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15 Hitters Who Will Break Out or Disappoint (2021 Fantasy Baseball)

Feb 3, 2021

Ozzie Albies is being drafted as one of the top second baseman off the board, but is he a riskier selection than fantasy managers believe right now?

The Super Bowl is this weekend, which means it’s time to kick it into high gear for our 2021 fantasy baseball preparation. We asked our writers for hitters they could see breaking out this season and stars they see disappointing fantasy managers.

Average Draft Position (ADP) referenced is using FantasyPros consensus ADP

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Q1. Which hitter (outside top 20 hitters) could you see breaking out into a star this season?

Max Muncy (1B/2B/3B – LAD): ADP Hitter 61 | Overall 96
All things considered, Max Muncy was pretty awful last year. Muncy produced an abysmal .192/.331/.389 slash line. However, looking more closely at his numbers, Muncy appeared to be more unlucky than just simply a bad hitter. Muncy had a .203 batting average on balls in play (league average is typically around .300). That’s about a .100 point room for growth. He also produced a 41.4% hard-hit %, ranking 21st among all qualified hitters. I believe Muncy will produce more like a .900 OPS player, much like he has been since joining the Los Angeles Dodgers, and bring back top 20 value.
– Travis Cain (@TravisCain_)

Nick Castellanos (OF – CIN): ADP Hitter 55 | Overall 86
It felt like choosing Rafael Devers, or Gleyber Torres (both 24-years-old) for this question would be cheating since they broke out as stars already in 2019. And I’ll let someone else talk about Luis Robert as I’m sure they will. For me, I’ll take all the shares of Nicholas Castellanos I can find. Pure and simple, Castellanos can rake. The 28-year-old’s prolific skills as a hitter flew under-the-radar for years while in Detroit, and when Castellanos signed with the Reds as a free agent, many anticipated a full-fledged breakout heading into 2020. And Castellanos appeared to be living up to that hype, as he came out of the gates on fire in July and ranked amongst the league-leaders in home runs (9 HR in first 24 games), RBI, SLG, and OPS before falling into a deep slump over the remainder of the season which in turn has again suppressed his fantasy value. Castellanos is a career .274 hitter, so I’ll attribute his .225 AVG last season to bad luck (.257 BABIP) and the small-sample-size rhetoric. After all, Castellanos hit .321 (with a sensational .646 SLG and 1.002 OPS) in a 56-game span with the Cubs in 2019. Despite his struggles, his barrel % ranked amongst the best in baseball last season, and he finished in the top-10% of the league in xSLG for the fifth consecutive season. Hitting in the middle of a favorite lineup and in a very favorable ballpark, I’m willing to give Castellanos another shot, as I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that he could flirt with a .280-100-30-100 fantasy line, which would surely vault him into “star” status, making him a very intriguing pick in the middle rounds.
– Lucas Spence (@lspence24)

Eloy Jimenez (OF – CWS): ADP Hitter 25 | Overall 37
Although it somewhat already happened, Eloy Jimenez is a hitter outside of the top-20 that will break out into a star this season. In 2020, Jimenez finished with 14 home runs, 26 runs, and 41 RBI with a .296 batting average. His sophomore campaign came after a solid rookie season in 2019 with 31 home runs, 69 runs, and 79 RBI with a .267 batting average in 504 plate appearances. Jimenez improved in all of the hard-hit metrics with a 16.5% barrel rate (96th percentile), 55.7% hard-hit rate (98th percentile), and a 97.7 mph average exit velocity on FB/LD (No. 8) between Nelson Cruz and Christian Yelich. He’s ready to smash as a four-category contributor.
– Corbin Young (@Corbin_Young21)

Yordan Alvarez (UTIL – HOU): ADP Hitter 54 | Overall 85
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Yordan Alvarez is one of the best pure hitters in all of baseball. In 2019, Alvarez hit .313, with 27 home runs and 78 RBI… in 87 games. Before being called up that season, Alvarez added another 23 home runs and 71 RBI in 56 Triple-A games. The knee injury is worrisome, but not enough for me to think it hinders his career. Alvarez has early-round upside and is one of the best bargains in the entire draft.
– Justin Johnson (@JJ_JetFlyin)

