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2013 Draft Prep: Scott White's Breakouts

Senior Fantasy Writer
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So you want sleepers, do you?

Too bad. You've stumbled upon the breakouts instead.

It's a fine line, but applying the "breakouts" label allows me to highlight some of the more subtle distinctions between a player's going rate and how you should actually perceive him.

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Plus, it gives me a chance to address more players.

The 12 highlighted here are on the verge of doing something they've never done before. For some, it's to be expected. For others, well, you might as well lump them in with the 12 sleepers highlighted elsewhere.

But even if these breakouts won't necessarily be the biggest bargains on Draft Day, chances are if you draft one of them, you'll get back your investment and then some.

And isn't that what it's all about? Labels schmabels, I say.

Note: The numbers in parentheses reflect average draft position on CBSSports.com, assuming a 12-team league.

Yu Darvish, SP, Rangers (Roto: Rd. 5, H2H: Rd. 4)

If not for those meddling walks (not to be confused with those meddling kids from the Scooby-Doo cartoons), Darvish would have met every last expectation heaped on him in his first year over from Japan. He won 16 games and averaged 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings, after all. His ERA and WHIP just happened to be kind of high.

Presumably, then, the elimination of those meddling walks would elevate him to a level of production known only to handful of pitchers in the game.

Well, guess what? He already did eliminate them, issuing 1.8 walks per nine innings over his final 10 starts.

That rate would have ranked 10th among qualifying pitchers. His season-long rate of 4.2 per nine ranked 83rd. If he closes that gap, he's quite possibly your AL Cy Young winner. That midseason shift, as dramatic as it was, is reason to believe he's destined to close it.

In terms of upside, he and Stephen Strasburg are on about the same plane, but Darvish is the one available several rounds later.

Jordan Zimmermann, SP, Nationals (Roto: Rd. 9, H2H: Rd. 7)

You know how the Nationals say they're going to turn Stephen Strasburg loose in his second full season back from Tommy John surgery? What they mean is they're going to treat him like they treated Zimmermann in his second full season back from Tommy John surgery last year -- not giving him a limit, per se, but routinely pulling him after only six innings, regardless of his pitch count, so that he, conveniently enough, finishes the year short of 200 innings.

OK, so Davey Johnson didn't whisper that in my ear or anything, but as careful as the Nationals were with Strasburg last year, it stands to reason that Zimmermann, the one a year further along the road to recovery, is the more likely of the two to fill the role of workhorse this season, perhaps even exceeding 210 or 220 innings. He's certainly efficient enough to take that next step, having posted the 11th-lowest walk rate among qualifying pitchers.

Statistically speaking, Zimmermann is in line to become sort of another Matt Cain. Apart from the innings, he's more or less there already.

Desmond Jennings, OF, Rays (Roto: Rd. 7, H2H: Rd. 10)

As was the theme among last year's sophomore class, Jennings was unable to build off his impressive rookie showing in 2011, at times looking overmatched as his OPS dropped by more than 100 points.

But taking a step back last year doesn't preclude him from taking two steps forward this year. His counting stats -- the ones that best represent his raw ability -- actually weren't that bad. Had he avoided the knee sprain that sidelined him for most of May, he likely would have put together a 15-homer, 35-steal campaign, so to have that breakout season, he just needs to show the same plate discipline he did in the minors, where he compiled a .381 on-base percentage and struck out no more than 78 times in any of his seven seasons. His 1-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio so far this spring is a step in the right direction.

Given his upside as a former top 10 prospect, according to Baseball America, and his 26 years of age, Jennings is the most likely of the middle-round outfielders to take the step forward that Jason Heyward and Adam Jones did last year. His skill set is a little different from those players', but you get the idea.

Jeff Samardzija, SP, Cubs (Roto: Rd. 10, H2H: Rd. 7)

You know how most pitchers lose something when they transition from the bullpen to the starting rotation? Samardzija didn't. In fact, the more innings the Cubs entrusted to him, the better he got.

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Early on, his control came and went, creating such disparity between his good starts and bad starts that some Fantasy owners gave up on him entirely, but once he settled in, he dominated, compiling a 2.58 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings over his final 13 starts. And in true workhorse fashion, he pitched seven innings or more in nine of them, actually gaining steam at the point in the season when most converted relievers lose it. Had the Cubs not shut him down in early September, who knows how his numbers would have looked?

This year, there is no shutting him down, and there is no acclimating himself to the role either. If Samardzija picks up where he left off, he's another Max Scherzer, if not better.

