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2014 Draft Prep: Breakouts, 1.0

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Al Melchior's breakouts | Nando Di Fino's breakouts

It's a fine line between breakouts and sleepers.

You know how a square is also a rectangle, but a rectangle isn't necessarily a square? Same sort of deal here.

To "break out," a player of some note has to do something he hasn't done already, so injury bounce-backs and unheralded rookies aren't so prevalent here. But ultimately, the goal is the same as with the sleepers: to uncover value on Draft Day.

So don't let the label fool you. These players are sleepers, just some of the higher-end ones. In fact, if our early mock drafts are any indication, I'm more likely to draft them than the 12 players I list in my sleepers column. What's the risk if they can only get better?

Of course, as we get closer to the season and perceptions change, so could the names on this list. But right now, for where they're going, these 12 deserve special distinction.

Note: The numbers in parentheses reflect average draft position on CBSSports.com, assuming a 12-team league.

Jean Segura, SS, Brewers (Roto: Rd. 4, H2H: Rd. 7)

You could argue Segura already broke out in 2013. Looking back on his career years from now, it'll probably stand out as the season he made the biggest leap. But if this list exists to highlight players destined to outperform their draft position, leaving out Segura would be doing Fantasy owners a major disservice.

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Breakout or not, what he accomplished in 2013 hasn't gotten the appreciation it deserves. Just at face value, his numbers say he's a stud at the weakest position in Fantasy -- one without the injury risk of a Troy Tulowitzki or Jose Reyes and with room to grow still at age 23. But let's not forget that for the first two months of last year, he was arguably the most valuable player in Fantasy, batting .354 with a .943 OPS.

Of course, so many choose to remember his .241 batting average and .583 OPS after the All-Star break, but when you consider he was playing his first ever six-month season on the heels of a full Dominican Winter League schedule, refusing to take any days off along the way, the Brewers' claims of fatigue seem valid, especially since his pedigree backs up his numbers from earlier in the year.

The power may have come a little sooner than expected, but in the long run, Segura profiles as a .300 hitter with 20-homer power. Even if he doesn't quite reach those numbers this year, the steals alone make him sort of a more powerful version of Elvis Andrus. Given the uncertainty with everyone else at the position, both earlier and later in the draft, nabbing Segura in the fifth round is one of the best things you could do for your Fantasy team.

Eric Hosmer, 1B, Royals (Roto: Rd. 6, H2H: Rd. 7)

Like Segura, the breakthrough may have already come for Hosmer, but he's being drafted as if he still has something to prove. His overall numbers last year don't tell the whole story. From May 30 to the end of the season, he hit .317 with 16 homers, eight steals and an .858 OPS, averaging more Head-to-Head points per game during that stretch (3.35) than Joey Votto did for the season (3.32).

So what's so special about that date? It's when the Royals changed hitting coaches, firing Jack Maloof -- who did his best to mold their young sluggers into singles hitters, thinking it was the best approach for pitcher-friendly Kauffman Stadium -- and replacing him with the not-so-radical Pedro Grifol. The timing of the turnaround was too perfect to be a coincidence, especially since Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas also experienced it, to lesser degrees.

Suddenly, Hosmer's inability to build off his impressive rookie season made sense. He was back on the course that should eventually, according to his pedigree, make him one of best all-around hitters as a game. Just think: What he accomplished over those final four months last year -- again, better production than Votto, not to mention Freddie Freeman, Prince Fielder and Allen Craig -- he accomplished at age 23, still a ways from reaching his physical peak. He's already a lock for a .300 batting average in my mind, and in time, he'll be capable of 30-plus home runs as well. Already, I'm counting on him for 25.

Passing on Freeman to grab Hosmer two or three rounds later buys you a two- or three-round improvement at some other position. Making efficient use of your draft picks like that is how you win championships.

Trevor Rosenthal, RP, Cardinals (Roto: Rd. 6, H2H: Rd. 7)

Rosenthal has all of three saves in his major-league career. He's been a closer before, guiding the Cardinals to an NL title in the role last postseason, but of the numbers anyone cares to look at, again, only three saves. Thus he's unproven, if only by technicality. In a climate where, fairly or unfairly, last year's numbers tend to have the most say, he has the potential to be overlooked.

