7 “Late Bloomer” Hitters for 2020

Last year saw some really remarkable breakouts from unexpected candidates. Ketel Marte had a power explosion, Tim Anderson collected hits at an obscene rate, Hunter Dozier reminded everyone why he was a top 10 pick back in 2013, and Marcus Semien transformed into one of the game’s best players with offensive and defensive improvements. All four of them were in their mid-to-late 20s which made the surges even more surprising as we had locked these guys in at a certain level.

We’ve all heard the phrase that “growth isn’t linear” but given how much we lean on the previous season when studying for drafts, it’s easy to look for that linear improvement. That can leave some players overlooked and make breakouts more unexpected than they should be if we took a broader view.

Here are 7 hitters in their mid-20s poised for a breakout (though a half season mucks things up quite a bit):

Dansby Swanson | SS, ATL

If he doesn’t get hurt last year, the former #1 overall pick probably doesn’t make this list. Swanson was pacing toward a 28 HR/11 SB season with a .265/.330/.468 line before a late-July injury cost him a month. He returned with a .552 OPS and 0 HR in his final 114 PA. There were improvements on the whole, but still netted just a 92 wRC+. He has back-to-back double-double campaigns with top-flight speed and burgeoning power. There’s a .285/25/15 season in here, but he’s overlooked at the insanely deep shortstop position.

Ian Happ | OF, CHC

This is a peak post hype candidate as his stock soared heading into 2018 after a 24 HR/8 SB debut over 115 games in 2017. When he hit a homer on the first pitch of the 2018 season, some dumbasses (namely, yours truly) definitely overreacted and started immediately dreaming of the upcoming 40/20 dream season. He went 15/8 with a .233 AVG.

Happ’s price rose as draft season went on, but at no point did he become unaffordable, regularly available in the 200s and rarely going higher than pick 150. He’s actually coming off a strong 127 wRC+ mark, though in just 58 games. The 25-year old now has 1031 MLB PA under his belt with various levels of success and for the first time he has a locked in full-time role (everyday CF). I’m buying in bulk.

Willy Adames | SS, TB

Despite being just 18 at the time, it was clear that Adames was the prize of the 2014 David Price trade for the Rays. By the start of 2015, he was the top prospect for the Rays and heading into 2018, he was 11th in all of baseball. He’s held his own in a season and a half of work with a 102 wRC+, 30 HR, and 10 SB in 907 PA. He essentially had an .800+ OPS in four of the six months last year (.797 in Sept.) including an .807 in 251 PA over the second half. This is one of those where the development isn’t sitting in a host of underlying numbers, but rather a bet on his skills and current trajectory.

Willie Calhoun | OF, TEX

A rough 2018 took away some of Calhoun’s shine. He then spent the first month and a half of 2019 in Triple-A so then when he did finally come up and put together a decent 110 wRC+, it went a little overlooked. I’m a sucker for a powerful bat that maintains such strong strikeout rates. He had a .524 SLG and 16% K rate last year and strikes the ball well enough to turn that contact into a potential .300 AVG. I can’t get enough of him.

Amed Rosario | SS, NYM

I didn’t mean to go so shortstop-focused, it just sorta happened. Of course, part of it is the aforementioned depth of the position that pushes down some incredible talent. Swanson is a power-speed combo, Adames is more power-focused, and Rosario is more speed-focused, so you can choose your shortstop bet based on team needs when it gets to their draft area.

Rosario flexed a little pop last year, too, with 15 HR and could eventually develop a bit more. His improved defense gives him some security at the position, too. He has a real shot at a .300+ AVG and 30+ SBs so even if the HR output remains in the 12-16 range, that’s more than enough to make him a complete fantasy player.

Nomar Mazara | OF, CWS

I know.

I knooowwww.

I thought I’d moved on from Mazara. I’ve been a long-time believer, but decided to lay off this year, but the delayed start to the season has given me more time to come back around a bit. I’m keeping him more at arm’s length this time around, but he’s a post-200 pick and he’s going to a strong park and lineup. Mind you, Texas wasn’t bad for either of those aspects so they aren’t necessarily major improvements. He has these bouts of elite power and I just can’t rule out a 30+ HR season. Maybe the change of scenery brings it out of him.

Isan Díaz | 2B, MIA

A disastrous 201 PA debut (53 wRC+) has him so far off the radar that he’s not even going in 12-team mixers. I’m not burying him off of 201 plate appearances, that’s still small enough to be pretty noisy. He had a 132 wRC+ in 435 PA at Triple-A before his call up. Sure, he’s not ready to be that good in 2020, but I also think he’s quite a bit better than his work with the Marlins last year.

His 29% K rate feels like more of a pitch selection issue than a lack of a gameplan resulting in a ton of swings-and-misses. His 10% swinging strike rate is better than the league average and not in line with such a high strikeout rate. I could see him delivering a .270+ AVG and .175ish ISO (which could net 20-25 HR). The improved Marlins lineup helps his value, too.

We hoped you liked reading 7 “Late Bloomer” Hitters for 2020 by Paul Sporer!

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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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SucramRenrut
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SucramRenrut

Add Lewis Brinson, Ryan O’Hearn and Franklin Barreto and make it 10.