MLB fantasy roundtable: Top breakouts, busts and sleepers
Giancarlo Stanton, Brett Lawrie have hitting skills to become fantasy stars
Jose Bautista's .257, 12-HR second half could predict decline this year
Yoenis Cespedes set a record in Cuba with 33 home runs in 90 games
Each week of the baseball, a committee of SI.com fantasy experts will meet at pitching mound and offer their insights into the most intriguing questions facing fantasy players.
Will Carroll (@injuryexpert.com): Brennan Boesch. He's always had solid power potential, but with the team around him, his numbers are sure to go up. After hearing about his off-season workouts, I started watching him and the approach seems to be taking in the spring. He's not going to be a superstar, but he's the kind of guy a winning team needs, and the Tigers will need that fourth or fifth bat in the lineup.
Gary Gramling (@GGramling_SI): I'd normally preach caution with a 22-year old, but I think Brett Lawrie is going to have a huge year: 30-plus homers, 90-plus runs and RBIs. He posted a .308 IsoP over 329 Triple-A plate appearances a year ago, not that it's a huge sample size, but for me it's enough to confirm that his MLB power output (nine HRs in 171 PAs) wasn't a fluke. Maybe he only hits in the .280s, but considering he doesn't strike out a lot for a young power hitter, his batting average is unlikely to plunge too far down.
Eric Mack (@EricMackFantasy): It depends on how you define breakout, but Lawrie has high expectations to join the elite of fantasy baseball right away. After just 150 at-bats a year ago, Lawrie is ranked and being picked among the stars of fantasy and the thinning third base position. But it tends to be the player with the greatest expectations who winds up disappointing. If you are looking for a good player to become great, go with 27-year-old B.J. Upton or a manchild Giancarlo Stanton. If you're looking for a player from nothing to something, then let's say Yu Darvish. He will trump the rookie seasons of past Japanese legends Hideo Nomo and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
David Sabino (@SI_DavidSabino): Is it possible for someone who hit 34 home runs as a 21-year old to have his breakout season the following year? It is when you play in a new stadium, with new teammates for a team with a new identity and under a new name. Giancarlo (formerly Mike) Stanton is one of baseball's brightest young stars and now will have the spotlight shine in his direction with the arrival of Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell and Ozzie Guillen in Dade County. In the American League, keep an eye north of the border on Lawrie, who suffered through a painful 2011 season but has as much talent as any young infielder in the majors and will be given a full chance to join Jose Bautista as the cornerstones in Toronto.
Carroll: Jose Bautista. The power drop-off in the second half last season really has me worried. The expectations for him still are set off the 50-HR season, which isn't realistic for very many players. I don't think he'll be bad, but I'm not sure he doesn't miss the regular presence of Cito Gaston more than anyone realizes.
Gramling: David Wright has a good shot at earning the lifetime achievement award here. There was some cause for optimism with the fences coming in a bit at the new Shea, but that ab injury is enough for me to swear off him. And who's he going to drive in anyway?
Mack: Well, it is going to be someone injured, but projecting a freak injury isn't a successful business. If you want an early first-round disappointment, go with Bautista. The Jays star warrants being picked in the first five picks overall, but there is something about his past two years that seem like "flash in the pan" for me. It became more apparent when I noticed his second half split a year ago (.257-12-38-32-4) seems a bit too much like the pre-2010 Bautista.
Sabino: Lance Berkman had a great comeback season last year, leading the Cardinals all the way to the World Series, but a repeat performance is a bit too much to ask of a 36-year old with balky knees who will be involved on a lot more plays at first than he was in the outfield. I can see a return to his '10 numbers (.248/.368/.413, 14 HR, 58 RBI) much easier than those of his MVP-like '11 season (.301/.412/.547, 31 HR, 94 RBIs).
Carroll: The easy answer is Yu Darvish, who will be good, if not great. Jesus Montero will be very good as well and a big part of a Seattle resurgence. Also watch for Starling Marte, who will explode once he gets to the Pirates mid-summer.
Gramling: Clearly Matt Moore. He's going to strike out at least 175 and could easily top 200. His win total is the one worry, since he throws a lot of pitches and probably won't be allowed to work deep into games. But he should win around 12 with, at worst, an average ERA and WHIP.
Mack: This is easily Darvish. Yoenis Cespedes is a wild card because of the unknown, while wunderkinds Bryce Harper and Mike Trout figure to spend two months-plus in the minors. Moore is everyone's favorite right now, coming off his seven shutout postseason innings, but we should be expecting Darvish to be the best rookie in fantasy this season. The Rangers are a great contender with a potent offense getting him run support, too. It won't take much for Darvish to be the ace of the staff, maybe even a Cy Young candidate.
