BATTERS: Early 2017 targets

Our last Batters Buyers Guide column of the regular season will help you identify some early 2017 speculative and breakout targets.

Since a breakout target in one league might be a speculative target in another, we'll try to provide an extensive cross-section of guys who could fit either bill.

Here are 10 guys in each league who could be in store for big gains in 2017.
 

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Greg Bird (1B, NYY) missed the 2016 season due to a labrum tear in his shoulder. Shrewd owners will tuck away the immense power he flashed in September 2015 (252 xPX), along with a double-digit walk rate and strong 109 BPV. If he can close down some of the holes in his swing, his flyball stroke and power ceiling make him an immediate 30-HR threat in Yankee Stadium. And he's a logical successor to Teixeira in the NYY infield.

Alex Bregman (3B/SS, HOU) became one of the game's top prospects in 2016. After struggling early in his MLB debut (.170 OPS in 22 AB in July), Bregman progressively has gotten better over the season's final two months. Check out how good he has been in September: 1.182 OPS, 146 BPV in 45 AB. He still needs to make more contact to avoid further ups-and-downs, but if he can improve in that area, Bregman's power/speed package will put him on course for a big 2017.

Byron Buxton (CF, MIN) has resembled one of the game's elite young bats down the stretch. Not only has he mashed in September (1.355 OPS), Buxton also has posted an elite 190 BPV due to his power/speed combination. And check out his monthly contact rate over his last four MLB months: 47%, 62%, 68%, 70% ct%. The window to buy low on Buxton is closing quickly.

C.J. Cron (1B/DH, LAA) quietly has made some steady gains in 2016. His skills are up (65 BPV), his contact rate is on a two-year uptick (75%, 78%, 83% ct%), and he has evened out his GB/FB stroke. With an adjustment against lefties (.704 OPS, 98 PX), Cron could deliver on his 25-HR upside in 2017.

Nick Franklin (LF/2B/1B, TAM) is an intriguing post-hype bat with more upside than you might realize. He was superb in August after getting more playing time (.954 OPS, 115 BPV in 61 AB). His expected power is soaring (103, 110, 115 xPX), as is his contact rate (60%, 63%, 75% ct%). And with steady 115+ Spd skills, Franklin's upside as a well-rounded offensive bat is clear. He could be next year's version of Jose Ramirez.

Max Kepler (RF, MIN) is another young bat who has shown flashes of becoming a cornerstone guy. He was electric in July (.898 OPS, 123 BPV in 91 AB). While he hasn't been able to keep up that pace since then, his significant 1H-2H contact jump (73% to 78% ct%) suggests he hasn't reached his potential yet. He'll enter 2017 as a 20-HR, 10-SB target.

Jorge Polanco (SS/3B/2B, MIN) doesn't have sexy overall skills (42 BPV) or production (.746 OPS). But his ability to make steady contact (84% ct%) and his top-tier raw speed give him immediate SB upside, especially on a young team that could employ more of a running game in 2017 to take advantage of the speed potential in their likely lineup.

Jurickson Profar (3B/LF/2B/SS/1B/DH, TEX) is a former top prospect who has shown flashes of that upside during parts of 2016. For instance, he had a strong .848 OPS and solid 51 BPV in the first half with TEX. As pitchers have adjusted to him, Profar has struggled (.539 OPS, -5 BPV in 144 AB in 2H). But at age 23, it's way too early to write him off. More consistency could lead him towards a mini-breakout in 2017.

Gary Sanchez (C/DH, NYY) already will be viewed as a breakout target in many leagues after his electric finish to the 2016 season. That said, owners who think he will be overvalued should jump at the chance to invest in him, as his underlying power skills (156 xPX) suggest his power is here to stay, and his plate skills don't profile him as a hacker (11% bb%, 74% ct%, 0.48 Eye).

Kennys Vargas (1B/DH, MIN) looked like a high-upside bat when he was recalled to the MIN lineup in July (1.129 OPS, 142 BPV in 60 AB). He hasn't received even semi-regular duty in the MIN lineup since then, so his recent struggles shouldn't come as a big surprise. Vargas will enter 2017 as an intriguing power breakout speculation.

