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Breakout Candidates For 2020 – Outfielders

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Last week, we took a look at one potential breakout player at each infield position for 2020. Part two of the breakout players series takes a look at three outfielders with the best chances to break out in 2020. As a reminder, the methodology used to select these candidates primarily uses metrics such as xwOBA (expected weighted on-base average), wOBA, hard hit rate, and barrel rate, as well as some traditional stats, to better identify players that may take the next step in 2020. All stats, unless otherwise noted, are pulled from the player’s Baseball Savant page.

Domingo Santana

wOBA: .326

xwOBA: .347

Hard hit%: 42.1%

Image: Baseball Savant

Domingo Santana is an interesting case, in that he is unlike the rest of the breakout candidates. His average exit velocity is unspectacular, but the rest of his StatCast numbers are much more promising. His 89.0 MPH average exit velocity in 2019 was just a bit above league average, and very close to his career averages, with the exception of 2016.

However, Santana still posted barrel and hard hit rates that were both well above average, and both were the second best of his career. Where Santana is similar to the other breakout candidates is that his xwOBA is well above his actual wOBA, indicating that he deserved better than his results. Additionally, Santana’s xwOBACON of .483 is in the elite range.

Santana is still currently a free agent, so a potential breakout in 2020 hinges on him finding a starting role, but a change of scenery could serve him well.

Andrew Benintendi

wOBA: .330

xwOBA: .340

Hard hit%: 37.7%

Image: Baseball Savant

Andrew Benintendi was always well-hyped, as evidenced by his ranking as the #1 prospect in baseball by both Baseball America and in 2017. However, Benintendi has yet to truly break out. At first glance, his Baseball Savant page doesn’t scream for a breakout. A deeper dive, though, shows that the potential is there for a breakout.

Benintendi had an xwOBACON of .401 in 2019, the highest of his career, yet also posted the lowest wOBA of his career. A quick look indicates this can be attributed mostly to Benintendi’s strikeout rate spiking in 2019 to 22.8%, significantly higher than the 17% he posted in 2017 and the 16% he posted in 2018.

Across the board, it was clear that the quality of contact Benintendi made in 2019 was the best of his career. His barrel rate, exit velocity, and hard hit rates were the best of his career, leading to the spike in xwOBACON. The key to a 2020 breakout likely hinges on his ability to return to making more contact.

Jake Cave

wOBA: .343

xwOBA: .360

Hard hit%: 43.8%

The choice for a third outfielder was not an easy one to make, as there was an abundance of intriguing candidates. After the dust settled, one candidate was left standing, Twins outfielder Jake Cave.

Cave has had some success in two partial seasons in the Majors, but there are reasons to believe he’s not yet done improving. His xwOBA of .360 is evidence of that, as are his 12.5% barrel rate, 90.5 MPH average exit velocity, and 43.8% hard hit rate. It doesn’t stop there, with his .488 xwOBACON being elite as well. Cave also took a step forward with his plate discipline in 2019, chipping away at his K% and increasing his BB% to an above average 9.2%.

The two biggest concerns standing in the way of a major breakout are strikeouts and playing time. If he’s able to further cut down on the strikeouts while maintaining his elite quality of contact, his numbers will drastically improve. Playing time may be hard to come by in a stacked Minnesota lineup, but if he gets regular at-bats, he could be poised for a breakout.

Others to watch: Nick Senzel, Franmil Reyes

Kyle Berger

Reds contributor for Max’s Sporting Studio. Follow on Twitter @KB_48

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