TDG Roundtable: Breakout Player Outside the Top 100
Every week on Fridays, our writers here at The Dynasty Guru will be bringing you some quick hit musings about a particular topic so you, the reader, can get a blast of info from a bunch of different writers with some passionate opinions. This week, our staff weighs in on who they believe will be a breakout player ranked outside our in 2021.
Corbin Martin, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks
We had him ranked as the 149th starting pitcher and he can easily move into the top 75 (and maybe higher) by the end of the season. With the unfortunate injury to Zac Gallen, he appears to have a spot in the Diamondbacks rotation. He was drafted by the Astros and was quickly rising up the ranks before TJS caused him to miss most of 2019 and all 2020. However, the Diamondbacks were so confident in his skills that they included him as part of the return in the Zack Greinke trade. While his fastball could use a bit more development, his slider and changeup are above-average offerings. Add in above-average command, and Martin is lining up to be a solid number 2/3 starter for the foreseeable future.
Victor Robles, OF, Washington Nationals
Can it be a re-breakout? Yes, yes it can, and Robles is primed to be one of the top Run scorers and stolen base leaders in 2021 after an initial 2019 breakout. We have his teammates Juan Soto and Trea Turner in the top 10 overall, who are they going to be driving in? Robles, that’s who. Washington has hit Robles out of the leadoff spot in every spring game he has played in thus far, and the manager continues to say the right things about Robles hitting leadoff as well. As of this writing, Robles has 35 Spring at-bats with three home runs, four steals, and a slash line of .286/.375/.629. It is somewhat odd how 2020 counted as such a positive for some and such a negative for others, but the astute managers out there have been using that to their advantage all off-season. Robles had a 28.8% strikeout rate in 189 plate appearances in 2020, or 1/3 of a season, after having a 16% strikeout rate in 1571 minor league plate appearances. Robles is being chosen at an ADP of 177 in Yahoo and 149 in NFBC so as it appears that 2020 weighed heavily on the minds of drafters. Do not let that deter you- “zig when everyone is zagging” is the way to approach adding Robles to your fantasy team this year.
Jordan Montgomery, SP, New York Yankees
Typically pitchers return to form two years post-Tommy John surgery, which is exactly where Jordan Montgomery finds himself entering the 2021 season. He also finds himself securely in the Yankees rotation to begin the year with a strong spring showing in which he has only given up one earned run in ten innings pitched with three walks and seven strikeouts. Montgomery’s 2020 stat line was uninspiring with a 5.11 ERA over 44 innings, but the underlying numbers tell a different story. An above-average BABIP and LOB% inflated his ERA compared to a 3.87 FIP and 3.65 xFIP. Montgomery limited the average exit velocity of balls put in play to 84.6 mph, which was top five percent in the league, and a 4.7 BB% which was in the top eight percent of the league. Along with inducing soft contact at an elite rate, he also limits the number of fly balls put into play which is very important to a pitcher in the AL East. The fact that he is a lefty also helps negate the short porch factor in Yankee Stadium as in his career he has limited opposing left-handed batters to a .195 BA and .331 SLG. Obviously, there has been some time missed, but he has not given up a home run to a lefty since 2017. Montgomery’s strikeout numbers have not been stellar this spring but reports are his stuff has been very impressive, with his fastball hitting 94-95 mph, a significant jump from his average velocity of 92.2 mph in 2020. I have no reason to believe that he won’t average at least a strikeout per inning during the regular season. If Monty can maintain the elite soft contact rates and harness this newfound velocity, while staying healthy of course, he may start to remind people of another intimidating left-handed pitcher in the Bronx from about 20 years ago.