I'm never one to draft an unproven player as if he was proven, but "proven" for a closer is a tricky concept. Turnover is inherent to the role, making only a handful of closers -- probably the same handful going ahead of Rosenthal -- legitimately safe. Plus, Rosenthal brings something to the table that few closers, proven or otherwise, can. Pitching exclusively in relief, he recorded 108 strikeouts last year. That brings the number of 100-strikeout closers up to six (Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, Greg Holland, Kenley Jansen, Koji Uehara and Rosenthal, with Jason Grilli also showing the potential for it), enough that you're at a disadvantage in the category if you don't have one.

Now, I don't know that Round 6 or 7 is really the best value for Rosenthal -- closers as a whole tend to go later in the drafts I'm a part of -- but of that group, Rosenthal is the value pick, making him the one to target if, in doing so, you don't shortchange yourself at another, more pivotal position.

Matt Adams, 1B, Cardinals (Roto: Rd. 7, H2H: Rd. 10)

Whenever the Cardinals commit everyday at-bats to an unproven, under-the-radar player, Fantasy owners should take notice. They made Allen Craig into a Fantasy mainstay in 2012 and somehow managed to top that with Matt Carpenter last year.

In Adams' case, we've already gotten a foretaste of what he can do in the role. Filling in for an injured Craig as the everyday first baseman last September, he hit .315 with eight home runs and a .952 OPS in 92 at-bats. That's too small of a sample size to take at face value, of course, but he was the same player throughout his minor-league career, hitting .318 with a .927 OPS in five seasons. He was also considered a better prospect than Craig or Carpenter coming up through the minors, not than any was especially high-end.

He's not without his potential pitfalls, as his postseason struggles showed. Striking out upward of 150 times per year, as he was on pace to do last year, could take a toll on his batting average, making a seventh-round pick in a Rotisserie league perhaps a bit too eager. But the more likely scenario is him living up to it completely and emerging as one of the top power hitters at a deep position.

As Craig and Carpenter showed, the Cardinals evaluate their own players as well as any team in baseball, and their evaluation of Adams has compelled them to relocate Craig to a more challenging position and delay mega prospect Oscar Taveras' arrival even further. That should count for something.

Tony Cingrani, SP, Reds (Roto: Rd. 13, H2H: Rd. 10)

Cingrani didn't spend all of 2013 in the majors, but the time he did spend gave a clear account of his dominance. In the rates that measure it best -- strikeouts per nine innings and hits per nine innings -- he would have ranked second among all starting pitchers if he had the innings to qualify, outperforming both Cy Young winners.

But here's the scary part: He did it with just one pitch.

More or less, anyway. According to FanGraphs, he threw his fastball 81.5 percent of the time, occasionally mixing in what resembled an offspeed pitch just to keep hitters honest. Maybe he would have continued to get away with it this year (his 1.65 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings over his minor-league career would suggest so). Maybe not. But to his credit, he didn't wait to find out, devoting his offseason to improving his secondary arsenal. And to hear him tell it, he did just that, making what he called a "huge leap" with his slider.

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If it's only good enough to make hitters second-guess whether the next pitch is a fastball, it makes his fastball more effective. And if it's any better than that, we're looking at a legitimate Fantasy ace.

Innings concerns will cause Cingrani to slip to the middle rounds, but for what he'll give you before they come into play, you shouldn't worry about them.

Jurickson Profar, 2B, Rangers (Roto: Rd. 14, H2H: Rd. 15)

So, you excited about Profar? That's what I thought. Rarely does a player attract so little attention in Fantasy the year after being named the top prospect in baseball.

Of course, it's understandable given his performance as a rookie. But let's not lose sight of the fact he was 20 years old. The Mike Trouts of the world have deluded us into thinking success at that age is normal, but it's not. Repetition -- years and years worth -- is crucial to success, and already players at that age are at a disadvantage physically. They just haven't matured yet. On top of all that, Profar was playing inconsistently and bouncing all over the diamond. He never had a chance to get comfortable.

