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Ozzie Albies has been everything I dreamed of, and Andrew Benintendi has finally come along, but we're still waiting on a lot of my preseason breakouts to, well, break out. Some are showing signs that they're about to deliver on their potential while others look like more like lost causes.
Here's my take on six breakout candidates from the preseason and expectations moving forward:
I guess we should have expected a slow start from Alex Bregman. After all, it's nothing new. Bregman went 2 for 38 in his first 10 major league games in 2016. Over the rest of that year he posted a .931 OPS. In 2017 he hit .250 in April with a .310 slugging percentage. Over his final 131 games he had an .858 OPS. So I suppose we shouldn't have been to alarmed when he owned a .710 OPS on May 2. Since then he has a .964 OPS.
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So is this last month for real? Absolutely. For the year Bregman has more walks than strikeouts and a career-best 38 percent hard contact rate. He's chasing fewer pitches than he ever has and owns a minuscule 4.4 percent swinging strike rate. He has at least another 20 points of regression coming in his batting average, and I'd expect more power as well.
In March I proposed an upside of .310 with 28 home runs and 22 stolen bases. His peripherals don't suggest any reason to lower those hopes in terms of a rest-of-season pace.
While Bregman was a victim to another slow start, Lance McCullers been a victim of two terrible starts. The righty has allowed six home runs on the season, three of them came in one game. He's walked 25 batters this year, six of them in one start against the Twins. In those two outings McCullers was knocked around for 15 runs in eight innings. In his other nine starts he's allowed 13 runs in 57.1 innings.
The innings could be a big part of a McCullers breakout. He has four starts of at least seven innings this year. He had three of those in 2017. Six of his 11 starts this year have been quality starts, compared to 41 percent of his starts from 2016-17.
This isn't to say that the two awful starts aren't worrisome. His FIP is still higher than it's ever been and his K/9 is down slightly from the past two years. But I've seen enough to keep me believing the ceiling I saw in March still exists.
We're officially out of the "I'm not worried" tier, but there's still plenty to like about Rafael Devers. He's now a 21-year-old with 456 career plate appearances and a .774 OPS. It's hard to find players who get this type of exposure to the majors at this age, hold their own and don't turn into a good hitter. But it hasn't been all rainbows and unicorns for Devers either.
His career line drive rate is still abysmal (15.7 percent), and he's striking out more this year (25.5 percent). It's not that surprising, but he's also been terrible against lefties, with a .649 OPS and a 28.6 percent K rate. He's also in a terrible funk right now, hitting .176 over his past 21 games. I suppose it wouldn't be terribly surprising if he ends up in a platoon with Eduardo Nunez, and in fact Nunez has started twice at third base since Dustin Pedroia returned.
I still expect Devers will break out of this funk and be a solid contributor to your Fantasy roster the rest of the season, but I'm more concerned about the floor than I am excited about the upside right now.
In many ways, Joey Gallo looks a lot like Joey Gallo. It's just that I was expecting more this year. He's still crushing baseballs (44 percent hard-contact rate) and he's still striking out too often (35.6 percent K rate). His BABIP of .229 is even worse than 2017, which is the one thing I felt confident would improve. But the bigger concern for Gallo may be his walk rate. Gallo walked in 14.1 percent of his plate appearances last year. That was key to him posting a respectable .333 OBP despite his strikeout and BABIP problems. This year the walk rate has fallen to 8.7 percent and his OBP has fallen with it.
To be clear, I don't believe Gallo is a .197 hitter. I still expect he has batted ball regression coming, but I'm getting less confident about how much regression we should expect. What I'm still hoping for is a reduction in strikeouts. Despite his strikeout rate remaining fairly stagnant, he has improved his swinging strike rate from 19.3 percent to 17.9 percent. While that's still a terrible mark, it's an improvement.
I still expect Gallo will finish the year among the league leaders in home runs and expect a better run of batted ball luck over the rest of the season. But without an improvement in the strikeout rate and a return to better plate discipline it will be near-impossible for him to have the breakout we were hoping for.
So you're thinking about dropping Byron Buxton again? With those numbers, who could blame you? Buxton is once again completely lost at the plate and has more strikeouts than he has walks, hits and RBI combined. But please remember the "once again" part of that last sentence.
On July 3 last year, Buxton was hitting .195 with a .552 OPS. In his final 62 games he had a .912 OPS, hit 12 home runs and stole 15 bases. That being said, my confidence level in Buxton figuring things out in the near future is close to zero. I'm doing my best not to drop him because of fears that he'll repeat last year's finish, but there is nothing that indicates his improvements in the second half of 2017 stuck.
If you're holding on to Buxton, you're holding on to hope, but not much more.
Finally we get to my greatest disappointment of 2017, Ian Happ. He was my favorite breakout before spring training, and then the hype really began. He started hitting leadoff, Joe Maddon kept talking him up, and on opening day, Happ went yard in his first at bat. It was glorious ... but it didn't last long.
Happ just kept swinging, striking out 14 times in his next 23 plate appearances. His playing time suffered and the strikeouts kept piling up. We always knew that playing time could be a problem on a team that has too many players, but I didn't expect it would happen that fast or that dramatically. Fortunately, he caught fire in mid-May as Joe Maddon spoke openly about how they had to get him on the field more.
To be honest, I don't know how to feel about Happ now. We're a third of the way through the season and he has a 40 percent K rate. His contact rate is the worst in baseball (though it's improved in the past two weeks). He's still not guaranteed regular playing time. But at the same time he ranks third on the Cubs in wOBA and he's second in ISO. Jason Heyward is still awful, Ben Zobrist is still really old, Javier Baez still won't take a walk and Kyle Schwarber still can't hit lefties.
If Happ can stop whiffing so frequently, he could get regular playing time again. If that happens he's a top-10 second baseman again. I understand if that's too many ifs to hold on the end of your roster, but I'm not ready to give up on him yet.