2018 Fantasy Baseball Breakouts: 12 players under 25 with future star power
Heath Cummings highlights 12 budding stars under the age of 25 you should target in Fantasy baseball drafts.
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Cheap, homegrown star power is one of the most valuable assets in Major League Baseball. In fact, it's a near requirement unless you're one of those teams with a $200 million payroll.
Just look at last year's World Champions. Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer are all making far less than they're worth on the open market. What should scare the rest of baseball is that they'll all continue to be remarkably cheap for at least the next two seasons. What should terrify baseball is the Astros have a lot more cheap talent coming.
But what does this have to do with Fantasy baseball? Everything. Think Cody Bellinger and Aaron Judge helped a lot of people win titles last year? What about Luis Severino? They were all cheap in terms of acquisition cost (ADP) and they all broke out to become Fantasy stars.
Below you'll find 12 players under the age of 25 with serious breakout potential. I've also laid out what I see as their reasonable upside in 2018. These guys are the reason you don't settle for safety with your late picks. Reach for the stars.
Byron Buxton Minnesota Twins CF
|Byron Buxton has earned his bust label multiple times over the past three seasons. At 24 years old he has 980 career PA and an 87 OPS+. Thanks to his defense and his speed, he's also been worth 7.2 bWAR over those 278 games. Now it's time for his bat to deliver on its potential and turn him into a star, and we've already seen what that looks like. In his final 57 games of 2017, Buxton slashed .300/.347/.546 and only struck out in 27.6 percent of his plate appearances. His batted ball profile suggest those numbers are too high for a realistic ceiling, but it's not hard to imagine a 25/35 season from Buxton where he scores 100 runs atop an improving Twins lineup. Something like Whit Merrifield's 2017 is well within reason in terms of Rotisserie stats. Buxton is going to strike out a lot more than Merrifield, but he should also score more runs. That type of production would make him a borderline No. 1 outfielder in both formats.|
Lance McCullers Houston Astros SP
|Coming into 2017 the idea was pretty simple. All Lance McCullers had to do was throw 180 innings and he was a lock to break out. Well, he didn't, and he posted the worst ERA (4.25) of his career. I am not concerned. McCullers' BB/9 (3.0) and his WHIP (1.298) were both below his career average. His FIP was still a very good 3.10. If you want to give up on 180 innings, that's fine. Give me 160 innings at 10 K/9 and an ERA to match his career FIP (3.14). Think a pitcher can't be elite at 160 innings? Robbie Ray threw 162 in 2017 and finished as the No. 13 SP in points leagues. McCullers could absolutely follow that path.|
Rafael Devers Boston Red Sox 3B
|For a 20 year-old rookie, Rafael Devers was pretty awesome in 2017. He was just the 10th player since 1978 to post an OPS+ of 112 or better in 200 PA before his 21st birthday (more on that list later). Devers played 144 games at three different levels in 2017 and slugged 30 home runs while striking out in just 20 percent of his plate appearances. He hits the ball to all fields and likely has power development to come. That may not happen at age 21, but if it does, Devers could be a second-round pick for 2019. More likely, he's got an upside around Carlos Correa's 2016 season, which made him a top-50 hitter. His currently ranks at No. 80 in the Fantasy Pros consensus hitter rankings.|
Jose Berrios Minnesota Twins SP
|Imagine a world in which the Twins never called Jose Berrios up in 2016. He'd be a 24 year old starting pitcher coming off an encouraging rookie season (3.84 FIP) with a remarkable pedigree (2.51 ERA at Triple-A over 229.2 innings). He would be everyone's favorite breakout. But those 14 starts in 2016 happened, and we have to reconcile that 8.02 ERA. Well, some people think we do. I'm perfectly fine with overlooking that nightmare and focusing on the rest of Berrios' career. And what I see is a pitcher with good stuff and good control who just threw 185 innings at age 23. He's pitching for a good team and will see the White Sox, Royals and Tigers depleted lineups in close to a third of his starts. I expect 200 innings, 15 wins and a mid-3s ERA. The upside is around what Justin Verlander gave you last year, which was good enough to be a top-10 SP in points leagues.|
Yoan Moncada Chicago White Sox 2B
|Yoan Moncada was a consensus top-five prospect heading into 2017 and didn't do anything in Triple-A to change that. In 80 games he had an .823 OPS with 12 home runs and 17 stolen bases. Unfortunately, his time with the White Sox wasn't as productive. Moncada now has 251 career major league plate appearances, and he's struck out 34 percent of the time. That's pretty awful, but he did show signs of improving late in the year. In his final 41 games he had an OPS over .800 and his K percentage dipped to 27 percent in the final month of the season. Assuming he can keep that number below 30 percent, his batted ball profile and blazing speed suggest a high BABIP, which coupled with a good walk rate should mean a very good OBP. It's not hard to envision Moncada giving us something similar to Chris Taylor's 2017, with more plate appearances and runs due to his place at the top of the order. That would be more than enough to get him into the top 10 second basemen.|
Ozzie Albies Atlanta Braves 2B
