By Michael Model
Spring Training 2015 is officially underway and the regular season starts in under a month’s time. As with every season there will be breakout players, comeback players, and comeback players during the 2015 season. With that in mind, here are my five early season AL Cy Young Award candidate projections for 2015 (in no particular order).
1. Felix Hernandez
Felix Hernandez, “King Felix,” has probably been the most consistent AL pitcher over the last seven years. Since 2009, King Felix has thrown at least 200 innings and has struck out over 200 batters in each season. During that stretch, Hernandez was selected to five all-star teams. Hernandez also won the 2010 AL Cy Young Award. With the Mariners stronger than ever this season after bolstering their offense, the competitive atmosphere should give Hernandez that extra motivation to lead his team into October ball. In addition, he is still in his prime at 29 years old. Coming off a 15-6 campaign during which he posted a 2.14 ERA look for Felix Hernandez to be even better this year.
2. Garrett Richards
Garrett Richards really took the league by storm last season, his first as a full time starter. Prior to tearing his ACL, Richards posted a 13-4 record with a solid 2.61 ERA. Richards also struck out a total of 164 batters in only 26 starts. Therefore, without his injury, he probably would’ve amassed 200, and maybe even approached 230 strikeouts on the season. He did so with a high-90s fastball, which is complemented by a sharp curveball. Although he tore his ACL, his pitching shouldn’t be affected because he didn’t hurt his arm. Don’t be surprised if he starts out the season right where he left off in 2014 and continues that production throughout the year.
3. Alex Cobb
Another youngster, Alex Cobb will enter the 2015 season at age 27. Cobb had his best season in 2013, during which he went 11-3 with a 2.76 ERA. Unfortunately he only made 22 starts as that season was cut short due to injury. If he played out the season, he could’ve potentially surpassed 220 strikeouts, and possibly would’ve made a run at the Cy Young. Nevertheless, with Price gone, Cobb will be the ace for the Tampa Bay Rays. He has had a solid breaking-ball in the past and will need that to continue if he wants to lead the Rays. This kid has a ton of potential and it’ll be interesting to see what he can do in 2015.
4. Corey Kluber (2014 Winner)
Corey Kluber won the AL Cy Young Award last season, and there’s no reason to think he can’t compete for another. Kluber posted a remarkable 18-9 record with a 2.44 ERA. In addition, Kluber struck out 269 batters in 235 innings in 2014. His off-speed effectiveness should not decline in the following season. Although no one has repeated since Pedro Martinez in 1999-2000, two of the past three winners have finished in the top-five for the voting in their quest for a repeat.
5. Yovani Gallardo
Somewhat of a controversial pick, Gallardo can be a solid bounce back player in 2015. A one-time all-star, Gallardo posted five consecutive ten-win seasons in Milwaukee. Gallardo was also the team’s ace during that period. At only 29 years old, Gallardo is still in his prime. Also, he has been sent to Texas and change in league and team should help him rebound. Gallardo has proven that he has the stuff to succeed, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see a campaign like Francisco Liriano had in 2013.