There's a fine line -- at least to me -- between a sleeper and a breakout.
If you think a player is going to "breakout," you're essentially saying that he is being drafted too late, which would make him ... a sleeper.
The distinction could drive a person nuts. When I was compiling this list, I had to eliminate at least four players who I included in the sleepers column, not realizing there was crossover when I wrote the lists. I tried to include more high-profile players among the breakouts, as the term somewhat implies that they've established themselves to a certain degree. But the distinction is a tricky one, open for debate.
Anyway, blah blah blah, me me me. The short version: here are your 2013 breakouts.
Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Red Sox (Roto: Rd. 8, H2H: Rd. 12)
There are two primary arguments you will hear against Middlebrooks this draft season: he strikes out a lot and he felt some pain this spring in the wrist he fractured last year. Fine. Great. Now let's look at the pro-Middlebrooks side: he hit 15 home runs in 267 at-bats last year. He stole four bases. He batted .288. He's 24 years old. He plays in a park that is very friendly to his home run swing -- according to ESPN Home Run Tracker, 12 of Middlebrooks' home runs last year went to left field -- home of the Green Monster. He has the average potential, the power is pretty much inarguable, Middlebrooks will get a full season's worth of at-bats, the lineup around him is relatively strong, and he can probably steal seven or eight bases on top of that. If you want to pass on him because he strikes out a lot, be my guest.
Dayan Viciedo, OF, White Sox (Roto: Rd. 19, H2H: Rd. 22)
Fun Fact: Viciedo hit 25 home runs last year, quite possibly the quietest 25 home runs in the majors. This came after two seasons in the minors -- each with fewer than 455 at-bats -- in which he hit 20 home runs. And this was in the International League, where the stats tend to favor pitchers. Viciedo is just 24 years old, and there's an argument that he is still developing. Owners in points leagues may want to cover their ears for this part, but here's the downside to Viciedo -- he strikes out a ton, doesn't walk, and only hit 18 doubles in 2012. Rotisserie players just brush those stats off and continue to salivate over the power potential of the young Viciedo in a lineup with some serious protection -- especially if Tyler Flowers develops his promising power.
Mark Trumbo, 1B/OF, Angels (Roto: Rd. 6, H2H: Rd. 7)
How does a player with two seasons of 29 and 32 home runs break out? By keeping the power and upping his batting average! Trumbo brought his average up from .254 in 2011 to .268 in 2012. He did so despite an increase in strikeouts and walks, seeing just a five at-bat jump. So what happened? He just got more hits, as his BABIP rose from .274 to a more league-average .316. And this wasn't an unexpected phenomenon. In the minors, as Trumbo rose up through the ranks and faced tougher competition, his average improved from .220 (2006, Class A) to .272 (2007, Class A) to .281 (2008, High-A and Double-A) to .291 (2009, Double-A) to .301 (2010, Triple-A). Trumbo also has the benefit of playing just one position this year, will enjoy Josh Hamilton's presence in the lineup, and the haters seem to forget that his late-season swoon was accompanied by back spasms that popped up in late July.
Jason Kipnis, 2B, Indians (Roto: Rd. 5, H2H: Rd. 6)
The anti-Kipnis crowd likes to point out that Cleveland's second baseman faded in the second half of last year, seeing a marked drop in home runs (from 11 to three), steals (from 20 to 11), and average (from .277 to .233). So, in order to make a case for Kipnis, I went back to look at the splits for the early seasons of star second basemen Robinson Cano, Rickie Weeks, Dustin Pedroia, and Ian Kinsler. No dice. They all pretty much improved in the second halves of their first full seasons (Kipnis played in 36 games in 2011). I looked at injuries from last year -- all he reported was a stiff neck in August (which was, to be fair, his worst month by far). Then I remembered: Kipnis still hit .257 with 14 home runs and 31 steals over 591 at-bats at 25 years old. In his first full season. Splits be damned! I'm not sure if pitchers figured Kipnis out, if he tired, or if he cleverly masked his true second-half self with a hot first half -- all of which would point to a non-breakout this year. I do know that the 31 steals came pretty much out of nowhere, and I would expect him to lower the speed numbers while raising his batting average and power stats. Kipnis has a very solid foundation on which to build, and hanging your hat on his second half while ignoring his first and full-season stats could lead to a star second baseman slipping through your fingers.
