We’re not even a full week into the North American schedule but already some names are starting to emerge as primed to break out in 2014. Each of the players listed in the headline had big days on Thursday as part of a strong start to the season and two of the three are available in over 75% of Yahoo! leagues. Are we able to tell anything from the first series of the season, or a team’s first run through the rotation? No. But there are enough reasons to believe in these three and their strong start plays a role in that.
Lets take a look at three players with notable Thursdays, and what to expect of them this season.
Brandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco Giants
In the first inning of an afternoon game Brandon Belt went yard off Diamondbacks starter Bronson Arroyo, his third home run of the season (through four games), coming on the heels of his only disappointing outing of the season (0/4). Belt is dialed in, following a Spring that saw him hit no home runs and for a poor average.
Despite the poor Spring showing, Belt came into 2014 with high sleeper intrigue and he is certainly making good on it so far. Last year, in his first 500 at bat season Belt put together 60 extra base hits, scoring 76 runs while slashing .289/.360/.481. Those numbers, among them his 17 home runs, won’t blow anyone away but they represent a strong enough showing in his first run through a full season and placed him sixth among first basemen in FanGraphs WAR last year.
He struck out plenty last year, but hit the ball hard when he put it in play, posting a 24.3% line drive rate, the second straight year he’d hovered around the 25% mark and managed to match his .351 BABIP from 2012. The folks at Bleacher Report point out that Belt turned things on late last season after some adjustments near the start of August and finished with seven home runs over his final two months (do some digging on this linked article, Belt is covered at the bottom but its an interesting find). It sure looks like that hot close to the season has carried over into 2014 and while we don’t want to read too much into an early season power surge, Belt is making it hard to ignore.
He’s gone in all but the shallower leagues (26% unowned in Yahoo!) but take a scan of the waiver wire, or even float an early season trade. I think he’s going to pan out.
Marcell Ozuna, OF, Miami Marlins
As hot as Belt has been, Ozuna is even hotter in all but the long ball category. The 23 year old Dominican had a 70 game stint with Miami last season. Anywhere you read on Ozuna, the general consensus seems to be that it was far too early to bring him up and yet he acquitted himself quite well hitting .268 with 17 doubles and three home runs. Nothing exciting certainly, but not bad for a kid who was thought to have a few holes in his swing.
As the season approached, the fantasy community hunted for rookie and sophomore options ready to pay dividends on draft day but Ozuna remained largely unhyped. I had some reasonably nice things to say about him when reviewing sophomores but didn’t rank Ozuna among my top 75 outfielders.
He’s turning heads now, to be sure. As expected, he has been an everyday outfielder for Miami to start the season and has hit safely in each of the team’s first four games, including multiple hits in two of them. With a 2/4 day to close the series against Colorado on Thursday, Ozuna is batting .467 through those first four games. He homered on opening day (his only one to date) but he has been hitting in and around the six spot for Miami which gives him an opportunity to produce runs if the average holds up.
He’s done something else in every game too, mind you, with six of them through four games and that is the major red flag on the young hitter. In time, his susceptibility to the strike out and refusal to walk will be exploited by Major League pitching but the youngster profiles as a potentially significant power threat at the MLB level and with his hot start, we may like where the season ends up.
Juts 6% owned in Yahoo! leagues, he’s absolutely worth an early add. I’ve dropped Ozuna for comparable sophomore talent in a few places already, including Junior Lake who I am also high on this year.
Tanner Roark, SP, Washington Nationals
Coming off a strong Spring Training that saw him yield just five runs through 13.2 innings pitched, while striking out 11, Tanner Roark was pressed into action a day early for Washington with Jordan Zimmerman taking ill. Those who drafted Roark late will hope they knew early enough to get him in their lineups as his first start of 2014 was impressive. He gave up two early runs to the Mets, on three first inning hits and a walk, but Roark cruised from there picking up the win after six solid innings.
Roark got a lot of interest at the close of 2013, and deservedly so with a 3-1 record and 5.25 SO/BB ratio in five late season starts. Admittedly buoyed a bit by his time in the pen, his overall numbers were ridiculous last year with a 1.51 ERA and a sub-1 WHIP. Nevertheless, with the signing of Doug Fister we weren’t sure if Roark would make the starting rotation out of camp. By now, we all know how that story went and with a strong start today Roark looks primed to take the role and run with it. While Taylor Jordan still lurks as a threat when Fister returns, if Roark keeps pitching like he did today he’ll force Matt Williams’ hand.
Today, he finished strong. Again, after a forgettable first inning (pitching on three hours notice) Roark threw five scoreless and finished with five Ks in six innings, including the final four batters he faced. Dating back to last year, he has five quality starts in six games as a starter. Can the 27 year old keep it up for a whole season? Maintaining a 3.00 ERA seems unlikely, but as part of a strong Nationals team he’ll give the squad, and his fantasy owners, a chance to win once every five days.