We have this dichotomy in fantasy baseball. Even though we measure five categories, we mostly talk about power or speed. With the occasional exception of a Joe Panik, nearly every major league player can be described as speedy, powerful, or both. That’s not just a reflection on the way we play fantasy, it’s also an insight into processes of major league clubs. They supply our talent pool.
Judging from the title, we’re here today to talk about speedy outfielders – specifically the breakout candidates. While a power breakout can come in many forms – think about Mark Trumbo compared to tiny Jose Altuve – speed is highly observable. A guy is fast or he is not fast. On the margins, you’ll have players like Michael Brantley and Chase Utley. Neither were ever particularly speedy, but they knew/know how to pick their spots. Alternatively, current Philllies Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera are plenty fast, but they’re TOOTBLAN kings.
We could get into this in more detail. Here’s the point. Speed is easy to see. Breakouts for speed type players happen in other categories. Usually, they suddenly show better plate discipline or buff their hard hit rate. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of starting regularly or earning a better spot in the lineup.
Playing Time Increases
The Royals talked about playing Jarrod Dyson every day in 2016. When push came to shove, they couldn’t help platooning him yet again. Dyson stole 30 bases in 337 plate appearances while posting a solid run total, average, and OBP. He finished the season as the Royals leadoff man against right-handed pitchers and did more than enough to retain the role.
While he’s been platooned his entire career, Dyson’s small sample splits against left-handed pitching suggest it’s unnecessary. He will contend with Billy Burns (another speed threat), Paulo Orlando, and a small squad of utility guys. A new club might start him full time, but I’d bet on Ned Yost to stick with what’s familiar.
From late-July through mid-September, the Brewers set Keon Broxton free. Over those 169 plate appearances, he hit .294/.399/.538 with the aid of a .425 BABIP. A high BABIP fits the bill even if .425 is unsustainable. His pull-heavy, hard contact approach could easily support a .330 to .350 BABIP.
Broxton hit nine home runs and stole 23 bases in 244 plate appearances. He would be the total package if not for a 36.1 percent strikeout rate. His contact issues are consistent with the minor league track record. Since Broxton walks frequently, think of him as the stolen base version of Chris Davis. Except Broxton could also push 25 home runs in a career season. Admittedly, I was one of Broxton’s biggest doubters last year. Now I see no reason why the Brewers wouldn’t get him to 600 plate appearances.
Broxton is possibly his own worst enemy. So long as he performs, he’ll play. Only Hernan Perez stands directly in his path, and that’s only if the Brewers don’t find a match for Ryan Braun. Speaking of Perez, the utility man could see a boost in playing time thanks to his 13 home runs and 34 stolen bases in 430 plate appearances. He’s a below average hitter with a career 69 wRC+ in 781 plate appearances. Even his 2016 breakout tallied just 89 wRC+.
Future Leadoff Men
Mallex Smith’s path to playing time is murky. The Braves have a starting outfield of Matt Kemp, Nick Markakis, and Ender Inciarte. Where does Smith fit in that crowd? Probably at Triple-A. Somebody from that starting trio will land on the disabled list, opening an opportunity for Smith.
Smith could offer a Billy Hamilton-like profile once given the keys to the castle. His elite speed figures to translate to strong defensive marks, and he should manage to swipe a bag every 10 plate appearances. While Smith’s minor league track record includes good plate discipline, he was overmatched in 215 major league plate appearances. For a contact hitter, an 11.9 percent swinging strike rate won’t fly. Any breakout will start with that figure declining to well below 10 percent.
Elsewhere in the NL East, the Phillies gave always-injured speedster Roman Quinn a quick spin last fall. And he landed on the disabled list with a concussion. Then, after he returned, he sustained an oblique injury. These are just the latest in a long, long list of injuries. It’s all rather reminiscent of Rocco Baldelli.
When healthy, Quinn has an intriguing mix of game breaking speed and nascent power. If he can ever stay on a field long enough to develop, a 20 homer, 50 steal season is a part of the upside. A more achievable ceiling is somewhere around 15 home runs and 30 steals. Quinn hasn’t played at Triple-A, so he’s likely ticketed to open 2017 in the upper minors. Like Smith, he’ll need to iron out some contact issues. There’s a chance he’ll earn a starting spot in Spring Training.
Passivity burned Travis Jankowski in 2016. He buffed his walk rate to 11 percent and cut his swinging strike rate to 7.4 percent. Unfortunately, working the count led to more two strike scenarios. His strikeout rate remained steady at 26 percent. Throughout the minors, Jankowski featured a punchout rate around 12 percent.
If he can figure out how to keep the walks and shed the strikeouts – a big ‘if’ – he’ll become a monster leadoff man with a high OBP and 50 steal potential. Jankowski has seven career home runs in nearly 2,000 professional plate appearances. However, a minor adjustments could put him in the eight to 12 home run range per season. Jankowski will have to fight with Manuel Margot, Alex Dickerson, and Hunter Renfroe for playing time. He was an elite defender last season and should play most days.
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