It's that time again!
Time for me to amend everything I said two months ago because it's completely -- and in some cases absurdly -- wrong.
OK, so it's not that bad. I'm actually keeping eight of my initial 12 Breakouts (you should see the Sleepers), and I wouldn't say that any of the four I removed is no longer a breakout. It's just that with the additional knowledge of where these players are going (heretofore known as average draft position or ADP), they're no longer as appealing me.
More than anything, I want a list that reflects my own drafting tendencies, right? This one does a better job of that.
Note: Average draft position, assuming a 12-team league, is shown for both Rotisserie and Head-to-Head formats above each player's name.
Drew Smyly has a torn labrum in his shoulder. He spent most of last season -- May to August, basically -- rehabilitating the injury, but it's the kind that doesn't completely heal on its own. And so you'll find some Fantasy owners who won't go anywhere near Smyly.
But if it was really still a problem for him, would he have performed as he did last September, striking out more than a batter per inning in five of his six starts with two double-digit efforts? He was masterful.
And the truth is he has been masterful ever since joining the Rays in the David Price trade midway through 2014. In 19 starts for them split between the two seasons, he has a 2.52 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 9.5 strikeouts. That's the stuff of aces.
No, really. Price himself had a 2.45 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings last year, and he nearly won the Cy Young. The difference, of course, is that Smyly has never come close to the workload that's expected of Price or any other ace, and even apart from the shoulder, his injury risk should give you reason for pause.
But if he was worry-free, he wouldn't come at a discount. Right now, he's as healthy as he's going to get, so you have reason to hope this is the year he holds it all together. He has as much upside as any starting pitcher you'd draft beyond the top 40.
You know the deal with Coors Field, right? How it's like playing baseball on the moon? The high altitude reduces the atmospheric pressure on a ball in flight, allowing it to travel straighter and farther both out of the park and to the plate. Yes, to the plate. The reduced movement on pitches invites harder contact, which means the ball is traveling straighter and farther even more often than it otherwise would.
It's a compound effect, you see.
And in the years since its induction, there's no end to the number of players who have enjoyed the fruits its bounty. From Ellis Burks and Preston Wilson to Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer, good hitters become great hitters at Coors Field.
Don't you think Gerardo Parra has the perfect skill set to take advantage?
He's going to put the ball in play, ranking among the top 50 hitters in strikeout rate last year, which increases his opportunities to capitalize on the favorable environment, and he's already a good source of doubles. If his doubles are traveling straighter and farther, well, they might just become home runs.
I think he's a cinch for a .300 batting average, and 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases aren't outside the realm of possibility. I'm envisioning something like an in-his-prime Shin-Soo Choo, who was an elite outfielder in Fantasy, and am happy to make Parra my third outfielder in just about every league.
Can't get enough of those Rays pitchers, can I?
Well, look, they haven't had the best of luck on that front. It's a wonder they're so renowned for developing pitchers when Matt Moore, their crown jewel, hasn't had an All-Star-caliber season yet. Lest you forget, Baseball America sandwiched him between Bryce Harper and Mike Trout at the top of their prospect rankings in 2012, and they were the pessimists that year. MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus had Moore No. 1.
And it's not like he has been some colossal failure. He compiled a 3.57 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 8.7 strikeouts per innings in 2012 and 2013, his two full seasons in the majors, and, despite some control issues, was generally regarded as a pitcher on the rise. It's just that the two years of inaction since then have sobered us.
It wasn't complete inaction, of course. He returned from Tommy John surgery to make 12 starts down the stretch last year, but they didn't help his case.
... Or did they?
The first six certainly didn't, but then he went to the minors for a stretch, struck out 16 batters in one start, and returned to compile a 2.97 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings in the final six.
That strikeout rate isn't great, but his strikeout potential really shouldn't be in question. The improved control, though, is notable given that it's what has held him back to this point, and lo and behold, he has zero walks through 10 innings this spring.
Clayton Kershaw issued 4.2 walks per nine innings over his first three seasons, so to say a still-inexperienced Moore can't improve in that area is ignoring history. The talent is too great to pass up late.
