Every year in fantasy baseball there will be batters that people forget about. Disregarded because they were prospects that didn’t come up right away and dominate at the big league level. By looking at peripherals and underlying numbers we can attempt to try and find these players that have been underrated by the public. Of all of the young players that have come up and struggled recently, here are four breakout hitters that could take a huge step forward in 2022.
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4 Breakout Hitters for 2022
Ha-Seong Kim, SS, San Diego Padres
It’s easy to give up on a player like Ha-Seong Kim. He struggled badly, to the tune of a .202/.270/.352 slash line over the course of 298 plate appearances. What you have to remember is that Kim just came over to America, in probably the worst year to do so given what’s going on in the world. While adjusting to big league pitching, an obviously huge step up from Korean League pitching. On top of that, he was not given everyday at-bats aside from the one stretch of time that Fernando Tatis Jr. was out with a shoulder injury.
During that stretch, Kim’s underlying numbers looked pretty promising. From May 11 until June 21, he started 28 out of a possible 31 games. Playing second base, third base, and shortstop for the Padres. Outside of posting a 90 wRC+, there is a lot to like here.
Kim put up a 40-percent fly ball rate, 48.6-percent pull rate, and an 11-percent home run to fly-ball rate. This was not out of the ordinary for him as he has shown over his years in Korea that he can hit the ball in the air frequently, translating into mid-20s to low-30s homer power.
In terms of plate discipline numbers, Kim posted an 85-percent zone contact rate with an 8.5-percent swinging-strike rate, and a 23-percent chase rate. Pair that with his knack for pulling the ball in the air and there is a lot of potential to take another step forward for the Padres young utility-man.
What went wrong?
After breaking down every part of his game, it appeared that Kim had gotten under the ball just a bit too much. Yes, hitting the ball in the air is important in terms of being a productive hitter. Sometimes there could be too much of an emphasis to do so. Nearly 20-percent of his fly balls were infield-fly balls. If he had qualified as a hitter, that would have easily led Major League Baseball in the category. Obviously not something we want to see.
Another thing that stands out is his sky-high called strike rate, coming in at just over 20-percent. This isn’t the worst thing in the world, some players at the top of this list are great hitters, such as Juan Soto, Jake Cronenworth, DJ LeMahieu, Max Muncy, and Carlos Correa, just to name a few.
Directly correlating to taking too many called strikes, Kim may have taken way too many pitches in the middle of the plate. Once you start to guess as a hitter, you end up taking pitches you should be swinging at. According to the Statcast Swing/Take metric, Kim had a negative 14 run value on pitches in the middle of the plate. That is good for 38th worst among 300 qualified hitters. Being more aggressive could go a long way for Kim in 2022.
Kim both hit the ball too high in the air and took too many called strikes, things that are pretty ordinary for someone adjusting to big league pitching. Playing three different positions in the infield, getting accustomed to America, and only having one month of everyday at-bats definitely did not help either.
When you put it all together. Kim has the plate discipline skills and athleticism to succeed at the big league level. It is so easy to see him take the next step this upcoming season. Adjusting to Major League pitching once he gets a full season worth of everyday at-bats. It may not happen right away in April or May, but we should see significant improvement.
Jazz Chisholm, 2B, Miami Marlins
On a team bereft of talent, Chisholm is the clear offensive building block of the Marlins. After coming over in a trade for Zac Gallen, he has met expectations. Dominating Double-A before getting the call to the majors at the end of 2020.
Chisholm went on to struggle in his short stint in 2020, hitting .161 with a 30-percent strikeout rate. Of course, in only 21 games worth of at-bats and no exposure to Triple-A pitching, that should be expected.
Fast forward to 2021 and there is a lot to like here from Chisholm. Eighteen home runs and 23 stolen bases is nothing to sneeze at. He had some standout StatCast numbers, including a 112 max exit velocity, 41.7-percent hard-hit rate, and an 8.6-percent barrel rate. Chisholm is not far away from being an elite power bat at the second base position.
Though there is a lot to like, there is also plenty to improve on. What exactly needs to go Chisholm’s way before we see him take that next step in 2022?
What could improve?
What Chisholm could really improve on this upcoming season are his counting stats. The Marlins figure to be a team that has a lot of money available this offseason, piling it all into offense. Outside of Jesus Sanchez and Chisholm, they have zero everyday position players with any promise.
In 507 plate appearances, Chisholm was able to put up 70 runs scored and 53 RBI. That is with just 64 out of a possible 124 games played batting leadoff, a spot he will be in during every game he’s available in 2022. Hitting leadoff alone, with the likely addition of the designated hitter should increase counting stats considerably, even if the Marlins still stink.
The one thing that really held him back in 2021 was his fly-ball rate dissipating. Throughout his minor league career, Chisholm had fly ball rates in the low to mid-40s, not once hitting more grounders than fly balls. In ‘21 he hit nearly 17 percent more ground balls than fly balls.
This is such an important part of his game because Chisholm posted an 18-percent home run to fly-ball rate. That is almost identical to the number Marcus Semien just posted during a season in which he hit 45 home runs. Of course, the difference between the two is that Chisholm hit 99 fly balls and Semien hit 245.
