With roughly one-third of the 2019 season in the books, fantasy owners have plenty of data to make informed opinions on players who have significantly changed their stock since March. And while some fast starters have been lucky thus far, there are a few players who are showing the skills to remain extremely valuable the rest of the way. Let’s take a look at some of the early success stories of hitters whom owners can continue to ride for the next four months.
And before you read anything further, I need to mention that I don’t live near Minnesota nor do I have any emotional attachment to the Twins!
Adalberto Mondesi, 2B/SS, Royals
I’m eating a big piece of humble pie in this paragraph, as I was not a big fan of Mondesi and his poor plate discipline during draft season. But the 23 year old seems to be one of the few players who have enough explosiveness in his skill set to post respectable plate-related numbers without control of the strike zone. And steals are the biggest reason Mondesi sits atop this list, as his 18 swipes are four more than any other player. With steals at such a premium — just 11 players have so far achieved a double-digit total —, the speedster’s fleet feet alone make him a difference maker in roto formats. His potential for 15-20 homers is the icing on the cake.
Eddie Rosario, OF, Twins
After eating humble pie with Mondesi, I now get to pat myself on the back with Rosario. My favorite breakout pick during March (I own him on 80% of my teams), Rosario has boosted his rates of hard contact (40.8 percent) and fly balls (46.6 percent) to sit among the home run leaders without the aid of crazy batted ball luck (20.5 percent HR/FB rate). He has also cut his whiff rate to 14.5 percent, which will help the career .280 hitter continue to post helpful batting marks. Part of an improved Twins lineup, Rosario should top the 100-mark in RBIs and runs scored.
Josh Bell, 1B, Pirates
I’m not sure what a baseball did to Bell in the offseason, but he has been getting his revenge over and over this year. The newly formed slugger ranks fourth in baseball with 18 homers, largely on the strength of a hard contact jump of nearly 20 percent. He has also made slight improvements in his rates of fly balls and line drives, but it is the hard contact that is really fueling this improvement. Although Bell certainly won’t maintain his pace to exceed 50 homers and 150 RBI, he could go deep 40 times and drive in 120 runs.
Rafael Devers, 3B, Red Sox
Although Devers isn’t really a .330 hitter, he could finish this year as a 20-20 player. The youngster has made improvements to his plate discipline (0.54 BB:K ratio) while also dramatically increasing his line drive rate. He has also found a spot in the heart of a loaded Red Sox lineup that has yet to fully hit its stride. The talented 22 year old could really be something special if he continues to swipe bases while teammates such as Mookie Betts find their top form.
Austin Meadows, OF, Rays
After teasing owners for multiple seasons, Meadows is finally becoming a five-category stud. The fact that he has six steals should surprise no one, as the outfielder has already profiled as someone who could collect 15-20 swipes per year. The big improvement for Meadows involves his contact stats, which include impressive rates of line drives (28.0 percent), fly balls (41.1 percent) and hard contact (45.8 percent). With fleet feet and the ball jumping off his bat, the 24 year old could hit .300 with 30 homers and 15 steals.
Jorge Polanco, SS, Twins
Although Polanco has been great, we haven’t seen his best yet. The shortstop has made massive strides with his plate discipline (0.71 BB:K ratio) while nearly eliminating ground balls from his game. The resulting massive uptick in fly balls and hard contact switches Polanco’s profile to a potent power hitter who should post something better than his current 10.7 percent HR/FB rate. And although he hasn’t been running the bases aggressively, this 30-homer candidate could finish the year with 5-10 steals.
Max Kepler, OF, Twins
Kepler should have been much better last year, but he was held back by a .236 BABIP and a 9.9 percent HR/FB rate. With normal luck this season and an improved supporting cast, the slugger is now on pace for 36 homers, 105 RBI and 108 runs scored. His five percent jump in hard contact doesn’t hurt either, but this paragraph is all about one of the most predictable preseason breakout picks delivering on the proclamations.
Byron Buxton, OF, Twins
Can you tell that the Twins are having a great season? Buxton has finally quit his teasing of fantasy owners, cutting his whiff rate to 24.2 percent, which gives his fleet feet more chances to do damage. He is also on pace for 15 homers, which is not surprising for someone who owns a 51.7 percent fly ball rate. The power production is nice, but Buxton could be even more valuable the rest of the way from a fantasy perspective by pumping his 26.7 percent ground ball rate and posting an obscene steals total.