2016 Fantasy Baseball: Breakout Candidate — Danny Valencia
Organizations in baseball get certain reputations for doing things well. Some organizations get known their ability to develop hitters while others get known for their ability to develop pitchers. The richer franchises get known for buying their talent. The flip side are those teams that belong to those on the outside looking in in terms of finances. Each team has found their way to compete.
The Oakland Athletics have gotten a reputation for finding players other teams have devalued and inserted them into their lineup, rotation, or bullpen. It’s gotten to the point where when they get a little money to spend, they find a way to spend it poorly (Billy Butler). You almost wish they could simply be limited to taking people’s scraps. They did it last season when the Blue Jays inexplicably placed Danny Valencia on waivers. He had an OPS better than .800 as a part-time player and they wanted to find room for Ben Revere.
They slotted Valencia right into third base and he continued to produce. Over the long-term, he may not produce numbers like that, but for someone making peanuts, he produces quite a bit. He has never been given an opportunity to play every day and no one is quite sure what he could produce if given the opportunity.
Where he has been
What the Athletics discovered long time ago is that production is a function of ability plus opportunity. Valencia simply never got the opportunity to produce over a full season. A part of that could be because he has never had a firm defensive position. He’s rated as below average as a third baseman over the years (-15 defensive runs saved) and virtually neutral as a corner outfielder.
The problem there is that most teams have corner outfield covered and someone with a .800-ish OPS is usually not going to garner full playing time out there unless they are a plus defender. Oakland gave him a full complement of at bats once he joined them in August and he ended up rewarding them for taking that chance. You may not be able to win with a team of Danny Valencia’s, but you can certain stay afloat with a few of them in your lineup.
Where he could go
All of the projection systems have him producing between a .700 and .750 OPS next season. That ends up representing the halfway point between what he produced last season and the seasons prior to that. In our past editions of breakout candidates we’ve shown repeatedly that those that project statistics for players err on the side of what a player has done in comparison to what he could possibly do in the future.
The beauty of investing so little in a player is that you aren’t beholden to him when he stops producing. It is the primary problem with the Billy Butler contract referenced earlier. The numbers you see above look sparse because they are projecting fewer player appearances for Valencia. If he produces the percentage numbers they expect, it also makes perfect sense for him to get fewer opportunities. However, if he does get to play every day he could possibly surprise with the counting numbers he could put up.
A Rosy Picture
Third base is a very deep position these days in fantasy baseball. So, even if Valencia is good enough to produce the numbers above, he might not be good enough to be a starter in a standard 12 team mixed league. Then again, he is eligible in the outfield in most leagues and first base in a few. That kind of positional flexibility could come in handy on your bench during the long grueling fantasy season.
The odds are not good that Valencia will even get to 600 plate appearances this season. He’s never done it before and the one time he came close he didn’t come anywhere close to producing numbers on this level. So, what you see above likely represents the very ceiling of what he can produce. Still, his flexibility deserves some consideration and there is always the chance that he has found himself as a hitter.