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Fantasy Baseball Breakout Hitters for 2023

Miguel Vargas - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, MLB Prospects

It's draft season! That means it's time to start locking down the players we want in the middle and later rounds of the draft. Everybody wants to find those breakout players that smash their draft value by several rounds, so that's the goal of what we're trying to do here today.

I've already covered my breakout pitchers, you can check that out here if you haven't seen it already.

Let's look at last year's breakout hitters and see what we can learn - and then we'll jump into the possible bust-outs for 2023!

Be sure to check all of our fantasy baseball lineup tools and weekly lineup resources:

 

Last Year's Breakouts

By my calculations, here are the players that best fit the "breakout" mold last season - basically it was just the hitters that beat their ADP by the largest margin.

Most of this list was younger and/or players we hadn't seen a ton from in the Major Leagues up to that point. That is typically the kind of player we're looking for since those guys have much more opportunity to breakout. If you've been in the league for a few years, we can most of the time know who you are and generally know your floor and ceiling. With younger players, we know less about that - and that gives the player a big chance to really break out.

The exceptions to the rule above are Dansby Swanson, who benefited by working his way to the top of the lineup and stealing more bases than he had in the past, and Brandon Drury - who change his approach a bit and took advantage of Great American Ballpark and a little bit of good luck to hit a bunch of homers early on. He was not very good after exiting Cincinnati, but he had done more than enough by August to qualify as a breakout.

We can cut off the trip down memory lane now, let's talk about some potential 2023 hitter breakouts!

 

2023 Fantasy Baseball Breakouts

Jazz Chisholm Jr., Miami Marlins

We are going to start at the top of the draft board and work our way downwards. The first breakout candidate I spot on this year's ADP list is Jazz Chisholm Jr., and certainly, I am not alone on this call - but maybe I can make the case better than everyone else!

What does a fantasy baseball stud hitter look like? With some exceptions, the first round of drafts is usually flooded with hitters projected for 25+ homers and 20+ steals along with a strong batting average. That is how Jose Ramirez, Trea Turner, Mookie Betts, and the like have consistently ended up around the first round every year.

I think Jazz can enter that conversation in 2023. We have already seen him steal a bunch of bags:

Back-to-back years with a 30+ steal pace, and now we have the rule changes in place for 2023 which will make 30 steals even easier to reach.

What we haven't seen from him is that big home run season. He played closed to a full season in 2021 but managed just 19 homers, a disappointing home run rate. Last season, however, the home run rate really ballooned up but unfortunately, his season ended quite early due to injury.

What we saw in that short sample, however, was really appealing.

Stat 2021 2022
K% 28.6% 27.4%
Brl% 9.0% 16.6%
Velo 89.3 89.2
Angle 8.6 14.3

It was just 241 plate appearances in 2022, but if you're talking about granular, controlled statistics like launch angle - that's more than enough to take it seriously. What we see there is a serious improvement in the launch angle. The sweet spot for the average launch angle is between 10 and 25 degrees. An elite average exit velocity is above 92 miles per hour, so Jazz does come up a bit short there - but 89 is nothing to sneeze at.

If we look at similar hitters based on that launch profile, we see that the average barrel rate from that group is 9.3%. Note that Jazz's 16.6% barrel rate is well above that - and yeah, that was probably a bit of an overperformance. But with health, and another year of age and improvement - it's not crazy to think he can eclipse a 10% barrel rate next year, which should profile to around 25 homers.

So we have a guy that should almost be expected to steal 30 bases that I think can also hit 25 homers. The batting average is a bit more in flux since he does have the high strikeout rate you see there, but the contact and speed should generate a high BABIP.

If Jazz stays healthy, I think he easily has a 20-20 season with a batting average above .250, I would almost consider that a floor - and that's a very good fantasy player. Draft him while he's still relatively cheap!

 

Oneil Cruz, Pittsburgh Pirates

Another easy one! No player in the whole league has Cruz's raw ability. He hit the hardest ball in Statcast history last year (122.4 miles per hour), and he posted the 14th-highest maximum sprint speed in the league.

If we look at all of the data from 2021 and 2022, Cruz has the 14th-best barrel rate of 16.1%.

I have probably said enough about how well Cruz hits the ball and how fast he is - pretty much everybody knows that. The elephant in the room is the 35% strikeout rate. We can't really find comps for Cruz, because they don't exist, but it's fair to say that a strikeout rate in the mid-thirties is quite a problem. The good news is that he's young and talented enough to make a good step forward in that category with experience, and we saw a little bit of that late last year:

Month K%
Jun-Jul 34.6%
Aug 42.3%
Sep-Oct 29.8%

There has been some other talk on the advanced metrics that show Cruz improving his swing decisions and approach in September as well, take it or leave it - but it's there. The reason I'm a believer in Cruz here is that I don't think it will take all that much strikeout improvement for him to be a fantasy stud. I think he can go for a 30% K% and still have a season that puts him easily in the top 25 hitters. He could still hit 30 bombs and steal 20 bases with that - and the BABIP is likely to be high with him as well given the power and speed.