Rockies pitchers don't generally make for great Fantasy picks, and if you've read my assessment of Gerardo Parra, you know why. By and large, though, relievers haven't been as susceptible, perhaps because they rely less on their secondary stuff.
Whatever the reason, Brian Fuentes emerged as a top Fantasy closer in Colorado. Huston Street was as good as always. Rafael Betancourt and Manny Corpas had their day in the sun. It hasn't been a Fantasy wasteland.
And Jake McGee might be the most talented reliever the Rockies have ever had.
Aside from maybe Dellin Betances, he was the non-closer who most deserved to be a closer during his time with the Rays and probably would have been if his recovery from a minor elbow procedure early last year hadn't allowed Brad Boxberger to gain a foothold.
McGee returned as dominant as ever, and over the last two years, no pitcher with a minimum 100 appearances has outperformed him in ERA (2.07), WHIP (0.91) and strikeout rate (11.4 per nine innings). Some have in one area or another, of course, but not all three.
So the only thing preventing him from joining the elite at the position now that he's in line for saves is the Coors Field stigma, which is probably unfair in this case. Or maybe it's the Rockies themselves. They're a bottom-of-the-division team that usually wins by out-slugging its opponent, so the potential for saves isn't the greatest. Still, I don't see why McGee couldn't do what David Robertson did for the White Sox last season, provided he beats out Jason Motte for the role.
So any idiot can compare Rougned Odor's first year to his second and observe that he's trending the right direction. His bargain status depends on the rest of your league doing just that.
Emphasis on the "just."
Odor's final 2015 numbers make him out to be sort of another Neil Walker, offering good pop for a second baseman but nothing else to set him apart at what's shaping up to be a fairly deep position. Forget for a minute that he's only 21, which makes anything he accomplishes at the major-league level historically significant. Most Fantasy owners are only comfortable making surface-level assessments of players, and Odor's numbers on the surface are decidedly blah.
But that's why you shouldn't only pay attention to your own players in Fantasy. If you had paid attention to Odor last year, you'd know he got off to a miserable start, batting .144 when he was sent to the minors on May 8. And you'd know that when he returned, he was an animal, batting .292 with 15 home runs -- or what would translate to about 25 over a full season -- and an .861 OPS.
Forget Walker. Those numbers are reminiscent of Robinson Cano -- and not Cano last year, but Cano in his prime, when he was routinely a first-round pick in Fantasy. Of course, Cano's prime was at age 26, 27, etc. When he was 21, like Odor, he was -- oh, that's right -- not even in the majors yet.
Since 1990, only 25 players 21 or younger hit have hit as many home runs as the 16 Odor hit last year -- when, again, he didn't really get started until mid-June. That's only one per year. And of those 25, Odor is the one and only second baseman.
Odor isn't just another viable option at second base. He's a special, transcendent talent, and I get the feeling everyone is going to know it after this season.
When he last qualified for such lists -- which was a while ago since he exhausted his rookie eligibility during a late call-up in 2014 -- Taijuan Walker was considered the best pitching prospect by many publications, and with that designation comes certain expectations. Chief among them is an ERA lower than 4.56, which is what he had in his first full season last year.
But where there's disappointment, there's also opportunity, particularly when it comes to draft value.
Truth is a cumulative ERA doesn't tell the story of Walker's 2015, because nine starts into it, that ERA stood at 7.33. He struggled to locate pitches and was getting pummeled. Then, it was like someone flipped a switch. After issuing four walks in four of those first nine starts, he issued a total of four over his next 10 and didn't issue more than three in a single start thereafter.
From that flip of the switch until right about the point when he matched his career high in innings (a span of 14 starts), he went 7-2 with a 3.33 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings -- numbers not too unlike the ones that made Noah Syndergaard such a hit as a rookie last year.
Walker stumbled to the finish line, which isn't at all uncommon for a young pitcher building up his innings, but now that he's through the growing pains and prepared to handle a full workload, he's as good a bet as any to become this year's Chris Archer.
"I need to see him do it maybe four starts in a row before I can get excited about it."
That's what I told ... someone on some form of media at some point after Carlos Rodon's best start of his rookie season Aug. 11 against the Angels, when he allowed no runs on four hits with one walk and 11 strikeouts over seven innings. I'm paraphrasing in case you couldn't tell from the lack of specifics, but you get the gist. I was frustrated with the on-and-off tendency, his alternating between starts where he showed the full extent of his potential and starts where his control issues got the better of him, and I was beginning to think those control issues would have to be a long-term project for pitching coach Don Cooper.
But Rodon ended up doing it eight starts in a row, allowing no more than two earned runs in any of them, so it's fair to say I'm sufficiently excited. But you could have guessed as much just from his inclusion here.
I should point out that his control issues aren't completely behind him. His walk rate during that eight-start stretch was still 3.5 per nine innings, and it's possible that even as the third overall pick in the 2014 draft, he never develops into more than, say, Francisco Liriano. But considering Clayton Kershaw's control issues were once just as pronounced (he issued 4.3 walks per nine innings as a rookie in 2008), you wouldn't want to set limits on a 23-year-old with Rodon's stuff.
If you're drafting him in the same neighborhood as Liriano, you're drafting him for his floor, which means he can only exceed your expectations. That's the textbook definition of an upside pick.
The Royals sent Yordano Ventura a message on July 21 last year. They optioned him to Triple-A only to recall him the very next day when Jason Vargas went on DL. He never set foot in Omaha, and yet if his performance the rest of the way is any indication, he got the message.
Maybe it was just a coincidence -- his second and third starts after returning weren't exactly the stuff of legends -- but the timing is close enough for me to presume his fakeout demotion at least refocused him. If nothing else, he began making better use of his secondary stuff, throwing his curveball nearly twice as often, and with that, the 24-year-old blessed with the 99-mph fastball finally began getting whiffs at a rate befitting his considerable stuff. The result was a 2.38 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings over his final 11 starts. That's compared to a 5.29 ERA, a 1.34 WHIP and 7.1 strikeouts per nine innings over his first 17.
"He throws so hard," his catcher Salvador Perez told the Kansas City Star just before the start of the postseason. "If you have to be ready for 98, 99, and then that nasty curveball ... if it's a strike, you see what happens."
Pitchers who throw hard have the potential to be great, but only if they figure out how to upset hitters' timing with their secondary pitches. If that's the step Ventura took in the second half last year, he's a bargain in the middle rounds.
If you asked me on July 24, the day the world learned Michael Conforto was on his way to the majors, I would have said he was rushed, a casualty of a desperate franchise looking to placate a restless fan base. If you asked me on Sept. 24, after watching him play for two months, I would have asked you what took the Mets so long.
He was disciplined, striking out about one every five at-bats. He was balanced, hitting an equal number of fly balls and ground balls -- and with a high number of line drives in between. He was composed, never encountering a moment that was too big for him, as we saw with his two home runs in Game 4 of the World Series. He was, quite simply, a joy to watch.
He was everything a 22-year-old shouldn't be -- particularly one who played only 45 games above A-ball, which tells me his future is especially bright. It's worth noting he was one of just two or three players (Kyle Schwarber being another) who looked like they were on a different level from everyone else when I attended the Futures Game last summer.
I realize I'm going heavy on the eye test here, which may be off-putting to some, but understand I'm using it to validate the numbers Conforto is already putting up -- numbers with room to grow at such a young age and that, with regular at-bats, could make him the kind of hitter we keep hoping Yasiel Puig will be. Provided the Mets actually play him against left-handed pitchers this year, he's an ideal upside pick for your third outfield spot.
You think Tyson Ross is valuable in Fantasy? What if I told you his brother Joe does everything he does, only better.
That's not strictly factual. The younger Ross lacks the extreme ground-ball rate of the elder Ross, who needs it to navigate a high walk rate, but Joe takes care of it on the front end by not walking so many batters in the first place. Meanwhile, he has the same mid-90s fastball and swing-and-miss arsenal, profiling as an efficient strikeout-per-inning type for a contending team.
He had a 3.24 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings in his first 11 starts after his promotion last year, before the innings began to catch up to him, so to say he has top-20 potential isn't a stretch. The key will be whether he holds up over a six-month season.
Often for my breakout picks, I can isolate a stretch of the season -- normally the end -- when a player put up numbers that would completely blow your mind, but for J.T. Realmuto, the best I can offer is this: Over his final 84 at-bats, he hit .345 with three home runs and a .895 OPS.
