To truly appreciate the quietly magnificent year Tampa Bay OF Steven Souza, Jr. is having, it’s as simple as realizing that through 78 games he’s already got the exact number of homers (16), five fewer runs (44) and one more RBI (53) than what Steamer projected him to attain over the course of 115 GP all season long. After his 6-13, 4 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI, BB, 4 K weekend in a series at Camden Yards, Souza is sitting pretty with a .269 average when he was supposed to be more in the .230s or .240s. Souza’s BABIP has admittedly been elevated at .347, but he’s doing more this year than he did last year when it was .348 so maybe we can rest easier knowing he’s not just getting flukishly lucky. Regardless, his walk rate is up while his strikeout rate is down, his HR/FB ratio is up eight percentage points to 26.2%, and his hard contact is at a nice 35.4% clip. His zone contact and overall contact numbers don’t wow me, but he’s an extremely disciplined batter with a patient eye who doesn’t swing often at nonsense thrown outside the zone. I own him in both a points league and our PL staff roto league, and ESPN’s player ranking has him as the 22nd-ranked OF in baseball based on his strong production so far. The .871 OPS is not hurting his case, and he’s available in 45% of ESPN and Yahoo Leagues. The one serious shortcoming you need to be aware of as Souza’s owner is that Tropicana Field is not kind to him when a LHP is on the mound, so keep him benched against southpaws in St. Petersburg to avoid having his .185 home-vs-L BA cost you dearly.
Let’s take a look at what some other hitters in the league were able to pull off this weekend:
Brett Gardner (OF, NYY) – 5-14, 4 R, HR, 6 RBI, BB, 2 K. Gardner is currently on pace to match the second-highest run total in his career with 94 projected, the same number he scored in 2015. There’s also no reason he can’t break back through into the 20+ steals tier, as he has 10 SB already and nine NSB after impressively having only been caught once this season. The .260 average he’s posting is right on par with what he’s done the past several seasons, and he’s almost guaranteed to accomplish a career best in homers because he’s already got 15 and needs just three to set said personal record. Even with the Yankee outfield being crowded with talent, Gardner is highly valuable to Girardi’s club and is a bona fide fantasy starter.
Denard Span (OF, SFG) – 5-13, 5 R, HR, RBI, 2 BB, SB. Span’s name pops up every now and then this season with a performance like he had on Friday. Multiple hits is a feat he accomplished 12 times in June, if you can believe that: the exceptional June he enjoyed has inflated his BA from .231 all the way into the .290s. Oh, and it’s worth mentioning that all four of his 2017 steals also happened in June. But Span’s fantasy appeal has two glaring holes in it: he only has five homers and 18 RBI through 236 at-bats. So if you’re going to invest in him, the return will be limited to a great average and occasional runs and steals. In summary, Span has fantasy value but is not a recommended everyday plug-and-play option at OF.
Kyle Seager (3B, SEA) – 4-12, R, HR, RBI, K. This stat line kind of sums up Seager’s somewhat underwhelming year so far: it has been largely unproductive compared to the sky-high expectations that saw him possibly being a 25-homer, .270s hitter and a top-5 fantasy 3B. Instead, he’s going to end up as perhaps *just* a top-12 guy at the position. A .257 average with 32 runs scored and 10 homers (finally) all mean he is getting the job done, just not as exceptionally as we thought he might. The 45 RBI are decent, though. Never would have seen Marwin Gonzalez being tied at 47th for RBI with Seager at this point in the season, but that’s more praise for Gonzalez’s work in Houston than it is an indictment of Seager’s. Basically, Seager’s absolutely a viable starting 3B, but you’re still probably mad he’s not doing more based on when you took him.
Ben Gamel (OF, SEA) – 4-13, 3 R, 2 RBI, BB, K. Gamel’s .440 BABIP is the definition of unsustainable, but he is managing to hit a mouthwatering .336 en route to scoring 42 runs. He’s not a power guy and has only hit four homers, however. Seattle seems content to keep starting him in LF to utilize his hot bat until something changes, and that has relegated Guillermo Heredia to backup status with limited playing time.
