Finishing Strong, Part 1: Hitters who hit well to close 2019

Big Finish, Big Breakout?

Many times we as fantasy owners can prep for our next season and review prospects for our dynasty rosters based on their full-season performances from the prior year. However, a strong finish to the season can often be indicative of an impending breakout.

For instance, Orioles infielder Adam Hall had just 13 extra-base hits last season, but he also hit .378/.441/.500 with seven of those extra-base hits over 25 games in August/September to close out 2018. So there was indication that he was ready to make a big jump forward, which he did in 2019, maybe not by putting up a big slugging percentage, but slashing .298/.385/.395 with 31 extra-base hits and 33 stolen bases.

Taking a look at the end of 2019, there are a few players whose full-season statistical line doesn't quite show the way they ended their year. We're going to take a two-part look at some of the players to look at for your dynasty league based off their finish in 2019. Today's piece will focus on hitters with an upcoming piece to do the same with pitchers.

Note: ownership percentages are based on overall Fantrax ownership, which does include their single-season leagues, but should give a fairly good idea of who is likely hanging out there in your league!

A Trio of Dodgers

To say the Los Angeles Dodgers have an enviable farm system is putting it lightly, but when looking at the breakdown of guys who had a big finish to their 2019 season, the Dodgers have three very notable guys on the list.

Few, if any, systems in the game can match the catching depth that the Dodgers have in their minor leagues. The team saw Will Smith blow past top prospect Keibert Ruiz to the majors in 2019 and find success, and one of the more intriguing debuts to watch in the Arizona Rookie League was 2018 signee, Diego Cartaya.

That leaves out an excellent player with impressive positional versatility that could get him to the majors and allow his bat to stay in the lineup more than a traditional catching prospect. Connor Wong was selected in the third round of the 2017 draft out of the University of Houston with noted athleticism, having played all around the field in both years of the Cape Cod League. He's continued that, playing 83 games behind the dish in 2019 but also putting in 14 at second base and 12 at third base.

Wong's season-long numbers between High-A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Tulsa are quite good with a .281/.336/.541 slash line with 24 doubles, seven triples, 24 home runs, and 11 stolen bases. However, Wong was a man possessed for Tulsa as the team pushed into the finals before losing in the ninth inning of the deciding game. Wong's catalyst performance for Tulsa over the final month included a .410/.464/.730 slash line with nine home runs in the regular season in just 27 games before adding in a .444/.524/.944 line in 10 playoff games for the Drillers, hitting three more home runs, giving him an overall slash with regular and playoffs combined of .412/.471/.743 with 12 home runs, all in Double-A. Needless to say, Wong could be a guy to pay very close attention to in 2020, and he should be owned in many more than 2% of leagues that he's currently tracking in.

Former Reds organizational mate and trade partner Josiah Gray got much of the attention, but Jeter Downs also flourished in his first year with the Dodgers organization. The uber-athletic infielder finished with a .276/.362/.526 line, spending most of his year with High-A Rancho Cucamonga before finishing out the year with Tulsa. He posted 35 doubles, 24 home runs, and 24 stolen bases, so he is likely going to pop off the stat sheet anyway, but there's a reason to think he should be owned in more than the 19% of leagues that he's currently in.

Downs, like Wong, had a big postseason for Tulsa, including a three-homer game. Overall, combining his regular season and postseason in August and September, Downs put up a .342/.427/.678 slash line with 14 doubles, 12 home runs, and he even stole six bases over 38 games. That sort of finish from a guy already making some noise may make it a sooner-rather-than-later proposition to pick up Downs if he's available in your league, but he definitely should be rostered.

Coming out of college in 2017, Jeren Kendall was one of the most athletic outfielders in all of college baseball with incredible power and a track record of performance with one of the nation's top baseball programs, Vanderbilt. The Dodgers drafted Kendall in the first round with the 23rd overall selection, delighted to see concerns about his strikeout rate in college push him down the draft that far. So far, his strikeouts have been the only consistent thing about his game.

Kendall posted a .219/.319/.469 line with Rancho Cucamonga in 2019 with 11 doubles, 10 triples, 19 home runs, and 24 stolen bases. However, he was also repeating the level, and he struck out in over 35 percent of his plate appearances. While he has been hot and cold as a Dodger, the significant difference between his 2018 and 2019 in High-A was his power, slugging over 100 points better.

