My first round of Fantasy Baseball breakouts came out in February, and there have been some changes to my rankings since them.
It's not necessarily because of what we've seen in Spring Training, though there are certainly a few players who I've added to the list because of what we've seen, like Reid Detmers and Pablo Lopez, who have seemingly added a few mph to their fastballs, and potentially unlocked new upside as a result.
However, I've also removed a few players from my Breakouts list through no fault of their own. A few of them are dealing with bothersome spring injuries, but some of them have just lost a bit of shine as I've gotten deeper into my prep for the upcoming season. Here are five players from Breakouts 1.0 who didn't make the cut for Breakouts 2.0:
Removing from Breakouts 2.0
- Seiya Suzuki – I still believe in Suzuki's skill set and his chances of improving after an up-and-down first MLB season, but an oblique injury has his status for Opening Day very much in doubt. Oblique injuries are tricky and tend to linger, and missing all of Spring Training is a big concern. I don't mind buying him at a depressed price, but I'm not planting my flag here.
- Jake McCarthy – The more we talk through the rule changes, the less necessary I think it will be to chase steals specialists, and McCarthy just doesn't seem like a particularly good bet to give you much beyond steals. If he steals 40 bags, he'll be worth pretty much whatever cost you pay for him, but I don't know if the bat is good enough to justify a breakout call.
- Ke'Bryan Hayes – Hayes is a good example of the kind of player I always like to draft: He hits the ball very hard and doesn't strike out much, so he really just needs to hit the ball in the air more to break out. However, when it comes down to it, I'm just not ready to plant my flag on it happening when there isn't much evidence for it yet. I'll still take Hayes in the later rounds on Draft Day, but he's more of a sleeper with upside than an out-and-out breakout candidate right now. Though I do like hearing him talk about wanting to steal 30 bases – "Maybe even more than that."
- Logan Webb – Webb is another player who I still like quite a bit, and I can still see the path to a breakout – it mostly comes down to being able to get swings and misses with his slider like he did in 2021. He could still do that, but that's a speculative call. There are simply other players I have more faith in actually reaching a new level of production.
- George Kirby – Kirby is a control artist who can legitimately throw five different pitches – six if you count his two fastballs as separate pitches. He does a good job of limited hard contact with pretty much all of his pitches, so the question now is whether he can take that next step by finding more swings and misses. I'm not sure where the step forward will come from, though, because both his slider and curveball had pretty bad whiff rates last season. There's a path forward, but it's murky.
And here are the seven holdovers from the previous round:
Keeping in Breakouts 2.0
- Corbin Carroll – Carroll is one of the more obvious breakout calls in the league – he had a solid first taste of the majors, hitting .260/.330/.500 in 32 games. The Diamondbacks gave him a vote of confidence in the form of a $100 million contract, and he's been excellent in spring training so far. I have some questions about how much power Carroll is going to hit for right away, but the batting average and speed should be plenty helpful at the top of a rapidly improving Diamondbacks lineup.
- Eloy Jimenez – Hopefully Jimenez avoids injuries, because I think he's poised to become the player we've been waiting for since he was a prospect. He seems like a good bet for a very helpful batting average and 30-plus homers, and I think he could be a Jose Abreu-like source of big RBI numbers in the White Sox lineup.
- Riley Greene – Greene had a better rookie season than he got credit for – Comerica Park has a way of suppressing production, as Nick Castellanos can famously attest. I think Greene is poised to take a step forward in his plate discipline, and he's focusing on generating more power this spring. He's hit a couple of homers in his first 11 games while generating consistently impressive quality-of-contact metrics, and he'll probably steal a lot more bases than he did last year, when he was working back from a foot injury suffered in the spring. He's one of my favorite breakout picks right now.
- Vinnie Pasquantino – Pasquantino might be the most obvious breakout candidate around. He had a good rookie season that might have actually understated what he is capable of, as Pasquantino's .374 expected wOBA was actually higher than his .365 actual mark. Pasquantino is a pull hitter who makes a ton of contact and hits the ball hard, so even in a tough home park like Kauffman, he should be good for more than his 20-ish homer pace from his rookie season. I see some young Anthony Rizzo in him.
- Andrew Vaughn – There's a lot to like about Vaughn, and I'm hopeful he can sustain his contact gains from last season while starting to hit the ball in the air with authority more often. I have less faith in him than my other breakout holdovers, but I believe in the skillset and hope that he'll take a step forward now that he's not being asked to play outfield anymore.
- Hunter Greene – Greene made my initial busts list, but I took him off my most recent version. I still think he's a high-variance pitcher who could continue to struggle with homers, as he did for much of last season. However, he's the hardest-throwing pitcher in the majors, has a wipeout slider, and is showing more confidence in his change up this spring, which could help him take a step forward. The upside is obvious.
- Dustin May – The comp I like to make with May is Sandy Alcantara, because both have wicked stuff that historically hasn't generated as many strikeouts as you might expect. However, there were signs of that changing for May in 2021 before he had Tommy John surgery, and he came back healthy from that and was getting whiffs with his cutter, fastball, curvbeball, and changeup at decent rats in a small sample size last season. He won't give you anywhere near the kind of innings Alcantara does, but May will generate a ton of weak contact and should be very good for however long he's on the mound. And, if there's a jump in strikeout rate, he could pitch like a legitimate ace.
