April 10, 2015
The Lineup Card
Eight Breakout Candidates for 2015
1. Xander Bogaerts
Despite all that, Bogaerts is still just 22 years old. The skills are still there and after an off-season spent dedicating himself to improving his agility, Bogaerts has looked better in the field. There will be no moving off of shortstop, at least this season (oddly, it was Drew who moved off shortstop this season, moving to second base with the Yankees). Perhaps more importantly Bogaerts has been hitting again, posting a .261/.364/.457 line this spring with two home runs and more walks (eight) than strikeouts (six).
PECOTA sees a 2.2 WARP season from Bogaerts with a TAv of .268. That's hardly a breakout or the star turn the Red Sox are hoping for, but it would be a big improvement on last season. And for the record, I'll take the over on that. —Matthew Kory
His fastball, lively and sitting low-to-mid-90s, was good enough, but Rodon's slider was (is) simply transcendent. The movement was so sharp and so late, like a cutter with turbo-charged tilt, that hitters could only wave at it. It looked like it was shot out of the air just before reaching the hitters' bat.
Performances like that in the 2013 ACC Tournament semifinals against North Carolina, when Rodon struck out 14 and allowed just one hit over 10 innings, and his 11 strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings later that summer for the Collegiate National Team against Cuba, added to Rodon's lore. Some doubts arose about his profile, like how heavily his arm had been taxed in college, or some stiffness in his delivery, or his difficulties establishing a solid third pitch, but the never called his raw stuff into question.
Rodon isn't in the majors yet, cursed to the same service-time manipulation that is causing widespread consternation this spring, but he's ready. And when he comes up, he will astonish, because not that many people watch college baseball, so they aren't quite aware of just how special that slider is. The only ones unhappy with the arrangement will be opposing hitters. —Ian Frazer
4. Mike Zunino
and managed just a .248 BABIP, partially because of that.
This spring, though, Zunino worked with Mariners skipper Lloyd McClendon to more fully load his hands early in his swing, the better to keep them back and drive the ball to all fields. It might come to nothing—to trust every adjustment upon which a player expounds during camp is to invite trouble—but Zunino seems a candidate to take a big step forward, anyway. He got only 505 plate appearances as a pro before busting into MLB—and that’s if you count his 86 trips to the dish in the 2012 Arizona Fall League. He’s a former top pick and top prospect for a reason, and although he’s a more than capable catcher, his defense isn’t supposed to have to carry the bat so bravely. It says here that, starting in 2015, Zunino’s bat will do more than pull its weight. —Matthew Trueblood
5. Manny Machado
As a rookie in 2012 Machado came up much earlier than many fans expected, despite his high rankings on prospect lists. He held his own as a rookie, performing about three percent worse than the average MLB hitter while becoming one of the best defenders in baseball at a position he had scarcely played before. The following season, his first full season in the big leagues, Machado his 51 doubles and 14 home runs en route to a .325 wOBA. As a 20-year-old, Machado was an above-average hitter while putting in what was arguably the best defensive season by a third baseman in the history of baseball.
Last year, Machado's reoccurring knee problems surfaced again both delaying and cutting short his season. Still, Machado his home runs at a higher rate last season than ever before in his career. He posted a career best .332 wOBA, while still putting up solid defensive numbers at the hot corner.
There's been a lot of talk about "when Machado's doubles turn into home runs, he's going to be a monster". Well they already are, he just hasn't been healthy enough to show that over a full season. It seems like Manny Machado has been around the game forever, but consider that only four players last season were his age or younger. A 25-homer season (Machado's pace from last year), with a solid batting average, improving on-base skills, and elite defense from a 22-year-old sounds like the makings of a breakout to me. —Jeff Long
6. Travis d'Arnaud
After a brief demotion in early June, d’Arnaud returned a new man. He homered in his first game back, ushering in a torrid second half of the season that saw him hit nine more dingers while spraying hard contact all over the field. Numerically, the two halves of his season looked like this:
d’Arnaud was more aggressive, clearly, but it also appears that he hit the ball harder. An overview of his spray charts from last year confirms that last point while demonstrating another interesting trend:
(Thanks to Bill Petti and Jeff Zimmerman on the chart)
The difference in pull side power jumps out right away. In the first part of the season, d’Arnaud pulled almost nothing in the air. He didn’t elevate anything down the left field line and only one fly ball to the left of the shortstop even reached the warning track. In the second half though, the twenty-six year old pulled the ball much more frequently and effectively, bashing over a dozen extra base hits to the part of the field he practically ignored in the first half.
d’Arnaud didn’t make wholesale changes to his approach: he stepped a bit closer to the plate — which certainly could help a hitter pull the ball better — but felt that the biggest changes he made were mental, citing a clearer mind and a more optimistic mentality as the driving forces behind his resurgence. While it’s tempting to pay lip service to a player discussing confidence, there may be something to it with d’Arnaud, a young player who hadn’t had much major league success prior to last June. if nothing else, it’s encouraging that he was able to put his early season difficulties behind him as soon as he came back to New York.
Mental adjustments aside, d’Arnaud demonstrated that his power can translate to big league games. Maybe it’s because he’s a catcher—catchers peak later than players at other positions—but I’m far more encouraged by his minor league power numbers and mid-season improvement than I am worried by his early major league struggles. With the fences moved in, a few pesky injuries in the rearview mirror, and the Triple-A-to-MLB adjustment period hopefully out of the way, d’Arnaud is well-positioned to build off of his second half numbers and make 2015 a breakout campaign. —Brendan Gawlowski
7. Ryan Rua
8. It's a Trap!
Write it down: No breakouts there. No 23-homer, .912 OPS seasons out of those four. Probably won’t get 500 MLB at-bats between them. Why’d I choose those four? They’re the four guys with J.D. Martinez as a top PECOTA comp. But J.D. Martinez was incredibly unlikely to do what he did, and being “like” J.D. Martinez is almost as damning today as it was a year ago. So forget it. I’m not falling for it. I’m not giving you a name. Though I did draft Steven Souza in every league I’m in, just in case. —Sam Miller