From 2014-17, we've had six players post first-round value with a 195+ ADP:
2014: Brantley, Rendon, DGordon
Recent history says 1-2 will do it this year. Who ya got?
— Ryan Bloomfield (@RyanBHQ) March 21, 2018
As a measure of quality control — only because I noticed Corey Kluber omitted from 2014 — I compared his list to my historical average draft position (ADP) data from the National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) to compile the following unofficial blended list of players drafted outside the top 195 players by ADP* who achieved first-round value:
[Name: ADP / end-of-season rank (EOS)]
- 2012: Mike Trout (331st / 1st)
R.A. Dickey (399th / 4th)
Edwin Encarnacion (201st / 12th)
Chase Headley (281st / 14th)
- 2013: no one, but Alfonso Soriano (189th / 17th) and Hisashi Iwakuma (243rd / 19th) came closest
- 2014: Corey Kluber (220th / 5th)
Michael Brantley (226th / 8th)
Anthony Rendon (283rd / 15th)
Todd Frazier, almost (234th / 18th)
- 2015: Dallas Keuchel, almost (194th / 19th)
- 2016: Jonathan Villar (325th / 5th)
Wil Myers, almost (206th / 17th)
- 2017: Aaron Judge (349th / 3rd)
Marcell Ozuna, almost (186th / 11th)
*I used ordinal rank instead of true mathematical ADP. The latter does not always move perfectly linearly; for example, Villar’s ADP of 317.2 in 2016 was actually the 325th-highest ADP.
In diagnosing these breakouts, it’s evident most of these players had some manner of prospect pedigree or, among non-prospects, an outlier tool: Kluber’s and Keuchel’s different but brilliant repertoires and command, Villar’s speed, Encarnacion’s power, Dickey’s knuckleball. Only one was truly a flash in the pan — Headley — as I’d argue Iwakuma was very effective (albeit not elite) for the duration of his window of surplus value.
The following is an unscientific, approximate exercise in finding 2018’s monster breakout. I’ll discuss players I think have the best chance and review some of the players frequently mentioned in response to Bloomfield’s question. To be clear, it’s more likely than not the player who spikes first-round value in 2018 doesn’t appear among the names below. There’s also a chance no one achieves the feat — possible as well as disappointing. Also: please note I wrote a lot of this several weeks ago. Accordingly, this post doesn’t touch on players like Dansby Swanson, who, even despite his hot start, still wouldn’t make the list. (A .438 batting average on balls in play [BABIP] and 2.4% walk rate [BB%] does not a hitter make.) Consider this an extension of bold predictions.
In order of ADP:
204th: Dinelson Lamet, SDP P
In Lamet, I see a peak Francisco Liriano redux. That’s a good pitcher — in 2013 and 2015, a top-100 player. It’s a high-strikeout, high-walk, high-launch angle profile that begs for volatility but also shows a lot of promise. In terms of peripherals, his secondary offerings aren’t particularly devastating. It’s the above-average fastball and egregiously effective sinker (albeit in a small sample) that pushed Lamet over the top during his debut. I’m not convinced he’ll sustain a double-digit whiff rate (SwStr%) on his sinker, nor do I think it’ll continue to earn a extreme rate of called strikes due simply to regression. The velocity is obviously very enticing and suggests the four-seamer can continue to play up, but it’s hard to imagine this specific profile encroaching upon first-round value. (Current status: disabled list.)
224th: Aaron Hicks, NYY OF
I like this Hicks pick. Strong plate discipline gains finally made his residual power-speed threat play up. It’s not quite the same profile, but it reminds me strongly of another player to be named shortly. At the risk of playing spoiler, I’ll compare Hicks’ possible output to another outfielder: Lorenzo Cain, who, in 2015, was drafted 211th overall and finished the season 24th overall with five-category production. However, I think Hicks’ production fades batting average in favor of heavier reliance on counting stats. (Current status: disabled list, true to form.)
230th: Lucas Giolito, CWS SP
This is one of those I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it plays, but Giolito allegedly “looks really good” this spring. Given his history, you simply can’t ignore the fact he could finally put it all together. Acknowledgment is not endorsement, however; I have zero shares, and I don’t feel particularly optimistic about him. (Current status: five strikeouts and seven walks through 11.2 innings pitched. That’s… very bad.)
236th: Jason Kipnis, CLE 2B
He’s a long shot but Kipnis is still a really good fantasy player. For this to pan out, though, he’d have to go back to stealing 20 or 30 bases. At age 31, it very likely won’t happen, but similarly crazy things have transpired. That said, Kipnis outside the top-200 is virtually free profit. (Current status: batting .098 through 46 plate appearances. Simply astounding.)