Kyle Tucker (OF – HOU): ADP Hitter 24 | Overall 36
Tucker’s mix of power and speed should make him a top 20 hitter by season’s end, despite the Astros re-signing Michael Brantley and moving Tucker down in the lineup. The Astros have limited outfield depth, meaning that Tucker has an easy pathway to at least 625 plate appearances, and the lineup around him should be dangerous enough that hitting sixth doesn’t impact him too much. He’s attempted a stolen base every .18 times he’s gotten on base – for reference, Trea Turner sits around .25. Tucker’s 88% success rate on the basepaths is likely to come down slightly, but he can steal 20-25 stolen bases in a full season. Everybody knows about his sweet stroke, and I am projecting his strikeout rate to continue to fall to sub-20%. Add it all up, and we should see 25-30 homers, a .280 average, and 170 combined runs and RBI.
– Carmen Maiorano (@carmsclubhouse)

Corey Seager (SS – LAD): ADP Hitter 27 | Overall 39
Corey Seager is ranked 27th among hitters in the Fantasy Pros consensus rankings, which is too low. The 26-year old shortstop hits second, behind Mookie Betts, in one of baseball’s best lineups. Fantasy managers may remember him as the 2020 World Series MVP. During the regular season, he slashed .307/.358/.585 with 15 home runs and one stolen base in 212 at-bats. Seager’s Statcast profile backs up his success: (99th percentile xBA, 99th percentile xSLG, 98th percentile xwOBA, 98th percentile Hard Hit%, 97th percentile Exit Velocity, 95th percentile Barrel% and 82nd percentile K%.) He won’t steal you any bases, but he will be one of the most-valuable four-category producers (HR, R, RBI, AVG) in baseball this season. I wouldn’t be surprised if Seager outproduced Mike Trout and was under consideration for a first-round pick in 2022 fantasy drafts.
– Lucas Babits-Feinerman (@WSonFirst)

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (1B/3B – TOR): ADP Hitter 38 | Overall 56
If we were to fast-forward one year, would anyone be surprised if we were talking about Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. as a top-five pick? He entered the league with an excellent prospect pedigree but expectations that were likely too lofty too quickly. To date, Guerrero hasn’t even played his 200th game in Major League Baseball but is sliding down the hitter ranks as people are taking a ‘wait-and-see’ approach. I get it. But now is the time to buy the hitter who had the fifth-most instances of 95+ MPH exit velocity, according to Statcast.
– Mario Mergola (@MarioMergola)

Luis Robert (OF – CWS): ADP Hitter 26 | Overall 38
Luis Robert is currently 26th overall among all hitters in the latest expert consensus rankings and has the upside to leap to superstardom in 2021. He signed a long-term extension with the White Sox in 2020 and produced in a shortened 2020 campaign. The 23-year-old slashed .233/.302/.406 with 10 homers and nine stolen bases across 225 plate appearances. If it weren’t for a rough September, Roberts was well on his way to finishing as a top-20 player. His tools are off the chart, and he will most likely hit in the middle of a loaded White Sox lineup. Everything is lined up for Roberts to make an impact in 2021 and finish as a top-20 player overall.
– Brad Camara (@beerad30)

Jose Abreu (1B – CWS): ADP Hitter 21 | Overall 33
He’s already a star, but how is the reigning AL MVP not ranked as a top 20 hitter for this season?! Yes, he barely missed the cut at 21, but in my mind, he will easily crack the top 15, possibly the top 10. As Chicago’s surrounding cast continues to develop and mature, Abreu’s numbers could conceivably even improve. Still only 34 years old, I fully expect him to pick up right where he left off and resume his barrage of home runs and timely hitting. He’ll likely lead the AL in RBI again and should score plenty of runs with the plethora of talent batting behind him. A .300 BA is not out of the question either, considering his exit velocity and overall contact rates. I like him early in the third round, even over Nolan Arenado. (The risk-taker in me wanted to pick Randy Arozarena to break the top 20, but I’ll save that for another time.)
– Austin Lowell

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Q2. Which star hitter (top 20 in hitter rankings) do you see disappointing this season?