Adeiny Hechavarria (SS, TBR) – 4-4, RBI, K. He’s hit nicely in the five games he’s played since being traded to the Rays from Miami, but Hechavarria has no fantasy relevance. One homer, eight runs and nine RBI through 84 AB tell the real story that a good-looking .310 batting average might initially conceal. There’s a reason he’s only owned in 1% of Yahoo leagues: don’t bother joining that small contingent.
Mookie Betts (OF, BOS) – 7-13, 7 R, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 2 BB (1 IBB), 2 K, 3 SB. Now that’s what you like to see come from a top-5 fantasy player during a weekend series. Betts only had 11 RBI and four homers last month, but Sunday’s explosive performance at Rogers Centre got him both to 51 and 15 overall, respectively. The three steals helped bump him to 15, which likely came in clutch for his fantasy owners at a time when SB are at a premium with Trea Turner now injured and presumptive steals crownwinner Billy Hamilton having swiped just four in the last two weeks. Betts leads the Red Sox in every hitting/baserunning metric except batting average, total hits, triples (all three of those belong to Xander Bogaerts) and OBP (Dustin Pedroia). His 56 runs are tied with Carlos Correa and the aforementioned Brett Gardner for 10th most in MLB.
Charlie Blackmon (OF, COL) – 4-14, 2 R, HR, 2 RBI, 3 K. Speaking of top fantasy assets, I noticed that Blackmon’s production had slowed of late: his 11 RBI in June paled in comparison to the 22 he had in May and the the 24 he had in April. But with two multihit games in the Arizona series over the weekend, perhaps he can now shake off the funk he’s been in. His .313 average is still great, and 65 runs scored are beyond reproach. I’d really like to see Blackmon get back to stealing some bases more often, though. He sets the bar so high with demigod-caliber months like May, so it’s only fair that he comes back down to Earth a bit every now and then. He’s a locked-in and unbenchable OF, and I’m hoping for some exciting second-half fireworks from him.
Tommy Joseph (1B, PHI) – 4-14, 3 R, HR, 4 RBI, 4 K. After a certifiably god-awful first month of the season, Joseph has settled into a much better groove. He’s not a superstar in any of the four roto hitting categories, but he’s not going to cost you a matchup in any one of them either. He’s got 14 homers and 42 RBI as the stronger side of his résumé, while 32 runs and a .252 average could be a little better at this point in the season after 270 at-bats. He’s almost exclusively batting at cleanup for the Phillies these days.
Eddie Rosario (OF, MIN) – 6-13, 3 R, RBI, 3 K, SB. Rosario has a fantastic .290 average going for him through 248 at-bats this season. He’s scored 36 runs after his excellent outing at Kansas City Saturday, but the 25 RBI he’s got could use some work in my book. Rosario is a workable backup OF but not recommended necessarily as a starter except in deeper leagues, as you likely have better guys doing more in 10-teamers and 12-teamers. It’s worth that while his OBP of .327 is not great, perhaps a .333 BABIP has helped it to better levels than you might expect given his wretched BB/K ratio of 0.26.
Chris Taylor (2B/3B/SS/OF, LAD) – 5-13, 2 R, HR, 5 RBI, 2 BB, 4 K, CS. A grand slam is usually enough to merit mention in one of these recaps, but the fact that Taylor now has three of them already this year is incredible. Ten homers overall isn’t a crazy stat at all, but when 30% of them have gone for 4 RBI apiece, you’re clearly being put into a good situation and coming out on the other side looking like a really resourceful hero. Taylor hops around the lineup in L.A. a bit, too, so his versatility is obvious. He owns a .279 average, has scored 40 times and has accumulated 10 steals so far.
Yulieski Gurriel (1B/3B, HOU) – 6-12, 4 R, 2 HR, 6 RBI. A really strong finish to the series at Minute Maid Park versus the Yankees saw Yuli’s average leap from .278 to .292 with three hits in back-to-back games. I’m liking the 39 RBI he has now when he had just 19 at the end of May. Ten homers and 36 runs overall are serviceable as well.
Souza, Domingo Santanna, or Wil Myers ROS?