With the fantasy season winding down, many of you are already looking ahead to next year. Let me help you get started.
The hitters below should come at reasonable prices and could have breakout seasons in 2010. While they likely won’t perform at superstar levels, they could blossom into well-above-average players, a la Ben Zobrist this season.
Elijah Dukes – Still just 25 years old, Dukes is a player we’ve heard about for years, though not exclusively for good reasons. He’s been arrested on separate occasions for battery and assault, has at least five children with four different women, and has been surrounded by a stigma of attitude issues since his days in the minor leagues. When healthy and given a chance though, Dukes has showcased his enormous potential. Last season in 334 trips to the plate, Dukes hit 13 home runs and stole 13 bases while walking in 15% of his plate appearances. Though plagued by a hamstring injury and a slow start this year, he has performed well since being recalled on August 1st. Playing for the Nationals should provide him plenty of playing time next season, and Dukes could really thrive with a full season’s worth of at-bats.
Alberto Callaspo - When Callaspo was profiled early this season, I said he could provide average production. After sustained success this year though, Callaspo's stock has risen in my eyes. He has shown a good eye at the plate and good contact skills in his first full season with regular playing time at a major league level. A closer look at his numbers suggests that he could be in store for an increase in his walk rate, line drive rate, and IsoP. Assuming those numbers increase, Callaspo's value would catapult him into fantasy relevance. Callaspo could be a real steal in the later rounds of your draft next season.
Matt Joyce – Acquired by the Rays this past offseason for Edwin Jackson, Joyce likely expected to receive more than the 37 major league plate appearances he currently has this year. Don’t let that scare you though; he has a lot going for him. As a 25-year-old, he boasts good power levels (his current .209 IsoP at Triple-A is his lowest mark since 2007), and good pitch selection, walking in 13.6% of his plate appearances this season at Triple-A. While the Rays have a logjam of quality outfielders in their system, Joyce could put up numbers worthy of a solid fantasy contributor if given regular playing time. Be sure to keep an eye on him heading into the 2010 season.
Daric Barton - A longtime Project Prospect favorite, Barton's numbers this season look much more impressive if you look beneath the surface. Barton has an elite walk rate and makes solid contact at the plate. And while it would appear that he hasn't hit well this season, he has posted a combined .356 wOBA between Triple-A and the major leagues. The deceptive numbers can likely be attributed to an abnormally low BABIP, and as that reverts back to a typical level Barton's numbers should get even better, which would make him someone you want to own in fantasy leagues. Assuming he plays a full season next year (he missed time in the minors and on the disabled list with a hamstring injury this year), Barton could put up solid numbers for your team.
Sean Rodriguez – Recently acquired by the Rays in the Scott Kazmir deal, Rodriguez was never given an extended look in the major leagues with the Angels. Whereas the Angels couldn’t find a spot for him everyday, the Rays may very well be able to, as they are not likely to pick up Akinori Iwamura’s option after this season due to budget constraints. This would free Rodriguez and Ben Zobrist to play either second base or right field (both have seen time at each position this year), which could potentially result in dual-position eligibility for Rodriguez. While he draws walks at an above-average rate and hits for good power, he'll need to drastically improve his contact rates if he wants to hit for a decent average. If he can hit for a decent enough average to stay in the big leagues, Rodriguez should post usable power numbers next season.
Discussion question: Which of these guys is most likely to break out next year?
Ethan Saporito can be contacted at email@example.com.