I am a total fantasy geek. I drafted two 25-man rosters in the span of 48 hours last week and loved every minute of it. It’s primarily because my girlfriend watches the corniest movies in the world (Pizza My Heart) and the most bizarre T.V. shows (The Lying Game. Have you seen this show? It is a college murder mystery that was so bad that it was cancelled after two seasons AND YOU NEVER FOUND OUT WHO THE MURDERER WAS! But I digress…). This in turn leaves me a lot of time to endlessly research every last player. When the rest of my fantasy compadres are completely hammered or falling asleep in the mid to late rounds, I’m just getting started.
That being said, I have compiled a list of five breakout stars for the 2014 season. I don’t use the term sleeper anymore. That concept was created years ago when there was pretty much one fantasy magazine and these players were truly under the radar. Now there are like 50 fantasy magazines calling the same players sleepers. Then there are thousands of online sites calling that same player a sleeper. Well, how are people sleeping on a player that thousands of different sources just told them about? In this age of technology and fantasy junkie mags, the sleeper, dear reader, is dead.
You need to look for guys who are ready to breakout. What defines a breakout? Too many fantasy “experts” label breakout players as players that are simply expected to have big years. Take Freddie Freeman, for example. I think he is about to have a monster season, one that he sets new career highs across the board and takes home the NL MVP. He is not a breakout candidate, however, because last season he hit .319 with 23 HRs and 109 RBI. Do I think he surpasses all those numbers this year? I sure do. His 2013 numbers, however, already rank him pretty high amongst fantasy first baseman. He isn’t breaking out, he’s getting better and what he already does very well.
Nor should comebacks be considered a breakout season (and yes, I have seen some people do this). Albert Pujols is not a sleeper, nor is he having a breakout season if he bounces back from that God awful pile of crap he has produced the last two seasons. He will simply be Pujols being Pujols again. The same can be said for the Rays’ young hurler, Alex Cobb. Yes, his season was cut short by that frightening line drive come-backer, but last season was his breakout. If you were lucky enough to get Cobb in the mid or late rounds of your draft, please invite me to your league in the comment section below.
Simply put, a breakout star has to have a season that will rank the player in both fantasy and reality either a Top Ten position player or a Top 20 pitcher. A breakout season has to be one that either makes said player a keeper or an early round draft pick the next season. So without further ado, here are my:
FIVE BREAKOUT STARS FOR THE 2014 MLB SEASON:
5. Masahiro Tanaka, pitcher, New York Yankees. Most of you know I am a Yankee fan. Most of you also know I am the featured columnist for YanksGoYard.com. To say that I have read my fair share of Tanaka reports is an understatement. The beauty of Tanaka is that he doesn’t come with high expectations. Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman said that he projected him as nothing more than a middle-of-the-rotation type of pitcher. Then spring training started. Now, I am fully aware that spring training stats are about as reliable as an Atlanta weatherman, but Tanaka dominated. Going 2-0 with a 2.14 ERA is nice, but it’s the peripherals that are really striking: 26 Ks in just 21 innings while allowing only 3 walks, a .190 opponents batting average, and a 0.86 WHIP. That’s the stuff from which aces are made. He’s currently the 4th pitcher in the Yankees rotation which means he is going to have very favorable match-ups with a pretty stout line-up behind him.
Projections: 17-8, 3.19 ERA, 189 Ks
4. Yan Gomes, catcher, Cleveland Indians. Gomes has been stuck behind Carlos Santana and his Evil Ways at catcher for the past two seasons, but his patience has paid off. Santana has made the Soul Sacrifice and moved to third base for the 2014 season. Now Gomes will be the everyday catcher and we can all rejoice a collective Oye Como Va! (Ok, I’m done with the Santana references.) Gomes hit .294 with 11 HRs last season in only 293 at bats, so we’ve seen that he is more than capable of handling big league pitching. His biggest knock is that he struggles against righties, so his batting average may take a slight dip with more at bats, but his power is sure to increase. Expect Gomes to finish in the Top 10 of fantasy catchers this season.
Projections: .276, 21 HRs, 68 RBI
3. Michael Wacha, pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals. The question isn’t if, but when Michael Wacha will win the Cy Young Award. He is Adam Wainwright Part Deux with the luxury of having Wainwright El Uno around to mentor him. After putting up sexy numbers in his brief regular season stint (4 wins, 2.78 ERA, and 65 Ks over 64.2 innings), Wacha, like Wainwright in ’06, made a name for himself in last year’s playoffs. He ran into some trouble against the Red Sox in the World Series but still put up a dazzling 4-1 record behind a 2.64 ERA with 33 Ks over 30.2 post season innings. I am fully aware that fantasy “experts” never judge a player on such a small sample size, but Wacha did this on the biggest stage against some powerful line-ups. He is also on the St. Louis Cardinals who, in case you haven’t been paying attention, are a pitching factory that win a lot of games. Wacha has the goods to keep the Cards in ball games even on his bad days without having the pressure of being the ace of the staff.
Projections: 17-6, 2.93 ERA, 193 Ks
2. Sonny Gray, pitcher, Oakland A’s. Gray put up fantastic numbers in his first career big league stint last season. (5 wins, 2.67 ERA, 67 Ks in 64 IPs). Oakland’s Opening Day starter, Jarrod Parker, went down for the year this spring and Gray now has to step up and become the ace of the A’s staff in his first full season. Gray, mainly because of his short stature, has been compared to the likes of Tim Hudson and Roy Oswalt. It is also because, like Hudson and Oswalt, players and coaches have raved how Gray not only has the physical ability to pitch, but he is mentally years ahead of the game. Like Wacha and the Cardinals, the A’s produce stud pitchers. It’s just what they do. There is no reason to believe it stops with the GRAYtness.
Projections: 19-9, 2.87 ERA, 178 Ks
1. Eric Hosmer, first baseman, Kansas City Royals. If you read my preseason predictions, you are well aware that I believe this is the year the Royals return to baseball relevance. Their success rests largely on their number three hitter. Hosmer has teased us over the past three seasons with marginal stats for a first baseman, averaging a .277 BA, 17 HRs, and 72 RBI. This year, he is surrounded by the best line-up of his 4-year tenure and should have a lot of opportunities to put up MVP numbers. He dealt with a rotator cuff injury for most of 2012 and then the first half of last season. When he was fully healthy and adjusted his swing, he finished the season batting .323 over the second half. He has also recorded double-digit stolen bases every year of his career, which is very rare at his position. Hosmer is a patient, contact hitter with strength and his power numbers will only increase as he matures. He is in for a monster season.
Projections: .313, 31 HRs, 106 RBI
Honorable Mentions: Anthony Rendon, 2B, Washington Nationals, Brad Miller, SS, Seattle Mariners, and Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies.
I hope you got a few of these guys on your team, especially if you are in a keeper league like myself. Until next time, folks, let’s go Yankees!