Wilin Rosario, C, Rockies (Roto: Rd. 7, H2H: Rd. 12)

Rosario led all catchers with 28 home runs last year. Pretty cool, right? You know what's even cooler? He did it in only 396 at-bats.

And no, that's not some sneaky way of saying he walks a lot. He doesn't, but that's beside the point. The point is he didn't play all that much last year, and yet he hit 28 home runs, most among all catchers.

Take a minute to process it.

Now that he's established himself as a major-leaguer and earned the trust of the coaching staff, Rosario figures to play more this year, and half of the games he plays will be in the most hitter-friendly venue in baseball, where he compiled a .297 batting average and .957 OPS to go along with two-thirds of those home runs last year. And seeing as he just turned 24, he hasn't even entered his prime.

If you're not scared yet, you're taking FDR's first inaugural address way too literally. The kind of power numbers I'm envisioning for Rosario would make Brian McCann, a six-time All-Star, look like a weakling. Hyperbole? OK, maybe. But 35 home runs at the catcher position are worth more than Rosario's going rate.

Jesus Montero, C, Mariners (Roto: Rd. 10, H2H: Rd. 13)

It just didn't happen for Montero last year. Even with those opposite-field blasts he hit during a late-season trial in 2011 and the requisite hype he got as a former Yankees farmhand, he just didn't make the impact most thought he would as a rookie.

Granted, playing half his games at Safeco Field didn't help. The dimensions of that park have silenced higher profile bats than his. And yet his splits -- the .297 batting average on the road compared to the .227 mark at home -- seem to be what finally motivated the Mariners to do something about it.

They moved in the fences this offseason, with the biggest shift, a whole 17 feet, coming in left-center -- an area some might call Montero territory. If that isn't reason enough to predict a breakout, Montero is also in line to begin 2013 as the Mariners' primary catcher. In 213 at-bats as a catcher last year, he hit .310 with an .841 OPS. In 301 at-bats as a DH, he hit .226 with a .574.

Between the adjusted park dimensions, the more defined role, and the natural progression expected of a former top prospect still short of his 25th birthday, my guess is Montero takes a step forward this year.

Mike Minor, SP, Braves (Roto: Rd. 14, H2H: Rd. 10):

The national media had only so much bandwidth for starting pitchers breaking out in Atlanta in the second half last year, and so, reasonably enough, they directed their attention to Kris Medlen.

But during the same period Medlen posted a 0.97 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 9.0 strikeouts per nine innings as a starter, Minor posted a 2.31 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 6.4 strikeouts per nine innings. And it began earlier than that. Over his final 15 starts, beginning July 5, he had a 2.21 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 7.0 strikeouts per nine innings.

In other words, he's already broken out. He was just so dreadful before it happened that his final numbers don't do it justice, causing Fantasy owners to overlook his high-end potential in the middle rounds.

He always had that potential. Given his excellent control and propensity for missing bats, relative to his stuff, it's not like his breakthrough was any big surprise. His explanation for it -- that whenever he'd get into trouble, he'd fixate on his lack of perfection instead of just working to limit the damage -- may not be the kind of numbers-centric argument Fantasy owners crave, but it makes sense.

Damage comes to every major-league pitcher. The key, as Minor learned, is not to let it snowball.

Sergio Romo, RP, Giants (Roto: Rd. 11, H2H: Rd. 13)

Romo has never spent a full season as a closer, and to hear the Giants tell it, he wouldn't be any good at it.

OK, so they don't go that far, but as recently as this offseason, manager Bruce Bochy said he wanted others to contribute in the role.

What he and the rest of the organization seem to overlook is that for the month and a half Romo handled the role at the end of last season, the right-hander had nine saves and a 1.04 ERA. In the playoffs, he allowed just one run on four hits in 10 2/3 innings. And oh yeah, he was also standing on the mound when the Giants captured their second World Series title in three years. Full season or not, he's gone through the ringer as a closer.

And who wouldn't want him as one? Over the last three seasons -- that's three, not one -- he has a 1.85 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and 11.1 strikeouts. Joe Nathan, arguably the preeminent Fantasy closer from 2004 to 2009 (apologies to Mariano Rivera), had only one season with better numbers than that.

And again, Romo has done it over a three-year period.

Now that Bochy has resigned to Romo getting the majority of the save opportunities, he's a stud in waiting.

