By Ray Murphy
A big part of each spring's draft preparation is spent trying to identify the next breakout player, the game-changer who will lead you to your league title.
Santana soon to bust out?
In the past we have searched for the next Carlos Gonzalez, Ben Zobrist, Carlos Pena, and (going further back) Bret Boone. In each case, the goal was to examine the subject player's season before his breakout and develop a set of criteria that might highlight some other players with a similar skills progression.
With apologies to Mike Trout (whose 20-year-old season was so unexpected that we won't find a comparable any time soon), we went looking for a subject from 2012 whose breakout performance was somewhat, but not completely, unexpected. The type of season that could reasonably be replicated by a different player in 2013. In other words, we're looking for The Next Edwin Encarnacion.
Let's refresh our memory as to what the Blue Jays' Encarnacion looked like as a player a year ago at this time, and what he did in 2012. Entering 2012, Encarnacion:
- had four seasons of over 400 AB, but had never registered over $15 in Roto value (we'll use 5x5, "only" leagues for this exercise);
- had only two seasons over 20 HR, and three seasons with a BA over .260;
- was 29 years old, but had suffered a couple of injuries that might have delayed his emergence;
- had shown a skill set (specifically, a healthy contact rate and above-average PX) that indicated still-untapped potential.
Based on all of the above, we wrote "... UP: 30 HR" at the end of his player box in the 2012 Baseball Forecaster. And of course he went out and dusted that upside projection, hitting for a .280 batting average with 42 home runs and 110 RBI, along with 13 SB. His stat line led to a Roto value of $30.
With Encarnacion's story in mind, let's set up some criteria that we can use to identify other players with similar breakout potential in 2013. Our parameters should include:
- has at least two MLB seasons of over 300 AB.
- has never returned more than $15 in Roto value.
- will be age 25-29 for 2013 (creating a range to account for the injury-related delay of Encarnacion's breakout)
- has demonstrated above-average power at the MLB level
Those broad parameters give a bunch of names, but here are 10 candidates that (mostly) meet the criteria and seem particularly compelling:
American League candidates
First baseman Mitch Moreland of the Rangers seemingly never has a clear path to playing time. When Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli left Texas this offseason, it seemed like Moreland was finally in line for a full-time shot. Then the Rangers brought in Lance Berkman to muddy up the 1B/DH situation, and top prospect Mike Olt is hanging around as well. But, BasebalHQ.com has a saying: "Buy skills, not roles." And Moreland has plenty of skills: his combo of FB%, PX, and hr/f point to a 30-HR ceiling if he gets a full-time look. To be fair, his platoon splits say he should never be a true full-timer, and his playing time ceiling therefore probably tops out at 450-475 at bats. But that's enough for this skill set to take a good run at 30 HR, similar to what Jason Kubel did in Arizona a year ago. 2013 is Moreland's age-27 season, if a breakout is ever going to come, this would be an excellent time.
Nolan Reimold of the Orioles, like Encarnacion, has suffered injuries that have interrupted what should be the beginning of his peak years. He has demonstrated plus power over half-season samples in 2009-10, and was red-hot for a trivially-small sample size in 2012 before getting shelved again. While that hot streak has no predictive relevance, it seems to have served a useful purpose: it has kept him prominent in the Orioles' outfield plans for 2013. He seems on track to open the season, and if he can get off to a good (and healthy) start and lock down the left field job for 550 AB, this is another bat with a 30-HR ceiling.
Cleveland catcher Carlos Santana owns a skill set that to date has returned less than what the individual components suggest. A 153 PX from 2011 establishes his power skill, but despite a near-elite batting eye and strong plate patience, his batting average has not exceeded the .250 range. The best news on that front is his 2H spike in ct% last year. If he can hold on to that gain, he should double his second half stat line of .278-13-37. Sprinkle in even a little bit more of that 2011 power on top of that patience, and then things start to get exciting.
More AL candidates, plus those from the NL
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