2020 Fantasy Baseball Breakouts: 10 to make the leap from starter to star to superstar
Keston Hiura, Nick Castellanos, and Kyle Tucker are three players Chris Towers is expecting to break into the next tier. Here are all 10 of his Breakout calls for 2020.
Sleepers are tough to define, let alone figure out, but breakouts are easy. It's as simple as, "Who is going to reach a level they've never been at before?" Sleepers and breakouts can overlap, but the key distinction for me is, breakouts are players I'm looking to have a career year, and in most cases, break into the next tier of players above them.
In the case of some of the following 10 players, I'm hoping they can make a leap from star to superstar; others, from starter to star; and for the bottom end of the list, I'm hoping we'll see players who have flashed potential finally get a chance to establish themselves as reliable Fantasy options with upside to spare.
We'll start with the players I'm tabbing to make the leap to superstardom and go from there. Keep in mind, this column is all about upside, so I'll be painting the rosiest picture possible for these players. Let's see how right things can go:
Chris Towers' Breakouts 1.0
Keston Hiura 2B
MIL Milwaukee • #18 • Age: 23
Hiura didn't come into the majors with the same hype and fanfare as Fernando Tatis, Vladimir Guerrero, or Eloy Jimenez, but he might have been as good or better than any of them in 2019. Never known as a serious power hitter, Hiura took a massive step forward, hitting 38 between Triple-A and the majors in 141 games, while still stealing 16 bases and hitting .313 across both levels. It might be asking too much to expect him to continue hitting .300 — a .402 BABIP isn't going to last — but Hiura legitimately looked like a star in the majors, even after struggling in his first taste. He ranked in the 90th percentile in exit velocity and 97th percentile in hard-hit rate — sandwiched between Josh Donaldson and Matt Olson in hard-hit rate and just ahead of Juan Soto and J.D. Martinez in exit velocity. That doesn't guarantee stardom for Hiura — those batted-ball metrics are descriptive, but not necessarily predictive — but he's a rare stud youngster who isn't quite being priced at his ceiling, especially if he keeps the power gains he made in 2019 while getting back to making more contact.
Yoan Moncada 3B
CHW Chi. White Sox • #10 • Age: 24
Moncada already made one leap in 2019, but there's room for even more. Like Hiura, he isn't going to sustain a BABIP north of .400, but he does have a career .369 BABIP in nearly 1,500 plate appearances in the majors, so it's fair to expect him to be among the league leaders yet again. Moncada has always been an incredibly intriguing collection of tools, and he started to put most of them into action in games in 2019 — largely thanks to a much-needed change in approach to be more aggressive to avoid pitcher counts. The next step, then, is to start to put his considerable athleticism into play. Moncada stole 45 bases in both 2015 and 2016 in the minors and was still in the 72nd percentile in average sprint speed in 2019, so there's still plenty of ability there. The hope is now that he has established himself as a force in the batter's box, he'll have a bit more comfort on the base paths. If you're talking ceiling, Moncada's looks a lot like Trevor Story's, someone you can justify taking in the first round these days.
HOU Houston • #1 • Age: 25
Frankly, the question isn't, "Is Carlos Correa an elite player?" He's posted an OPS of at least .926 in two of his past three seasons, and even taking into account his subpar 2018 and all of the injuries he has dealt with, he's hitting .278/.357/.502 over the past three seasons with a 162-game pace of 34 homers, 102 runs, and 115 RBI. Instead, Correa is in the spot Giancarlo Stanton was in prior to 2017, where the question is solely about whether he can stay healthy. When that's the only question and we know a player can produce at an elite level, that's a great opportunity for value. We know what Correa can do, and this is a bet that he'll do it for 150 games and win you plenty of leagues.
CIN Cincinnati • #2 • Age: 27
Castellanos might've already made the leap to stardom in 2019, but there is considerable skepticism in the industry that he can keep it up. After hitting just 11 homers in 100 games with the Tigers — and notably griping about the power-sapping dimensions of Comerica Park — Castellanos went nuts with the Cubs, hitting 16 homers in 51 games. Skepticism around a 27-year-old breakout isn't unwarranted, but in Castellanos' case, he had been posting elite batted-ball metrics for years without seeing the benefits of it — he has been in the 90th percentile or better in StatCast expected slugging percentage four straight years. And now he gets to play half his games in Cincinnati's famously snug home park, where his all-fields power can play up. What's the ceiling? It looks a lot like what J.D. Martinez did in 2019 in my eyes.
