10 Hitters with 1st Round Upside

I read a piece this week from Will Leitch about 10 dark-horse MVP candidates for 2019. I love pieces like that I wanted to bring that similar idea to the fantasy landscape. Replacing “MVP” with “top 10 hitter” which is essentially first round was easy part, but I wasn’t sure what threshold would be worthwhile and highlight some players we’re not already full hyping.

There is only one top 10 hitter this year who had a 2018 ADP later than 66 (Ronald Acuña at 128) and only Christian Yelich (66, obviously) joined him outside the top 33, but I thought inside the top 100 was too easy. Or not necessarily “easy” because identifying the players who will jump into next year’s top 10 hitters is insanely tough once you get past pick 30 or so, but getting drafted within the top 100 is essentially a co-sign that you could surge into those top two rounds. I decided to use 150 as my starting point.

I’ve got 10 hitters currently going outside the top 150 capable of having that dream breakout season needed to make “the leap”. I’ll identify the evolution we could see in their skills to reach the lofty heights worthy pushing to the 1st-2nd round area. After writing them up, I’ll give a 600 PA projection of what the dream season could look like if it comes to fruition. This is a mix of their career performance, their skills profile, projections, and then some dream dust sprinkled on top to get them into the 90th+ percentile of their potential outcomes.

Ramon Laureano | OAK, 160 Average Draft Position

How He Gets There: Laureano’s already got a premium glove that will keep him in the lineup and to truly breakout he will need to parlay that opportunity into a power-speed explosion. He stole 36 bases per 600 PA in the minors, including 43 in 2016, and stole 18 bases at an 86% clip across Triple-A and MLB last year. We’ve seen flashes of power in the minors, but it didn’t really jump until last year when he had a .228 ISO in Triple-A and maintained it with a .186 in his 176 MLB PA. The end result was 19 HR across the combined 460 PA.

Potential Dream Season: .287 AVG, 23 HR, 95 R, 78 RBI, 30 SB in 600 PA

Best Statistical Comps Since 2016: Jean Segura 2016 (.319-20-102-64-33), Starling Marte 2018 (.277-20-81-72-33)

Rafael Devers | BOS, 165

How He Gets There: He’s a premium prospect who flopped in his first full season, but I’m not quitting the 22-year old. He talked about carrying some extra weight last year that held him back and he might be our first “best shape of his life” story of the new year as he’s slimmed down in hopes of taking off in 2019. The new physique will hopefully spur a return of his premium bat while also allowing him to contribute a bit on the bases.

Potential Dream Season: .312 AVG, 31 HR, 96 R, 108 RBI, 9 SB in 600 PA

Best Statistical Comps Since 2016: Freddie Freeman 2016 (.302-34-102-91-6), Jose Abreu 2017 (.304-33-95-102-3)

Austin Meadows | TB, 184

How He Gets There: Meadows was a consensus top 10 prospect prior to 2017, but slogged through 81 games (.707) and dropped 35-40 spots as a result coming into last season. He responded with his best season as a pro that included a 191 PA MLB sample with Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay, posting a .287 AVG, 6 HR, and 5 SB. He will have to maintain his early MLB success against lefties to have the mega-season we’re looking for here and if he gets a full-scale opportunity in Tampa Bay there’s some real untapped potential for the 24-year old.

Potential Dream Season: .304 AVG, 24 HR, 97 R, 89 RBI, 24 SB in 600 PA

Best Statistical Comps Since 2016: Tommy Pham 2017 (.306-23-95-73-25)

Garrett Hampson | COL, 203

How He Gets There: First, he’ll need an unencumbered opportunity at 2B. The departure of DJ LeMahieu certainly helps that, but Colorado seems to love blocking their young bats so we’re not out of the woods yet. Additionally, Hampson has to fully leverage his elite speed (8th in sprint speed at 30.0 ft/sec) and incredible home park while also not tanking on the road. Some power growth wouldn’t hurt, but it’s not necessary.

Potential Dream Season: .320 AVG, 11 HR, 101 R, 69 RBI, 45 SB in 600 PA

Best Statistical Comps Since 2016: Whit Merrifield 2018 (.304-12-88-60-45), Starling Marte 2016 (.311-9-71-46-47)

Adam Eaton | WAS, 204

How He Gets There: Stay healthy. It really is that simple. He’s managed just 477 PA in his two years with Washington, but he’s been great during that limited time (124 wRC+). Yes, he will need to max his skills, too, but staying on the field is definitely the major hurdle here.

