Fantasy Baseball: Eight breakout hitters for the second half
A new half is set to begin. What sort of surprises are in store? Scott White has eight from the hitter side of the equation.
The second half is upon us and up on us, so here and now that it's like this baseball thing didn't go away for four days.
But as quickly as these final 2 1/2 months are sure to play out, you can't go on cruise control, assuming every player has already revealed his true self. There's no telling exactly when a player will break out, and yes, there are plenty of examples of it happening in the second half. And while some will certainly catch us by surprise, others may be showing early signs of it.
For these eight hitters, I think the best is yet to come.
Jurickson Profar, who you may remember was the top prospect in baseball too long ago to care, has already been usable — respectable, even, in standard points leagues, where his lack of strikeouts and surplus of doubles are worth something in their own right. It's why I can't help but dream big when I see that his BABIP is only .258. Granted, some hitters are predisposed to low BABIPs, but it usually requires a low line-drive rate or high fly-ball rate. He's on the good side of both of those ledgers.
If you normalize the BABIP with as little as he strikes out, he could be flirting with a .300 batting average right now. Add the capacity for 15-20 homers and 15-20 steals, and it sounds a little like what we thought Alex Bregman would be coming into the year. Maybe that's a convoluted comparison since Bregman has since exceeded expectations power-wise, but my point is I don't think Profar is far from being a fourth- or fifth-round type of player, especially given his quintuple eligibility.
If you're the sort who likes to play the hot hand off the waiver wire, you may be in one of the 49 percent of leagues where Jesse Winker is owned. He's batting .341 (43 for 126) with seven homers and a 1.017 OPS over his past 41 games, after all. But it isn't just some hot streak. It's a long overdue correction for a-player we may soon come to see as sort of a mini Joey Votto.
There are so many similarities between the two, from the stellar strikeout-to-walk ratio to the elite line-drive rate. Winker is a batting title contender and OBP hog in the making. And seeing as he also has a top 20 hard contact rate, according to FanGraphs, there's no reason he should have gone until May 24 without a home run. Those 41 games I mentioned earlier mark his production since then, and the .364 BABIP during that time isn't so far-fetched. I'm not saying he's as good as a .341 batting average and 1.017 OPS, but he may not be far off. And now that Scott Schebler is sidelined by a sprained shoulder, the playing-time obstacle is removed.
Jake Bauers was also highly regarded for his plate discipline in the minors but, like Winker, had some questions about whether his power would play up in the majors. So for him to have five homers only 36 games into his career is a positive sign. Also a positive sign: He's the eighth-best first baseman in points leagues since his debut June 7. He has probably gotten shortchanged in the batting average department, too, given he has a line-drive rate on par with Winker and hard contact rate that exceeds Winker's. The sample is smaller, making the conclusions flimsier, but it's a close enough profile to earn Bauers a similarly favorable forecast from me.
I sure like guys who walk a lot, don't I? Yup, nothing assures Fantasy competence quite like a high on-base floor. But we're aiming for better than competence here, and I do believe, especially relative to his 27 percent ownership, that Johan Camargo is capable of it. He has had an easier time clearing the fence in his second season, more than doubling last year's home-run total in about the same number of plate appearances, and with his improved hard contact rate, it makes sense. Yet despite having a hard contact rate on par with Bryce Harper, Alex Bregman and Jose Ramirez, he's stuck with a .279 BABIP.
To me, he looks more like a .275 hitter with a mid-.800s OPS, but there's reason to wonder whether he'll get a chance to make good on it beyond the trade deadline, what with the Braves being in contention and Camargo perceived to be the lineup's weakest link. Still, I've stashed him away in a couple deeper leagues believing the best is yet to come.
Though another guy at risk of being replaced by trade, Greg Bird is a must in just any what-if column since we've already seen the kind of power hitter he can be, whether it was during his 2015 debut, the second half last year or last postseason. And maybe the simple answer is that he's a streaky hitter, but the way injuries have interfered leaves room to wonder.
What else does? He has been one of the most extreme pull and fly-ball hitters in baseball while playing his home games in the easiest park for left-handers to hit it out. He has a soft contact rate on par with Freddie Freeman, has had terrible BABIP luck and has recently shown signs of coming around with five homers in his past 14 games. I think he's poised for something even more explosive provided the Yankees keep giving him chances.
Look, another high-contact hitter with a suspiciously low BABIP. Yup, Ketel Marte obviously shouldn't be hitting .238, and that alone is reason to like him in the second half. But the reason I'm calling him a breakout is what he's been doing power-wise. For the first couple months, he was a pound-it-into-the-ground, leg-it-out type, and his numbers were abysmal. Only since the start of June has he been elevating the ball one-third of the time — a modest rate, but still much better than his season-long mark.
And wouldn't you know he has hit eight of his nine home runs with a .932 OPS during that stretch? Only a .260 BABIP, too, which means the luck still hasn't turned, and yet he's the eighth-best shortstop in points leagues during that stretch, sandwiched between Manny Machado and Didi Gregorius. He may not be the base-stealer we hoped he'd become, but if he keeps elevating the ball as he has been, that's enough for him to measure up among middle infielders. And he's another who's available in half of CBS Sports leagues.
I know we've been down this road time and time again with Gregory Polanco, and eventually, we have to come to accept he is who he is. But he keeps doing different things, which tells me we don't know who he is yet. This year, he has hit the ball harder than ever and elevated it more than ever, and look, he's on pace for his most home runs by far. You could say it's come at the expense of batting average, which isn't entirely unfounded given his line-drive rate, but that rate has been skewed a bit by a particularly wonky July.
And Polanco isn't far removed from being a good line-drive hitter. With every metamorphosis, I feel like he's just a little closer to putting it all together, and the second half may be when it happens. He's still only 26, so continued development is to be expected.
With one fatal exception, things have gone about as well as hoped for Yoan Moncada. He has a .345 BABIP that has supported an elite line-drive rate and one of the lowest soft contact rates in the game, and the ability to sustain a high BABIP is a foundation for stardom. It's just that he strikes out so ... darn ... much that the effect is negated and then some. Moncada's 33.9 percent rate is topped only by Joey Gallo, Matt Davidson and Chris Davis, who you may know as three guys who struggle to hit .200.
Since the start of July, though, Moncada has struck out just 24.6 percent of the time, and he's hitting .327. He struck out 27.5 percent of the time last September and hit .276. If he can get to striking out at just a normal bad rate and not like he's someone picking up a bat for the first time, it could be a rapid rise for a player who was in the best-prospect-in-baseball discussion at this time a year ago. I wouldn't call him a high-probability bet over the final 2 1/2 months, so he's not someone I'm rushing out to acquire. But I wouldn't mind stashing him away if the opportunity presented itself.
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