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2013 Draft Prep: Al Melchior's Breakouts

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Mike Trout had the ultimate breakout performance a year ago, but he was far from being from the only young player to exceed expectations.

Chase Headley, Jason Heyward, Austin Jackson, Ian Desmond and Max Scherzer were just a few of the players to take notable leaps in their Fantasy value in 2012, and each provided a nice return for the owners who drafted them. Yet each of them showed signs of their upside potential, and there are similar players waiting to be taken in this year's drafts.

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Players tabbed as breakout candidates are far from sure things to outperform their draft position, but they are the ones who have the greatest potential to do so, and possibly by a wide margin. I've identified a dozen breakout candidates for 2013, and only a few are currently being taken in the earlier rounds on average in CBSSports.com leagues. That's the way it should be with breakouts, as they are typically high-risk, high-reward types that you should avoid as you're filling out your first few roster spots.

What these 12 players have in common, aside from relative youth, is a past history -- usually in the minor leagues -- of better skill indicators than what they have shown recently. Just as Scherzer's minor league K-rates and Headley's minor league power numbers suggested further improvement, the players profiled here have a track record that at least opens up the possibility of a great leap forward.

Jesus Montero, C, Mariners (Roto: Rd. 10, H2H: Rd. 13)

As a prospect, Montero was an enticing Fantasy keeper in long-term leagues not only because of the power he brought to the catcher position, but also because he could hit for average. In his rookie season, Montero did neither, but the potential is still there for him to deliver on both. His batting average was held down by a .293 BABIP that could have easily been higher given his 23 percent line drive rate. Montero didn't have great power at home or on the road, but with a year of experience under his belt and the Safeco Field fences coming in, he could make the jump from 15 homers to 20-plus homers.

Brandon Belt, 1B, Giants (Roto: Rd. 23, H2H: Rd. 25)

When Belt zoomed through the Giants' system in 2010, he displayed an impressive combination of home run power, gap power and a good understanding of the strike zone. The home run power was present during his 2011 rookie campaign, but the latter two were lacking. Then last season, Belt's doubles and triples power emerged, but his home run power dissipated. The increase in line drive power that Belt experienced came mostly at the expense of his grounders, not his flyballs, but sometimes it takes a hitter time to bring the various facets of his skill set together. Perhaps 2013 is the year that he gives owners homers, triples, doubles and a high batting average all at the same time.

Freddie Freeman, 1B, Braves (Roto: Rd. 7, H2H: Rd. 7)

Freeman has already established himself as a 20-homer threat, and he's still just 23, so a jump to the 25-to-30 homer bracket wouldn't be shocking. More important, though, he should vastly improve on last season's .259 batting average. Though Freeman is no speedster, he can top last year's .215 average on grounders, plus he has put the vision problems that put a damper on his 2012 season behind him.

Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros (Roto: Rd. 6, H2H: Rd. 10)

Clearly, Altuve isn't going to come near the .389 batting average he achieved during his 2011 minor league season, but his contact skills and ability to square up the ball support the notion that last year's .290 average was legitimate. He just didn't make good on the potential for 10-to-15 home runs. Altuve's power tailed off in the second half as he launched fewer flyballs, and he seemed to have lost some mojo after missing a week in late June due to a hamstring injury. Maybe the timing was coincidental, but the bigger point is that Altuve was making strides as a power hitter in the first half, and he could build on that this season.

Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals (Roto: Rd. 15, H2H: Rd. 14)

After a lackluster rookie season, Moustakas flashed some power last year, but his overall production was still lacking. He hit just .242 and failed to score or drive in as many as 75 runs. An astronomical 16 percent popup rate hurt Moustakas' value, but unfortunately, that was also a weakness of his in the minor leagues, if not quite to the same extent. However, he was able to hit for average in the minors because he made contact more frequently. Moustakas may never be a .300 hitter, but he should reach or exceed the .263 average he posted as a rookie while continuing to build his power-hitting résumé.

Everth Cabrera, SS, Padres (Roto: Rd. 19, H2H: N/A)

Low strikeout rates have enabled Cabrera to hit .333 and .297 in his last two minor league seasons, yet in spending parts of the last four years with the Padres, he has compiled a measly .240 batting average. He has struggled to make contact in the majors, especially when hitting as a righty. According to a report from MLB.com, Cabrera has been working on his right-handed swing this offseason, and he has actually experienced success against lefties as a major leaguer, back in his 2009 rookie season. With more contact and more hits, Cabrera would not only raise his average but also give himself a chance to steal 50-plus bases. The biggest risk for Cabrera right now is his reported link to the defunct South Florida PED clinic, Biogenesis of America. However, owners can get Cabrera late enough in drafts to minimize the risk involved should he receive a suspension.

Lorenzo Cain, OF, Royals (Roto: Rd. 16, H2H: Rd. 23)

Even more so than Cabrera, Cain has the upside of a .300 hitter, and one with power and speed to boot. Even with last season shaved down to just 61 games due to groin and hamstring injuries, Cain showed off some of his power and speed potential by clubbing seven home runs and stealing 10 bases. Cain's .266 batting average was a disappointment, though, and like Cabrera and Moustakas, he has shown that he is capable of making contact at a much higher rate. While his .327 BABIP was better than the major league norm, there is room for improvement there as well, as he compiled much higher rates at several of his minor league stops.

Domonic Brown, OF, Phillies (Roto: Rd. 25, H2H: Rd. 24)

It's easy to overlook Brown. The Phillies have continually passed him over when assembling their starting outfield, and in each of the last two seasons, he has validated their decision by putting up mediocre stats in the majors and Triple-A. It's hard to defend his performance, given his escalating ground ball rates and vanishing power, but at least he has maintained decent contact rates, and last season he managed a .286 batting average at Lehigh Valley, even though he was dealing with a variety of ailments, including injuries to both of his knees. The power he showed three seasons ago could reemerge, and the rest of his skill set appears to be largely intact. The Phillies did give Brown an extended look late last season, and he looks to get regular playing time in 2013.

Brandon Morrow, SP, Blue Jays (Roto: Rd. 11, H2H: Rd. 8)

Morrow appeared to be on his way to a breakout season in 2012, as he compiled a 2.90 ERA through his first 12 starts. He sustained an oblique injury in his 13th start and it kept him out for the next two-and-a-half months. Morrow did fare well upon his late-August return, and his final stat line featured a 2.96 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and improved walk and ground ball rates. The only thing missing was his typical double-digit K/9 rate, but after subtracting out his first four starts, Morrow posted a closer-to-typical 8/8 K/9. Morrow has never had a season where he put it all together -- a high innings count, good control and an impressive strikeout rate -- but just maybe 2013 could be that year. If so, he could be a top 20 starting pitcher.

Matt Moore, SP, Rays (Roto: Rd. 9, H2H: Rd. 8)

After an up-and-down rookie season, one might think Moore would profile as a sleeper, but he is being drafted within the first 10 rounds of typical mixed leagues. Apparently, owners see Moore's potential to be a top 30 starting pitcher as soon as this season even though he fell far short of that a year ago. Particularly in the first half, walks and home runs kept Moore from excelling, but from his fourth start on, he averaged more than a strikeout per inning. Moore has shown in the past that control doesn't have to be an issue, and his flyball tendencies weren't especially strong in the minors. He improved enough to post a 3.01 ERA in the second half, and Moore could progress even further this year.

Alex Cobb, SP, Rays (Roto: Rd. 20, H2H: Rd. 16)

Cobb isn't as heavily pursued as Moore, but like his highly-touted teammate, he started to live up to his prospect status late last season. The key for Cobb is pinpoint control, and according to BaseballReference.com, he threw only 62 percent of his pitches for strikes through the first 10 starts of 2012. In his subsequent 13 starts, though, he increased that rate to 67 percent, and he was rewarded with a 3.32 ERA over that stretch. Cobb doesn't allow many homers, and his minor league numbers hint at the potential for higher swinging strike and strikeout rates. If everything comes together for Cobb, he should be far better than the late-round option his average draft position makes him out to be.

Addison Reed, RP, White Sox (Roto: Rd. 15, H2H: Rd. 19)

As a rookie, Reed didn't quite match the ample strikeout rates from his two seasons in the minors, but there was nothing all that wrong with his 8.8 K/9 rate last year. What got Reed into trouble was a 24 percent line drive rate, and that likely contributed to unfavorable BABIP (.331) and strand (67 percent) rates. All three of those metrics are often subject to random fluctuation, and all three could easily move in the right direction this season. Add in the potential for improved strikeout and walk rates, and owners could have a top closer on their hands.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al Melchior at @almelccbs . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Rockies' Charlie Blackmon hoping for more consistency
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:15 am ET) Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon is hoping for more consistency in 2015, according to the Denver Post

Blackmon had a breakout season in 2014, but admits it's hard to be on every single game. "Last year, I swung the bat really well at certain times," he said. "But you go through a lot of ups and downs over 162 games, and that was a learning experience. I think that's going to help me this year."

Blackmon said his strong start made him a target for other teams, and that may have contributed to a slight slump during the season. Blackmon added that he's hoping to hit the ball to all fields this season.

Manager Walt Weiss is hoping Blackmon can deliver more of the same. "I don't know if he necessarily has to have an encore. I'm thinking more of the same," Weiss said. "I think Charlie would say that he wants to be more consistent."

The 28-year-old Blackmon hit .288/.335/.440 over 593 at-bats last year. 


Twins' Gibson feels 'a little more comfortable' with curveball
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:29 am ET) Twins pitcher Kyle Gibson surrendered one run on two hits and one walk in two innings while striking out two in his spring debut Thursday, using the outing to work on his curveball, the Associated Press reports.

"I felt really good," Gibson said. "I'm working on some stuff, and some stuff worked out that I was working on. I threw more curveballs than normal. That's what spring training's for. It's just fun to be able to work on a particular pitch. I feel a little more comfortable."

Gibson, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2011, completed his first full major-league deal in 2014, going 13-12 with a 4.47 ERA and 107:57 K:BB ratio in 179 1/3 innings.


Blue Jays' Barton hoping his glove wins him a spot
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:28 am ET) Blue Jays first baseman Daric Barton is hoping his glove can win him a spot on the 25-man roster, according to the Toronto Sun.

Barton isn't much of a power hitter, but gets strong marks for his defense at first. Manager John Gibbons is well aware of Barton's skills. "One thing that put Daric on the map was that he was such a disciplined hitter and a great defender," Gibbons said. He added that the first baseman is involved in a large chunk of plays, so defense at the position is probably more important than people realize.

With that said, Barton may need a trade to make the opening day roster. As currently constructed, the Blue Jays may carry three catchers. If the team retains Dioner Navarro, Barton could find himself in the minors.

The 29-year-old Barton hit .158 over 57 at-bats last year.


Pirates' Pedro Alvarez feeling comfortable at first
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:21 am ET) Pirates infielder Pedro Alvarez is feeling comfortable at first base, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

After playing third the past couple of seasons, Alvarez will transition to first base full-time in 2015. The 28-year-old is still getting used to the position, but he seems comfortable with the change.

"It’s just a matter of getting used to seeing the field from that point of view, get the reps in so that the responsibilities that come with playing the position become second nature," he said. "That’s just with time and repetitions."

Alvarez hit .231/.312/.405 over 398 at-bats last season. 


Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman gets strong marks at first
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:17 am ET) Nationals infielder Ryan Zimmerman received strong reviews after playing his first game at first base this spring, according to MLB.com.

"He is still in the stages of having to think about it out there, because it's not natural yet," manager Matt Williams said. "He looked fine. He has fantastic hands." Zimmerman was tested during the start, and had to make two scoops in order to prevent possible throwing errors. 

