playing time, but what if we assembled a team of breakout stars?
To make this team, a player is expected to significantly increase his value over the course of the 2011 season. It's not enough to hit a couple more home runs or steal a few more bases. This team is looking for the Joey Votto (2010), Ben Zobrist (2009) and Dustin Pedroia (2008) of 2011 at every position.
The projected numbers at the bottom are fairly optimistic, but they are absolutely possible, and the numbers a breakout season would produce for each.
C: Matt Wieters
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After a ho-hum 2010 in which he hit .249 with 11 HR and 55 RBI, Wieters finds himself in a stacked lineup that is sure to leave him plenty of RBI opportunities.
With two professional seasons under his belt, it's time for the Orioles' backstop to take the next step offensively. He hit .288 in 96 games as a rookie, so it is not incredulous to think .300 is a possibility, but even if he hit .285 with increased power, he would be a top-five fantasy catcher.
Because this is the All-Breakout team, let's look at what a breakout from Wieters could look like:
.305, 27 HR, 115 RBI, 86 R, 5 SB
1B: Kila Ka'aihue
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Billy Butler is expected to be the full-time DH for Kansas City, leaving Kila Ka'aihue with everyday first base duties.
While it seems he is only keeping the position warm for Eric Hosmer, Ka'aihue hit 37, 17 and 24 HR in his last three seasons of minor league ball, while batting .314, .252 and .319.
The masher might not have outstanding RBI numbers due to the lack of runners on base ahead of him, but the home runs could be enough to earn a trade to another team once Hosmer is ready to take over.
Ka'aihue has thunderous power and can be had extremely late in most drafts.
.279, 37 HR, 110 RBI, 81 R, 0 SB
2B: Neil Walker
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Neil Walker was supposed to be a catcher as he was coming up in the Pirates' system, but took over at second base last season, finishing with a .296 batting average, 12 HR, 66 RBI and 57 runs in 110 games.
He has a problem making contact at times, but the 25-year-old looks like the Pirates' third hitter in the order, meaning he should have a lot of RBI and scoring opportunities. If he can improve his contact rate, the sky is the limit.
.315, 23 HR, 94 RBI, 87 R, 11 SB
3B: Ian Stewart
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After hitting 25 HR at 24 years old in 2009, owners flocked to Stewart in their drafts, expecting a continued upswing.
Instead, they found .256, 18, 61. This was a 28-point improvement in his batting average, but at the cost of power. If he can learn to balance making contact with driving the ball, there is Aramis Ramirez-type numbers in here somewhere.
Stewart will bat in the middle of a solid Rockies order, and a breakout season from the 26-year-old could propel Colorado to the NL West title.
.280, 34 HR, 100 RBI, 95 R, 10 SB
SS: Tsuyoshi Nishioka
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The new Twins middle-infielder batted .346 with 11 HR and 22 SB last year in Japan. While that might not translate to the Minnesota lineup right away, Ichiro didn't exactly drop off when he entered the league either.
You don't have to pay for .300, 10, 20 in the draft, but if he finds a groove, the 26-year-old Nishioka could grow into a high-end second baseman. He is projected to bat second in the Twins' lineup ahead of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Delmon Young.
.315, 13 HR, 74 RBI, 105 R, 31 SB
LF: Logan Morrison
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In 2010, Logan Morrison batted .283 in his first major league stint.
He is 6'3" and 235 lbs., so the power stroke should develop, but the average is encouraging for such a young hitter. Add to that his place in the Marlins' order, which includes Hanley Ramirez and Mike Stanton. He could either have a lot of RBI batting behind them or a lot of run scoring chances ahead of them in the two-hole.
Morrison is capable of a solid average, a high OPS and possibly 25 or more HR.
.295, 23 HR, 97 RBI, 91 R, 5 SB
CF: Andrew McCutchen
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Yes, he's already an established player. Yes, he is being drafted fairly early. How can he break out?
By hitting 25 HR and stealing 40 bases.
No, you didn't read that wrong.
At 24 years old, there is a ton of upside beyond what he has already done, including a 2010 that saw him post .286, 16 HR, 94 R and 33 SB. His HR, RBI, R and SB all went up last year, while his average stayed at the same .286 mark he posted in his 2009 rookie season. That's the next category that is prepped for an upswing.
Draft him as the 10-15th outfielder off the board, and he might just become a top-five guy in 2011.
.311, 27 HR, 95 RBI, 121 R, 42 SB
RF: Jay Bruce
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At 22 years old, Jay Bruce batted .281, hit 25 HR, knocked in 70 RBI and scored 80 runs. He even stole five bases.
Now at 23, he is still falling into the middle rounds of some drafts. It may take the 35-40 HR, 120 RBI campaign he is capable of to earn the respect he deserves.
Bruce should have plenty of run-producing in his future batting behind Brandon Phillips, Drew Stubbs and Joey Votto. Look for him in the fifth or sixth round of your 12-team drafts and bank on third round production.
.301, 41 HR, 119 RBI, 105 R, 5 SB
SP: Max Scherzer
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Max Scherzer struck out 184 batters in 195.2 innings during his first year with Detroit.He is 26 years old and has the makings of a high-end No. 2 to back up Justin Verlander.
He has nasty stuff that could top 200 strikeouts as his command matures. If Detroit can provide enough run support, he could top 15 wins as well.
Scherzer is being taken in the middle rounds, but he has shown flashes of major upside. When everything is working, Scherzer is a top-25 pitcher.
17-6, 3.28 ERA, 1.130 WHIP, 9.1 K/9
SP: Brandon Morrow
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On Aug. 8, 2010, Brandon Morrow struck out 17 Rays' batters en route to a one-hit shutout.
This single performance was the crown jewel in a season that saw Morrow strike out more than 10 per nine innings through 26 starts in his first year with Toronto. While Ricky Romero is expected to start the year as the staff ace, the 26-year-old Morrow could quickly overtake him if he starts the year as hot as he finished 2010.
Morrow was 16 innings short of qualifying for starting pitcher rankings, and he would have led all the major leagues in K/9.
18-10, 3.19 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 10.2 K/9
SP: James McDonald
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Pirates' pitching is not known for its fantasy baseball relevance.
That being said, the 26-year-old was traded from the Dodgers to the Pirates after a disastrous start to the season, and the change made all the difference.
In 11 starts with Pittsburgh, McDonald posted a 3.52 ERA, 1.297 WHIP and struck out 8.6 batters per nine innings over 64 innings. Being the best starting pitcher in Pittsburgh is like being the best hitter in Kansas City, but McDonald has the stuff to at least keep his ERA and WHIP useful among scant victories.
10-10, 3.27 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 9.1 K/9
RP: Jake McGee
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Jake McGee was a starter for his entire, 7-year minor league career, but the Rays are now dropping him into the lead for their 2011 closer role after Rafael Soriano left for the Bronx.
J.P. Howell is also in the discussion, but McGee did strike out 10.4 per nine innings in 620.2 innings. The Rays won't be as good in 2011 without departed starters Carl Crawford, Jason Bartlett, Carlos Pena and Matt Garza, but the additions of Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon make this team competitive.
If McGee wins the job, as expected, he would be looking at 35 or more saves and is capable of striking out nine or more per nine innings.
3.10 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 41 SV, 9.5 K/9
RP: Drew Storen
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Drew Storen was the closer drafted by the Nationals in the same first round that saw Washington take a certain San Diego State alum with the No. 1 overall pick.
Storen got his first taste of the majors in 2010, throwing for 55.1 innings and notching five saves with a 3.58 ERA, 1.265 WHIP and struck out 8.5 per nine innings.
Now he starts 2011 with the Nationals' closer job in hand and should enjoy a long leash, as the Nationals continue to build toward their future with that SDSU grad at the top of the rotation and Bryce Harper in the middle of the lineup.
2.96 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 39 SV, 9 K/9