Ike Davis, 1B, Mets (Roto: Rd. 11, H2H: Rd. 14)

At this time last year, Davis had just been diagnosed with Valley Fever. He said he felt fine -- and maybe he did -- but the diagnosis came when he was already working his way back from a severely sprained ankle that sidelined him for the final 4 1/2 months of 2011.

Even if you don't buy into the idea that a fungal infection known for sapping its host's strength and more or less ruining Conor Jackson as a player four years ago may have had some small impact on Davis' performance, you have to recognize that his first 56 games of 2012, when he hit .158 with five home runs and a .507 OPS, shouldn't be taken at face value, especially when compared to his final 100 games, when he hit .265 with 27 home runs and a .913 OPS.

Pretty much tells the whole story right there, doesn't it?

Davis has since come around on the Valley Fever, telling the New York Post, "I didn't know what was in store for me." Well, at least we know what's in store now that he's past it. If nothing else, you can count on him for big power numbers, and he has room to improve his walk rate and performance against lefties in his age-26 season.

Alex Cobb, SP, Rays (Roto: Rd. 22, H2H: Rd. 17)

When Joe Maddon announced early this spring that Cobb, not Jeff Niemann, was a lock for the fourth spot in the starting rotation, it came as a surprise to those who noted Cobb was the only Rays pitcher with at least five starts who had an ERA over 4.00 last year.

But sometimes what goes into an ERA says more than the ERA itself.

What went into Cobb's ERA were two starts -- June 25 and Aug. 18 -- in which he surrendered eight earned runs. Might a more mature Cobb have been able to limit the damage before it got to eight runs? Quite possibly. Might Maddon have, under a different set of circumstances, pulled Cobb before it got to eight runs? Very likely. Might a lucky bounce here or there have prevented it from ever getting to eight runs? Most definitely.

Those starts -- particularly the June 25 one, when he went eight innings -- were so out of line with what you can reasonably expect from Cobb that expecting them to happen again is, well, unreasonable. In his other 21 starts, he had a 3.22 ERA, only once allowing more than four earned runs and never allowing more than three (apart from the outlier start) after July 6.

I'm siding with Maddon on this one. Cobb is my favorite late-round starting pitcher.

Brandon Belt, 1B, Giants (Roto: Rd. 23, H2H: Rd. 23)

Belt made strides as a sophomore last season, but he still hit only seven home runs, which won't get it done at the deepest position in Fantasy.

But a closer look at the numbers reveals he might be on the verge of a power breakthrough in his age-25 season. What he lacked in home runs he made up for in doubles and triples, collecting enough of both to finish with a .505 slugging percentage at home.

And home for the Giants is a place that normally stifles power numbers, particularly for left-handed hitters.

Consider also that Belt picked up steam over the final two months of last season, when he hit .329 with an .884 OPS. Again, it was mostly doubles and triples, but doubles and triples often lead to homers, particularly for players in their mid-20s and particularly for players with Belt's minor-league profile. Credit the heavy-hitting Cactus League if you must, but Belt's power surge this spring only bolsters the argument.

As a 20-homer guy, his contact rate, batting eye and potential for 15-plus steals will make him a worthy starter in all leagues. Even calling him a poor man's Joey Votto, hopeful as it sounds, isn't so far-fetched.

Domonic Brown, OF, Phillies (Roto: Rd. 27, H2H: Rd. 26)

Since Baseball America named him the fourth-best prospect prior to the 2011 season, Brown has done nothing but disappoint the Fantasy owners who bought into him, bouncing between the majors and the minors as the Phillies continually reinvented his swing.

But this year is already different. This year, he's launching balls into the parking lot in Clearwater, Fla. (read: not the Cactus League), suggesting the latest round of tweaks to his batting stance -- which involve straightening his hands to allow his wrists to cock and generate more bat speed -- finally did the trick.

Rarely does a spring performance do so much to improve a player's Fantasy value, but then, rarely does a spring performance suggest so much about a player's development. Brown's best opportunity yet to win a starting job comes when he's just entering his prime at age 25 and when he finally seems to have worked out the kinks in his swing.

New assistant hitting coach Wally Joyner, who's responsible for the latest tweak, compares the leverage Brown is creating to that of Ryan Howard, only without all the strikeouts. Hey, he always had the ability. For the price of a late-round pick, you can dare to dream.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Nationals taking a cautious approach with Nate McLouth
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:39 am ET) Nationals manager Matt Williams said Thursday the team will take a cautious approach with outfielder Nate McLouth, who has started a throwing program coming off shoulder surgery in August.

"If we were to say at the end of this week that we're going to play a game and Nate was going to go two innings, we probably wouldn't do that at this point because he has got to go through that progression," Williams said, per MASNsports.com. "What that timeframe depends on is how he feels. You can look at the big picture and say well, you need X amount of rehab for this particular surgery. Everybody is different, of course. But we want to make sure that when he's ready to play, he's ready, because we don't want a setback.

"That being said, he's going through the progression of all of his throwing, he's hitting right now. He doesn't have an issue with that. It's going to get sore, we know it. So there's going to be days where he's going to have to just shut it down for that particular day. Which is frustrating because you want to play. We'll get through spring training with him and kind of monitor him on an everyday basis to see where he is at and act accordingly."


Red Sox's Betts focused on preparing for season, not OF competition
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:32 am ET) Mookie Betts knows he will have to put his best foot forward this spring in order to land a starting spot in the Red Sox's outfield. Betts, however, is not trying to think as much about the competition and rather focus on what he needs to do to prepare for the 2015 season.

“I feel as if I’m just getting ready for the season,” Betts told WEEI.com. “Whether it’s in the big leagues, Triple-A, Double-A, wherever it is, I’m just getting ready for the season and not really focusing so much on making the big-league team, just really just getting ready."

If Betts doesn't win a starting job in the outfield, then he could be a bench option for Boston instead of heading back to the minors.

“Whatever [manager John] Farrell and [general manager Ben] Cherington, whatever they do is what’s going to be best for the Red Sox,” Betts said. “And if that’s me sitting and watching, that’s perfectly fine and I’ll just fill into my role.”


Red Sox's Mujica reveals neck injury played part in 2014 struggles
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:21 am ET) Red Sox reliever Edward Mujica got off to a rocky start in 2014, posting a 6.41 ERA through the first two months of the season. He eventually settled down, posting a 2.68 ERA and seven saves over the final four months.

On Friday, Mujica revealed a neck injury played a part in his early season struggles. Mujica was diagnosed with his C1 vertebrae being out of place when he signed with the Red Sox and added the issue didn't clear up until midway through the 2014 season.

“My neck was bothering me when I got here, I got treatment and in spring training I felt good because of the weather,” Mujica said, per WEEI.com. “But then I felt sore in the neck because of the cold weather. I was also adjusting to the American League, all the teams have pretty good hitters 1-9. I just kept working every single day, watching videos, got that [physical] adjustment and got going in the second half.

“The C1 was a little moved out of place, but they put it in the right place in spring training to get through the season. With treatment every single day it helped me a lot after the first two months.”


Cardinals' Adam Wainwright targeting 2-3 weeks for spring debut
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:12 am ET) Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright is targeting 2-3 weeks before he is able to pitch in a spring game, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Wainwright was diagnosed with an abdominal strain Thursday after heading back to St. Louis for further evaluation.

Wainwright will have 4-5 days of light activity before he can gradually increase his workouts. He will be re-evaluated Monday before the Cardinals decide if he can rejoin the starters’ throwing program.

“The good thing is it doesn’t hurt so I can continue to throw off the mound and face hitters,” Wainwright said. “I can throw live BP and just won’t field my position.”

With his current timetable and barring setback, Wainwright could make four starts during spring training. 

“Everybody was saying that you need to scale back your innings in spring training,” Wainwright said. “God just naturally found a way to make that happen without ticking me off. ‘OK, Adam, you don’t want to have time off? I’ll make you take time off.’”


Report: Bartolo Colon in the running to start opening day for Mets
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:55 am ET) The Mets are strongly considering veteran starting pitcher Bartolo Colon for the opening day start April 6 at Washington, multiple sources told ESPN. The sources added the Mets have narrowed the choices to Colon and one other pitcher, who was not named.

If Colon, who went 15-13 with a 4.09 ERA in 2014, gets the nod, then he would become the oldest pitcher (41 years, 317 days old) to start on opening day in the majors since Jamie Moyer (43 years, 136 days) and Randy Johnson (42 years, 205 days) in 2006. He also would become the oldest Mets' opening day starter, surpassing Tom Glavine in 2007 (41 years, 7 days). 

Colon has started six times on opening day. Dillon Gee started on opening day for the Mets last season.


Rays' Archer changes offseason program, already seeing benefits
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:45 am ET) Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer has spent the early days of spring training picking the brain of manager Kevin Cash about how Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber transformed into the 2014 AL Cy Young winner, according to The Tampa Tribune. Before taking the job with the Rays, Cash was the Indians bullpen coach (2013-14).

