by Connor Henry
As the fantasy regular season races toward the playoffs many teams, both in redraft and dynasty leagues, can begin drawing conclusions about their team’s fate. The major difference is that dynasty owners can begin to set their sights on next year. While some of my dynasty teams are certainly locked in an intense playoff race, I’ve already started retooling my less fortunate teams in preparation for next season’s playoff push. If you’re in that retooling position in your dynasty league, there are a couple of outfielders who I’d suggest targeting due to the upside they could provide you in the coming years.
Jesse Winker – Cincinnati Reds
A long-overlooked 24-year old outfielder, Winker has taken a huge step forward this year when it comes to his dynasty value. Due to shoulder surgery he has finished his season with a .299/.405/.431 slash line with 7 HR in just over 300 AB. What’s really impressive is that he finished the year with more walks than strikeouts, a rather rare occurrence in today’s MLB. Going more in depth in his monthly splits shows improvements in plate discipline as the season continued:
|BB% – K%||-3.0||2.5||2.1||3.3|
As you can see, in every month except March and April Winker was able to walk more than he struck out showing that he was seeing pitches better and making more contact. This speaks volumes when you’re talking about a 24-year old who’s still under 500 MLB AB.
Another part of his game that I want to touch on is his batted ball profile. Let’s break it down with a comparison to Jose Altuve’s:
They are awfully similar. They both hit plenty of line drives and avoid popups giving them solid BABIP floors. They can also elevate the ball enough to provide average power potential. However, the last two columns may actually be the most important stats that I’ve shown. Winker, who is not considered a power hitter, has carried the 27th highest hardest hit rate in the majors through 2018. Considering how hard he has hit the ball, I suspect his HR/FB rate could sit upwards of 15% next year instead of the 9% of 2018. Therefore, the rather disappointing 7 HR could almost triple if given a full year of AB.
With “Altuve-esque” batted ball data, stellar hard contact rates and elite plate discipline, Winker has all the makings of a breakout player in 2019. Considering that he is out for the rest of the 2018 season, now may be the perfect time to buy low and cash out for the next several years. If all breaks right we could see a .300/.400/.500 triple slash line from him in the coming years.
Max Kepler – Minnesota Twins
Still only 25-years old, Kepler is someone who has made massive strides in terms of his plate discipline. He has gone from a 20% strikeout rate and 8% walk rate in 2017 to a 16% strikeout rate and 11% walk rate in 2018. These improvements are also completely backed up by the fact that his contact rate has risen to 83.3% and he is swinging less outside the zone and more inside the zone than ever before. These are completely believable improvements show promise for future development.
On the other end of the spectrum, he has seemed to take a step back this season when it comes to batting average. His .228 mark ranks 16th worst amongst qualified batters, however most of it can be due to a low BABIP. While Max Kepler has never been a high BABIP player, he has unfortunately taken a step backward by posting a .243 mark. Let’s look at his batted ball data, make a comparison to Cody Bellinger and determine if positive regression could be on the horizon:
Based on the data shown above an argument could be made that Kepler is due for a significant amount of positive regression. He hits popups at a league average rate and hits the ball harder than league average. I would also venture to say that his batted ball tendencies even look better than Bellinger’s when it comes to predicting BABIP. Neither of these batted ball profiles specifically inspire confidence but there is actually a sizable difference between Bellinger’s close to league average mark and Kepler’s .243. There is definitely the possibility that throughout his next couple of years Kepler’s BABIP could normalize to a mark near .260 or .270 and give him an average closer to .245 or .250.
In the power department Kepler is keeping pace with his home run totals from the last couple of seasons, but I could actually envision a season in the future where the 25 homer threshold is passed. He is hitting the ball harder than he ever has while hitting more flyballs than he ever has. Contrary to that statement, his HR/FB rate has dropped to 10%, a career low. I would expect that to normalize closer to 15% considering how hard he is hitting the ball. If that does occur Kepler becomes a contact oriented batter who hits 25+ HR with ease and we know that can be valuable.
Max Kepler certainly won’t be winning you your league this year, but if you can buy him for cheap in a dynasty league there are a lot of signs that point toward a .250 hitter with above average pop. With any improvement in line drive rate he could become closer to a .270 hitter with an impressive OBP. For the right price I’m buying a 25-year old who is showing improvement in contact skills while maintain his power output.
Make sure to check out all of our Midseason Prospect Rankings: