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Picking breakouts is one of the toughest things to do as a Fantasy owner. Some players give us signs that they are due for bigger things. All too often, breakouts come seemingly out of nowhere, and Odubel Herrera appears to be on the verge of doing just that.
If anything, Herrera came into 2016 looking like an overachiever who could regress. With eight home runs and 30 doubles, the Phillies' Rule 5 pick showed more power in 2015 than he ever had in the minors, and his .362 batting average on grounders looked like a once-in-a-lifetime occurance.
So far in 2016, Herrera has received less help on balls in play, but his overall batting average has slipped only slightly, from .297 to .286. He has been able to help owners with batting average by improving his plate discipline, and a reduced strikeout rate is only part of the story. After only 19 games, Herrera is nearly two-thirds of the way to last season's total of 28 walks. His 17 free passes have helped to raise his on-base percentage to .432, which is good for eighth place on the major league leaderboard.
Though Herrera did post good strikeout and walk rates at some of his minor league stops, he was not an especially patient hitter over 197 games in Double-A -- his highest minor league level. With a 5.6 percent walk rate and .330 OBP, Herrera hardly profiled as an on-base machine. His change in approach has been very much a conscious one, as Herrera told the Allentown Morning Call that he wanted to lengthen his plate appearances this season. In leading the majors with a ratio of 4.93 pitches per plate appearances, he has made good on his intentions in a big way.
Now Herrera is offering something for just about every Fantasy owner. His high walk-to-strikeout ratio makes him viable in points leagues, even those with the standard three-outfielder setup. Because Herrera is getting on base more often, he will have more opportunities to score and to steal, which should endear him to Rotisserie owners.
Herrera isn't the only hitter to emerge with a new-and-improved look. After posting a pedestrian .128 Isolated Power last season, Yasmany Tomas has blasted four home runs and four doubles in the early going. He has cut down his ground ball rate and increased his average flyball distance from 288 to 309 feet (per BaseballHeatMaps.com).
One caveat that has to be raised for Tomas is that his sample of flyballs isn't very large. It's not just because the season is still young. Most of Tomas' power has been of the line drive variety, and his flyball rate is a modest 22.6 percent. Still, the increase in power is a welcome sign, and he hasn't sacrificed his opposite field tendencies to achieve it. Tomas is already owned in 64 percent of the leagues on CBSSports.com, but if he is available in a standard Roto league, the potential combination of power with a high batting average makes him worth a flier as a fifth outfielder.
Adam Duvall, OF, Reds (6 percent owned)
Duvall has not unveiled a new approach to hitting. He is also no one's idea of a disciplined hitter. What he does bring to the table is power and steady playing time, now that he is officially the Reds' primary left fielder. Duvall is just a career .217 hitter, and he may settle in close to that level, but then again, he may not if he can sustain a hard-hit rate above 40 percent. The former Giant is a classic all-or-nothing type, who strikes out often, hits tons of flies, and makes Brian Dozier and Curtis Granderson look like all-fields hitters.
He isn't a complete enough hitter to trust in shallow and standard formats, but if you're lacking power in a deeper league, Duvall can provide it on the cheap.
Aaron Blair, SP, Braves (26 percent owned)
Blair was a key part of the Braves' offseason deal that sent Shelby Miller to the Diamondbacks, and it took less than three weeks for them to get the 23-year-old prospect into their rotation. His major league debut against the Mets was less than impressive, as he coaxed only four swings and misses and threw 45 of his 80 pitches for strikes. Blair wasn't a tremendous strikeout pitcher in the minors last season, and control has been a recurring issue, but he will likely be given a chance to round his four-pitch mix into better form.
Because of his inexperience and potential lack of run support, Blair isn't quite ready for standard mixed leagues. He may not even be worth starting in deeper mixed leagues, but he's a worthy stash in those formats.
Adam Morgan, SP, Phillies (1 percent owned)
Morgan was a candidate to be the Phillies' fifth starter this spring, but clearly, they made the right choice in going with Vince Velasquez. That's no knock against Morgan, who allowed two runs in nine Grapefruit League innings and has carried his hot start over to his minor-league work. Now Morgan appears to be on the verge of joining the Phillies' rotation as a replacement for the injured Charlie Morton (hamstring). He has good control, and if his 13 percent whiff rate from three Triple-A starts holds up, Morgan could be more of a strikeout pitcher than he was last season as a rookie.
He is nothing more than a wait-and-see proposition in most leagues, but owners in NL-only leagues should take a gamble on Morgan, in the event that he sticks around and has a full-blown breakout.