I told y’all I’d be bringing back The Simpsons reference for Max Kepler (OF, Minnesota Twins), didn’t I? His strong performance last night (1-1, 2 R, HR, RBI, 3 BB) gave me the opportunity I wanted to discuss in a little more detail what he’s done so far this season and what it means for you, the reader.
Kepler’s on track to hit 40 home runs and has six in his last 10 games. The significant improvement against lefties will be and should be talked about, and it’s the key to his all-around success. He kept many of the gains he made in 2018 and has grown even more this season, and at 26 years old, he should be a big contributor for the Twins and for fantasy managers for several more seasons at least. That’s the short version.
The longer version is that in some cases, like with Kepler, we can actually identify one thing a player can do to turn their lump of potential into a cache of fantasy gold. In a Going Deep piece back in May of 2018, Alex Isherwood identified Kepler as a breakout candidate due to some changes to his quality of contact that appeared early on, and in another piece by my partner-in-crime Jim Chatterton that came out in January, he was again highlighted for his improvements against breaking balls. With those things out of the way, all that remained was securing every day at-bats. The only obstacle, of course, was his abysmal track record against southpaws, which forced the Twins to bench him in those games. Many folks wondered aloud what he could be if he found a way to improve against southpaws and pegged him as a breakout, you know, just in case he did.
Well, he did, and it’s awesome. It makes fantasy baseball seem so simple, doesn’t it? I hope you reaped the rewards here but want to point out just one thing—it’s RARELY this simple. See, the pieces by Alex and Jim cleared the way so that only one puzzle piece was missing, but those two things—quality-of-contact improvements and adjusting to breaking balls—are FAR from a given, and those gains can evaporate as quickly as they appear. If you guessed right on Kepler, bravo. Just be advised that it doesn’t always work that way.
Alex Verdugo (OF, Los Angeles Dodgers)—4-4, R, 2B. The counting stats aren’t going to blow you away, but Verdugo’s impressive plate discipline and .295 batting average make him an underrated play in most points formats. His hit tool is his best tool, and his limited power and speed will keep him out of the Top 50-hitter conversation, but he’ll be a solid outfielder in most formats for quite some time.
Mookie Betts (OF, Boston Red Sox)—3-5, R, 2B. By season’s end, he’ll have something like 30 home runs, 20 stolen bases, a one-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio, and a .290 batting average. We’re going to mostly ignore or forget all of that slumping he did, and he’ll be a first round pick. It’s a great example of how narratives shift throughout a season and how drastically they change by the offseason.
Bo Bichette (SS, Toronto Blue Jays)—3-5, R, HR, 2B, RBI. His value is climbing rapidly, and he now finally has some extra-base hits to his name. For those of you who treat prospects like stock, this would be a possible “sell-high” time in keeper and dynasty. I mean, I wouldn’t do that, but there are likely many out there salivating over his upside. I still would bet against him being a Top 15 shortstop going forward, but he still could have value as a middle infielder.
Austin Nola (C/1B, Seattle Mariners)—3-4, 3 R, HR, RBI. He’s still hot, folks. You can’t ask for much more than that from a catcher who is still widely available. Statcast says he’s been extremely fortunate, but in the world of catcher streaming, that’s not terribly important. He’s hot and performing now, and if he has solid matchups, you should consider plugging him in to your catcher spot.
Hunter Pence (OF, Texas Rangers)—3-5, R, 2B, RBI, SB. He’s slashed .302/.318/.349 since returning from injury with no home runs and just two doubles. I’m slightly concerned about the collapse in power, but the batting average is good at least. I’m not terribly attached to him going forward, and in leagues like Yahoo standard formats where only three outfielders are required, he’s probably just a guy.
David Peralta (OF, Arizona Diamondbacks)—3-4, R, 2B, RBI, BB. He’s struggled with production since his return from injury. While some speculate that there are lingering effects, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reported that Peralta has indicated that he’s struggling with the timing of his swing. In either case, he’s too good to drop in five-outfielder formats, but you’re certainly allowed to be worried.
Nick Senzel (2B/OF, Cincinnati Reds)—3-4, 2 2B, RBI. He’s been fantastic since the break, slashing .380/.436/.560 as the primary leadoff hitter for the Reds. He has a solid power/speed combo that should lead to 20 or more home runs and steals next season. Reds fans should be excited.
Jesse Winker (OF, Cincinnati Reds)—3-3, 2 R, HR, RBI. It’s been a very up-and-down season for the young outfielder, but the recent trades should open up full-time at-bats for Winker, and since the break he has a 12.3% walk rate with a 12.3% strikeout rate. That’s the Winker we want to see, and it’s the Winker that can be a contributor in OBP and points leagues down the stretch.
Roberto Perez (C, Cleveland Indians)—2-3, 2 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI, BB. As discussed in a Going Deep by our own Dan Richards earlier this month, Perez adjusted his swing by lowering his hands and standing taller in the box, improving his balance and power. He’s an intriguing catcher to stream.
Jake Rogers (C, Detroit Tigers)—1-2, 3 R, HR, RBI, 2 BB. The Tigers are hoping he’s the catcher of the future, and I’m hoping they are right. He shows a solid walk rate in the minors, though he struck out more than I’d like to see. His defense grades stronger than his bat, and he doesn’t have a ton of legit competition in Detroit behind the dish, so he could win the starting job by the end of the year and bring it into 2020.
Cavan Biggio (2B, Toronto Blue Jays)—1-3, 2 R, 2B, 2 BB, SB. The plate discipline is still elite, and he’s found some much-needed pop over his last six games with a double and two home runs along with two steals. He loses value in those leagues that use batting average, OPS or slugging due to his limited contact and power, but in OBP leagues he’s a rising star.
Mike Tauchman (OF, New York Yankees)—2-4, 2 R, HR, 2B, 2 RBI. He’s done exceedingly well with regular playing time since the All-Star break, with a .415 batting average and .732 slugging in 45 plate appearances with multiple hits in six of his 12 starts in that stretch. He might be worth a look in deep leagues as a fill-in fifth outfielder while he’s hot.
Austin Riley (3B/OF, Atlanta Braves)—0-0. For the fifth time in the last six games, Riley rode the pine. He had to watch Ender Inciarte (2-5, R, 2B, SB) and Adam Duvall (2-5, R, HR, 2B, RBI) have big nights, too. Don’t be surprised if a demotion comes soon. He’s droppable in all redraft formats for me.
Joey Votto (1B, Cincinnati Reds)—0-4. After putting up back-to-back multi-hit games and hitting his 10th home run of the season, he went hitless with two strikeouts and grounded into a double play. He’s simply not relevant in most leagues anymore, which is sad because Votto has been an amazing talent on the field and an entertaining player to follow off the field. Unfortunately, very few leagues reward such things.
(Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire)