Breakout Players: Hitters (2020 Fantasy Baseball)
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If the shortened 2020 baseball season doesn’t provide anything else, it surely will provide an array of breakout hitters. Let’s not kid ourselves; hitting well for 60 games will be a little easier than breaking out for an entire season. The early rounds of 2020 drafts will be important as always, but finding players who can rise up the ranks this season will be more important than ever.
Anyone on a roster come July 23rd has a chance to be successful in this shortened season. The players on this list, however, have an even greater chance of breaking out. Let’s take a look.
Miguel Sano (1B – MIN): ECR – 141 / ADP – 115
Although Miguel Sano might be the riskiest player on this list, he may very well also come with the highest upside. Finally, Sano is fully healthy. That’s meaningful because he has never played more than 116 games in a season in his five-year MLB career. I expect that Sano should be able to stay healthy for a 60-game slate. While he only appeared in 105 games last season, he cranked 34 home runs in the limited action. To put that into a season-long perspective, Sano would have finished with 53 home runs, 118 runs, and 122 RBIs. If Sano stays healthy and gets hot, he is one of only a few players who could push for 25 home runs in this 60-game season.
Eloy Jimenez (OF – CWS): ECR – 53 / ADP – 60
The shortened 2020 season is going to serve up is a gigantic helping of regret to the Chicago Cubs for trading away Eloy Jimenez. Jimenez just might burst onto the scene this year and turn into one of the young faces of baseball. In 2019, it was almost two different seasons for Jimenez. In the first half, he seemed like a player struggling to adjust to the majors, suggested by his 28.7 K% and .241 AVG. In the second half, however, he seemed like a player fully adjusted to life in the bigs. He slashed his K% by over four points, hit for a robust .292 AVG, and bopped 15 homers in 59 games of action. Everyone and their dog thinks that Jimenez will improve by leaps and bounds this season, meaning a .300 AVG and 20 home runs could easily be in play in 60 games. Jimenez almost seems like a safe bet to break out in some capacity; the question is just how much.
Willie Calhoun (OF – TEX): ECR – 195 / ADP – 175
I get excited just talking about Willie Calhoun because the writing is on the wall for his 2020 breakout. These days, you succeed in the MLB by hitting the ball in the air and hitting it really hard. Calhoun started doing both of these things last season, and the results showed. How did he do it? Well, Calhoun held a sleek 40% hard-hit rate to go along with a ground-ball rate that put him in the lowest 20% of the league. That’s a recipe for success. Calhoun’s 21-homer 2019, in just 83 games mind you, would have resulted in a 40-homer campaign if he had played the full season. Oh yeah, did I mention that even with all of that, Calhoun was tied for the highest pop-up rate in the major leagues? Imagine if he can take even a fraction of those pop-up outs and turn them into line drives and home runs. Welcome to a full-time role in fantasy lineups everywhere, Willie.
Austin Riley (3B – ATL): ECR – 295 / ADP – 325
On risk of sounding a bit sleeper-ish here, we come to Austin Riley. Yes, Atlanta catches a tough break with the pitching they’ll face in this shortened season. Regardless, I believe that the Braves will have MLB’s best offense this year — their lineup is absolutely lethal. With the NL incorporating the DH, Austin Riley has a much greater chance to see everyday at-bats. Remember, Atlanta chose not to re-sign Josh Donaldson and spend that money on Marcell Ozuna instead. They believe in Riley despite his 36% K rate in half a season’s worth of action last year. Even with that ugly figure, Riley still hit 18 home runs at age 22. His minor league track record shows that he should be able to get his K rate down in the mid-20s this year. If he can do that, he has a unique opportunity to drive in a ton of runs while hitting deep in that Atlanta lineup. That could result in Riley having a poor man’s Rafael Devers-like breakout in 2020.
Dylan Carlson (OF – STL): ECR – 333 / ADP – 274
The major knock on Carlson heading into 2020 was that he probably wouldn’t break training camp playing every day for the Cardinals. Now that the season is a 60-game sprint with a DH, that could change. Carlson has the potential to be a 15-homer, 15-steal player with an average over .275. He’s the type of guy that could win leagues as a late-round draft selection. Carlson has pop, speed, a low enough K% throughout his time in the minors, and the talent to succeed immediately in this shortened season.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (2B/SS/OF – TOR): ECR 154 / ADP – 146
Gurriel Jr. might the one guy on this list who I’m shocked isn’t being drafted higher. People tend to pounce on five-tool fantasy players that have immense upside. I’m still not convinced that Gurriel Jr.’s ADP won’t be significantly higher by the time we reach July 23rd, but we’ll see. Gurriel flashed some massive upside last season — in 84 games, he had a triple slash of .277/.327/.541. Even more impressively, he hit 20 homers while swiping six bags. Toronto’s lineup isn’t bad at all, and it’s more than plausible that Gurriel Jr. could improve upon the 100 R / 96 RBI pace that he was on last year. While Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s ceiling might be controversial, he undoubtedly has the potential to break out in 2020.