And now here are six newcomers to Breakouts 2.0
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MIA Miami • #2 • Age: 25
You could argue Chisholm already broke out last season, when he hit .254/.325/.535 and was one of the best players in Fantasy on a per-game basis. The problem is that "per-game" thing, as he played just 60. Chisholm carries significant injury risk, which is a big part of why Scott White has him as a bust for this season, but I tend to be a little less nervous about injury risks than your standard Fantasy player. And, from a performance perspective, I feel quite confident Chisholm is about to have a huge season. His underlying metrics largely backed up his performance from a year ago – his .356 expected wOBA wasn't quite as good as his actual .365 mark, but he clearly took a step forward as a hitter. Chisholm hits the ball hard with regularity, and his plate discipline improved a decent amount last season, a she shaved a few points off his chase rate while swinging at more pitches in the strike zone. Chisholm is one of the few players in the league where 30 homers and 30 steals is a realistic expectation, and it's not impossible he gets to 40 in either category in a best-case scenario outcome. If he stays healthy, there's a decent chance we're talking about Chisholm as a second-round pick this time next season.
Oneil Cruz SS
PIT Pittsburgh • #15 • Age: 24
We also might be talking about Cruz in that same range this time next season. That might seem like a leap after he struck out 35% of the time as a rookie, but it mostly comes down to him getting his strikeout rate to just normal bad range; he struck out 29.8% of the time after Sept. 1 last season and posted a massive .288/.359/.525 line. Given how hard Cruz hits the ball and how athletic he is, that's a realistic outcome if he gets his strikeout rate down below 30%. He sported elite quality of contact metrics – including the hardest hit ball of the Statcast era – and 40 homers probably isn't the ceiling here. And he also might steal 20-plus bases – he had 33 in 159 games between Double-A and Triple-A. Cruz has a high-variance profile, but there probably aren't many players with a more enticing 90th-percentile outcome.
HOU Houston • #53 • Age: 26
I have a bit of a contrarian streak, so when everyone coalesces around one or two breakout candidates, my instinct is to push back. I tried to do that with Javier initially, but I really can't in good faith keep it up. There are some concerns here – he's never been a full-time starter for a whole season, with last year's 161.1 innings representing by far his career high. But also … that's not a terribly low number in a context where Spencer Strider is going about three rounds ahead of Javier in ADP, on average. Javier may not have quite the same upside as Strider from a strikeout perspective, but he's not far off, having fanned one-third of batters he faced a year ago. However, he also might be one of the best pitchers in the league at suppressing quality of contact, with a .308 expected wOBA on contact allowed. That was a massive improvement from 2021, so there's some risk he won't sustain it. If he does, however, Javier might just be a top-12 pitcher.
Pablo Lopez SP
MIN Minnesota • #49 • Age: 27
As Fantasy analysts, we spend much of Spring Training preaching patience and reasonableness. We implore you to not overreact to small sample sizes against inconsistent competition. And here I am, pushing Pablo Lopez into my breakouts column in large part thanks to his performance against Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic this week. Maybe that's an overreaction, but watching Lopez work through that lineup convinced me there might just be more upside here than I've given him credit for. Mostly because, well, Lopez looked like a much better version of himself in that game. He averaged 95.6 mph with his fastball, up 2.1 mph from last year and among the highest fastball velocities he's ever had in a start. It was just one start, but it was an awfully impressive one, especially as Lopez relied more on his curveball than usual and introduced a new sweeping breaking ball that garnered three swings and misses on six pitches. Lopez's changeup has been his bread and butter for years, but he also has a pretty good fastball, one that is only going to play up if he's throwing in the 95-97 mph range rather than 92-94. It might end up being an overreaction, but Lopez has always had flashes of pitching at a very high level. Worst-case scenario, Lopez is a very solid pitcher already, so targeting him a round or two earlier than his 14th-round ADP is unlikely to hurt you. But, if this was real, he could help you out a lot.
Reid Detmers SP
LAA L.A. Angels • #48 • Age: 23
Detmers returned from the minors on July 8 last summer and was like a completely different pitcher. After sporting an ugly 4.66 ERA with just 42 strikeouts in 58 innings, he put up a 3.04 mark with 78 strikeouts in 71 innings over his final 13 starts. He credited a reworked slider with fueling the breakout, and he might be even better in 2023. Detmers spent the offseason working with Driveline Baseball and has seen a jump in velocity so far in Spring Training, working more in the 95-97 mph range after averaging 93.2 mph with his fastball a year ago. Detmers already broke out, but there might be even more upside to unlock here. I'm buying it.
LAA L.A. Angels • #43 • Age: 26
If you remember last year around this time, Sandoval was a popular breakout candidate, especially on Fantasy Baseball Today. It didn't come to fruition, as Sandoval took a step back as a strikeout pitcher and had an unsightly 1.34 WHIP. However, his struggles may have actually made Sandoval a better pitcher in the long run. He struggled with the feel for his changeup at times, and was forced to lean on his slider more, with his usage of that pitch jumping from 17.2% to 29%, with very good results on the pitch. His fastball remains a problem – .409 expected wOBA allowed on the four-seamer last season – so having another option to get hitters out with should only help. Sandoval remains an incredibly skilled pitcher, and armed with two out pitches – plus a curveball that had a very impressive 38.1% whiff rate a year ago – he could still take that step forward. There's still top-20 upside here, especially if he can limit walks.