Mike Zunino (C, SEA) has been the most skilled backstop in MLB not named Sanchez. After showing top-flight power and much-improved contact ability in Triple-A, he has posted a .907 OPS and 88 BPV with SEA. While he still needs to make more contact (64% ct%), he has more than doubled his walk rate from '15 to '16 (6% to 13% bb%), and there's no doubting his power skills. Zunino could take a big jump in 2017.
 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Javier Baez (3B/2B/SS/1B, CHC) has turned into a defensive whiz in 2016 after doubts about his glove delayed his MLB development at the start of his career. The next step for him will be to take his bat to another level. On the positive side, he's already a double-digit HR and SB producer. And check out his soaring contact rate: 55%, 68%, 74% ct%. Stabilizing that level of contact while letting go of his raw power would help Baez become a multi-category cornerstone. Still just 23, Baez is on that path.

Keon Broxton (CF, MIL) has helped a lot of squads in the second half. He has 15 SB in 125 AB since July 1. With a steady 15%+ bb% and improving batting eye (0.33 Eye in 1H, 0.53 Eye in 2H), Broxton's approach at the plate should help him take full advantage of his raw speed. And his 140 PX/136 xPX suggests that he has the upside to be a multi-category contributor.

Wilmer Flores (SS/3B/2B/1B, NYM) is ending the 2016 season on a very high note. He has an .853 OPS and 87 BPV since July 1. He had a 120+ xPX each month from June to August as he found his flyball stroke. And he made that adjustment without an erosion in contact. The final piece for Flores will be to consolidate those gains against RHers, since he's still more of a lefty-masher than a complete hitter. At age 24, he's got time to take another step forward, and there's a good shot it will occur in 2017.

Tommy Joseph (1B, PHI) has been in a job share with Ryan Howard (1B, PHI) for most of the season, but Joseph likely will get a full-time look as PHI's 1B in 2017. Joseph has had a big second half (.879 OPS, 76 BPV in 140 AB). He's making more contact and drawing walks at a reasonable rate while maintaining a 140+ xPX. He also has produced a 140 PX against both lefties and righties, an indication that he could fare well in an everyday role.

Joc Pederson (CF, LA) has boosted his production late in 2016 (.804 OPS in 1H, .915 OPS in 2H). His rate of hard contact also is soaring (124 HctX in 2H), which has helped to give him an elite 154 xPX since the start of July. And few batters have flashed more well-rounded skills in September than Pederson has (19% bb%, 76% ct%, 242 xPX, 211 BPV). Pederson will enter 2017 as one of the best breakout targets in the game.

Jorge Soler (LF, CHC) is another young bat that is finishing the season on a high note. His production (.910 OPS) and skills (66 BPV) both have surged in the second half, and compared to '15, both his walk and strikeout rates have improved. Soler will carry some nice post-hype profit potential in 2017 drafts.

Yasmany Tomas (RF/3B, ARI) also has boosted his production as the season has gone along. He has an .845 OPS in the second half. And his power skills have turned from good (119 xPX) to great (153 xPX) as his rate of hard contact has soared. He also has boosted his contact rate from 73% in the 1H to 76% ct% in the 2H. Tomas could take another step forward in 2017.

Trea Turner (2B/CF, WAS) entered the season with 30-SB upside, and he would have fulfilled it had he been recalled from the minors sooner. Since July 1, few bats have delivered as much multi-category production than Turner has (8 HR, 23 SB in 227 AB). And those marks have been backed by a strong 83 BPV. If he can add improved pitch selection (3% bb%) to his decent contact rate (81% ct%), Turner could improve even further in 2017.

Kolten Wong (2B, STL) seemingly has taken a step back in 2016, but that perception will just make him a more attractive profit source in 2017 drafts. Check out Wong's eye ratio trend over the last four seasons: 0.25, 0.30, 0.38, 0.68 Eye. With an elite 146 Spd in 2016, the only thing Wong needs to become a 30-SB producer is more consistent playing time and a stronger green light.

Christian Yelich (CF, MIA) is on his way to a $25 season at age 24. But he hasn't reached his ceiling yet. His soaring hard contact rate gives hope for more power (109, 113, 115, 117 HctX), and his flyball rate slowly is creeping higher (14%, 18%, 15%, 20% FB%). His average flyball distance of 314 feet is good for top 10 in MLB too. There's a $30+ season coming here.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.