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.