|If you're looking for bizarro-Moncada, you've found him in Ozzie Albies. He posted a 112 OPS+ in 244 PA as a 20 year-old second baseman. Yep, he joins the same list as Devers from above, along with Mike Trout, Bryce Harper (twice), Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Carlos Correa, Giancarlo Stanton and Jason Heyward. Do I believe he's going to be Trout or Harper? Of course not, but at second base he doesn't have to be. The position is arguably as bad as shortstop now, maybe worse. What I do expect is a good average (he never hit worse than .285 in the minors) with a low strikeout total and a lot of stolen bases. I would also expect a ton of triples because he has 34 in 447 career professional games. And if the Braves hit him in front of Freddie Freeman, 100 runs is well within range. Think Cesar Hernandez on steroids. Albies averaged 3.19 FPPG in 2017, which would rank eighth among those second-base eligible in 2018.|
Ian Happ Chicago Cubs CF
|This one is a little bit risky because the Cubs still have way too many players, but Happ needs to be in the lineup. His one major flaw last season was that he struck out too often (31 percent), but he had never posted a K rate higher than 24 percent in the minor leagues. Even if you think that won't improve, he was a better hitter than Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist with the abnormally high strikeout rate. What's more, Fangraphs numbers say he was the best defensive center fielder for the Cubs. Ian Happ needs to play every day. Assuming he does, and the strikeouts normalize? Brian Dozier's 2017 is his ceiling.|
Joey Gallo Texas Rangers 3B
|Like the long ball? You should love Joey Gallo. Gallo smacked 41 long balls in 145 games in 2017, but that really shouldn't be surprising. He twice topped 40 home runs in the minor leagues. The main question with Gallo is whether he can improve on the K rate at all. He struck out nearly 37 percent of the time in 2017. I do think it's possible. He struck out 39 percent of the time his first year in Double-A, and cut that to 33.6 the following year. Similarly, his K rate dropped from 39.5 percent his first year in Triple-A to 34.6. The problem is that he already had 153 PA at a 50 percent K rate coming into last year. Did we just see his improvement? If he can get it down into the low 30s, a season like Chris Davis' 2015 is absolutely within range. That would make him a top-five option at both first and third base in Roto leagues.|
Amed Rosario New York Mets SS
|Amed Rosario is one of those prospects whose minor league numbers don't necessarily match the hype. He was a consensus top-10 prospect before 2017 despite the fact he'd never hit double digit home runs or stolen 20 bases in the minor leagues. In 140 games between Triple-A and the major leagues last year, he did both. He also struck out a lot more than we expected (28.8 percent). A breakout entails Rosario getting that K rate back below 20 percent, something he did every year in the minors. That should make him close to a .300 hitter. If he can match last year's full season home run (11) and stolen base totals (26) he'll be a top-12 shortstop in Fantasy. Think Elvis Andrus, before the power breakout in 2017.|
Andrew Benintendi Boston Red Sox LF
|Andrew Benintendi just put together a 20/20 season at age 22, which puts him in some pretty elite company. But we still haven't seen anything close to his best. Benintendi has a batted ball profile that suggests his .301 BABIP was unfortunate, and with his incredible plate discipline the expectation should be multiple seasons with an average above .300. Even if he does that and nothing else, he'd be a top-25 outfielder, but it's also fair to expect a corresponding bump in run production as well as further power development. Mookie Betts finished 2017 as the No. 4 outfielder in points leagues last season, despite some bad batted ball luck. If Benintendi stays healthy all year, that type of production is well within his ceiling.|
Aaron Nola Philadelphia Phillies SP
|Aaron Nola's rookie season people had me worried about his ceiling because of a low strikeout rate. The following year he struck out more than a batter per inning, but his swinging strike rate was still low. Last year, the swinging strike rate caught up, and Nola finally looked like he had ace potential. All that's left is to put it together over a full 200-inning season. That may seem like a leap from his career-high 168 innings, but including the minors, Nola threw 187 in 2015 and 178.1 last year. I wouldn't say he's more likely than the average Fantasy starter to top 200, but I'm not sure he's less likely either. If he does, we're probably looking at something like Carlos Martinez's season from 2017, which was good enough to be the No. 14 pitcher in points leagues. The only thing holding him back from having top-10 upside is the team he pitches for.|
Alex Bregman Houston Astros 3B
|I am a true believer in the notion that full season statistics are generally more predictive than partial seasons. That being said, we may have already seen Alex Bregman's breakout. From July 4 on, Bregman slashed .321/.378/.548. His 162-game pace for HR and SB were both 24. He was on pace for 120 runs. And that last number is legit, considering he's expected to hit second in arguably the best lineup in baseball. Elvis Andrus was the No. 2 shortstop last year with a .297 average, 20 home runs and 25 stolen bases. If Bregman reaches his potential this year he'll be even better than that.|
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