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In life, it’s important to take your victories where you can find them. Though 2018 wound up being a largely forgettable season for yours truly, the ascension of Eugenio Suarez is a feather in the ol’ cap. Suarez entered 2018 coming off the best performance of his career, having set career highs in home runs (26), runs scored (87), and runs batted in (87), as well as on-base (.367) and slugging (.461) percentages. The heightened offensive environment in 2017 rendered those counting stats less impressive; as a result, Suarez’s ADP hovered around 200, making him roughly the 20th third baseman off the board in drafts.

Looking at Suarez, however, I saw a player who had not only begun to tap into his power but had significantly improved his plate approach. In 2015, his first season in Cincinnati and first as an everyday player, he walked in just 4.3% of his plate appearances. By 2017, he had more than tripled that number. Expected to hit cleanup in the Reds’ order behind the great Joey Votto in his age-27 season, Suarez looked to have serious profit potential. I confidently asserted that he would finish as a top 10 fantasy third baseman.

He did exactly that and in the process performed beyond even my lofty expectations. One of just six third basemen to hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs, Suarez also batted a career-best .283. The underlying metrics provide plenty of support for this breakout. He enjoyed one of the largest increases in exit velocity over the prior year of any hitter, also ranking near the top in disparity between hard and soft contact. His xwOBA and xwOBA on contact both ranked in the top 10 percent of MLB, in the company of such luminaries as Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Ramirez, Alex Bregman, and Francisco Lindor. Simply put, Suarez maintained his prior gains in plate discipline while dramatically improving his contact quality.

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Buy The Breakout

Even with the consistent year-over-year improvement Suarez has demonstrated throughout his big-league career, it’s fair to ask if there is a tangible change in approach that could explain this offensive explosion.

Fortunately, there is. In reviewing video from 2017, Suarez noticed that he was starting his swing with his hands in a fairly high position. By relaxing his shoulders and bringing his arms closer to his chest, he generated a quicker and cleaner swing that seems a probable driving force beyond the higher contact quality displayed last season.

Hard as it is to believe, Suarez’s coming out party could have been even better if he hadn’t slumped late in the season. On August 4, after a two-hit night that included his 26th home run of the year, Suarez’s season line sat at .302/.385/.585, good for a .405 wOBA and 154 wRC+. Thereafter, he hit just .243/.327/.405, amounting to just a .317 wOBA and 96 wRC+.

Perhaps that late fade is to blame for the somewhat tepid ADP for Suarez in early 2019 mock drafts. Granted there remains a ton of elite talent at the hot corner, but as he enters his fourth season as a full-time player, there’s a strong chance that it will also be the fourth season where Suarez outperforms his draft price.

The disparity definitely won’t be as great as in years past, but even after a huge breakout, folks still seem to be sleeping a bit on Eugenio Suarez. Personally, I’ll be happy to snap him up in a bunch of leagues again this season.

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