Next stop, stardom: 2011 breakout picks – Derek Holland

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Cliff Lee’s departure left a huge hole in the Rangers’ rotation and they signed rehabbing former Cy Young winner Brandon Webb in the hopes he could fill the void if healthy, but 24-year-old left-hander Derek Holland emerging as a front-line starter is the more likely way for Texas to forget all about Lee.

Holland was slowed by a knee injury last spring and began the season in the minors, but earned a call-up in mid-May by posting a 0.93 ERA and 37/7 K/BB ratio in six starts at Triple-A. He pitched well through three starts, but then looked nothing like his usual self against the Twins on May 30 and missed the next two months with a shoulder injury.

Holland returned from the disabled list in mid-August and threw 38 innings down the stretch, finishing with a 4.08 ERA, .247 opponents’ batting average, and 54/24 K/BB ratio in 57 innings overall. Toss in his 1.83 ERA and 85/27 K/BB ratio in 93 career innings between Double-A and Triple-A, and it’s easy to see the young southpaw’s star potential. His fastball averaged 92 miles per hour last season and Holland’s low-80s slider is his best pitch, with a solid changeup giving him the repertoire to thrive as a starter long term.

Being a fly-ball pitcher in Texas’ power-inflating ballpark works against Holland, but he misses enough bats and throws enough strikes to succeed even while serving up some long balls. Counting on Holland to truly replace Lee is obviously wishful thinking, particularly at age 24 and with just 31 career starts under his belt, but he has the ability to emerge as one of the top left-handed starters in the league and looks capable of taking the first big step this season.

My other 2011 breakout picks: Carlos Santana, Colby Rasmus, Justin Upton, and Brandon Morrow.

Dodgers designate Sergio Romo for assignment

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The Dodgers announced on Thursday that the club activated pitcher Grant Dayton from the 10-day disabled list and designated pitcher Sergio Romo for assignment.

Dayton, 29, went on the disabled list earlier this month with neck stiffness. He’ll resume with a 3.63 ERA and a 20/12 K/BB ratio in 22 1/3 innings.

Romo, 34, signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Dodgers in February. It didn’t really work out, as the right-hander posted a 6.12 ERA with a 31/12 K/BB ratio in 25 innings. His peripherals are still decent, so it wouldn’t be surprising if a team in need of a bullpen arm makes a deal with the Dodgers within the week.

Nate Karns underwent season-ending surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome

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MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan reports that Royals pitcher Nate Karns underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome on Wednesday. He’s expected to be ready for spring training next year. Karns went on the disabled list in May with an elbow injury and didn’t make much progress.

The Royals acquired Karns from the Mariners in January in exchange for outfielder Jarrod Dyson. Over eight starts and one relief appearance, the 29-year-old right-hander compiled a 4.17 ERA and a 51/13 K/BB ratio in 45 1/3 innings.

Karns will enter his first of three years of arbitration eligibility after the season, so he’ll be under the Royals’ control through 2020.