As part of the season preview series, most articles featured a breakout and bust candidate. Here I would like to examine and expand on these selections, looking at the top-ten breakout candidates. I will not be looking at prospects, since they are obviously going to contribute more than they did in 2011, and also will have their own article later. Without further ado:
Top Breakout Candidates for 2012
10. 1B Paul GoldSchmidt, ARI
Service Time: 177 PA
FG Fans WAR Prediction: 2.4
Goldschmidt is one of those player types I like a lot. He's patient, shows power, and... we'll that's about it. Fortunately, those are really the important bits of offense, and you'll just have to live with the horrific defense. It's the same formula that Adam Dunn employed for years, and he was good for a few wins a year once upon a time.
Goldschmidt just hits. He hit .300 at Rookie. He hit .300 at High-A. He hit .300 at Double-A. Goldschmidt walks. He walked 12.6% of the time as a minor leaguer and 11.3% in the majors last year. Goldschmidt hits for power, with a minor league SLG of .620 and cranking 8 homers in just 48 games last season. There is no need to go into the specifics in this case: he has good discipline, he hits with authority, and he's an awful first baseman. Put the three together, and you get a pretty good player.
9. OF John Mayberry, PHI
Service time: 369 PA
FG Fans WAR Prediction: 2.4
Talent has never been a question for Mayberry, the son of former All-Star, John Mayberry Sr. The 2005 first round draft selection has never been able to put it together as a professional. A solid outfielder, he showed power and discipline in the minors, but was never able to make consistent contact. He was also never really given a chance at the major league level, but that changed in 2011 as he got into 105 games with the Phillies and hit .273/.341/.513, lining him up as the starting left fielder for 2012.
Mayberry displayed several signs that his 2011 success is sustainable: he had a modest babip, of .293. His power numbers, a 15.2 HR/FB%, are quite moderate for a guy with as much power upside as Mayberry. I'm not in the business of claiming that players build on their plate discipline at his age, but he has been improving his walk rate, and for him to replicate a league-average (8.5%) walk rate would not be unfathomable.
Mayberry had a 2.5 WAR in 296 PA last season, and with no real reason to predict his abilities to decline, we might be surprised with what he can do over a full season.
8. OF Alex Presley, PIT
Service Time: 256 PA
FG Fans WAR Prediction: 2.4
Unlike Mayberry, Presley was never supposed to be in a situation to be a real breakout candidate. An 8th-round pick in the 2006 draft, Presley was never a highly-regarded talent, but always showed a penchant for putting the ball in play, and that payed dividends when he took off in 2010, hitting .320 across the two higher levels, then kept hitting last season, belting a .330 average at Triple-A before a June callup. He didn't stop hitting in the NL, putting up a .298/.339/.465 slashline (121 OPS+).
There are reasons not to be a fan of Presley's. He only has moderate plate discipline. He doesn't have much power. He relies on a huge babip: it was .349 in 2011. But, if you look closer, there are reasons to believe his success will carry over: his babip is not flukish: he routinely has babips well above the norm -- he has two minor league seasons of a babip over .350. If you look at his plate discipline numbers, he doesn't chase, he protects the zone very well, and makes loads of contact.
There is room for decline in Presley's production. No matter what a guy's history, it is hard to bet on a .349 babip. Even so, however, he can afford to lose a few points and remain a very effective hitter. Even if he takes a step back, he will be playing in three times as many games as last season, so a WAR of 3 or so is not out of the question.
7. SS Jed Lowrie, HOU
Service Time: 920 PA
FG Fans Predicted WAR: 2.6
Lowrie is the classic breakout candidate: a talented player whose health has never permitted him to cash in on his skills. A first round pick out of the legendary 2005 draft, Lowrie was a top-100 prospect in 2008, hit all through the minors, and made a splash in 2008, driving in 46 runs in half a season for a major-league debut. After years of battling injuries and fighting for playing time in Boston over veterans like Julio Lugo and Marco Scutaro, Lowrie will have a chance to make a name for himself in Houston. Featuring a solid batters' eye, steady glove, and good power for a shortstop, Lowrie is ready to prove himself as a big league player.
Lowrie isn't going to hit .300 or hit 30 home runs or win a Gold Glove, but the beauty of him as a player is his well-roundedness. While his production has long been hampered by shoulder and wrist issues, he has a career slashline of .252/.324/.408 - or just below average. He is about average as a shortstop (depending on how healthy his shoulder is), but won't do much on the basepaths. He has good discipline and solid power in the batters' box. The tools are all there.
He looked like he was finally putting it together in 2010, when he posted an OPS+ of 139 in 88 games before injuries and a bout of mono took him out for the season. The Atros are counting on the 2010 Jed Lowrie (the only really healthy Lowrie we've seen) to reemerge, and there is nothing in the numbers that preclude that from happening -- his peripherals were normal in that season. In short, when healthy, Jed Lowrie is a very good player. If he can stay healthy in 2012, he might be one of the better shortstops East of the Rocky Mountains.
6. SP Rick Porcello, DET
Service Time: 515 IP
FG Fans WAR Prediction: 2.7
There are several reasons to like Porcello as a breakout candidate, and I can list them just as quickly:
-He's young. He turned 23 in December.
