Alex Bregman was selected second overall by the Houston Astros in the 2015 draft out of LSU. As a minor leaguer, Bregman was known for a quick bat, good pitch recognition, command of the strike zone and a nice line drive swing that made his hit tool plus. Bregman was ranked as BP’s fourth best prospect on our 2016 midseason top 50 and ranked the top prospect in the Astros organization prior to the 2016 season.
What Went Right in 2016
Bregman made his big league debut in July 2016 after hitting .306/.406/.580 with a 10% strikeout rate in the minors, split between the Texas League and Pacific Coast League. He found success in the big leagues as a rookie, hitting .264/.313/.478 with an above average 112 wRC+. Bregman closed out his rookie season with a bang offensively, hitting .310/.353/.586 with a 151 wRC+ over his final 155 plate appearances. He also played good defense at third base, showing off strong instincts, hands and range after being moved off shortstop because of incumbent Carlos Correa.
What Went Wrong in 2016
Bregman got off to a rough start in the big leagues, compiling only two singles in his first 42 PAs. The slash line was an ugly .053/.143/.053 with a .000 ISO. Astros internal data showed that Bregman was making better contact than the outcomes showed, though, and it was only a matter of time before his outcomes turned around. The Astros stuck with Bregman, and their patience paid off. Bregman’s slash line jumped to .313/.354/.577 after those first 42 plate appearances.
What to Expect in 2017, plus The Great Beyond
Everybody has “their” guys in March leading up to fantasy drafts. The type of players that we are intrigued by, and think might have a reasonable chance to perform at a higher level than what many other fantasy owners expect from them. Bregman is one of those guys for me in 2017. Now, Bregman isn’t being slept on; his current Yahoo ADP is around 90, with his NFBC ADP around 92. He’s being drafted in the top 100 after only having roughly 200 PA in the big leagues last season. Fantasy owners like him a lot. But I wonder if there’s even more fantasy potential with him this year than that.
Bregman had a reputation prior to his call up as a player who had a chance to become a line drive machine that could hit .300 in the big leagues with around 15 HR yearly, something in the mold of a Dustin Pedroia type. But something started brewing last year in the big leagues that might change his profile a little bit, particularly with home runs and power output. Bregman started focusing more on getting the ball in the air. Bregman told MLB.com in September,
"In college and high school, you're always taught to hit the ball on the ground and on a line. It's different up here…we don't want to get the ball on the ground. Up here, that's an out. So we're trying to hit the ball on the line and in the air."
The data backs up the words. Bregman had a 36% ground ball rate in the minor leagues. Last year with the Astros in the big leagues, he cut his ground ball rate down to 29%, with it at 27% over his final 175 PA. 71% of Bregman’s batted balls in the big leagues were either line drives or fly balls, the fourth highest amount in baseball. His line drive approach didn’t suffer, either. By line drive rate, Bregman ranked 6th best in baseball at 28.9%. By launch angle, Bregman was ninth-best at hitting line drives, with a line drive launch angle rate of 27.8%. Bregman was excellent at keeping the ball off the ground in an effort to hit for power while still maintaining quality launch angles that can sustain a high batting average.
The focus on getting the ball off the ground helped Bregman compile a .214 ISO in his rookie season, well above the major league average ISO of .162. Bregman also started flashing high level power output towards the end of the season. Over his final 175 PA, which is around the stabilization point for ISO, Bregman had a .264 ISO with eight HR.
It’s not just Bregman’s own skills that have me intrigued. Bregman is expected to hit second in the Astros lineup, sandwiched between leadoff hitter George Springer and Jose Altuve, with Carlos Correa lurking behind them. Bregman has a chance to score a ton of runs hitting in front of Altuve and Correa, and Springer’s .360 on base percentage and above average slugging will give Bregman some opportunities for RBIs. This isn’t a case of a young player having to work his way up in the order by first proving himself to the manager. AJ Hinch has a lot of confidence in Bregman, and stood by him even during Bregman’s rough debut, where he had only two hits in his first 42 plate appearances. That bodes well for Bregman remaining in a favorable lineup position for fantasy counting stats.
Ultimately, I’m on board with the idea that Bregman has a chance to hit for a strong batting average in 2017, and might have some untapped home run potential if he continues to focus on getting the ball in the air. Instead of a perennial 15 HR guy like his minor league future projection tabbed him at, Bregman might become a 25+ HR hitter. And to help things further in 2017, Minute Maid Park is getting more hitter friendly. Tal’s Hill in center field was demolished, bringing in the CF wall by about 30 feet. Houston already features an above average park for home runs, and moving in center field is only going to help things. Combined with the home park and strong lineup support around him, I love Bregman’s potential in 2017, and I’ll probably be owning him in most of my leagues.
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