Leandre: Early Predictions for Breakout Players in 2019
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images
The one thing about baseball that is absolutely beautiful is its level of uncertainty. On any given year, any player can perform at an unprecedented great or terrible level.
As a result, players come out of nowhere to become stars; conversely, players who used to be elite start to dwindle into a tier or two below. From 2018, the emerging young stars like Scooter Gennett, Blake Snell, Blake Treinen, and Aaron Nola took great strides, becoming first-time All-Stars in 2018. Then there’s Matt Harvey, once the ace of the Mets, was able to save his career in Cincinnati, but still finished 2018 with an ERA around five.
Baseball is just weird like that. You never know when a player will get hot. It’s a game of streaks, with major slumps as well as players who play out of their minds.
As I said before, guys like Scooter Gennett and Blake Snell headline a class of breakout stars in 2018. But, the past is the past. Despite there still being several weeks until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, it’s never too early to predict a few players who might break out for the 2019 season.
1. Yoan Moncada: INF, Chicago White Sox
This man is near and dear to fans in Red Sox Nation. The former number one overall prospect in baseball was dealt to the White Sox as part of a package that sent All-Star southpaw Chris Sale to Boston. However, in his 203 games played over two years in the Windy City, Moncada has done nothing more than show flashes of why he was so highly coveted when he defected from Cuba.
But why is 2019 the season for Moncada to burst onto the scene?
Even with him leading the league with 217 strikeouts in 2018, Moncada still made some strides at the plate. In his first full big league season, the 23-year-old infielder upped his line drive percentage from a tick above 19 percent to a few ticks below 23 percent. While it may not seem like much, it shows that he began to see the ball a lot better as the season wore on. He didn’t have a month in which he hit over .300 until September, where he had nine doubles and drove in six runs in his 24 games played.
For a quick comparison, Moncada’s 22.7 percent line drive percentage is right around where it was for Francisco Lindor the year before he became the perennial 30/30 guy you’re seeing now.
Moncada won’t be at Lindor’s level in 2019, but I think it’s safe to say the White Sox and their fans will finally get something positive out of the investment that cost them one Chris Sale.
My predicted stat-line: .271/.330/.462, 23 home runs, 71 RBI, 20 stolen bases and a WAR of over 3.5
2. Max Kepler: OF, Minnesota Twins
It’s hard to believe that Max Kepler has three full seasons in the MLB under his belt. However, even with the experience, Kepler has still struggled to find any sort of consistency in the majors.
Much like Moncada, Kepler has shown spurts where he looks like a very capable big league bat. He’s just never been able to sustain the success.
But as I mentioned before, baseball is a very weird game. Stat categories are led by the unlikeliest of sources. Fun fact: did you know that Mark Bellhorn had a better batting average on balls in play than Barry Bonds in 2004? Crazy, right?
While on the subject of BABIP, let’s look at Kepler’s since he broke into the league. For a guy with a career hard-hit percentage of 34.5 percent, his BABIP is relatively low. In the three-plus seasons of his career, Kepler’s batting average on balls in play, excluding homers and strikeouts is just .257. This implies that he is getting incredibly unlucky.
Combine the level to which he puts the ball in play, as shown by his strikeout rate dropping to a career-best 15.7 percent in 2018, with his steadily increasing hard-hit rate, there’s no telling how much improvement you’ll see out of Max Kepler in 2019. He’s shown the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark, work counts, and put up competitive at-bats. Now, it’s just a matter of those balls finding holes when they leave the barrel.
Predicted stat-line: .280/.325/.460, 28 home runs, 87 RBI, and a WAR of roughly 4.0
3. Eduardo Rodriguez – Boston Red Sox – LHP
I’ve said many times that Eduardo Rodriguez reminds me a lot of a lefty Clay Buchholz. A guy with so much potential, looks to be finally putting it together, and then some flukey injury happens and he is on the shelf for a month.
When tracking Rodriguez’s career, you can clearly see that pattern, most recently in 2018. Rodriguez started the season on the DL after having knee surgery in the offseason. After coming back and pitching like the second best pitcher on the staff, a sprained ankle on July 14 kept the left-hander off the mound until Sept. 1.
Anyways, after his ERA jumped from 3.85 to 4.71 from 2015 to 2016, his ERA has dropped each year since, settling at a cool career-best 3.82 in 2018. He also posted career-bests in FIP, WHIP, appearances, K/9, and ERA+ last season.
However, due to late-season struggles, Rodriguez was banished to the bullpen for the Red Sox 2018 World Series run–eventually also being put into Alex Cora’s doghouse after showing an inability to throw strikes.
However, a seven-hour, 18-inning affair sprung Eduardo back into the rotation for one night; Game 4 of the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. And despite his final stat-line, I thought he pitched admirably in 5.2 innings of work.
But why is this the year for him to put it all together? Well, even Clay Buchholz had seasons where he wasn’t hurt quite so much. Rodriguez showed great signs of being able to command his pitches, and get great movement on his secondary stuff. The one thing he still needs to work on is his trust of his off-speed pitches, and learn to attack more so he can go deeper into games.
I expect that he will finally put it all together in 2019, and maybe show glimpses of being that number two starter he seemed to be at times in 2018. In a rotation that features Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, and Nathan Eovaldi? Getting a fifth dependable starter would essentially be game over for the opposition.
Predicted stat-line: 16-8 with a 3.54 ERA, 180 K in 175 IP, and a career-low in walks allowed.
Baseball is a weird game. There’s no telling who could dominate in 2019. We saw Trevor Bauer and Blake Snell propel themselves into the conversation for best pitchers in baseball, and Scooter Gennett hitting big home runs in the All-Star game while representing the Cincinnati Reds.
The beauty of the game is the uncertainty. And the massive amount of talent bestowed upon each roster is second to none. I cannot wait until the season starts back up. But for now, this is a brief list of who I think are poised for breakout seasons in 2019.