Tim Locastro, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
I am no bueno at picking breakouts, but I am very excited about Tim Locastro in 2021. He’s the fastest player in the MLB, holds a career .365 OBP, and has returned from a term on the Covid list to light up spring while competing for playing time in the D-Backs’ right field. He’s already 7-for-19 in a short spring stint. With Daulton Varsho likely heading down [the prophecy has been fulfilled– Ed.], and Josh Rojas likely occupying second base, it appears Locastro might be the first guy to get a long look in the outfield. Sure, Kole Calhoun won’t be injured for long. And, yes, the Diamondbacks have a solid outfield trio in Calhoun, Ketel Marte, and David Peralta. Those guys have gotten it done and shown impressive fantasy utility in their own right, but I think Locastro is going to make some fantasy waves this year by covering for Calhoun early and serving as the primary backup at each position throughout the season. Speed is always at a premium and Tim Lo is a dude who’s stolen 24 bags in 124 games. Not too shabby. It seems he could sleepwalk his way to 25 steals in a part-time role; with more AB, 35 certainly seems possible. Finally, when considering he’s being drafted at an even 600 in NFC drafts, I like that it’s relatively easy to take a chance on his ceiling. In roto leagues, I’m targeting him in all drafts because I think it’s going to be a very useful ceiling, indeed.
Bryce Ball, 1B, Atlanta Braves
Bryce Ball is a top 100 prospect now, but he is not typically valued as such. I was already excited about him after his eye-catching 2019 debut when he ranked #26 on my stats-only offensive prospects list. I was anyway mostly able to contain my enthusiasm on account of the small sample of his performance, even trading him away in a few places. This is no longer the case, as several factors have majorly emboldened my faith in him. First, Clay Davenport recently released peak major-league equivalent statistics for college performance, grading Ball’s Missouri Valley Conference performance extremely well: a .272/.388/.484 peak triple-slash in the MLB, with a nearly 30 homer per 600 plate appearance pace. His college performance lends confidence to his minor league debut, a similarly bullish 263 PA across the Appalachian and South Atlantic leagues: equivalent to a .304/.359/.546 peak MLB performance. Second, he earned Kevin Goldstein’s affection over at FanGraphs, landing in this off-season’s “Picks to Click,” article, earning praise for “potentially special power,” and “an impressive feel for contact.” In sum, Bryce has it all: college performance, MILB performance, and scouting hype.
Nick Senzel, OF, Cincinnati Reds
It’s been a long road for dynasty teams and Nick Senzel. Drafted second overall in the 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft, many felt he’d be called up at some point in the 2018 season. Then came the injuries, namely vertigo at first, causing him to miss most of the 2018 minor league season. Then in 2019, he began the year on the minor league IL, then another vertigo scare before tearing his labrum and missing the final 75 days. 2020 saw him miss a month (or half the season) for ‘undisclosed reasons’ (many believing was a bout with Covid-19). All in all, Nick Senzel has fewer than 450 career at-bats and is still just 25 years old. While his batting average took a dive in 70 at-bats last season, he does have a career .171 isolated slugging percentage, 23.9% strikeout rate, and 7.4% walk rate. Not superstar numbers to be sure, but good enough to not lose hope on the player. He also has 14 career home runs and 16 career stolen bases, in 127 games and looks capable of putting up a 20/20 season with some good health. Good health is the concern though right? Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me? Well, vertigo is treatable and doesn’t sound like it’s been an issue in almost two years. If he did miss time with Covid last year, it would be very tough to blame the player on that one, assuming he was following team and league guidelines. The torn labrum is a bit more concerning since it has been known to sap a player’s power, but that’s now 18 months ago. The early results this spring are very encouraging. As of this writing, Senzel has 34 spring at-bats, two home runs, a triple slash of .353/.450/.588, and a K:BB ratio of 7:6. Behind all the injuries and lost development time is a very talented baseball player, and I’m excited and hopeful this is his breakout season.
