Pittsburgh Pirates: Four Pitchers With Breakout Potential

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 27: JT Brubaker #65 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches during the game against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on September 27, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 27: JT Brubaker #65 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches during the game against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on September 27, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images) /
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Sep 14, 2020; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Baltimore Orioles pitcher Carson Fulmer (60) throws a pitch in the ninth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 14, 2020; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Baltimore Orioles pitcher Carson Fulmer (60) throws a pitch in the ninth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports /

We saw a handful of players make their debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2020, but who are some of the potential arms we could see breakout in 2021?

2020 hasn’t been a normal year, especially for Major League Baseball. Despite finishing with a 19-41 record, the Pittsburgh Pirates got a lot out of the 2020 season. They got the first draft pick, and watched a handful of players show a decent amount of potential at in the Majors.

Next season, we should see a handful of the players we saw in 2020 return with the Pittsburgh Pirates. With the new pitching regime, we also saw a handful of pitchers take steps forward. Joe Musgrove had a great season and Chris Stratton had a nice breakout. Richard Rodriguez also had a strong bounce back campaign after a rough 2019. So who are some arms that we could see breakout in 2021?

Carson Fulmer

The Chicago White Sox selected Carson Fulmer with the 8th overall pick in the 2015 draft for a reason. He has some outstanding stuff. Fulmer ranked as a top 100 prospect in 2016 and 2017, but has struggled since getting to the professional stage.

Things for Fulmer’s career haven’t gone as planned when the Sox took him in the first-round. Fulmer looked good in his first few professional outings, pitching to the tune of a 1.96 ERA, 3.46 FIP and 1.13 WHIP in 23 innings. Fulmer struck out 26 batters and issued nine walks. However, he hasn’t been the same since.

Fulmer has continuously struggled with walks. In 2016, his walk rate jumped from 9.7% to 12.2% between Double-A and Triple-A. Fulmer’s high walk rate in 2016 led to a 4.63 ERA, 1.47 WHIP and 3.87 FIP.

Fulmer made his professional debut in 2016 and while it was a small sample size of 11.2 innings, the walks continued, issuing seven free passes. In 2017, Fulmer’s walk rate stayed relatively the same at 11.4%, but his strikeout rate fell dramatically to a meer 16.8% after reaching 22.7% the year prior. He also gave up 18 home runs in 126 innings at Triple-A compared to just eight in 108 innings in 2016.

The righty continued to struggled in 2018 serving as a reliever part time, but he did show some promise again in 2019. He pitched 34 innings with a 4.76 ERA, but his strikeout rate reached 33.6% and he allowed only two home runs. While walks were still an issue, giving them out at a 13.8% rate, his FIP sat at 3.24.

MLB hitters have not been all that kind to him, either. He’s pitched 105 innings with a 6.34 ERA, 6.03 FIP and 1.60 WHIP. The walk and home run issues have continued to plague the right hander with a 13.9% walk rate and 1.71 HR/9. Fulmer’s strikeout percentage sits at just 18.9%. His career xFIP is 4.77 while is SIERA is 4.22.

Regardless of the numbers, Fulmer has the stuff to be a solid relief pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Fulmer’s cutter sits in the top 91st percentile in spin rate coming in with 2623 RPM. Meanwhile, his curveball averaged 2674 RPM, which sat in the top 88th percentile. If Fulmer transitions to the pen, he could focus on just two or three pitches. Not only could that help his control, but also potentially help increase his velocity.

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