Photo by Jeff Chevrier/Icon Sportswire
Pedigree is something I never took all that seriously when evaluating players. Big deal, some scout in Dingleberry, Georgia liked the way a high schooler swung a bat and convinced his team to use their first-round pick on him. That doesn’t mean the guy is destined for greatness. I mean, look at any draft from the past few years. In 2006, for example, Clayton Kershaw was drafted seventh. Do you know you got taken five picks before him? Greg Reynolds. Name sound familiar? Maybe it’s because he works at your local Jiffy Lube, because Greg Reynolds never did anything of note in the majors.
That said, I’ve come around on pedigree a bit in recent years. Scouts aren’t (always) crotchety old men choosing who they think the next premier athletes are willy-nilly. These are people who study the game and have a grasp on the intricate mechanics that are required for success. Sure, not every first-round pick pans out. But plenty of them do, even if it takes some time.
All this to say that former first-round pick Billy McKinney seems to finally be realizing his potential this season. After five years in the minor leagues, during which time he didn’t display a single standout tool, the power started to come around this season, as he belted 16 homers in 76 AAA games before being called up. And he hasn’t slowed down since he arrived in Toronto, as he went 3-5, 2B yesterday and is slashing .381/.460/.714 with three homers in 50 plate appearances since his promotion. The hot performance has helped him cement a starting role on the team, and though the sample size is too small to draw conclusions, his 20-degree average launch angle and 50% hard contact rate to this point hint that the homers may have some sticking power. His batting averages have been painfully low over the past few years, but he’s displaying solid whiff and contact rates so far with the Blue Jays, and clearly there was something in his pedigree that made him worthy of a first-round pick. Hopefully his career is more Clayton Kershaw than Greg Reynolds.
Paul DeJong (SS, St. Louis Cardinals): 2-5, 2 R, HR, 5 RBI – As a fellow Dutchman, I feel the need to point out that “DeJong” is actually Dutch for “The Gong,” meaning Paul here comes from a long line of professional gong players. In fact, his swing is modeled very closely after a classic gong strike, which he spent his youth perfecting as he traveled the country playing in his family’s gong troupe. DeJong’s made some slight improvements this year, most notably in his zone recognition, as his walk rate has gone up while his chase rate has shrunk to 29.2%. The .232 average is obviously a letdown, but xStats has him pegged as being a bit unlucky this season, with a .244 xAVG. If you own him, it’s for the pop, and that’s mostly what he’s provided this year.
Justin Smoak (1B, Toronto Blue Jays): 1-1, R, HR, 4 RBI – Smoak has been in a bit of a rut lately, batting just .192 over his last 15 games, though he does have four homers to show for it over that span. This season has been a letdown for Smoak coming off of 2017’s 38-homer campaign, but a strong September could still pull his statline relatively close to what it was last year.
Ryan O’Hearn (1B, Kansas City Royals): 3-5, R, HR, 4 RBI – That’s now seven homers in just 21 games for O’Hearn, who should have full reign over playing time at first base now that Lucas Duda has been shipped out. The good news: his 47.9% hard contact rate. The bad news: his 28.2% strikeout rate. The other bad news: his name’s Ryan O’Hearn, and nobody wants to own a player named Ryan O’Hearn.
Mitchell Garver (C, Minnesota Twins): 3-5, 2 R, 2 2B, 4 RBI – Everything Garver does is… fine. The 9% walk rate is nice, the 21.9% strikeout rate is solid. He’s flashed okay pop with seven homers this season. His .267 average puts the “average” in “batting average.” It’s all a perfectly acceptable, normal package and………… oops sorry, I fell asleep.
Matt Davidson (1B/3B, Chicago White Sox): 3-4, R, HR, 3 RBI – My very first Batter’s Box article had Batt Davidson as the lead, so he’ll always hold a special place in my shriveled, coal-black heart. He’s had full-time run as the White Sox first baseman since Jose Abreu went down, and his 39% hard contact rate indicates the power is legit. His skillset might play in OBP formats where you don’t have to stomach the 34% strikeout rate that’s dragging down his average, but his leash may only be as long as Abreu’s DL stint.
Whit Merrifield (2B, Kanas City Royals): 2-2, 3 R, 2B, RBI, 2 BB, SB – Merrifield is on a roll lately, hitting .342 over his last 30 games with five homers and seven steals. Even with 10 homers in the books, I still think there’s a little more pop in his bat, and at the very least he’s put to bed concerns that last season’s breakout was a fluke.
Hunter Dozier (3B, Kanas City Royals): 2-4, 2 R, HR, 2 RBI – After suffering through Brian Dozier’s lackluster season in a bunch of leagues, I’m about ready to move on and have a new favorite Dozier. Unfortunately Hunter will not be awarded that title, as he’s been really not-good this season. Between the 29.3% strikeout rate, the .228 average (despite a .301 BABIP), and the eight homers in 290 plate appearances, I’m not interested. I’ll stick with Brian for now, thanks.
Matt Olson (1B, Oakland Athletics): 3-4, 2 R, 2 2B, RBI – Wreck-It Ralph is really making it hard for his nickname to stick, as he’s hit just three homers in his last 30 games. But at least he’s contributing a useful batting average, with a .279 mark over that span. A high infield flyball rate and some bad HR/FB luck have really held him back this year, but he hit 13 homers in September of last year, so we know what the upside is.
Avisail Garcia (OF, Chicago White Sox): 3-4, 2 R, 2 2B, RBI, BB – Garcia hit just .159 in August, though a .191 BABIP is likely the main culprit for the cold spell. Hopefully this is a sign that better days are ahead, and after hitting .330 last year, he’ll be a guy to keep an eye on in case he gets hot here in the season’s final month.
Dawel Lugo (2B, Detroit Tigers): 3-4, R – Boy, today’s rundown is a veritable who’s who of the baseball world: Billy McKinney, Ryan O’Hearn, Hunter Dozier… Dawel Lugo? Am I in the right place? Who are these people? Lugo flashed a solid hit tool in the minors, with a light dusting of power and speed. There’s likely nothing to see here, but he should get some at-bats with Jose Iglesias injured.
Scott Schebler (OF, Cincinnati Reds): 3-5, R, HR, 2B, 2 RBI – Scheb is no schlub, so give Scott a shot. A shoulder injury kept him out over a month, but he’s back and batting leadoff for the Reds now, meaning he should be a sneaky source of runs down the stretch. He crushes the ball, but hits it on the ground 49% of the time, which caps his power upside. Still, he’s a guy I don’t mind spending every day out on the corner in the pouring rain for. He will be loved.
Schebler or Melky Cabrera ROS? OBP league with TB as a category instead of HR.
I’m a little worried for Melky’s playing time after the Donalson trade, as it seems Kipnis might steal some OF at-bats going forward. Schebler has more power too, so I’ll take him ROS.
Would be more insightful if we avoid the whole “nobody wants to own a player named Ryan O’Hearn because his name’s Ryan O’Hearn” stuff. How bout talk about his approach, his JD Martinez-style opposite-field power.
That’s really just my way of saying there’s nothing to see here. He’s a 25-year-old rookie who’s striking out too much and never did anything remarkable in the minors.