Breakouts are usually classified as guys that are likely to be drafted in all leagues, but are going to outperform their ADP or auction value and possibly become stars. Just like stocks, you want to diversify your investments, but I usually target high upside plays outside of my top few reliable picks.
2018 Fantasy Baseball Breakouts
Yoan Moncada-2B White Sox
With prospects of Moncada’s calibur, the breakout speculation is a matter of when rather than if. He’s entering his 23 year old season, which if you remember was the same age Bryce Harper had his ridiculous 42-6-.330 line. This may not be the year he puts it all together, but he can definitely be a middle infielder that approaches a 20-20 season. That is a very valuable player. He needs to cut out the strikeouts, as he struck out 32% of the time last season. The tradeoff there is that he has walked at a rate of more than 10% over most of his professional career. FantasyPros has his consensus ranking among the industry at 18th at second base. His value could go up throughout the draft season and there’s likely someone in your league that loves the pedigree, but if he’s still hanging around at that value, there isn’t going to be anyone with more upside.
Matt Olson- 1B/OF Athletics
I wrote a little more about him in the 1st Base column
There’s no questioning the power as he hit 47 dongs between AAA and the MLB last year with a .392 ISO during his tenure with the A’s. There’s no way he continues that kind of pace, but his ISO has been way over .200 multiple times in his minor league career. He’s turning 24 during this season and is primed to take the league by storm. He’s likely not going to be a high average guy but he walks a ton. He is a hitter in the mold of Adam Dunn and Chris Davis: lots of Ks, high walk rate, and tremendous power. Check your league settings, because in H2H points leagues that do not penalize for strikeouts, Olson could be an absolute stud. In roto or category leagues, his power will play well but you’ll have to find your AVG guys elsewhere to stabilize your roster.
Rafael Devers- 3B Red Sox
He flew through the minors and is still only 21 years old, but everyone is raving about the kind of potential this guy has. In 240 at bats in the majors last year, we got a glimpse of what he can do. He bashed 10 homers, had a nice walk rate, and hit .284. Steamer is modest with their projections. They have him at about 20 home runs and sitting at a .286 average. Those are not world beating numbers in the corner infield, but this is the kind of pedigree you bet on. This could easily be a year away, but you want to be the one holding him when it happens. A keeper-league gem.
Christian Yelich- OF Brewers
Yelich is still only 26 years old, so I think it is a little early to pigeon-hole his numbers as if this is his peak. He’s a consistent player that has had well over 650 at bats over the last two seasons and has tremendous plate discipline. He walked 11% of the time last season and had an OBP of .369. He was a good player in Miami, but it is the trade to Milwaukee that has fantasy owners so excited for his 2018. He’s going to be under Craig Counsell, who loves to send runners, so we might be able to see a little more upside with the stolen bases. Lefties hit more homers in Miller Park than all but two parks in the MLB last year, so there is a definite possibility that more homers could come as well. You could argue that he was in a good top of the lineup last year as well, but the Brewers look to score a ton of runs this year. His stock is on the rise, and you’re probably going to have to pay up to get shares.
Byron Buxton- OF Twins
Seemingly left for dead in fantasy a couple of years ago, he’s back on the radar as a legit fantasy breakout after an encouraging 2017. Sometimes guys come up too early and that may have been the case for Buxton. He’s still only 24 and he was once the top prospect in all of baseball. He went 16-29-.253 last season. His ISO was only .160 and his HR/FB rate sat at 14%, so there is a chance for some growth in the power department. He is a 20-20 threat for sure in a league that doesn’t have many of those options available any more. This is another opportunity to get in on a young guy with a huge pedigree. Projections might not do him justice.
Willie Calhoun-OF Rangers
Looking through the projections there aren’t many major surprises. Check out some of the Zips projections right now and what might pop out to you is this guy named Willie Calhoun. They are projecting 28 home runs from an outfielder with only 37 big league at bats. What is so impressive about Calhoun is that he strikes out so rarely. He’s consistently struck out only 10-11% of the time in the minors and is being projected to K about 13% of the time in the majors. Put that with a 7% walk percentage and you’ve got a guy that could hit .270 with some big power. He’s still 23 and we’ve seen plenty of disappointments when players get their first real season under their belts, but the discipline alone sets him apart and he could really help your team this year.
Ronald Acuna- OF Braves
Everybody knows about this one. Stud prospect with the Braves that is still only 20 years old. Projections are calling for an immediate 13-20-.280 type of season. He probably won’t break spring training with the big league club, but he’s not likely to stay there long. You probably will have someone in your league that is willing to pay for that 20-20 potential right now, so be careful. But if he falls too far, you couldn’t have a much higher ceiling than Acuna.
Ozzie Albies- 2B Braves
There’s a reason Atlanta’s farm system has been rated so highly over the last few seasons. They’re here in Acuna and Albies. He’s really similar in upside to Acuna but he plays second base, which has traditionally been a thinner position than outfield. He played extremely well in his 244 at-bats last season in Atlanta, and the sky is the limit for this 21 year old. I’m a huge believer in upside late in drafts. Steamer is already projecting a 12-20-.273 season. Minor league stats are not exactly accurate in predicting
Luis Castillo-SP Reds
He’s 25 years old and looked the part of an ace in 89 innings last year. He has the high K rate, swinging strike rate, and has 4 pitches with 3 of them possibly being plus pitches. He does pitch for the Reds, so the staff injury history and home ballpark are concerns, but you can’t hold that against him. He did give up over a homer per nine innings in 2017, but that is to be expected at Great American Ballpark. Opponents hit only .198 against him and that will be difficult to match. He pitched about 170 innings between all levels in 2017, so you don’t have some of the concerns that most young pitchers have topping out at 150. He skipped entirely over the AAA level, which could hurt his potential floor, but that isn’t all that uncommon in 2018. He’s not going to be cheap, but when you get past the top 20 or so pitchers, there probably isn’t a better investment than Luis Castillo. Chances are this is a future fantasy ace, maybe as early as this year.