Written by: Adam Ehrenreich (@mel_reich)
Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365
Regular season baseball is right around the corner.
If you follow my work, you know I’ve already published the pitching portion of this list as well as my annual prediction of players who will ascend into the first round of fantasy drafts next season. Today, I’m taking a look at post-hype breakout bats.
Being a site that analyzes prospects, we know the market is always looking for the next big thing. Some players’ market price fluctuates at a rate that is unfathomable. 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 on the ground floor. After last year’s 60-game sprint, we find ourselves having even more of a disadvantage. Last season’s numbers could have just been the equivalent of a prolonged hot start and an aberration, or the stats could be a sign of what’s to come.
In last year’s Post-Hype Pandemonium offensive article, we hit on numerous post-hype breakout performers, highlighted by Ian Happ, Alex Verdugo, Kyle Tucker and Maikel Franco. Here are several players to keep an eye on as post-hype sleepers in 2021. Whether you play in a dynasty, a season-long league or something in between, these guys should be viewed as strong buy-low options.
C Francisco Mejia (TB) – Nothing gets me more excited than a switch-hitting catcher with a plus bat that has not gotten enough appreciation. Mejia has now been traded twice in the early stages of his career, but he’s now arrived with a franchise that has a strong, recent track record of developing young players. While his name may not bring much excitement to the average fan, every time I see Mejia involved in a trade I get excited for the renewed sense of opportunity. I thought the move to the Padres would be great and will never forget his two-homerun game in 2018, until they traded for Austin Nola at the deadline in 2020. With Mike Zunino having a club option after this season, I believe Mejia will receive an opportunity to prove his worth as Tampa Bay’s catcher of the future, and I am trying my best to get in now. While his major league career has not been stellar, Mejia has the minor league stats and pedigree that easily lead to excitement regarding the 25-year-old’s future outlook, and playing in the hitters’ parks of the AL East is the icing on the cake. March NFBC ADP: 533.06
C Joey Bart (SF) – Recency bias is why Bart is on this list. After excitement for his MLB debut in 2020, Bart was disappointing with a .233 batting average and 0 home runs in 103 at-bats. People might forget that Bart had a .284/29/88 batting line in 577 career minor league at-bats, giving us a glimpse of what he can do in a full season once acclimated to the most advanced pitching in the world. The 2020 season only opened the window to drafting your everyday catcher towards the final round of draft and hold leagues, so take advantage. I assume we’ll see him again at some point this summer. 2021 NFBC ADP: 600.34
1B Bobby Dalbec (BOS) – After a smashing debut in 2020 that resulted in 8 home runs and 16 RBI in 80 at-bats, Dalbec is penciled in as the starting first baseman in Boston for 2021. While he will likely be batting in the lower third of the lineup, the Red Sox have improved this offseason. Roster Resource has him batting 9th, surrounded by Christian Vázquez and Kiké Hernandez in the lineup, which should give Dalbec plenty of opportunities for RBI and runs. The 25-year-old has Triston Casas in the rearview mirror, but he should be able to hold him off for at least one more year. If Dalbec continues to rake, the Sox will find him a spot in the lineup regardless of the ETAs of other, highly-touted prospects. March NFBC ADP: 260.38
1B Nate Lowe (TEX) – A change of scenery is just what the doctor ordered for Lowe. While the Rays continue to play the matchups, utilize platoons, and bring in more competition at the corner infield positions, Lowe now escapes to Texas, where he likely finds everyday at-bats in what looks to be a young, but improved lineup. While Lowe has not been overly impressive in his time in the majors, he is two seasons removed from a .330/27/102 line across three minor league levels in his breakout 2018 season. The bat can take time to adjust, but I believe 2021 will be the start of a strong career for Lowe. Mike Kurland (@Mike_Kurland) touched on the adjustments Lowe made to his swing in 2020 that screams for an incoming breakout. With a much cheaper price than Bobby Dalbec above, you don’t have to reach for the early round 1B. March NFBC ADP: 466.16