Listen, sometimes you just have a feeling. So Realmuto never had a stretch last season when he looked like the greatest thing with two arms and legs, but he was ultimately the ninth-best catcher in Head-to-Head points leagues and the 10th-best in Rotisserie, which is something considering he started a month late and -- oh yeah -- was only a rookie.
Catchers are often slower to develop at the plate because their work behind it is so much more important, so putting up top-10 numbers as a rookie is a big deal. And the kind he put up -- striking out only one every six at-bats, showing moderate pop, etc. -- reminds me so much of Jonathan Lucroy. Compare Realmuto's numbers last year to Lucroy's in his age-24 season (2011, to be exact) and you'll see they're virtually identical.
The very next year, Lucroy became the Fantasy stud we all know him to be.
Now obviously, comparing Realmuto to Lucroy is asking a bit much, especially since he has a much tougher home park, but the point is Realmuto has the tools to stand out at a thin position.
Hunch time again! This is the year Wil Myers finally puts it all together.
The 25-year-old hasn't had a healthy season since his rookie 2013 campaign, which he began as the most buzzed-about player in the minors and ended with AL Rookie of the Year hardware.
Clearly, he was a success. The disappointment of his sophomore campaign, when he struggled to rediscover his swing after breaking his right wrist in May, was so acute, though, that I get the feeling most Fantasy owners have come to see him as a bust. A second wrist injury last year -- this time bone spurs in his left one -- didn't help, but let's not forget he was doing some serious damage before then, homering five times in 134 at-bats with an .833 OPS to emerge as a must-start Fantasy option.
Even with his struggles after returning briefly in June and, later, September, he averaged more Head-to-Head points per game than Jason Heyward for the year -- and that's with him just now entering his prime. He still has power to all fields and a line-drive approach and has said he'll be more comfortable sticking at first base this year as opposed to moving around the outfield.
So really, it's just a matter of him staying healthy. I'll take that gamble about the time Chris Colabello and Melky Cabrera are going off the board.
It's clear Fantasy Baseball owners are head over heels for Kris Bryant, reaching for him in the first half of Round 2 on average. And why not? The guy had a pretty good rookie season, confirming what most of us already suspected about him. But you know what? Maikel Franco's was better. Obviously, I'm talking on a per-game basis because he didn't arrive until a month later and then missed more or less the final six weeks with a fractured wrist. But when he played, Franco was better than Bryant, averaging 3.15 Head-to-Head points per game to Bryant's 3.10. The difference may be that his performance wasn't as confirming. In fact, his stock was actually down coming off a disappointing 2014, where a slow start at Triple-A left him with about half as many home runs as he hit between high Class A and Double-A the previous year. He didn't have the most consistent approach and was known to over-swing at times. But none of that was apparent in his rookie season. What was apparent was that he made heck of a lot of contact for a player with his power potential, striking out at an even lower rate than bat-on-ball specialists Matt Duffy and Gerardo Parra. As good as he was in 2015, his .297 BABIP suggests he actually underachieved slightly in batting average, and of course, he has already demonstrated his capacity for 30 home runs. Maybe you don't like what has become of Adrian Beltre, who you may have already noticed appeared in my busts column, but Franco is shaping up to be the kind of hitter was in his prime, providing a rare combination of power and contact hitting at the hot corner.
Reason for removal: I'm still high on Franco's potential, but it turns out everyone is. It's why he's going ahead of high-end players like Todd Frazier and Yoenis Cespedes in Head-to-Head leagues. That's not good value. That's appropriate value unless you really think he's as good as Kris Bryant, as his per-game production showed last year. Spoiler alert: He's not.
