According to Scott White, all breakouts are sleepers but not all sleepers are breakouts. Whatever that means. Seriously, though, the point is that breakout candidates are usually undervalued as well. I think the main distinction between the two is that breakouts have more perceived upside. Take our two favorite breakouts, for example. Scott loves Ke’Bryan Hayes from the Pittsburgh Pirates, a top prospect who flashed his potential towards the end of last season. I’m all over Tyler Mahle, who has flashed at times but has really found his groove. Mahle doesn’t have the same prospect status as Hayes, but his strikeout potential is massive based on his most recent pitch-mix changes.
On today’s podcast, we hit on those two and many more of our favorite breakout candidates for the 2020 season. It’s also a busy time in terms of news and spring training updates. Jackie Bradley signed a two-year deal with the Milwaukee Brewers plus Madison Bumgarner flashed some of his vintage self on Thursday. Oh, and Scott did some super deep digging into beat reports and found some incredible spring training nuggets we’re going to touch on. Let’s talk about it.
Also, The Fantasy Baseball Today Draft Guide is LIVE! It’s a one-stop-shop to help anyone dominate their drafts that includes sleepers, breakouts, busts, rankings, analysis, tiers and more. The best part about it? It’s completely free!
Our favorite breakouts!
Sleepers are fun, but there’s nothing more exciting than making breakout picks. If these calls cash in, they could be league winners. The FBT crew has several breakout picks, but these are our favorite ones. We’re pushing all of the chips into the middle of the table on these players. I’ll start us off with my favorite breakout:
- Tyler Mahle: ADP 192.6 (per Fantasy Pros)
Mahle was awesome in 2020, pitching to a 3.59 ERA with a 1.15 WHIP. Like Lopez, Statcast tells us Mahle was actually a little unlucky. Based on the quality of contact Mahle allowed, his expected ERA was 3.33. He did this all while striking out 60 over 47.2 innings, good for an exemplary 11.3 K/9. The strikeouts were backed up by a career-high 13.8% swinging strike rate, which would have been better than Trevor Bauer, Aaron Nola, and Brandon Woodruff had he qualified.
If you’re wondering how Mahle got to this level, it’s likely thanks to a pitch-mix change. It seems like he’s at his best with the three pitches he relied on most in 2020: his four-seam fastball, slider, split-change. After scrapping his slider for the curveball in 2019, he did the opposite last year, throwing his slider 33% of the time. The fastball and slider make up most of his repertoire while he mixes in that split-change about 12% of the time as a decent third offering. Whatever you do, Mahle, don’t go tinkering again like your ex-teammate Trevor Bauer. It seems like Mahle has the recipe for success, he just needs to do it over a full season now. If things break right, I could see a Corbin Burnes-esque impact from Mahle in 2021.
Mahle is my favorite but not my only breakout pick. Dive head first into my Breakouts 2.0 for the rest of them.
For Scott, his favorite breakout is a hitter:
- Ke’Bryan Hayes: ADP 151.8 (per Fantasy Pros)
Scott: “Hayes crushed it to all fields with five home runs in 85 at bats. He also added seven doubles and two triples. I think he’s a good bet for batting average — he hit consistently in the minors. I think he’ll be a not insignificant source of stolen bases — maybe 12-15 steals. And if there is any hope of him developing into a legitimate power hitter, that’s a stud profile. And I think there’s a chance the power is very legitimate — he hit the ball very hard. He has the sort of profile that can find power very quickly. That’s kind of how Francisco Lindor developed how he did.”
Want more breakouts from Scott? You can find them in his Breakouts 2.0. Spoiler: Mahle makes the cut in Scott’s Breakouts 2.0!
News and notes
- Framber Valdez update: Per Jon Heyman, the initial recommendation for top young Astros SP Framber Valdez is for surgery to repair his fractured ring finger, and the early belief is that could mean he could miss the entire 2021 season. As Scott made clear: “The report is unconfirmed, so don’t go dumping Framber just yet.”
