Breakout Hitters and Pitchers
The key to winning in fantasy baseball is targeting players on draft day who will significantly outperform their draft position and making solid additions on the wavier wire early on once the season starts to give your team a shot in the arm. The definition of a breakout is certainly subjective, there are a wide variety of types of breakouts, my job as a fantasy analyst is to take a look at all of the data avaialble and attempt to predict which established players will take the jump and become elite fantasy performers and which players will emerge out of nowhere to become impact contributors.
Breakouts can occur at any stage in a players career. Last season for example, Mike Trout broke out onto the fantasy scene at age 20 other players like a Justin Ruggiano (30 years old) or Garrett Jones (30 years old) don't break out until they are much older. We could have a whole discussion on what consititutes a breakout and what the correct definition of a breakout candidate is, but to simplify, my definition of a breakout candidate is a player who emerges from either off the fantasy radar or the very edge of it to become a valuable fantasy commodity or a well known Major League player who experiences a skills breakthrough that elevates their status to another stratosphere.
The following players are all to a varying degree breakout candidates that will help you win your fantasy league if they do in fact breakout in 2013: Yu Darvish, Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer, Julio Teheran, Brett Lawrie, Carlos Gomez, Aaron Hicks, Jackie Bradley, Yasiel Puig, Oscar Taveras, Shelby Miller, Billy Hamilton and Will Myers.
Headliner Breakout Candidates
This list of guys includes early round studs who have tremendous raw talent and potential, have already had success at the big-league level and are on the precipice of joining the elite fantasy performers at their respective positions. You will have to pay a premium on draft day to acquire their talent, but at the end of the season, these players will significantly outperform their average draft position if they take the next step and join the fantasy elite at their respective position.
Yu Davish - SP - Texas Rangers
If I told you that a 26-year old pitcher in just his second season in The Show had the potential to lead Major League Baseball in strikeouts after a dominant 16-win rookie campaign and that you could acquire his services for only a fifth round pick, you would be interested, right?
Darvish, who ranked fifth in the league in strikeouts with 221 in his first season in the United States, showed improvement in the second half of the season, cutting his walk rate substantially down the stretch (Darvish issued no more than two walks in any of his final eight starts, including the playoffs) and certainly has the potential to take the next step forward and develop into an elite top-10 starting pitcher in 2013. The only issue with Darvish is the walks and he certainly has shown the ability to improve his command as he gains more experience. It's hard to find a better pitching value than R.A. Dickey on draft day, but Darvish has the potential to be a steal for his fantasy owners.
Bryce Harper - OF - Washington Nationals
There are plenty of fantasy analysts and baseball writers who know a lot more than I do and virtually all of them were thoroughly impressed by .270 batting average, .340 on-base percentage, 22 home runs and 18 stolen bases Harper racked up at the age of 19 last season. Harper may be a once in a generation hitting talent, to be able to do what he did after getting called up on April 28 despite facing virtually nothing but breaking pitches and being forced to make adjustments is unbelievable. There is no doubt that at some point, Harper will be one of, if not, the best player in fantasy baseball. The major question is whether or not that will happen this season. There is a segment of the fantasy community, myself included, that believes in Harper and that he is good enough right now to warrant consideration in the second round, which is where you will have to reach in order to acquire his services. Harper is not for the risk adverse, it is equally as likely that he struggles in his sophomore campaign, but you don't win a fantasy title without taking some risk and if there is one player who could explode this season, my money would be on Harper.
Max Scherzer - SP - Detroit Tigers
Scherzer led all Major League starting pitchers in strikeouts per nine innings (11.08) last season and perhaps more impressive than that, Scherzer overcame an ugly first month of April in which he posted a 7.77 ERA, to post a 3.14 ERA from May 1st on. Fantasy baseball owners want to target pitchers who strike batters out and virtually nobody is better at that than Scherzer who finished second in baseball, trailing only his teammate Justin Verlander, striking out 231 batters his mid-90's fastball (which has experienced a jump in velocity in recent years), a lethal slider and changeup. Take out the month of April from last season and Scherzer is a top-10 fantasy starter, but you won't have to pay that price on draft day.
The Win Your League Impact Breakouts
The following players are ones who have the potential to help you win your fantasy league this season. If they do in fact breakout and provide elite or above average production, they are a lock to significantly outperform their average draft position and provide tremendous value to your fantasy squad. All of the names listed are currently being drafted in the mid-to-late rounds of all fantasy drafts.
Julio Teheran - SP - Atlanta Braves
The fantasy industry has developed a term for failed prospects who breakout later in their careers, the post-hype breakout candidate. Often times these are highly touted prospects who never lived up to expectation due to poor performance, inflated expectation or injuries. Teheran, who was Baseball America's No. 5 prospect in both 2011 (when he went 15-3 in Triple-A) and 2012, but has had little success at the Major League level posting a 5.19 ERA in 26.0 innings, fits that mold perfectly.
Things seem to have finally clicked for Teheran this Spring Training where he has been downright filthy and has locked up a spot in the Braves rotation. Teheran has posted a 1.04 ERA with 35 strikeouts over 26 innings in six starts this spring and with an average draft position of 236 (19th Round) there is virtually no downside.
