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9 Breakout Candidates (Fantasy Baseball)

Jun 2, 2020

The shortened season gives Kenta Maeda the perfect opportunity to break out

There are many ways to determine what a breakout player is. However, the most common is typically attributed to young players who have displayed flashes of brilliance within their short careers and are ready to take their game to the next level. Other breakouts can be fueled by a ballpark change, an improvement in their pitching or hitting mechanics, or the talent that may surround a hitter in the lineup, among many other factors. The shortened season adds an extra element to this as innings limits are less of a hindrance and certain players would potentially be more frequently exposed to ballparks that suit their skill set, as is the case for hitters in both the AL West and NL West. Today, our featured pundits will be looking at which players have the highest chance of breaking out in 2020.

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Q1. Which starting pitcher do you think has the highest chance to break out in the shortened season and why?

Kenta Maeda (SP/RP – MIN)
“It’s weird to label a veteran like Maeda as someone with a high chance to break out, but given the shortened season, he’s the perfect candidate. It seems almost certain that there will be a regional schedule this year, meaning that all Twins pitchers should rise up your board. Other than Minnesota, the teams in the AL Central and NL Central ranked 10th, 15th, 18th, 19th, 21st, 24th, 25th, 26th, and 30th in runs scored last year. Meanwhile, Maeda is coming off a year where he had the highest swinging-strike rate (14.6%) and chase rate (34.8%) of his career. With plenty of weak-hitting opponents and five who ranked in the top 12 in strikeout percentage last year, he should dwarf any season he had previously.”
– Dan Harris (FantasyPros)

“As would have been the case during a full season with the Twins, those who draft Kenta Maeda no longer need to worry about a mid-season bullpen reassignment. They can instead join an underappreciated starter who has posted a 3.87 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 9.8 K/9 through four career seasons. One of MLB’s leaders in soft contact ranked in the 96th percentile of exit velocity and 95th percentile in hard-hit rate. Perhaps a change of baseballs or bit of luck — or facing the Tigers and Royals — can lower Maeda’s ERA a tad during a short sample size, in which case you’d get a borderline top-20 starter outside of the top 40.”
– Andrew Gould (FantasyPros)

James Paxton (SP – NYY) 
“We might finally get a full season from Paxton. In the second half last year, he started throwing his curveball more and the results were fantastic, including a strikeout rate just shy of 30%, a .215 batting average allowed, and a WHIP of 1.13. When everything is clicking, he has shown the potential to produce like a top-10 or 15 starter on a per-game basis. Add in favorable team context and it’s easy to see the Big Maple’s ceiling in a short season.”
– Ryan Amore (Pitcher List)

A.J. Puk (SP/RP – OAK) 
“It’s unclear whether he’ll be in the rotation this season, but Puk has the goods to deliver fantasy value regardless of how he’s used. With a fastball that hits 97 MPH and slider that induces whiffs, the 6’7” Puk might be considered a less-intimidating second coming of the “Big Unit.” The fact that he missed most of 2019 recovering from Tommy John has scared some fantasy owners from investing early in him, but he can bring a steady supply of strikeouts and has the chance to be just as valuable as fellow A’s pitchers Jesus Luzardo or Frankie Montas, both of whom are being drafted ahead of Puk.”
– Pierre Camus (RotoBaller)

Brendan McKay (SP – TB) 
“It seemed as though McKay was going to open the season in the minors for Tampa Bay, but now there are no minors and with a shortened season, there are no innings limits so he could pitch every fifth day and if he does, McKay could dominate. He shredded the minors last season and has an MLB-ready arm much like Chris Paddack last year, Jack Flaherty the year before, and Walker Buehler another season back.”
– Bobby Sylvester (FantasyPros)

Q2. Which hitter do you think has the highest chance to break out in the shortened season and why?

Kyle Schwarber (CHC – OF) 
“If drafting for an unpredictable shortened season, you might as well bet on talent and hope everything coalesces in a short sample size. Reyes is (understandably) getting a lot more appreciation, but Kyle Schwarber brings a similarly enticing power profile at a cheaper going rate (143 consensus ADP). The Cubs slugger made major strides late last year, batting .280/.366/.631 with 20 homers in 70 second-half games. He slashed his strikeout rate to a highly workable 21.8 during that time frame. A universal DH locks down his already secure spot in the starting lineup, and the possibility of only facing AL Central pitching beyond his own division gives Schwarber the chance to put forth another amazing stretch.”
– Andrew Gould (FantasyPros)

Willie Calhoun (OF – TEX) 
“For a former top-50 overall prospect who hit 21 homers in 83 games as a rookie, Calhoun has somehow flown under the radar. His late-season emergence for a losing team along with the preseason jaw injury suffered during spring training helped to suppress his ADP. With the long delay, Calhoun is set to join the lineup on an everyday basis and could break out in his age-25 season. He hit .297 across two-plus seasons at Triple-A under the Dodgers and Rangers organizations and then hit his stride in 2019 with a .524 slugging percentage and 40.7% hard-hit rate. If he slots in at third in the lineup ahead of Joey Gallo as projected, Calhoun could post an OPS north of .900.”
– Pierre Camus (RotoBaller)

Kyle Tucker (OF – HOU) 
“Tucker is finally going to get his shot this year and the long-awaited breakout will come at last. Fantasy owners have been stashing Tucker for years and despite dominating Triple-A the last two seasons, the former regime in Houston would never commit to him in the majors. With new management and almost certainly no minor league season, the Astros are not going to waste a year of Tucker’s talent. Expect Tucker to not only start nearly every day, but to continue to put up the outstanding power-speed numbers he has throughout his minor league career. Expect a 30-30 pace.”
– Dan Harris (FantasyPros)

Dylan Carlson (OF – STL) 
“Like McKay above, I’ll take another rookie here. Carlson is my shortened season breakout hitter and it has nothing to do with the season being shorter and everything to do with travel being restricted. With NL Central teams more likely to play AL Central teams, Carlson will not only have an easier schedule, but will play more often because of the universal DH. He was the odd man looking in, even though he was the single best hitter in the majors during spring training, but now the Cards will have no excuse to keep him off the Opening Day roster and out of the lineup from the get-go.”
– Bobby Sylvester (FantasyPros)

Gavin Lux (2B/SS – LAD) 
“This looks like an opportunity to buy low on one of the best hitting prospects in baseball. Lux showed off excellent plate skills in Triple-A last year with a nearly even K:BB ratio, a stellar hit tool, plus power to all fields, and he can steal a few bases too. Yes, his playing time isn’t locked in though the DH gives him another avenue regardless, he’s the sort of talent that should force his way into regular playing time. In a short season, he’s got the sort of multi-category upside at a shallow position that we’re all looking for.”
– Ryan Amore (Pitcher List)

Thank you to the experts for giving us their breakout candidates. Be sure to give them a follow on Twitter and subscribe to our podcast below for advice all year round.

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