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Next stop, stardom: 2011 breakout picks – Brandon Morrow

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With the fifth pick in the 2006 draft Seattle chose Brandon Morrow over local boy and University of Washington ace Tim Lincecum, who quickly became one of the elite pitchers in baseball while Morrow bounced back and forth between the Mariners’ rotation and bullpen before being traded to the Blue Jays for Brandon League in December of 2009.

Toronto made Morrow a full-time starter, stuck with him in the rotation despite a 6.66 ERA through 10 outings, and then watched as he put together a three-month stretch of dominance. In his final 16 starts Morrow had a 3.36 ERA, .232 opponents’ batting average, and 113 strikeouts in 96 innings.

With a 4.49 ERA overall his 2010 performance looks modest at first glance, but Morrow was the only pitcher in baseball to strike out more than 10 batters per nine innings while starting at least 25 games. And he racked up 11.0 strikeouts per nine innings, easily topping the 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings from the second-place finisher … Tim Lincecum. Of course, Morrow has always missed tons of bats and always had overpowering raw stuff, totaling 382 strikeouts in 344 career innings while averaging 94.4 miles per hour with his fastball.

What kept him from dominating prior to the middle of last year was an inability to consistently throw strikes, but Morrow made major strides with his career-long control problems by walking 3.1 batters per nine innings during that 16-start stretch after previously handing out 5.8 free passes per nine frames. He’s never going to have pinpoint command, but if Morrow can keep his walk rate around 3.0 per nine innings–and bounce back quickly from his current arm soreness–he has a chance to be a true top-of-the-rotation ace for the Blue Jays and is still just 26 years old.

My other 2011 breakout picks: Carlos Santana and Colby Rasmus.

Report: Royals and Eric Hosmer have discussed a long-term contract extension

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 12:  Eric Hosmer #35 of the Kansas City Royals and the American League rounds the bases after hitting a home run against the National League in the 2nd inning of the 87th Annual MLB All-Star Game at PETCO Park on July 12, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
Denis Poroy/Getty Images
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Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Royals and first baseman Eric Hosmer have discussed a long-term contract extension. However, Hosmer also indicated that he will head into free agency if a deal is not consummated by Opening Day.

Hosmer, 27, avoided arbitration with the Royals last month, agreeing to a $12.25 million salary for the 2017 season. He is one of four key Royals players who can become a free agent after the season along with Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, and Lorenzo Cain. If Hosmer does reach free agency, he would arguably be the top free agent first baseman.

Hosmer finished the past season hitting .266/.328/.433 with 25 home runs and 104 RBI while making his first All-Star team.

Yankees sign Jon Niese to a minor league deal

PHOENIX, AZ - AUGUST 17:  Jonathon Niese #49 of the New York Mets delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on August 17, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images
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Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that the Yankees have signed pitcher Jon Niese to a minor league contract, pending a physical. Assuming the deal is finalized, Sherman notes that the Yankees will have Niese work as both a starter and a reliever in big league camp this spring.

According to Sherman, the Yankees were interested in lefty relievers Jerry Blevins and Boone Logan, but didn’t want to commit at their asking prices. They are looking for a lefty set-up man along with Tommy Lane.

Niese, 30, pitched for the Pirates and Mets last season, finishing with a 5.50 ERA and an 88/47 K/BB ratio over 121 innings.