You only get one shot at a breakout starting pitcher, as the saying goes.
Or it should be a saying, anyway — at least in this era of early hooks and record-setting offense. If someone thinks they've found something special at the most volatile and in-demand position, they cling to it like a winning lottery ticket.
But if you've been bemoaning your missed opportunity at Lucas Giolito or Matthew Boyd or Brandon Woodruff or Chris Paddack, you can take some solace in knowing there will be more. Breakouts don't always reveal themselves at the start of a new season, and already a second wave of potential breakouts is beginning to form.
Here's the key: You have to act before you know for sure, taking a chance at the first glimmer of potential and giving it an opportunity to shine. In fact, you may already be late to some of these pitchers. But if any one is still out there in your league, particularly those at the top of the list, now is the time to act.
And if you've already happened to claim one of them, for heaven's sake, hold on.
LAA L.A. Angels • #47 • Age: 24
While Fantasy players have been slow to move on Griffin Canning, his swinging strike rate would be fifth-best among qualifiers, behind Blake Snell, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander and ahead of, yup, Shane Bieber. Both consistently throw strikes despite leaning heavily on a swing-and-miss slider, but both can get burned by the long ball, especially against opposite-handed hitters, because they lack confidence in the changeup.
LAA L.A. Angels • #28 • Age: 29
Both Andrew Heaney and Caleb Smith are fly-ball pitchers, which has already led to the former getting burned by the long ball through four starts, but the other thing the two have in common: a jump in swinging strike rate from good to elite thanks to an increased reliance on the breaking ball. It's a little early to say whether these trends will hold for Heaney, but he's even sharing in Smith's struggles to go six innings, the bump in strikeouts possibly creating some efficiency issues.
Nick Pivetta RP
PHI Philadelphia • #43 • Age: 27
Nick Pivetta had no shortage of believers on Draft Day, of course, but his breakout credentials are under review again after a stint in the minors. Of his three starts since returning, two were terrific while the other was plagued by the long ball. Though he has three pitches, they're more like above-average than elite, which limits his upside to the Domingo German range. Both are likely to settle in with an ERA around 4.00, but with enough strikeouts, innings and wins to make it worth it.
HOU Houston • #59 • Age: 26
Though they go about it differently, Frankie Montas and Framber Valdez have both mastered the art of run prevention in the Three True Outcomes Era: They keep the ball on the ground while still missing enough bats to take luck out of the equation. Montas is the better bat-misser of the two, but Valdez is like a Dallas Keuchel-level outlier in terms of ground balls, which should make up the difference. His first two starts since shifting out of the bullpen, in which he allowed a combined three earned runs with 15 strikeouts in 13 innings, may well be a sign of things to come.
OAK Oakland • #44 • Age: 22
Jesus Luzardo's numbers have come in the minors, of course — and in just a couple of abbreviated rehab starts as he works his way back from a strained rotator cuff. He was a force there last year, though, and was on the verge of winning a rotation spot this spring, having allowed one earned run while striking out 15 in 9 2/3 innings. Now that he's taking his rehab assignment to Triple-A, he should be ready to step in as the Athletics ace, a full allotment of innings at his disposal, by the All-Star break at the latest. And the impact could be Lucas Giolito-like given his plus-plus fastball/changeup combo.
Pablo Lopez SP
MIA Miami • #49 • Age: 24
Pablo Lopez may lack the ceiling of an ace, but in an era when so few are permitted to pitch a third time through the lineup, the ability to throw six-plus innings consistently, as he has done in four straight, helps close the gap. His recent success has coincided with an emphasis on the changeup, which has also fueled Mike Minor's breakout. Both project for a high-threes ERA, according to FIP and/or xFIP, but if they can give you some seven-inning starts with about a strikeout per, you'll take it.
Zac Gallen SP
ARI Arizona • #23 • Age: 25
Oh God, he has no face! OK, so clearly we're dealing with another minor-leaguer here, and while it's beyond ridiculous that the Marlins passed over Zac Gallen last week when they finally had some rotation openings (not one, but two) after an incredible stretch of good health to begin the season, they've since moved Jose Urena to the 60-day IL. So not only can they justify adding Gallen to the 40-man roster knowing there's a long-term opening but they also cleared a 40-man spot with the transaction itself. Like Matthew Boyd, Gallen never earned high marks for his stuff, but clearly it plays up thanks to his command. A more consistent arm slot and improved cutter have helped the 23-year-old take off in the upper minors.
TB Tampa Bay • #49 • Age: 24
Of the three minor-league pitchers featured in this column, Brendan McKay is the least certain to be promoted both because the Rays are still attempting to develop him as a two-way player and because the workload could become an issue sooner than later. But as a pitcher, he has ripped through the minor leagues, dominating every level with a strikeout-to-walk ratio nearly as impressive as the one that put Chris Paddack on the map. Expect a similar impact with similar innings concerns if and when McKay does get the call.