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Is it Legit? Jesus Aguilar's Breakout Season

We continue with our next edition of "Is It Legit?" to discuss another surprising breakout performer from the 2018 MLB season in order to assess his value heading into 2019.

With so many players seemingly becoming fantasy baseball darlings overnight, it can be challenging to sift through the multiple hype trains and determine which players are actually expected to produce similar, or even better, numbers the following year.

Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar was another first baseman who seemed to come out of nowhere to become fantasy relevant. Aguilar mashed 35 home runs, drove in 108, scored 80 runs and slashed a masterful .274/.352/.539 with a 134 wRC+ and a 3.1 fWAR. Can he be counted on for 30+ home runs for the Brew Crew again next season? Or will he, like Eric Thames and Chris Carter before him, become the next one-hit wonder at first base in Milwaukee.

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Can Aguilar Repeat in 2019?

Jesus Aguilar was an unheralded bit player with the Cleveland Indians from 2014-2016 before having a mini-breakout in 2017 with Milwaukee, blasting 16 home runs in 311 plate appearances, good for a .240 ISO. However, he truly broke through in 2018, making his first All-Star game and blasting 35 home runs with 108 RBI, 80 runs scored, a .264 ISO and a cool .274/.352/.539 slash line.

Looking back at this breakout, it wasn't all that unpredictable. After all, an ISO jump from .240 to .264 isn't crazy, and hitting 16 home runs in 311 plate appearances does point to someone with 30+ home run power. However, some of Aguilar's most important improvements showed up in other ways, including a 2.8% increase in his walk rate (from 8.0 to 10.8) and a 4.9% drop in his strikeout rate, from an ugly 30.2% to a more palatable 25.3%.

While his plate discipline improved, Aguilar's batted ball profile didn't change all that much. He posted a very nice 44.0% hard hit rate, which is actually down slightly from the 45.2% he posted in his half season of 2017. He did make improvements on his launch angle, increasing both his line drive rate (from 21.3% to 23.7%) and his fly ball rate (37.8% to 40.9%) while drastically lowering the number of ground balls hit. For a player with limited speed and big-time raw power, the more balls he can lift in the air the better.

So while some of Aguilar's profile looks similar - what we have here is a player who struck out less, drew more walks, hit more fly balls and line drives, and maintained elite exit velocity rates. That, to me, is a legitimate change that points to more success next season.

I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that Aguilar's numbers did drop off in the second half, with a .995 OPS first half and just 760 OPS in the second half. He particularly struggled in September/October, when his ISO dropped to .181, and his walk rate dropped to 6.7%. Aguilar started seeing more breaking balls in the second half (55.3% fastballs through the All-Star break, just 52.4% after that) which shows pitchers adjusting to his fastball-heavy approach at the plate. While it didn't lead to more strikeouts, it did lead to more ground balls - which is a slight concern.

Still, I see a big slugger who has learned how to draw a walk and can absolutely punish pitches into the air. Playing time is likely no longer a concern after the season he had last year, although the team still has Eric Thames, Domingo Santana, Ryan Braun and Travis Shaw who will need to get plenty of at-bats.

Assuming Aguilar goes into the season as Milwaukee's first baseman and middle of the order bopper, I'm comfortable targeting him as high as the eighth round, with a draft spot between rounds 9-10 feeling about right for Milwaukee's newest slugger.

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