After wrapping up my predictions on boom and bust candidates in the AL West last week, this week I will touch on boom candidates for the NL Central. This is a division that arguably had some of the best top tier break out talent in 2021, and I expect them to have even more talent break out this year. Players such as Freddy Peralta, Tyler Naquin, Jesse Winker, Jonathan India, and Bryan Reynolds were among the names that emerged last season. I am sure I am missing some names, but you get the point. Now enough about players you either missed on or enjoyed during the 2021 season. Let’s talk about 3 players all from different teams that you can expect to have big seasons, if there is a season in 2022.
Ke’Bryan Hayes – (PIT – 3B)
One of my favorite prospects going into the 2021 season, we saw a very promising, albeit small, sample size from him in 2020. Hayes played 24 games in 2020 and put up 6 HR’s with a .376 BA and a .442 OBP. Obviously this was a small sample size, and not sustainable, but very promising. What was even more promising was that he had a 9.2% barrel rate with a 92.8MPH exit velo. His hard hit rate was also 20 % above league average. All that being said, no one thought long term that he could continue this success, but I also didn’t picture him struggling as bad as he did.
In 2021, Hayes batted .257 with a .316 OBP across 96 games. He only managed to put up 5 HR’s and we saw his slugging and OPS almost get cut in half. His barrel rate dropped to 5.1% and his exit velo dropped 2 MPH. He has also been known for being a player with a low launch angle, but it dipped down to 2.6 which is 10 degrees league average. This would explain the lack of extra base hits due to a groundball rate around 57%. With that being said, it was well known that he was dealing with a left wrist injury that he sustained around opening day.
What to take away from all these stats and the big disparity between the two seasons is that when Hayes is healthy, he hits the ball very hard. Even on a down season, he had an exit velo 2 MPH above league average still at 90.2 and a hard hit % at 45.8 which is over 10% higher than league average. Look to see Hayes come out healthy in 2022 and work on his launch angle. With his bat speed and strength, the numbers will come around. I see Hayes playing 145 games in 2022 with a .295 BA, .365 OBP, 22 HR’s, 18 SB. A player that should have an ADP at 100, look to get a steal if he goes for his average ADP which is around 140-150.
Luis Castillo – (CIN – RHP)
If you’re looking at trading for Castillo, he might not be this affordable for long. In what was a very sub-par season, he went 8-16 with a 3.98 ERA and a K-rate that took a dip. When you compare Castillo in 2019 and 2021, at the surface, you find it difficult to see what went wrong. His BB rate and HR rate per 9 were higher in 2019 when he made the All-Star game. Were the Reds not giving him any run support or was he just unlucky? If you have ever watched Castillo pitch, you know that he mixes all four of his pitches very well, (Changeup, 4 seam fastball, sinker, slider) all used around 20-30% of the time. In previous years, his changeup was his dominant pitch that had a whiff rate around 40-48%. In 2021, it dropped to 32%. It also dropped from a 28-30% put-away pitch to 18% in 2021. So why the sudden change for Castillo in 2021?
When you look month by month at Castillo’s numbers, it was very clear his numbers were very skewed by the first two months of the season. Always known for being a slow starter to the season, his April ERA was 6.29, May was 8.04. With a 1-7 record at this point many people had concerns, but those flew out the window in June when he posted a 1.71 ERA across 32 innings. From June till the end of the year, he posted a 2.73 ERA. His K-rate during the second half also jumped over 10K/9 around his career average. With all that being said, Castillo had 2 bad months this last year and no run support. Don’t expect Castillo to start hot any year, as that has not been the case in previous years, but expect to see Castillo put up a season closer to what he did in 2019. With pitchers like Lance Lynn and Chris Sale with higher ADP values, look to get a steal with Luis Castillo who I see out-performing both of them this year. Prediction: 13-9 with a 3.25 ERA, 10K/9, 2.8 BB/9 across 190 innings. I think run support will still be an issue for the Reds so I see him struggling to get wins even in 2022.
Dylan Carlson – (STL – OF)
A prep bat out of California, Dylan Carlson was a highly touted prospect who was expected to jump the rankings quickly into the MLB. He did just that by debuting at the age 21 where he played 30+ games, but did not perform very well. Many people might question why I bring up Dylan Carlson when he batted .266 with a .343 OBP and 18HRs in 2021. After his 2020 season, this clearly was a breakout season for him and near where many thought his ceiling could be. I am of the belief that his ceiling is even higher and at the age of 23 this year, I see Dylan taking a giant step for the Cardinals.
When looking at his numbers in depth, there are some numbers that make you question if he is a true power hitter. His average exit velo is below league average, his hard hit rate is right around league average, and his home run percentage is around league average. So why buy into anything more then what he did in 2021? Because he barrels the ball very well! In 2020, he was barreling the ball around 9% and in 2021 he took a slight dip, but he still had a barrel rate above league average. His sweet spot percentage was also 8% above league average. Also, when you look at his minor league fly ball rates and HR/FB%, there was evidence to believe that he had 30+ HR potential in the major leagues. I believe he will develop into that 30+ HR hitter over time. Yes, Busch stadium is a pitcher friendly ballpark, but he hit 9 HR’s at home and 9 HR’s away in 2021. In 2022, I expect to see Carlson bat .275 with a .355 OBP and hit 26 HR’s. His speed, however, in the minors was overplayed so if you’re in a roto league and not points league, don’t expect to see more than 5 steals.