Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton was faced with some lofty expectations last season. And why not? He stole 395 bases over 502 games in the minors. Fantasy owners were salivating at the possibilities and paid a premium for the upside. However, his rookie season proved to be somewhat of a mixed bag. While the 24-year-old had a solid first half, he faded to the tune of a .200/.254/.257 batting line after the All-Star break, providing him with limited opportunities to do damage on the basepaths. Hamilton still tied Jose Altuve for second in the majors with 56 stolen bases, so he was far from a flop, but he was upstaged in the speed department by someone who had become a forgotten man among fantasy owners.
The Dodgers went into spring training last year with a competition for the starting second base job. Alex Guerrero garnered most of the attention after signing a four-year, $28 million contract, but it was Dee Gordon who ran away with the job and proved to be one of the season's best bargains. It was understandable that his success sneaked up on fantasy owners. Even with his speed potential, there was little reason to think that a breakout was coming. He hit just .256/.301/.312 over 181 games from 2011-2013 and appeared to be playing himself out of the Dodgers' plans. While Gordon got off to a hot start in April, some still saw him as a stopgap until Guerrero was ready to take over. That day never came, as Gordon hit .289 over 148 games while leading the majors with 64 stolen bases and scoring 92 runs. After being undrafted in most standard mixed formats, he finished as the 16th most-valuable position player in Yahoo fantasy leagues.
This isn't a judgment about the future performance of these players, as it's possible that Gordon just had the season of his life while the best is yet to come for Hamilton, but this was a notable example of the contrast between hype and post-hype. Success isn't always a straight line with prospects. Some need second and third opportunities before finally breaking though. We saw that with Gordon last season, but also with Indians right-hander Carlos Carrasco when he returned from the bullpen after the All-Star break and Tigers outfielder J.D. Martinez after the Astros gave up on him during spring training. With that in mind, let's examine eight players who fall under the under post-hype distinction and their chances for a breakout in 2015.
Xander Bogaerts SS/3B, Red Sox
After entering last season as the consensus number two prospect in the game, Bogaerts was equal to the hype early on by batting .304 with a .395 on-base percentage and an .859 OPS through June 4. Unfortunately, he then fell into a miserable slump where he hit just .153/.198/.221 with a 66/12 K/BB ratio over 64 games through the end of August. Moving over to third base to make room for Stephen Drew probably didn't help matters. Bogaerts at least finished strong in September by batting .313 with four home runs and 16 RBI over his final 24 games, but he'll enter 2015 with some question marks. Still, it's important to keep things in perspective. Bogaerts just turned 22 in October and only played 139 games above High-A before making his major league debut in 2013. Ups and downs are to be expected against advanced pitching. Given his impressive minor league track record, there's reason to have patience with his bat.
Danny Salazar SP, Indians
Salazar showed electric stuff while posting a 3.12 ERA and 65 strikeouts over 52 innings as a rookie in 2013, so expectations were sky-high for him going into drafts last spring. In fact, he had an ADP (average draft position) of 116.5 in Yahoo leagues, higher than the likes of Johnny Cueto, Doug Fister, Jeff Samardzija and Jon Lester. Things didn't go according to plan. Salazar really struggled out of the gate, putting up a 5.53 ERA over eight starts before being demoted to Triple-A Columbus in mid-May. The strikeouts were there, but he was walking too many batters and was prone to the long ball. His control wasn't much better during his time in the minors, but the Indians brought him back in late July and he showed improvement with a 3.50 ERA and 73/18 K/BB ratio in 69 1/3 innings over his final 12 starts. Throwing strikes can be an issue for Salazar at times and he's not necessarily a lock for a rotation spot going into 2015, but you still have to love the upside. He could be a nice value pick. Salazar's teammate, Trevor Bauer, is another post-hype arm to keep in mind.
Jonathan Singleton 1B, Astros
Singleton signed a five-year, $10 million contract with the Astros last June before he even played a game in the majors. One could understand why the Astros would pursue cost certainty with one of their most highly-touted young players, even picking up affordable club options from 2019-2021, but many questioned why Singleton played it safe when he could make significantly more money in the long run. Perhaps it wasn't a bad idea after all. Singleton really struggled in his first taste of the majors, batting just .168 with 13 home runs and a .620 OPS over 95 games. The power and patience were as advertised, but he struck out in 37 percent of his plate appearances. No position player has struck out that often in a season (min. 350 plate appearances) since Melvin Nieves in 1997. Singleton just turned 23 in September, so it's way too soon to throw in the towel on him for the long-term, but he's a cheap power play and nothing more right now in fantasy leagues. If he fails to cut down on the strikeouts, some more minor league time could be in his future.
Yasmani Grandal C, Dodgers
A first-round pick of the Reds in 2010, Grandal was traded to the Padres in the Mat Latos deal in the winter of 2011 and burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2012 by batting .297/.394/.469 with eight home runs and 36 RBI over 60 games. He fell off the radar among fantasy owners soon after, as he served a 50-game suspension for testosterone at the start of 2013 before tearing the ACL and MCL in his right knee. However, he showed some signs of progress last season by slugging 15 home runs in 128 games while posting a .728 OPS and a strong walk rate of 13.1 percent. Not bad for playing half of his games in PETCO Park. He also proved to be a skilled pitch-framer, which is no doubt a significant reason why the Dodgers targeted him in the Matt Kemp trade. Grandal's strikeouts make him a batting average risk, but his production improved greatly during the second half, which is a good sign about the health of his knee. He's only going into his age-26 season, so there could still be another level for him.
Drew Pomeranz SP/RP, Athletics
Selected number five overall by the Indians in 2010, Pomeranz was the centerpiece of the Ubaldo Jimenez trade one year later, but he fell off the fantasy radar after posting a rough 5.20 ERA over 30 starts and four relief appearances during his time with the Rockies. However, the 26-year-old southpaw was set free in the Brett Anderson trade last offseason and thrived with Oakland in 2014 by putting up a 2.35 ERA and 64/26 K/BB ratio in 69 innings across 10 starts and 10 relief appearances. His control can be spotty at times and his arsenal is a bit limited, so I have questions about his upside unless he develops another pitch, but his home park is a great place to mask those issues. The A's have a lot of choices, but Pomeranz will be relevant in mixed leagues if he get an extended chance in the starting rotation this season.
Gregory Polanco OF, Pirates
Was there a prospect who was hyped more than Polanco last year? Hearing about his latest exploits with Triple-A Indianapolis became a daily routine as fans clamored for his promotion to the majors. The Pirates resisted the urge until early June as part of a decision which was largely perceived to be motivated by service time. Polanco appeared to be worth the wait early on by hitting safely in each of his first 11 games in the bigs, but he batted just .204/.282/.320 over his final 78 games and lost playing time to Travis Snider down the stretch. While it was a small sample, he batted .171 with two extra-base hits and a .466 OPS in 91 plate appearances against left-handed pitching. The shine might have worn off him a little bit going into 2015, but I see opportunity in that. Polanco just turned 23 in September and still managed to put together a walk rate of 9.6 percent as a rookie. The Pirates will give him every opportunity to be their starting right fielder in 2015, so I'm willing to gamble on his power/speed potential. As with Bogaerts above, patience is recommended.
Carlos Martinez SP/RP, Cardinals
Martinez dominated his way through the minors with his excellent raw stuff and received a lot of hype late in the 2013 season, but he owns a mediocre 4.28 ERA through 70 relief appearances and eight starts in the majors. The 23-year-old got a chance in the Cardinals' rotation last June, but posted a 4.45 ERA over seven starts while issuing 16 walks and hitting three batters over just 32 1/3 innings. That's way too many baserunners. Martinez throws in the mid-to-high 90s with his fastball and his changeup and slider are quality secondary pitches, so the strikeout upside is obviously there, but he has allowed a .304/.384/.445 batting line against left-handed batters to go along with more walks (26) than strikeouts (25). He's going to need to turn that around to be an effective starter in the majors. He has also never thrown more than 108 innings in a season as a pro, so he'll likely face an innings limit this season if he wins a rotation spot in the spring. Still, he's worth a shot on upside even if there could be some bumps in the road.
Mike Moustakas 3B, Royals
Moustakas played hero during the Royals' improbable World Series run by slugging five home runs over 15 postseason games. Has the 2007 number two overall pick finally turned the corner? Probably not. The 26-year-old was a little better after returning from his brief demotion during the first half last year, but we're only talking about a .235/.289/.377 batting line over his final 100 games, so that's really not saying much. He now owns a disappointing .668 OPS over his first four seasons in the majors, including a pathetic .211/.267/.328 batting line against left-handed pitching. Moustakas doesn't strike out much, but he doesn't walk either and he hits a ton of fly balls and infield fly balls, which cuts into his batting average. He also gets shifted significantly as a pull-hitter, so it's tough to be optimistic about him unless he makes some adjustments. Royals fans might have some extra patience with him after what he did during the playoffs, but the same issues remain.