For the second installment of our 2017 Fantasy Forecast Ultimate MLB Guide, I will be highlighting players that I believe are due to break out in 2017. These are players that have shown flashes of potential here and there, or for an extended period, but are ready to make a name for themselves in the show.
Blake Snell (Tampa Bay Rays): Then southpaw rookie, Blake Snell, finished the 2016 season with a team best 3.54 ERA but a very rough 1.62 WHIP. A WHIP this high usually means a bad ERA on the other side but oddly enough that isn’t the case with him. He had a 5.2 walk rate as well which had a huge impact that figure. While this certainly could concern some people which will cause him to slip in drafts, I’m betting on him to lower his walk rate in 2017. If you have ever watched Blake pitch in real life you would understand the hype behind this kid. Simply put, his stuff is sick. He throws 4 different pitches and each one is just as dirty as the other. His fastball tops out at about 95 and then will drop a 75 mph curve on you. His 2017 campaign will largely depend on whether or not he can figure out his command and if he can, he can easily be a fantasy ace.
Jon Gray (Colorado Rockies): Everyone has heard the hype on this guy by now after he threw that 16 strikeout gem in 2016. This guy is the real deal and has had to deal with pitching at extremely hitter friendly Coors field. He held a 9.91 K/9 last season which was ranked 9th in the MLB. Even though he held 4.61 ERA and a .500 win % in 2016, he still dominated hitters and should see increased success in the upcoming season as he continues to improve his command. Another reason most people aren’t too afraid of his high ERA is because he held a 3.60 FIP and a 1.26 WHIP, which leaves people thinking there is certainly something there with him. Not to mention, this was his rookie season so the potential is huge with Gray. Don’t be afraid to draft him with confidence, even if he plays at Coors.
Lance Mccullers (Houston Astros): Baring any injury setbacks, which looking at his past is not too promising going forward, Lance is poised to bust out the scene in 2017. I would group him in with Paxton and Velasquez in the group of pitchers who are ready to make that leap and become ace status. 2016 was a year that came with various injuries for him (elbow and shoulder) which obviously limited his ability to prove himself but his numbers were still very promising nonetheless. Avoiding surgery, which was crucial, he gets a fresh start to dominate in 2017. Over his 36 starts the past two seasons, Lance boasted a 3.22 ERA to go along with 235 K’s which resulted in a 4.0WAR. In addition, from 2015-2016 he increased his groundball rate from 46.5% to 57.3% which was good enough for 3rd best in the majors. He was also one of 2 players, the other being Thor, to hold a K/9 above 10 while having a groundball rate over 50%. One might say that he has already broken out but I think there is even more we can expect from him if he can avoid the injury bug, which is a big if. IF he can do it, I see a potential CY Young candidate awaiting in 2017.
Marcus Stroman (Toronto Blue Jays): Was expecting a breakout last year but couldn’t quite few his groove. Known for being a groundball pitcher, I wouldn’t expect that many K’s per game but a much better ERA than his 4.37 mark in 2016. He also owned a 9-10 record which should only get better in 2017, even though the Rogers is very tasty for hitters. His 2nd half last year suggest his started to figure his stuff out as his strikeout rate went up 22.7% and his ERA evened out at 3.68.
Vince Velasquez (Philadelphia Phillies): If you have ever seen this man pitch before you would automatically understand the breakout hype he has been seeing lately. The first time I ever got the chance to see him start live was on April 14th, 2016 against the Padres where he went a full 9 innings punching out 16 and giving up only 3 hits. Since then I, and I’m sure many others, have been fully aboard the Vince Velasquez hype. This kid has some sick stuff but has been plagued by injuries and simply hasn’t been able to put it all together, yet. He has yet to hold an ERA under 4.00 in both of his seasons but his impressive 10.44K/9 in 2016 proves he has the ability to be an elite pitcher. The main issue isn’t him lowering his ERA as that seems inevitable this season but his stamina and health could play a role late in the season.
Josh Bell (Pittsburgh Pirates): One of my favorite breakout candidates this year and could be of those difference maker players who you draft in a later round that returns great value throughout the season. The thing about bell which makes him an appealing option is that he has a pretty high floor due to his above average plate discipline(21 walks to 19 K’s last season)and a 33% hard hit rate last season. The main category he has lacked in is his power but he has recently implemented a leg kick, similar to Justin Turner’s who has seen an improved number off bombs/XBH’s since doing so. He obviously has been focusing on becoming more of a power hitter and using his size to his advantage as he definitely isn’t a small dude. He will certainly be an integral part of the Pirates offense and if they figure things out coming off a disappointing 2016 season, he could find himself right in the middle of their success leading to great value.
Miguel Sano (Minnesota Twins): Miguel is one those players with incredible raw power which you would certainly know if you’ve seen some of the deep balls he has hit, to both sides of the field. While he possesses 40+ homer potential, his strikeout rate has made it very difficult for him to reach his full potential. In 116 games last season he hit .239 with 25 bombs and 178 K’s, which obviously will raise some eyebrows. Interesting enough however, a good portion of his strikeouts come from the backwards variety, suggesting he is too selective at the plate. Being more aggressive could serve to benefit him and that’s not a tough adjustment to make. Its tough to envision him hitting for a high AVG but he could be a huge run producer batting 4th in the Twins lineup behind another 40 homer guy, Brian Dozier. The potential to breakout is there and I think this is his year.
Aledmys Diaz (St.Louis Cardinals): A very underrated shortstop and actually outperformed a few of the top 5 shortstops last year on a per-game basis. Missed a month with an injury but has a great contact rate and doesn’t K. He ended his 2016 rookie season with a .300/17 HR/65 RBI/71 R/.879 OPS line and looks to take that into 2017 with even more production to become a breakout and fantasy league-winning type player.
Dansby Swanson (Atlanta Braves): When I watch Dansby I can’t help but compare him to the new Nationals phenom, Trea Turner, who is currently yielding an ADP of #11 according to FantasyPros. I think these two have comparable skill sets and Swanson could be in for a 2016 Trea Turner like season. This may be his ceiling but that’s one hell of a ceiling and I really think this kid has the ability to do it. Last year in 129 AB’s he carried a .302 BA with a .361 OBP, a line that didn’t carry much significance but if you watched him play live you would know he has very high potential. His 10% BB rate between the majors and minors suggests he already has above average plate discipline which will lead to him being able to utilize his speed and steal many bases. Not to mention, he will have ample opportunity to score runs batting atop a lineup that consists of Freddie Freeman, Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis behind him.
Jose Peraza (Cincinatti Reds): Both a sleeper and breakout candidate which means ultimate value and could be the mid-late round guy who gets you into the playoffs. With the news of Reds veteran Brandon Phillips being shipped off to the ATL, 2nd base is Jose’s for the taking in which we think he will take full advantage of. He compares a bit to Jose Baez in that he can play various infield positions but is coming off a great 72 game stint where he hit .324 and swiped 21 bags. He might not be able to sustain this average but I think it is reasonable to expect .290+ with an increase in stolen bases. It is also reasonable to expect a fair amount of runs if he hits at the top of the lineup behind Duvall and Votto.
Andrew Benintendi (Boston Red Sox): Similar to youngsters Dansby and Turner, 22 year old Andrew Benintendi has the skillset to eventually become a star player in the big leagues. An already polished 22 year old is something you don’t see often but that is what you get with the #2 prospect in the MLB heading into the 2017 season. Benintendi hit .295 in 105AB’s last season in the majors with a.835OPS and a .359OBP. While his sample size isn’t the biggest, anyone who has seem him play knows he is already a great contact hitter and an exceptional eye at the plate. His ability to get on base regularly matched with his above average speed makes him a likely candidate for a 20/20 season. Not to mention, he is aided by that big ol’ green wall in Boston that plays only 310 feet that he is surely to take advantage of. There will certainly not be a shortage of RBI opportunities in a robust Red Sox lineup so he will have many opportunities to solidify his breakout season.
Billy Hamilton (Cincinatti Reds): Billy also could fit into my sleeper category as many people have been burned by him in the past, but I will talk about him in this section. His last 43 games in 2016 resulted in a .295 AVG, 371OBP with 30 runs and 3 stolen bases with 20 Walks. This is exactly what you want to see out of a player who is known to have blazing speed but unfortunately, he hasn’t been consistent enough to warrant constant playing time. All Billy has to do is maintain a good contact rate with more walks and less flyballs and that will immediately make him a very intriguing fantasy outfielder this season. The potential this kid has is incredible and we have been exposed to it at various times throughout his career but he just simply hasn’t put it all together. I’m betting on him figuring it out this season and look for him to lead the league in stolen bases as he focuses on limiting fly ball outs and putting himself on the base path. If he takes his stats from the later part of the second half of 2016, he could very easily return 2nd-3rd round value. It’s not likely he will maintain that .371 OBP but it seems like he may have figured it out.
Byron Buxton (Minnesota Twins): Wrote about him in the sleeper section but a breakout is very possible.
**These predictions are largely predicated on where they are currently being drafted, so keep that in mind when reading these. The term “bust” may be a harsh and overly pessimistic connotation so you can replace it with “regression candidate”.
Felix Hernandez (Seattle Mariners): Last year was a sign of old age and injuries and I think some more regression is coming. Even though he will tell you otherwise, I don’t see King Felix being his normal self this season. I’m not saying he should be drafted but I wouldn’t expected him to be a fantasy ace for your squad like he has been all of his career with 2016 being an exception.