Potential Dream Season: .324 AVG, 14 HR, 106 R, 64 RBI, 22 SB in 600 PA

Best Statistical Comps Since 2016: Hampson’s with less speed or Andrew Benintendi 2018 (.290-16-103-87-21)

Jackie Bradley Jr. | BOS, 207

How He Gets There: Jason Collette’s going to love this one. He recently wrote up JBJ in his AL East Bold Predictions ($):

StatCast shows he left a lot of production on the table as his expected weighted on base average trailed his actual by 30 points. The indicators show recent increased in exit velocity and getting more loft to the baseball making a 20/20 season with plenty of runs possible in 2019. If he can pick up where he left off in 2018 with his hard contact, he could have a special season

The defense assures the spot, he has a brilliant career 89% SB rate, and surged in power last year. This mega projection would also require a move up the lineup, but we’re dreaming here, so there are bound to be a few caveats.

Potential Dream Season: .285 AVG, 27 HR, 91 R, 94 RBI, 23 SB in 600 PA

Best Statistical Comps Since 2016: Pham’s 2017 and Benintendi’s 2018 again or Ian Desmond 2016 (.285-22-107-86-21)

Tyler White | HOU, 243

How He Gets There: This one might be the wildest of the bunch. It’d require him building on his excellent 2018 run (144 wRC+ in 237 PA) and slot into the middle of the Astros order. He put up the famed .300/.400/.500 line in 2249 minor league PA (.305/.404/.509 to be exact) with fantastic plate skills (15% K, 13% BB). We will need to see those skills at the MLB level for this to happen.

Potential Dream Season: .300 AVG, 31 HR, 96 R, 104 RBI, 3 SB in 600 PA

Best Statistical Comps Since 2016: Anthony Rendon 2017 (.301-25-81-100-7) w/a different HR/SB split, but still close on the total of the two.

Jake Bauers | CLE, 248

How He Gets There: Bauers will need to maximize his speed, carryover the power gains from his MLB debut (.183 ISO), and recapture his minor league plate skills (17% K, 11% BB). This one is particularly lofty because the power really came on strong last year and he’s never had a 15 HR season, but let’s see what the dream season looks like.

Potential Dream Season: .282 AVG, 24 HR, 96 R, 88 RBI, 22 SB in 600 PA

Best Statistical Comps Since 2016: Elvis Andrus 2017 (.297-20-100-88-25), Andrew Benintendi 2017 (.271-20-84-90-20)

Nick Senzel | CIN, 260

How He Gets There: Well, he needs to find a role first. He’ll also need a clean bill of health, including his vertigo, but from there his natural skills can just take over en route to an elite rookie season.

Potential Dream Season: .318 AVG, 23 HR, 94 R, 88 RBI, 18 SB in 600 PA

Best Statistical Comps Since 2016: Jose Ramirez 2017 (.318-29-107-83-17), Charlie Blackmon 2017 (.324-29-111-82-17)

Kyle Tucker | HOU, 278

How He Gets There: Well, he needs to find a role first. Josh Reddick is a perfectly solid MLB outfielder, but he’s not truly blocking off someone of Tucker’s talent. If my other Astro doesn’t exactly take off, the DH spot could be freed up for Michael Brantley which clears left for Tucker. Or maybe the Astros re-join the Realmuto trade talks and include Tucker… but we don’t want that at all.

Potential Dream Season: .283 AVG, 29 HR, 90 R, 98 RBI, 32 SB in 600 PA

Best Statistical Comps Since 2016: Wil Myers 2016 (.259-28-99-94-28), Paul Goldschmidt 2016 (.297-24-106-95-32)

Tucker and Senzel are really tough picks for an exercise like this because they’re not going to get a full season to achieve their numbers. At the very least both are going to miss a couple weeks out front. But as I’m sure you realized early on in this piece, it’s not about the guys actually reaching these thresholds, but rather shining a light on their skills and dreaming on what they could be in a 90th percentile kind of season. Realistically, maybe one of these guys will really pull this off, but I thought this was a better way of highlighting some players I like instead of just doing a “10 hitters I like going later than 150” piece.

Who is your favorite target off this list?

Who do you like outside the top 150 hitters (click here, select Online for the draft, set the date to 01/01/2019, and then select UT to get all the hitters) to make a major surge in ’19?

Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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3 years ago

I love this. Very useful for dynasty too, as it does a great job of highlighting potential even if it doesn’t pan out this season.

I was on the fence about keeping JBJ and even Laureano, so this is very insightful.

Pirates Hurdlesmember
3 years ago
Reply to  lostatlimbo

I guess I never will get the hype around here regarding JBJ. Without his defense value in fantasy he is barely rosterable. How exactly is he going to hit .285, 40 points over his steamer projection, 20 over his career best? He also didnt “surge” in power last year, his ISO was 80 points below his career high 4 years ago and right in line with 2017.

3 years ago

He’s also done the good half/terrible half thing for the last 4 seasons so I wouldn’t count last year’s 2nd as a breakout. He’s definitely rosterable in deep enough leagues (AL-only, 15 team, 5OF) because 15/15 plays regardless of the bad average.

3 years ago

Paul might be the only guy hyping JBJ. He is open about it…