To be a true breakout candidate, you have to have talent to burn -- like Matt Kemp a year ago. He was one of those breakthroughs mentioned in this column last year and now is a candidate to pick No. 1 overall in fantasy, particularly in rotisserie leagues.
We have exhausted the depths of the sleepers in the AL and NL, and the breakthroughs in the AL. Now, we take a look at the potential next big fantasy things in the NL, outlining one per team. Not all of these players will have the career years hoped for, but putting your money on them can help increase your chances:
The Phillies really want him to spend a season in Triple-A, but the reality is the aging Phillies are going to need this 24-year-old wunderkind sooner rather than later. Brown will be an elite fantasy player, but the question is just how soon.
Giancarlo, aka Mike, has already hit 34 homers with 87 RBI in his first full season at age 21. He is going to be a 40-homer, 100-RBI threat for years, particularly with the wheels he has in the lineup ahead of him. He can drive in a lot of runs even with singles. If he stays within himself, he could become the most productive outfielder in fantasy as early as this season.
Hanson, like the Marlins' Josh Johnson, is capable of being a top-five fantasy starter but he will be drafted far lower than that because of the shoulder questions. If Hanson is healthy enough to reach 200 innings -- a tall order with the embarrassment of riches the Braves have in terms of young starters capable of chipping in -- he is capable of winning 20 games and striking out 220 batters. That's even better than our numbers above. A healthy Hanson can really take off.
He is in a perfect spot. While everyone watches the Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper freak shows this spring -- as well as following the buzz of offseason acquisitions Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson -- Zimmermann is going to fly under the radar. Zimmermann is a much better bet to approach 200 innings than Strasburg. If Zimmermann gets to that level, he could win 15-plus games with 200 strikeouts and a sub-3.00 ERA. That's Top-10 starting pitcher stuff right there, at a fraction of the cost. He is one of the best third-year starting pitchers on the board this March.
He looked capable of becoming a fantasy star in 129 at-bats last season, hitting .302 with seven homers and 25 RBI. That is a .300-30-100 pace. He won't be that good in his first full season, especially since there are still questions about his ankle and his bout with Valley Fever, but he could be a late draftee -- or not at all -- that winds up being a must-have producer by midseason.
Freese showed the kind of hitter he can be in the postseason. It is dangerous drafting off postseason hype, but Freese should have had this breakthrough in seasons prior. Now counted on even more without Albert Pujols, Freese has a good chance to be a fantasy horse on the hot corner.
Potential numbers: .280-40-110-100-7 (.360-.550)
Bruce arrived with loads of hype and he finally started turning potential into production last year. This could be a huge year for him -- especially in Cincinnati's hitter-friend park. Bruce has the look of a fantasy monster among outfielders and because his numbers have been a bit disappointing for the hype, his fantasy value might be a little less than it should be.
Despite being 29 and in roughly his eighth season in the majors, we still have yet to see the best of Weeks. He was headed for a strong year with a .278-17-39-67-7 first half, but a serious ankle injury destroyed his potential career year. There is still 30-homer potential in his bat, even if he will no longer be a 25-bag base stealer. This could be the year he finally puts it all together, although we have been saying that for the past four springs.
He took a significant step forward last season, but there is more to come. With a better supporting cast around him, McCutchen would be one of the most-hyped outfielders in fantasy. As it is, he can still be good for a monster breakthrough that could make him a candidate to be a first-round pick next spring.
This is what the
Norris is turning 27 this spring and is is poised to reach 200 innings for the first time in the major leagues. Those are two very good times to expect a breakthrough for a pitcher. Norris is on a bad ballclub that won't win games, but that will merely make him affordable on draft day. If he reduces his troublesome walks and wasted pitches, he might even make a significant jump into the 220-inning range. The rebuilding Astros need an innings-eating horse and Norris has the makings of becoming that. He might not post a winning record or a great ERA or WHIP, but those strikeouts are going to come in bunches and maybe even somewhere close to a league-leading rate. This could be a Top-25 fantasy starter who will be on the board until very late in most drafts.
If you had been told there was going to be a Cy Young candidate coming out of the D'backs' surprising 2011, the pick would have been Hudson unanimously going in. Hudson had a very good year in his first full season in the major leagues, even if he fell a bit short of the exorbitant expectations. Now, with everyone looking at Ian Kennedy as the fantasy ace of the staff, Hudson can take a huge step forward. His 3.15 ERA in the second half wasn't on the Kennedy level, but it shows he can be a stud in his own right and Hudson is squarely in the third-year starting pitcher breakout category Kennedy was in a year ago. If Hudson can stay at his innings total from last year without issue, his power stuff can make him a top-15 fantasy ace, if not top 10.
While Bumgarner was solid in his first full season as a starter, he is capable of so much more. He has already reached the 200-innings mark, which can set him up to go up to 220 and perhaps lead the league in strikeouts (if one of his teammates, Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain, doesn't). Bumgarner will be a bit overlooked on his own staff, but his trajectory to date puts him on a pace for Cy Young candidacy.
Gordon hit .304 with 24 steals in one-third of a season. We cannot project a .300, 70-plus steal season (we shouldn't anyway), but it is entirely possible with this talent. He has slapped and run his way to those kind of numbers throughout his minor league career. This is a burgeoning rotisserie superstar even if he never hits a big-league homer.
If you didn't follow fantasy deep into the August and September, you might have missed Fowler's arrival as a viable mixed-league fantasy outfielder. He hit .288 with five homers, 51 runs and 10 steals in the second half. His best month was September (. 287-3-15-3). He turns 26 in spring training and might be capable of the rotisserie-gem season we have longed for when he was once an elite outfield prospect.
Maybin quietly became a fantasy stud in the second half, stealing 28 bases after the break. He also managed to be a better than average hitter. If you get Maybin at a reasonable rate in rotisserie leagues, you might have a huge breakout on your hands. The power can still come, although Petco Park makes it tough.