Rick Porcello (Boston Red Sox): This may be the most obvious pick simply because it will be very hard for him to match or exceed production that presented him with the award for best pitcher in the A.L last season, the Cy Young if you weren’t aware. 2016 was very good to him as he had 22 wins, a 3.15 ERA and 1.01 WHIP which are fantastic numbers. Not to hate against the outstanding 2016 season he had, this seems to be more like an outlier as his career ERA is 4.20 even with this past breakout campaign. To conclude, Porcello may not end up being a bust but you probably shouldn’t be drafting him at his current ADP of 96. It’s certainly possible that he turns in another good season but don’t expect Cy Young numbers again. Also, if he were to regress back to his numbers from 2015, 2013, 2012, 2011 or 2010, you won’t be seeing him on very many fantasy rosters. Proceed with caution!
Brian McCann (Houston Astros): Two words, Gattis and Age. McCann has been in a state of regression as evident from the 2nd half of the season last year and prior years heading into the 2016 season. He had a productive 1st half last year but I am going to chalk that up to Yankee Stadium being extra lenient for Lefty sluggers. He has since been traded to the Houston Astros whom already have Evan Gattis behind the plate. So, between having to platoon with perhaps a better player currently and his age reaching major regression level, especially as a catcher, I would advise to look elsewhere for your backstop. Plenty of other options for catching value late in the draft (See D’arnaud or Realmuto).
Eric Hosmer (Kansas City Royals): His 2016 season was the best of his career in terms of power as he hit 25 bombs with 104 RBI’s. He also saw a much better batting avg in 2015 hitting .297 vs .266 in his latest campaign and I don’t see him returning to that .300 level BA this season. I am going to chalk last season up as a power surge for him, which when looking at his flyball ration, wasn’t really that impressive. In addition to likely regression in the HR department due to breakthrough season, he plays in a pitchers ballpark so all points are unfortunately pointing downwards for the 26 year old lefty in terms of slugging.
D.J LeMahieu (Colorado Rockies): Now, I don’t want to pose this as being too harsh because DJ is definitely a good ball player, but he largely was a product of his environment last season. Coors field is inherently known for making players much better than they actually are (I will make an exception for Nolan Arenado) and unfortunately, he falls into this category. “Bust” might even be too strong of a connotation for him but it is very hard to see him repeating his 2016 breakout campaign that came with a whopping .348 BA and a .416 OBP. I would put a fair amount of money on him regressing back to numbers like the ones he put in 2015(.301AVG and .358OBP) which aren’t bad at all. Again, bust is probably not the right word for him because as long as he stays in Coors field and continues to decrease his k-rate, he will be a productive fantasy asset, just not .350 avg good. You get what I mean.
Adam Duvall (Cincinnati Reds): This one is fairly obvious to predict and follows much of what I said above about Khris Davis and the two other Chris’. All he really has in his toolbag is hitting bombs, which he has done consistently but there just isn’t a whole lot else to be excited about. The reds are in rebuild mode and have a very poor offense, excluding Votto, so his RBI potential is trending downward. He did have 103 rbi’s last season but it came along with a subpar .241 avg. and 164 k’s which placed him at the twelfth most last season. If he has even a slight decrease in power in 2017 his production won’t be worth having on your team.
Jonathan Villar (Milwaukee Brewers): Not expecting as many steals and power regression. Likely a breakout year in 2016 and will be very hard pressed to see even similar numbers. He is more of a .260 hitter with a high K-rate suggested by most of his career numbers. I just don’t see him stealing 45 bases again with a .285 avg. and .369OBP. He found a power surge last season after slugging 19 bombs but I would bet on him not doing so again as his highest mark before last season was 7. As a Brewers fan, I’m hoping my pessimism toward villar is wrong but as a player who came out of nowhere and was essentially the best fantasy SS last season, I don’t find it likely he will be nearly as good.
Khris Davis (Oakland A’s): Coming off a great and unexpected season, I don’t see him getting any better in 2017. Even after having what industry professionals call a very productive season in 2016, he still really wasn’t that great when you break it down. Khris belted 42 homeruns and drove in 102 but also struck out 166 times putting him at #11 for most K’s, which points toward regression. He is one of the players that is classified as all or nothing and whom strictly stick to power hitting hampering their overall fantasy production. He reminds me of Chris Carter or Chris Davis(must be a Chris thing) bad but even worse than those two, he had a .307 OBP which obviously isn’t good. He also only walked 42 times last season so one could say that he is largely a free swinging power hitter. If he has any regression in power, which is certainly possible as his 2016 surge kind of came from nowhere, he will likely wind up on most peoples waiver wire. Don’t be afraid to draft him later in drafts due to the possibility of him continuing this power streak and bettering his plate discipline, but don’t invest much hope in him being an efficient fantasy player.