Corey Seager SS
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #5 • Age: 25
This is as much a bounce-back-to-star call as anything else. Seager hit .302/.370/497 between 2016 and 2017, but hip and elbow surgeries ruined his 2018, and seemed to derail his 2019 early on. He had an OPS below .700 in April of 2019, and fell as far as .655 as of May 4. Then he went 2 for 4 with two doubles and a walk on May 5, and was pretty much back to being his old self from that point on — over the final 99 games, he hit .288/.341/.530 with a 59-double, 28-homer pace. I think that's more the real Seager, and at just 25 on Opening Day, there is still plenty of time for Seager to break out further. His ascendance was delayed by injuries, but I feel confident Seager will return to the ranks of the Fantasy stars in 2020.
Zac Gallen SP
ARI Arizona • #23 • Age: 24
To start off, what Gallen did in 14 starts in the PCL in 2019 was probably the most impressive pitching performance by anyone in organized baseball — his 1.77 ERA came in a league where the average ERA was 5.48. That he then came up and more than held his own in the majors should come as little surprise. He's a legitimate four-pitch pitcher, throwing all four at least 15% of the time with solid results from each pitch. The control wasn't quite where you'd want it to be in his first taste of the majors, but that had never been an issue for Gallen before, so bet on improvement there. If that comes, Gallen has top-15 SP upside.
OAK Oakland • #47 • Age: 26
There are going to be some who shy away from Montas coming off a PED suspension, concerned about the causation between his breakout and his failed test, but I don't share those concerns. Montas wasn't better in 2019 because he got bigger and stronger and could throw harder — he was better because he developed a dominant go-to pitch. Primarily just a fastball-slider pitcher in 2018, Montas introduced a splitter in 2019 that was immediately his best pitch. It extended his arsenal and allowed him to land in the 88th percentile in expected wOBA allowed among all pitchers. It wasn't the PEDs that fueled Montas' breakout, it was the splitter. And as long as that's around, I'm willing to buy him as my No. 3 or even No. 2 SP on Draft Day.
Kyle Tucker LF
HOU Houston • #30 • Age: 23
Let's face facts: Tucker had a down year in Triple-A last year. There's no getting around it, he just wasn't as good as he had been in 2018. Here's another fact: Tucker still had 34 homers and 30 steals in 125 games at Triple-A. Add in his work in the majors, and he finished the season with 38 homers and 34 steals, while being caught just five times. He doesn't necessarily have a job on Opening Day, but Tucker is still just 23, and needs to get a fair shake at some point. When he does, he'll be in one of the best lineups in baseball, with the potential to be what we hoped Andrew Benintendi would become.
Julio Urias RP
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #7 • Age: 23
Speaking of 23-year-olds finally getting a shot, here's Julio Urias. Yep, he's still somehow only 23, despite making his major-league debut all the way back in 2016. Urias has thrown 184 innings in the majors with a 3.18 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, and 187 strikeouts. You'll sign up for that. He still has to prove he can hold up to a full-time starting role, and the Dodgers will likely be judicious with his usage — a franchise staple at this point — but Urias showed improved velocity in 2019 and has four legitimate pitches, including a slider that could be one of the best pitches in baseball. Urias has an immense amount of potential, and this is his first chance to really live up to it. This might be the cheapest you can get Urias on Draft Day for the next decade.
Luke Weaver SP
ARI Arizona • #24 • Age: 26
Weaver didn't make wholesale changes to his approach, but the tweaking around the edges seemed to make a big impact — a few more changeups here, some extra cutters there, and all of a sudden, he's a new pitcher. Weaver's strikeout rate got back close to 2017 levels, and he kept an elite walk rate, creating a profile that doesn't look that dissimilar from what Shane Bieber did. I'm not saying he'll be that good — or, given the fact he missed significant time with an elbow injury, that reliable — but there's pretty significant upside here at a pretty insignificant price.
So which breakouts should you snatch in your draft? And which undervalued first baseman can help you win a championship? Visit SportsLine now to get rankings for every single position, all from the model that called Kenta Maeda's huge breakout last season, and find out.
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