Image credit: Tarik Skubal (Rich Schultz/Getty)
This is one of 10 burning questions comprising Baseball America’s 2021 MLB Season Preview. To see the full preview, click here. Below, our staffers pick the pitcher most likely to break out in 2021 and offer a brief explanation as to why.
Ben Badler — Tarik Skubal, Tigers. Skubal has power stuff and a knack for missing bats; he struck out 82 batters in 42.1 innings in Double-A in 2019, with 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings in the majors in 2020. There’s no smoke-and-mirrors act here. It’s the type of repertoire and strike-throwing ability that could make him a frontline starter soon.
Alexis Brudnicki — Cal Quantrill, Indians. Finally, a chance to make this list Canadian-heavy, with a righthander who found success in last year’s limited season and is poised to carry that into this year. Even if his opportunities to do so aren’t abundant right out of the gate, the increase in workload in 2021 should provide plenty
Mark Chiarelli — Triston McKenzie, Indians. McKenzie’s impressive big league debut quickly garnered Cleveland’s trust, earning a spot on their playoff roster. Just two qualified starters had more vertical break on their four-seam fastballs in 2020: Walker Buehler and Trevor Bauer. Combine McKenzie’s ability to get whiffs at the top of the zone with two above-average secondaries, plus Cleveland’s track record at developing arms, and he looks like their next great homegrown talent.
Carlos Collazo — Drew Smyly, Braves. Only Felix Peña added more fastball velocity than Smyly in 2020, per Baseball Savant. That increased velo made his entire arsenal more effective, along with increasing his curveball usage. With a fastball that averaged 94 mph, Smyly’s out-of-zone whiff percentage ticked up from 42.5% to 67.2%—the biggest gain of any qualified pitcher. If he can hold that sort of a velo over a full season—a reasonable if—he could be quite good
J.J. Cooper —Tejay Antone, Reds. Antone went from being a potential up-and-down reliever to a useful reliever and effective spot starter in 2020. With Cincinnati losing multiple starters in free agency, Antone should earn a larger role this year. His stuff, especially his now high-90s fastball, looks even better than a year ago
Matt Eddy — Tyler Mahle, Reds. While Mahle struck out 11.3 batters per nine innings and recorded a 133 ERA+ last season, it didn’t attract much attention in the short season concentrated against Central opponents. He has a chance to prove it over 162 games this year if his improved fastball and slider continue to get the same results they did in 2020.
Kyle Glaser — Sandy Alcantara, Marlins. Alcantara was an all-star as a rookie and blossomed into a worthy No. 1 starter on a playoff team last year. With premium stuff, improving control and a growing knowledge of how to attack hitters, Alcantara is set to take another step forward and become one of the National League’s top starters in 2021.
Josh Norris — Jesus Luzardo, Athletics. The lefthander has dynamic stuff and had a chance to break out in 2020 if the season weren’t abbreviated. He’s shown flashes of dominance and should show them more consistently in 2021.
Chris Hilburn-Trenkle — Dane Dunning, Rangers. Dunning pitched well in his return from Tommy John surgery as a rookie in 2020. With above-average control, a solid sinker/slider combo and an improving four-seamer, Dunning will be one of the lone bright spots for the Rangers this season.