Still, the Rangers gave him the ultimate vote of confidence this offseason by trading away second base mainstay Ian Kinsler to free up a job for him. As an organization, they're among the best at player development, ranking up there with the Cardinals and Rays. They wouldn't have made that move if they didn't think he was ready.

This year, he'll have a spot to call his own and no impediments to his playing time (once he overcomes his spring shoulder soreness, of course). If that makes all the difference, he's your opportunity at first-round production out of your middle infield spot. Who else would you draft there -- Neil Walker?

Zack Wheeler, SP, Mets (Roto: Rd. 17, H2H: Rd. 12)

You ever seen Fringe? Something tells me that in an alternate reality where people travel by zeppelin instead of jet, the Statue of Liberty is still its original copper color, and Michael Wacha and Gerrit Cole didn't come up and do what they did last year, Fantasy owners would be head over heels for Wheeler, thinking he's the middle-round pitcher with the best chance of putting up early-round numbers.

It's not like he disappointed in his 17 starts as a rookie last year. He just wasn't an ace from the get-go, struggling with his command at first before settling in with a seven-start stretch in which he compiled a 2.44 ERA and 1.22 WHIP with 2.4 walks compared to 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings.

Sure, he finished the season with a shaky outing Sept. 17, but anything can happen in one start. His previous seven were more indicative of the progress he made, and his potential speaks for itself. He was even more highly regarded than Matt Harvey coming up through the minors. In fact, for as much as his control appeared to hold him back in 2013, he wasn't any more wild than Harvey as a rookie, issuing 4.1 walks per nine innings to Harvey's 3.9, and look how much progress Harvey made from one year to the next.

As with so many of the players on this list, an investment in Wheeler is an investment in pedigree and the belief that players ultimately become what they're supposed to be. Based on his performance during that seven-start stretch, it's not too difficult to envision for him.

Brandon Belt, 1B, Giants (Roto: Rd. 15, H2H: Rd. 17)

Like the nesting robin or blooming dogwood, Belt's appearance in a breakouts column has become a harbinger of spring. But this time ... yes, this time will be the time it actually pays off.

His numbers have risen every year in the majors (with significant jumps in OPS in both 2012 and 2013), to the point that his 17 home runs and .841 OPS last year are both already usable in standard mixed leagues. But I still expect more from a player who slugged .596 over his minor-league career. The truth is, if he didn't play half his games at pitcher-friendly AT&T Park, Belt might already have arrived. In 246 at-bats on the road last year, he hit .305 with 11 homers and a .901 OPS.

So does his home park confine him to middle-tier status? At age 25, he's just now entering his prime, which means he still hasn't peaked in terms of power. His last two months of 2013 showed what could be in store. During that time, he hit .346 with seven home runs and a .984 OPS in 191 at-bats -- and that's including home games, away games, everything.

Most likely, that batting average is unsustainable over the long haul, but if those two months were the logical next step in his progression and not just a prolonged hot streak, he's not far off from the Freddie Freemans and Eric Hosmers of the world, giving him a shot at a .300-plus batting average and 20-plus home runs. And of course, he's available a good 10 rounds later.

Christian Yelich, OF, Marlins (Roto: Rd. 17, H2H: Rd. 17)

Your faith in Yelich reveals something about your faith in nature. He certainly held his own after his promotion in 2013, reaching base at a .370 clip and stealing 10 bases in 62 games, which projects to about 25 over a full season. But his four home runs in 240 at-bats didn't make him out to be a world-beater in Fantasy.

Those who saw him play, though, understand it perfectly: He was a twig. Few major-leaguers ever look the way he did (and perhaps still does), and the ones who do don't for long (see Cabrera, Miguel). I don't say that to pick on skinny people -- talk about the pot calling the kettle black -- or to suggest they can't hit home runs, but Yelich's physique shows just how much development he still has ahead of him. He's only going to get bigger and stronger over time, and judging by his numbers on the road last year -- where he hit .319 with four home runs and an .862 OPS in 119 at-bats -- it won't take much to get his overall numbers up to where his pedigree says they belong.

