As we get closer and closer to Opening Day, I find myself thinking more and more about the teams I expect to have success this year. While this is really just a function of being a baseball fan, it can be instructive while preparing for the fantasy season. Most contending teams, especially those who weren't really competitive last season, end up having a breakout player who helps the team surge into relevance. This year's contenders, both those who are expected to compete and those who might surprise, are no different.
This week, we'll take a look at National Leaguers who fit the mold. We'll move over to the American League next week.
• The Reds feature a potent lineup.
Now, what does he specifically bring to the table? Well, in 436 at-bats at Triple-A Louisville last year, Mesoraco hit .289/.371/.484 with 15 homers, 36 doubles and 71 RBI. And that came in the International League, not the Pacific Coast League, where guys routinely post video-game numbers. By comparison, Jesus Montero hit .288/.348/.467 with 18 homers, 19 doubles and 67 RBI with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, also of the International League, last year. Yet while Montero gets all the hype as the next great offensive catcher, no one says a word about Mesoraco. Keep it that way until you make him the steal of the draft at the catcher position.
2010 -- 151 games, 572 at-bats, .273/.341/.448, 19 homers, 37 doubles, 85 RBI, 101/57 K/BB ratio
2011 -- 159 games, 572 at-bats, .266/.352/.427, 19 homers, 35 doubles, 78 RBI, 97/74 K/BB ratio
When you throw his age, 28, on top of that, it looks like Sanchez is who he is. However, I see signs that a real breakout is coming. First, while his strikeout total essentially remained flat, he really improved his plate discipline, drawing 17 more walks and swinging at fewer pitches outside the strike zone (31 percent in 2010, 28.4 percent last year). Second, he hit more line drives (20 percent vs. 17.1 percent) and fewer ground balls (35.6 percent vs. 36.8 percent) than he had the previous year. Despite all that, his BABIP fell to .287 from .299, suggesting a bit of bad luck in '11. So long as Sanchez hits the ball this year like he did last year, expect his numbers to look more attractive. Add the new ballpark and teammates into the mix, and he should hit mid- to high-20s home runs with respectable rates and 90-100 RBI.