Things did not start out so well for Ramon Laureano (OF, Oakland Athletics). A popular sleeper pick in March, Laureano stumbled out of the gates, slashing just .222/.281/.346 through his first 167 plate appearances with just nine extra-base hits and one stolen base. To make matters worse, he was striking out 29.3% of the time. There had been hope that he could be a 15-home run, 25-stolen base asset when it was announced that he’d be a full-time outfielder for the A’s, but those hopes were dashed quite thoroughly and many (including myself) wondered if he’d be relegated to the minor leagues.
Of course, things can change quite quickly in baseball. Since May 16, Laureano has walked up to the plate 100 times. In those 100 plate appearances, he has 13 extra-base hits, five stolen bases, a respectable 21% strikeout rate, and a batting line of .323/.350/.548. Wednesday’s 2-4 performance with a run, home run, five RBI, and two steals was the latest triumph for the 24-year-old, and with any luck, there will be more to come. Despite the slow start, he could very well finish the year with 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases with a solid (if unspectacular) batting average in the .250 to .260 range. The OBP still leaves quite a bit to be desired, as he’s walking just 4.9% of the time, but he’s shown double-digit walk rates in the minors and had a 9.1% rate in a 48-game sample last season.
The big lesson to take away from the slow start and resurgence of Ramon Laureano is understanding your league. Laureano is available in roughly 75% of ESPN and Yahoo leagues and is potentially worth a roster spot in 10- and 12-teamers with five or more outfield starters, particularly if you league uses batting average instead of OBP. If you are a 10-team owner and chose to drop him earlier this year during his struggles, you did the right thing. With the high quality of available players on your waiver wire, there was absolutely no need to be patient. You can cut bait and go with the hot hand, knowing that he’ll likely remain available to pick up later. If you’re in a 15-teamer, the decision has been much more difficult because of the utter lack of talent that is available to pick up. You’re lucky just to find a full-time player out there, much less one with Ramon’s upside, so you may have been forced to hold on to him and hope he’d blossom.
This kind of context should ALWAYS be taken into consideration when making decisions about your roster. If I write up a player and say, “He could hit 30 home runs,” the analysis for you should start with: “Is that something special in my format?” The standard Yahoo format, for example, you only start three outfielders and have two utility spots. That means only about 50 outfield-eligible players are likely on active rosters in a 12-team league, and lots of otherwise relevant outfielders become difficult to roster for extended periods. Guys such as Laureano, Kyle Schwarber and Stephen Piscotty, who are easy to roster in five outfield formats are suddenly on the roster bubble, as you likely have three top-40 outfielders already occupying your three spots. As I’ve said before, the decision to add or drop a player isn’t just about who the player you want to add is—it’s also who you have to drop and if they’ll even start for you.
Kevin Newman (SS, Pittsburgh Pirates)—3-5, 2B, 2 RBI, BB, SB. There isn’t much power in his bat, but Newman has slapped his way to a .321 batting average and has back-to-back three-hit performances. He has shown impressive contact ability throughout his minor league career with strikeout rates lower than 13% at every level. He doesn’t walk that much, but his ability to avoid strikeouts should make him a decent source of batting average for those in 15-team formats. He can also chip in a few steals. He’s also been locked into the leadoff spot for the Pirates for the past two weeks, which is also allowing him to steal bases, as he has two in the past two games.
Dan Vogelbach (1B, Seattle Mariners)—4-5, 2 R, HR, RBI, BB. He’s part of the wave of 30-home run sluggers we’re seeing this season, but Vogelbach stands out from the crowd thanks to his plate discipline. He’s walking in 17.3% of his plate appearances and striking out in only 21.4%, leading to his current .391 OBP. His 7.9% swinging-strike rate supports the ratios we’re seeing, and while his batting average and OBP may dip slightly, he should continue to have a .370 OBP or better the rest of the way. He’s still available in half of ESPN and Yahoo leagues, and that’s too many for a guy who is a top-15 first baseman in OBP formats.
Andrew Benintendi (OF, Boston Red Sox)—3-4, R, 3B, 2 2B, 2 RBI. He’s currently on pace for 16 home runs and 16 steals, which would be a bit of a letdown for those who invested in him back in March. That said, he’s still at or near the top of the lineup for the Boston Red Sox, so there are plenty of opportunities to score runs, which he has done in eight straight games. He’ll be a solid contributor off the board, and I’m willing to bet he overcomes the slow March and April and gets to 20 home runs and 20 steals by the end of September.
Garrett Cooper (1B/OF, Miami Marlins)—3-5, 2 R, HR, 3B, 4 RBI. I’d be a lot more excited about the .296/.384/.491 line if he didn’t hit so many ground balls. His career ground-ball rate in the majors is 51.5%, and he has a fly-ball rate of just 19.1%, meaning his power upside will be very limited until he finds a way to get the ball up in the air. The 28-year-old will need to learn a new trick before I’m ready to buy in anything other than a very deep 15-teamer or NL-only format.
Austin Riley (3B/OF, Atlanta Braves)—3-5, 3 R, HR, 3B, 3 RBI. He had a rough seven-game stretch between June 5 and June 11, but he managed to come through Wednesday with a big performance. His 3.5% walk rate and 31.9% strikeout rate make him an incredibly volatile asset moving forward, but he has absolutely raked since joining the big club. There are some whispers that he may still be a victim of his remaining minor league options, but until that happens, owners should continue to ride the wave of success. You probably can’t trade him away because of fears of a slump or demotion, so just take the numbers and smile.
Ozzie Albies (2B, Atlanta Braves)—2-5, 2 2B, RBI, BB, SB. He’s on a heck of a tear over his past six games, going 9-22 with two doubles, a triple, three home runs, five walks, and just one strikeout. If he’s going to get out of the bottom third of the order, this is how he’ll have to do it. The walks and limited strikeouts are particularly encouraging.
Trey Mancini (1B/OF, Baltimore Orioles)—2-4, 2 R, HR, 3B, RBI, BB. Mancini truthers have always been out there, but the doubters (like me) were very worried about the ground-ball rates, which were over 50% in each of the past two seasons. Mancini must also have been aware, as he’s dropped that number to 40.4% so far in 2019. Even a slight increase in his launch angle (5.4% in 2018, 8.4% in 2019) can have a significant impact on a hitter such as Mancini, and his .289 expected average and .527 expected slugging can in large part be attributed to maintaining his exit velocity while lifting his launch angle.
Matt Olson (1B, Oakland Athletics)—2-5, 2 R, HR, RBI. He has a fairly standard profile, with lots of strikeouts, lots of home runs, and plenty of walks, but he’s a pretty solid first baseman in OBP leagues. His name value gives him a better reputation than guys such as Mancini or Vogelbach, but don’t be fooled—he’s just like those guys.
Rowdy Tellez (1B, Toronto Blue Jays)—2-5, R, HR, 4 RBI, SB. He’s going to be prone to long slumps and streaks, but his real value is going to be as a platoon player in deep leagues for fantasy purposes. He has a career .245 ISO against righties in the major leagues, making him a solid DFS choice in those match ups.
Chance Sisco (C, Baltimore Orioles)—2-4, R, 2B, 2 RBI, BB. Chance the Catcher has five starts in the past week since joining the Orioles and has been immediately slotted into the heart of the order, hitting fourth or fifth on four occasions. He has contact and strikeout issues, but he knows how to take a walk and was formerly a top catching prospect. He’s now firmly on the catcher streaming radar for those in need.
Dee Gordon (2B/OF Seattle Mariners)—2-5, 2 R, 2 2B. Prior to hitting the IL, Gordon was entrenched as the leadoff man for the Mariners and was using his elite contact ability to hit for average and steal bases. Since his return, he’s been put into the eighth and seventh spots in the order, which severely limits his upside to steal bases or score runs. He and his teammate Mallex Smith (who I’ll get to in a moment) will likely have their fortunes tied to each other, as only one of them can bat first while the other will likely be pushed to the bottom of the order. Both happen to hit left-handed, so a platoon isn’t likely to work out between them.
Mallex Smith (OF, Seattle Mariners)—3-6, R, 2 2B, SB. That’s back-to-back multihit games for Smith (which extends his hitting streak to 11 games) and also back-to-back games with a stolen base. As I mentioned previously, his success will keep Gordon down in the lineup. The biggest advantage Mallex has on Gordon is his willingness to take a walk. If he can keep his 8.5% walk rate, then he should be able to keep the top spot in the lineup.
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