The final month of the season, Kendall made better contact to go along with his power, combining with his performance in the Quakes' playoff series to slash .298/.385/.632 with five doubles, three triples, nine home runs, and six steals in 30 total games. He did still strike out plenty, but he even brought that down to a 30 percent rate. There's a long road for Kendall, but that sort of finish certainly would advocate for keeping an eye on how Kendall performs in the Arizona Fall League as he could truly be on the cusp of putting his incredible athleticism to work.

Young Cubs

While the Chicago Cubs farm system may not have much depth in the upper minors, the team's Latin America scouting is as good as ever and producing plenty of talent. The team's top 2017 signee, Luis Verdugo, struggled with the bat in 2018, finally putting it together in his last few weeks. That indicated the solid season that he would have in 2019 repeating at the Arizona Rookie League. Verdugo hit .305/.367/.447 with five home runs and eight stolen bases over 53 games with elite defense up the middle, even flashing that same incredible glove along with his plus arm at third base some as well.

While his overall season was excellent, Verdugo turned it on at the end, with a .395/.439/.697 line in August with all five of his home runs and five stolen bases on the month. The glove will be what pushes him forward, but Verdugo's bat kicking up like this would make him incredibly valuable and arguably the best Cubs infield prospect since Gleyber Torres.

Coming from Curacao, Edmond Americaan was a 28th round pick out of high school in Florida, but he chose to attend Chipola College, where he was drafted twice, falling progressively in the draft to the 34th round and then the 35th round, where the Cubs nabbed him in 2018. Though Americaan struggled in his first exposure to Low-A, he got back on track at the end of the season and his natural athleticism was jumping off the stat sheet as he put up a .318/.387/.561 slash line with eleven doubles, three triples, three home runs, and eight stolen bases over 28 games in August and September. Americaan has incredible athleticism and this could be an indication that he's putting those raw tools to use on the field.

Elite College Bats

A few of the big-time college bats of the last few years had huge years in 2019. While some like Seth Beer were obvious and had huge years throughout the 2019 season, others flew more under the radar. Fellow 2016 college freshman phenom Luken Baker hasn't quite put up the numbers many expected in his pro career after one of the more elite freshman years in NCAA history.

Baker had his first full season in 2019 in the Cardinals system in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, posting a .244/.327/.390 slash with 32 doubles and 10 home runs. He finished with a flash, however, hitting .346/.413/.654 with four home runs over 23 games. Baker's best defensive position may be with a bat in his hand, but he began to show at the end of 2019 the type of hitter he could potentially be.

The selection of Pavin Smith by the Arizona Diamondbacks with the seventh overall pick was viewed with questions right away as Smith was not known for his power bat by any means. He put together easily his best year in 2019, slashing .291/.370/.466 with 29 doubles, six triples, and 12 home runs. However, what Smith did to close out 2019 at Double-A was incredibly impressive. From July 1 through the end of the regular season, Smith posted a .350/.419/.589 slash line, including seven home runs while also walking more than he struck out. Smith has worked hard with Diamondbacks development folks on his defense in the outfield and is at least average in an outfield corner at this point as well. So he's not a first base only player anymore, giving him much more potential to find a full-time spot long-term and really help your dynasty team in batting average at least, perhaps more if the power shown in the second half is sustainable.

Top Prep Athletes Turning It On

There were some who considered Tristen Lutz to have the most raw power of any player in the 2017 draft, high school or college player. After the Brewers were able to nab the Texas prep outfielder with the 34th overall selection, he's struggled to show his big power on a consistent basis. Those looking at the straight stat lines may think that his 2019 was not a whole lot improved from his 2018 campaign, and they really were similar, with a .245/.321/.421 slash in 2018 with 13 home runs in Low-A followed by a .255/.335/.419 slash line with 13 home runs in High-A in 2019.

The major difference is the way that Lutz finished the 2019 season showing that monster power that he possesses, slashing .351/.377/.632 over the final month with four doubles and four home runs. Sadly, his August was cut short by injury with just 14 games on the month as he was as hot as he could possibly be. Lutz should definitely be a guy on watch lists, if nothing else, as he's owned in 12% of Fantrax leagues, meaning he's likely available in quite a few dynasty leagues.

