Fantasy Baseball: 2013 Breakout Candidates at Each Position
Every year, players break out. They emerge from team's benches, the minor leagues or the disabled list and win fantasy leagues with exceptional return on minimal investment.
Asking who the "next Mike Trout" is would be a foolish question. Trout's 2012 was unlike any season this decade and will likely not be seen again for another decade. But even pre-Trout seasons produced breakouts.
The following slides list one player at each position poised for such an emergence. I have attempted to steer clear of players merely taking a predictable step and dug a bit deeper to players who may currently be available as late or last round picks. Those are the kind of breakouts that win leagues.
Catcher Devin Mesoraco, Cincinnati Reds
Devin Mesoraco was a popular sleeper catcher in 2012, when he was expected to split starts with Ryan Hanigan at the beginning. Instead, he batted .212 and only played in 54 games.
Now the former No. 16 prospect according to Baseball America is clearly the backup catcher in Cincinnati. He is going undrafted in most fantasy leagues, and rightfully so, but the 24-year-old hit 26 HR while batting .302 in the minors in 2010 and 15 more in 2011 before getting his first call-up.
Now, he will start the season behind Hanigan. That being said, 2012 was the first time Hanigan played over 91 games and Mesoraco is still sitting behind him with a power stroke that would fit nicely in the cozy Great American Ballpark.
Honorable mention: Jesus Montero, Seattle Mariners
First Base Chris Carter, Houston Astros
In his first stretch of meaningful playing time, Chris Carter hit 16 HR and added 12 doubles and 39 walks in just 67 games.
Between 2007 and 2010, when he played four full seasons in the minors, Carter never fell short of 25 HR, 90 RBI or 80 R. He now takes over at first base for an Astros team with no reason not to give him a full season's worth of at bats.
Carter is being taken in the closing rounds, if at all, in most fantasy drafts and he is worth a strong look as a backup corner infielder, with 30 HR upside. While his average will not help you, he walks enough to keep a high on base percentage as well.
Honorable Mention: Brandon Moss, Oakland A's
Second Base Dustin Ackley, Seattle Mariners
Your second base breakout candidate this season is... Gordon Beckham! Actually, it seems the ship has sailed on the former top prospect. And Dustin Ackley may find himself in the same class if he cannot emerge this season.
Not only did Seattle move in the fences at SafeCo, but they added Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse. Teammate Jesus Montero ,who was a strong candidate for the catcher spot on this list, is likely to take another step forward and the Mariners offense is suddenly not terrible behind Ackley.
If Ackley can pretend 2012 never happened (average dropped 47 points and OBP dropped 54 points from 2011), he could be a .270 hitter with 15 HR, 15 SB and potentially 90 runs scored.
Honorable Mention: Jedd Gyorko, San Diego Padres
Shortstop Jed Lowrie, Oakland A's
Jed Lowrie hit 16 HR in 97 games in 2012, playing a career-high 97 games. And therein lies the problem. Lowrie has struggled to stay healthy, similar to a very reasonably comparison in Baltimore, JJ Hardy.
Hardy's career slashline of .259/.314/.427 closely resembles Lowrie's .250/.326/.417. Since 2007, Hardy has four seasons in which he played over 120 games, and in those seasons, he has reached 20 HR, 65 RBi and 75 R. There is no reason to doubt Lowrie's ability to match (or better) those numbers if he can stay healthy.
Lowrie can be had very late in drafts and goes into 2013 with the A's starting job and a clean bill of health. While he is not to be relied upon as one's starting shortstop, draft him as a middle-infielder or backup shortstop and beware you might have found 25 HR with 80 RBI and R from a power-bereft position.
Third Base Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals
Some might say Mike Moustakas has already emerged. He produced 20 HR, 73 RBI and scored 69 R in 2012, but the former top ten prospect is ready to erupt as a top ten fantasy option at his position.
No one should draft based on spring training performance, but when a 24-year-old who produced solid numbers in his first full season but was projected for stardom hits .455 with an .800 SLG in 21 spring games, it is impossible not to get excited.
Beware the temptation to reach too much. Moustakas can be had in round 15 or later, so be ready to wait, but also be ready to pounce when the value is right. Expect .270, with 25 HR and 80 RBI and R. But know you might get .300, 30, 100 and 90.
Honorable Mention: Will Middlebrooks, Boston Red Sox
Outfield Domonic Brown, Philadelphia Phillies
Domonic Brown is only 25 years old but feels like he has been a "top prospect" for a long time. In fact, he has played exactly 56 games in each of the last two seasons, with another 35 in 2010. He is a career .236 hitter and has never been given the Phillies' confidence.
Now, they have no choice. With Shane Victorino, Juan Pierre and Hunter Pence all playing elsewhere, and Delmon Young likely to start the season on the DL, Brown came into spring training with a chance to earn a job. He has batted .389 with seven home runs and 22 R in 24 games.
Brown appears locked into the left field job to start the regular season and, while his "elite prospect" star has faded, the potential remains.
Honorable Mention: Colby Rasmus (like Brown, I'm giving Rasmus one more chance)
Starting Pitcher Derek Holland, Texas Rangers
It appeared Derek Holland had emerged in 2011, winning 16 games with a 3.95 ERA and 7.4 K/9. Oddly enough, all of his ratios improved in 2012, but the ERA jumped all the way to 4.67.
Holland's BB/9 dropped from 3.0 in 2011 to 2.7 in 2012, his WHIP fell from 1.354 to 1.221, opponents batting average dropped from .262 to .243 and his K/9 was an identical 7.4. He did allow 10 more home runs in 22.2 less innings.
Holland's 5.55 home ERA last year (3.65 on the road) caps his ceiling because Arlington will always be a hitter's park, but Holland's surface numbers have depressed his draft value. He is going outside the top 180 picks according to ESPN's current live draft results. He may never be a Cy Young, but he's a potential ace available at a spot-starter's price.
Honorable Mentions: Jeff Samardzija, Chicago Cubs; Tommy Hanson, Los Angeles Angels; Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves
Relief Pitcher Bruce Rondon, Detroit Tigers
Bruce Rondon got off to a terrible start this spring after Manager Jim Leyland said he liked Rondon's talent and he would be given a shot to close. While the Tigers let closer Jose Valverde walk in free agency after last season, Rondon had five walks and eight strikeouts in 4.2 innings but has since rebounded. He has eight strikeouts and only two walks in his last six innings.
Detroit does have other options in house, with Phil Coke and Joaquin Benoit immediately behind him and Octavio Dotel also in the pen with closer experience. But after posting Kimbrel-esque K/9 of 13.7 and 11.2 each of the last two seasons, it seems the Tigers will at least give him enough chances to find his control.
Rondon is especially intriguing to the type of fantasy owner who prefers to pass on the top closer options and grab breakout candidates or skilled closers on bad teams late in drafts. If he figures out where the plate is, he is likely to find plenty of opportunities to surpass 30 saves with elite strikeout numbers.
Honorable Mention: Kyuji Fujikawa, Chicago Cubs; Jake McGee, Tampa Bay Rays