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Among the holy trinity of Fantasy Baseball content pieces, breakouts are by far the hardest to come up with. Because, unlike sleepers and busts, breakout isn't a relative term. Sleepers can just be anyone you think is undervalued in drafts; busts can just be anyone you think is going too early. Easy stuff!

But breakouts aren't just about value; it's about identifying players who are going to take a big step forward from expectations as well as their previous track record. And the thing about expecting someone to do something they've never done before is … they've never done it before! 

Breakouts are for dreaming about what could be possible. If you think I'm being overly optimistic about the 10 players I've picked for this exercise, that's the whole point; I'm donning my rose-colored glasses and looking at every glass as half-full. Here are 10 players I'm looking at who could push their production – and my teams, naturally – to the next level.

Breakouts 2.0
Projections powered by Sportsline
PIT Pittsburgh • #15 • Age: 25
Fantasy Breakdown
ADP
199
Roto
211
Roto (SS)
24
H2H
216
H2H (SS)
24
2021 Stats
AVG
0.333
HR
1
R
2
RBI
3
SB
0
SO
4
I was out on Cruz at the start of draft season, mostly because I thought the hype was going to reach a point where his cost would simply be untenable. However, his ADP is still sitting at just 214.7 in March drafts on NFBC, which is actually a bit lower than where he was going earlier. And, since the price remains so reasonable, it's easy to just focus on the upside, and I can't get one specific comp out of my head: Aaron Judge. Obviously, that starts with both being among the largest human beings to ever play professional baseball, standing in at 6'7". But it's not just that: Cruz has legitimate 80-grade raw power, putting him in the rarified air of Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and just a few others, and he proved that by hitting a ball 118 mph in his two-game stint in the majors last season, something only 11 players bested all season. Like Judge, however, Cruz didn't really put that raw power into action in the minors as much as you would expect; like Judge, he also didn't strike out quite as much as you would expect. Judge is, in many ways, a one-of-one outlier, so the similarities between the two don't mean Cruz is fated to follow the same path toward perennial MVP-candidate status. However, the 40-homer potential is here and it's real, and Cruz has enough athleticism to be a contributor in stolen bases, and he may have a Judge-esque ability to hit the ball so hard that he won't hurt you in batting average even if strikeouts become a problem. Cruz is someone you need to be looking for after the 150th pick in all drafts.
LAA L.A. Angels • #7 • Age: 25
Fantasy Breakdown
ADP
228
Roto
187
Roto (OF)
50
H2H
183
H2H (OF)
48
2021 Stats
AVG
0.246
HR
4
R
17
RBI
26
SB
2
SO
32
Here's another opportunity to bet on a blue-chip prospect at a very cheap price. Adell compares incredibly favorably to Jarred Kelenic, both in terms of what we've seen from them at the major and minor-league levels as well as their status as elite prospects. Adell floundered in his first taste of major-league action in 2020, striking out 41.7% of the time, and it seems like the memories of that are sticking in people's minds way more than Kelenic's not-quite-as-bad-but-still-bad 2021 debut. However, Adell was debuting without having played a game in 2020, during the strange COVID-shortened season as a 21-year-old, so how fair is it to hold that against him? Especially when he showed real signs of improvement in 2021, striking out just 22.9% of the time in the majors after posting a 40-homer pace in Triple-A. Adell has flashed the elite tools in the majors, with a max exit velocity of 115.5 mph and a 98th percentile sprint speed, and he showed signs of improvement where he needed to as well. And he's going 100 picks later than Kelenic in most leagues. I'm drafting Adell as a top-50 outfielder.
MIL Milwaukee • #27 • Age: 28
Fantasy Breakdown
ADP
182
Roto
107
Roto (SS)
16
H2H
111
H2H (SS)
15
2021 Stats
AVG
0.262
HR
25
R
77
RBI
73
SB
5
SO
156
We've talked about Adames more on the Fantasy Baseball Today podcast than perhaps any other player this preseason, and he's an example of a player whose breakout already happened, even if some folks aren't buying it. He hit .285/.366/.521 following a trade to the Brewers, and it's easy for me to buy given that those numbers are remarkably similar to what he managed outside of Tropicana Field in his time with the Rays. Remember, Adames was a top-20 prospect back in the day, too, so it really looks like this might just be a case of his home park holding him back from reaching his true potential. Adames should produce like a top-12 shortstop, but he won't cost that much. At least, not until next season.
PHI Philadelphia • #12 • Age: 31
Fantasy Breakdown
ADP
136
Roto
84
Roto (OF)
25
H2H
81
H2H (OF)
22
2021 Stats
AVG
0.266
HR
32
R
76
RBI
71
SB
1
SO
127
Here's another example of a player whose previous breakout probably isn't being taken serious enough by the Fantasy community. Maybe it's because his counting stats are pretty pedestrian looking? I'm not sure, but he played just 113 games, so that's not a good reason to hold it against him. Maybe he's being held down by the fact that he's still a free agent, so people don't want to draft him until we know where he's going to play. However, it's not like Schwarber is going to be a part-time player anywhere, and he's got the kind of power that plays anywhere – he proved that by hitting .291/.435/.522 in Boston, a notoriously tough place for left-handed power hitters to play. Schwarber is one of the best bets in the league for 40 homers no matter where he lands, and in OBP leagues, he should be a top-60 pick. I don't have him ranked much below that in traditional Roto leagues, anyway.
TOR Toronto • #25 • Age: 27
Fantasy Breakdown
ADP
142
Roto
129
Roto (C)
5
H2H
130
H2H (C)
6
2021 Stats
AVG
0.246
HR
11
R
41
RBI
38
SB
6
SO
67
If all Varsho does is hit like he did last season while making 150 starts, he's going to be one of the better catchers in Fantasy; his pace over 150 starts was 22 homers, 72 runs, 72 RBI, and 12 steals while hitting .241/.315/.437. But there are reasons to think he can be even better than that. For one thing, he's hit .303 with 27 homers and 23 steals in just 126 games between Double-A and Triple-A for his career. And for another, he hit .290/.349/.530 with a 27-homer, 14-steal pace after the All-Star break in 2021, when he more or less became an everyday player. If he's playing nearly ever yday in the outfield and occasionally filling in at catcher, he could put up elite counting numbers for a catcher, with the potential to steal twice as many bases as anyone else at the position.
LAA L.A. Angels • #43 • Age: 27
Fantasy Breakdown
ADP
212
Roto
152
Roto (SP)
48
H2H
163
H2H (SP)
53
2021 Stats
INN
87
W
3
K's
94
ERA
3.62
WHIP
1.21
Sandoval is probably my favorite breakout candidate at starting pitcher because while most of the other guys here have work to do to get there, Sandoval already did it in 2021. His 3.62 ERA was backed up by strong peripherals, and he was even better when he was moved into the rotation, with a 3.39 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 14 starts. Back issues derailed him, but if he can avoid those, he has top-15 SP upside in 2022. He relies heavily on his changeup, and it is arguably one of the best pitches in baseball – he had the highest whiff rate among all changeups in 2022 and had the fourth-lowest expected wOBA allowed on the pitch among the 55 pitchers who threw changeups the most, per BaseballSavant.com. His slider has also been a big-time pitch, and his curveball has been solid as a fourth pitch, too. The model here is Kevin Gausman, who rode his similarly dominant splitter to a breakout over the past two seasons, and I think Sandoval can get to that level.
