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.Embed from Getty Images
Fun fact #1: Yan Gomes is the first Brazilian born player ever in the Major Leagues. Fun fact #2: On July 30, 2013, Gomes faced pitcher Andre Rienzo, the first Brazilian pitcher in Major League history, for the first Brazil vs. Brazil matchup in MLB history. Fun fact #3: Only the Strong is a movie from 1993 about the Brazilian martial art of capoeira, starring Mark Dacascos, now host of Iron Chef America – a movie that I frequently watched on HBO when I was a kid. Okay, now that I got that out of the way, let’s check out the breakout year that Gomes had in 2014.
Gomes came up through the Blue Jays organization and had an underwhelming showing at the plate when he first reached the Majors in 2012. He was then traded to the Indians where he was blocked by Carlos Santana at catcher. But in limited playing time in 2013, Gomes displayed above average skills at the plate as well as behind the plate. In 88 games in the 2013 season, Gomes hit for a .294 AVG with 11 HR and 45 RBI while establishing himself as one of the best pitch framers in the league. Such a strong showing on both sides of the ball provided the Indians the perfect opportunity to begin transitioning Santana to another position to help preserve the health of one of their most dangerous offensive players.
So in 2014, it was Gomes who saw the majority of the time behind the plate as Santana spent most of his time at the corner infield positions, starting only 10 games as the backstop for the Indians while Gomes got 121 starts. In addition to receiving regular playing time, the other reasons for Gomes’ breakout season were improvements in his line drive rate as well as his HR/flyball rate. The owner of a .346 BABIP in the Minors, it was no surprise to see Gomes be able to post a strong line drive rate to keep his BABIP at a very healthy mark of .326 last year. It was also hardly a surprise that he improved on his HR/flyball rate to end up surpassing the 20 HR plateau, since he had shown that type of power in 2012 at AAA and 2013 with the Indians as a part-time player. In retrospect, it was pretty easy to see that Gomes had breakout potential and he should have been a targeted player for many fantasy owners in 2013 drafts once the top catchers were off the board. I know he was a target of mine! Gomes finished his age 26 season hitting .278 AVG, 21 HR, 74 RBI, 61 R, 0 SB, 120 K, 24 BB in 485 AB.
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This season, my primary late round catcher target and pick to be this year’s Yan Gomes is Travis d’Arnaud of the Mets. d’Arnaud may not be Brazilian like Gomes, but rumor has it that he has a Brazilian wax job. What is the origin of that rumor you ask? Well, it came from a fantasy baseball blogger who just made it up because he was just trying to be funny and cheesy because that is his style of writing. Anyway, d’Arnaud was a 1st round draft pick by the Phillies in 2007, and while that may not be enough to convince someone that he has some good talent, maybe the following fun fact will. Before d’Arnaud played in one Major League game he was included as a primary piece in an off-season trade for a newly crowned Cy Young Award winning pitcher on two different occasions. I would imagine that d’Arnaud must be the only player that has been in that particular situation two separate times. If anyone from Elias Sports Bureau is reading this, could I please get a fact check on that? Before the 2010 season, d’Arnaud went from the Phillies to the Blue Jays in a deal that sent Cy Young winner Roy Halladay to Philly, and before the 2012 season he was then traded to the Mets in a deal that netted the Jays the newly crowned Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey.
During his time in the lower level of the Minors, d’Arnaud struggled to live up to his potential. However, in 2011 at AA he turned on the juice and hit for a .311 AVG with 21 HR in 114 games. He followed that up in 2012 at AAA with a .333. AVG and 16 HR in only 67 games. This gave him some serious steam as a top prospect heading into the 2013 season, but that steam got put on hold when he suffered a non-displaced fracture in his left foot early in season, costing him 3 and ½ months. Despite the injury, he still managed to make his Major League debut as a late season call-up, but the .202 AVG and only 1 HR in 112 AB failed to impress anybody.
Even though d’Arnaud did not have a success in his first stint as a Major Leaguer, it made a lot of sense for the Mets to give him a chance at being their primary catcher to begin the 2014 season. d’Arnaud took that opportunity and very much stood still with it. Over 31 games played to begin the season, d’Arnaud found his batting average below the Mendoza line (.196 AVG) and had only hit 1 HR in 102 AB. This was a near mirror image of his time with the Mets in 2013 and it led to his demotion to AAA. Seemingly, that demotion lit a fire under him as he spent the next couple weeks demolishing AAA pitching, earning him a very quick promotion back to the bigs. He was a more confident and different hitter upon rejoining the Mets, and ultimately he finished the 2014 campaign with a .242 AVG, 13 HR, 48 RBI, 41 R, 1 SB, 64 K, 32 BB in 385 AB. Now that’s not the most fabulous statistical line, but I will show you why I am optimistic about his outlook for 2015 at age 26 by diving deeper into his 2014 season.
- d’Arnaud in Majors pre-demotion (March 31-May 13): .196 AVG, 1 HR, 18.4 K%, 9.6 BB%
- d’Arnaud in Minors post-demotion (May 14-May 27): .436 AVG, 6 HR, 8.5 K%, 5.1 BB%
- d’Arnaud in Majors post-promotion (May 29-September 28) .258 AVG, 12 HR, 14.0 K%, 6.8 BB%
So what can be gathered from this information is that before he was demoted to AAA, d’Arnaud had a more patient approach at the plate that led to him getting deep into counts, allowing him to draw a lot of walks but also go down on strikes more. At AAA after his demotion, he had very low strikeout and walk rates as perhaps he was making a conscious effort to be more aggressive and put the ball in play early in counts. This seemed to be working for him as evidenced by the .436 AVG and 6 HR in 2 weeks. Upon getting promoted back to the Majors, d’Arnaud seemed to employ more of the aggressive approach that he had at AAA and it brought him much better results this time around. With this possible epiphany that d’Arnaud had at the plate combined with the success he had at the higher levels of the Minors, I think that he is poised for a breakout year and he likely can be had for a cheap price in drafts. Don’t sleep on him too long!
2014 Yan Gomes stats: .278 AVG, 21 HR, 74 RBI, 61 R, 0 SB, 120 K, 24 BB in 485 AB
2015 Travis d’Arnaud projection: .273 AVG, 20 HR, 68 RBI, 53 R, 2 SB, 76 K, 32 BB in 480 AB
ʞonfidence Rating: 7ʞ out of 10ʞ
Other candidates to be “This Year’s Yan Gomes”: Yasmani Grandal, Wilson Ramos, Derek Norris