Adrian Morejón, SP, San Diego Padres
Adrian Morejón can straight shove. It’s never been about pure talent with the 22-year-old, as his above-average arsenal, propensity for keeping the ball in the yard, and high K/9 numbers have given us nothing but high hopes over the last few years. Can he stay healthy? Well, he’s healthy right now, so here’s hoping. Never throwing more than 65 innings in a season doesn’t exactly inspire healthy confidence, if you know what I mean, but I guess he has to start somewhere. Can he nab that fifth spot in the San Diego rotation coming out of spring? This one I feel a bit more confident about, and the answer is a resounding yes. And since I’m feeling particularly bold, I’d venture out and say that I think he sticks in the rotation for the majority of the year. The Padres have a dearth of starting options at the moment, but the truth is that some of those pitchers (Snell, Darvish, Musgrove) have had precarious injury histories, and the team likely won’t feel the need to push any of them. Enter Morejón, with his highspeed, high-spin fastball (78th percentile in MLB), and his nasty splitty (57.1% whiff rate), ready to be the breakout you didn’t know you needed. With an ADP of around 500 in most drafts going into the year, he could be an absolute steal.
Austin Riley, 3B, Atlanta Baseball Team
Aaron A. Cumming
Austin Riley has shown truly prodigious power at every stop on his path to the majors. Even while failing to produce a league-average batting line in either 2019 or 2020, he had max exit velocities over 111 MPH and barrel rates over 10% each season. His 2019 batted ball profile looked more like a spray hitter than a masher, though, and that all-fields approach with his launch angle resulted in too many fly balls that crushed his batting average. In 2020, he adjusted by pulling the ball more, but he overcorrected by hitting too many balls on the ground. While he saw a meager bump to a .239 average, his .257 xBA was more demonstrative of a step in the right direction. He made significant gains with his pitch awareness, swinging less at pitches outside the zone, and making more contact. If he can maintain those improvements while raising his launch angle back up a bit, he should maintain his sub-24% strikeout rate while providing top-of-the-league power. His last 2 stints at Triple-A in 2018 and 2019 ended with him hitting over .280, and he could easily repeat that this year with his seemingly stable role. Drop in 30+ home runs and solid counting stats no matter where he’s hitting in a deep Atlanta lineup, and you’re looking at a top 10 third baseman going outside the top 200 picks.
Shane McClanahan, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays
There’s a left-handed starting pitcher who made his first-ever major league appearance in a 2020 playoff game throwing 101 miles per hour who is outside of our top-100 prospects and I simply won’t stand for it. Shane McClanahan sits more in the 95-98 MPH range as a starter, but that will play too. Pair that with curveball and slider variations as an out pitch that are 60-grade and improvements to his change-up, and perhaps the relief concerns aren’t as severe as we thought a year ago. McClanahan spent the alternate-site season working five-inning starts every five days, so the Rays seemingly want him to have the chance to start until he can’t or until there’s a need. There’s a certain other southpaw who was jettisoned to SoCal this offseason, and the Rays have a whole new wave of pitchers ready to go, as always.
In 2019, McClanahan crossed three levels of the minors, throwing120+ innings over 24 games (22 starts) and had a K/9 over 10 at each level. His 1.46 ERA over nine games at High-A with an equal 1.46 BB/9 particularly sticks out before struggling a bit (8.35 ERA over 18 innings) at Double-A to finish the season. During Spring Training, Part Deux, he impressed Kevin Cash who was quoted as saying that McClanahan’s stuff “would play in any league and in any inning” so the October callup should not have been that much of a surprise.
The 23-year-old got hit around at times in his four playoff appearances, allowing four earned in 4 1/3 innings against the Yankees, Astros and Dodgers loaded lineups but McClanahan’s stuff looked electric at times. Sure, there is relief risk and injury risk here but there is with every pitcher (and injury risk for every player in existence this spring training), so this kind of stuff outside the top-100 prospects is worth a shot. With 2016 Tommy John surgery well in the rearview, a confident manager, and experience in handling the toughest of assignments in the Bigs from day one, I’m expecting McClanahan to have graduated from prospect status before 2022 and for us to be discussing him in a much different light by then.