Most of what goes into a breakout season is unpredictable. Will Juan Lagares’ efforts to lift the ball aid in his breakout attempt? Will a healthy Xander Bogarts finally convert his bat speed into an elite ISO?
What we can predict is playing time and with the 2018 Fantasy Baseball Season right around the corner, let’s turn our attention some players due to an increase in plate appearances. Let’s take a look at four breakout hitters.
Nick Castellanos, OF/3B, DET
This has been a long process for Nick Castellanos. More of a metamorphosis than a breakout, his journey where a season cut short due to injury resulted in a 24-point increase in wRC+. The 2017 season came and went without much fanfare for Nick Castellanos. He was stuck in a cocoon while replicating his 2016 statistics over a full season. This season, he will emerge from his cocoon a beautiful butterfly.
Castellanos should be able to spread his wings in the outfield, but the added position flexibility should have Fantasy owners salivating. Quietly, he clobbered 26 home runs, 101 RBI, and scored 73 runs while maintaining a .272 batting average. The glaring difference between his full 2017 and injury-shortened 2016 comes down to his GB%.
2016 saw that number drop to 31.5% from 36.2% in 2015. 2017 saw that number regress closer to his career norm at 37.3%. If Castellanos can turn those groundballs back into fly balls in 2018, we could have a 30-plus HR season on our hands. With position flexibility and a clean bill of health, the Tigers would be foolish not to at least showcase his talents for the trade deadline.
Lane Adams, OF, ATL
The Atlanta Braves have a roster full of potential breakout candidates. Johan Camargo, Ozzie Albies, and Dansby Swanson are all young and unproven players who could step up with additional playing time. Ronald Acuna, also, waits in the wings, but the most interesting recipient of extra playing time would have to be Lane Adams.
Unsurprisingly, the 28-year-old speedster hasn’t had a season with more than 200 PA in the MLB. His 122 PA in 2017 was enough to warrant a longer look for the Braves. He hit five homers and stole 10 bases in only 85 games. Currently, Adams looks to be the right-handed side of the left-field platoon with Preston Tucker. Although, the pairing could just be holding down the fort till Acuna graces the MLB with his presence. Even if Acuna is rushed to the majors, Nick Markakis also forms a neat platoon with the speedy righty.
The Braves should have no trouble finding playing time for someone who barreled 12% of balls in play. His 106.1 MPH exit velocity on those barrels sandwiches him between Edwin Encarnacion and Manny Machado. Strikeouts are Adams’ most obvious hole (30.3% K% in 2017), but a platoon role could help lessen his exposure and maximize his value.
Ketel Marte, 2B/SS, ARI
Ketel Marte will find his name on many breakout lists for the 2018 MLB season. He’s got speed, some pop, and the strike zone awareness to be a great Fantasy Baseball middle infielder, but can he put it all together? Marte had only 11 home runs across all levels in 2017 but clobbered 33 doubles. He stole 11 bases with the Mariners in 2016, but only managed three for the Diamondbacks in 2017. Arizona seems like they will be giving Marte every chance to take over full time in the middle infield role, so he should have a full season of at-bats to put it all together.
With a GB/FB ratio shrinking every season, Marte added 8 percentage points to his FB%. Most of those newly hit fly balls were groundballs in 2016. While adding fly balls do not guarantee more home runs, they do increase the odds. While he only hit four more home runs in 2017, the skills are beginning to translate to his statistics. If he can begin to convert his speed into stolen bases, Marte might be the biggest breakout player of 2018.
Austin Barnes, C/2B, LAD
Another platoon bat who earned his newfound playing time in 2017, Austin Barnes comes with an interesting wrinkle. In most leagues, he will be able to hold both catcher and second base eligibility. Had he garnered 500 PA, Barnes’ 142 wRC+ would have been the best mark among catcher and the third best among second basemen.
As long as Barnes continues his production, the Dodgers will continue to find ways to get him into the lineup much like they did with Chris Taylor last season. Hopefully doubling his PA, Barnes should end the season close to 15 home runs and nearly 10 stolen bases. The stolen base coverage adds to Barnes’ versatility and allows you to stash a backup catcher on your roster at the beginning of the season.
2017 saw a lot of MLB players come out of nowhere and put together solid seasons. Cardinals outfielder, Tommy Pham, had arguably the biggest breakout last season. He raised his batting average by 80 points while setting career highs across the board. Aaron Judge could be included and don’t forget about Chris Taylor in the discussion for the biggest breakout in 2017, but who will it be in 2018?
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