Photo by: Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire
Now that we’re halfway through August, we’re entering the part of the baseball season when next year’s sleepers start to bubble up into the picture. The teams who have fallen out of contention will start to allocate more playing time to younger prospects, and roster expansion means a ton of new faces will be entering the fray, looking to make names for themselves. For those of us playing in keeper formats, this is a great time to get a head start on grabbing next year’s breakouts.
One player who I think you should be keeping an eye on is Adalberto Mondesi. When I first wrote about Mondesi a few weeks backs, the focus was on his raw tools. After all, this was a guy who hit 13 homers and stole 21 bases in just 85 games last year in the minors. The question was if those tools would translate to the major league level–and if he would hit enough to make use of them. It’s still too early to know for sure, but last night’s 4-4, R, 2 2B, RBI, 3 SB has made me a believer. The speed is clearly legitimate; Mondesi now has 15 stolen bases in just 38 games. But perhaps more encouraging is just how willing him and the Royals are to make use of that speed. Mondesi has only been on base 39 times this season–thanks in no small part to his putrid 2.3% walk rate. For him to steal 15 bases in so few opportunities means he’s running essentially every chance he gets. His bat packs more of a punch than you’d expect for somebody with his speed too, as he’s making 40% hard contact and boasting a .450 slugging percentage. His ability to make consistent contact is really the only question mark here; a 19% whiff rate, 39% chase rate, and 67.1% contact rate are concerning. But if things break right, he could be Billy Hamilton with mid-teens home run pop, and I think that’s a gamble worth taking.
Ronald Acuna (OF, Atlanta Braves): 3-5, 2 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI – Ronald Thump is taking some of the best swings. All the best people say his swings are tremendous. The biggest crowds you’ve ever seen in your life are coming to the games to watch his swings. In all seriousness, Acuna has been out of his mind over the past month, swatting 12 homers, stealing six bases, and batting .319 over that span. Over the past week alone he’s hitting .483 with seven homers, and so far in the second half he’s cut his strikeout rate down from 30.4% to 23.8%. He’s also upped his hard contact and cut down on his groundball rate lately, and seems to be blossoming into a star right before our very eyes.
Ryan Braun (1B/OF, Milwaukee Brewers): 2-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI – You know, “brawn” is a synonym for toughness, which seems pretty ironic considering Ryan Braun‘s muscles are as delicate as lemon pound cake. When he’s healthy he hits though, and he seems to be healthy right now. He’s hitting .440 over the past week with three homers and two stolen bases. His line drive rate is at a career-high 22.7% this season, and his hard contact hasn’t taken a dip, so as long as he’s on the field he should continue to produce at a high level, especially if his career-low .277 BABIP begins to correct.
Marcus Semien (SS, Oakland Athletics): 2-4, R, HR, RBI – Semien has now matched his home run total from last season, albeit in 30 more games, and his subpar 41% groundball rate and 31.9% hard contact rate don’t have me believing that too many more taters are in the pipeline, though he is batting an impressive .339 over the past two weeks.
Danny Jansen (C, Toronto Blue Jays): 1-4, R, HR, RBI – After never displaying much power in the minors, Jansen broke out this season with 12 homers in 88 AAA games. A swing change seems to be the culprit, as he boosted his line drive and flyball rates significantly. His plate discipline and contact ability have been his calling cards to this point, and if they translate to the major league level along with the newfound power, he could be a solid pickup and a decent sleeper entering next season. He also rocks some killer Brett Cecil shades, and that’s worth something.
