Written by: Adam Ehrenreich (@mel_reich)
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As a site that’s primary focus is to analyze prospects, we know the market is always looking for the next shiny new toy.
Some players seemingly gain or lose value on a daily basis for a multitude of reasons. As I have said in the past, young players, specifically prospects, are a volatility index. A breakout campaign could be a fluke. A bad season could simply be a prolonged slump. We need time to know if these gains/losses are genuine, but we often aren’t afforded that luxury if we hope to ‘get in’ on players at the ground floor.
In last year’s Post-Hype Pandemonium article, we hit on numerous breakout performers, highlighted by Rafael Devers, Jonathan Villar, Kevin Newman and Shane Bieber. The article was well-received around the interwebs, so I’ve decided to breakdown this year’s version into two separate parts: hitters and pitchers. Here, we’ll focus on offense. If you like to load up on aces early in your redraft league, the bats listed below will lighten the stress of finding those breakout stars in the later rounds. Whether you play in a dynasty, a season-long league or something in between, these guys should be viewed as strong buy-low options as we approach a new season.
C Danny Jansen (TOR) – After batting .323 across three levels in 2017, Jansen came out of the gates firing in Triple-A in 2018, batting .275 with 12 homers, 58 RBI and 5 stolen bases in 360 plate appearances. His first full season in the majors (2019) was not as impressive as he fell short of all the hype that was attached to his name—which felt a lot like the hype currently surrounding young backstops such as Will Smith and Sean Murphy. I think 2020 will show a regression to the mean and prove that the 2019 stat line was a major aberration in the 24-year-old’s MLB career. Jansen is my sleeper catcher for 2020, and he can be found left on the waiver wire at the end of most drafts. 2020 NFBC ADP: 277
1B Jesús Aguilar (MIA) – One of the most predictable bust candidates in 2019 is now one of the sneakier re-breakout candidates in 2020. Players who hit .274 with 35 homers and 108 RBI—a feat the first baseman accomplished in 2018—usually don’t forget how to hit. The pressure to produce and repeat may have had a lot to do with the disappointing 2019 stat line. Playing for the Marlins without much competition for playing time could lead to an impressive 2020 campaign from Aguilar. I’m fearlessly predicting a 30-home run season from a player who is going largely undrafted in redraft leagues. 2020 NFBC ADP: 371
2B/OF Ian Happ (CHI) – The hype train was hot for Happ a few seasons ago, and now that the coals have almost completely cooled off, now is the time to jump back in at a tremendous discount. Everyone was raving about Happ, not only his ability to rake, but his ability to play all over the field. A young Ben Zobrist with a ton of pop was the common comparison. Happ is now eligible for 2B/3B/OF on Yahoo and is competing with the likes of Steven Souza Jr., Albert Almora, David Bote and Nico Hoerner for playing time. I think Happ could find himself in some sort of a platoon to start, but the cream rises to the top, and Happ is just that. The Cubs refused to move Happ, and at 25 years old, his time to shine is now. The batting average will remain suspect, but the power plays in any format of any depth. I am predicting a line of .250/30/80 for Happ in 2020. 2020 NFBC ADP: 365
2B Franklin Barreto (OAK) – Barreto has lit up the minors since 2016 for the Oakland affiliates, but he’s faltered three separate opportunities with the big club. Now out of options and a member of an organization searching internally and externally for an everyday second baseman, the 2020 season might be the most important of Barreto’s career. With 67 stolen bases over four minor league seasons, along with 49 homers in that span and an average of 54 RBI per season, he has the tools to make a fantasy impact in 2020. A .289 batting average and .352 OBP in his minor-league career, the 24-year-old has shown the ability to get on base at every level except the big leagues. If the A’s in fact give Barreto a shot at the starting second base job, I think that will be the confidence he needs to get his MLB career on the right path. 2020 NFBC ADP: 593
3B Maikel Franco (KC) – I am all about this fresh, new start. Franco was a massive prospect what feels like a decade ago for the Phillies. It is crazy to think he’s still only 27-years-old. Playing in the shoebox that is Citizens Bank Park, Franco still wasn’t able fully breakout thanks to abhorrent plate discipline. However, changing leagues and changing scenery may have actually have been the the best possible move for the 27-year-old in the prime of his career. If he can turn things around, the way Jorge Soler did in Kansas City last season, we may be looking at a 30 home run hitter at an extreme current discount. 2020 NFBC ADP: 456
OF Willie Calhoun (TEX) – Much like Rafael Devers last season, my poster child for 2020 is Willie Calhoun. Analytically, the 25-year-old’s breakout began last season; the full revolution will be televised in 2020. Some things had to fall in place before this prediction came to fruition. With Nick Castellanos signing with the Reds and Marcel Ozuna signing with the Braves, I feel more confident than ever that Calhoun will be a mainstay in the Rangers lineup this season. Obviously, Yasiel Puig is still on the market, along with other useful outfielders including plus defenders like Kevin Pillar, but Calhoun is the future for the Rangers. By trading Nomar Mazara to the White Sox, there is a now a clear-cut opening for Calhoun to thrive. The progression has been enormous for Calhoun. After posting consistently impressive stat lines throughout the minor leagues, Calhoun initially struggled a big leaguer before finally breaking through last season. He finished his 2019 campaign with 21 homers, 48 RBI and a batting average of .269 in 337 plate appearances. The kicker for me was the .848 OPS. That’s a pace of 33 home runs over the course of a 500 plate appearance season. His bat will continue to play, and this is a guy who you can get in the later rounds who could be a league winner this year. I am predicting .265/35/85/5 for Calhoun in 2020. In 5×5 roto leagues with normal categories, that’s Michael Conforto production at a five round discount. 2020 NFBC ADP: 171
OF Alex Verdugo (BOS) – As you likely know by now, Verdugo was (is?) the centerpiece of the Mookie Betts trade, which should be official at any moment. The outfielder has been stuck behind a star-studded Dodgers outfield for what feels like forever, but even in Los Angeles, there seemed to be a lot of optimism surrounding Verdugo’s outlook for the 2020 season. Now in Boston, he will have the opportunity to fill Betts’ shoes, in the field and at the plate, on a daily basis, with little competition. Verdugo was looking like a post-hype sleeper in Los Angeles; he’s now a surefire breakout candidate and should be targeted in all formats throughout the fantasy world. ‘Sneaky’ is a word that’s been commonly used to describe Verdugo’s power throughout his minor and big league career, but we may see the 23-year-old’s home run output take a front-row seat in the offensive profile beginning this season. I’m forecasting a line of .285/20/70/5 for the newest member of the Red Sox outfield. 2020 NFBC ADP: 230
OF Nomar Mazara (CWS) – How the mighty have fallen. Once one of the biggest prospects in the game, a “no-touch list” dynasty asset, Mazara has slowly fallen from the graces of the fantasy community, with the trade to Chicago acting as the final blow for some. Well think again! Mazara gets the fresh start he needed on a young, loaded team, in a ballpark that can be excellent to play in as spring transitions to summer. Texas may have been a hitter’s paradise, but Guaranteed Rate Field is isn’t too shabby either. Mazara should be the Opening Day right fielder for the White Sox, and at 24 years old (younger than Ian Happ), I think this is the season we finally see the breakout of Nomar Mazara. Gaudy counting stats (not to mention 30 home runs) are certainly not out of the question with the talent surrounding him in Chicago. 2020 NFBC ADP: 248
OF Bradley Zimmer (CLE) – Zimmer has been a major disappointment since being named the Indians’ top prospect in 2017. At the time, he was thought to be a five-tool prospect, a supreme athlete and future cornerstone piece for Cleveland. After an impressive debut in 2017 for the big club in which he had 8 home runs, 39 RBIs and 18 stolen bases in 332 plate appearances, Zimmer has seen nothing but injuries destroy his last two seasons. I’m only predicting 350-400 at-bats for the 27-year-old this season, but if he can stay on the field, I think we can see the start of his resurgence. I may be a season early with this prediction, but something like 12 home runs, 50 RBIs and 23 stolen bases would go a long way for Zimmer recouping his fantasy value. 2020 NFBC ADP: 700
OF Christin Stewart (DET) – One of my favorite prospects heading into last season did not impress in 2019. Detroit gave Stewart every opportunity to succeed, but between a quad injury and a concussion, he only saw 369 at-bats in 104 games played. Over the course of a full, healthy, season, Stewart has the potential to make a major impact for a team that needs a real boost offensively. After hitting 83 home runs over three seasons in the minors, Stewart could become the offensive headliner for the Tigers at the big league level this season. I am predicting 27 homers and 83 RBIs for the 26-year-old in a breakout 2020. 2020 NFBC ADP: 635
OF Kyle Tucker (HOU) – How Tucker hasn’t either been given the everyday role in right field in Houston or been traded is beyond me. Tucker is a five-tool stud in the making and is stuck waiting behind Josh Reddick. From a dynasty league standpoint, it’s infuriating. But much like Yordan Alvarez last season, I think Tucker’s abilities will force him into the lineup consistently in 2020. A lot of people are sick of waiting for Tucker to make his mark, but we aren’t. The price tag is a bit higher than I’d like with his Opening Day role still a bit blurry, but selecting Tucker could mean—along with adding one of the most talented young players in the sport—drafting a league-winning asset in 2020. 2020 NFBC ADP: 143
OF Lewis Brinson (MIA) – We’ve arrived at the end of the road. Players who bat under the Mendoza line and are constantly hurt are the polar opposite of most fantasy owners’ cup-of-tea. Well, I am giving Brinson one more shot at being an impact player. The tools are there and the opportunity is there, all we need is the results. Brinson has had some excellent, full, minor-league stat lines, so we know what he can do; the question is whether he can finally put it together against the most advanced pitching the sport has to offer. There are prospects lurking in Miami, so the pressure is on for Brinson to hold off the likes of Monte Harrison, Jesus Sanchez, and J.J. Bleday along with fringe 40-man players. Jonathan Villar could also factor-in to the centerfield situation in Miami if needed. It’s crazy that we’ve likely arrived at a ‘now or never’ season for a 25-year-old, but that might be exactly where Brinson stands heading into 2020. 2020 NFBC ADP: 688
OF Mallex Smith (SEA) – Being on three teams in four years to start a young MLB career is tough to overcome, but that’s exactly what Smith has endured since 2016. A career high in at-bats lead to a career high in stolen bases for Smith in 2019, but the rest of his stat line leaves a lot to be desired. Looking at his two seasons in Tampa (2017 and 2018) shows me the promise this 26-year-old speedster has in fantasy. Smith batted .270 in 2017 and .296 in 2018, including a huge jump in stolen bases from 16 to 40 over that time. 2020 could be more among those lines in the batting average department, and if that happens, we have a major fantasy asset on our hands. Less and less players are stealing bases in today’s MLB environment, and being able to get a player who not only can lead the lead in stolen bases, but bat close to .300 while doing so, would create rare value for your fantasy team. I’m looking for Smith to be a major factor in fantasy this season at a currently generous price tag. 2020 NFBC ADP: 171
OF/DH Jose Martinez (TB) – At 31 years old, Jose Martinez is surprisingly, well, seasoned. He’s also shockingly a career .298 hitter and has a track record of mashing lefties. Now in the AL East with Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park looming, if the platoon works in his favor, Martinez may have a 2018 Jesus Aguilar type breakout season. The Rays are loaded and have a ton of depth, so at-bats may be hard to come by, but if they play the splits right, every opportunity could be a lucrative one for Martinez in 2020. 2020 NFBC ADP: 430
OF Austin Hays (BAL) – We’ve seen this story before: the dominant Double-A prospect that comes to the Majors and crashes. Hays is looking to debunk that theory and may have a chance to do so while batting atop of a lineup that plays half of its games at Camden Yards. The 24-year-old is regarded as one of the budding stars of the franchise and a key to the rebuild, and with that in mind, he will find himself sitting in the top third of a lineup that could provide underrated fantasy value throughout the 2020 season. With run producing ability, sneaky speed and obvious power, Hays could be an extremely valuable asset at his current price. 2020 NFBC ADP: 259
This article gives you 15 breakout and sleeper bats that can allow you to load up on pitching in the early rounds without drastically harming your offense. If you want to be the last to fill your outfield, there are ten of them above yearning to make waves in the fantasy world in 2020. However you wish to fill your roster, finding the breakouts allow you to continue gaining value and going big in other areas. Follow me on Twitter and stay tuned for the breakout arms article coming soon.
Follow staff writer Adam Ehrenreich on Twitter! @mel_reich
Featured image courtesy of photographer Tim Heitman and USA Today Sports