Yoenis Cespedes, OF, Athletics (Roto: Rd. 2, H2H: Rd. 5)
Cespedes hit 23 home runs with 16 steals and a .292 average last year, when he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting and 10th in the MVP vote. Looking at his minor league stats, we could have -- oh wait. Cespedes doesn't have minor league stats because he did this all in his first year of professional baseball. Cespedes, 27, only played in the minors on a rehab assignment; he spent the early part of his career in the Cuban National Series, tearing the cover off the ball, hitting for average, and contending for the lead in most offensive categories. He played 129 games last year, slowed only by hamstring injuries -- which he tried to play through at several points, as well. Cespedes played left and center field and was plugged in at DH to ease the wear and tear on his legs. Through all of this, he still flirted with a 20/20 season. With a full year of Major League Baseball now behind him, Cespedes is poised for a major breakout. He's familiar with the pitchers, he understands the pace of the game, and he even gets tiny little Minute Maid Park added on for a handful of division games. If he can stay healthy enough to play 25 more games, Cespedes could get up to the 30/30 neighborhood.
Drew Smyly, SP, Tigers (Roto: Rd. 31, H2H: Rd. 26)
For all the ups and downs of his 2012, Smyly still finished with a 3.99 ERA and 1.27 WHIP, striking out 94 batters in 99 1/3 innings. Through his first six starts, Smyly had a 1.59 ERA, before a nasty blood blister on his middle finger (which he kindly tweeted to his followers) sidelined him in mid-June, with a 3.96 ERA. Smyly returned for two messy starts in July before going to the DL with an intercostal strain. When he returned in late August, Smyly was bounced between starter and reliever, but managed a 2.25 ERA over 20 innings, striking out 19. Smyly is currently jockeying for the fifth starter's spot in a spring training competition with Rick Porcello. But Smyly has the advantage of being a lefty -- which would make him the only lefty in the rotation -- and possibly being just a better pitcher than Porcello. I'm operating under the assumption that Smyly makes the rotation, avoids injury, and puts together a season (3.15 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 9.0 K/IP ratio) that nobody saw coming.
Freddie Freeman, 1B, Braves (Roto: Rd. 6, H2H: Rd. 6)
Freeman spent parts of last season either not being able to see or not being able to swing. A broken finger and a weird eye ailment interrupted the middle of his season, but he still managed 23 home runs, 33 doubles, and a .796 OPS. Last year was supposed to be his breakout year, a season in which Freeman would improve on his 21-homer rookie campaign and reach new heights. But when you read about how he'd change contact lenses three times in an inning -- and have no improvement in his blurry vision -- the 23 home runs seem like a huge accomplishment. Combine that with the addition of the brothers Upton, and it makes Freeman's prospects as a 2013 breakout candidate (.285 average, 30-plus home runs, one million RBI) even more realistic.
Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals (Roto: Rd. 14, H2H: Rd. 13)
The only player anyone wants to talk about when the topic of third base bounce-backs pops up is Brett Lawrie, the heralded Blue Jay who failed to deliver on preseason promise last year. But Moustakas, the would-be slugger who was the jewel of Kansas City's system before a 2011 promotion, didn't exactly wow his owners with a somewhat-lackluster 2012. Sure, he hit 20 home runs and 34 doubles, but his average dipped to .242 and he didn't really make a lot of Fantasy players stand up and take notice. But consider this: it took Moustakas about 1,000 at-bats in the minors to get to his 36 home run season (2010), which was the same year he followed his lowest batting average (.250) with his highest (.322). Also, Moustakas is just 24 years old and has room to grow. With 1,000 major league at-bats likely under his belt by April, Moustakas will have enough seasoning and experience to take that next step in power and average. He will do more than repay his current ADP, which has him 13th among third basemen.
