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Second-Year Players Primed for a Breakout (2020 Fantasy Baseball)

by Michael Waterloo | @MichaelWaterloo | Featured Writer
Jan 19, 2020

Vlad Jr. is the classic case of a sophomore breakout candidate

We’ve written about the shiny toy syndrome before here at FantasyPros, and it’s something that’s worth discussing every year as a reminder. It’s essentially propping up the value of young, unproven players while pushing those old, boring – but safe and steady – veterans to the side. Sometimes those shiny toys work out exceedingly well (Ronald Acuna, Juan Soto), but sometimes they either underwhelm or they just totally flop. If a player doesn’t come up and have that immediate superstar impact, we tend to look at them as disappointing, and we’re ready for the next big thing to come up instead. As a fantasy manager, that’s exactly what you want. My biggest philosophy for fantasy is to find value. And with players who were heralded as the next big thing slightly discounted less than a year later, it’s the perfect time to pounce. We’re going to take a look at some second-year players who could really break out into fantasy stars, but before we do, we need to get rid of some sophomore who have already stood out in a big way. The best way to do this, for me, is to take the current NFBC ADP (as of January 16) and any second-year players who appear in there, we can disregard, since they are already being treated like fantasy royalty.

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So that gets rid of the following:

Vladimir Guerrero (3B – TOR)
I can hear the argument that Guerrero underperformed last year. That’s fine, but I think, overall, it was a successful debut, and unless he went a combination of Yordan Alvarez and Pete Alonso, Guerrero wasn’t going to reach the heights that many of us had hoped he would. His statcast numbers leave a lot to be desired with his exit velocity (58th percentile), hard-hit percentage (46th percentile) Barrels, and launch angle all coming in lower than expected – especially with him registering the hardest-hit ball last year. But listening to the latest Rates and Barrels podcast, and reading Eno Sarris’ bounce-back hitters piece left me optimistic about a rebound for Guerrero. Sarris mentioned that Guerrero was in elite company with his ISO and strikeout rate, so I decided to dig in and find out myself. I set the following parameters:

  • PA > 400
  • ISO > .160
  • K% < 18%

The results gave us 38 players, including Guerrero. Now, in the results, you’ll have your guys like Eric Sogard, Maikel Franco, and Kevin Pillar, but you also have elite players such as Cody Bellinger, Alex Bregman, Ketel Marte, Anthony Rendon, Nolan Arenado, Xander Bogaerts, Francisco Lindor, and more. And of those 38 players, Guerrero was one of two rookies on the list (we’ll talk about the other one later). He’s only 20 years old, and his ability to hit for an above-average ISO but carry a low strikeout rate is encouraging for his future growth. He needs to hit the ball harder – and higher – and I think we’ll see those gains this year.

Bo Bichette (SS – TOR)
Depending on who you talk to, Bichette is already a fantasy stud. He played in just 48 games with 212 plate appearances, so it’s silly to use his 162-game pace, but humor me: .311/.358/.571, 39 home runs, 113 runs, 74 RBIs, 14 steals. Even at a loaded position, Bichette could find his way into the second or third round and top five at the position.

Oscar Mercado (OF – CLE)
Remember that other rookie who made the list that Guerrero made? Yeah, it’s Mercado. At the beginning of the 2019 season, Greg Allen was a fantasy sleeper because the Indians had absolutely no outfield depth at all, and Allen was a speed demon. It ended up being Mercado who filled that void. He isn’t getting a ton of attention this year, as he’s going outside of the top 100, but he can give you very similar production to Victor Robles, but you can get Mercado about 50 picks later.

Eloy Jimenez (OF – CHW)
If you faded away toward the backend of the season, it’s understandable. But your last memory of Jimenez may have been his July, where he was dealing with an injury and hit just .163. What you missed while you were getting ready for football, though, was his August, where he hit .281 with five home runs, and his September, where he hit .340 with nine home runs. Jimenez is far from a sleeper, as he’s going 56th overall, so his progression is baked into his cost. Maybe it’s a hot take, but I’m taking Eloy to hit 45 homers this year.

Dylan Cease (SP – CHW)
So I’m going to try to get as many shares of Cease as I can this year – even though that groundball rate makes me nervous with the White Sox defense. The big reason? It’s the change at catcher. There was a 26-run difference between the framing of James McCann behind the dish last year (one of the worst framing catchers in baseball) and Yasmani Grandal (one of the best). Using FanGraph’s FRM defensive measurement, Grandal (+17) graded out as the best catcher in baseball, while McCann was the worst among qualified catchers at -9. That brings us to Cease, who threw fewer pitches inside of the zone (45.7 percent) compared to the rest of the league (48.5 percent), but also lived on the edge a little bit less (41.6 percent) compared to the league (42.6). If he can live on the edge more with Grandal there, he can keep his strikeouts above one per nine. We know the skills are there, with his fastball velocity (93rd percentile) and fastball spin (87th percentile) ranking among the elite. If he can continue to develop a third pitch to go along with his fastball and slider, he could have a meteoric rise this year.

Other notable second-year players

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Michael Waterloo is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Michael, check out his archive and follow him @MichaelWaterloo.

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