240th: Michael Brantley, CLE OF
All we need is his health to cooperate. Brantley still excelled in the portion of 2017 during which he played, and a full season of continued five-category excellence could cultivate a Cain-esque (or vintage Brantley) line of double-digit home runs and stolen bases plus a .300 batting average. (This was the Hicks spoiler, by the way.) It’d be pretty wacky if Brantley achieved this feat twice in a half decade, but hey, I’m down for wacky. I think he might legitimately have the best chance. (Current status: just came off the disabled list and sucking something awful. That Cleveland club is getting BABIP’d to death.)
269th: Aaron Altherr, PHI OF
Altherr’s an interesting name here. He was a pretty popular sleeper the last year or two, but injuries dashed those hopes. He’s toolsy, but he doesn’t strike me as equally toolsy as, or more toolsy than, someone like Hicks, Brantley, or Cain. (He makes for a pretty good consolation prize to Hicks, though, in terms of what he can offer, say, with maybe a little more power and a little less speed.) He’s certainly an exciting late-round outfielder, though. And, like Reyes, Altherr’s absence has been enough to keep him enigmatic and enticing. (Current status: batting .074 through 32 plate appearances and not playing full-time.)
275th: Matt Chapman, OAK 3B
I wrote Chapman’s player page caption, if you want a more thorough understanding of my bullishness. He’s legitimately a poor man’s Joey Gallo with plus defense (which doesn’t matter directly, but it should keep him locked into Oakland’s third base plans for the foreseeable future). There’s legitimate 40-homer power in his bat, although it may come with Mendoza Line downside. Still, if we push his outcomes to their extremes and see the chips fall in his favor, we could be naming Chapman as a player to consider among the game’s golden age of third basemen. (Current status: my boy! Off to a strong start. Just made a bold prediction about him here.
298th: Scott Kingery, PHI 2B
301st: Nick Williams, PHI OF
318th: Jesse Winker, CIN OF
I’m low-key jazzed about the Phillies’ young core, despite their rough start. I think both Kingery and Williams are still a bit too unrefined for Major League play, but they’re solid speculative plays in shallower (10- or 12-team) formats — Kingery more so than Williams (and he’s off to a hot start to boot). Winker just doesn’t have enough upside, although, to be fair, I don’t think people are expecting an elite first-rounder out of him. It just seemed appropriate to lump him into this rookie-eligible ADP pocket. More walks than strikeouts so far — not bad.(Current statuses: Kingery has the best chance here. The key will be contact skills. A sizable improvement coupled with his power-speed threat could make him a fantasy force.)
310th: Albert Pujols, LAA 1B
A boy can dream. But really, he finished 56th overall as recently as 2016 and 37th in 2015. If there’s any juice left in the tank, he could still be a top-100 player or so. He makes for particularly strong bench depth whose value is obscured by how sad his late-career decline is starting to become. (Current status: healthy and batting 23 percent better than the league.)
383th: Carlos Rodon, CWS SP
Again, acknowledgment is not necessarily an endorsement. But for what it’s worth, Rodon had legitimately turned the corner before injury complicated things. He’s kind of like Giolito, though, except that he has it more figured out. I think his upside looks kind of like Lance McCullers Jr. at present — which is to say I’m not sure Rodon’s upside is the same as the upside some people think McCullers currently possesses. But if we’re talking about the intersection of 90th-percentile performances, prospect pedigree, and derailed breakouts, he’s a good place to look for low-risk, high-profit production. (Current status: disabled list, true to form.)
395th: Jorge Soler, KCR OF
I feel obligated to find one last name before rounding out the top 400 (my arbitrary cutoff, given we haven’t seen a player outside the top-400 return first-round value since 2012). Soler remains a wayward soul, but his 2017 performance should not go ignored. (And I assure you, in fantasy analyst circles, it hasn’t.) If all the talk about Soler working on his swing after hitting baseball’s rock bottom is true, and if we can reliably count on his 2017 production at Triple-A to translate even partially to Major League play (a big “if”), I see something like a Domingo Santana-esque breakout looming as a best-case scenario. Even then, it’s not a great shot at first-round value, but it’d still be a strong profile, even if its peripherals make you nervous. (Current status: not playing full-time.)
* * *
The fundamental issue with this list — or, specifically, the players from this list who I think carry the highest probability to pay off massively — is many would not be first-time breakouts. Between Brantley, Davis, Pujols, and Kipnis, a breakout would hardly be a true breakout despite it qualifying as one by these standards. Granted, these standards are somewhat arbitrary boundaries. Still, in the spirit of things, it’d be best to choose a rookie, young sophomore, or wayward Quad-A bat/arm.
Accordingly, picking a true breakout pick from this list… well, it’d probably have to be a hitter, given the list suggests a hitter is more likely to break out than a pitcher… so, I’ll go with Chapman, who has the power and playing time stability to make an impact on a similar order of magnitude that Davis (and, more recently, Judge) previously did. However, he also has fringy plate discipline/contact skills that could derail the entire endeavor. So far, so good.