It's amazing to me how quick some of us are to define players who are nowhere close to their developmental peak. You know how I raved about some of Rougned Odor's accomplishments for a player his age? Well, I could do the same for Christian Yelich. He has yet to take an at-bat as a 24-year-old, and yet he already has two seasons with 30 doubles or more, a .360 on-base percentage or better and a .760 OPS or better. You know how many other players since 1990 had two seasons like that through age 23? I'll rattle off the entire list: Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, David Wright, Justin Upton and Mike Trout. Pretty impressive, right? They may not all be going to the Hall of Fame, but they were at least Fantasy royalty when they were in their prime. If those stats seem cherry-picked to you, understand the point I'm trying to make: Yelich already has the hard part down. He's a polished hitter -- one who works the count and makes consistently hard contact to all fields. The rest is just growth. One look at the baby-faced tree branch will tell you he has more of that to do, and because he has already demonstrated he can drive the ball (that's where the 30 doubles and high-ish OPS come in), you can suspect it'll translate to more home runs in time. It may have already if he didn't play half his game at Marlins Park, the preeminent pitcher's park of our day, where he hit just one of his seven home runs last year. The Marlins do plan to move in the fences this year, though, and left-handed hitters like Yelich could see the greatest benefit. If he can just up his home run total to 15 this year, he suddenly doesn't rank too far behind players like Starling Marte and Michael Brantley.
Reason for removal: Everything I said about Yelich still applies. I still like him in a general sense and believe the breakout will come at some point. But I find I'm not particularly motivated to draft him, I guess because I'm not totally convinced it'll be this year. At the point he's going off the board, I prefer the security of a Curtis Granderson or the even higher upside of a Corey Dickerson.
Kris Bryant ended up winning NL Rookie of the Year in 2015 -- predictably, I might add -- but if Randal Grichuk hadn't hurt his elbow last August, he might have given the Cubs phenom a run for his money. Believe it or not, he was the more powerful hitter of the two. His .272 ISO (which you find by subtracting batting average from slugging percentage, thereby isolating the power) would have ranked in the top 10 in baseball, ahead of Josh Donaldson and well ahead of Bryant, whose ISO settled at .213. Of course, maybe removing the batting average gives Grichuk an unfair advantage since his high strikeout rate suggests even his modest .276 mark may have been too good to be true, but while rates sometimes lie, totals don't. If you project Grichuk's numbers over 575 at-bats, he winds up with 30 home runs and 42 doubles -- a higher combined total than Paul Goldschmidt, among others. He's the big home run hitter the Cardinals thought they had in Matt Adams but haven't had since letting Albert Pujols walk in 2012 and great pick for anyone who needs to make up ground in home runs in Round 9 of a Rotisserie draft.
Reason for removal: Looking back, I feel like some of the stats I cited may have exaggerated Grichuk's upside. He also struck out 31.4 percent of the time, which would have been the worst rate in baseball if he had the at-bats to qualify, so while the power is great and all, he's shaping up to be a one-dimensional hitter. I'm also a little worried about the continual elbow flareups last year, especially since his arm will be tested in center field. All told, I'm actually pretty reluctant to draft him in Round 12, especially since Mark Trumbo could give me comparable numbers four rounds later.
The truth is I liked David Peralta as a sleeper even last year, seeing the potential for him to become a high-average, extra base-hit machine. But he blew those expectations out of the water with an .893 OPS in 462 at-bats, which makes this year -- the first in which he projects to play every day with Ender Inciarte out of the picture -- the year I go all-in. What he did last year in a semi-regular role pretty much tells the story. He mostly surprised with his power, delivering an ISO in line with Jose Bautista's. And while it's clear he did most of his damage against right-handed pitchers, batting .250 with a .686 OPS against lefties, the extra at-bats will be worth the tradeoff in overall batting average. If he seems a little too out-of-nowhere for your liking, keep in mind he began his professional career as a pitcher in the Cardinals organization and battled shoulder injuries for years, which explains why he's only now on the radar at age 28. He projects to bat cleanup for a team with playoff aspirations, though, which tells you how much trust he has garnered in his brief career.
Reason for removal: Turns out Peralta isn't a well-kept secret. He offers plenty of reason for optimism, but he's also far from an open-and-shut case as a part-timer shifting to a full-time role who did have a suspiciously high BABIP (.368) last year. Granted, nobody was asking him to hit .312 again, but Round 13 is about the earliest I'd look to a player with so many question marks -- and that's in a five-outfielder league. Peralta is still a breakout candidate, sure, but my own drafting experience shows he's not one I'm willing to move heaven and earth to get. And the point here is to highlight my favorites.