Sabino: There's little doubt it's going to be Darvish, who prior to his signing with the Rangers was the best pitcher in the world not in the majors. Beyond his fabulous command and control, he's pitching for a team with a great bullpen, a tremendous offense and a great pitching coach. Plus, he's in a division with the two weakest-hitting teams in the AL, Seattle and Oakland. Of the domestic rookies, I'm excited to see Matt Moore in action for a full season. Also, keep an eye on Bryce Harper, who, despite starting the season in the minors, will get enough of a turn at NL pitching to squarely put himself into the NL Rookie of the Year discussion.
Carroll: All of the Yankees older stars. Alex Rodriguez has become a Latin Chipper Jones. Derek Jeter is at the same late-stage as Cal Ripken was post-streak (Look at Jeter getting his 3000th hit as the end of streak and look at the stat line.) Even Mariano Rivera has looked tired this spring. They'll all produce, but not at the level we expect from them.
Gramling: I'm in the anti-Michael Pineda camp. The thought of more run support is certainly enticing, but you can't overlook the move from Safeco to the chain restaurant/baseball stadium in the Bronx. I've seen charts showing Pineda didn't give up many more flyballs that would have landed in the seats at his new home park, but you have to remember that with all the ads and clutter up in the outfield at the new Yankee Stadium, the wind will never be blowing in. There's a jet stream that will keep blowing out to rightfield, and that's bad news for a guy who gave up flyballs 44.8 percent of the time last year. Throw in all the peripheral stuff that goes with pitching in pinstripes (he's already been criticized for being fat, for a drop in velocity, and for being all-round nothing like Derek Jeter), and I think the 23-year old takes a big step back in the short term.
Mack: This goes back to Bautista, assuming you are throwing injury out. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley have already been in decline, and Chipper Jones has been falling apart for years. Outside of injury, Bautista just might disappoint us when we finally feel confident enough to pick him in the top five.
Sabino: After spending the entire offseason with the specter of a suspension hanging over his head, reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun was cleared, but that doesn't automatically mean a return to dominance. While Braun was fretting, his sole protection, Prince Fielder, was busy making his free agency rounds before landing in Detroit. Fielder was replaced by Aramis Ramirez, who has a fine bat but isn't the same caliber hitter as the ex-Brewers first baseman. Look for Braun's power numbers to shrink as he's pitched around a lot this year.
Carroll: I'm looking for one more great year from Ichiro. He seemed genuinely disturbed about last year's off year. If the team does what I think it will, I think he'll be energized by it and make the team even better. People are sleeping on Daisuke Matsuzaka, as well. He's a low-round pick that will solidify the back of the Boston rotation right when they'll need it most.
Gramling:Two guys I'm cautiously optimistic about are James Loney and Chris Volstad. I mostly like Loney because he's relatively low-risk, a guy whose 2011 line is a worst-case scenario. I'm not a big first half/second half split believer, but his .914 OPS, .534 slugging pct. and .214 IsoP after the All-Star break last year should get you a little bit giddy. While he's disappointed in the past, he's still only 27. As for Volstad, he was a tough luck guy as well as someone who hasn't quite put it together. His peripherals in '11 (when he went 5-13 with a 4.89 ERA) were actually better than they were in '10 (when he went 12-9 with a 4-58 ERA). He upped his strikeout rate (from 5.25 per 9 to 6.36) cut his walk rate (from 3.09 per 9 to 2.66) and increased his ground ball rate (from 47.9 percent to 52.3 percent). The .324 opponents batting average with RISP is a big part of what killed him a year ago, but it's correctable. The change in scenery was absolutely necessary, and in a best-case scenario he's capable of winning 15 with an ERA in the mid-3's.
Mack: I am a big Phil Hughes apologist. I love the fact you can get a former 18-game winner we haven't seen the best of -- pitching for an elite contender with a great offense getting him support -- as a late-round pick. Hughes might never live up to his once limitless potential, the kind that made Ian Kennedy last year's breakthrough pitcher of the year. Hughes can be Kennedy good and will be Kennedy-'11 cheap.
Sabino: He may not fit the profile of a true sleeper -- perhaps it's just the mystery surrounding him -- but I can't wait to watch what Yoenis Cespedes can do in the major leagues. Powerful, fast and built like an NFL running back, he set the home run record for the Cuban National Series with 33 in 90 games. With an ADP of 183 he could be a mega bargain in drafts.
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