Well, the World Series has officially come to a close, meaning the 2020 baseball season is over. Some never expected the season to make it all the way through, much less the see the World Series completed. Congrats to the Los Angeles Dodgers on becoming World Series champs and the Tampa Bay Rays for making it an awesome series. Now, it is time to move forward fully into 2021 for Fantasy Baseball.
A 60 game sample of data is hard enough to analyze for Fantasy Baseball, but what about a player who made his MLB debut and only played 35 games? Looking at a player’s data for 119 plate appearances is challenging. But we are going to do just that with Dylan Carlson.
Dylan Carlson made his much anticipated Major League debut with the Cardinals in 2020. While the results did not turn out as expected, the young rookie, who just turned 22 years old this week, did enough to hopefully enough earn a spot for 2021. Could Carlson be a potential breakout pick in 2021? With the talent level and the prospect pedigree of Carlson, it is hard to imagine his small 2020 sample indicates what is to come.
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Dylan Carlson, Will He Breakout in 2021?
Dylan Carlson has quite the prospect pedigree. He flew pretty low key until his big 2019 breakout season, where he hit 28 home runs and stole 20 stolen bases with a .292/.372/.542 slash line. The breakout 2019 season vaulted Carlson from a relatively unknown prospect who had never played above single-A to a consensus top-20 prospect.
Our Fantrax prospect lead Eric Cross has Carlson ranked tenth in his updated “Top-250 Prospect Rankings.” In my personal rankings, Carlson finds himself as the 12th ranked prospect. I have seen Carlson as high as sixth. Many in the industry are excited about Dylan Carlson.
When scouting Dylan Carlson, I see a switch hitter with an average hit tool but a future 55 grade. Before 2019, Carlson never hit above .251 during a season. In 2019, he hit .292, which included a .361 batting average in 79 triple-A plate appearances. The switch hitter really broke out from the left side in 2019 and actually hit left-handed pitching well. His fly ball and line drive rate increased from both sides of the plate by over seven percentage points. Carlson also has solid pitch recognition and great knowledge of the strike zone, giving him nice on-base skills.
Before his 2019 breakout, Dylan Carlson compiled a total of 21 career home runs in 1,150 plate appearances. It is unlikely that anyone was able to predict Carlson would hit more home runs in 2019 than he had during his first three professional seasons. I have seen some services grade Carlson with 60-grade power, but I would pump the breaks on that just a bit. I see him as a player who should hit 20-25 home runs a year, but have a hard time seeing plus power in his profile.
Dylan Carlson is currently an above-average runner, but I can see his speed tapering off with time long term. For the next several seasons, I do believe that Carlson has the potential to steal 20 bases. Long term, I think he becomes closer to an average runner that will likely steal between five-to-ten bases a season.
As we previously discussed, Dylan Carlson saw his first taste of Major League pitching in 2020. It was interesting because pitchers seemed to show him quite a bit of respect by throwing him a significant amount of breaking balls.
In 119 plate appearances during the regular season, Carlson slashed .200/.252/.364 with three home runs and one stolen base. It got to the point where Carlson was demoted to the alternate training site in September. The good news, when he returned to the Cardinals on September 18, he finished out the year with a .278/.325/.611 slash line over his final 40 plate appearances.
Carlson walked four times in a small postseason sample and accumulated three hits in just 14 plate appearances. It was exactly the kind of finish to a rookie campaign that you want from Dylan Carlson heading into 2021. Now, he finds himself with a full offseason to continue his development heading into next season.
At the plate, Dylan Carlson showed to be a patient hitter in his debut. You could make an argument he was too patient as he only swung at 40.9 percent of pitches. A low O-Swing percentage is a good thing as he did not chase pitches out of the zone very often. But, on pitches in the zone, Carlson swung over eight percent less than league average. I think it is fair to say he was too patient and needs to be more aggressive at the plate.
Dylan Carlson rated slightly below league in out of the zone, zone, and overall contact rates. Regardless, For a 21-year-old rookie, I think Carlson held his on and showed poise at the plate in his first taste of the big leagues.
Batted Ball Data
In a small sample of batted ball data in 2020, many metrics did not have time to stabilize fully. So, let’s look at the larger picture of Dylan Carlson’s profile. In 2020, Carlson posted a 44.7 percent ground ball rate, which was right in line with his career average before 2019. He also saw an increased line drive rate and a lower fly ball rate in 2020.
Considering Carlson hit a healthy amount of line drives and hit many hard-hit pulled balls, you would expect him to carry a higher BABIP than .260. Was the lower BABIP a factor in Carlson’s poor slash line, and should things be looking up next year? Let’s look into his statcast profile.
From a statcast standpoint, the first thing I notice in his profile is Carlson’s sweet spot percentage and hard-hit rate. Sweet spot percentage is a batted ball that has a launch angle between eight and 32 degrees. In 2020, balls hit in the sweet spot produced a .610 batting average league-wide. In 2019, that number sat at .615. The reality is a ball hit in the sweet spot has a high probability of becoming a hit. Carlson’s 40.9 percent sweet spot percentage is quite impressive!
It is also impressive that Dylan Carlson posted a 42.1 percent hard-hit rate. Batted balls hit in the sweet spot classified as a hard-hit produced a .718 batting average in 2020 and .710 in 2019. This is why I got excited when I saw those statcast numbers!
Carlson also produced a 9.2 percent barrel rate, which is good. If he can bump the number up over ten percent, you can expect a rise in Carlson’s home runs, as there is a strong correlation between barrel rate and home run percentage.
Also, Dylan Carlson’s 87.4 mile-per-hour average exit velocity was far from impressive. But, on line drives and fly balls, that number rose to 96.6 mph, which was 23rd best in all of baseball for hitters with at least 75 batted ball events in 2020.
Overall, Carlson’s statcast data is quite impressive and leads me to believe a breakout could be on the horizon.
Much of Dylan Carlson’s outlook depends on playing time. It is currently hard to project how the Cardinals outfield could shake out given Dexter Fowler, Harrison Bader, Tommy Edman, Tyler O’Neill, and Carlson all return next season. Could Fowler be DFA’d? Will Tommy Edman take over at second or third base? Could the Cardinals sign or trade for an outfielder. There are many unanswered questions, but with Carlson’s strong finish to the season, we can only hope the success carries over into the spring.
With the talent level of Dylan Carlson, it is hard to imagine him not getting a regular shot to contribute to the Cardinal’s big league club. He will spend the entirety of the 2021 season at 22 years old, so it is important to remember he will still be extremely young. I think it is safe to project Carlson to get 500 plate appearances over a full season. Over those 500 plate appearances, I expect him to hit between .250-.260 with 15 home runs and 10 stolen bases. Obviously, there is a higher ceiling here, but this is how I expect things to shake out next season.
In Justin Mason’s #2EarlyMocks, Carlson has an ADP of 167.4 between nine leagues. The high pick is 129, and the low being 187. There is definitely room to profit by drafting Carlson in this spot, but I think I am much more willing to take that risk in a 12 team than a 15. If Carlson does not get as much playing time as expected or underperforms, it really hurts you using a 10th round pick on him in a 15 teamer. Obviously, as the season gets closer, we should know more about playing time. But for now, I would consider Carlson a risk/reward pick at his ADP for 2021.
Dylan Carlson’s long term outlook is much more clear for the Cardinals number one prospect. The upside is there for Carlson to be a player that can hit 25 home runs and steal 20 bases with a .280 batting average. That is extremely valuable in today’s landscape, and only a handful of hitters are capable of those numbers.
Now is the perfect time to check in with Dylan Carlson’s owner in your dynasty league. If they have soured on his rough 2020 debut, you may be able to buy low. At least put out a feeler and see what the manager who rosters him would want in return. If the price is reasonable, Carlson’s long term outlook is well worth it!
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