You know Snell and Cole, Verlander and Paxton, Berrios, Nova, Beiber, and Morton … but do you recall the most underrated AL pitcher of all?
Fantasy owners drafting their teams and early-season baseball bettors alike are looking for one thing – value. Who’s that guy no one is talking about with a chance to be great this season?
Today I’m looking at the American League. There are a few unproven pitchers who I see making a leap from mediocrity to relevance in 2020. We call this a breakout season. I see one pitcher in particular who has the stuff to be contending for Cy Young honors at the end of the year along with the proven studs.
The 28-year-old LA Angel Andrew Heaney has been let down by his body thus far in his career. The last time Heaney left training camp healthy was 2016. An elbow injury required Tommy John and knocked him out until the latter portion of 2017.
2018 was a mini-breakout season for Heaney. He made his season debut in mid-April and threw 180 innings. It appeared Heaney had arrived as a mainstay on the Angels’ staff.
2019 was a year of regression for Heaney – thanks to injury. The lefty threw only 95 innings in 2019 and held an ERA close to 5 – nearly a full run higher than his 2018 mark.
So what is different in 2020? For one, all indications are that Heaney is fully healthy. The Angels have named him their Opening Day starter. This is high praise for a pitcher who is far from the most experienced on the staff.
What do the Angels see in Heaney to give him all of these chances and why am I expecting a Cy Young-contending season from a pitcher yet to break the 4.00-ERA barrier?
A former first-round pick, Heaney is loaded with potential. Standing 6’2 and throwing from the left side, Heaney’s best pitch is a sinking fastball that he can get into the low 90s with excellent command. He also has incredible control of his offspeed pitches – a curve and a changeup.
Heaney will throw a 4-seam fastball as a get-me-over pitch but is primarily a 3-pitch pitcher. An impeccably consistent pitching motion allows Heaney to maintain excellent control of his pitches, even when attempting to ramp up the velocity.
Pitchers with good control who rely heavily on their sinkers tend to get lots of ground balls. Heaney is no different. Home runs have never plagued Heaney in the past. The level of “juice” in the MLB baseballs has little effect on Heaney’s game.
Heaney’s Progression is a Reason for Optimism
If Heaney has such great arm talent, why hasn’t he posted dominant numbers? Even in his one full season (2018) his ERA was north of 4.00.
Here is why I am predicting big things for Heaney in 2020. When he was on the mound last season, his peripheral numbers were great. Heaney’s average fastball velocity was 92.5 last year, up 2 full MPH from his younger years.
His “stuff” was better across the board last season. Early in his career, Heaney pitched to contact and induced many ground balls. Last season he began missing bats. His 2019 swinging strike rate of 14.1% was the highest of his career.
If Heaney can get ground balls and strikeouts – watch out!
Heaney has the tools to put himself in Cy Young contention. He was the #1 prospect in the Angels’ organization and is now finally learning how to pitch. Given that Heaney’s body can hold up for a full season, 17-18 wins and a killer strikeout rate is not out of the question.
Start the countdown to Opening Day! See you on top!