As New Year’s bells ring and the football regular season winds to a close many sports fan’s minds begin to dream of the warmer days ahead and of course…baseball. Now that we are in January spring training is right around the corner and it is never too early to look at which players may surprise us this season with big years. First, let’s look at the hitters:
Odubel Herrera (OF, Philadelphia Phillies)
As a 2015 Rule 5 draftee Odubel was forced to spend the entire season in the majors even though he previously had no experience above AA ball. The Phillies did not stash him on the bench though; he played regularly and received most of his at bats from the lead off position where he was able to show off his plus speed. This season of experience will speak volumes for Odubel as he enters his age 24 season. Because of his speed and the fact that 70% of the balls he hits are ground balls or line drives you can expect his batting average can remain above .280 (he did strike out 25% of his at bats but that should decrease as his plate discipline improves). With the current talent in Philly I could see Odubel playing every day and batting leadoff again and could produce double-digit home runs along with 25-30 stolen bases.
Mookie Betts (OF, Boston Red Sox)
Put a big red circle around this one – this guy is a budding superstar in this league. Forget his small stature (5’9”, 155 lbs), Mookie hits the ball hard – and often. Striking out only 14% of the time in his first full year in the majors (his percentage was even lower than that in the minors) Mookie hit .291, swatted 18 home runs and stole 21 bases. He spreads the ball around – 38% of his balls in play were grounders, 42% were fly balls and 19% were line drives – but he has the speed to turn those grounders into hits and the power to turn those fly balls into home runs or balls off the Green Monster. He showed a higher walk rate in the minors which should translate in the majors with more experience which will help both his batting average as well as his stolen base numbers. I can easily see Mookie taking that next step this season by hitting over .300 and posting 20 home runs and 25 stolen bases.
Yangervis Solarte (3B, San Diego Padres)
I will be honest I did not see 2015 coming with Yangervis. Poor showings by Jedd Gyorko and Wil Middlebrooks opened up a door that Yangervis walked right through by posting career highs with 14 home runs and 63 RBIs in a career high 526 at bats. In 2016 he should be the everyday 3B. In looking at the numbers we all should have seen this coming – he usually strikes out only about 12% of his at bats and his hard contact is starting to produce more extra base hits. All of this contact shows an expectation that his batting average could rise above .280 and hit 20 home runs as well. A weak San Diego lineup and Petco park could temper expectations a bit but those who bet against him have been wrong in the past.
Jorge Soler (OF, Chicago Cubs)
The Cuban import’s first full year in the “Bigs” had some bumps in the road. He had a difficult time figuring out major league pitching and struck out 33% of the time while seeing his power numbers drop. If you look beyond the numbers though you can see that even with this high strike out rate his still managed to hit .262 (most batters who strike out 33% of the time hit about .230) and walked 8% of the time. This bodes well for future success as we should see a rise in his batting average as he gains more experience and he has shown plus power in the past that will also appear as he makes more hard contact. Although he does not possess much speed the numbers support a rise to a .280 batting average and 20 plus homers and easily 80 RBI in that stacked Cubs line up in 2016.
George Springer (OF, Houston Astros)
Here is another potential superstar in the making. Injuries have slowed his development but this could be the season we see 500 at bats from him. Even through the injuries we saw him decrease his strikeout rate by 10% in 2015 while still walking 11% of the time. He hit line drives 24% of the time which is 4% above the league average of 20%. Both his power and speed numbers are well above MLB average and still developing. Entering his “breakout years” (26-28) a step to the next level of breaking 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases is well within reach – If he can stay healthy .
Injury Related Breakouts:
Keep an eye on the following players whose 2015 numbers were depressed due to missing significant time with injury. A healthy 2016 should produce career highs for all of them: Matt Adams (1B, St. Louis Cardinals), Zack Cozart (SS, Cincinnati Reds), Khris (not Chris) Davis (OF, Milwaukee Brewers), Corey Dickerson (OF, Colorado Rockies), Yasmani Grandal (C, Los Angeles Dodgers), Matt Weiters (C, Baltimore Orioles).