Ozzie Albies (2B – ATL): ADP Hitter 19 | Overall 31
It’s somewhat of a cop-out considering he is ranked 20th in the FantasyPros expert rankings, but Ozzie Albies seems like an obvious choice to not return top 20 value. Albies has just one full season in his career in which he has produced an OPS above .850. He has a 107 OPS+ for his career, which means he is barely above an average hitter (100 OPS+ is league average). Albies also struggled last year, posting a 103 wRC+. That positions him well outside the top 20 qualified hitters. He also doesn’t bring many stolen bases to justify his somewhat league average hitting. I would feel much more comfortable taking players such as Alex Bregman, DJ LeMahieu, Jose Abreu, and Luke Voit in this range.
– Travis Cain (@TravisCain_)

Of course, this is relative, but I have Albies at 29th in my rankings, the lowest of anyone from the consensus top 20. I feel like we’ve seen Albies’ ceiling, and we can’t be positive that we see him in the 2-hole all season long, given how last season worked out. Yes, he was injured, but the Braves do have a powerful lineup, and I assume they will sign someone to play left field that could bump Albies down in the lineup again. He’s essentially Tucker with 5-10 fewer stolen bases and a few fewer homers, which is great production. Just not top 20.
– Carmen Maiorano (@carmsclubhouse)

Adalberto Mondesi (SS – KC): ADP Hitter 18 | Overall 28
One of fantasy baseball’s most polarizing players, Mondesi struggled mightily in his return from a shoulder injury last season before catching fire in September while again leading the league in stolen bases (and nearly lapping the field while doing so). Mondesi is Billy Hamilton 2.0, with a tad more pop. His Statcast profile is awful. His AVG, SLG, and OPS percentages have each dipped for three straight seasons, suggesting he’s getting worse and not better as a hitter. His walk % and xwOBA are amongst the worst in the league, and his strikeout % isn’t much better. His hard-hit % and barrel % are just as unimpressive. But boy, can he fly. I’m not anti-Mondesi overall as much as I’m anti-Mondesi in round 3. The issue with drafting Mondesi as a top-20 hitter is that he offers virtually nothing outside of stolen bases (when he actually can get on base) with non-existent power while damaging your slash-line categories. He’s never even finished near the league-leaders in runs. There’s always a chance that Mondesi puts it all together and makes me look foolish but given his suspect profile as a hitter, I would rather a superstar-caliber player that can contribute across-the-board such as Bo Bichette, Rafael Devers, Luis Robert, Aaron Judge, or George Springer at this point in the draft and search for stolen bases later on.
– Lucas Spence (@lspence24)

It pains me to mention this player, but the hitter with the most risk – Adalberto Mondesi. In 2018-2020, Mondesi totaled 29 home runs, 138 runs, 121 RBI, and 99 steals with a .265 batting average. With a minimum of 950 plate appearances, Mondesi ranked first in steals. Jonathan Villar (91) and Trea Turner (90) finished behind him with over 450 additional plate appearances, meaning Mondesi dominated on a per plate appearance basis. However, the risks lie in the plate discipline. Over the past three seasons (2018-2020), Mondesi has the 14th highest O-Swing% at 39.6%, 2nd worst Contact% at 64.3%, and 19.9% swinging-strike rate (No. 1). All those plate discipline metrics don’t typically translate to fantasy success. Mondesi is a high risk, high reward hitter that ranks inside the top-20 hitters.
– Corbin Young (@Corbin_Young21)

Mondesi has the most volatile profile in the game of baseball. On the one hand, he strikes out too often (29.7% career), doesn’t draw many walks (4.3% career), and has a career .284 on-base percentage. Those numbers are not ideal for a player who relies heavily on getting on-base to provide his most important category, stolen bases. However, despite those ugly numbers, Mondesi has found a way to steal 99 bases over the past three years, including the shortened 2020 season. He’s as good as a bet as any to top 50 stolen bases in a full season, so it makes sense why he’s going within the top 20 hitters. Despite that, I can’t look past his volatile profile and trust him to consistently provide anything outside of stolen bases. Teams only trust hitters for so long with profiles similar to Mondesi, and I don’t want to have my hand caught in the cookie jar the year it all goes downhill for the enigmatic shortstop.
– Justin Johnson (@JJ_JetFlyin)

