2017 Third-Year Starters Set To Break Out

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Baseball continually churns out new stars yearly. Some are stars from the minute they arrive, while others can take some time to reach their sporting pinnacles.

Here we present a quartet of young starting pitchers who are on the verge of new frontiers, destined for previously unseen success.

These are your third-year starting pitchers set to break out in 2017.

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Third-Year Starters Bound for a Breakout

Lance McCullers - Houston Astros

Right-hander Lance McCullers has appeared destined for big things since first arriving on the scene back in 2015. However, the 23-year-old has struggled to fulfill his full potential, dealing with elbow and shoulder injuries last season. For that reason, he has a measly 12-12 record through his first two professional seasons. Still, McCullers should be held to high expectations this year, as he already demonstrated in his first spring start, which saw him go perfect in two innings.

Last season, his 81.4 LOB% was one of the top four in the league, while his 57.3 GB% ranked third. Additionally, while his BB/9 ratio went up from 3.08 to 5.00, his K/9 number soared from 9.25 in 2015 to 11.78, evening out well with his ground ball inducing ability. Should he make it the whole season sans injury, McCullers will overtake Dallas Keuchel as team ace. Considering the pieces Houston has in place, he could be one of the top pitchers in the American League this season.

 

Carlos Rodon - Chicago White Sox

After a promising rookie season with the White Sox two years ago, Carlos Rodon appeared to take a step back last year. The 24-year-old won nine games for the second consecutive season, but lost four additional games, finishing the season a game under .500. His ERA also went up, and he gave up more home runs. However, the bright spots came in Rodon’s strikeout and walk rates, which went up and down, respectively. His 2016 campaign was a tale of two halves, as his numbers saw a significant boost after the all-star break. While he posted a 4.50 ERA prior to the break, he pitched to an ERA of a full run less in the second half.

Now a year wiser and with more experience, it shouldn’t be too much to expect a continuation of his second half of last season to drag onto this year. More strikeouts, less walks and more faith in his pitches will go a long way in making Carlos Rodon a revelation and a terrific number two starter in the rotation behind Jose Quintana. With an ADP nearing 200, he'll be available in the later rounds and will be a draft day steal for those who snatch him up.

 

Jerad Eickhoff - Philadelphia Phillies

Indiana native Jerad Eickhoff has displayed flashes of brilliance in his two seasons with the Phillies, but his teammates have failed to carry him and his record. Although he features a 3.44 career ERA in 41 starts, his record stands at a disappointing 14-17. In terms of his stuff alone, the 26-year-old doesn’t strike out a substantial number of batters, but he does walk very few, induce a healthy number of ground balls and strands plenty of runners.

Eickhoff is a horse in the rotation, having nearly surpassed the 200-inning mark last season while not missing a start and going over six innings in over two-thirds of his outings. Run support ultimately felled his record, as he ranked below the top 50 pitchers in the category. While this aspect of his season was one of the reasons for his struggles, his FIP was a high 4.19. Eickhoff's struggles with home runs plays a role in this outcome, but he's been working on improving these situations by ramping up use of his changeup, thus improving his arsenal of pitches. Ultimately, the high ballpark home run factor at Citizens Bank may play a role in this. Considering how he managed last year with an abnormal amount of home runs surrendered, he seems poised to succeed, despite that detriment. Even if he remains a mid-rotation starter, Eickhoff is poised to be a highly consistent one, and even the slightest improvement in run support will work wonders for his record.

 

Brandon Finnegan - Cincinnati Reds

Just a quick glance at Brandon Finnegan’s 10-11 record with a 3.98 ERA doesn’t tell the story of his 2016 campaign. The 23-year-old, in his third season and second as a starter, might have made a monumental discovery late in the season. From his last start in July through the end of the season, he surrendered more than three runs in an outing just once. By late August, he was pitching like a full blown ace, and he posted a 1.93 ERA and an impressive 11.3 K/9 ratio in his last seven starts.

The big change Finnegan made was integrating the changeup more into his pitching repertoire. His changeup wound up becoming his very best pitch down the stretch as he pitched the best baseball we’ve seen yet. Looking forward, everything is firmly in place for Finnegan to emerge as Cincinnati’s best starting pitcher. The one adjustment that could make this official would be lowering his walks, which saw a rise per nine innings last year.

 

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