This is the “no-man’s land” of prospects – that time between the end of the minor league regular season and the the start of the offseason leagues. That makes it a natural point to look back on the year that was. This next series of posts will focus on a breakout prospect from each team, broken down by division. These are players who “broke out” statistically in 2015 and were either ranked in the bottom half of their team’s preseason top ten list or didn’t make their team’s list at all. Some of these names will look familiar and have already been scooped up in many dynasty formats. Others may still be flying low enough that their big performances have gone undetected. Today we’ll look at five breakout prospects from the AL Central.
|Michael Fulmer, RHP | DET||Age: 22||ETA: 2016|
The Tigers acquired Fulmer in the Cespedes trade this summer, and he could probably give Blake Snell a run for his money as breakout pitcher of the year. The right-hander has three above average pitches in his arsenal, with the heater grading out as double plus. Fulmer was already pitching well in the Mets organization, and after joining the Tigers’ Double-A affiliate, he threw 31.2 innings with 33 strikeouts, seven walks, and a 2.84 ERA. There’s fantasy value here with a #3 starter ceiling in the bigs and some strikeout potential in that quality three-pitch mix. Comerica will also work in his favor once he reaches the majors.
|Bradley Zimmer, OF | CLE||Age: 22||ETA: 2016|
After being taken in the first round of the 2014 draft (21st overall), Zimmer followed the normal course for a college bat and responded with a performance that has vaulted him into the top ranks of most prospect lists. He’s pretty droolworthy in fantasy when you look at the pop and speed combination, and if he gets off to a good start in 2016 we could see him patrolling center field in Cleveland by the end of the summer. He’s got a long, lean build with room to add power and his speed is plus with long strides and smart baserunning. It’s that combination of skills, projection, and proximity to the bigs that makes him desirable in all fantasy formats. Zimmer struggled to hit for average in Double-A, but still managed to post six homers and 12 steals in just 49 games at the level.
|Balbino Fuenmayor, 1B | KC||Age: 25||ETA: 2016|
You probably recognize this name from the Futures Game, and it’s a fun one. Fuenmayor isn’t exactly new at this being 25 years old, but 2015 saw him post the highest batting average of his career, and he’s been around in one way or another since he was 17. Fuenmayor hit .354 in Double-A and .377 in 16 games for Triple-A Omaha with a lot of contact and a greatly reduced strikeout rate from previous seasons. He also hit for power, with 17 homers in a limited number of plate appearances. It feels weird even talking about him and he really did come out of nowhere this year (he spent some time in independent leagues for the 2013-2014 seasons), but that’s what this post is about and damned if I’m going to deny the man his blurb. I think the great Balbino is a better fit in AL-only leagues and pretty deep formats, but he’s an interesting lottery ticket and a great story. Unfortunately he was shelved with a torn ACL in late July.
|Max Kepler, OF | MIN||Age: 22||ETA: 2017|
Kepler’s breakout wasn’t in the power department (he’d hit ten homers in rookie ball back in 2012). No, what put him on the map this year for me was his 60-point boost in average as a 22-year-old at Double-A with 67 walks compared to just 63 strikeouts. Kepler isn’t going to be a superstar or even go crazy in any one category, but he’s got average or better tools across the board. When you pair that with his improved plate discipline numbers and overall improved hitting, he’s now emerged as a guy with at least a shot to be an everyday starter and not just a reserve outfielder type. The big question mark for me is how he works into the Twins’ plans. That team seems to have a glut of outfielders already, including guys like Oswaldo Arcia, who is sitting in the minors and out of options next season. Kepler could look a lot like the Phils’ Aaron Altherr the more I think about it – in limbo between the everday guy and fourth outfielder type.
|Jordan Guerrero, LHP | CWS||Age: 21||ETA: 2017|
My name is Mike and I’m addicted to left-handed pitching prospects. Full disclosure – I had a hard time finding a “breakout” guy in the White Sox system, but was pleasantly surprised when I found Guerrero’s numbers for High-A Winston-Salem. Actually, it was how he finished his season that got me interested. I wasn’t able to find much scouting info on him, but Guerrero closed out 2015 with eight straight starts of three earned runs or fewer and 49 strikeouts in just under 50 innings pitched. If he can carry that momentum into next season, Guerrero could be a guy in 2016 – especially if he’s able to miss some bats in Double-A. Put him on your watch list in deeper formats.