He's been taking extra practice at the position this spring, and was fairly happy with how his first game turned out. "You can do so many drills, exercises and things like that until you have to go out there and play," Zimmerman said. "So it's nice to have a few chances. The more I play over there, the more comfortable I will get. I feel fine."

Zimmerman, 30, hit .280/.342/.449 over 214 at-bats last year. 


Orioles' Brian Matusz tosses scoreless inning in return
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:09 am ET) Orioles pitcher Brian Matusz tossed a scoreless inning in his return to the mound.

Matusz came into camp dealing with a shoulder issue, but said he was pretty close to 100 percent. He allowed one hit during his one inning of work, and struck out one batter. Matusz is expected to open the season in the team's bullpen. 

The 28-year-old posted a 3.48 ERA over 51 2/3 innings last year.


Red Sox's Rusney Castillo wouldn't alter plan if sent down
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:06 am ET) Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo won't be upset if he winds up being sent down to the minors, according to the WEEI.

That's not a likely outcome, but with his recent oblique injury, there's a chance Castillo could fall behind the other outfielders on the roster. "To me it wouldn’t be anything that would alter my plan, or my attitude, or my perspective," he said. "If that’s what it’s got to be, that’s what it’s got to be. I’m just worrying playing and continuing to get reps and reps wherever they may come."

Castillo did note that he's feeling a lot better, and is expected to return in about a week. Castillo hit .333 over 36 at-bats in the majors last year. 


Red Sox's Jackie Bradley Jr. showing off new swing
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/5/2015) Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is showing off his new swing this spring, according to the Boston Herald

Bradley started working out at the team's facility in November, and started hitting in January. He worked with assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez for a good portion of the offseason. "Jackie was dedicated," Rodriguez said. "He listened, too. He was open to what we talked about."

Manager John Farrell has noticed the change in Bradley's approach. "In BP, to me, it seems like there’s more of a willingness to stay in the middle of the field and not look to lift a ball too much," Farrell said. "I think it’s more of his natural swing, which he was drafted with."

Bradley said his swing has been a "work in progress." While it doesn't appear Bradley has a starting role, his defense should make him a useful major-league asset.

The 24-year-old hit .198/.265/.266 over 384 at-bats last year. 

 


Molitor: Eduardo Escobar 'will be' important part of Twins in 2015
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(3/5/2015) Twins manager Paul Molitor marked infielder Eduardo Escobar as "an important part" of the team in 2014 and believes he will be the same this season, the Star Tribune reports.

"He was an important part of our team last year," Molitor said. "He will be this year, too."

Escobar delivered the best performance of his career in 2014, hitting .275/.315/.406 with six home runs and 37 RBI in 433 at-bats. However, he arrived at camp to learn he was in a competition for the shortstop role with last year's center fielder, Danny Santana. Breaking the news to Escobar was a delicate conversation for the manager.

"Obviously," Molitor said. "You’ve got a guy who came in and played every day for you last year, and then you’re thinking about doing something different. I’ve tried to explain it to him the best I could. His answers, at least for now, are, 'No problem. I understand.'"


Blue Jays' Daniel Norris performs well in first start
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/5/2015) Blue Jays pitcher Daniel Norris tossed a strong start in his first spring appearance on Thursday.

Norris is competing for the fifth spot in the team's rotation, and got off to a nice start. Norris allowed one hit and one walk over 1 2/3 innings. He struck out two during the outing. 

Norris said he was glad to be taking on a strong lineup his first time out, according to the Toronto Sun. "I liked the fact I was facing a good lineup. You have to bring your 'A' game" Norris said. While it wasn't a perfect outing, Norris was pleased with his stuff.

"I struggled a little with it (staying closed) in the first, but was much better in the second inning," said Norris. "Years back in spring training, I can remember my stuff not doing much."

The 21-year-old posted a 5.40 ERA over 6 2/3 innings in the majors last year. 


 
 
 
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