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.

Kolten Wong exits game with elbow contusion

Kolten Wong
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Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong was pulled from Saturday’s game against the Brewers after sustaining a right elbow contusion, according to a team announcement. The full extent of the injury has not been revealed, nor is it clear when Wong might return to the lineup, though he’s presumed to be day-to-day for the time being.

Wong suffered the injury in the third inning. He reached base on a line drive single to right field, his first of the evening, and was accidentally struck on the elbow when Wade Miley made an errant throw to Jesus Aguilar on a pickoff attempt. The 27-year-old second baseman has already seen his season shortened by injuries after sustaining a right thigh contusion and, more recently, dealing with a bout of chronic inflammation in his left knee. He entered Saturday’s contest batting .238/.323/.388 on the year with eight home runs, and a .711 OPS through 330 PA.

Following the incident, Wong was replaced on the field by Greg Garcia at the top of the fourth inning. The Cardinals currently lead the Brewers 4-1 in the bottom of the sixth.