When you put everything together, Chisholm has the potential to bat leadoff for a much-improved team and hit 25-30 home runs, steal 30 bases, and hit .250. This is a fantasy superstar in the making. Redraft, keeper, or dynasty, it doesn’t matter. Go out and acquire Chisholm anyway you can.
Daulton Varsho, C/OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
Daulton Varsho features the most unique profile in all of fantasy baseball. Catcher eligible, outfield eligible, plays against both right and left-handed pitchers while batting third in the lineup.
Once made an everyday part of the lineup, Varsho dominated in the second half of the season. Slashing .290/.349/.530 with 10 home runs, five stolen bases, and a 19-percent strikeout rate. We got a real glimpse of how valuable someone who is catcher eligible and plays every day could be when Isiah Kiner-Filefa was a decent value, being catcher eligible and playing so much. All of his value comes from playing, not from being all that good.
Varsho has the potential to really take over the catcher position in 2022. Hitting third in the Arizona lineup, starting in center field, and playing backup catcher. This is a player that can really take a big step forward in the 2022 season.
Varsho has everything you want to see in a breakout candidate. He has the highly-coveted power/speed combination and provides you unique eligibility, ranging from catcher to the outfield. Now we need to dive into the legitimacy of his skills.
Varsho hits the ball in the air 42.6 percent of the time with a 7.3-percent barrel rate. Generally, those numbers would lead to more home runs than his 11 in 315 plate appearances. The slight issue here is that Varsho does not pull his fly balls.
Only 20 percent of his fly balls were pulled, not something you want to see. Though, looking at his line drive pull rate of 40 percent, there is a chance we see Varsho make an adjustment. Which would be all we need to see for him to take that next step as a power bat.
In terms of speed and stolen bases, there are no adjustments to be made for Varsho. He ranks 85th percentile in sprint speed and was tied for 28th in all of baseball in home-to-first time at 4.20 seconds. Stolen bases are going to be easy to come by for him, especially if we see his .318 on-base percentage creep up as he continues to get better as a hitter.
During his minor league career, Varsho stole 21 bases in Double-A and 19 bases in Single-A, all while never eclipsing 100 games in a season. In the 95 games he played this season, he went six-for-six in stolen base attempts. Granted, he wasn’t an everyday player until later on in the season.
Worst case scenario, Varsho doesn’t improve upon the rate at which he steals bases and goes for around 12-14 next year. That many steals coming from the catcher position go a long way for your fantasy team.
Gavin Lux, 2B, Los Angeles Dodgers
After murdering Triple-A pitching in the 2019 season, Gavin Lux was expected to be the next big thing to come out of Los Angeles. Even if it was only 49 games, a 188 wRC+ and 33 walks to 42 strikeouts with a .327 ISO is just ridiculous from someone who, at the time, was just 21 years old.
Unfortunately, he has not come through as the uber-prospect everyone thought. In parts of three major league seasons, he has not been able to take ahold of second base. Lux has slashed .233/.314/.368, which comes out to an 86 wRC+. Though to be honest that isn’t that bad for a young player with little upper-level minor league experience.
Struggles are to be expected and it’s easy to become impatient with these top prospects. The problem is that this happens to 99 percent of them. Not everyone is Mike Trout, Ronald Acuna Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr, or Juan Soto. They don’t all come up out of the gate and dominate the big leagues.
Playing Time and Talent
With Corey Seager and Chris Taylor becoming free agents this offseason, that opens up the door for Lux to become a full-time player in 2022. Though it’s likely the Dodgers could sign one of those two, it’s unlikely they retain both.
Even with Seager and Taylor on the team, in the most important game of the season. The Dodgers were comfortable enough starting Lux in center field, a great sign for his future on the team. With the ability to play second base, shortstop, and all three outfield positions, there is a chance he could be their next Taylor-esque utility man.
Similar to Varsho, Lux hits the ball in the air enough and pulls the ball plenty. The problem is that he doesn’t pull the ball in the air enough. Causing him to hit too many ground balls pull side into the shift and too many deep fly ball outs to left and left-center field.
Again, this is relatively common in younger hitters. It’s mostly a matter of pitch selection. Choosing which pitches to try to hit out of the park and what pitches you want to just slap a single the other way. Outside of issues pulling the ball in the optimal angles, there is a lot to like with Lux.
First off, the speed. Lux ranks 94th percentile in sprint speed and at the ripe age of 23 years old, that number is not going down anytime soon. Though he has only stolen seven bases during his first 144 games in the big leagues, that number should go up considerably as he plays more.
Another standout skill for Lux is a 21-percent chase rate. Which puts him in the 87th percentile of all Major League hitters. Considering he’s only a rookie, it’s impressive that he has that great a knowledge of the strike zone. His 10.2-percent walk rate could potentially get even higher as he gets more comfortable.
You pair the walks with a 21-percent strikeout rate and an 88-percent in-zone contact rate. You have a real base to build off of. Hoping that his standout athleticism takes over, helping him reach that ceiling that we all know he is capable of.
Pulling the ball in the air will go a long way with Lux’s profile. The speed and knowledge of the zone give him a nice base as a well-above-average big leaguer. If he unlocks his power in 2022, he is going to take a big step forward towards being a star.
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