Breakout or Fakeout: Should You Target These Hot Hitters?
Last week I looked at some hot starting pitchers. This week we examine some unexpectedly hot hitters. One key to success in fantasy leagues is to quickly identify the true breakout players early in the season and separate them from the fakeout players — those whose success is a mirage. All of the players below are currently ranked among the top 40 hitters in 5×5 leagues in the early part of the season. None of them were ranked in the top 100 hitters in preseason lists, most of them way were not in the top 200 either. Let’s find out if these guys are real gold or fool’s gold.
Devon Travis, Blue Jays — .385 AVG, 4 HRs, 11 Runs, 15 RBI, 1 Steal
Obtained from the Tigers over the winter, Travis has taken over as the Blue Jays starting second baseman. He spent all of last season in Double-A and skipped Triple-A entirely. Coming into this season Travis did not make any of the Top 100 prospect lists, but did make some of the “players to watch” lists. Travis is only five feet nine inches tall, so the power is a surprise. He did hit 18 home runs in the low minors in 2013. Travis is a promising young player but is unlikely to continue hitting anywhere near as well as he has so far this year. Verdict: Breakout. Good solid fantasy-worthy middle infielder, but not a star. Projects for .280 AVG, 15 homers, 80 Runs, 70 RBI, 15 steals.
Lorenzo Cain, Royals — .375 AVG, 2 HRs 13 Runs, 12 RBI, 5 Steals
Cain is a contact-oriented slap hitter with speed. He is not a power hitter. Cain seems young but he is 29 years old and moving into his post-prime years. He will help you in batting average and stolen bases but will be a drag in homers and RBI while being average in Runs. He got a lot of exposure during the Royals’ run to the World Series last year. That hype has pumped up his reputation and fantasy value a little too high. Cain can be a useful fantasy player as a complementary piece rather than a key cog in your lineup. Has extensive history of frequent injury. Most of his 5×5 value comes from the stolen bases. Cain is not breaking out into a new level of performance. Expect similar stats to last year. Verdict: Fakeout. Serviceable player but you need to do better if you are a contender. Projects for .290 AVG, 8 HRs, 60 Runs, 60 RBI, 25 Steals.
Stephen Vogt, Athletics — .360 AVG, 4 HRs, 8 Runs, 14 RBI, 0 Steals
Vogt is 30 years old and has only 521 career plate appearances. He is going to get close to that number this year alone as the primary catcher for the Athletics. He will likely platoon and face almost exclusively right-handed pitchers. For that reason he is a better option in fantasy leagues with daily lineup changes.He will hit pretty well when in the lineup, but we are not looking at a potential top 10 option at catcher. Verdict: Fakeout. Projects for .265 AVG, 10 HRs, 50 R, 60 RBI, 1 Steal.
Steven Souza, Rays — .268 AVG, 4 HRs, 6 Runs, 11 RBI, 4 Steals
Souza was frequently mentioned as a sleeper this Spring. The 26 year old rookie was 37th on the Baseball America top 100 prospects list and was 52nd on the FanGraphs list, but he did not make the ESPN or Baseball Prospectus lists at all. That reflects the divided opinions on Souza among scouts. His minor league numbers were always very good and sometimes great, but he was always old for his levels. Traded from the Nationals to the Rays this offseason, Souza is primed for his first chance as a starter in the major leagues. So far the results are good. Souza is the type of player who does everything well, although it remains to be seen just how well. I think we are looking at a 20/20 player with a solid batting average. Consider him George Springer-lite. Verdict: Breakout. Definitely worth investing. Has some star potential and some bust potential. Projects for .285 AVG, 20 HRs, 80 R, 80 RBI, 20 Steals.
Mike Moustakas, Royals — .328 AVG, 3 HRs, 14 Runs, 5 RBI, 1 Steal
The 26 year old former top prospect always seems to do just enough to tease us into believing that maybe, just maybe he will finally figure it all out and become a star. Ain’t gonna happen folks. Moustakas has been one of the absolute worst hitters in the major leagues the last couple of years. Don’t let a hot start trick you into relying on him as a starter for your fantasy team. 2000+ ABs worth of .239 AVG talks louder than three weeks of .328 AVG this year. Moustakas will hit some home runs but will let you down everywhere else. Verdict: Fakeout. Just stay away. Projects for .235 AVG, 15 HRs, 45 R, 55 RBI, 2 Steals.
Alex Rodriguez, Yankees — .265 AVG, 4 HRs, 11 Runs, 11 RBI, 0 Steals
A-Rod has been a punchline for the last few years. Everybody assumed the 39 year old coming off a major hip injury was over the hill and would wilt without the PEDs. Maybe we all jumped the gun a bit. Rodriguez probably won’t hit for average but he still has some big thump in his bat. His recent 477 foot home run was one of the longest in the league in the last couple years. ARod may still be able to contribute to fantasy lineups but he is a long way from his glory days. He is also an extreme injury risk. Verdict: Breakout compared to recent years. Still a useful player with power. Projects for .260 AVG, 15 HRs, 50 R, 60 RBI, 2 Steals.
Zack Cozart, Reds — .328 AVG, 4 HRs, 8 Runs, 8 RBI, 1 Steal
Cozart was simply awful last year. His .568 OPS was anemic and made him anathema to fantasy rosters. Cozart has already hit as many home runs as he did all of last year. Prior to last year Cozart was not a good hitter but he managed to do just enough to be on the fringe of fantasy relevance. Cozart credits his improved results this year to a change in his approach suggested by Hall of Famer Barry Larkin this winter. Cozart is hot right now but I don’t expect him to maintain that momentum. Verdict: Fakeout. Nothing more than an emergency replacement. Projects for .250 AVG, 12 HRs, 60 R, 60 RBI, 5 Steals.
Alex Guerrero, Dodgers — .474 AVG, 4 HRs, 4 Runs, 12 RBI, 0 Steals
Guerrero has been a bit of a disappointment since the Dodgers signed him to a big contract out of Cuba. He has hit well in the minors and now in the majors, but his defense is what keeps him off the field. Dodgers insiders say the team does not plan to give Guerrero a starting role anytime soon despite his great results so far this season. They also have Hector Olivera on the horizon to move ahead of Guerrero on the depth chart. Guerrero is a good hitter who needs a change of scenery to an organization with a place for him to play. Verdict: Fakeout. Won’t get a chance to play unless an injury opens a spot. Projects for .285 AVG, 12 HRs, 40 R, 45 RBI, 5 Steals
Will Middlebrooks, Padres — .254 AVG, 3 HRs, 8 Runs, 11 RBI, 2 Steals
Middlebrooks had a semi-breakout season back in 2012, but then fell flat on his face the last two years in Boston. He now leaves the hitter-friendly Fenway and moves to the hitters’ abyss of Petco, but so far that has not bothered him at all. Coming into the season his role and playing time were in question but that picture is starting to clear up a bit. Even with his early power success, Middlebrooks is still striking out often and walking rarely. Petco is a tough place to hit home runs. I am not buying his resurgence and predict he will lose his starting role rather quickly. Verdict: Fakeout. Get what you can for him. Projects for .230 AVG, 10 HRs, 35 R, 35 RBI, 4 Steals.
If you missed it, check out last week’s article Breakout or Fakeout: Should You Target These Hot Starting Pitchers?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Are there any other players off to bad/good starts that you would like some advice on?