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Fantasy owners are way too quick to cast aside players who initially underperform their talent level. It's safe to say we’re too obsessed with age-adjusted production. If a rookie shows up with a ton if hype and busts early, fantasy gamers have no problem tossing the player aside in search for a shinier untested asset.

Post-hype breakouts happen every year. Just last year we saw Byron Buxton, Luis Severino, and Raisel Iglesias take that long-awaited next step forward. This phenomenon occurs in other sports, too. Look at Nelson Agholor on the Eagles, or Tim Hardaway Jr. on the Knicks, or Nathan MacKinnon on the Avalanche. Sometimes players need time to adjust to the big leagues and develop. But when we see guys like Rhys Hoskins and Rafael Devers torch major league pitching from the get go, we set unfair minimum standards for other young players. So ask yourself this: What post-hype player do I believe in now? Did you believe in Buxton until you got caught up in the anti-Buxton frenzy after he initially underperformed? Were you one of the Severino zealots who were scared away after his paltry 2016 showing? Go ahead and whip out your truther status card and flash it for the world to see. I’m a Nomar Mazara enthusiast and I’m not afraid to say it!

Much of the reasoning behind these post-hype breakout picks rests on a few assumptions. We’re assuming that young players improve as they age. We’re assuming that a full starting workload will result in production that warrants fantasy ownership. And we assume that some semblance of age-adjusted production is invariably promising. There are serious fantasy implications at play here, so which post-hype hitters are on track to break out in 2018?

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Finally Ready for Primetime Players

Nomar Mazara (OF, TEX)

Why he’ll breakout: Mazara will have played two full major league seasons by 23 years old, his hard-contact rate improved in year two (28.7%-32.6%), his BB% improved (6.9%-8.9%), his FB% improved (29.7%-34.2%), he has 40 HR and 165 home runs through his first two seasons, Steamer predicts a huge leap in overall production, and his league-average advanced metrics profile suggests there’s a ton of room for improvement as he ages into his prime.

Mazara has had two full seasons in the show and he’s only 22. He’s been average across the board so far, but that’s encouraging for a 22-year-old hitter. His career .318 wOBA and 93 wRC+ fall right in line with league average, but as we know, players only get better as they age into their late twenties. Mazara’s hype trajectory has been weird, though. He was thrust into the bigs at a remarkably early age, proceeded to perform at a league-average level, became fantasy-viable along the way, and the Mazara hype seems to have all but died out. Is he just a boring player at this point? Are fantasy owners not seeing a whole lot of green flags in his profile?

He’s currently the #43 OF in our rankings. That’s pure post-hype value range. Mazara could very well have the biggest breakout this season, so be sure to draft him in the mid-to-late rounds of drafts.

 

Max Kepler (OF, MIN)

Why he’ll breakout: He’s just 25 years old, improved his wRC from year two to year three (51-66), owns a healthy league-average .315 wOBA for a 25 year old, strong plate discipline (career 29.6% O-Swing%, 60.8% Z-Swing%), impressive minor league resume suggests career .239 BA will rise, promising 2018 Steamer projections, his current 267 ADP offers fantasy owners a tremendous value proposition.

Kepler was pretty hot commodity heading into 2017. He had boom candidate written all over him. That breakout did not occur, so that’s why we’re back to where we were with Kepler last offseason, but with a lower ADP and tempered expectations.

You’re thinking what I’m thinking, aren’t you? This is the perfect buy-low opportunity. To be fair to Kepler, he did develop a bit in his third year (66 wRC improved, .315 wOBA is a career-high), but those slight improvements are really just a result of more plate appearances experience. Kepler’s plate discipline continues to improve and his minor league numbers paint the picture of a high average bat who can get on base at a high rate.

If Kepler starts swinging at more pitches in the zone his batting average and on-base percentage will rise to the .250-.260 range. He swings at fewer pitches in the zone compared to the rest of the league, but his 79.7% zone contact rate is right in line with the league-average. Kepler has a disciplined approach at the dish and he needs to start swinging at more hittable pitches. When he’s swinging at pitches in the zone he’s making contact. He needs to do that more.

Kepler’s current Rotoballer ranking is probably the lowest it will be for a long time. Don’t hesitate to take him in the waning rounds. A full season with at least a .260 BA and 20 HR is absolutely within Kepler’s range of outcomes.

 

Raimel Tapia (OF, COL)

Why he’ll breakout: Tapia simply gets hits, with a high average and speed combination that will always have a spot on a fantasy roster, .322 wOBA in 171 PA in 2017, hit .467 at home against RHP in 2017, minor league average of .148 wRC+, an injury-prone Rockies outfield will open up tons of opportunities for Tapia in 2018.

This is obviously a deep-league breakout projection as Tapia is toeing the line between Triple-A and a full-time spot in Colorado. All he did last season was routinely hit for average, especially at home against righties. Why can't Tapia take off in 2018? Young players who hit like Tapia are few and far between. If you're in a dynasty league, make sure you inquire about Tapia's availability. His tendency to stack hits against major league pitching at an young age is remarkably impressive. 

The sample size is small, sure, but his minor league track record shows nothing but consistently high batting averages and stolen base rates. Tapia will have a competition for a starting role in Colorado, but do you really expect David Dahl and Ian Desmond to stay healthy while Ryan McMahon holds down the first base job all year? Don't be surprised when he drastically outperforms his 2018 ADP.

 

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