There are two versions of Pete Alonso (1B, New York Mets) that we need to discuss, from a fantasy baseball perspective. The first one is the Alonso we’ve seen through 301 plate appearances, including last night’s 4-4 performance with three runs, a home run, two doubles, three RBI, and two walks. He’s the No. 31 overall hitter on ESPN’s Player Rater and is currently on pace for 53 home runs and 126 RBI and is second in baseball in home runs with 24. Not too shabby for a guy who was drafted after pick 200 in most leagues, right? His barrel rate of 18.6% shows that he’s had no trouble catching up to major league pitching, and his 9% walk rate and reasonable 25.9% strikeout rate have quelled fears that he’d be too strikeout-prone to be a top-10 first basemen this season. Whatever you did to acquire Alonso this offseason has been well worth it, and because he’s only 24 years old, you’d think that there’s a room to grow from here.
That’s where the other version of Pete comes in—the Pete we should be planning for on our fantasy rosters for the rest of the season. This isn’t some kind of bold prediction or identification of a flaw or weak point that I expect to be exploited. It’s simply hedging a bet that has already paid off 10-fold. In the leagues where I happen to own Alonso, I’m preparing for precipitous drops in batting average and OBP with an uptick in strikeouts by making sure I have other players on my roster who can boost me in these categories. His swinging-strike rate of 11.6% is actually quite promising for the young slugger, and his expected batting average of .268 indicates that his current .274 batting average isn’t the product of smoke and mirrors. That being said, we have seen time and time again where players go through adjustment periods after initial success. Because Alonso’s fantasy value is derived solely from his ability to make hard contact (he won’t be stealing multiple bases for you any time soon, and while his plate discipline is good, he’s not exactly Joey Votto), a major shift in how opposing pitchers approach him could really hamper his ability to generate fantasy value. Sure, this is technically true of any player, but young players are especially prone to this kind of shift because opposing teams are getting more and more new data with each passing game. For example, there’s no way that teams haven’t taken notice of Alonso’s 189 wRC+ against fastballs this season or the 19.4% swinging-strike rate and 40% chase rate against sliders. As more and more of this data reaches a meaningful sample size, we can expect opposing pitchers to force Alonso to adjust.
I’m not saying Alonso won’t be able to adjust—I actually believe the opposite is true; however, just because I believe in Alonso doesn’t mean I’m not keeping an eye on the standings in each category to ensure that I’ll be able to survive a prolonged slump from the power-hitting rookie. Most projections see Alonso hitting close to .250 the rest of the season and slugging .500 (a pretty significant drop from his current .624 slugging percentage). Use those numbers to chart your course to your fantasy championship—not what he’s on pace for. Those rest-of-season projections were made by some very, VERY smart people, and while they may be a tad conservative based on what we’ve seen so far, there’s quite a bit of value in treading carefully with young hitters.
Jake Bauers (1B/OF, Cleveland Indians)—3-5, 2 R, HR, 2B, RBI. That’s three multi-hit games in a row for the left-handed outfielder as well as his fourth home run in June. He’s been a pretty significant disappointment so far this season for those who drafted him hoping for some speed and power, but his .302/.339/.623 slash line in June indicates he may finally be getting over his early season issues. The walks and steals aren’t quite there yet, but if he keeps hitting, they should come.
Jeff McNeil (2B/3B/OF, New York Mets)—3-5, 3 R, HR, 2B, RBI, BB, SB. McNeil is really difficult to get a read on in roto and head-to-head category formats because of his very limited power and speed, but the strong and consistent batting average from the leadoff spot combined with his multiposition eligibility should continue to give him value in 12-team formats.
Michael Conforto (OF, New York Mets)—2-4, 2 R, HR, 2B, 2 RBI, BB. He’s doing a better job getting the ball off of the ground than he did last season, which helps him tap into his power much more effectively. He stands out from most of the run-of-the-mill because his stellar walk rate, though in leagues that only utilize batting average, he may be a bit overrated.
Oscar Mercado (OF, Cleveland Indians)—2-4, 3 R, 3B, BB, 2 SB. I keep writing him up because he keeps performing. He’s owned in just 33% of Yahoo leagues and 11% of ESPN leagues, which strikes me as odd because I know that more people need speed than that. His Triple-A numbers suggest that he can improve upon his 5.1% walk rate, which would certainly help with his batting average and OBP floors. As the Indians offense continues to heat up, he could find himself in the fourth or fifth outfielder conversation in 12-team formats even for folks who don’t necessarily need steals.
Eloy Jimenez (OF, Chicago White Sox)—2-3, R, HR, 2 RBI, BB. The breakout is still going strong for Jimenez, who boosted his June batting line to .340/.400/.760 with six home runs and 14 RBI in 14 games. The thing that really sets Jimenez apart is his bat control, evidenced by the fact that he hit well over .300 in virtually every stop in the minor leagues. He could very well hit .280 or better for the rest of the season and be an outfield staple in all formats.
Nick Castellanos (OF, Detroit Tigers)—1-2, 2 R, 2B, RBI, 2 BB, SB. For the past three years, Castellanos has done an excellent job punching baseballs into the spacious Comerica Park outfield for doubles and triples (he’s faster than most people think, though stolen bases aren’t usually part of his game). In years past, line drives have really fueled his success, but we’ve seen a big chunk of those line drives turn into fly balls this season. These fly balls aren’t exactly being scorched, either. Fly balls have a much lower batting average than other batted-ball types, and line drives have the best average, so this change is likely a big part of the batting average woes. You can actually see this a little in his drop in barrel rate and exit velocity as well. He’ll be bandied about as trade bait from now until the deadline, though quite honestly, a trade is unlikely to boost his value by very much as few teams need a guy like him in the heart of the order.
Carlos Santana (1B/3B, Cleveland Indians)—0-2, R, 3 BB, SB. This is why we like walks in fantasy—even in non-OBP formats. Getting on base means getting chances to produce fantasy value. Guys such as Santana can have zero hits and still be useful.
Ramon Laureano (OF, Oakland Athletics)—4-5, 3 R, HR, 2B, 3 RBI. He’s still only owned in about a third of leagues, but that number is bound to shoot up in the near future. He’s been promoted to the fifth spot in the order for the past two games, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him continue to find spots in the top half of the lineup going forward thanks to his eight home runs, five stolen bases, and .892 OPS over the past month. He’s certainly in the starting outfield conversation in most formats and is worth scooping up before your league mates notice.
Max Kepler (OF, Minnesota Twins)—3-5, R, HR, 3 RBI, BB. He now has six home runs in his past 12 games, but what’s even more impressive is the 11 walks and just seven strikeouts in that same span. He’s improved in virtually every quality of contact metric Statcast has to offer, and in many cases, he’s improved by a significant margin. He’s finally become the Max Kepler that we all wanted him to be for the past three seasons.
Whit Merrifield (2B/OF, Kansas City Royals)—3-4, 3 R, 2 HR, 6 RBI. He’s who I consider to be the best second baseman in fantasy. The steals are down a bit from last season, but he’s offsetting that by hitting for considerably more power and racking up more runs and RBI, so I can deal with it. He should still get to 30 steals or so when all is said and done, which will pair nicely with his .300-plus batting average and 15 to 20 home runs. He’s a top 20 overall hitter and will be drafted as such for the next few seasons.
(Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire)