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
It was a breakout year for Brian Dozier in 2014 as he emerged as one of only four players to collect 20 HR and 20 SB, and he also released a hit single titled “Take Me to Church.” What a multi-talented stud muffin! Okay, obviously I am joking and know the difference between Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier and Grammy nominated musician Hozier. But speaking of Hozier and his overplayed single “Take Me to Church,” a few weeks ago I was in the car and that song came on as I was passing a Church’s Chicken restaurant. I thought it was a sign that I needed to get myself some fried chicken, but I chose not to. “Cool story, bro.” Yeah, I know. Anyway…
The Bull-Dozier was never a flashy prospect as he made his way up through the Twins organization. He was an under the radar, grinder type of player who could impact a ballgame in several different ways. Last year, he was a bit of a surprise, but I won’t say that it was entirely unexpected, as his 2013 season wasn’t that far off in terms of per at-bat production in most offensive categories. As a player who had 18 HR and 14 SB in 558 AB in 2013, it was not too farfetched for Dozier to have had 23 HR and 21 SB in 598 AB in 2014. However, what was certainly unexpected was his runs total of 112, which was the second most of any player in the Majors. Dozier’s batting average (.242) was nearly identical to his 2013 mark (.244), but his walk rate jumped from 8.2% to 12.6%. Couple this with the fact that he spent all season hitting either leadoff or in the 2-hole for the Twins, instead of hitting all over in the lineup like he did in 2013, and those are the two main reasons for his breakout year. So who might be this year’s version of Dozier to go from underappreciated in the fantasy world to posting a 20/20 season while scoring runs like it’s nobody’s business (except Mike Trout’s).
Let’s take a look at Marcus Semien and see why he makes for a good candidate to be this year’s Dozier. Semien was drafted by and the White Sox in the 6th round of the 2011 draft, and he had mostly gone under the radar after his first couple seasons of professional baseball. However, Semien played very well across the Minor League levels in 2013 and made his Major League debut as a September call-up in the same season. Overall, Semien hit .267 with 23 HR and 26 SB in the 2013 season. This showing gave him a little bit of luster and Baseball America ranked him as the 90th best prospect heading into 2014.
Semien began the 2014 season with the White Sox as a starting player, but with just a .217 AVG on May 7, he seemingly lost his grip on a starting role and then was sent down to the Minors on June 1 as he was the owner of a paltry line of .218/.287/.327. Semien came back to the Majors once rosters expanded in September and had a much better showing that time around as he hit .273/.333/485 in the season’s final month. It is a small sample size, but that last month of the season does provide some reason for optimism for his 2014 outlook.
This off-season Semien was involved in the trade that sent Jeff Samardzija to the White Sox. He served as the main piece that the A’s were getting in return and when Oakland GM and Moneyball innovator Billy Beane makes a trade, it seems to get extra attention as if the man can do no wrong. While Beane has made trades that have not worked out in his favor, I tend to think that acquiring a player like Semien will be a favorable return. He is a versatile player on the field as he can play many positions, but should be expected to earn a starting job at either of the middle infield positions. He has always posted strong walk rates in the Minors (13.0%) and flashed some wheels on the base paths, so he is certainly an option to bat at the top of the lineup. And considering that the team’s regular leadoff hitter, Coco Crisp, manages to find himself on the DL at some point every season, Semien could have ample time to establish himself as the table setter. Semien’s main flaw thus far in his time in the Majors has been the inability to put the ball in play with a 28.2% strikeout rate. With a 17.2% strikeout rate in his Minor League career, it would appear that he can show big improvements in that area.
While Semien is probably not that well known in the majority of fantasy baseball circles, a starting job should be there for the 24-year old Semien. The 20 HR/20 SB skills are there. The on-base percentage skills to get on and score a bunch of runs are there. It is just a matter of how he will perform out of the gate to try and keep that playing time and where he bats in the lineup that will determine whether or not he can earn the title of “This Year’s Brian Dozier.” It is more likely that Semien produces a stat line that closely resembles Dozier’s 2013 instead of 2014, but I would feel confident in drafting him as a cheap option or late-round sleeper. But if he hits leadoff or out of the 2-hole for the A’s then I just might blow my Semien without the “i” all over. Pardon the vulgarity.
2014 Brian Dozier stats: .242 AVG, 23 HR, 71 RBI, 112 R, 21 SB, 129 K, 89 BB in 598 AB
2015 Marcus Semien projection: .247 AVG, 16 HR, 59 RBI, 78 R, 12 SB, 126 K, 65 BB in 546 AB
ʞonfidence Rating: 2ʞ out of 10ʞ
Other candidates to be “This Year’s Brian Dozier”: Kolten Wong, Kole Calhoun, Brett Lawrie