Jake Arrieta showed promise during the 2014 season before fully breaking out with a record-setting '15 campaign en route to winning the National League Cy Young Award. This came one year after Indians ace Corey Kluber went from a relatively unknown starter in '13 to a 269-strikeout pitcher who won the '14 American League Cy Young Award.
Prior to winning the award, neither pitcher's name had surfaced much, if at all, in preseason Cy Young Award predictions -- and Arrieta wasn't even supposed to be the best pitcher on his own team. Yet those were the ultimate results of two of the better breakout pitching seasons in recent memory.
Not every breakout pitcher, however, is recognized with a Cy Young Award or a Rookie of the Year Award. Last year, young pitchers such as Carlos Martinez, Carlos Carrasco and Noah Syndergaard, just to name a few, burst onto the scene to establish themselves as formidable Major League pitchers.
There figures to be another group of breakout stars on the mound in 2016, so let's take a shot at predicting who exactly might fall into that category. Here's a look at a handful of pitchers who could take that next step in the upcoming season, though it was no easy task limiting the list to only five.
Raisel Iglesias, Reds
The Reds will be banking on at least one breakout performance in 2016, after relying exclusively on rookies to fill their rotation down the stretch last season. Iglesias has to be considered one of the more promising arms from that group after flashing his impressive strikeout potential in his debut campaign. The right-hander, who turned 26 on Jan. 4, had a 26.3-percent strikeout rate, which ranked 14th among pitchers with at least 90 innings.
In all, Iglesias racked up 104 strikeouts over just 95 1/3 innings in his rookie campaign, equating to 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings. Those numbers make him one of only 13 pitchers all-time to average at least 9.8 strikeouts per nine over at least 90 innings in his debut season. Iglesias is likely to have his growing pains as he adjusts to pitching a full Major League season, but any pitcher with that type of strikeout ability has a high ceiling.
Luis Severino, Yankees
Severino mostly lived up to the hype following his Major League debut on Aug. 5. At just 21 years old, he had a 2.89 ERA over 11 starts, helping the Yankees secure a postseason berth amid a number of questions surrounding the starting rotation. Those questions certainly remain heading into 2016, making a potential breakout season from Severino all the more important.
Something to keep an eye on is that Severino limited opponents to soft contact 26.9 percent of the time, according to Fangraphs, ranking him seventh among pitchers with at least 60 innings. It was a bit of all or nothing at times for the rookie, though, as he also served up 1.3 home runs per nine innings, a rate that would have been the 11th highest among qualified starters. That's not believed to be a major concern, however, considering this is the same pitcher who didn't allow a single long ball over 61 1/3 innings at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last year prior to his late-season promotion.
Steven Matz, Mets
Matz finds himself in a perfect situation for a breakout season. Not only is he surrounded by other young, star pitchers in Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Syndergaard, but he also had the benefit of getting his feet wet down the stretch last year. Matz went 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA in six regular-season starts, including 2-0 with a 2.86 ERA in four September starts. Not to mention, he already has three postseason starts -- including one in the World Series -- under his belt at just 24 years old.
Thus, it's no surprise that Matz enters his first full big league season as the Mets' No. 1 overall prospect and the No. 4-ranked pitching prospect across the Majors. Considering he stranded an unsustainable 91.3 percent of baserunners last season, he may not be able to match his 2.27 ERA over the course of an entire season. That said, it's not out of the question that Matz could become the second Mets pitcher in the past three years, joining deGrom, to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award.
Carlos Rodon, White Sox
Control problems led to an up-and-down rookie season for Rodon last year, but there are plenty of reasons to believe the 23-year-old lefty can take the next step in 2016. The No. 3 overall pick in '14, Rodon was fast-tracked to the Majors after tallying 51 strikeouts in just 34 1/3 innings at the Minor League level. He made his big league debut just three weeks into the season last year and ultimately stuck in the White Sox rotation for the better part of the year, finishing 9-6 with a 3.75 ERA. Though he racked up 9.0 strikeouts per nine innings, Rodon also handed out an unsightly 4.6 walks per nine.
Unsurprisingly, Rodon relied almost as much on his devastating slider, throwing it 30 percent of the time, as he did on his fastball (33 percent). On the bright side, opponents hit only .160 against his slider, but it would obviously benefit him long-term to strike a better balance -- and more consistency -- with his pitches. It doesn't hurt that Rodon finds himself on a pitching staff led by Chris Sale, another highly drafted left-hander with a sweeping slider who has established himself as one of the game's top pitchers. For the record, Sale threw his slider 24 percent of the time last year, compared to 38 percent for his fastball.
Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays
Take two. Stroman was the obvious candidate for a breakout season in 2015, but those plans were derailed when he tore his ACL last March. Stroman, of course, defied the odds by working all the way back from the apparent season-ending injury to make his season debut on Sept. 12. His ensuing performance only furthered the Blue Jays' hopes for the 24-year-old righty, as Stroman went 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA in his four regular-season starts.
Albeit an incredibly small sample, this is the same pitcher who went 11-6 with a 3.65 ERA over 26 outings as a rookie in 2014. Stroman allowed opponents to make hard contact only 23.5 percent of the time thant year, ranking fifth among all pitchers with at least 100 innings of work. Though he logged only 27 innings in '15, that trend continued, with his hard-hit percentage dipping even further to 21.8 percent. It also has to be an encouraging sign that opponents registered an average exit velocity of 82.7 mph against Stroman's cutter last year, which ranked as the eighth-lowest exit velocity against a cutter among pitchers with at least 75 such pitches.