BATTERS: 2018 Sleepers

This column will help you target batters who may be undervalued heading into draft day and have the potential to take a significant step forward in 2018. In many leagues, they can be considered breakout targets.

Let's find them by looking at highly-skilled bats who earned modest value in 2017.

Here is a list of the most skilled bats who generated between $5 and $15 last season:

50+ BPV, 5x5 $5-15, 2017*

Name                League  Pos    bb%  ct%  Eye   PX   HctX  xPX  Spd  5x5 R$  BPV
==================  ======  =====  ===  ===  ====  ===  ====  ===  ===  ======  ===
Hoskins, Rhys           NL  LF/1B  17%  73%  0.80  196   136  178   71      $7  107
Olson, Matt             AL     1B  10%  68%  0.37  215   111  178   84      $7   93
Barnes, Austin          NL   C/2B  15%  80%  0.91  112   100   94  115      $7   77
Fowler, Dexter          NL     CF  13%  76%  0.62  124   117  150  149     $14   75
Suzuki, Kurt            NL      C   5%  86%  0.44  123   116  124   67      $9   75
Beltre, Adrian          AL     3B  10%  85%  0.75  116   124  119   64     $14   73
Gallo, Joey             AL  3B/1B  14%  56%  0.38  231   106  206  109     $13   73
Albies, Ozhaino         NL     2B   9%  83%  0.58   85   112  113  170      $7   72
Cespedes, Yoenis        NL     LF   8%  79%  0.43  134   135  159   97     $10   71
Lowrie, Jed             AL     2B  11%  82%  0.73  103   115  115  102     $14   67
Granderson, Curtis      AL     CF  13%  73%  0.58  140   104  154  114      $8   66
Lind, Adam              AL  1B/LF   9%  82%  0.60  110   131  128   89     $11   65
Flores, Wilmer          NL  3B/1B   5%  84%  0.31  111   120  127   97      $9   65
Span, Denard            AL     CF   7%  86%  0.58   84    88   74  118     $14   64
Kinsler, Ian            AL     2B   9%  84%  0.63   90   126  119  111     $13   63
Belt, Brandon           NL     1B  15%  73%  0.63  140   113  154   97      $7   63
Goodwin, Brian          NL     CF   8%  73%  0.33  155   100  133  103      $6   63
Hicks, Aaron            AL     RF  14%  78%  0.76  119    97  119   87     $11   62
Martinez, Jose          NL  1B/LF  10%  78%  0.53  115   117  123  114     $12   61
Pirela, Jose            NL     LF   8%  77%  0.38  122   106   97  121      $9   61
Joyce, Matt             AL     RF  12%  76%  0.58  136    93  127   71     $11   60
Thames, Eric            NL  1B/LF  14%  65%  0.46  174   110  162  100     $14   59
Bell, Josh              NL     1B  11%  79%  0.56  113   104   95   97     $14   57
Altherr, Aaron          NL     LF   8%  72%  0.31  147   106  115  110     $13   56
Chirinos, Robinson      AL      C  11%  70%  0.43  150   100  124  107      $6   56
McCann, Brian           AL   C/DH  10%  83%  0.66   97    99   98   81      $6   56
Morrison, Logan         AL     1B  13%  71%  0.54  156   107  144   59     $15   55
Seager, Kyle            AL     3B   9%  81%  0.53  110   117  142   79     $13   55
Brantley, Michael       AL     LF   8%  85%  0.62   81   117   74  100     $14   54
Ellsbury, Jacoby        AL     CF  10%  82%  0.65   78    87   62  129     $14   53
Walker, Neil            NL     2B  12%  80%  0.71   97   106  114   98      $8   53
D'Arnaud, Travis        NL      C   6%  83%  0.39  105   109  114   76      $5   53
Alonso, Yonder          AL     1B  13%  74%  0.58  135   108  124   68     $15   52
Solarte, Yangervis      AL 2B/SS/3B 7%  87%  0.61   82   109   98   73      $9   52
Lucroy, Jonathan        AL      C  10%  88%  0.90   59    80   46  105      $5   52
Polanco, Jorge          AL     SS   8%  84%  0.53   86    94   89   96     $13   51
Wong, Kolten            NL     2B  10%  83%  0.68   79    95   72  112     $10   51
Aoki, Norichika         NL     LF   8%  87%  0.66   66    83   43  111      $9   51
Iannetta, Chris         NL      C  12%  68%  0.43  166    98  131   68      $5   51
Frazier, Adam           NL  LF/2B   8%  86%  0.63   66    96   59  119     $11   50
Jackson, Austin         NL     CF  10%  77%  0.52  100    99   88  129     $10   50
Mahtook, Mikie          AL     CF   6%  77%  0.29   99   119  112  160      $9   50
Duda, Lucas             AL  1B/DH  12%  68%  0.44  176   116  155   35      $6   50
Mercer, Jordy           NL     SS   9%  82%  0.58   82   104   87  116      $6   50
*min 50 AB

Let's focus in on 20 guys who could be on the verge of a breakout in 2018, including some additional breakout targets not shown in the table above.
 

