Batter’s Box: Soler Flares
I’ve been wondering why I haven’t talked more about Jorge Soler (OF, Kansas City Royals) this season, but thankfully his excellent night at the plate on Sunday (3-3, R, HR, RBI, BB) gives me a solid excuse. Despite being only 27 years old, it feels like Soler has been around forever, but his next start will be the first time he’s played in 102 games at the major league level in a single season. Injuries and limited prior success have kept the power-hitting outfielder in and out of the public eye, but it appears that we’re finally getting the breakout we’ve been waiting for since he debuted with the Cubs back in 2014. He’s smacked 27 home runs on the season and has driven in 70 runners, absolutely shattering his career highs in the big leagues.
Perhaps one reason I’ve been so quiet about this potential 40-home run campaign is that, well, lots of folks are hitting home runs. While Soler’s 27 is the third-most in the American League, 44 players have already hit 20 or more home runs in 2019. Perhaps you’ve heard of this in other baseball chatter, something about a juiced ball and an unprecedented number of home runs? Whatever it is, it has absolutely changed the way we look at home runs in fantasy baseball in two fundamental ways:
First, we have to now understand that 20 home runs isn’t special for fantasy purposes. It’s not worthless, mind you, it’s just that 20 home runs now is now more like 13-15 home runs from years past. In 2018, which was admittedly a bit light on home runs compared with other modern years, 77 players made it to 20 home runs by the end of the season. It was 89 players in 2017 and 92 in 2016. As of this moment, 122 players have 10 or more home runs, with 81 having at least 15. It’d be no surprise to see 100 batters eclipse the 20-home run threshold, which all of a sudden makes 20 home runs not seem so impressive. From a fantasy perspective, “plus” power is no longer a 20- to 25-home run hitter. That’s just “decent” power. In 10-teamers, you might have to crank it up to 25-30 home runs before you start calling a hitter a “good” power bat for your lineup.
Soler, of course, is already at 27 and is well on his way to 40. Only eight players reached that single-season mark in 2017 and 2018 combined, so it’s certainly meaningful. A nonharmful .251 batting average is also a bonus, though he’s making a little too much weak contact to get that batting average up to the .260-.270 range. A lower batting average is OK, though, when you have true high-end power. The moral of this little story, though, is that leaguewide home run trends are forcing us to break our notions of what high-end power actually is, and the sooner you can reset your power barometer, the better.
Charlie Blackmon (OF, Colorado Rockies)—4-5, 3 R, HR, 2B, RBI. The stolen bases are gone and probably aren’t coming back; who cares when you’re going to hit 30-35 home runs with a .300-.310 batting average and 200 combined runs and RBI? He’s an elite hitter who gets a TON of plate appearances in baseball’s best hitting environment. Others might discount him too far in 2020 due to the lack of speed, but don’t fall into that trap.
Ehire Adrianza (3B/SS, Minnesota Twins)—3-5, 2 R, 3B, 2B, 2 RBI. The playing time and line up spot are erratic, but he’s a decent DFS play when he gets playing time. The Twins are a high-powered offense (even though the top part of the order is slumping a bit), and those in DFS or deep seasonlong leagues can take advantage of some of the useful pieces on the back end of the roster as needed.
Luis Arraez (2B, Minnesota Twins)—3-5, R. This is exactly what this king of contact does. He plays pretty much every day and has a hit pretty much every day, and thanks to the overall offensive production in Minnesota, he can usually score a run. He hits too low in the order to drive runners in (he hasn’t had an RBI since July 5), but the 10.9% walk rate and 6.2% strikeout rate means he’ll likely continue to get all the playing time he needs to make an impact.
Michael Brantley (OF, Houston Astros)—3-3, 2 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI, BB. Whatever Houston has done to keep him healthy is working. He’s the 11th-best outfielder in standard 5×5 leagues according to the ESPN Player Rater even though he’s not really stealing bases thanks to a .332 batting average and consistent across-the-board production all season long.
