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What classifies as a breakout in Fantasy Baseball? Is it opportunity? Is it underlying stats? Is it track record? Well, it’s really all of the above and then some.
The way the industry is now, thanks to a little thing called the Internet, finding breakout players and sleepers – let’s be real, sleepers don’t exist – that can set you apart from your league is hard. There is so much information out there, that unless your league-mates show up to the draft completely blind, there’s a good chance that every player you’re looking at they’ve heard of before.
But don’t let that stop you. If they do some research, you do more. If they prepare for their draft 10 hours per week, you do 15.
Here are some breakout candidates for the 2017 Fantasy Baseball season.
Jorge Soler – It’s tough with Soler, because we’ve been down this road before. He’s been at the highest of highs – .903 OPS with five homers in 97 plate appearances in 2014, making him a hot commodity in 2015 drafts – and the lowest of lows – 10 homers in 404 plate appearances with a 30 percent strikeout rate in 2015 and non-existent in 2016.
To be fair, Soler has dealt with injury issues that have held him back, but they don’t compare to the issues that he had finding playing time with the insanely deep Cubs roster. With the trade to Kansas City, Soler has a chance to be an everyday player in the heart of a lineup, albeit a weaker one. The power is real and will still play in Kansas City. With a NFBC ADP of 284, Soler is all but forgotten. Take him at the end of your drafts and reap the benefits.
James Paxton – Soler has found himself on breakout lists before, and it’s no different for Paxton. After a stellar sneak peek a few years ago, Paxton hasn’t been able to win a regular spot in the rotation. But last year, something changed with him. Paxton changed his arm slot and reached triple digits on the radar gun with his fastball.
In 121 innings last season, Paxton increased his strikeouts per nine innings, lowered his walk-rate, and decreased his ERA and his home-run-to-fly-ball ratio. Paxton ended the year with a 3.79 ERA, but his FIP was 2.80, showing that there is more room for improvement.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this breakout, aside from the low walk totals for Paxton, are the whiffs he generated with his curve. He had a 17.7 percent whiff-rate with the curveball, holding the opposition to a .219 batting average against with the pitch.
Paxton, who is 202nd in NFBC ADP, has a shot to be a Top 20 pitcher if he continues to push forward from his results last year.
Robbie Ray – Sticking with the hard-throwing lefty theme, let’s take a look at Ray, who had an interesting season to say the least.
Ray was second only to Jose Fernandez in K/9 among qualified starters with 11.25 strikeouts per nine innings, he had the highest BABIP in baseball at .352 and he also had a 68.7 percent strand rate, which was the 12th-worst in baseball. OK, maybe it’s just me, but I’m expecting some major regression on the BABIP and the strand rate, especially when you’re striking out people at the rate that Ray does.
A lot of the BABIP has to do with the 36.6 hard-hit rate that Ray allowed, which was tied with Danny Duffy for second-hardest rate in baseball behind only Hector Santiago. We know that the harder a batter hits the ball, the more likely they are to get on base.
With regression coming – and yes, it’s only fair to assume some regression from the strikeouts if we are assuming it from the BABIP and strand-rate – Ray could be a huge value at his current spot of No. 217 overall in NFBC ADP. With strikeouts being the most valuable thing a pitcher can do in Fantasy, Ray fills the role well.
Ryon Healy – I love Healy, and I don’t care who knows it. The Athletics might not as much, as the signing of Trevor Plouffe forces Healy off the hot corner to first base and designated hitter to collect his at-bats.
In September and October, Healy hit seven of his 13 home runs on the season, and put together a .964 OPS, .407 wOBA and 163 wRC+. He reminds me of a poor man’s – poor being the key term here, folks – Josh Donaldson when he was with Oakland.
When looking at Healy, there are some numbers that stand out. He had a .352 BABIP, which we can assume will go down this year. But what also may correct, according to his minor league numbers, are his walk rate and strikeout rate. Healy had a 21.2 percent strikeout rate over 283 plate appearances in 2016, compared to a minor league total of 16.1 percent. If he can bring that total down and raise his walk-rate from 4.2 percent in 2016 to around his minor league average of 6.3 percent, they should balance any BABIP regression.
Steamer has Healy at .274 with 17 homers. I have him at .280 with 25 homers. In 2016, of the 25 players to hit at least .280 with 25 home runs, only Corey Seager, Adrian Beltre, Carlos Gonzalez, Carlos Beltran, Jose Abreu, Anthony Rizzo, Victor Martinez, Hanley Ramirez and Yoenis Cespedes finished outside of the Top 50 overall players on ESPN’s player rater. Only Cespedes and Martinez finished outside of the Top 100.
Healy has at least Top 100 potential, even at a deep position, but he’s going 193rd overall, and he’s the 18th third baseman off the board, behind the likes of Javier Baez and Hernan Perez.
Edwin Diaz – I wanted to avoid putting Diaz on my list, because the hype train is running off the rails already. But it’s hard not to get excited about Diaz. He’s already going on average as the eighth relief pitcher off the board and the 84th overall player drafted, according to NFBC ADP.
Among relief pitchers in 2016, Diaz’ 15.33 strikeouts per nine innings were second only to Delin Betances. He had an elite strand-rate (83.9 percent) and his 18.5 percent swinging-strike rate was fourth in baseball among relievers, behind Luke Gregerson, Ken Giles and Aroldis Chapman. He’s everything you want in a closer, and despite his high price tag, he can return the investment on it.
Other breakout candidates:
Tommy Joseph – The everyday job is his. Has 30-homer ability.
Brandon Drury – Great ballpark. Just needs the playing time.
Tom Murphy – If he’s the starting catcher for the Rockies, he’s a Top 10 catcher.
Michael Conforto – I’m not concerned about last year. I am concerned about the crowded outfield, though.
Anthony DeSclafani – Pitched above his peripherals last year. He’ll pitch to them this year.
Lance McCullers – Injuries are the only thing keeping him from being a Cy Young candidate.
Andrew Benintendi – His hit tool is out of this world. Terrific in points leagues.