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The wait is finally over – spring training is in full swing. And what better way to celebrate the advent of draft season than to profile potential breakouts and busts?

If you've been following my ongoing series, I've been taking a look at both NL and AL players who may breakout, bounce back, bust or regress in 2016. Today I will take a look at three National League outfielders who may disappoint for fantasy baseball owners.

Be sure to also head over to our fantasy baseball rankings assistant. We recently launched this handy new rankings tool - you can easily filter, sort, and export all sorts of rankings for mixed leagues, AL/NL only, top prospects, dynasty formats, keeper values and more! It's all in one place, and all free.

2016 NL Outfielder Bust Candidates

Christian Yelich

If you’ll indulge me. One of these is Yelich’s career line, prorated to 550 plate appearances. The other lines were the 2015 performances of Billy Burns and Ender Inciarte. They’re pretty much indistinguishable in terms of overall value, aren’t they?

AVG HR R RBI SB
Player A .294 5 70 42 26
Player B .290 8 72 43 18
Player C .303 6 73 45 21

 
Well, Yelich is being drafted 40 and 70 picks earlier than the other two, respectively. Our rankings show a similar bias, as we have Yelich as a top-30 outfielder with Burns and Inciarte just outside the top 50.

It’s understandable. Yelich is the youngest and most polished hitter of the three. He has the best pedrigee, the longest track record, and holds the most upside. Yelich’s physical gifts make the potential of developing power a tantalizing prospect, but his batted ball profile is so overwhelmingly ground ball heavy. There’s no guarantee that he’ll start elevating the ball more or, if he does, that his average won’t take a hit. Yelich is one of 36 qualified hitters over the past two seasons to post a K% higher than 20%. (The only guy that group who hit fewer homers, by the way: Austin Jackson.)

We saw a high-average, high-contact hitter sell out for power to great effect last season. But Matt Carpenter’s transformation was remarkable precisely because it’s a rare thing to see, and his swinging strike rate more than doubled – to 7.7%, lower than Yelich’s 8.1% career mark. Yelich is a talented hitter, no doubt, but don't overpay for adjustments he hasn't yet proven capable of making.

 

Billy Hamilton

Hamilton is the Bizarro Yelich, hitting more fliers than grounders when he should be doing the exact opposite. A Billy Hamilton with Yelich’s fondness for worm-burning would be a terrifying prospect for opposing pitchers and a tremendous boon to fantasy owners. Alas, he’s yet to make the adjustment, and until he does, he shouldn’t be considered a top-30 outfielder. If you strip out mine and Nick Mariano’s similarly bearish ranks, that’s where he’d be on our staff board.

I’d much rather have Burns or Delino Deshields, each of whom can be had over 100 picks later than the Hamburglar. (Has anyone ever called Billy Hamilton that before? If not, I have absolutely no idea why.) Both can provide most of the steals that you’ll get from Hamilton, without straight up murdering you in the other categories.  As with Yelich, it’s tempting to think about Hamilton’s potential, but in two full seasons he hasn’t yet figured out how to live up to that.

 

Yoenis Cespedes

Cespedes had already put together three solid seasons prior to last year, producing an average 5x5 line of .263/24/78/87/10. In 2015, he was one of the best players in baseball, both real and fantasy. While Cespedes did make harder contact and trim his pop-up rate, expecting a repeat of his career year seems like a stretch. His HR/FB% nearly doubled from the previous season and was six points higher than his career mark heading into the season. It’s true that he added nearly 20 feet to his average batted ball distance, but he’d posted a similar mark in 2013 and only managed 26 homers.

Steamer has similar projections for Cespedes and former A’s teammate Josh Reddick, but Cespedes is being drafted about 160 picks earlier. His walk rate, never stellar, has dropped steadily each year and he’s just 21-for-35 in stolen base attempts over the last three seasons. In the early rounds, you want someone who contributes in all categories or is dominant in a few of them. Cespedes doesn’t fit into either category unless he repeats last season, and the smart money says he won’t.

 

The Bottom Line

My quarrels with Yelich and Cespedes are primarily founded in price tags, while I harbor legitimate doubts as to Hamilton's long-term viability. But even in his case, it's not hard to imagine a world in which he starts really putting it together. At the end of the day, though, the ideal outcomes for all three aren't likely enough to justify the expectant investments.

 

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