When preparing for a new season, fantasy baseball enthusiasts are always wanting to know who is going to be the next big breakout player. Drafting or picking up a player on waivers for his breakout season gives fantasy owners a feeling of superiority, a feeling of omniscience in some sense. Whether that feeling is justified or not is another question. But even if your team comes in last place, you can take ownership that you “knew” Jose Bautista would bust out for 54 HR, or that your hunch that R.A. Dickey would knuckle his way into a Cy Young Award panned out. So at The Backwards K, there is a series of posts titled “This Year’s…” where I will tell you who I think this year’s version of a 2014 breakout player will be, providing some background and analysis.
Todd Frazier first saw Major League action in 2011 and displayed some natural power skills by hitting 6 HR in 112 AB in a late-season call up by the Reds. Frazier began the 2012 season in the Minors, but it was not long before he was called up for good to be the primary third baseman for the big league club. In his official rookie season, Frazier once again showed the same type of power potential by blasting 19 HR in 422 AB while also managing to post a respectable AVG of .273. This strong showing generated breakout buzz for him entering the 2013 season as a sophomore, but despite an increased walk rate and decreased strikeout rate, Frazier regressed to a .234 AVG and had the same 19 HR total but in 109 more AB than the previous year. However, that .234 AVG was brought down by some poor luck on balls in play (.269 BABIP). At every level that he played at in the Minors, Frazier posted a BABIP north of .300, and he had BABIP of .316 in his 2012 rookie season. So a BABIP as low as .269 seemed to be a bit of an outlier, which was going to leave room for improvement for him heading into the 2014 season. Also in Frazier’s favor for the 2014 season was the statement that new Reds manager Bryan Price made at the beginning of Spring Training that he wanted his team to run more. This was great news for Frazier, because even though he was only about league average in speed, he did seem to have a knack for stealing some bases as he stole as many as 17 in one Minor League stop. Under the management of Dusty Baker from 2011-13, Frazier had just 10 SB in 318 games.
Manager Price lived up to his promise about being more aggressive on the base paths, which was a big part of the 2014 breakout for the 28-year old Frazier. The other factors in Frazier’s breakout were his bounce back in BABIP as it climbed back up to .309, and further progression in his power stroke at the Major League level where he saw a boost in his average flyball distance and HR/flyball rate. Overall, Frazier posted a line of .273 AVG, 29 HR, 80 RBI, 88 R, 20 SB in 597 AB. Amazingly, Frazier was one of five players to post a 20 HR/20 SB season (others were Michael Brantley, Carlos Gomez, Ian Desmond, and Brian Dozier). What an amazing breakout season from a player that was available in the late rounds of most fantasy drafts. So which player in 2015 will be able to go toe-to-toe and be the Ali to this Frazier and win the championship “belt”? Well, if you did not catch on to the foreshadowing there, I think the best candidate to be this year’s Frazier is Brandon Belt.
Though Belt was only a 5th round pick for the Giants in 2009 out of the University of Texas, he quickly made an impact in the Minors and rose through the farm system playing at four different levels in 2010, finishing the year at AAA in his first season of professional baseball. Across those four levels, Belt hit .354 AVG, 24 HR, 128 RBI, 115 R, 23 SB in 579 AB to establish himself as the top hitting prospect in the organization. Belt earned a spot on the 2011 opening day roster, but like many young rookies, he struggled to produce and live up to the expectations and was eventually sent back to AAA. To say the least, Belt’s Major League career up to this point has been very inconsistent and mediocre. Take a look at his year-to-year stats.
- 2011: .225 AVG, 9 HR, 18 RBI, 21 R, 3 SB, 27.3 K%, 9.6 BB% in 187 AB
- 2012: .275 AVG, 7 HR, 56 RBI, 47 R, 12 SB, 22.5 K%, 11.4 BB% in 411 AB
- 2013: .289 AVG, 17 HR, 67 RBI, 76 R, 5 SB, 21.9 K%, 9.1 BB% in 509 AB
- 2014: .243 AVG, 12 HR, 27 RBI, 30 R, 3 SB, 27.2 K%, 7.7 BB% in 214 AB
So as you can see, Belt’s batting average, power, and speed have been all over the place, but there are reasons to believe in the true breakout in 2015. This year will be Belt’s age 27 season, so he is just about entering his prime. As a former top prospect who is about to enter his prime, Belt has the pedigree to be able to put things all together. Belt began to show signs of a power breakout last year before a broken thumb and then concussion like symptoms derailed his season. Prior to landing on the DL in mid-May, Belt was amongst the league leaders in HR with 9. However, the increase in power seemed to come at the expense of more strikeouts and less line drives, which left him with just a .264 AVG at the time. Also contributing to his lower AVG was the fact that defenses used a shifted alignment against him a lot, and he was unable to make the adjustments in season. I would not be too worried about that though heading into the 2015 season. Belt has always shown the tendency to post strong line drive rates (25.6% in 2012 and 24.3% in 2013 before 18.0% in 2014), which is what has allowed him to post such a strong career BABIP of .332. I also think that he will find different ways to beat the shift, as he did in the World Series when he laid down the first bunt hit of his career (as pictured above). So I would expect a rebound in BABIP and and uptick in AVG while still maintaining solid power.
An area that may be of uncertainty for Belt in matching Frazier is the stolen base category. Belt has shown the ability to steal some bases as he stole 23 in the Minors in 2011 and then he stole 12 bags at the Major League level in 2012. However, the Giants have been in the bottom third of the league in stolen bases 3 out of the last 4 seasons, and with 2 championships in that timeframe they may not be in for a change in game plan. Perhaps though, Belt can still find a way to steal some bases as the club may find different ways to make up for losing the offense of Pablo Sandoval and Mike Morse.
Belt appears to be exuding with confidence as he believes in his growing power and nutritional diet. Couple that with the idea that Bruce Bochy is leaning towards batting Belt third in his lineup, and things seem to be aligning for Belt. With Belt batting third in front of Buster Posey, that could allow him to see more good pitches to hit and it also gives him the prime opportunity to be a run producer. Now while Belt may not end up producing a 20 HR/20 SB season like Frazier did in 2014, he does appear to be primed to have his best season yet and should strongly be considered to be this year’s Frazier.
2014 Todd Frazier Stats: .273 AVG, 29 HR, 80 RBI, 88 R, 20 SB, 139 K, 52 BB in 597 AB
2015 Brandon Belt Projection: .266 AVG, 27 HR, 88 RBI, 82 R, 11 SB, 149 K, 58 BB in 580 AB
ʞonfidence Rating: 5ʞ out of 10ʞ
Other candidates to be “This Year’s Todd Frazier”: Wil Myers, Brett Lawrie, Cody Asche, Michael Saunders