Keaton It Real: The All-Breakout Squad
Now that Spring Training is fully in gear and we are squarely in the middle of #DraftSZN, I thought it might be a good idea to review some fellas I think will outperform their recent production. I also wanted to put it down into writing so later in the season we can loop back and see how right or oh-so-very wrong I was. So, without anymore frills and pomp, here is The All Breakout Squad.
C: Omar Narvaez, Age: 27, Seattle Mariners
Traded to Seattle in the Alex Colome deal, Narvaez popped up on the scene last year by making good use of his timeshare at catcher with the White Sox-slashing .275/.366/.429 with 9 homers across 97 games. Now the everyday catcher in Seattle, Narvaez should see his numbers take a tick forward and continue to be a monster in OBP leagues. Something like .280/.385/.450 with 15-20 homers should be within his reach.
1B: Ronald Guzman, Age: 24, Texas Rangers
Getting his first taste of the Majors last season, Guzman matched his best season in the minors by smacking 16 homers in 123 games, but his slash lacked some oomph (.235/.306/.416). A couple of things contributed to that though: he struggled with strikeouts (whiffing at a rate of 28%) and had a bit of bad luck posting a .299 BABIP. Coming into his first full season of play I think a reasonable expectation is a drop to 24-25% K-rate and a recovery of his BABIP to his norm, leading to something like a .260-.270 average and 20-25 homers.
2B: Wilmer Flores, Age: 27, Arizona Diamondbacks
I need to give an assist here to fellow writer Jordan Rosenblum for this one. As we were drafting our team for TGFBI, this was his pitch:
“He has elite discipline, trimmed his K-rate to a career-low 9.8% last year. Moving to a much friendlier Arizona ballpark (even after the humidor, it was 17% better than the Mets park last year by Fangraphs park factors). More importantly, the Mets front office hated him and the Diamondbacks are committed to giving him playing time as an everyday second baseman. He’s also only 27 and had a bit of a weird down year in terms of power with a .150 Iso. His Iso was 200+ in ’16 and ’17. If he can recapture some of that ISO and maintain the K-rates, he’ll hit 20-25 homers with a .280 average.”
3B: Rafael Devers, Age: 22, Boston Red Sox
This one is probably the homer pick, but I’m falling for the ever-present “best shape of my life” in spring training. All signs out of Sox camp for the young slugger have been very positive. Devers realized his weight contributed to his missed time during the season last year and hired a nutritionist this offseason. Notes from Red Sox FanFest were that he looked noticeably leaner and if that leads to more time on the field and improved defense then he’ll garner enough at-bats to top 30 homers. Of course, that also assumes he can cut his strikeout rate to around 20%, which feels within reach as he continues to progress at the major league level.
SS: Lourdes Gurriel Jr, Age: 25, Toronto Blue Jays
In a small-ish 65-game sample in the Majors last season, Gurriel Jr looked pretty good. A slash of .281/.309/.446 and 11 homers was a pretty decent showing. The Statcast data backs it up too: 10.3º launch angle and a 90MPH exit velocity, paired with a 7.6% barrel rate and 44.5% hard-hit rate, lead me to believe the average is real and 25-30 homers are within reach for Baby Gurriel. Something to keep an eye on, though, is his low walk rate which, even through the minors, topped out at 5%.
OF: Austin Meadows, Age: 24, Tampa Bay Rays
Meadows is another fella that, like Gurriel Jr, debuted last season in a small-ish sample and the results were pretty good. Now returning for his first full season, I think Meadows will bloom (no pun intended, but happily applied). In his 59 games last season, Meadows slashed .287/.325/.461 with 6 homers and 5 steals. The Statcast numbers back up Meadows’ performance as well, with slightly above-average results across the board for his quality of contact (though his hit tool has never really been in question). With a full season in the Majors ahead I think Meadows is a great target for a 20/20 season.
OF: Jorge Soler, Age: 27, Kansas City Royals
My fellow writer and podcaster Patrick Magnus and myself have been beating this drum for two seasons now so this feels probably more hopeful than anything else, but here we go. When healthy, which is probably the biggest question in the history of questions apart from “Why are we here?”, Soler’s quality of contact is off the charts. He has a career barrel rate of 10%, hard hit rate of 40% and above average exit velocity and launch angle. The thought of Soler finally being able to put a full season together with those numbers has me doing the Roger Rabbit jaw drop. So, here’s hoping at the end of the season i’ll be rolling my tongue back into my mouth and scooping my chin off the floor.
OF: Hunter Renfroe, Age: 27, San Diego Padres
Renfroe is another guy that has a hard time staying healthy, although not nearly to the same extent as Soler. He has had back-to-back injury-shortened seasons but was still able to top 110 games in both. Renfroe’s barrel rate has consistently been above average and last season it was double(!) the major league average. Renfroe just straight mashes. With a healthy full season, it’s not outlandish to for Renfroe to reach 35 homers with s .270/.320/.520 slash.
SP: Eduardo Rodriguez, Age: 26, Boston Red Sox
I spoke about Eduardo Rodriguez on the Dynasty’s Child podcast as a pitcher I really like going forward. In his four seasons in the majors so far, Rodriguez has continued to see small improvements to his overall line. Mainly in his walk rate and strikeout rate. The latter even reached 10 K/9 last season. Injury again has kept Rodriguez from reaching his full potential, only topping out at 137 innings in 2017. Projecting another step forward for the lefty should see a ERA around 3.50 or lower while continuing to strike batters out and keeping the free passes low.
SP: Joey Lucchesi, Age: 25, San Diego Padres
Lucchesi showed us a glimpse of what his potential can be with a strong first half last season (3.34 ERA with a nice 69 strikeouts and 25 walks in 67 IP). He followed that up in the second half with a 4.88 ERA, but was able to increase the strikeouts to 76 and decrease the walks to 18 over 62 innings pitched. The projections also love Lucchesi this season, with just about all of them predicting a mid 3’s ERA and a strike out an inning. The Padres have a really exciting lineup, but Lucchesi might be the only bright spot in the rotation.
SP: Tyler Skaggs, Age: 27, Los Angeles Angels (Of Anaheim)
At this point, you can probably realize I have a tender spot in my heart for cripples, bastards and broken things. Skaggs is yet another one of my loves that is often injured. Last season, prior to falling victim to a groin injury, Skaggs was one of the best pitchers in the American league, posting a 2.57 ERA with 105 strikeouts in 98 innings. Then came the injury. Skaggs attempted to pitch through it but that failed miserably, as it often does, and he stumbled into a finish in the second half of only 27 innings pitched and a 9.22 ERA before finally being shut down. Now presumably healthy, Skaggs is another guy the projections and I love for 2019.
RP: Seranthony Dominguez, Age: 24, Philadelphia Phillies
Dominguez is the young power arm that dreams are made of. Currently, he’s in competition with David Robertson for the closer gig but it seems obvious he is the long term option at closer for the Phillies. He has an overpowering fastball and a pretty decent slider to work off of as a solid 1-2 combo. I expect that it will not be long before he eventually takes it over, if Dominguez doesn’t win the job outright out of camp.
RP: Matt Barnes, Age: 28, Boston Red Sox
This has more to do with opportunity than anything else. For a long time this offseason, many people thought Kimbrel would eventually re-sign with the Red Sox, reducing Barnes to the set up role again. More recently it seems to have become clear the Sox will not be bringing Kimbrel back, allowing the 9th inning gig to open up. Barnes is the frontrunner to land the spot and the Red Sox figure to win a bunch of games, giving Barnes plenty of opportunity to rack up saves.
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