There are a lot of young, talented outfielders for fantasy purposes, and two of the bigger names among prospects were also big disappointments in 2016: Byron Buxton and Jorge Soler. Buxton reached the top of prospects lists for the last few seasons, and he finally got his shot to play full-time when he won the starting gig to open the year. Soler had a part-time role in 2015, and it looked like it would continue for 2016, but fantasy owners still hoped for a strong 350 AB or even a breakout that forced the Cubs to play him more.
In the end, 2016 proved to be a bust for these young outfielders. Neither one reached 300 AB or hit over .240. They both struggled mightily in the first half. However, each player had one good month late in the season that helped salvage their seasons and give hope for the future. The question is, does that one good month get them over the bumpy road of 2016, or will the struggles continue for the foreseeable future?
Buxton Breaks Loose? Not Really.
Buxton’s September was too little, too late for redraft leagues looking to get production out of him during the full year. There’s even a good chance he was available on the waiver wire before he took off so late in the year. In keeper leagues, owners were forced to waste a bench spot until the playoffs, when Buxton’s bat may have helped teams advance a round or two. At least keeper leagues are looking long-term to begin with, and the late surge is an optimistic sign. Buxton hit 9 of his 10 season home runs in September and October. He always offers speed, assuming he can get on base. What does this mean for 2017?
There’s no way to sugarcoat his first half. His contact rate never projected to be good, but it was horrific at 58%, and he only walked at a 4% clip. Then, even when he hit the ball, it was without much force, because his hard hit rate was below league average. For the season, his swinging strike rate was about 15%, about 5% above league average. He deserved the demotion, and though he fared better in batting average and OPS, his contact rate was still just 70% against minor league pitchers. His major league equivalents for his 2016 minors stint aren’t bad: .288, 10 HR, 6 SB. That said, the big hole in his swing due to contact issues and plate discipline won’t go away overnight.
When it comes to his great finish, it doesn’t look sustainable for a full season. He already displays at least average power for a fantasy player with a hint of more to come, but a 30% HR/FB won’t carry over. He did correct his drop in LD% from July and hit fewer ground balls, but without a lot of hard contact, it’s no sure thing that he’ll keep up a .270+ average. The fact remains that his plate discipline and contact rate have to get out of the danger zone before I can trust him to be a reliable regular. Some players prove useful despite a low contact rate, but it’s usually because they can also take a walk (see Kris Bryant’s rookie season). Buxton doesn’t walk and swings and misses too much to be anything more than a major risk in 2017.
For keeper leagues, you’re still obligated to hold on to him, but I’d have no problem selling him based on his September breakout. Get a good long-term option in return, and don’t sell for ten cents on the dollar, but his profile doesn’t project to be someone who will quickly figure it all out and become an immediate superstar.
Soler Needs Opportunity, Health
Jorge Soler is frustrating to own. For two seasons he’s struggled to stay on the field, and he’s also had a hard time putting together consistent results. Unlike Buxton, Soler has two partial seasons where he has put up a few months of solid production (though there was only one month in 2016). Also, unlike buxton, Soler has shown solid plate discipline, improving his walk rate by nearly 4% in 2016 and cutting down on his swings outside the strike zone.
In 2016 he manage to loft the ball more, and when combined with his improved HR/FB (from 14% to 17%), he shows he has 25+ HR potential in a full season. A drop in hard hit rate and LD% resulted in a lower BABIP, which hurt his average, but his hot August showed that he’s capable of keeping his BABIP and average above league average for at least part of the year.
The major issue with Soler is his ability to stay on the field. He’s not a great defender, and the left side of his body seems incapable of keeping healthy (left oblique, left ankle, left hamstring). You can’t have a breakout year if you can’t stay in the lineup. Luckily for Soler, the Cubs traded him to the Royals, where he projects to be the primary DH, as well as filling in at the corner infield spots when possible. A move to the American League may be the best thing for him, and I have higher hopes for 2017 production out of Soler than I do for Buxton. Again, he does need luck to stay healthy, but a season of 500 AB could result in a .270, 25 HR, 80 RBI year.
Given how little he should cost in redrafts (and even some keeper formats), he makes a good high-risk, high-reward target.
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