Heading into the high stakes draft season in March, here are the top players to breakout for me in 2018. Yoan Moncada and Ronald Acuna are respected in drafts with both players having ADPs about 125. I’ve added my player profiles for each player, which can be found at ScoutFantasySports.com. All 30 teams are done with the recent signings and roster changes being added daily.
2B Yoan Moncada
Moncada has plenty of talent, but he strikes out too much (28.3 K rate at AAA in 2017 and 32.0 percent in the majors last year). He did take plenty of walks with Chicago (12.6 percent) with similar success in the minors (13.4). Over his 1,020 at-bats in the minors, Yoan hit .285 with 35 HRs, 136 RBI, and 111 SBs. He struggled over his first 38 at-bats with the White Sox (.105 with one HR, six RBI, and 16 Ks) before making steady progress in August (.238 over 63 at-bats with two HRs, five RBI, and 28 Ks) and September (.276 with five HRs and 11 RBI over 98 at-bats). Moncada had a tough time against both righties (.235 BAA) and lefties (.224 BAA). Yoan has explosive upside in both power and speed with a full season of at-bats in the majors. There is no doubt he is going to struggle to make contact early in his career, but he can still have success with a K rate in the 26.0 range. His failure is a similar number with some of the top young talents in the game. With better pitch recognition, his light bulb will flash brightly. Buy the power/speed skill set (20/40) while knowing his batting average still has a chance to surprise with a plus CTBA or a low K rate. Don’t overpay but bet on the come if the rest of the league delivers him at a discount.
There is a lot to like here except for his risk in batting average. A Fantasy owner should be attracted to his power/speed skill set. Moncada is going to be a top 20 pick once he figures out how to make better contact at the plate. A rare piece to the puzzle as long as a Fantasy owner covers his batting average risk.
OF Jorge Soler
The middle of the order cupboard in Kansas City looks empty, but someone will emerge to be a productive bat. Soler was once considered a top prospect. He’s lost his way over the last three seasons. When glancing at his 1,013 at-bats in the minors (.286 with 52 HRs, 179 RBI, and 18 SBs), a Fantasy owner should be able to see the upside and potential of Jorge. He has 32 HRs and 89 RBI over 403 at bats at AAA, but Soler struck out 24.5 percent of the time with a huge walk rate (14.7). In the majors, he’s yet to produce a winning season. Over 779 at-bats, Jorge hit .244 with 29 HRs and 104 RBI. HIs K rate (28.2) in the majors needs a lot of work with a slight step back in his walk rate (9.3). In AAA in 2017, he had a tremendous HR/FB rate (28.2) supported by his previous minor league resume. With the Royals last year, Soler only hit .144 with two HRs and six RBI over 97 at bats. Post-hype type player who won’t draw a lot of attention on draft day unless he has a great spring training. Possible breakout player with a chance at 20+ HRs and 80+ RBI.
Soler has been gaining some momentum in March after belting four HRs in spring training. He’s hitting .194 in 31 at-bats with eight RBI and a few too many Ks. I’ve seen his draft value move up by more than ten rounds in 15-team leagues over the last couple of weeks. The Royals will bat him in the middle of their lineup, and Jorge is expected to have the best opportunity of his career for at-bats in the majors. His swing path gives him 30+ HR power while not being dead in the water in batting average.
OF Ronald Acuna
Acuna will be the sexy rookie drafted in 2018. I’ve seen him get selected inside of the first ten rounds of 15 team drafts in the high stake’s market in January. His fast rise came from his breakout season over three levels of the minors in 2017 (.325 with 21 HRs, 82 RBI, and 44 SBs over 557 at-bats). His walk rate (7.0) wasn’t as strong as 2015 and 2016 (11.3) over his limited at-bats (416) with a slight drop-off in his K rate (23.5 – 17.1 over 2015 and 2016). HIs CTBA (.438) was explosive in 2017 while holding value with at each level in the minors last year (High A – .440, AA – .436, and AAA – .439). With success over 221 at-bats at AAA (.344 with 38 runs, nine HRs, 33 RBI, and 11 SBs), Ronald is expected to start this season in the majors. He doesn’t have a great success rate (70.5) stealing bases even with plus speed, so his high stolen base total (44) in 2017 may translate as high in his first year in the majors. Acuna has the makings of a .300 hitter with an early 15/30 skill set. The key to his counting stats will be his ability to handle a premium slot in the batting order. Intrigued for sure, but I need to find a balance between proven players and his expected 2018 results.
