9 Hitters Who Could Break Out in 2016
It's called "the leap." Those seasons when players with potential put it all together and have a "breakout" season, and boy, are they fun.
Last year, David Peralta, Michael Brantley, Carlos Correa, Odubel Herrera, Mookie Betts and Brandon Crawford all had seasons that put them in the conversation of being among the best players in the sport. They took a big step forward from previous seasons and made themselves relevant in both fantasy and real life baseball.
Who are those guys going to be this year? Given the large amount of quality players who made their Major League debuts last year, 2016 looks to be a season in which a huge number of players could be "breakout" candidates.
Stephen Piscotty, CF, St. Louis Cardinals
While he's no Jason Heyward defensively (who is?), Stephen Piscotty has a chance to make up for the defensive differences with a potential impact bat. He hit .305/.359/.494 in 256 plate appearances last year, with 7 homers, a weighted runs created (wRC+) of 133 and an fWAR of 1.1. He's probably not going to be more than a 15 to 17 home run guy, but the on-base skills and ability to hit for a decent average and hit the ball in the gaps makes him a perfect fit for the St. Louis offense.
Given more playing time, Piscotty could look an awful lot like Heyward with perhaps a bit more power and not quite as good a defensive profile.
Randal Grichuk, RF, St. Louis Cardinals
Of the two Cardinals on his list, Randal Grichuk is the more boom-or-bust of the duo. The 24-year-old outfielder has some serious pop and is a potential 30-homer hitter, but there are some red flags in his profile.
That 31.4% strikeout rate means you're looking at a high-strikeout guy with issues putting the bat on the ball. And it is exacerbated by a 6.3% walk rate. His isolated power (ISO) of .272 is darn good, but he was aided by a .365 BABIP last season. His 3.1 fWAR was seventh-best among MLB rookies last year, and his hard-hit rate among first-year players with at least 300 plate appearances of 36.9% was fourth-best.
But Grichuk will have to cut down on his strikeouts a bit and put the bat on the ball a little more often as his luck on balls in play comes closer to the league norm.
Blake Swihart, C, Boston Red Sox
Blake Swihart was one of the prospects the Boston Red Sox have refused to trade over the last few years, and in 2015, we got a small indication of why. He was outstanding defensively behind the plate in 84 games, allowing him to total an fWAR of 1.5 is slightly more than half a season.
And while being a good defensive player is great and all, for fantasy purposes, offense is what talks. And Swihart's season at the plate, with bat in hand, was not terrific. Swihart hit .274/.319/.392 in 309 plate appearances with 5 home runs, 17 doubles, a .312 weighted on base average (wOBA) and a wRC+ of 91. But those numbers are down from his career minor league totals, which showed him to be an outstanding offensive catcher as well.
And as last year wore on, Swihart got better at the dish.
Swihart will have to battle with Christian Vazquez for playing time in 2016 but is the more talented of the two players overall and could emerge as a top-10 catcher in 2016.
Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
Corey Seager's name on this list shouldn't surprise anyone. He comes into this season as the top prospect in the game and, in his brief cup of coffee in September of last year, showed why he is going to be a future star, batting .337/.425/.561 with 4 homers, 8 doubles, a wRC+ of 175 and an fWAR of 1.5 in just 27 games.
And he has flat-out mashed minor league pitching everywhere he's gone. Last year in Triple-A he hit .278/.332/.451 with 13 homers in 105 games.
And oh yeah, he's just 21. Seager is your leading contender for NL Rookie of the Year this season.
Maikel Franco, 3B, Philadelphia Phillies
Check out this stat about Maikel Franco, courtesy of FanGraphs. Among batters who recorded at least 300 plate appearances last year, Franco was one of six who had an isolated power above .200 and a strikeout rate below 16%. Who were the other six? Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Manny Machado, Albert Pujols and Anthony Rizzo. You've heard of them right?
Franco might have been a top-three contender for NL Rookie of the Year last year had he not been hit by a pitch in August, breaking his arm and forcing him to miss virtually the rest of the season. He hit .280/.343/.497 with 14 homers, a .360 wOBA and a wRC+ of 128 in 335 plate appearances. He also posted a walk rate of 7.8%, his highest walk percentage since his second professional year, playing low-A ball in 2011.
Franco should be able to hit 20 to 25 homers if he stays healthy and could clear 30 if he mashes like he has so far in spring training.
Miguel Sano, DH/RF, Minnesota Twins
Minnesota's Miguel Sano has terrific power, hitting 18 dingers in just 80 games and 335 plate appearances last season. His ISO of .262 was 14th-best in MLB last year among players with at least 300 plate appearances. He put up a wRC+ of 151, slashing .269/.385/.530 with a wOBA of .392.
Sano could undoubtedly be one of the very best young power hitters in the American League, but there are a couple moments of pause. His strikeout rate of 35.5% is way too high, and he had a ridiculous .396 BABIP last season, something that may not be sustainable in 2016. He did walk 15.8% of the time, so he knows how to work a free pass.
Defense is also going to be an issue. He doesn't really have a position, with Byung-Ho Park slotted in as the designated hitter and Joe Mauer as the first baseman. Sano is going to give the outfield a try, but if that is a disaster defensively, it will be interesting to see how Minnesota gets him on the field.
Byron Buxton, CF, Minnesota Twins
There's no doubt that Sano's teammate, Byron Buxton, did not make the kind of first impression he was hoping for. In 46 games he hit .209/.250/.326 with just 10 extra base hits in 138 plate appearances. He walked 4.3% of the time and struck out a staggering 31.9% of the time, far too frequently for a guy who does not hit for much power.
Still, Buxton's minor league record indicates the 22-year-old is going to be a star and a fixture in center field for a long time in Minnesota. He also has speed to burn, and if he can get on base enough, he could pile up the stolen base totals. He has superstar potential. No one questions that.
Michael Conforto, LF, New York Mets
You gotta like a kid who, at just 22 years old, can step into a pennant race and put up a 2.1 fWAR in 56 games. That's what Michael Conforto did last year, and there's no reason to think he won't be the same type of player in 2016. And given a full season, there's no reason Conforto can't be a five-win player for the Mets.
Last season he hit .270/.335/.506 with a .259 wOBA and a wRC+ of 134. He walked in 8.8% of his plate appearances, not bad for a young guy, and didn't strike out a ton, just 20.1% of the time. He has good pop, hitting 9 homers in 194 plate appearances, and given 550 or 600 plate appearances should be able to approach 25 dingers this season.
Rougned Odor, 2B, Texas Rangers
This is all going to depend on which Rougned Odor we see in 2016. His season was a tale of two halves.
Odor's power returned after a tough first half and a trip to the minors, and he performed especially well in the playoffs. He's expected to hit eighth in the Texas lineup, so his plate appearances could be a bit compromised, but don't be surprised if Odor turns into a three-to-four win player in 2016.