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Nolan Arenado is off to a fast start, fueling the hype around his potential breakout. You could say the same for Mookie Betts, who was one of the most talked about players this spring and already has two HRs and three SBs out of the gate. Kris Bryant, well, he will be breaking out in the very near future, possibly by this weekend. All of these players and many more were receiving the breakout treatment. That is, they started the spring as a “sleeper,” which escalates rapidly to become the players everyone in your league is targeting. In Bryant’s case, his torrid performance only fueled the fire and drove up his draft price tag. Expectations are now extremely high for each one of these young players, but all are talented enough to deliver.
Successful Fantasy Baseball owners know they need to dig deeper than that to compete for a championship. What about the players that could break out this year but did not receive heaps of premature praise? These breakout candidates were definitely drafted in your league (or should have been), but not as early as their upside says they should have. Their values are currently still very affordable and each could deliver a strong, championship-aiding performance this season. In keeper leagues, these guys are going to be harder to pry away, but they are still attainable if you are willing to pay for the potential. A great place to look for this type of talent is among former prospects that did not light the world on fire in their first taste of the big leagues. Often times, these players (often pitchers) are glossed over after some initial struggles at the big league level. The good news for you is that they can become strong values in the seasons to follow.
- After the All-Star break last year, Travis D’Arnaud hit .265 with 30 Runs, 22 RBIs and 24 extra base hits in 196 at-bats. He had been a top catching prospect with the Blue Jays and the centerpiece of the deal that sent R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays. The 26-year-old Mets backstop is picking up where he let off in 2014. He has the power to reach 20 HRs as he matures, along with a solid average and plenty of Runs and RBIs. There are a number of different strategies when it comes to drafting a catcher. Between those that will grab Buster Posey or Jonathan Lucroy early and those that would rather take an end game Mike Zunino, it’s not a shock that D’Arnaud could have gotten lost in the draft shuffle. In long-term leagues, you could make a strong case for him as a Top 5 commodity at the position right now given his ceiling. Time may be running out to grab him via the trade market in your re-draft league as well. He could be this year’s Devin Mesoraco.
- Maybe I just missed it, but wasn’t the hype louder for Gregory Polanco a year ago around this same time? That was before he actually made his major league debut, but was expected to be one of the first call-ups on the young season. He got the call in June, but fizzled after a hot start. All in all, he played 89 games in 2014, hitting seven HRs, stealing 14 bases and scoring 50 runs. The .235 batting average was not pretty, but there was plenty to like about his rookie season. The 6’5” lefty has a very Fantasy-friendly skill set with developing power and ample athleticism. He is off to a slow start this year (13:1 K:BB ratio) and that might be the opening you need to pick him up on the cheap right now. He is clearly still adjusting to major league pitching, but when things click, he is going to be a special player. It is possible that 2016 ends up being his true breakout season, but as long as the Pirates are patient he should start to turn the corner before the summer hits. His physical upside is worth a stash at this point.
- Drew Pomeranz is a great example of how pitching prospects can get lost in the mix if they do not catch on right away in the majors. After a dominant college career, Pomeranz was drafted fifth overall by the Indians and later sent to Colorado as part of the Ubaldo Jimenez Coors Field is not exactly an ideal landing spot for a top pitching prospect to land. He pitched relatively well in 2012 considering his home park, but toiled in the minors for much of the following year. The lefty escaped from the Rockies last year in a trade that brought him to Oakland. He pitched very well in 10 games down the stretch, sandwiched around a DL stint for punching a wall. In all likelihood, that incident kept his value down because he did not accumulate much more than a small sample size of stats for Fantasy owners to go on. Here we have a former top-pitching prospect with a power pitcher’s build and strikeout stuff that you could have quietly gotten at the end of your draft. There are plenty of potential breakout pitchers out there, but as far as under the radar ones go, Pomeranz has to be one of the most affordable. That could be changing quickly if he continues to pitch like he did in his 2015 debut (7 IP, 0 ER, 6 Ks). Make a move for him now!
- While he was never considered an elite prospect, Oswaldo Arcia was well regarded as a hitter that could eventually be very productive in the middle of a batting order. Through parts of two major league seasons, Arcia’s calling card has been power. He has 34 HRs and 100 RBIs in his first 200 games. His approach at the plate is holding him back at the moment, as he has struggled with strikeouts. He needs to show improvement in that area and against lefties before he will ever truly break through. Plus, if he cannot make consistent contact, he is going to find himself as a part-time player. Even if he can push his average to the .250-.260 range, his potential for 25-plus HRs and 85 RBIs would be enough to call him this year’s Marcell Ozuna. Patience will be required here, but Arcia’s talent could be difference-making later this summer.
- Everyone gets excited about relievers that can hit triple-digits on the radar gun. Unfortunately, that is not the only prerequisite for being a closer in the majors. Power arms need to be able to locate their pitches or at the very least be effectively wild. Things started to come together for Ken Giles last year in the minors and that earned him a June promotion. All he did in 45.2 innings in the majors was rack up 64 Ks, three Wins, one Save, 13 Holds and a 1.18 ERA. Hello, future closer, well, as soon as the Phillies say goodbye to Jonathan Papelbon. Despite a large contract, Paps could be out of town to a contender in a matter of months. Giles did not look right this spring and walked three Red Sox in his first appearance of the season, leading to further speculation about his health. He has since bounced back with two decent outings, including his first hold of the year. While his breakout hinges on his health and opportunity, Giles has the stuff to be an elite closer. The closer carousel can be dizzying, especially for those speculating on future saves. At the very least, Giles should help your ratios and Ks in the meantime.