Jason Kipnis, 2B:
The toast of fantasy owners everywhere, Jason Kipnis is arguably the biggest breakout star this season. With him hitting for more value than 90 percent-plus of the league’s outfielders, while playing among the scarcity of second base, you can make the case that Kipnis has been the most valuable player in fantasy this season.
He’s always had the power and he’s always had the speed—but he’s only now had the big league opportunity. I expect the runs, RBIs and steals to slow down a bit from here on out, but it doesn’t matter—he’s a stud and in the discussion as the best second baseman in the major leagues.
Ask yourself: who would you rather have? Other than Robinson Cano, and Ian Kinsler… who would you rather have? Pedroia? Uggla? I’m taking Kipnis. If you have one of Cano or Kinsler, I’d think long and hard about a package deal where I pick up Kipnis and an above average player somewhere else. If I had Dustin Pedroia—definitely Dan Uggla—I might offer him straight up.
There’s great value coming the rest of the way, among the best at the position. Scaled to 150 games played: 86.7 R, 25.0 HR, 96.4 RBI, 23 SB, .2808 AVG and 4.712 points above average.
Skinny: 4.712 points above average, Top three second baseman
Edwin Encarnacion, 3B:
I feel bad about writing off Encarnacion earlier this year. I really do. To his credit, before this season, he has flashed the potential to be a league average third baseman if he could ever put health and skill together at the same time.
Taking a close look, it doesn’t seem all that ridiculous. Other than the power spike (and a few extra steals), he hasn’t done anything that’s that far outside his reach. The usual suspects, BABIP and K-rate, don’t yield any red flags, and everything else is seems reasonable.
But when a home run spike is at the heart of a breakout, you have to approach it with caution.
With power hitting, it’s always difficult to say what is real and what is fake. There’s a reason why scouts say it is the hardest tool to project. Without an established record of power hitting, it’s almost impossible to say without watching the games (unfortunately, I live outside the Toronto market). And, even then, it’s still very uncertain one way or the other. Nevertheless, a sharp increase in fly balls and a decrease in Z-Contact percentage may indicate that there is some intent behind this pattern—perhaps yielding some contact for more power.
For the near future, I would encourage taking the cautiously-optimistic approach. Everything hinges on the power right now and there’s a considerable amount of risk involved in depending on a player like this. At the very least, he’s got a very good flyball rate, but without the power, he’s not much different than the old Edwin Encarnacion—and no one seemed to want any part of him.
If he can stay healthy, I think he’s got a great chance to continue being a big surprise at the hot corner. I see a drop coming in each category, but I do think he holds on to some of his gains in the power department. All in all, he’ll be a value contributor and above average third baseman the rest of the way.
Projected to 150 games played: 82.7 R, 30.5 HR, 93.9 RBI, 11 SB, .2570 AVG, and 2.586 points above average. Enjoy!
Skinny: 2.586 points above average; Top 5-10 fantasy third baseman
Josh Reddick, OF:
Unfortunately for the Boston Red Sox, Reddick’s breakout came one year too late. They could really use his help in the outfield.
But here he is… and what an interesting player he has become. Long touted as a moderate power-speed combo, he has never been able to put it together at the big league level. After two disappointing big league stints in 2009 and 2010, though, he did show signs of improvement during 87 games in 2011.
Fortunately for Reddick, those improvements have carried over to this season—and then some. His power numbers are way up, he’s showing off his speed, and he’s being rewarded with full-time at-bats.
Like Encarnacion, Reddick’s value is at the mercy of that ever-enigmatic power spike. But, also like Encarnacion, he’s bought himself some leeway with an above average flyball rate.
Overall, I like what I see in Reddick: he puts the ball in the air, he’s got reasonably good contact skills, and he likes to hack (regular readers know full well of my affinity for hacking fantasy players). Batting in Oakland won’t do him any favors, but there’s a lot of potential here.
Projected to 150 games played: 82.6 R, 32.7 HR, 103.1 RBI, 12 SB, .2791 AVG, and 4.152 points above average. Am I surprised the power projections are this high? Yes. But hey, that’s what the model says and I won’t lie to you about that. I think he’s a stud in the making—and its not too late to pick him up via trade for a reasonable price.
Skinny: 4.152 points above average; Top 15 fantasy outfielder
Mike Trout, OF:
After stumbling in a brief trial last season, the All-Everything prospect is lighting the world on fire through 41 games.
It doesn’t take a lot to see that he’s going to slow down soon: his frenetic .405 BABIP is far beyond any sustainable limit and there’s the problem with the… wait a second, that’s about it. Everything else seems, well, reasonable. Nothing else about him hints at a fluke.
The power numbers aren’t out of line with his career norms, and he’s always been lauded for his speed. He’s also hitting at the top of the order—perfect for a volume guy like Trout, who contributes in all counting categories.
In short, I love what I’m seeing out of Trout: great speed, decent power, and hitting at the top of the order. I think its fair to say he’s going to be a star for the remainder of the year, even if his BABIP takes a big hit. He’s still new enough where you may be able to dangle an established player and steal him away from an unsuspecting owner.
Prorated to 150 GP: 109.5 R, 23.0 HR, 73.1 RBI, 48.3 SB, .3008 AVG, and 7.200 points above average
The numbers are eye-popping, but when you add up all the pieces—power, speed, contact ability, plenty of plate appearances—you have the consummate fantasy outfielder. Congratulations, Mike Trout owners: you’ve just inherited a bona fide No. 1 outfielder.
Skinny: 7.200 points above average; Top five fantasy outfielder
Bryce Harper, OF
The wunderkind, Mr. Everything, Savior of Washington—whatever you want to call him, that’s what he is.
Like the others on this list, Harper has made his mark in a big way early on and has fantasy owners wowed with his exceptional talent and blue-chip pedigree.
Speaking frankly, I didn’t expect Harper to perform this well so soon upon his promotion to the bigs. In fact, I was almost sure Harper would fall flat on his face and get sent back to Triple-A within a month. After all, he hit just four home runs in his 229 plate appearances above Single-A. It just didn’t seem as though major league success was in the cards for Harper in 2012.
But, oh how wrong I was. 40 games later, Harper is beating back all doubters—forcing each one of us to admit that he’s a major league-ready hitter.
As for what he can do from here on out, I think he settles in as an above-average fantasy outfielder, but nothing exceptional. He’ll still showcase the power and speed he’s shown thus far, but his K-rate is going to rise and bring down his batting average to the low .270s.
If you can get value for him via trade, it’s the perfect time to deal him away in yearly leagues. He’s got all the earmarks of one of those “overachieving blue-chipper for struggling veteran” trade heists and I think the prudent owner will act accordingly.
Prorated to 150 GP: 97.7 R, 24.5 HR, 76.7 RBI, 14 SB, .2731 AVG, and 2.346 points above average
Skinny: 2.346 points above average; Top 25 fantasy outfielder