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Byron Buxton (CF, MIN) put up $18 of value in 5x5 leagues in 2017. He has the upside to produce a lot more. If his growth in the second half was no fluke, it could happen in 2018. Buxton posted an .892 OPS in 232 AB in the second half and increased his contact rate from a 64% ct% in the 1H to a 71% ct% in the 2H. The prudent move is to expect more ups-and-downs from him as he continues to refine his approach at the plate, but at age 24 and with a full MLB season under his belt, the light could go on for him quickly.

Matt Chapman (3B, OAK) is one of the better power breakout speculations in the game. He's not being drafted as a frontline 3B in most leagues (284 ADP), but his strong second half (14 HR in 276 ADP) gives a tease at his 30-HR upside. That production was backed by a 160 PX and 137 xPX. And his contact rate over the final three months gives hope that he can close down some of the holes in his swing in 2018: 65%, 66%, 76% ct%.

C.J. Cron (1B, TAM) is being drafted as an afterthought so far in 2018 (396 ADP), even though he has a pretty clear path to playing time with his new club. That's what happens when you've averaged 16 HR and 60 RBI each of the last three seasons. While his plate recognition still leaves a lot to be desired, Cron did finish the 2017 season with a flourish (.836 OPS in 221 AB in 2H), posting near-elite power (146 PX, 148 xPX) by hitting more flyballs than we've seen from him in the past. Cron carries some good post-hype profit potential.

Randall Grichuk (RF, TOR) is another bat who has not turned his raw tools fully into results yet. He'll have a fresh start with TOR. After struggling in the 1H of 2017, Grichuk is another bat that finished strong (18 BPV in 1H, 58 BPV in 2H). In addition, he owns a 160+ PX vs. RHers in each of the past three years. His chronic struggles to make contact will keep him a volatile producer, but his elite power skills and new HR-friendly home park make him an intriguing 2018 play, especially at his current 306 ADP.

Mikie Mahtook (CF, DET) also is being drafted as a mid-tier OF (338 ADP), and he is also one who carries more upside than you might realize. His multi-category potential was on full display in the 2H of 2017 after getting regular playing time (8 HR, 5 SB, .812 OPS in 230 AB). His combination of hard contact (119 HctX) and top-tier wheels (160 Spd) makes him a sneaky stash as your fourth or fifth OF.

Matt Olson (1B, OAK) is another young CI bat with a big power ceiling. He certainly flashed it in limited duty in 2017 (24 HR in 189 AB). Underneath that production was an excellent 93 BPV and firmly elite power skills (215 PX, 178 xPX). He absolutely killed righties too (1.081 OPS, 241 PX in 143 AB). We can't expect his crazy 41% HR/F to repeat, so his HR pace certainly will slow down. That said, power upside among young bats doesn't get much better than this.

Jorge Polanco (SS, MIN) quietly made some nice gains in 2017. He posted his first 10+ HR and 10+ SB season. And it was no fluke. His plate discipline surged (6% to 8% bb%, 81% to 84% ct%). His overall game got better in the second half, as he started to hit for more power (109 PX, 98 xPX) while improving his batting eye (0.50 Eye in 1H, 0.55 Eye in 2H). There's some sneaky 20/20 potential here.

George Springer (CF, HOU) won't be considered as a growth target in many leagues, as he's already being drafted in the top 30 of many drafts and is coming off a $23 return in 5x5 leagues. However, Springer has not reached his ceiling yet. Check out his contact rate over the last four seasons: 61%, 72%, 72%, 80% ct%. And his excellent plate skills in the 2H of 2017: 11% bb%, 86% ct%, 0.91 Eye. There's 40-HR, 20-SB upside here for 2018.

Mike Zunino (C, SEA) still has not produced his first 400+ AB season in the majors. That's likely to change in 2018. He made some nice gains in the 2H of 2017, posting stats that would have resulted in a 30-HR breakout over a full season. He increased both his walk and contact rates too. And few bats were better in September (79 BPV, 1.082 OPS in 71 AB). He also managed an .800+ OPS against both lefties and righties for the first time in his career.
 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Ozzie Albies (2B, ATL) had a really strong first two months in MLB during August and September 2017. He showed upper-tier multi-category potential at age 20 (6 HR, 8 SB in 217 AB). That production was backed by a 72 BPV, 113 xPX, and 170 Spd. He was a must-start against lefties too (.926 OPS, 1.17 Eye in 52 AB). We can't expect a full breakout until he has more seasoning under his belt, but Albies has the approach and skills to take a big step forward in 2018.