- Jackie Bradley signed a two-year deal with the Milwaukee Brewers. Bradley was low-key awesome last year with a .283 batting average, 7 HR, 5 SB, always has solid plate discipline, 9% walk rate for his career. He completely changed his hit direction, with a career-low 29% pull rate, hitting the ball more to center and opposite field. Scott had some thoughts on JBJ in Milwaukee: “Being a left-handed hitters, Fenway Park is a tough place to play for left-handed hitters, Milwaukee is a great place to hit for all kinds of hitters. Maybe he can emerge as something more — he has 20-homer pop and he can maybe steal 15 bases. I hesitate to call him a sleeper, but this is a good landing spot for maximizing his value.”
- Lorenzo Cain is dealing with a “minor” quad issue, but Craig Counsell reiterated today that Cain is the team’s starting CF so does that mean Avisail Garcia is headed to the bench?
- Adalberto Mondesi, who is apparently dealing with a foot injury, is progressing. Mondesi still hasn’t made his Cactus League debut due to a sore foot that he sustained when fouling a ball off his foot prior to spring training.
- Rhys Hoskins made his spring debut following offseason elbow surgery.
- Nate Pearson, the Blue Jays top pitching prospect, was diagnosed with a grade-1 groin strain. Here is Pearson’s stats line so far in the spring: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 2 Ks. More importantly than the stat line, Person was consistently throwing 99 MPH.
- Danny Santana signed with the Red Sox as a non-roster invitee.
- Max Fried was scratched from Friday’s start with COVID-related concerns. According to manager Brian Snitker, Fried didn’t test positive for COVID-19, but the Braves fear he had “potential exposure” to an infected person. Fried is expected to remain away from camp for at least a couple of days.
Scott kicks us off with one we both like in Joe Musgrove: “There are a few things I like a lot. His velocity jumped after an IL stint. He started playing his slide off of his curveball — mixing those pitches up in an optimal way. His swinging strike rate was 14.4% which would’ve ranked in the top-10 qualifiers — the same as Yu Darvish. He’s always been an elite strike thrower. If he can have legitimate swing and miss stuff, we’ve seen him work deep into games, and we saw the potential more than ever that he can do this. I know he’s faked us out a few times in the past, but the signs of a breakthrough that he was showing in the past weren’t as strong as they are now.”
For years, I’ve been standing atop the Joe Musgrove mountains shouting to draft Joe Musgrove. I am also going to be drafting a whole lot of Joe Musgrove.
I’m rolling with Nick Castellanos as this year’s Marcell Ozuna. Castellanos posted career-high marks in barrel rate (16%), average exit velocity (91 MPH), and hard-hit rate (46.7%) last season. I mentioned his .225 batting average earlier but Statcast reveals that Castellanos had an expected batting average of .273. This was because he was quite unlucky. Among 23 qualified hitters with a 25% line drive rate or better, Castellanos’ .257 BABIP was the lowest. That comes from somebody with a .329 career BABIP. Where Castellanos needs to improve is the strikeouts. He posted a career-worst 28.5% last season but seeing how his strikeout rate was 23% from 2013-2019, I would expect him to bounce-back in that department.
Scott: “If the strikeouts normalize, and the BABIP gets where it belongs, I do think it’s possible he’s hitting over .300 with 35+ home runs. I’ve made the comparison to Nolan Arenado. I think if we got a full 162 games last year, he would’ve ended up there.”
Scott offers up another breakout — and it’s one you don’t hear a lot about — Lance McCullers: “When he’s pitched, he’s pitched well. He’s had the strikeouts consistently and he’s been an elite groundball pitcher — you know how much I like that combo. For most of the 2020 season, he wasn’t able to lean on his curveball until his last three starts. Once he got back to throwing that curveball over those last three starts, he had a 0.00 ERA, a 0.6 WHIP, and a 12.2 K per 9. I think the best is yet to come for McCullers.
