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.
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.
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