And now it’s down to four. The NFL season is nearing its end and Fantasy Football will be in the rear view once again. For many the end of football is a sad time, but you don’t have to leave that void in your life. This year take your Fantasy Baseball game to the next level. The wide variety in formats and league sizes in Fantasy Baseball allows us to find the right venue for our knowledge and skill level. This year challenge yourself and go deeper than you’ve ever gone and maybe try a few formats you’ve never played.
All that starts with going back and catching up on the things you missed in the second half of last season, when you turned your attention to football. Last week we looked at some breakout hitters from the National League. While the players covered in that article definitely have their Fantasy value, they were a lackluster group. This week we look at a group of American League players that offers a little more sizzle, especially on the pitching side of things.
Just a reminder, this is not the traditional second half studs and duds article, in which I tell you that a few months of stats will override what a player has done over a few years. This article just serves to highlight some of the breakout players you may not have noticed as you were ramping up for football. Oh, and I’m not going to talk about Gary Sanchez. If you don’t know what he did, you totally ignored baseball after the All-Star Break.
AL Breakout Hitters of 2016’s Second Half
Ryon Healy, 3B/DH, Oakland Athletics
Healy’s parents may have had problems spelling, but he had very few problems adjusting during his first taste of Major League pitching. In 72 games, Healy batted .305 with 13 home runs and 37 RBIs. Some of that average was the result of a .352 BABIP, but Healy has hit for average in the minors and doesn’t strike out all that much (21.2 K%). Healy never got the prospect hype, because the power just wasn’t showing up, but a change in his swing (read about it here) seems to have turned things around.
2017 Recommendation: Healy will not get a lot of hype. The ballpark and lack of pedigree will work to keep most sleeper hype down. Then again, isn’t that what sleepers are made of? I like Healy to be a useful player in mixed leagues. He’ll be available late in drafts, maybe even the reserve rounds. If you waited too long on third base, you might be able to sneak away with 20-plus HRs and a solid average in Healy.
Alex Bregman, 3B, Houston Astros
I hesitated to include Bregman on this list because of his huge prospect status. Houston is a bit out of the spotlight, though, so some of you may not know about this future star. Bregman’s line in Houston is a bit ho-hum. He batted .264 and struck out in 24 percent of his at-bats. He did pop eight homers in just 217 plate appearances, though. Those lackluster numbers may keep some people away, but his minor league peripherals point to bigger things. Bregman has always displayed nice patience and never had strikeout problems prior to his MLB debut. I think we’re looking at a .270 hitter with 20 to 25 HRs this year, and he’s going to build into one of the better third basemen in baseball.
2017 Recommendation: Bregman’s draft slot will be all over the map depending on your league. In more casual leagues you may be able to grab him in second half of your draft, but in many leagues he will get the hype as the next big thing. Right now he’s the eighth ranked third baseman in FantasyPros consensus rankings. That’s too high for me, but it’s an indicator of how highly many experts regard him. I start thinking about him at around pick 100, and even then, there will likely be hitters who can help in more categories.
Corey Dickerson, OF/DH, Tampa Bay Rays
Dickerson has a little more history than the other players on this list. Many people were down on him after he was traded away from Colorado and his first half validated their opinions. He cut down on the strikeouts in the second half and was willing to make adjustments. If he can continue to make better contact, I think there’s a pretty high ceiling here. I don’t think 30 HRs with a .255 average is out of line if he gets the at-bats.
2017 Recommendation: Dickerson will be an afterthought in most mixed league drafts. If you find yourself on the wrong end of the power stick, Dickerson could offer the cheapest 30 homers on the market and the batting average may not hurt as much as the Chris Carters and Pedro Alvarezes of the world.
AL Breakout Pitchers of 2016’s Second Half
James Paxton, LHP, Seattle Mariners
Taijuan Walker usually got all the attention as far as Mariners pitching prospects go, but at one time Paxton was viewed in a similar light. Paxton battled injuries once again, but a few mechanical changes had him improving exponentially as the year progressed. Paxton always had good stuff, but his 96.8 mph average fastball velocity bettered his previous career best by almost 2.0 mph. In 72.2 second half innings, Paxton struck out 72 batters against just 10 walks, with a 1.11 WHIP. The 3.72 ERA could have actually been much lower.
2017 Recommendation: Paxton is a prime candidate to fully break out in 2017, but he has already gotten a lot of love in the industry mocks I’ve been in. Draft him as a No. 5 type Fantasy starter and you could get a lot more. The injury issues and lack of track record are still an issue, though. Draft him where the breakout is profit and not something you’re counting on.
Kevin Gausman, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
Gausman is a prime example of a post-hype breakout. We all knew he had the stuff, but he never really did anything more than tease us. I won’t mention the way the Orioles consistently bounced him from the bullpen to the rotation and from the majors to the minors. Suffice to say that Baltimore may not have always done the best job of developing pitchers. Regardless, things seemed to finally click for Gausman in the second half. He posted a 3.10 ERA and struck out 92 hitters in 93 innings. Gausman’s velocity is a plus, but his lack of movement means the long ball may continue to be a problem for him. I’m not sure he ever becomes the Fantasy ace we expected, but we need No. 3 starters too.
2017 Recommendation: Gausman makes the perfect complement if you spent big on your first two starters. He won’t cost too much, and his counting stats should be solid, while his rate stats won’t do any damage. He makes for a very safe pick (as far as pitchers go) and there’s a chance his ceiling is higher than I think it is.
Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP, Boston Red Sox
A pitcher in Boston going unnoticed? Inconceivable! Rodriguez ended the year with a 4.71 ERA and battled injuries along the way. What many didn’t notice was that he may have started fulfilling his immense potential in the second half. His 2-4 record masked huge improvements. Rodriguez posted a 3.24 ERA along with 79 Ks in 72.2 innings in 14 post All-Star starts. Rodriguez did tweak his knee in winter ball, so we’ll want to keep an eye on that as Spring Training approaches.
2017 Recommendation: The Red Sox rotation is getting full, but if Rodriguez maintains his second half production, they’ll find room for him. Steven Wright is far from proven and there are many who think Drew Pomeranz fits better in the bullpen. Rodriguez is no sure thing, but he’s one of the better upside plays you can probably get for a reserve round pick.
Blake Snell, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Quick, who had the second highest K/9 of all AL starters in the second half… Yeah, maybe listing his name above might have given it away. 2016 was a mixed bag for Snell. He showed the obvious potential that made him Baseball America’s 2015 Minor League Player of the Year, but he also showed some warts we didn’t know about. Walks are a problem that he will need to deal with, but Snell did find his strikeout pitch in the second half, posting an 11.15 K/9. The best part is that he’s not really getting a bunch of hype, and he’s got one of baseball’s best pitching coaches in Jim Hickey. He also threw 152 combined innings in 2016, so we shouldn’t have to worry too much about innings limits.
2017 Recommendation: Snell’s WHIP will be a liability until he gets the walks under control. As such, it doesn’t make sense to partner Snell with elite level pitchers. His WHIP just negates their positive work. But if you’re going with a bunch of No.4/5 type Fantasy starters, Snell could help you compete in strikeouts and wins, while you invest more on hitters.