Will he get there this year? No one can say just yet, but seeing as he's a potential five-category contributor for the cost of a fourth outfielder, why not see the glass half full?

He already has the hardest part figured out. He knows the strike zone and isn't overwhelmed by big-league pitching (which should make him relevant in Head-to-Head points leagues even if the power continues to lag). The rest is just nature.

Adam Eaton, OF, White Sox (Roto: Rd. 19, H2H: 18)

Still licking your wounds from last year with Eaton? Yeah, that partially torn UCL late in spring training really threw everyone for a loop. He went from being arguably the most popular sleeper in Fantasy -- the one that goes for $20 in auctions even though everyone projects him for only $5 or $6 -- to the latest candidate for Tommy John surgery.

Eaton himself couldn't provide any reassurance. He spent months rehabbing the injury, not knowing if it would all be in vain. Remember: He suffered a setback about midway through that forced him to start over, so even though he didn't return until July, it was still something of a rush job.

In other words, you shouldn't assess him by the numbers he put up last year. His spring training came against players in midseason form. Just the difference in plate discipline from his brief stint in 2012 suggests something was off. Over his minor-league career, he reached base at a .450 clip, so he knows the strike zone as well as any 25-year-old can.

With the White Sox, he should have even more of an opportunity to succeed. They don't have quite the logjam the Diamondbacks had in their outfield, and they showed their appreciation for his skill set by giving up what looked long a long-term rotation option in Hector Santiago for him.

They understand what Fantasy owners need to understand: Everything that made Eaton a sleeper last year -- the speed, the doubles and triples pop, the incredible batting eye -- still applies, only now it actually comes with a sleeper price tag.

Anthony Rendon, 2B, Nationals (Roto: Rd. 21, H2H: Rd. N/A)

Given how little baseball he had actually played in the years leading up to the promotion, what Rendon did in his half-season as a rookie last year was a testament to his natural ability.

He had surgery on his right ankle as a freshman in college only to re-injure it as a sophomore, but it took a strained shoulder late in his junior season to eliminate him as the first overall pick in the 2011 draft, allowing the Nationals to grab him at sixth overall. Just imagine: All the hype heaped on Gerrit Cole as the top pick in that draft would instead belong to Rendon if not for bad luck. And it didn't end there. He broke his ankle in his first year with the Nationals, limiting him to just 43 games.

That was 2012. He reached the majors the very next April.

So basically, after having each of his college seasons shortened by injury and playing only 79 games over two seasons in the minors (where he compiled a .939 OPS, by the way), Rendon jumped right into an everyday job in the big leagues and, at the very least, held his own. I'd argue he did more than that. Sure, his poor July put a damper on his spectacular June, but he hit over .270 in both August and September, with an on-base percentage over .350 and a slugging percentage over .400.

In other words, for three of his four months on the job, he was an above-average middle infielder ... after having almost no time to develop. I wouldn't want to bet against that kind of talent, especially when the cost is next to nothing.

Devin Mesoraco, C, Reds (Roto: Rd. 22, H2H: N/A)

The only knock on Mesoraco so far is that he began his career under Dusty Baker. Never one to see the big picture, the veteran-loving manager affixed the young catcher, theretofore a top prospect, to the bench in favor of the more experienced but offensively uninspiring Ryan Hanigan.

But Baker is gone now, as is Hanigan, leaving Mesoraco with every opportunity to make good on the potential that Fantasy owners have long since forgotten. Consider this your refresher.

In 2012, Baseball America named Mesoraco the 16th-best prospect in baseball, or what they just named Noah Syndergaard this year. He was coming off a year in which he hit .289 with an .855 OPS at Triple-A, which followed a year in which he hit .302 with a .964 OPS between three levels. His combination of power and patience was rare among catchers, giving him a chance to become a Fantasy force playing half his games in hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park.

