In a division that regularly features in the postseason, the National League West promises to be an interesting race as the season wears on. Here are five NL Wast sleeper breakout candidates who could slug their way to major contributions.
Five MLB AL East Sleeper Breakout Candidates
LaMonte Wade Jr., San Francisco Giants
Admittedly, this Casey Schmitt fellow makes for an intriguing curiosity after hitting twice as many home runs in three MLB games as he’s hit in 32 minor league games. However, San Francisco Giants veteran outfielder LaMonte Wade Jr. deserves some ink spilled over what might turn out to only be his first full season in the major leagues, though 2023 makes his fifth played.
Wade has rewarded the Giants, who finally awarded the lefty slugger full-time play. Even though their team ethos emphasizes favorable splits and often platoons hitters to maximize those outcomes, Wade has gotten into 35 games played by demonstrating immunity to lefty-on-lefty matchups, batting .278 with a home run.
Factor in righties and no matter which way you cut it, Wade’s numbers offensively stand out. Walking at a near 20% clip, his strikeout rate is less than his walk at around 18%. Couple this excellent batting eye with elite contact numbers coming in at 92% Zone-Contact, and Wade’s robust ISO of .260 and wRC+ of 165 profile him as one of the top and most sustainable offensive contributors in the game right now.
The only knock on Wade could be his defense reflected in a meager Outs Above Average metric, which is in the 38th percentile. But with Chase Rates and xwOBA in the 98 percentile, Wade’s bat is the real deal.
Ezequiel Tovar, Colorado Rockies
Ironically, perhaps the least potent bat on this all-sluggers list belongs to a player whose defense will keep him on the field so that he can maximize the superbly offensive rich environment in which he plays. Colorado Rockies shortstop Ezequiel Tovar profiles as LaMonte Wade Jr. in reverse, with top-flight Outs Above Average performance in the 89 percentile.
But the rest of his Statcast page is bluer than a hitter would want, with an xwOBA in the seventh percentile basement, indicating his process has been lacking. The good news is he’s only 21 years old and recently has shown signs of life with the bat.
Even more encouraging is much of this modest offensive surge has appeared on the road away from Coors Field, one of the best run-scoring environments in baseball. The past two weeks have seen Tovar pop his first home run, then add another to go along with nine RBI and 10 runs scored. During this stretch, his OPS has been fantastic at .849.
There is no doubt the gifted shortstop has time to grow into power, and his ability to make contact should result in plenty of extra-base hits and run-scoring opportunities for a Rockies team that can never score enough runs when hosting Denver slugfests.
James Outman, Los Angeles Dodgers
Coming on the scene to carve out an everyday role and separate the wheat from the chaff in the Los Angeles Dodgers outfield James Outman combines defense and offense with raw athletic ability to make for an exciting player, who has the opportunity to take destiny into his own hands.
The Dodgers came into the season with a fairly muddy picture in the outfield, but James Outman convincingly claimed centerfield as his own early on. By defensive Statcast metrics Outs Above Average and Arm Strength, Outman grades out as 91 percentile in both categories.
Keeping the good times rolling, Outman has slashed .281/.374/.578 over 38 games played, popping eight homers and stealing four bags. This all tallies up to a LaMonte Wade-esque 156 wRC+.
And this is where the advanced metrics take over and portend a potentially different story for Outman than a more plate-disciplined player like Wade. Outman carries a sub-optimal Contact rate of 65% and a Swinging Strike rate of 15.2%, which is why his strikeout rate hovers in dangerous territory at 32.7%.
These indicators suggest the batting average will fall to earth, and Statcast backs this up with an expected batting average of .240. Additionally, his xwOBA is 50 points lower than his real-life wOBA.
Ultimately, it remains to be seen whether Outman can cut back on his swinging ways and harness his raw talent to take full advantage of a big spotlight in Chavez Ravine.
Gabriel Moreno, Arizona Diamondbacks
The Arizona Diamondbacks traded for Gabriel Moreno to eventually take over as a full-time catcher, though he wasn’t even guaranteed full-time play entering 2023. An injury opened the door for the rookie backstop, and he’s already capitalized on the opportunity by displaying well above-average defensive prowess.
In a year where the stolen base has made a massive comeback, catchers who can throw out runners might substantially increase their value. Moreno has been noted for his pop time to second base, which is in the 89 percentile according to Statcast. His ability to throw runners has been on display, but the bat, for which he will eventually known, has been slow to fully heat up.
Boasting prime contact rates highlighted by a brilliant 91.9% Zone Contact, Moreno’s already terrific .302 batting average projects, by metrics, to be fairly sustainable. What sorely lacks in his profile may be shown by his paltry .086 ISO. Moreno certainly hits the ball hard enough with an above-average 90.3 mph Average Exit Velocity, but his four-degree launch angle means those balls won’t often leave the yard or go for extra bases.
Graded as a 60 Future Value prospect and widely regarded as an elite prospect, Moreno’s bright future may arrive sooner rather than later with all the playing time he has available.
Trent Grisham, San Diego Padres
Whenever a talented player with plus tools but a history of mediocre output makes a noticeable change to their process, it’s worth highlighting – even when the results don’t at first appear successful. Such is the case with San Diego Padres centerfielder Trent Grisham, who, at 25 years old, is a former first-round pick by the Milwaukee Brewers and currently finds himself in a star-studded Padres cast that has their sights on the postseason.
In short, Grisham is Gallo-ing – in that he’s being more aggressive at the plate and swinging more frequently than his previous rates. Unlike Joey Gallo, who has always had a swinging strike rate in the high teens, Grisham never had double-digit whiff rates before his current 13.1%.
Regardless, he’s posted below-average strikeout rates in each of his five years in the Bigs, which means previously he likely was getting called out on strikes. In swinging more often, he’s only striking out marginally more but walking at a very respectable 14%.
The surface stats of batting average in the low .200s looks pretty appalling, yet he’s put up a league average-ish 99 wRC+. This aggressive has is also unlocked some impressive exit velocity numbers and shows Grisham barreling at almost 15%, good for 90th percentile.
Grisham has previously shown better outside swing rates and in-zone contact rates, so if he can pair these incredible power indicators with a modicum of his previous batting eye, Grisham is young enough to still reach the ceiling that many similar post-hype prospects are breaking through in 2023.
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