1B/OF Josh Naylor (CLE) –Josh Naylor enjoyed a mini breakout in 2019 with the Padres before being traded to Cleveland as a part of the deal that sent Mike Clevinger to San Diego. Naylor looks as if he will be batting in the heart of the lineup for the new-look Cleveland ball club. The 23-year-old made his MLB debut in 2019 after a strong 2018 Double-A season where he batted .297 with 17 home runs and 74 RBI, followed by a line of .314/10/42 in 223 at-bats in Triple-A. The corner outfielder has a chance to shine for a young Cleveland team, and at a low price, he’s worth a flier. Taking two of these three first basemen late could a great way to avoid overpaying for the position early in drafts. March NFBC ADP: 506.08
2B Isan Diaz (MIA) – Power hitting second basemen are hard to find. There have been some great ones, like Robinson Cano, Alfonso Soriano and Brett Boone in his prime come to mind, but these are players that were drafted in the early rounds of fantasy drafts. Today the biggest bats at second base are DJ LeMahieu, Jose Altuve, Ketel Marte and Keston Hiura, not your everyday sluggers. Isan Diaz may not help you in the batting average department, but he’s been hitting home runs ever since rookie ball in 2015. With his 88 home runs in 5 seasons, including 20 in Single-A and 26 most recently in Triple-A in 2019, Diaz can be the next big bat at second base. The Marlins are in the midst of a youth movement, and it’s only a matter of time before Diaz and fellow prospect Jazz Chisholm are manning the middle of the infield in Miami. If given the chance, Diaz can do some major damage. For now, the duo are currently battling for the starting spot at the cornerstone, so keep tabs on Diaz’s status leading up to Opening Day. March NFBC ADP: 712.31
2B Gavin Lux (LAD) – Speaking of power-hitting second basemen, after being snubbed coming out of camp by the Dodgers in 2020, Lux is expected to make the MLB roster to open the 2021 season. It is only a matter of time before Lux takes the starting job for good. With Kiké Hernandez now in Boston, Lux will likely split time at the cornerstone with Chris Taylor before settling in as a regular. He could also spell Corey Seager at shortstop on off days. After barely seeing him play in 2020, one may forget Lux had a batting line of .347/26/76/10 across two levels in 2019, with an OPS of 1.028. Lux can be a fantasy monster and is easily one of the top late-round targets in redrafts this coming season. March NFBC ADP: 220.57
3B Austin Riley (ATL) – As it stands today, Riley is likely the only player on this list you may have to reach for in your drafts. The hype train is out of control, as the Braves have said early and often that Riley will be manning the hot corner in 2021. After finishing 2019 on a high note, 2020 brought more of the same: a low batting average, but huge pop from the still only 24-year-old stud. After his breakout campaign in 2018 where he batted .294 with 19 home runs and 70 RBI across three minor league levels, Riley showed he was here to stay after receiving his first big league call-up after a small sample in Triple-A. As the 23rd third baseman off the board, Riley is a steal that can allow you to focus elsewhere in the early/middle rounds. Think Eugenio Suarez potential–just 140 picks later. March NFBC ADP: 216.01
3B Carter Kieboom (WAS) – Once a top prospect, Kieboom has been quickly ridden off due to his disappointing stints in the majors. 2021 is going to be different. Coming off a cup of coffee in 2019, and without a full spring training in 2020, Kieboom has now had the time to adjust and regroup. The promising, young third basemen will look to expand on his impressive minor league career where he batted .287 with 45 home runs and 208 RBI over four seasons. There are a lot of cheap third base options in fantasy this year, so make sure you take advantage. March NFBC ADP: 526.47
SS/OF Cole Tucker (PIT) – Tucker is a switch-hitting speedster who was hyped prior to his MLB debut thanks to his value on the base paths and his glove work at shortstop. While his on-base percentage still leaves a lot to be desired, 137 stolen bases in six minor league seasons is worthy of your attention over the span of a full regular season. While Kevin Newman is the starter at shortstop heading into 2021, Tucker’s glove should afford him some much-needed playing time and plate appearances. If he can seize the moment like he did in 2018, where he ended the season with a .327/.400/.571 line in his final 51 plate appearances, we could be looking at an extremely valuable asset in fantasy leagues. Don’t be surprised if he also sees playing time in centerfield at some point this season. March NFBC ADP: 728.98