I’ll go with Dylan Carlson as another breakout. While it wasn’t the best debut season for Dylan Carlson, he did show signs of improvement down the stretch. Through Carlson’s first 23 games, he was batting just .162 with four extra-base hits and a 31% hard-hit rate. He was then sent back to the alternate training site but would return for the final few weeks. Over his final 12 games, Carlson batted .278 with seven extra-base hits and a 44% hard-hit rate. Let’s not forget Carlson was one of the Cardinals’ top prospects entering last season. He put together a monster season in the minors in 2019 where he batted .292 with 26 home runs, 20 steals, and a .914 OPS.
For the rest of our breakouts, you’ll have to check out the podcast!
Spring performance to highlight
Madison Bumgarner made his spring debut on Thursday. Here’s the stat line: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 Ks and 11 whiffs on just 33 pitches. His four-seam fastball averaged 90.2 MPH. Remember, his four-seamer was way down at 88.6 MPH — so this has my attention. Keep in mind — the lineup he was facing was dreadful.
Spring training notebook
Scott’s a little wiped out from it today, but he spent his entire night digging into articles from beat writers and the like and he found some really great tidbits, nuggets and quotes that can give us an edge for our Fantasy drafts. We’re going to feature some of the best tidbits from Scott’s spring notebook now but check out the entire article — this might be the best-kept secret on the site.
- Athletics right-hander Frankie Montas, who broke out with a 2.63 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 9.7 K/9 in 2019 thanks to the emergence of his splitter, vows to throw the pitch more this year after curtailing its usage to 12.9 percent last year and slumping to the tune of a 5.60 ERA in 2020. “I feel like I was more focused on throwing my two-seamer,” Montas said. “When I have that good splitter in my back pocket, why not use it more?”
- The Blue Jays may have offered a sneak peek as to what their starting lineup will be in Tuesday’s game against the Phillies, batting new acquisition George Springer leadoff, followed by Marcus Semien, Bo Bichette, Lourdes Gurriel and Vladimir Guerrero, with Cavan Biggio hitting sixth. “I like when he leads off like we did today. I like that,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “But we’ll see.” This is bad news for Biggio, but as Scott qualified, after Biggio batted lead off last season, “Just because this is how the order is now doesn’t mean this is how it’s going to be — but overall not a positive development for Biggio. He’s already in my busts column and I already have my doubts about him — and this doesn’t help.”
- Rays ace Tyler Glasnow unveiled his new slider/cutter hybrid on Monday, “going to the lab” with pitching coach Kyle Snyder to develop it with the teams’ pitch-design technology. “I know he’s pretty excited about it, and he should be because he feels like he can land that pitch [for strikes] fairly consistently,” manager Kevin Cash said. Beat writer Adam Berry of MLB.com pointed out that the times Glasnow has gotten himself in trouble are when he’s not able to locate his curveball. Adding a true third pitch could remedy that.
Starting pitchers to target outside of the top 100
Chris Towers is not exactly subscribing to Scott’s draft five pitchers with your first 10 picks strategy and that’s because there are a whole lot of starters he loves who are going outside of the top 100 in ADP. Chris pinpointed 14 starters being drafted outside of the top 100 that he’s targeting — to be exact. We’ll feature a few of them below, but you probably want to get your eye on all 14 — either as a backup plan if you don’t get pitching early — or because you can never have too much SP depth.
- Ian Anderson: High-pedigree pitcher who made it to the majors in 2020 with a new pitch that was his best pitch. He’s the best pitching “prospect” for 2021.
- Zack Greinke: A long track record of outperforming expectations and I’m willing to bet he’ll keep that up with his price lower than ever.
- Chris Paddack: Paddack’s fastball lost effectiveness in 2020, but he’s spent the offseason working on it, and I’ll bet on the talent and pedigree in a bounceback campaign. If he shows confidence in his curveball in spring, all the better.