J.T. Realmuto (C, Miami Marlins): 2-4, R, HR, 4 RBI – I know I shouldn’t complain about the lack of stolen bases considering Realmuto leads all catchers with a 134 wRC+ this season, but what are we humans if not a flawed species, constantly reaching for more, forever flapping our wax wings towards the ever-burning sun? So here it is: one stolen base, dawg? Well whatever; he’s improved his hard contact and cut down on the groundballs, and is easily the best catcher in the game right now. I just see the potential for so much more…
Justin Upton (OF, Los Angeles Angels): 3-5, R, HR, 3 RBI – Sorry Kate, but there’s an Upton who’s even hotter than you right now. Justin’s hitting .448 over the past week with five homers, and looks to be in one of his patented hot streaks, as he’s up to nine home runs and a .616 slugging percentage over the past month. His hard contact has been trending up for four straight seasons now, and is at a career-high 46.2% rate, so expect the homers to keep on coming over the final month and a half.
Kolten Wong (2B, St. Louis Cardinals): 3-3, 2 R, HR, 2B, 3 RBI, BB – If you thought Kolten’s days of being a useful fantasy player were over, you were very, very Wong. And so was he. Because that’s his last name. Wong’s been surprisingly not-awful lately, slashing .323/.383/.521 over the past month with three homers and two steals. Jose Martinez‘s shift to the outfield, and Matt Carpenter‘s shift to first base, have cleared out some playing time for Wong. The long-term outlook is cloudy, but he’s not a bad guy to ride while he’s hot (gross).
Kevin Pillar (OF, Toronto Blue Jays): 2-4, R, HR, 3 RBI – Pillar is a guy you can probably count on for low-teens homers and steals every year, but not much else. His contact, whiff, and chase rates have all taken steps backwards this year, and while he’s posting career-high hard contact (34%) and line drive rates (26%), his poor plate discipline and .278 BABIP are tamping down his potential output.
Jose Ramirez (2B/3B, Cleveland Indians): 3-5, 3 R, HR, 2B, 2 RBI – What else can we even say at this point? Ramirez has a legitimate shot at being just the fifth player in baseball history to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases, and the first since Alfonso Soriano in 2006. He’s hit 12 homers over the past month alone. He’s really good.
Jesus Aguilar (1B, Milwaukee Brewers): 2-4, 3 R, BB – Aguilar hit a bit of a cold spell over the last few weeks, proving to the world that he is, indeed, a mere mortal. Things have started to pick up again over his last seven games though, as he’s hitting .375 with three homers over that span. With 29 homers and 87 RBI already in the bank, everything he does from here on out is just the cherry on top of an incredible season.
Brandon Nimmo (OF, New York Mets): 2-3, 2 R, 3B, BB – After a July in which Nimmo hit just .203 with a 94 wRC+, he’s turned things around to a large extent in August, cutting his strikeout rate to just 24% and boosting his slugging percentage from .301 to .558. There were whispers that a hit-by-pitch on his wrist was the culprit behind his lull last month, so perhaps he’s finally healthy again.
Justin Turner (3B, Los Angeles Dodgers): 3-4, R, 3 2B – Questionable grooming choices aside, nothing appears to be wrong with Turner, as he’s hitting .351 over his last 30 games with four homers. He’s one of the few players in the game who can post nearly identical walk and strikeout rates (10.1% walk rate, 11.4% strikeout rate this season), which gives him a really safe batting average floor along with 25-homer upside.
Melky Cabrera (OF, Cleveland Indians): 3-4, R, RBI – Just when you thought the Melkman had gone the way of the milkmen (i.e. just stopped existing), here he comes roaring back to life thanks in large part to the fact that the Indians literally have no outfielders. His bat hasn’t gone sour yet, as he’s hitting .299 over his last 100 at-bats. So pour yourself a big glass of Melk and enjoy the flavorless, thick juices as they… you know what, let me just stop right there.
Taylor Ward (3B/C, Los Angeles Angels): 2-3, R, 2B, RBI, BB – Taylor Ward looks to be the Angels everyday third baseman going forward, but he has catcher eligibility in most leagues. For those looking to milk as much production as possible out of their catcher slot, Ward is a solid pickup, as he won’t sit twice a week the way a real catcher would, giving you more opportunities to rack up counting stats.