The age of 27 has often been thought of as a baseball player’s peak, and the last chance for a guy who has yet to truly break out. There’s probably not much to the idea that there’s something magical about the age of 27, but certainly the chances for a guy to truly break out diminish as he gets older.
As many players come up and make an impact much younger than 27, some of these guys that have been around the league for a few years or took a little longer to come up to the bigs tend to fly under the fantasy radar. Last year’s crop of age-27 breakouts included Rick Porcello and, to a lesser extent, Sam Dyson and Jedd Gyorko. Are there fantasy breakouts like that in this year’s crop of age-27 big leaguers?
This year's list of age-27 breakouts include a former first round draft pick, a starter-turned-reliever and a young speedster ready to rack up some fantasy stats. Here are some guys whose age-27 seasons might be the turning point for them in 2017.Editor's note: Get 50% off any MLB Premium Pass. Draft guide, cheat sheets, 200 days of DFS access, and over 20 premium tools. Dominate your leagues all year long! Sign Up Now!
2017 27-Year-Old Breakouts
C.J. Cron, Los Angeles Angels
It’s easy for lower-tier first basemen to get overshadowed in fantasy baseball, with the position being the home of mashers like Paul Goldschmidt and Mark Trumbo. Cron is one of those players – he’s shown consistency and a good amount of power in his first three years in the bigs, but not enough to generate much fantasy buzz. As he enters his age-27 season, however, things look like they could start to turn for the Angels’ first baseman.
Cron has hit 16 home runs each of the last two seasons, but last season he cut down his strikeout rate and walked more, and reached a career high in doubles with 25. This was all reflected in increased line drive, fly ball and hard hit contact rates, though his HR/FB rate dropped from 14.4 percent in 2015 to 12.1 in 2016. If he continues at the higher fly ball and hard hit contact rates in 2017, it’s reasonable to expect more of those fly balls to leave the yard, turning some of those doubles into homers.
The main barrier for Cron will be getting an adequate number of at-bats. He hasn’t played in more than 116 games in a season in his big league career. However, he does not appear to be in danger of being platooned – the right-handed hitter has hit righties better in his career than lefties. The injury that cost him a significant amount of time last year was not a chronic problem but a fractured hand from a hit-by-pitch. He also had surgery over the winter to repair a damaged thumb from the facture. If he can get on the field on a more everyday basis in 2017, fantasy owners who snag him in the later rounds after the big names go off the board could be rewarded with a breakout season from Cron.
Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds
When the Reds signed Cuban righty Raisel Iglesias to a $27 million contract back in 2014, most people probably thought we’d be talking about a potential breakout starter rather than a reliever, but here we are. After a season plus as a starter and a shoulder injury that cost him nearly two months on the D.L., Iglesias was moved to the bullpen midway through last season, and the results were intriguing. From June on, he had a 1.98 ERA in 50 innings out of the bullpen, starting out as a setup man but taking over the closer role by mid-August. He ended up finishing 15 games and picking up five saves, while posting a K/9 of 9.8 and keeping the ball in the yard with a HR/9 rate of 0.5 as a reliever.
Fantasy owners can expect Iglesias, who turned 27 over the winter, to be in the mix for the closer gig in Cincinnati this season, and getting this role could go a long way to determining his fantasy value. However, if he ends up in a dreaded closer-by-committee with Tony Cingrani and Drew Storen, all hope is not lost. He’s a quality setup man that will provide holds as well as good strikeout numbers, and his previous stint as a starter should open up the possibility of him logging more than one inning of relief some games, as he did 17 times in 2016. That means more strikeouts for the fantasy stats, but he’s really going to need to earn that primary closer job for a true breakout in 2017.
Cesar Hernandez, Philadelphia Phillies
Phillies second baseman Cesar Hernandez made himself known to fantasy owners in 2016 by tying for the MLB lead in triples with 11. He also had a career high .294 batting average, .371 OBP, and scored 67 runs, logging nearly half of his plate appearances from the leadoff spot. He also swiped 17 bags, though his steal rate left much to be desired as he was gunned attempting to steal 13 times. So what does it all mean for 2017?
One area where Hernandez, who will turn 27 in May, showed good improvement in 2016 was his walk rate. He walked in just 8.8 percent of his plate appearances in 2015, but got that rate up to 10.6 percent in 2016. And most of that was on the strength of adjustments and increased plate discipline in the second half of the season, as he walked at just a 5.5 percent rate in the first half but improved that rate to 15.7 in the second half of the season. His career highs in average and OBP were also aided by some BABIP luck (.363), but his career average BABIP is .352, which makes complete sense for a speedster who hits the ball on the ground. Over his career, Hernandez has generated infield hits off 8.2 percent of the balls he has hit on the ground, which will certainly result in a higher BABIP.
If Hernandez is going to have a breakout season in 2017, however, he’s going to have to have to both improve his steal rate and attempt to steal more often. He has reported to spring training camp with more muscle this season and a stated goal to swipe 30 to 40 bags and is working with base-running coaches to improve this part of his game. Guys often come into spring training with lofty goals, but given the improvements he showed last season and his game-changing speed, I tend to believe that he can do it.