Though in a reserve role, he's fallen well short of those expectations, but has shown flashes of potential when given the chance to play more regularly. He's a career .333 hitter with a .937 OPS in spring training and hit .286 with an .820 OPS during a 21-game stretch in which he filled in for an injured Hanigan last summer.

Mesoraco's delayed ascension to the starting role isn't too unlike Miguel Montero's in 2009. Montero's numbers then should give you some idea how productive Mesoraco could be as a second catcher. Even in leagues that require just one, don't be surprised if he makes an impact off the waiver wire.

Also in the discussion: Wil Myers, OF, TB; Matt Moore, SP, TB; Danny Salazar, SP, CLE; David Robertson, RP, NYY; Drew Smyly, RP, DET

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott at @CBSScottWhite .

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Player News
Report: Angels' Hamilton likely to receive suspension
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(2:05 am ET) Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton will likely be suspended for at least 25 games, according to FoxSports.com.

Hamilton met with Major League Baseball on Wednesday for a disciplinary hearing. CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman reported that Hamilton experienced a drug relapse a few months ago, and confessed that relapse to MLB. 

This is technically Hamilton's second violation as a major-leaguer. Hamilton was on the Rays 40-man roster during his first suspension, making him a major-league player. Typically, players who violate their drug treatment program for the first time are subject to a 15-25 game suspension. Given that this is Hamilton's second violation of his drug treatment program, it's unclear how severe the punishment will be.

With that said, commissioner Rob Manfred is reportedly trying to be lenient with any punishment. The league has a "favorable view of Hamilton's efforts to remain sober." Since his return to the majors, Hamilton has spoken honestly about his struggles with addition.

On top of that, Manfred is concerned about making the punishment too harsh. Hamilton's past relaspes have come when he's been away from the game. Manfred reportedly is not close to making a final decision on Hamilton's punishment at this time. 

Hamilton was already expected to miss the beginning of the season due to a shoulder surgery. It's unclear how much longer he'll be out due to a suspension.


Angels, Huston Street haven't talked extension yet
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:11 am ET) The Angels and closer Huston Street have not talked about an extension yet, according to MLB.com.

Both sides are reportedly interested in a deal, but Street wanted to wait a week in order to settle in to camp. Once that happens, the two sides are expected to start negotiating a new deal. Street is entering the final year of his contract, and will make $7 million in 2015.

Street, 31, posted a 1.37 ERA over 59 1/3 innings last year.


Phillies' Ryan Howard working on his swing
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:20 am ET) Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is working on his swing, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer

Howard has spent time working with Charlie Manuel during camp. Manuel was brought in as spring training hitting instructor. Manager Ryan Sandberg has noticed the change in Howard's approach already. "As far as making some adjustments there, to really zone in to something that can really be productive for him and a little bit more consistent," Sandberg said. "I think there has been a little tweaking going on there."

Howard apparently has looked different at the plate. His stance has been described as "looser" and his hands are much lower when he starts his swing. 

The 35-year-old hit .223/.310/.380 over 569 at-bats last year. 


Dodgers unsure how Grandal, Ellis will split time
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(2/26/2015) The Dodgers aren't sure how they'll platoon their two catchers, according to the Orange County Register.

A.J. Ellis has been the team's primary option the past few seasons, but the club brought in Yasmani Grandal during the offseason. While Grandal has a much higher offensive upside, it's unclear how much he'll play once the regular season begins. 

"There’s nothing going to come out of this camp where we’re going to say, ‘OK, this guy is going to start 72 percent of the time’" general manager Andrew Friedman said. "It’s going to be much more about Donnie (Mattingly) writing the lineup each and every day for what gives us the best chance to win that day."

Mattingly admitted that Grandal has "tremendous upside offensively," so it's possible he could lead that way more often. While Mattingly has indicated that he doesn't want to assign any personal catchers yet, there's a sense Ellis could be used when Clayton Kershaw is on the mound. 

