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Fantasy baseball 2014: Breakout players include Masahiro Tanaka, Billy Hamilton, sleepers

By Matthew Orso (orso90@gmail.com)
on Feb 28, 2014 10:19 AM EST
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Masahiro Tanaka
Newly-signed Yankee Masahiro Tanaka. (Photo : Reuters)

Fantasy baseball is coming quicker than a Aroldis Chapman 100 miles-per-hour fastball. In preparation of another competitive fantasy season, check out my Top 5 “Breakout Stars” for the 2014 season.

Bonus: Fantasy sleepers

No. 5: C Josmil Pinto (Twins)

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Someone needs to step up with Joe Mauer moving to first base for the 2014 season. That someone is Twins' catcher Josmil Pinto. Pinto, 24, is one of the top Twins' catching prospect. He played 126 games in the minor leagues last season, splitting time between AA and AAA. Overall, he hit .309 with 15 home runs and 74 runs batted in the minor leagues last season. Pinto played a “cup of coffee” at the Major League level in 2013. In 21 games with the Twins, he hit .342 with four home runs and 12 RBI.

Pinto is dealing with back stiffness in spring training thus far. He is expected to split catching time with veteran Kurt Suzuki. Suzuki hit .232 with five home runs in 94 games between the Nationals and Athletics last season. Suzuki is likely to get a majority of the starting time early in the season. However he is injury prone and Pinto will get a chance soon enough. Pinto may be the next Joe Mauer when it comes to pure hitting from the catching position. I suggest drafting Pinto, especially if you're in a keeper league.

No. 4: RHP Masahiro Tanaka (Yankees)

Tanaka has already made a big splash this off-season, coming off a 24-0 season in Japan and signing with the New York Yankees. His contract, which stands at seven-years $155 million, will put pressure on the 25-year old right handed pitcher. However I don't believe that will matter in the end. Tanaka has great stuff, including a fastball which can reach 97 MPH and a devastating splitter.

For seven professional seasons in Japan, Tanaka went 99-35, with a 2.30 ERA. In fact he's pitched to the tune of a 1.27 ERA in two of his last three seasons in Japan. (He had a 1.27 ERA in 2011 and 2013 with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.) Tanaka will succeed in the United States. All Japanese pitchers have a transition period and Tanaka will be no different. Expect the right-hander to win 14-15 games with an ERA around 3.50. He could strike out as many as 200 batters this season, though it's more likely he punch out 170-180.

No. 3: LHP Jose Quintana (White Sox)

Quintana has pitched two good seasons with the White Sox and is looking to breakout big time. He went 9-7, with a 3.51 ERA during the 2013 season. Quintana, 25, managed to throw 200 innings for a White Sox team that went 63-99 last season. He has great stuff; a 91 MPH fastball with movement, a hard slider and sweeping curve ball. Few pitchers have the potential that Quintana does. Expect the lefty to have a great season. I believe he'll win 14 games, pitch a 3.20 ERA and throw more than 210 innings.

No. 2: RHP Zack Wheeler (Mets)

With Matt Harvey out for the season, Zack Wheeler will have to take the leadership role for the Mets in 2014. Wheeler, 23, went 7-5, with a 3.42 ERA in 17 starts for the Mets last season. The team kept Wheeler to an innings limit. I'd expect the Mets to limit Wheeler to around 200.0 innings this season, especially if there's no playoff push by New York. However, drafting Wheeler will help any team this season. He fastball is clocked on averaged from 94-95 MPH, often going as high as 98 MPH. He's got a great assortment of off-speed pitches and will be an all-star in this league for years to come. I believe Wheeler will win 17 games in 2014 and strikeout more than 200 batters. He has the potential to be just as good as Harvey, if not better.

No. 1: OF Billy Hamilton (Reds)

Hamilton has the most potential of any base runner since Rickey Henderson. In five minor league seasons, Hamilton stole 395 bases, including 155 bases during the 2012 season. He stole 13 bases and hit .368 in 13 games at the Major League level last season. Unless something devastating occurs, Hamilton should be the Reds' starting center fielder in 2014.

The one concern with Hamilton lies with getting on base. He had a .308 OBP at Triple-A last season. The old baseball adage is that “you can't steal first.” Despite concern, Reds hitting coach Don Long has faith in his young outfielder.

"Billy's stronger than you think," Long told ESPN baseball writer Jerry Crasnick. "He has the ability to hit the ball hard on a line. If he mis-hits it and gets a little bit on top of the ball, it will be on the ground, but it won't be a rollover ground ball."

I expect Hamilton to be a “Vince Coleman” like major leaguer. He won't have the best OBP, but is going to steal bases. I think he'll hit around .280 this season and steal 75 bases. He has great potential. Fantasy players need to draft Hamilton, whether you play in keeper league or not. He's going to produce this season, especially for owners in roto-style legues. 

Would any of these players crack your top five “Breakout Stars?” Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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