Wilin Rosario, C, Rockies (Roto: Rd. 7, H2H: Rd. 11)
Rosario is currently being drafted seventh among catchers in both H2H and Rotisserie leagues, which makes total sense, considering that all Rosario did last year was hit .270 with 28 home runs and four steals in 396 at-bats. It actually makes you wonder how he could possibly be going that late, especially knowing that Rosario will be the no-doubt starter this year, will probably get an additional 100 at-bats, will have Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez healthy and in the lineup, and will be hitting in a home park full of thin air. When you think about it, Rosario only hit 40 total home runs over 675 at-bats in his last two minor league seasons; maybe if he hit 60, he'd be a little higher, but this is Wilin Rosario we're talking about here. He's good for maybe 30, 35 home runs this year, tops. And is that even top-10 catcher material? Pshaw. Deep NL-only players with 40-man rosters who start three catchers should take note: Rosario could be an okay gamble late in your drafts.
Player B, OF, Pirates (Roto: Rd. 17, H2H: Rd. 24)
Did you really think you'd get out of our 2013 Draft Prep barrage without the classic "Player A/Player B" game? [Note: all stats minor leagues]
Player A: 2,223 at-bats, 43 home runs, 105 steals, 96 doubles, .286 average, .785 OPS
Player B: 1,796 at-bats, 39 home runs, 131 steals, 101 doubles, .303 average, .823 OPS
In almost 500 fewer at-bats, Player B has nearly equaled Player A's home runs, and has already beaten him in steals, doubles, average, and OPS. Player A is Andrew McCutchen, he of the top-10 draft pick tier. Player B is Starling Marte, who hit .257 with five home runs and 12 steals in 167 at-bats last year for the Pirates. On any other team, it wouldn't be out of the question for Marte to improve on those rookie numbers and take a major step forward in 2013. But with a perennial All-Star who had eerily similar stats in the minor leagues on the same team taking him under his wing and pointing out mistakes he made in his early years, it stands to reason that Marte's leap forward could be accelerated.
And here's a bonus Fun Fact that has nothing to do with this comparison, but could help make Marte look even more attractive in 2013: Marte's six triples last year were good enough for 26th in the majors. He has three already in spring training. Points leaguers take note! You get three points for those!
Justin Ruggiano, OF, Marlins (Roto: Rd. 23, H2H: Rd. N/A)
It's rare to see a 30-year-old break out after bouncing around the majors from team to team for several years. Unless you're Jose Bautista.
Fine, that was done for dramatic effect: Bautista was 29 years old when he broke out in 2010. But the point is you can't just totally dismiss a player because he hasn't shown the explosiveness before. Ruggiano hit 13 home runs and stole 14 bases in just 288 at-bats last year. He sported a .313 batting average. He had never come close to those numbers before, with his previous career high in at-bats being 105. And, to further the split, it should be noted that Bautista had averaged 15 home runs in the four seasons prior to his 54 home run campaign. But the parallel is still there. Throughout the minors, Ruggiano, who had a career .296 average over nine seasons, showed a nice amount of power and a good amount of speed -- numbers that would essentially project him to become a 15-home run, 25 steals player in the majors -- a mark he was on pace to surpass last year. There isn't much competition for his role in Miami this year, so he'll probably double his career high in at-bats (assuming he can stay healthy), and he'll at least get some nice pitches to hit with Giancarlo Stanton taking much of the attention in the lineup. Don't expect Ruggiano to flirt with 30/30, but don't be surprised if he at least plays himself into the realm of 25/35 possibility.
Yonder Alonso, 1B, Padres (Roto: Rd. 23, H2H: Rd. 20)
Alonso finished 16th in all of baseball last year in doubles, with 39. The former top prospect complemented that with just nine home runs, but some things will change in 2013. First and foremost, the fences at PETCO Park have been moved in, and the most drastic changes took place in right field where, according to ESPN's Home Run Tracker, six of Alonso's nine home runs were hit last year. So if 67 percent of Alonso's home runs went to right field last year, and the fences in right just got moved in about 11 feet and became a little more attractive to swing for, one could argue that we would see a leap in home runs. Pile on the fact that Alonso's doubles could turn into home runs, he's a year older, he may have a healthier Carlos Quentin in the lineup, and he showed nice power potential in the minors ... and we have our last breakout candidate for 2013.
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