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Outfielders Who'll Continue to Break Out in 2019


"The rookie phenom" is almost a cliche at this point in fantasy baseball. Every year there are at least a few absolute studs that break out--think Ronald Acuna, Juan Soto, Kris Bryant, those types. The A1 prospects who follow through on their pedigree. It's not all that difficult to predict that they'll likely keep up their momentum as they blossom into the next generation of baseball superstars.

What's much more difficult to predict are the late-bloomers, or better yet the guys who come out of nowhere. That's what I'll focus on here. Some not-so-obvious names that had excellent 2018 seasons and should be on your radar for 2019. For this article, we'll focus on the outfield position, which is certainly rife with talent every year.

Let's take a deeper dive on five names who could become make-or-break players later on in your draft.

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Jesse Winker, Cincinnati Reds

Winker was well on his way to a bona fide breakout campaign last year when his season was unfortunately ended in July by a shoulder injury. I'm still counting his 89 games as a breakout given how terrifically he performed. Winker's main strength is his ability to get on base--his .405 OBP was one of the best marks in the big leagues, and came on the strength of his elite 14.7% walk rate and a batting average of .299. Winker hit just seven homers in each of his two partial seasons in the majors, and his performance in the minors indicates his ceiling is probably 15 homers in a good year.

The potential for him to be a viable fantasy asset is there though, especially if he's able to lock down the leadoff spot for an underrated Reds lineup. His position in the lineup will not be as important as his ability to stay in the lineup. Following an offseason trade with the Dodgers, the Reds now have only three outfield spots in which to fit Winker, Nick Senzel, Scott Schebler and Matt Kemp.

As the better fielder and better contact hitter, Winker should get the majority of at-bats over Schebler and Kemp, but there is some risk that Reds management works with matchups and keeps Winker under 500 ABs this season. Regardless of how it shakes out, Winker's ability to get on base makes him a valuable asset worth considering, although slightly less so in points formats vs. rotisserie.

 

Mitch Haniger, Seattle Mariners

Haniger showed the Mariners what he was capable of in 2017, slashing .282/.352/.491 across 96 games in his first year since coming over from the Diamondbacks organization. He improved upon all three marks in 2018 but did it across 157 games. 26 homers, 90 runs scored, 93 RBI and even eight stolen bases earned Haniger an All-Star selection and even a top-11 finish in MVP voting. Unlike some of his contemporaries on this list, Haniger didn't carry the top-of-the-line prospect pedigree, so his breakout was a bit more out of left field (pun intended).

Haniger's profile indicates to me that the floor is high, and even some expected regression will not sap his value completely. He's not just a power hitter and not just a contact hitter--he's a sustainable mix of both. His .330+ BABIP last year has me bracing for his batting average to dip a bit, but he's posted a .200+ ISO in back-to-back seasons now, and the threat of 30 home runs is real.

The Mariners lineup still has plenty of thump to it, with Domingo Santana and Edwin Encarnacion expected to pick up some of the slack left by Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz, so Haniger's counting stats shouldn't take a big hit if any at all. This is one breakout I expect to flourish in 2019 and beyond.

 

Aaron Hicks, New York Yankees

Aaron Hicks was one of those blue-chip, seemingly can't-miss prospects who simply missed. Injuries played a pretty significant role in his demise in Minnesota, as he averaged just 83 games played per season in his three years there. The gifts were always apparent whenever he was on the field--a slick-fielding, switch-hitting power/speed threat who has an absolute cannon for an arm. But he hit .215 or worse in his first two seasons before having a mediocre 2015 campaign in which he tallied 11 homers and 13 steals across 97 games. He traded the Minnesota navy blue for pinstripes that offseason, and we've all borne witness to his rejuvenation. After two promising but injury-shortened seasons, he finally broke out last year for the Yankees, playing in 137 games and more importantly--mashing baseballs.

Hicks walloped 27 homers and swiped 11 bags while also posting the team's second-highest OBP (.366). On top of his offensive production, Hicks has consistently rated as one of the best outfielders in baseball, and that cannon of an arm hasn't gone anywhere. As good as those numbers were last year, I don't think we've seen the best of Aaron Hicks yet. The switch-hitting Hicks is going to hit right in the middle of the meaty Yankees lineup, as his lefty bat will not only break up all the righties but it will also allow him to capitalize on the infamous short porch in Yankee Stadium. A 30-homer, 100-RBI season is well within his reach, and at age 29 there is no reason he can't chip in another 12-15 stolen bases. I am all-in on Aaron Hicks continuing his post-hype renaissance, and he should be circled on your draft board this month.

 

Harrison Bader, St. Louis Cardinals

Bader represents a much more complicated case than the other guys on this list. There is a compelling case to be made that Bader has too many gaps in his game to ever be a consistent fantasy asset, specifically the fact that he is positively terrible against right-handed pitchers. He mashed lefties to the tune of an .887 OPS in 2018, but managed a pitiful .695 OPS against righties. I don't think I need to explain that there are many more righties than lefties in the world, and certainly in the MLB.

As rough as his splits are, Bader made himself an invaluable part of the Cardinals organization by being one of the most consistently above-average defenders in baseball last season. And as brutal as the righty numbers are for Bader, he still managed 12 homers and 15 stolen bases. That's where the upside comes from--Bader's defensive prowess and speed have earned him an incredibly long leash headed in 2019, and even if he doesn't improve against righties I still expect him to get over 450 ABs and lock down a 15/15 season.

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