There are so many players whom I would like to draft at their fantasy baseball ADP this year. Some are undervalued, others are appealing because of their consistency and there are some who possess skills sets that are hard to find. But even among my favorite options, very few have serious potential for a massive uptick in production this year.
Here are a few players who could take a major leap and propel fantasy teams to win their leagues.
Jose Berrios (SP, TOR)
I have read multiple articles or tweets suggesting that the Blue Jays will produce the same kind of breakout in Kevin Gausman or Yusei Kikuchi that they coaxed out of Robbie Ray last season. But the best answer to this year’s version of Ray was already on the team when last season ended.
Jose Berrios was once expected to become a dominant ace, but instead settled into being a reliable, effective starter during his five-plus seasons with the Twins. The right-hander came over to Toronto at the trade deadline last year, and he logged an outstanding 1.09 WHIP and a better FIP (3.32) down the stretch than in any of his campaigns in Minnesota.
The recent success of Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker goes well beyond the miraculous success of Ray last season. In 2021, Walker helped Steven Matz get his career back on track and Alek Manoah make a successful transition to the Majors. Walker has also helped Hyun-Jin Ryu to be more durable and effective than most onlookers expected when Ryu left the safe confines of Dodger Stadium for the scary proposition of pitching in the AL East.
At worst, Berrios will be solid once again in 2022. At best, the 27-year-old could win a Cy Young award.
Nathan Eovaldi (SP, BOS)
Eovaldi has become an analytics darling, and the guess here is that he can achieve greater real-life success in 2022. The right-hander was plagued by injuries for several seasons but put those concerns behind him by making 32 starts last year. His skills have taken off since the outset of 2020, with the past two seasons being his two best campaigns in both walk and strikeout rates. The improvements can be seen in Eovaldi’s advanced stats, which last year included a 2.83 FIP that ranked third among qualified starters, behind Corbin Burnes and Zack Wheeler.
Pitching on a team with a loaded lineup, the 32-year-old could compete for the American League Cy Young award.
Pablo Lopez (SP, MIA)
Lopez broke out on a per start basis when he logged a 3.07 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP last year. But the potential for a spectacular season was scuttled when a rotator cuff strain caused the right-hander to throw just 1.2 innings after the All-Star break. And in the shortened 2020 season, Lopez would have posted a spectacular 2.59 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP if not for one disastrous September 9 start that weighed more heavily than it would have during a typical season.
Health is the only thing holding Lopez back from a memorable campaign, and although the risk of drafting the right-hander is significant, the reward could be greater than most managers realize.
Daulton Varsho (C/OF, ARI)
Varsho is about to become a fantasy unicorn in two ways. First, he will be one of the few catcher-eligible players who logs most of his playing time at another position (outfield). Second, the 25-year-old will be one of the few backstops to provide fantasy teams with a double-digit steals total. Playing in the outfield should allow Varsho to compile an amount of plate appearances that most catchers can’t match, and his fleet feet will enable him to be a five-category stat-stuffer who can only be rivaled by J.T. Realmuto.
No one should be surprised if Varsho puts up 20 homers and 15 steals in a memorable breakout campaign, and as an added bonus, he has been hitting high in the lineup throughout Spring Training.
Brandon Belt (1B, SF)
Belt is much older than Pablo Lopez but earns a spot in this article for a similar reason — durability is the only thing holding him back from a true breakout campaign. The first baseman has been awesome in each of the past two seasons, posting a 1.015 OPS in the shortened 2020 campaign and a .975 OPS last year. In fact, during 2021 Belt needed just 97 games to produce 29 home runs. The 34-year-old has four career campaigns of 145 games or more, and he could produce a career year if he can accomplish that feat for a fifth time while also repeating his skill improvements from the past two years.
Bobby Dalbec (1B, BOS)
Dalbec and his breakout potential are being overshadowed by the star players in the Red Sox lineup. Of course, Xander Bogaerts, Trevor Story, J.D. Martinez and Rafael Devers are going to grab all the headlines and lead this lineup to prosperity. But Dalbec is poised for a difference-making season of his own after producing a .955 OPS in the second half of last season. The slugger improved his strikeout and walk rates down the stretch while also experiencing positive changes to his fly-ball and hard-contact rates. In a perfect world. Dalbec slugs 35 homers and eventually moves into a premium lineup spot.