Cruz isn't all that cheap, but he is a game-breaking player and very well might be a first-round pick next year.

 

Ryan Mountcastle, Baltimore Orioles

We have this immense problem caused by the Orioles last year with the left field wall just being as bad as it can get for a guy like Mountcastle.

Mountcastle had an expected home run count over 30 in eight of the league's 30 stadiums. Some of the highest and lowest:

  • Cincinnati: 40
  • Houston: 36
  • Colorado: 36
  • ~~~~~~~
  • Pittsburgh: 24
  • Baltimore: 23
  • Kansas City: 22
  • St. Louis: 22
  • Detroit: 21

Only three parks appear worse for his launch profile, and it's possible that Detroit even surpasses Baltimore this year with the changes they've made.

Mountcastle's raw power production is among the league's top players, here are some stats and ranks on him:

Stat Value Lg Rank
Brl% 15% 7th
Brl/PA 10% 6th
xwOBACON .456 8th

All of that and just 22 homers to show for it. Alex Bregman hit more homers than him with half the barrel rate (7.3%).

He's not changing teams, the park isn't changing, so how can I call him a breakout? I don't know, maybe I shouldn't! But I can't ignore these statistics. If Mountcastle were on the Reds right now, he would be a third-round pick. He has improved every year of his young career and is ready to enter his age-26 season - so there's probably even another level for him to reach.

I suppose we're hoping that he hits those barrels harder this year. There is some room for growth there as his barrels averaged 105.4 miles per hour - only good for the 55th-best mark in baseball. If he can push into the top 30 (why can't he with the numbers we see above), that will help a lot.

Another big opportunity for him would actually be to pull the ball even more, and more extremely. The worst place to hit a ball in Camden is the left-center field, which he did a lot of. If he can pull more of those barrels to the left-left field, more will find the seats.

My point is that there are ways to beat the park here, and Mounty seems to have the talent to do it. The other good news about him is that he gives you a competitive batting average and a lot of RBI with it. I think this guy is a really underrated hitter in the league, and I'm a firm believer that he can beat his draft price this year even with the continued sad news about the park factors.

 

Teoscar Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

It's probably too late for Hernandez to truly have a "break out" year, and he's another guy that is being drafted in the top 75 anyways so not a ton of room for growth on that.

However, I don't see many people talking about well Hernandez hit the ball last year. His Brl/PA of 9.7% was 12th-best in the league, and he posted another great barrel rate of 15%. He has never had trouble barreling the ball when he's making contact with a career 14.1% barrel rate and an impressive and a little bit underrated .499 career slugging percentage.

This guy isn't always talked about as one of the game's better power hitters, but it seems like he should be. The problem last year was that he lost the gains he made in the strikeout rate in 2021. Strikeouts were a huge problem for him early on, posting strikeout rates over 30% every year prior to 2021 when he made a big step forward to 25%. The 28.5% mark from 2022 is bad, no doubt, but it's still significantly better than the 31-34% mark we had seen from him prior to 2021. A 28% K% is something that we can handle provided it comes with a ton of loud contact, and Teoscar gives us that.

The reason I think he can beat his draft cost is that I think he can steal 15-20 bases this year. He has 84th-percentile sprint speed but just hasn't seemed to have a ton of interest in stealing bases in the past. That could change this year with the new rules and the new team. The bigger problem might be that he doesn't end up on first base very often, usually either striking out or hitting a ball very hard and not walking much at all (6% BB%). So my 15-20 steal hope might go unanswered, but the guy at the very least does have the foot speed.

T-Mobile Park is neutral for right-handed power. That's probably still a downgrade from Rogers Centre, but it's not moving the needle a ton. I like Teoscar for where he goes, and I think there is significantly more upside than he's given credit for. I think the ceiling is 30 homers, 100 RBI, 15 steals, and a .275 batting average - that's pretty darn close to first-round production.

 

Seiya Suzuki, Chicago Cubs

On May 10th, Suzuki sustained the first injury of his season - an ankle issue. Prior to that day, Suzuki was slashing a very strong .247/.349/.473 with a 14.5% Brl% and a .401 xwOBACON. He avoided the IL, but struggled a bit through May and then hit the IL in late May with a finger issue. If we look at what he did from July 1 on, presumedly after he recovered from those injuries - Suzuki slashed another strong line of .271/.30/.434 with a 10.1% Brl% and a much improved 21.6% strikeout rate.