Aaron Altherr (LF, PHI) is another bat with multi-category production potential, and he carries some nice profit at his current 267 ADP. Altherr showed flashes of really good power (122 xPX in 1H) and speed (141 Spd in 2H) in 2017. He also put up an .800+ OPS and 130+ PX against both lefties and righties, making his deep struggles vR in 2016 a distant memory. Altherr carries some sneaky breakout intrigue.

Austin Barnes (C/2B, LA) put up some pedestrian surface stats in 2017 (8 HR, 38 RBI, 4 SB in 218 AB). However, his plate skills were some of the best in the game (15% bb%, 80% ct%, 0.91 Eye). He posted excellent skills early in the season (138 PX, 118 xPX, 126 Spd) before fading a little late in the season. With dual C/2B eligibility and the ability to produce BA, HR, and SB, Barnes is an interesting 2018 target.

Brandon Belt (1B, SF) won't be viewed as a breakout target in most leagues. After all, the upside he used to own isn't as attractive now that he's in his age-30 season. And the fact that he has posted between 17-18 HR in four of the last five seasons makes it seem like he doesn't own the potential for much more. That said, Belt was limited in 2017 due to a concussion issue that kept his AB below 400. He has posted an elite 150+ xPX in each of the last three seasons and has hit more flyballs the last two seasons than at any time in his career. This remains a good place to speculate on power growth.

Travis D'Arnaud (C, NYM) also has the raw power to deliver more HR than we've seen from him. He made good contact late in 2017 (85% ct% in 2H), mashes lefties (130 PX vL in '17), and we know that the bats of catchers tend to mature late. When the top frontline backstops are gone, take a look at D'Arnaud (289 ADP).

Wilmer Flores (1B/3B, NYM) has been soured on in many leagues after never grabbing hold of a full-time role and not being able to turn his prior upside into impactful results. That might be about to change in his age-26 season. Check out his PX trend over his six MLB seasons: 71, 84, 86, 108, 111 PX. And his expected power over the last three: 95, 107, 127 xPX. He also improved his flyball distance, exit velocity, and barrel rate in '17 and even ironed out some of his prior wide LH/RH splits. At age 26 and without a full-time role, Flores and his 344 ADP have more profit in 2018 than you might realize.

Rhys Hoskins (LF/1B, PHI) is being drafted as a top-50 player in 2018 drafts after the MLB splash he made following his recall in the 2H of 2017. He displayed elite power (196 PX, 178 xPX) along with good pitch recognition (17% bb%, 0.80 Eye). And he posted a 1.000+ OPS against both LHers and RHers. With dual 1B/OF eligibility and 40-HR potential, Hoskins is a legitimate breakout target.

Jose Martinez (1B/LF, STL) won't be considered a potential breakout speculation in many leagues, since he's older than most breakout targets (age 29) and does not possess their pedigree. Still, Martinez had a huge spring in 2017, and after some early so-so results, finished the season with a flourish (.980 OPS, 72 BPV in 2H). And those gains were coupled with big improvement in his plate discipline (14% bb%, 80% ct%, 0.78 Eye in 2H). Martinez has more profit potential than you might realize.

Ketel Marte (SS, ARI) is one of the better breakout targets among middle infielders. He showed excellent control of home plate in the 2H of 2017 (12% bb%, 84% ct%, 0.83 Eye). He also posted a 147 Spd that was muted by a total lack of green light (6% SBO%). There's a .280 BA and 20 SB here if he can carry his 2H surge into 2018.

Jesse Winker (RF, CIN) is another young bat being drafted as a middle-tier OF who could move into the upper-echelon of his position group in 2018. He showed some promising signs in his rookie season in 2017 (.904 OPS, 73 BPV in 121 AB). His approach at the plate was good too (11% bb%, 80% ct%, 0.63 Eye). As a groundball hitter (53/16/31 G/L/F), he'll need to get more loft in his swing to turn his raw power into HR. Still, Winker carries some breakout interest heading into his first full MLB season.

Kolten Wong (2B, STL) has been downgraded in many drafts (373 ADP) after years of not being able to earn the trust that he is a legitimate full-timer. That said, Wong's batting eye is on a steady climb up (0.25, 0.30, 0.38, 0.65, 0.68 Eye) and has posted well above-average speed in each of those five MLB seasons. He's a good post-hype play for those looking for hidden SB potential.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.