In early February, I was skeptical on the success/opportunity of Acuna in 2018. Fantasy owners have been drafting him all winter as though he’s already won a starting job in the majors. It appears the Braves will keep in the minors for a couple of weeks to keep an extra year of eligibility. After 12 games of at-bats in spring training, Acuna looks poised to make an impact in the majors (.419 with one HR, four RBI, and four stolen bases). With an ADP of 125, Ronald will be still a value in shallow leagues where he’ll be drafted as OF3 in most team structures. A friend of my that has a very good baseball eye expects Acuna to hit the ground running in his rookie season. Ronald passed the eye test while offering excellent bat speed. If he delivers on my projections (which can be found at here at ScoutFantasySports.com), Acuna will be well worth his draft value.
OF Kyle Schwarber
More than one-third of Schwarber’s hits ended up in the seats in 2017. His lack of contact (30.9 percent K rate) led to a frustrating season for Fantasy owners and Cubs’ fans. Over his first 64 games, Kyle hit .171 with 31 runs, 12 HRs, and 28 RBI over 222 at-bats leading to a refresher course at AAA. His bat had a slight uptick in July (.250 with five HRs and eight RBI). Schwarber was more productive over the last two months of the season (.257 with 27 runs, 13 HRs, and 26 RBI over 144 at-bats). His walk rate (12.1) remains an asset along with strength in his average hit rate (2.213). The other flaw in his game in 2017 was the huge drop in his CTBA (.327). When Kyle was at his best in the minors, his contact batting average was well over .400, which offset some of his downside in batting average due to his strikeouts. The biggest question headed in 2018 will be his role against lefties. Last year he hit .171 vs. LH pitching with three HRs, eight RBI, and 34 Ks in 82 at-bats. Chicago has a couple of extra viable bats who will compete with him for playing time if his game doesn’t make a huge step forward. Schwarber has a fly ball producing swing (46.5 percent) with strength in his HR/FB rate (24.0). In the offseason, Kyle has made an effort to have one of those “best shape of my life stories” in spring training. The reports have him losing 20 lbs., which may help his chances to see some time as a backup catcher. His bat was a huge edge over 554 at-bats in the minors (.334 with 110 runs, 38 HRs, 111 RBI, and six SBs) with a more favorable K rate (21.2). There’s a special player here, but a Fantasy will need to bet on the come in 2018. Buy the 40+ HR swing while hoping his approach improves with his new-found fitness. If he qualifies at catcher, Schwarber could very well be the best option at that position this season. Priced to payoff.
When I was in Arizona for the LABR auctions, I talked to a few high stakes baseball owners. Many weren’t in the Schwarber camp in 2018. I don’t have the same opinion. Kyle is my 2018 Scout Fantasy Sports Breakout player in 2018.
Schwarber has an ADP of 176 in March in the high stake’s market, which is up from his overall ADP (190) in 2018 thanks to a nice start in spring training (.333 over 27 at-bats with three HRs, four RBI, and three SBs). Kyle does have 11 Ks, so he’s still not showing growth in his approach.
Over 658 at-bats in his major league career, Kyle hit .222 with 119 runs, 46 HRs, 102 RBI, and four SBs while batting most of the time first or second in the batting order.
The flashing negative for Fantasy owners is his .211 batting average in 2017 plus a huge K rate (30.9 last year and 30.0 in his short career). Even with a high number of strikeouts, Schwarber did take plenty of walks (12.6 percent) in limited at-bats in the majors in his career.
His career .159 average against lefties has a platoon smell, and his defense will lead to an early exit in the 7th inning in close games when the Cubs have the lead.
Over three seasons in the minors, Kyle had what amounts to a full season of at-bats (554) in the majors. He hit .334 with 110 runs, 38 HRs, 111 RBI, and six SBs. His walk rate (14.4) had more value, and he did a much better job controlling the strikeouts (21.2 percent). In the minors, Schwarber went 53-for-178 (.298) vs. LH pitching with 12 HRs and 29 RBI.
In 2017, Kyle hit 30 HRs in 422 at-bats in the majors with a poor mindset at the plate. He came into camp in better shape, which will only help him on the defensive side of the ball. If the Cubs believed his skill set fit more of a DH type of role, they would have moved him over the winter.
Schwarber is going to be a stud hitter with huge power upside. My conservation projections at ScoutFantasySports.com have him hitting .262 over 522 at-bats with 97 runs, 38 HRs, 73 RBI, and four SBs. If Kyle starts off quickly in 2018, he should move into a better run-producing area, which will help his RBI total. With better control of the strike zone supported by his minor league resume, Schwarber has a chance to make a run at .300 in 2018. The home run of all home runs would be him qualifying at catcher at some point this year, which doesn’t seem likely.
Kyle will be a target of mine in the high stake’s market. I love his power upside, and I don’t fear his downside in playing time or batting average. His success in the minors vs. lefties is strong enough to believe Schwarber will be in the Cubs’ lineup almost every day.
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