My colleague Blake Murphy just got done telling you why the Dewan method for finding spring breakouts isn’t all that successful. Even when Blake tried to control for quality of opponent, it turns out that small samples are just small samples. In the regular season, ISO takes 550 plate appearances to “stabilize.” That requirement doesn’t change just because it’s Spring Training.
There’s your disclaimer. I’m going to go ahead and use the Dewan method anyway. I’ve had some small success by manually limiting the list to the players who have the best DNA for a breakout. I don’t have any specific, objective criteria that I use. Generally speaking, I’m looking for young players who have underperformed their scout reports. For example, Jose Bautista is an honorable mention after his huge spring proved his health, but I’m not going to write him up as a breakout candidate. I performed this exercise last year and went 3-for-6, which is right in line with how the Dewan method performs. The important part – my successes were BIG (Brandon Belt, Josh Donaldson, and Domonic Brown).
All five of the players on the breakout list play in the Cactus League. I’ve set up base camp in the Phoenix area, and I can personally attest that conditions have been very favorable for extra base hits all spring. I also have an app that rates home run conditions on a 1-10 point scale. Every day has been a nine or 10, meaning big yaya times.
Chris Heisey, OF, Cincinnati Reds
Heisey had a huge spring with 12-of-17 hits going for extra bases. That includes six home runs, five doubles, and a triple. The problem is a 10-to-1 K/BB ratio which could be a sign of over-aggression. It could also be a sign of a small sample.
Heisey is the fourth outfielder in Cincinnati behind a group that includes Ryan Ludwick and Billy Hamilton. Skip Schumaker is now sidelined, so Heisey has that much less competition for backup reps. I’m sure he’s made a good impression with new manager Bryan Price, so don’t be surprised if he’s finding a lot of playing time early on. Keep an eye out on how often he starts and how he performs, he could be a post-draft steal.
Brad Miller, SS, Seattle Mariners
Miller has been a fashionable “sleeper” all draft season ever since our projection systems pegged him for average or better production across all five categories. He’s not hurting that label with his mashing. He has 24 hits in 55 at bats, which screams BABIP regression. However, he’s also popped six doubles, four! triples, and four home runs. Keep in mind, the Cactus League is high octane fun whereas Safeco Field is much less so.
Miller should be the uncontested shortstop in Seattle, the bigger question is, where does he bat in the lineup? Author shrugs. Miller did have slightly more power in the minors than he showed last season and he’s entering his age 24 season, so a bump in offense wouldn’t be a shock.
Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies
Arenado was a bat first prospect in the minors when he had a couple thousand RBI. Last year, everyone realized that maybe the bat wasn’t all that great. However, his glove was excellent so his job is very secure. Meanwhile, he still calls Coors Field his home and has hit well this spring.
So far, he has 17 hits and eight extra base hits in 47 at bats. Those numbers are a little less superfluous than the first two players on our list.
Junior Lake, OF, Chicago Cubs
I’m really not confident about including Lake because there’s a lot wrong with his game. The Cubs have every reason to get him plenty of experience this year, but his playing time will be complicated by Justin Ruggiano, Nate Schierholtz, and Ryan Sweeney.
He’s shown good power this spring, including four home runs, two doubles, and 11 hits in 44 at bats. What he’s not shown is discipline – 12 strikeouts compared to two walks. We’re looking at an NL Only or very deep mixed league breakout prospect. The other guys might play in shallower formats. Lake probably won’t – even if he manages a .180 ISO. He’s shown high BABIP’s throughout his entire career and he’ll need that to continue in order to succeed.
Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs
I’m kind of annoyed when I turn up common breakout picks with this measure, but I have to follow the numbers to some extent. Eno described Rizzo as a “chip shot and a ducksnort (away from) .280 and 30 home runs.” He’ll also steal a couple bases, which is always nice from a first baseman.
His spring stats haven’t been slap-you-in-the-face amazing, but he’s managed 15 hits in 45 at bats to go with two home runs, one triple, and three doubles. Since Rizzo was an offseason favorite and has carried the torch into the spring, I would call that a good sign.
These are players who look poised for rebounds or post-breakout players who might improve.
Carlos Gomez – Three strikeouts in 47 plate appearances. That’s a six percent rate compared to his career 23 percent strikeout rate. Even if he just trims that figure down to 20 percent it has value. I don’t like that he’ll be leading off as I’d prefer his skill set to be immediately in front of or behind Ryan Braun.
Jose Bautista – He looks healthy. Remember what he did the last time he was healthy? Just don’t forget that he’s 33-years-old.
Martin Prado – He’s ping-ponged around over his career and 2013 was a bit of a down year. His position flex combined with some upside is nice. A lot of owners are targeting that flex.
Jimmy Rollins – I’ll keep trumpeting Rollins, who I just don’t believe has gone from a perennial 20 home run threat to a non-presence. He has a low BABIP this spring and – more importantly – three home runs.
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