I can't really pretend to know where the strikeout rate will settle in 2023, we don't have much data on him given that he came from overseas and we didn't even see a full season from him last year. We do know that he has Major League power with a good enough 89.1 mile-per-hour average exit velocity, and the season-long 11% barrel rate we saw.

If he can settle into a K% around 24% and a double-digit barrel rate, he should be flirting with 25-30 homers. The guy also hit .262 in his first go-around and attempted 14 steals. The Cubs lineup has improved this year, and Suzuki should be in the middle of it in 2023 - and I think a 30-20-.260 season is in the range of outcomes here, I'm excited to draft for his sophomore year.

 

Bryan De La Cruz, Miami Marlins

NOTE: This is a direct copy-paste from an article I wrote earlier this offseason about the toughest players to rank.

De La Cruz won plenty of people their leagues last year by slashing .388/.419/.718 with six homers and 22 RBI in September (93 PA). However, that hot finish was a far cry from his season line of .252/.294/.432 and 13 homers.

So who is the real De La Cruz? He's 26 years old and has been in professional baseball since 2014 when he joined the Astros organization as a 17-year-old. He struggled to work his way up the ladder for several years there, but in 2021 he broke through and finally made his way onto a Major League roster with Miami (it's a little easier to make the Marlins big league team than the Astros, after all). In 219 PAs in 2021, he slashed a decent .296/.356/.427 with five homers and one steal. He struck out 24% of the time, a slightly worse-than-average number, and had a low 5.4% barrel rate. So not a ton of power and not even a stand-out in putting balls in play.

In 2022, however, he looked like a different player. He put up an 11.9% barrel rate with a 47% hard-hit rate and kept the strikeout rate modest at 25%. Even if we take out that good September he had, he still showed a 9.7% barrel rate with a 45% hard-hit rate – he was hitting the ball very hard all year long. He also provided a very appealing launch angle profile with a 42.4% GB%, a 30.5% LD%, and a 24.7% FB%.

When you're looking at these histograms, you really want to see the high bars around the 20-30 range, and we almost see that here with De La Cruz. His angle profile plays more toward a line-drive hitter than a fly-ball hitter, which means fewer homers – but more base hits. That gives us confidence that De La Cruz can post a good batting average.

One thing I like to do here is to look for similar hitters in Statcast history, and then see how they performed in their next season. In this case, I was looking for hitters that went for a barrel rate between 9% and 13% while keeping their strikeout rate between 24% and 28% across 350+ plate appearances. This puts De La Cruz right in the middle. I then took those hitters and checked what they did the next year, getting rid of the guys who did not reach 350 PAs in the following year. Here are the full results:

The average barrel rate in the results was 10.7% and the average K% was 24.7% – and again, this is when we look at the following year. Barrel rates and strikeout rates tend to stick around year over year; all of this is really good news for De La Cruz – and especially so when you realize that he's still just 26 years old.

Right now, my projection system is giving De La Cruz a 10.3 Brl% and a 25% strikeout rate. Given 500 plate appearances (a pretty conservative number), that turns into this season for him:

500 PA, 63 R, 18 HR, 60 RBI, 5 SB, .279 AVG

That R+RBI projection is a little bit underwhelming, but that comes from the assumption that De La Cruz only sees 500 PAs and hits #6 in the lineup (that's what Roster Resource has at this point). There are plenty of pathways to De La Cruz seeing 600+ PAs and moving up in the lineup. Over the last couple of weeks of the season, they were regularly hitting De La Cruz #3 or #4 – so they are willing to do it.

I think the floor is higher than some people might think here, and the ceiling is pretty fantastic. You could see a 70 R, 25 HR, 80 RBI, 12 SB, and .285 season from De La Cruz, and that would be a smash as his ADP  of 220.

 

Ramon Laureano, Oakland Athletics

Over the last two seasons, among hitters with at least 650 at-bats, only a dozen hitters have averaged a homer and a steal every 30 at-bats or less. A homer and steal every 30 at-bats would get you roughly to an 18-homer, 18-steal season. That alone gets you a long way toward fantasy goodness.

Since 2021, Laureano has hit 27 homers and stolen 23 bases in 687 at-bats. Of course, there's a lot of missed playing time in there due to injury and a suspension - both of which are having a big impact on fantasy stock moving forward (as well they should), but how often are we able to find a guy with locked in playing time who can go 20-20 after pick 200 in drafts?