“Kluber has always had stuff, he just hasn’t had the success on that level,” Archer said. “And I’m trying to apply those things, because he saw it firsthand.”

Thus far, Cash has raved about Archer's bullpen sessions and said Archer appears to be game-ready. Archer believes the change in his offseason program is contributing to his promising start to spring training.

“In September, I had success but the body was tired, so I paced myself better in the offseason and I feel really good now,” Archer said. “I would just cycle it a little better to pace myself, because I’m thinking those (less intense) weeks in the offseason are going to help me feel better on the back end (of this season).

“I got to pump the brakes a little bit, because I don’t want to overdo it right now. Because what good is February and March? I’m trying to be good April through October.”


Ernesto Frieri hoping Rays pitching coach can revive career
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:32 am ET) Rays reliever Ernesto Frieri said one of the reasons he signed with Tampa Bay was for the opportunity to work with pitching coach Jim Hickey, per The Tampa Tribune.

“That’s why I’m here,” Frieri said. “I’ve seen Hickey, he’s the man. He knows what he’s doing. He fixed a couple of guys before, and I hope I’m not the exception. I’m pretty sure he’s going to give me the right information and I’m going to take advantage.”

The 29-year-old Frieri had a good run as the Angels closer in 2012 and 2013 before the wheels came off in 2014. He lost the closer's job with Los Angeles and was eventually traded to Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, he was only there a few months before more struggles led to his release.

Frieri said his 2014 struggles were because he developed bad habits. Instead of getting quicker to the plate, he was taller in his delivery, which robbed him of the deception, and caused his fastball to flatten out. The results were a 6.39 ERA with the Angels and a 10.13 ERA with the Pirates.

"(Fernando Rodney was) decent before he got here, but when he got here, wow, he got amazing,” Frieri said. “Hickey said something to him that really worked for him. Hopefully he says something to me that really works for me.”

Thus far, Frieri appears to be the ideal student.

“He seems to be extremely eager to hear what we have to say,” Hickey said. “You never know (how it will turn out), but at least it demonstrated his willingness to be open and try things.”


Report: Angels' Hamilton likely to receive suspension
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(2:05 am ET) Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton will likely be suspended for at least 25 games, according to FoxSports.com.

Hamilton met with Major League Baseball on Wednesday for a disciplinary hearing. CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman reported that Hamilton experienced a drug relapse a few months ago, and confessed that relapse to MLB. 

This is technically Hamilton's second violation as a major-leaguer. Hamilton was on the Rays 40-man roster during his first suspension, making him a major-league player. Typically, players who violate their drug treatment program for the first time are subject to a 15-25 game suspension. Given that this is Hamilton's second violation of his drug treatment program, it's unclear how severe the punishment will be.

With that said, commissioner Rob Manfred is reportedly trying to be lenient with any punishment. The league has a "favorable view of Hamilton's efforts to remain sober." Since his return to the majors, Hamilton has spoken honestly about his struggles with addition.

On top of that, Manfred is concerned about making the punishment too harsh. Hamilton's past relaspes have come when he's been away from the game. Manfred reportedly is not close to making a final decision on Hamilton's punishment at this time. 

Hamilton was already expected to miss the beginning of the season due to a shoulder surgery. It's unclear how much longer he'll be out due to a suspension.


Angels, Huston Street haven't talked extension yet
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:11 am ET) The Angels and closer Huston Street have not talked about an extension yet, according to MLB.com.

Both sides are reportedly interested in a deal, but Street wanted to wait a week in order to settle in to camp. Once that happens, the two sides are expected to start negotiating a new deal. Street is entering the final year of his contract, and will make $7 million in 2015.

Street, 31, posted a 1.37 ERA over 59 1/3 innings last year.


Phillies' Ryan Howard working on his swing
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:20 am ET) Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is working on his swing, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer

Howard has spent time working with Charlie Manuel during camp. Manuel was brought in as spring training hitting instructor. Manager Ryan Sandberg has noticed the change in Howard's approach already. "As far as making some adjustments there, to really zone in to something that can really be productive for him and a little bit more consistent," Sandberg said. "I think there has been a little tweaking going on there."

Howard apparently has looked different at the plate. His stance has been described as "looser" and his hands are much lower when he starts his swing. 

The 35-year-old hit .223/.310/.380 over 569 at-bats last year. 


 
 
 
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