Brett Lawrie - 3B - Toronto Blue Jays
One year ago today, no hitter generated more buzz in the fantasy industry than Lawrie, who ultimately did not live up to the hype due in large part to injuries and his fantasy owners who paid the third round price tag got burned. Once again, Lawrie is banged up and will start the season on the disabled list due to lingering issues with a strained rib cage. The monster upside is still there and playing for a Toronto club that just experienced a huge influx of talent, Lawrie could put up huge power numbers as a key cog in the Blue Jays lineup if he can stay on the field. His stock has taken a hit in every fantasy league, but the breakout candidates most likely to succeed are the ones who have flashed elite talent, but have struggled with injuries and finally stay healthy (See Jacoby Ellsbury 2011).
Carlos Gomez - OF - Milwaukee Brewers
The second half numbers speak for themselves, Gomez compiled a .278 average with 14 home runs, 33 RBI and 26 stolen bases after the All-Star break last season. Looking for another vote of confidence? The Brewers just handed Gomez a four-year contract extension over the winter. All indications are that Gomez has finally put it all together and we at FFToolbox are buying in. Is a regression possible, yes, but there is also the possibility that Gomez gets better, which equates to an elite five category contributor.
Prospecting for Breakouts
These impact prospects have the potential to greatly impact fantasy owners rosters when they make it to The Show this season and need to be either stashed on your bench or on your radar at the very least. This expression has become common around the fantasy baseball community, but lets be honest, there will never be another Mike Trout who produces at the level he did last season. There will be prospects who come up and have a fantasy impact however, here are the most likely breakout candidate prospects for the upcoming season.
Aaron Hicks - OF - Minnesota Twins
A blistering Spring Training performance (.379 average with four home runs, 11 extra-base hits) enabled Hicks, a former top prospect who had fallen off the radar momentarily after a down 2011 season but rebounded with a strong 2012 in the minor leagues, to win the center field job over Joe Benson and Darin Mastroianni. At the very least, Hicks will provide runs and stolen bases and needs to be owned in all fantasy leagues.
Jackie Bradley - OF - Boston Red Sox
"BradleyMania" has swept over Boston, without question. Bradley, who was one of the players I profiled in my "Draft Day Strategy" article for FFToolbox (I am a company man), is looking like the Red Sox Opening Day left fielder with designated hitter David Ortiz starting the season on the disabled list. Bradley has tore the cover off the ball in Spring Training, batting .444 with four doubles, a triple and a pair of home runs. Spring Training stats don't count for much except when you are competing for a roster spot like Bradley is. If he makes the Opening Day roster, Bradley has a chance to stick in left field for a very long time at Fenway. He has excellent on-base skills and speed that should translate to plenty of runs scored a double-digit stolen bases. The power may develop over time, but expect Bradley to be one of the hottest names in baseball early on.
Yasiel Puig - OF - Los Angeles Dodgers
No prospect has generated more buzz than Yasiel Puig for the Dodgers this Spring Training. The raw 22-year old Cuban native signed a seven-year $42 million deal with Los Angeles last June and has done everything he can to make the club, batting an absurd .527 with five doubles, a pair of triples, three home runs 11 RBI and four stolen bases. Puig's on base percentage (.509) is actually lower than his batting average as of press time. The reality is that Puig is very raw and there will be bumps in the road, but he is an extremely talented prospect who could stick in the Dodgers outfield especially with Carl Crawford's inability to get back or stay on the field. Puig will start the year in Double-A, but as we have seen with many elite prospects,
Oscar Tavaras - OF - St. Louis Cardinals
Taveras has no problem handling the jump to Double-A last season, batting .321 with 23 home runs, 94 RBI and 10 stolen bases at age 20. Taveras has opened eyes with a .270 batting average and a pair of home runs in Spring Training, but will likely start the year in Triple-A with veterans Jon Jay, Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran blocking his path at the big league level to start the season. Taveras is the best hitter in the minor leagues right now and will provide an instant fantasy impact when he does get the call up at some point this season.
Shelby Miller - SP - St. Louis Cardinals
The favorite to win the fifth spot in the Cardinals rotation, Miller is one of the more polished pitching prospects in the game today and showed during a September callup last season (1-0 with a 1.32 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 14 innings) that he can get big league hitters out. Miller has more fantasy value than a lot of other pitching prospects in the game right now because he will be in a rotation to start the season. The Cardinals have an outstanding track record of developing young pitchers in recent years, which makes Miller an intriguing breakout candidate.
Billy Hamilton - OF - Cincinnati Reds
All he needs is at-bats. Hamilton has the potential to nearly single-handedly win your fantasy team the stolen base category. In case you have been living under a rock for the past year, you know that Hamilton stole 155 bags in the minor leagues last season. The reality is that Hamilton is worth stashing in case he gets the call due to injuries at some point this season. The Reds may be the deepest team in baseball, but there is a role for Hamilton, keep him on your radar.
Wil Myers - OF - Tampa Bay Rays
Myers has been the forgotten man this Spring Training, the hype machine has latched onto other hitting prospects like Taveras, Puig and Bradley just to name a few, which is good for the Rays and Myers potential fantasy owners. Myers may not make the Opening Day roster due to the Rays tendency to leave their top prospects in the minors until May to delay their arbitration clock, but when he does get called up, Myers will hit as evidenced by his .314 average and 37 home runs in the minor leagues last season. Myers is an impact bat who can be acquired at a discounted rate in the late rounds on draft day.