ARI Arizona • #57 • Age: 31
Fantasy Breakdown
ADP
192
Roto
161
Roto (SP)
44
H2H
147
H2H (SP)
52
2021 Stats
INN
157.2
W
13
K's
185
ERA
4.74
WHIP
1.39
If you buy into advanced metrics for pitchers, Rodriguez already broke out last season. He had by far the best FIP of his career at 3.32, and his 20.4% K-BB% was one of the best among all starters. Of course, if you want to be skeptical, you'll likely point out that, while those numbers are impressive, neither accounts for quality of contact. So that must be why his numbers were so much worse than expected in 2021, right? Nope! Rodriguez's HR/9 was 1.08, below his career rate, and his quality of contact measurements were actually uniformly excellent. Rodriguez ranked in the 90th percentile in average exit velocity allowed and 87th in hard-hit rate, while his expected wOBA on contact was below the league average as well. And Rodriguez was doing all of that after missing all of 2020 following a myocarditis diagnosis, a heart issue brought on by a bout with COVID-19. Rodriguez is in an easier division and a better home park with his move to Detroit, and I'm in on him as a No. 3 starter for Fantasy.
SD San Diego • #77 • Age: 24
Fantasy Breakdown
ADP
255
Roto
276
Roto (SP)
73
H2H
241
H2H (SP)
77
2021 Stats
INN
77.1
W
5
K's
74
ERA
4.31
WHIP
1.27
One of the surprising things about Patiño's 2021 is how rarely he threw anything but his fastball or slider. Those two pitches are pretty tremendous – he's got easy high-90s heat with a high spin rate, making it a very good swing-and-miss pitch up in the zone, while he threw his slider harder than in 2021 and got better results from it as a result. However, one of the key parts of any scouting report on Patiño as a prospect was the depth of his arsenal – his curveball and changeup were supposed to be plus pitches, too. Patiño held his own with that slider/fastball combo, but the strikeout numbers were pretty disappointing, as were his numbers against lefties (.830 OPS allowed, 14.9% strikeout rate), and that's where expanding the arsenal can hopefully help. As good as Patiño's fastball is, it's rare for starting pitchers to throw them 60% of the time or more and be good strikeout pitchers. Finding the feel for the changeup especially should be a key to unlocking the upside Patiño clearly has, and it's a bet well worth making when all it costs is a final-round pick.
CLE Cleveland • #24 • Age: 26
Fantasy Breakdown
ADP
215
Roto
233
Roto (SP)
63
H2H
213
H2H (SP)
73
2021 Stats
INN
120
W
5
K's
136
ERA
4.95
WHIP
1.18
The flashes have been quite impressive for McKenzie, and his overall track record in the majors looks a lot better when you remember that he basically didn't pitch for two full years before making his MLB debut in 2020. He's got three swing-and-miss secondary pitches, though his feel for them comes and goes, and that's going to be the key for him because his fastball probably won't ever be much more than an average pitch. However, when things are clicking for McKenzie, the upside is obvious – he had an 11-start stretch in 2021 where he had a 2.96 ERA and 0.731 WHIP, with a 3.27 FIP to back it up. The hard part will be finding the consistency he needs to do that for more than just a month or two at a time, but I'm a believer in the talent.
MIA Miami • #44 • Age: 26
Fantasy Breakdown
ADP
265
Roto
296
Roto (SP)
82
H2H
249
H2H (SP)
81
2021 Stats
INN
95.1
W
6
K's
98
ERA
6.61
WHIP
1.62
This one is a bet on Miami's pretty stellar record of developing of starting pitchers as much as Luzardo's talent. The Marlins have a type, and Luzardo absolutely fits the ball – hard throwers whose secondary pitches outpace their fastballs, despite the high-90s radar readings. Luzardo's fastballs both got crushed in 2021, with an expected wOBA over .400 on both his four-seamer and his sinker, which is a bad place to start. However, his slurvy breaking ball has remained consistently excellent through an inconsistent early career, and his changeup has shown promise. And the changeup might be the easiest place to project improvement from Luzardo, given Miami's organizational focus on that pitch – their starters threw changeups 21.1% of the time in 2021, the highest mark in the league by three percentage points, and they had the eighth-best pitcher value per pitch. It all comes down to whether Luzardo can command the fastballs better, because he struggles to throw strikes and gives up too much hard contact, a terrible combination. But Miami has earned quite a bit of benefit of the doubt with pitchers and Luzardo is cheap, so it's a bet worth making.