2016 was a amazing season in terms of the number of rookies making a splash in fantasy baseball. We saw elite first years from the two Rookies of the Year Corey Seager and Michael Fulmer. We were blessed with glimpses of greatness from the likes of Trevor Story, Gary Sanchez, and Trea Turner. Then there were the two "senior" rooks Kenta Maeda and Seung Hwan Oh coming from overseas.
There are a large amount of sophomore candidates to have breakout seasons in 2017, even including names I have not mentioned yet like Alex Bregman, Jose Peraza, Byron Buxton, and David Dahl. For this piece, I want to focus on the second year studs currently going outside the top 150 in this years drafts.
To spread the love, I have selected a starting pitcher, relief pitcher, infielder, and outfielder, all of which you can snag in the middle-to-late rounds to lead your team to the promised land.Editor's note: Get 50% off any MLB Premium Pass. Draft guide, cheat sheets, 200 days of DFS access, and over 20 premium tools. Dominate your leagues all year long! Sign Up Now!
2017 Sophomore Breakouts
Jon Gray, COL (SP)
2016 Stats: 168.0 IP, 10-10, 4.61 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 185 K
NFBC ADP: 180
We have been talking about Gray's potential ever since he was selected third overall in the 2013 draft. In 2016 we finally saw that potential begin to translate into production. In 29 starts, Gray earned the ninth best K/9 in the league, with a rather impressive 3.60 FIP. The ERA did not reflect just how effective he was thanks to some bad luck, such as the third lowest left on base percentage among starters. But we saw the hard work finally paying off, as he decreased his hard hit percentage six points from his short MLB stint in 2015, which is always beneficial when you play at Coors. Speaking of Coors, the guy had a 3.07 FIP at home versus a 4.14 away. We all know that just ain't right, so expect those road splits to even out this year, helping his overall stat line.
One of the keys to his success last year was throwing fastballs a lot less, and upping his offspeed useage. According to Pitchf/x, he earned an impressive 13.3 wSL and introduced a curveball that he did not throw in the 40 IP from 2015. We all saw the results, and should expect Gray to take another step forward in 2017 with those strong whiff numbers translating into a lower ERA and higher win total.
Aledmys Diaz, STL (SS)
2016 Stats: 460 PA, 71 R, 17 HR, 65 RBI, 4 SB, .300 BA
NFBC ADP: 150
Signed by the Cardinals out of Cuba in 2014, Diaz burst onto the fantasy baseball scene in 2016 after thumb surgery knocked out Jhonny Peralta prior to the season began. Diaz finished his remarkable rookie season with 71 R, 17 HR, 65 RBI and slashed .300/.369/.510 while earning his first All-Star appearance. All of that, and the guy was out a month with a broken right hand. He helped his cause when healthy with an advanced plate discipline and pitch recognition. According to Pitchf/x, Diaz posted great total runs value against fastballs (3.4), curveballs (7.2. seventh best in the league), sliders (5.3) and changeups (1.6).
It is genuinely a shame Diaz suffered the hand injury. Who knows what kind of season he could have had? He certainly would have ranked higher than fifth in Rookie of the Year voting, that's for daggum sure. Before the injury, Diaz had hit .312 with 23 doubles and 14 HR. It was great he was able to return, but for his last 15 games of 2016 he went 11-51 and of course missed out on an entire months worth of production. With the hand healed, 2017 presents loads of offensive potential for Diaz as he is slated to hit in the two hole, behind Dexter Fowler and in front of Matt Carpenter and Stephen Piscotty, for a Cardinals offense that is poised to bounce back strong.
Keon Broxton, MIL (OF)
2016 Stats: 244 PA, 28 R, 9 HR, 19 RBI, 23 SB, .242 BA
NFBC ADP: 178
After three separate MLB stints before the All-Star break in 2016, Broxton finally showed some serious promise after his last call up on July 26. For the season combined between Triple A and the majors, he hit 17 HR and stole 41 bases, after going 10/39 in the Pirates minor league system in 2015. The dude can flat-out fly. The 41 SB would have ranked fifth in the MLB, and if you havn't noticed yet in your 2017 drafts, speed is at a premium right now.
The bad news with Broxton is a ridiculous strikeout tendency. His 36.1 K% was second worst in the league among hitters with at least 200 PA. However, he did show improvements in the area during his torrid streak after July 26. From the time of the last call up, to injurying his wrist on September 15, Broxton his .294 and dropped his strikeout percentage by almost 12 points. He was also absolutely tearing the cover off the ball, hitting an absurd 50.6 hard hit percentage. That is some serious momentum carrying over to the upcoming season.
Aside from the whiffs, Broxton showed an impressive ability to draw walks, owning a .354 OBP. This should help keep him near the top of the lineup this season, an idea that Craig Counsell has reinforced this spring. The strikeouts will limit the BA upside, but with his on-base ability and amazing speed, Broxton will be a steal for fantasy owners at his current ADP in 2017.
Kyle Barraclough, MIA (RP)
2016 Stats: 72.2 IP, 6-3, 2.85 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 113 K
NFBC ADP: 352
After an incredible 2016 campaign, technically Barraclough has already had his "breakout" season in terms of statistics. His 14.00 K/9 ratio ranked fifth highest among all relievers, while his 2.11 FIP ranked eigth lowest. He proved he can handle a large workload, amassing 72.2 IP as a rookie. He posseses a 95 mph fastball, complimented by a filthy 82 mph slider that he threw 41.9% of his pitches. According to Pitchf/x, the slider rated out as the best in the league among relief pitchers, and led to a lowly .173 BAA and 66.1 contact percentage. Barraclough certainly has his flaws, as evident by the 1.22 WHIP. He was as wild as they come last season, owning the worst BB/9 (5.45) among RPs. But much like Broxton, he showed vast improvement in his weakness over the second half of last season by dropping the ratio down to 4.66, yielding a sexy 1.06 WHIP.
The reason I tagged Barraclough as a sophomore breakout is based on opportunity. A.J. Ramos had an impressive final stat line last year as Miami's closer, but had a rough second half and greatly decreased his groundball percentage while his hard hit percentage spiked. That is a recipe for some long-ball damage, which he has already suffered through twice in his three innings of Spring Training. I don't think it is a question of if Barraclough gets a chance at the ninth inning in 2017, but more of just how quickly Ramos allows him the opportunity. The chance of adding saves to his elite strikeout totals and healthy ERA is certainly worth a late round draft pick, even in standard leagues. If you are in a holds or K/9 league and don't roster Kyle Barraclough this year....