Nick Castellanos (OF, Detroit Tigers)—3-5, R, HR, 2B, RBI. I’ve mentioned before how a trade might not actually improve his production, but for a team desperate to find more future building blocks, Castellanos’ .319/.356/.565 July batting line is coming at the perfect time. A trade to another team would probably lower his batting average a bit, though it could turn some of his doubles (he already has 34 this season) into home runs, which is more useful in most fantasy leagues.
Freddie Freeman (1B, Atlanta Braves)—3-5, 2 R, 2B, RBI, SB. This still looks like a repeat of 2016 to me, which is also Freddie’s best season to date. It might even be a little better this year thanks to the reduced strikeout rate and a little help from the baseball itself. He’s simply an elite first baseman (though you already knew that).
Yairo Munoz (2B/3B/SS/OF, St. Louis Cardinals)—3-4, 2 R, HR, 3B, 2 RBI, SB. The Cardinals utilityman has hit for a solid batting average in limited playing time this season and would be a useful fantasy player should he work his way into a regular role. Because of the crowded roster in St. Louis, he’s not really worth holding in anything outside of NL-only.
A.J. Pollock (OF, Los Angeles Dodgers)—3-4, 2 R, HR, 4 RBI, SB. In his 37 plate appearances since his return, he has a 1.272 OPS. That’s simply ridiculous, though it will surely allow him to play virtually every day for the Dodgers. Should he even suffer the most minor of injuries, though, expect the kid gloves to come on in full force. This is a playoff team that is thinking about October, and they’re happy to sacrifice wins in August and September to succeed later.
Ronald Acuna Jr. (OF, Atlanta Braves)—2-4, 2 R, HR, 2 RBI, BB. He’s living up to the hype, which is impressive considering how much there was. He’s probably the consensus third overall pick next season after Trout and Yelich.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (2B/SS/OF, Toronto Blue Jays)—2-4, R, HR, 2B, 3 RBI. I have no idea how I’m going to rank him going into 2020, and every day that he does stuff like this it makes it that much harder. Is this sustainable? No. Does it matter for the purposes of creating your lineup right now? Not even a little. Plug him in every day until he forces you not to.
Ketel Marte (2B/SS/OF, Arizona Diamondbacks)—2-3, 2 R, 2B, 2 BB, SB. The Brewers just had no answer for Marte, allowing him to get on base 10 times over four games. He’s been the best hitter for the Diamondbacks this season and should continue to be a top-five fantasy second baseman for the rest of 2019. I continue to look foolish for doubting him.
Francisco Mejia (C, San Diego Padres)—2-3, 2 R, HR, RBI, BB. He’s slugging over .400 for July, and that’s the nicest thing I can say about him. He’s worth a stream if Dave Cherman ever says so, but that’s about it in single catcher leagues.
Buster Posey (C, San Francisco Giants)—2-3, 2 R, 2B, BB. Don’t look now, but Posey is finally finding his swing. Since June 28, he has a .356 batting average and .525 slugging in 65 plate appearances. The plate discipline isn’t quite vintage Posey, but if someone let him go in your league, he might be worth a look if you need a boost at catcher. Don’t get me wrong, though—I’d still consider him a streamer at this point.
Jose Ramirez (2B/3B, Cleveland Indians)—2-4, R, HR, 2B, RBI. He’s basically stopped taking walks (he has just one in July), but I’m not upset about it as he has a .393 wOBA on the month with five home runs and two stolen bases. Very few players have the amount of talent Ramirez has, and that’s why you simple hold him when he struggles like he did to start the year.
Trey Mancini (1B/OF, Baltimore Orioles)—2-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI. He hits the ball hard and gets plenty of plate appearances as the heart of the Orioles’ order. He’d get more RBI elsewhere, probably, but Camden Yards makes up for that with some extra home runs for him.
(Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire)