2017 MLB Breakout Pick: SP Lance McCullers, Jr.
Most of the players on our list thus far are talented youngsters that have yet to fully establish themselves as major league starters. The Houston Astros have a player that fits that mold perfectly in Alex Bergman – the 23-year old former first round pick expected to be the everyday third baseman. On the other end of the spectrum, 33-year old Yuli Gurriel, the Cuban first baseman that hit .262/.292/.385 in his first big league action last season, would also be a fair choice.
But, if there’s one player on the Astros roster that could explode onto the national scene – and potentially even the Cy Young Award race – in 2017, it’s Lance McCullers, Jr.
Despite seeing major league action in 2015, McCullers didn’t make his first big league start until May last season. He was limited to 14 starts because of an elbow discomfort issue that ended his season in early August, but McCullers was nevertheless stellar as a 22-year old. In 81 innings, the hard-throwing right-hander with the dominating curveball posted a 3.22 ERA and struck out 106 hitters: 30.1 percent of the 352 batters he faced.
Such a strikeout rate would be excellent for a closer, and would have ranked third behind Jose Fernandez and Max Scherzer had he pitched among innings to qualify for the major league leaderboard. Among all big league pitchers that threw at least 50 innings in 2016, McCullers ranked No. 27.
McCullers has nasty stuff, but it is worth noting that he was often wild and walked 12.8 percent of the hitters he faced, which was more than all major league pitchers with at least 80 innings pitched last season. Also, he exited a spring training game in mid-March with a minor foot injury. However, the skin irritation McCullers experienced isn’t expected to carry over into the regular season.
Another Name to Know: 1B Yuli Gurriel
One More for the Future: 3B Alex Bregman