Less heralded than Lutz coming from the same home state, Jaylen Ferguson was drafted in the ninth round by the Orioles in 2015. Ferguson was known to be incredibly raw but also very athletic when he was drafted, but he has struggled to make contact to show that excellent raw ability until this season, when he combined between Aberdeen and Delmarva to hit .287/.341/.520 over 43 games with eight doubles, seven triples, six home runs, and 14 stolen bases.

Just as Ferguson was hitting his stride with Delmarva in July, he was hurt, coming back to really hit well to finish the season. Over his final 20 games of the season, dating back to July 18th, Ferguson hit .329/.345/.612 with five doubles, five triples, a home run, and five stolen bases, flashing his impressive speed and raw power in driving the ball to the gaps. He's owned in 0% of Fantrax leagues, and he's a deep flyer, but certainly, with his level of athleticism, he's a name to remember.

Pair of Padres

It just doesn't seem fair that the best system in the game would continue to have guys break out, but that's exactly what the Padres did in 2019. While many of those breakouts for San Diego came on the mound, a handful of excellent hitters pushed through, led by the impressive performance by versatile Eguy Rosario. Rosario put in at least 10 games defensively at every position on the dirt but catcher, with the most time spent at third base. While he posted a solid .278/.331/.412 line with 40 extra-base hits and 21 stolen bases, he was even better to close out the year. When you add in his excellent performance in the playoffs, Rosario hit .342/.423/.529 from August 1 through the end of the season with eight doubles, three triples, and four home runs. He's owned in just 1% of leagues.

While Gabriel Arias is not completely unknown, owned in 7% of leagues, he put together a .302/.339/.470 season overall with 17 home runs for High-A Lake Elsinore at 19. That alone should get plenty of attention, but the way he finished the year showed there was even more in the tank potentially.

From the beginning of July through the playoffs for Lake Elsinore, Arias slashed .341/.376/.546 with 11 doubles, three triples, and 12 home runs. He's going to be headed to the upper minors at just 20 years old in 2020 after playing shortstop nearly all year in 2019. He'll either be a premium trade piece for the Padres this offseason or they'll be making room for him soon at the big league level.

Up the Middle Guys Bringing Top Production

While both Willi Castro and Ryan Vilade had excellent seasons in 2019, both finished much better than even their quality season numbers, giving both a shot to shoot up lists or make an impact with their major league club in 2020.

Willi Castro will retain his prospect status after getting a chance to play with the Tigers to close out 2019. While that audition didn't go as well as his minor league season had, there are plenty of reasons to believe that Castro has plenty of bat in the tank to go with his plus glove. With Toledo this season, Castro hit .301/.366/.467 this season with 28 doubles, 8 triples, 11 home runs, and 17 stolen bases. He was smoking hot before he was finally called up in the final week of August, however, hitting .383/.400/.679 with seven doubles, a triple, and five home runs over 20 games to open the month before he got the call to Detroit. He may not be an All-Star, but for a guy likely to have a starting job heading into 2020, being owned in only 11% is significantly low.

Interestingly, Ryan Vilade is owned in nearly as many leagues as Castro, at 10% ownership. However, he's farther away after being a high school pick in the second round of the 2017 draft. While he blew away evaluators in his draft season pro debut, many walked back that love in 2018 when he put up solid, but not spectacular, numbers in what is known as a hitter's haven in Asheville. Vilade returned to positive regard with a .303/.367/.466 slash line with 49 extra-base hits and 24 stolen bases.

While those numbers alone would be exceptional, Vilade closed out the year even better. Beginning with a series against Rancho Cucamonga that started July 30th, Vilade hit .369/.411/.600 through the end of the season with five doubles, two triples, seven home runs, and nine steals. He even posted an impressive 12/14 BB/K over 147 plate appearances in that time. That sort of performance at 20 in High-A is certainly worth noting and should warrant a much higher ownership percentage.

There are plenty more players that could be highlighted here, but this should definitely give you a grouping to get ahead of others in your league, grabbing guys primed to break out in 2020 and become at least excellent trade chips for your dynasty squad.

This look is done through some excellent data work by our own Chip Bourne, so many thanks to him for his aid in this piece.