Bo Bichette (SS – TOR): ADP Hitter 15 | Overall 23
Bo Bichette, currently ranked 19th among hitters in the Fantasy Pros consensus rankings, slashed .301/.328/.512 with five home runs and four stolen bases in 123 at-bats last season. He doesn’t have much of a major league track record, with only 319 career at-bats. The 22-year old shortstop doesn’t walk much (5.6% career BB%) but strikes out a fair amount (22.6% career K%), and his statcast profile is good, not great (57th percentile Exit Velocity, 57th percentile Hard Hit%, 70th percentile xwOBA, 82nd percentile Barrel%, 89th percentile xBA, 89th percentile xSLG). A lot of his value is contingent on him stealing bases, but Charlie Montoya’s Blue Jay teams haven’t shown a penchant for running (0.44 attempts per game in 2019, 0.63 attempts per game in 2020). Injuries have plagued Bichette during his short career – he missed time in 2020 with a knee injury and was shut down in 2019 with a concussion. Did I mention that a questionably sustainable .361 BABIP has propped up his batting average? So, by choosing Bichette as a top 20 hitter, Fantasy Managers are pricing in his upside. That being said, I think Bichette is a fine player, and I would be comfortable drafting him around pick 40.
– Lucas Babits-Feinerman (@WSonFirst)

Jose Ramirez (3B – CLE): ADP Hitter 7 | Overall 10
Whenever I’m looking for a possible breakout candidate, I like to target soft-hit percentage. I want a player who is hitting the ball less softly regularly. Conversely, I want to avoid those who saw a spike in soft-hit percentage. To my own admitted surprise, Jose Ramirez ranked 25th-worst in the league in this category, posting his highest soft-hit rate since 2014. If we think back to last offseason, we were questioning how to value Ramirez’s wild season in 2019, where he struggled mightily in the first half but was a dominant force in the second. Perhaps the answer is as simple as the early indications that it’s time to sell Ramirez as a top-notch hitter. His surface numbers have remained great, but there is now cause for concern with one key underlying metric.
– Mario Mergola (@MarioMergola)

Xander Bogaerts (SS – BOS): ADP Hitter 20 | Overall 32
Bogaerts is a good player coming off a productive 2020 campaign, but 15th overall in the latest ECR feels a bit too high. He slashed .300/.364/.502 with 11 home runs, 22 RBI, 36 runs scored, and eight stolen bases across 225 plate appearances. The increase in stolen bases was nice, but the dip in RBI pace is alarming. Bogaerts hit an abysmal .204 with runners in scoring position. The Red Sox offense didn’t improve much as a whole in 2021, and Xander will have to shoulder the load and steal to hit top-20 value. Fantasy managers shouldn’t overpay for Bogaerts and select him in the top-20 in upcoming fantasy drafts.
– Brad Camara (@beerad30)

Nolan Arenado (3B – STL): ADP Hitter 16 | Overall 25
I would go with Ozzie Albies, but since he’s ranked 20th and seems like the obvious choice, I’ll go with Nolan Arenado. He may still crack the top 20 hitters, but it’s going to be close. The first blatant stat that jumps out at me is, of course, his career home/road splits (.985 OPS home/.793 OPS road). While many players perform better at home for several reasons, there’s nothing quite like hitting in Colorado. Leaving Denver for St. Louis will be a sizable disadvantage. Not only will he miss the thin air of the Rocky Mountains, but losing the All-Star talent that used to surround him in the lineup is going to be detrimental as well. Yes, he has Paul Goldschmidt, but Goldy is a shell of his former self, and with the opportunity for opposing teams to pitch around him, I fully expect Nolan’s numbers to plummet. And let’s not forget his 84 OPS+ season last year. He’s still capable of amassing a 90/30/100/.290 stat line, but without the exceptionally high HR or RBI totals and little to no speed to speak of, I highly suspect Arenado to drop out of the top 20 fantasy hitters.
– Austin Lowell

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