Grandal hit .225/.327/.401 over 377 at-bats last year. Ellis hit .191/.323/.254 over 283 at-bats. 


Giants sign Ronny Cedeno to minor-league deal
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(2/26/2015) The Giants have signed infielder Ronny Cedeno to a minor-league deal, according to the PCL transactions page.

Cedeno, 32, spent most of the year in the minors. He hit .313/.368/.431 over 281 at-bats in Triple-A. Cedeno received nine at-bats with the Phillies, but failed to record a hit. 


Brewers' Scooter Gennett glad to have full-time role
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(2/26/2015) Brewers infielder Scooter Gennett is glad to have a full-time role heading into 2015, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Gennett spent last season in a platoon with Rickie Weeks, but with Weeks gone, he'll assume the full-time role. Gennett said he feels far less stressed about his position on the team this spring. "Seeing as I'm pretty much the everyday guy, that eliminated the stress, or whatever you want to call it, off my back," he said. 

"Just not having to worry about stuff out of my control. I've put myself in this position where I've earned the job, I've shown them what I can do, and now it's about consistently doing it," he added. 

Manager Ron Roenicke has already said he'll give Gennett plenty of opportunities to prove himself against left-handers. 

Gennett, 24, hit .289/.320/.434 over 440 at-bats last season. 


Cubs' Arismendy Alcantara will play all over the place
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(2/26/2015) Cubs utility man Arismendy Alcantara is going to play a lot of positions this season, according to ESPN.

Alcantara saw time in center last season, but the team's trade for Dexter Fowler will alter his role. Alcantara says he's ready for the challenge. "Mentally you have to be ready for that," Alcantara said. "They want me to play second base and the outfield." He's also expected to see some time at third base. 

Manager Joe Maddon is glad to have such a versatile player on the team. "When you get a guy like that and you want to give someone a rest, you don't feel like you're losing anything," Joe Maddon said. "And the big attraction there is also in-game. It's like having an extra guy on the bench."

The 23-year-old Alcantara hit .205/.254/.367 over 278 at-bats last year. 


Rockies ask Corey Dickerson to be more patient
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(2/26/2015) The Rockies want Corey Dickerson to be a little more patient at the plate, according to MLB.com.

Dickerson had a breakout season in 2014, hitting .312/.364/.567 over 436 at-bats. He walked in 7.7 percent of his plate appearances, which was actually just above the league average. Still, the team wants Dickerson to be slightly less of a free-swinging this year.

"I talked to Corey about adding this much discipline to his game," manager Walt Weiss said. "We don't want that much, because then he wouldn't be Corey Dickerson." Weiss explained that it's difficult to deliver this type of message, as Dickerson's aggressiveness makes him effective. 

Dickerson said he would work harder to study pitchers and work on his approach during games. 

The 25-year-old is expected to open the year as the team's starter in left.


Marlins unlikely to add reliever now
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(2/26/2015) The Marlins are unlikely to add a reliever now that Francisco Rodriguez is off the market, according to MLB.com.

The Marlins were involved in negotiations for K-Rod through at least Wednesday, and were reportedly willing to offer $10 million over two years. The club has been looking for a veteran reliever for some time, but may pass now that Rodriguez has signed with the Brewers.

Both Rafael Soriano and Phil Coke have been connected to Miami, but the team would likely only sign those players to minor-league contracts.


Diamondbacks' Chase Anderson a favorite for the rotation
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(2/26/2015) The Diamondbacks consider Chase Anderson a favorite to break camp in the rotation, according to azcentral.com.

The club wants to create a lot of competition for the rotation, and it was initially believed Anderson would be competing for a spot. General manager Dave Stewart sort of quashed those rumors, saying he perceives Anderson as a strong favorite right now. "Chase Anderson won nine games for us last year; you have to strongly consider him as part of our rotation," Stewart said. 

Anderson is expected to pair with Josh Collmenter and Jeremy Hellickson for now. The club will determine the final two spots in the rotation during camp.

Anderson, 27, posted a 4.01 ERA over 114 1/3 innings last year.


 
 
 
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