Breakout Candidates for 2012

Predicting big things from up-and-comers has become chic as the information age has exploded, giving everyone from the Kevin Goldsteins of the world to the Brandon Warnes of the world access to minor league statistics. It’s easy enough to find a top 100 list, and predict greatness for guys like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, or Shelby Miller, but today I’d like to take a peek at few less-than-established big leaguers who weren’t big time prospects whom I feel are good breakout candidates for next season.

Cliff Pennington – SS Oakland Athletics

Pennington is a guy I’ve been (probably irrationally) following since the Twins dealt J.J. Hardy last offseason. With shortstop depth as low as it’s been since the Rodriguez-Jeter-Garciaparra boom, it’s not unreasonable to wonder where a club’s next shortstop will come from when they inexplicably dump the current one for pennies on the dollar. Nonetheless, what I like about Pennington, and will mention about Brantley as well, is a skillset that centers around line drives, speed, and plate discipline. In the minors, Pennington was no great shakes at the plate, triple-slashing .263/.362/.358 over parts of five seasons. However, what I really liked about his line is the nearly 1:1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio, and that he swiped a plethora of bags at an 83.6 percent rate. As a rule, I don’t care much about stolen bases, but I like a guy who can pick his spots and steal one when the situation dictates, and Pennington was definitely of that ilk in the minors.

The stolen base rate has fallen off for Cliff in the majors, but it’s hard to put too much stock into stolen base rates for Oakland A’s, if you catch my drift. Nonetheless, the other portion of Pennington’s game that jumps off the screen to me is his line drive rate of 25.7 percent this season – fourth-highest among qualified hitters. If Pennington can continue to combine his solid line drive rates with enough ground balls next season, I think there’s a good chance he can place himself among the best shortstops in the American League in 2012. His .324/.400/.467 triple-slash since the break certainly shows he’s capable of it.

Michael Brantley – OF Cleveland Indians

As similarly noted with Pennington, I really like the skillset that Brantley brings to the table. Brantley takes it one step further however, as he carries a top-30 groundball/flyball ratio as well. Like Pennington, Brantley flashed very good speed in the minors, swiping 162 bags at an 80.6 percent rate, and also like Pennington, has had trouble continuing that rate in the bigs. Still, what I take from the situation is that Brantley is going to be able to use his speed to his advantage a heck of a lot by smoking a great deal of line drives and ground balls. As an added bonus, Brantley showed an even more discerning eye at the plate than Pennington in the minors, with 292 walks against only 218 whiffs. Brantley slugged .377 in the minors, so I’m not optimistic he will ever hit double-digits in the home run department, but I think he’s the ideal candidate to lead off for a contender, something I think the Indians fancy themselves after this season’s surprise run, and going forward with the club’s excellent minor league depth.

Bud Norris – SP Houston Astros

There’s some level of consternation that goes with predicting a breakout for a young pitcher averaging almost a whiff per inning with a 3.61 ERA, but I’m going to do just that with Norris. That whiff rate places Norris 14th among all major league starting pitchers, placing Bud in elite company ahead of Cy Young-types Felix Hernandez, Jon Lester, and C.C. Sabathia. I suppose this begs the question why no one is talking about Norris, no? That’s pretty simple, as he’s only 6-8 (love or hate win-loss records, they aren’t going away anytime soon), and he shares the relative anonymity of Houston with another very, very good starter in Wandy Rodriguez.

For a more saber-centric slant on Norris’ value, he only checks in at 1.6 WAR (tied with Rodriguez for 70th league-wide), which is likely dragged down by his propensity for the longball. One thing that could be slightly worrisome is that Norris’ fastball has consistently lost velocity the last three seasons, but with improved walk rates and better WHIPs in those seasons, it seems likely that Norris simply toned it down a bit to harness his 93.2 mph average fastball. To be clear, I’m not predicting a Cy Young award any time soon, but if Rodriguez moves on before the waiver period ends this summer, Norris will be the most underrated pitcher in the Lone Star state, if not the entire senior circuit.



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In addition to Rotographs, Warne is a Minnesota Twins beat reporter for 105 The Ticket's Cold Omaha website as well as a sportswriter for Sportradar U.S. in downtown Minneapolis. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Warne, or feel free to email him to do podcasts or for any old reason at brandon.r.warne@gmail-dot-com


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adborok
Member
adborok
4 years 10 months ago

FYI re: Cliff Pennington, the A’s are third in baseball in SBs since the beginning of 2010. Pennington was a big part of that last season (29 SBs in 34 attempts), but not so much this season (8 for 17). He has a good approach at the plate, but not so much in the field (last year was the lone exception for him as far as having good defense). I hope that you are right, but I really don’t see it.

Brandon Warne
Guest
4 years 10 months ago

Wow. Good to know!

Thanks for the response. I like the skill set (as I noted), but sometimes the jump doesn’t always translate as well for some guys.

And if not, oh well. Worth taking a shot anyway.

Darkstar
Guest
Darkstar
4 years 10 months ago

No offense, but can a light-hitting, questionable-fielding B/C prospect who already posted a 4.0 WAR last season really be considered a “Breakout candidate” moving forward?

I would personally have to say Pennington broke out in 2010, and now merely has a chance for a rebound season. That is, if he can get back to his league-average range production at the plate and improve his running and defensive results.

Corey
Guest
Corey
4 years 10 months ago

Damn, I’ve owned Pennington in fantasy since 2009, but can’t keep him next year.

EK
Guest
EK
4 years 10 months ago

While I’m not exactly sure of Pennington’s numbers “since the break”, he is nowhere near the .324/.400/.467 slash line you wrote. His July/Aug numbers are .294/.360/.412 and his Aug numbers are horrible, .222/.323/.315. He has not put up any numbers close to a .400 obp (or .467 slug) at any time in his MLB career.

Brandon Warne
Guest
4 years 10 months ago

Since July 15:
.321/.395/.459

Brandon Warne
Guest
4 years 10 months ago

I see the same splits you do, but when going through game logs, that’s what BR.com gives me when I use the range of July 15-today. Could it be that his early July was so bad….yeah, that’s probably it.

Brandon Warne
Guest
4 years 10 months ago

Pennington, July until the break:
.185/.185/.222

Voila.

EK
Guest
EK
4 years 10 months ago

I stand corrected on the splits. In the end, it does boil down to a good (excellent) two weeks from Pennington, surrounded by two months of poor production.

Brandon Warne
Guest
4 years 10 months ago

Good to note.

I still like the line drive rates.

Telo2
Guest
Telo2
4 years 10 months ago

Bud Norris is a joke. he is always a first half pitcher, than people start to figure him out and he gets destroyed. I actually traded him for Drew Stubbs straight up. Than I traded him away from my team along with Heyward and Johnathan sanchez for the Injured Cole Hamels. I think both of our teams suck now. But at least I got rid of bud norris!!

Luke
Guest
Luke
4 years 10 months ago

Wow – you are a moron. Unless you are joking about your joke.
On another note, I, too, have been following Cliff Pennington because of that lovely plate discipline and extra base hit profile. The speed is a bonus, but if he can put his ducks in order and put together a full season it could be good. Certainly worth a late flier in 2012 re-drafts.

Brandon Warne
Guest
4 years 10 months ago

Oh absolutely. I think he could be a .780-ish OPS guy, which at SS is quite a value.

Now if he can get those darn stolen base rates up.

JimNYC
Guest
JimNYC
4 years 10 months ago

“Begs the question” does not mean what you think it means. Begging the question — petitio principii — is a logical fallacy where you include the point you’re trying to prove in your original assumption when making a (failed) logical argument. “It’s wrong to commit murder because killing people is wrong” is an example of begging the question — the proof and the conclusion are identical, so it’s not an argument. It’s an example of question-begging.

Whenever I see somebody use the words “begs the question” when they actually mean “raises the question” or “invites the question,” I die a little inside.

tony
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

wow jimNYC this is a baseball nut website take the english class somewhere else

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