-Detroit works their pitchers hard, and it seems to result in arm strength and durability. I've criticized Detroit for it in the past, and rarely am I going to believe in the health of a guy who started 31 games as a 20-year-old, but I believe in the Tigers' program.
-He's talented. The guy was a first round pick, got rushed to the majors, and got AL hitters out. He has a good fastball/slider combo, the latter of which has really been improving.
-I'm in love with his peripherals. He has shown improvement across the board: inducing chasing, called strikes, swings and misses, you name it.
5. 3B Danny Valencia, MIN
Service Time: 630 PA
FG Fans Projected WAR: 2.8
Valencia was one of the bright spots for the Twins in 2011, which is sad because he had a -1.1 WAR. He hit below average with an 86 OPS+, fielded horrendously with a -18 rtot, and got caught stealing thrice as often as he was successful. Still, there are a couple of reasons to get excited about the 2012 season for him.
First, I think he should develop at least into a league-average hitter. He had a meager .275 babip in 2011, and while he's probably topped out for power at 15 home runs or so, and doesn't take a walk like the Twins would like to see, he does drive the ball pretty well with gap power, and if the babip can stabilize, you're probably looking at a league-average bat with a little bit of upside. It bears mentioning that he is turning 27, the virtues of which many fantasy guys will extoll.
Defensively, he's kind of a mixed bag. He was supposed to be a solid defender, and he was in 2010, but he had a brutal 2011. The other stats treated him a little better (rdrs had him at -13, UZR at -6, and +/- had him at -11), but still very much bad. It is unclear how much of this is statistical variance and how much is him just being a bad 3B. 2012 will go a long way in settling that.
Valencia has some serious strides to make on both sides of the ball, but if his minor league track record means anything, he has some real upside.
4. SP Chris Sale, CHW
Service Time: 94 IP (79 GP)
FG Fans War Prediction: 3.0
Sale has all the talent in the world. After a stellar young career in relief, Sale will be tried in the rotation. The 23-year-old has just two years in pro ball, the 13th overall pick in the 2010 draft, and while stretching out relievers is never a sure thing, Sale has solid command and a great repertoire consisting of a high-mid-90s fastball with a lot of life, and a low-80s slider with big break.
What makes me think he can work as a starter, however, is his third pitch, his changeup. He takes about 9-10 mph off of it, and spots it very well. He isn't afraid to use it either, throwing it about 12% of the time in 2011. As a result of this arsenal, he generates a ton of swings and misses, with a career K/9 of 11. He also has pretty good control, and has shown an ability to keep the ball down. Again, it's never a sure thing when a reliever converts to the rotation, but if Sale can pull it off, he could create some huge value. There just might be an absolute ace here.
3. SP Derek Holland, TEX
Service Time: 394 IP
FG Fans WAR Prediction: 3.2
There is a lot to like about Holland, which is why the Rangers locked him up in a five-year deal worth $28 MM recently. He's been solid in the past for Texas, throwing 198 innings for them in 2011 to a 3.95 ERA. Despite his rather average performance, the peripheral statistics view him slightly higher. While he has a career ERA of 4.73, SIERA and xFIP view him as more of a high-3.00s type of pitcher. In Arlington, peripherals are probably the way to go anyways.
Additionally, Holland is at a good age for improvement, coming into his own as an athlete at 25. His velocity has been ticking up (he averaged over 94 mph in 2011), and he has been mixing in an effective cutter. His discipline stats show an encouraging trend, as well. In noticeable steps, he has been increasing chases, called strikes, and swinging strikes. Honestly it is hard to think of a pitcher who has shown more solid, marked improvement than Holland.
2. LF Logan Morrison, MIA
Service Time: 812 PA
FG Fans Predicted WAR: 3.2
Morrison isn't an unknown -- he is one of baseball's most popular characters, and is perhaps best known for his Twitter antics. He also hit 23 home runs last year and walked over 10% of the time.
The main reason to like Morrison as a breakout candidate, besides his age and clear ability, is his .265 babip in 2011. The one thing missing from his offensive repertoire was average. If his babip normalizes and he can hit .270, his plate discipline and power upside should make him a legitimate offensive threat. There are serious concerns about his defense (he is an alarmingly poor defender), but the same could (can?) be said about Manny Ramirez. If LoMo starts raking, he'll create some big time value regardless of what he does in left field.
1. 3B David Freese, STL
Service Time: 667 PA
FG Fans WAR Predictions: 3.9
Freese was all set to become the Cards third baseman in 2010, and he was playing the part, hitting .296/.361/.404 before an ankle injury ended his season in June. After a pair of surgeries he was back for 2011, and wow, was he back. Despite missing about two months after being hit in the hand by a pitch, Freese raked, hitting .297/.350/.441. He even seemed to find a little bit of power, hitting 10 home runs in 97 games.
No real analysis needs to be done here. The guy can clearly hit. His babip might raise some eyebrows, at .365 for his career, but he routinely had babips over .340 as a minor leaguer. There is some room to fall there, but he will produce high babips for a reason: he squares the ball up and hits it very hard: in the last two years he's had line drive rates significantly above league average. He sprays line drives around the park, can take a walk, and is starting to get under the ball a little more. On top of all that, he plays a pretty good third base. All he needs to do is play 150 games. Once that happens, don't be surprised to see him in the discussion as one of the better third basemen in the NL.