I'll spare you the long definition and simply remind you that in my breakout picks I'm looking for players who can provide excess value and, in the case of all these players except one, do something he hasn't done before. Many different factors go into the decision to forever link my reputation to these players. Most notably I'm looking for some kind of tangible change, prospect pedigree or a history that has provided glimpses of stardom.
What is Breakouts 2.0? Honestly, it's mostly players who didn't make the cut in Breakouts 1.0. There are exceptions for players who popped up during my research for our position previews. What does that mean for Breakouts 1.0? It's alive and well. I still like every one of those players with my eyes firmly set on Shane McClanahan and Jo Adell. In case you missed it, you can find the rest of those names here.
If you listen to Fantasy Baseball Today, you've likely heard our reasoning on Willy Adames. Let me remind you. Remember when Rick Vaughn needed glasses to help his effectiveness in Major League? Adames was basically dealing with the same situation while on the Tampa Bay Rays. He complained that he couldn't see the ball well in his home park, Tropicana Field. The numbers back it up, too. As a member of the Rays, Adames hit .219 with a .624 OPS at home and .291 with an .858 OPS everywhere else. Low and behold, he was traded to the Brewers last season and he started to mash.
In 99 games with the Brewers, Adames hit .285 with 20 home runs, four steals, and an .886 OPS, eerily similar to the numbers he posted on the road while with the Rays. That's a 30-homer, six steal pace over 150 games. Adames played his first game with the Brewers on May 22. Here were his ranks among shortstops from that point forward:
- Batting average: .285 (7th)
- Home runs: 20 (T-3rd)
- OPS: .886 (4th)
I realize shortstop is a deep position and you may want somebody more proven, but Adames is the 18th shortstop off the board at pick 142.4. It would not surprise me in the slightest if he outperforms Carlos Correa or Jorge Polanco, two shortstops being drafted 60 picks earlier.
Lourdes Gurriel has always been streaky. Last year was no different. He posted three months with a sub-.700 OPS while the other three were all over .865. There may have been a reason for that streakiness last year, however. Apparently, he was battling a knee issue early in the season. Over the first two months, he hit just .249 with four home runs, a .632 OPS and an average exit velocity of just 88.2 MPH. Those numbers increased tremendously from June on.
From that point forward, Gurriel hit .291 with 17 home runs, .867 OPS and an average exit velocity of 90.5 MPH. He was making much harder contact and lifting the ball better, too. On top of everything, he made more contact last season than ever before. Gurriel got that strikeout rate all the way down to 18.9%, a career best and much better than league average. Gurriel has always been a solid player. He just needs to stay healthy and put it all together for a season. He showed us glimpses in the shortened 2020 when he hit .308 with an .882 OPS. Gurriel is also the last everyday player you can get from the Blue Jays lineup. The ADP is very affordable at 146.4 when it was 85.9 this time last year.
Who doesn't want to cheer on a 6-foot-7, 23-year old shortstop? That's who we're looking at with Oneil Cruz, one of the top prospects in the Pirates organization. I realize the long-term projection is tough for a hitter this tall, especially at the shortstop position. At his mere ADP of 242, however, I'm willing to find out. Like many prospects, Cruz has tools for days. Just last season he hit .310 with 17 home runs and 19 steals in just 68 games between Double-A and Triple-A.
Those 68 games were enough to earn Cruz a cup of tea with the Pirates at the end of the season. In just two games he hit his first career home run and posted the hardest exit velocity by a Pirates player in the Statcast era. I loved what I saw on that first homer, too. He was down 0-2 in the count against Mycal Givens, went down and golfed a changeup that was out of the zone (see below). He did a lot more of that this spring as well, going 5-for-15 with two home runs. Unfortunately, the Pirates recently sent him down to the minors. While it's an unpopular move, Cruz has only played six games at Triple-A and is learning how to play the outfield. I think we see him in late April/early May and will quickly work his way into must-start territory.
From one top prospect to another. Jesus Sanchez is filled with power, the type of power that makes his home Marlins Park seem like Yankee Stadium. Sanchez is one year older than Cruz and took a different path to the majors. Sanchez started out on fire early in his minor-league career before hitting a wall. He posted a sub-.760 OPS in each of 2018 and 2019 before rejuvenating his status in 2021. Sanchez was always known for electric bat speed, which produces a ton of raw power but could he get to it in games? He did last season.
Sanchez hit .348 with 10 home runs and a 1.058 OPS in just 37 games at Triple-A. He earned his promotion in mid-June and was OK before he dealt with a month-long COVID situation. Upon returning in mid-August, Sanchez hit 11 home runs with an .857 OPS over his final 40 games. He posted a max exit velocity of 113.9 MPH, 91st percentile. Like Cruz, Sanchez is not a complete player. His ground ball rate is still a tad high for a power hitter and his 31% strikeout rate leaves a lot to be desired. With that said, I love the fact that Sanchez handled himself against both right-handed and left-handed pitching. That should quell any playing time concerns we have. If it clicks for him, we could be looking at 30+ home runs in 2022.
If we're giving Aaron Nola a pass for last season, I kind of feel like we should do the same for Eduardo Rodriguez. Now I know Nola has a much more extensive track record than Rodriguez, but the underlying numbers were outstanding. Rodriguez posted a 4.74 ERA but each of his FIP, xFIP, SIERA and xERA were all 3.65 or lower! He also posted a career-high 20.4% K-BB rate, tied for 15th among starting pitchers with at least 150 innings. If it's possible for a pitcher to be unlucky for an entire season, Rodriguez certainly pulled it off.
On top of the likely regression for Rodriguez, he gets a positive park shift factor moving from Boston to Detroit. According to Statcast, Fenway Park ranks second over the past three seasons for offense while Comerica Park ranks 20th. In Rodriguez's career, he also posted 4.29 ERA in Fenway and a 4.04 ERA everywhere else. It's also just a much better division for pitching. Instead of having to face the Yankees, Blue Jays and Rays, Rodriguez now gets the Guardians, Royals, and Twins. I think there's a real chance we see the best season of Rodriguez's career in 2022, which would feature a mid-high 3s ERA and over a strikeout per inning.
Let's stay in the American League Central and offer up a breakout relief pitcher. It's not often we find late-round closers we're excited about, but I believe I found one in Taylor Rogers. First and foremost, Rogers has filthy stuff. In the time he was healthy from the start of the season through July 26, Rogers ranked seventh among relievers in SIERA (2.20) and eighth in K-BB rate (30.7%). He does a great job generating whiffs and limiting walks. All the underlying numbers tell us 2021 was actually the best we ever saw from Rogers.
Now I know it's quite unconventional to see a lefty closer nowadays, but Rogers has actually done it before. In fact, he did it under this exact manager with Rocco Baldelli back in 2019. Rogers converted 30 saves that season and finished as the 11th best relief pitcher in Fantasy Baseball. Baldelli has shown a willingness to stick with one closer, too. He did it for as long as he could with Alex Colome early last season and then went back to him later on when he didn't have a choice. With Colome out of the picture, I expect Rogers to once again step in as the team's closer. Jorge Alcala is another name to watch in that bullpen based on his stuff, but Rogers has the experience. I'm all over Rogers at ADP 226.8 as the 21st reliever off the board.