OF Michael A. Taylor (KC) – The Andrew Benintendi trade had me rethinking this selection, but I think the fresh start for Taylor is being vastly underrated throughout the fantasy community. While he’s never quite lived up to his potential, Taylor has played well when given the opportunity, especially as a fantasy player. The Royals plan to play him every day, and while he will likely be at the bottom of the lineup, there is still ample opportunity to provide value. Taylor has speed and a career .291 OBP. I can easily see him going 15/15 this year with potential for a bit more. March NFBC ADP: 627.06
OF Brandon Marsh (LAA) – While the Angels are now somewhat backlogged in the outfield, I think Marsh has a chance to make a major leap and his Major League debut in 2021. It’s a bit of a leap, but with a Harper-like swing and a bench that’s a bit short on talent in front of him, I believe the cream will rise to the top and Marsh will get his chance to shine. I don’t think he is worth a stash, but keep an eye out for any news on Marsh and be ready to pounce if his time comes. March NFBC ADP: 695.07
OF Willie Calhoun (TEX) – Here is a player I will not quit. 2020 was supposed to be the breakout for Calhoun before he was struck by a fastball that broke his jaw and forced him to miss significant time. Once he missed that time, it was hard to bounce back. Calhoun is going to be penciled into the middle of the lineup (once he returns to full health; he’ll likely open the season on the injured listed, which has caused his ADP to further plummet), fully prepared to smash in 2021. Texas is packed with some of my favorite fantasy assets, from Joey Gallo to David Dahl, Nate Lowe and Leody Tavares (another player worth targeting). This team is going to be a lot of fun to watch, and being able to draft Calhoun at a major discount is well worth the investment. March NFBC ADP: 502.97
OF Taylor Trammell (SEA) – With star studded prospects all around, from Jarred Kelenic to Julio Rodriguez to Logan Gilbert and others, it appears as though Trammell may be the first in the group to debut. The 23-year-old is a superb athlete who could be a mainstay in the majors for years to come. The Mariners are young with a contention window that is on the verge of opening, and it appears important to the organization to evaluate whether Trammell fits into their long-term plan as they prepare to compete in the AL West throughout the next decade. Things are trending towards the 23-year-old opening the season as the everyday left fielder. March NFBC ADP: 630.48
OF Tyler O’Neill (STL)- Once thought of as a power-hitting outfielder, O’Neill has since become a glove and speed type of player, picking up his first career Gold Glove in 2020. I believe that O’Neill’s untapped potential stems from his power, which we’ve seen in the minors and crave for in the majors. O’Neill hit 32 home runs in High-A in 2015, 24 home runs in Double-A in 2016, coupled with 102 RBI and 31 home runs in Triple-A in 2018. Thanks largely to an aggressive approach at the plate, those numbers have been a far cry from the 25-year-old’s production at the big league level to this point. With a genuine chance at consistent playing time in 2021, I’ll wager O’Neill matches his 21 career home runs in 2021 alone, which should team nicely with underrated speed and solid outfield defense. He’s well worth a late round flier in redraft leagues this preseason. March NFBC ADP: 415.03
This article gives you 15 breakout bats that can allow you to load up on pitching in the early rounds without drastically harming your offense. However you choose to fill your roster, pinpointing a breakout or two will allow you to continue gaining value while drafting big in other areas. In what promises to be an interesting fantasy season, it is always good to know who the “next man up” may be, which is why I have dug deep this year for the post-hype players who just need a small crack in the door to burst right through.
Follow P365 MLB Analyst Adam Ehrenreich on Twitter! @mel_reich
Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365
Featured image courtesy of photographer Mary Altaffer and the Associated Press