A lot of the risk is taken away with the price, and the upside is there for Laureano. Another plus is that he is a prime candidate for the Athletics to trade away in the summer months, as he will be turning 29 on a team without many short-term hopes of competing. A trade to a competitor could be really awesome for Laureano, and it could even work as a motivating factor for him to perform well enough to get out of there and onto a playoff team.

 

Nick Gordon, Minnesota Twins

The Twins have been active this offseason, which has thrown Gordon's playing time into question at times. He's currently still holding on to the DH job, according to Roster Resource, and that assumes that Alex Kirilloff is healthy and Joey Gallo is able to keep a job as a starter. Despite the long list of viable names on the Twins roster, there are plenty of different ways for Gordon to find playing time especially given that he's a utility man defensively.

The reason to be excited about his offense is that he had a pretty sweet 45% hard-hit rate last year with a useful 23.8% strikeout rate - and he did that with a low 42% GB%. Only 17 hitters in the league had a K% under 24% with a hard-hit rate of 45% or better and a ground-ball rate under 45%. Most of those other names are stud hitters, so it's an intriguing power profile.

Gordon also has some speed (61st percentile). In 2021, he attempted 11 steals in just 216 PA, and then last year, he attempted 10 more in 443 PA. With the new rules and a starting job, I think Gordon can be a 20-steal guy.

The dual position eligibility is awesome to have as well, so I'm very much interested in drafting Nick Gordon this year.

Now, let's head off into ROOKIE LAND. The next several players will be guys that were rookies last year or will be rookies this year if they get enough Major League run.

 

2023 Rookie Breakouts

Corbin Carroll, Arizona Diamondbacks

Carroll isn't getting by many people, but just in case you're in a pretty non-serious league, know that Carroll is one of the top breakout potentials of the season. He was the game's top prospect on many lists, he is legitimately the fastest player in the league, and he had an elite minor league season last year.

In 557 plate appearances in the minors, he slashed .296/.406/.586 with 28 homers and 33 steals - a ridiculous amount of production. The power didn't show up in the Majors, but the smart money is that it comes sooner or later as he did show off a max exit velocity of 112.2 in the minors last year with a strong enough average of 89.5 miles per hour. He may fall shy of 20 homers this season, but he'll probably make up for that with the steals, and the upside is true first-round production. He might not be a guy worth a top 50 pick right now, but if he falls any further than that in your league, you should be grabbing him.

 

Miguel Vargas, Los Angeles Dodgers

Vargas spent most of his season last year in the Pacific Coast League, where we have full Statcast data. That allows me to tell you this:

That translated to a .307/.406/.519 line with 18 homers and 16 steals in 525 plate appearances.

Vargas did not perform well in his short time in the Majors (50 PA, .170/.200/.255, 1 HR, 1 SB), but the skills are pretty undeniable. You love to see a young player on the Dodgers get a chance - as they tend to get the most out of their prospects, and not many players come through the system with as much talent as Vargas, so I'm confident in calling him a breakout player for 2023.

 

James Outman, Los Angeles Dodgers

The future of the Dodgers lineup may heavily involve Vargas and Outman, and we should get a healthy helping of them this year. Outman does not have Vargas' elite contact ability, but it was still strong in the minors at 73.4%. What he does have that few prospects do is elite raw power. His max exit velocity in the minors last year was way up there at 113.2 miles per hour, and he posted an elite 15.1% Brl% (second in the PCL only to Sam Hilliard).

Having raw power does not always translate to big league success, because there is that whole problem with having to make contact first (he struck out in seven of his 16 Major League PAs) - but Outman's upside in this Dodgers lineup is too much to ignore in deep leagues right now.

 

Kyle Stowers, Baltimore Orioles

We only saw 98 plate appearances from Stowers in 2022. He earned his way to the Majors by slashing .261/.354/.528 in AAA with 19 homers in 402 plate appearances. That's a decent home run rate, but not really at the elite level you would prefer to see against minor league pitching.

We have just enough Major League data to look into his launch profile - and it's good news we find. Stowers posted an average exit velocity of 91.1 miles per hour with an average launch angle of 16 degrees. That turned into an 11.3% Brl% (league average was 7.5%) and a 7.1% Brl/PA (league average 5.1%).

As is the case with most young power hitters, Stowers struggled with the strikeout. He went down on strikes 29.6% of the time in his 98 PAs, and the contact rate doesn't give us any better news at a lowly 67.2%. We don't like to see the strikeout problems, and Stowers does not even have a definitive Major League job right now, but the kid did show some very positive power-indicator signs when putting the ball in play last year - and that's something that isn't always easy to find with young players.

It won't take much for Stowers to "break out" at his price, as a hitter who is currently going after pick 450.



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