Batter’s Box: The Talented Mr. Soto
Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire
I don’t like being the crotchety old man when it comes to prospects. I want to have fun too, you know. I want to believe that Ozzie Albies can hit over 30 homers this year, and Walker Buehler can take home the Cy Young, and Ronald Acuna can go 30/30 in his rookie season. I would be ecstatic if any of those things happened. But I’m getting up there in fantasy baseball years. I’ve seen my fair share of hot prospects flame out during the dog days of summer, and the youthful exuberance I used to have towards the next “hot young thing” has now been transformed into a cold, calculating skepticism. Maybe there’s a pill I can take for that.
Enter 19-year-old Juan Soto. I wasn’t all-in when he got the call a few weeks back. In many ways, I’m still doubtful he takes the world by storm. But after going 3-3, BB, SB yesterday, I’ve started to warm to him a bit. It’s just a 33 plate appearance sample, but the early returns are encouraging. For one, there’s the plate approach, highlighted by matching walk and strikeout rates (15.2% each). The 10% whiff rate and 76% contact rate are right around league average. The 50% hard contact with a 91 mph average exit velocity are great. Again, it’s early. Too early to know how it’ll all turn out. But like the great poet-philosopher Pink postulates, maybe we’re not broken, just bent. And we can learn to love again.
Austin Meadows (OF, Pittsburgh Pirates): 3-5, 2 R, HR, 2B, RBI – What a gnarly start to the year for baseball’s favorite surfer bro, Austin Meadows. You can’t help but wonder if he’s going to hang ten all year or wipe out, but I know we all are probably hoping this grommet continues to carve it up. He hit second in this game against lefty Jon Lester, and it seems like he’ll continue to get into the lineup against lefties over Corey Dickerson and Gregory Polanco in the short term.
Brett Gardner (OF, New York Yankees): 4-5, 2 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI – Not only is Gardner a great leadoff hitter for the Yankees, but the glare from his shiny bald head serves as an excellent distraction against opposing pitchers, and can be honed via magnifying glass into a concentrated beam of light which is excellent for starting small fires or torturing bugs. He’s not even close to being on pace to match the 21 homers and 23 steals from last year, but he has been hitting .305 over the last two weeks with three homers and three steals, and he may be heating up.
Bryce Harper (OF, Washington Nationals): 3-5, R, HR, RBI – I thought I’d take a little look-see into whether anything was going on with Harper this year considering his disappointing .238 average, but like his well-coiffed pompadour, not a single thing looked out of place. Okay, so his whiff rate is a little higher than normal, and his contact rate is a bit down, and he’s pulling the ball 44.6% of the time, which is way up from the 35.5% rate he had last year, and probably explains to some extent why he’s hitting .219 against the shift. But he’s making a career-high 43.9% hard contact, his batted ball profile looks in line with his career norms, and his BABIP is just .203. Oh, and he’s Bryce Harper. Maybe I should’ve just said that at the outset and not done this research.
Ian Kinsler (2B, Los Angeles Angels): 3-3, 3 R, HR, 2B, 3 RBI, BB – In Kinsler’s first season with the Angels, his bat seems to have died and gone to heaven. He’s hitting .175 over the past month, and it’s looking like it might be time for his career to pay St. Peter a visit.
Michael Brantley (OF, Cleveland Indians): 3-4, 2 R, HR, 2 RBI – Brantley has a 96% contact rate on pitches in the zone this year, and just a 4.9% whiff rate. That’s nothing new for Brantley, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. The stolen bases are likely never really coming back, but he could flirt with 20 homers and a .300+ average this year.
Harrison Bader (OF, St. Louis Cardinals): 3-4, R, HR, RBI – If Bader keeps this up we might have to call him “Master.” Tee hee. Honestly though, he’s slashing .274/.328/.440 with four homers and five steals in only 95 plate appearances. However, with Tyler O’Neil also vying for the fourth outfielder gig, at-bats will likely be hard to come by barring an injury.
Asdrubal Cabrera (SS/2B, New York Mets): 2-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI – The great Asdrubal Cabrera is now slashing .315/.353/.550 this year with ten homers and has easily been the best hitter on the Mets which, if the baseball gods realize it, means he’s about a week away from slipping on a banana peel and landing in a coma, at which time he’ll have all the mental capacity he needs to be part-owner of the team.
Luis Valbuena (1B/3B, Los Angeles Angels): 3-5, 3 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI – He’s now up to six homers on the year and has a 31% strikeout rate. In other words, it’s Luis Valbuena.
Jason Kipnis (2B, Cleveland Indians): 2-4, R, HR, RBI – You can refer to him as Kipnis Everdeen because all he’s been doing this year is shooting arrows through the hearts of his owners. The .197/.278/.300 triple slash isn’t pretty, but a peek at his peripherals doesn’t reveal a glaring reason for what has been a terrible season so far. His 37% hard contact rate is a career-high, which he’s also pairing with a personal best 45% flyball rate, yet he has just three home runs to show for it thanks to a 2.9% HR/FB. He’s hitting .310 with two homers over the past week, and I might be stashing him if he’s on your wire in anticipation of an upcoming hot streak.
Starling Marte (OF, Pittsburgh Pirates): 3-5, R, 2 2B, 3 RBI – Marte is walking more than ever this season, and has already matched his home run total from last year. He hasn’t shown any ill effects from the oblique injury he suffered a few weeks back.
Brandon Nimmo (OF, New York Mets): 2-4, 2 R, 2B, RBI, 2 SB – Finding Nimmo on waiver wires is going to get much harder in the coming days. Yeah, so what, I caved to the easy Finding Nemo pun, ONLY GOD CAN JUDGE ME. Nimmo is now up to five stolen bases and five homers, which he’s pairing with a .271/.418/.533 triple slash.
Evan Longoria (3B, San Francisco Giants): 2-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI – Don’t look now, but Longoria is up to 10 homers on the year and has been hitting .302 over his last 15 games. No, sorry, you can look, it’s just an expression. No, I don’t think it makes sense either.
Miguel Andujar (3B, New York Yankees): 2-4, 3 R, 2 2B, BB – Andujar is now batting .297 with a 19% strikeout rate, but watch how quickly I can make you lose interest: James Loney. The mere mention of James Loney sucks the air out of the room, he’s a one-man buzzkill. In all honesty, I won’t put that evil on him, but he is going to have to lift the ball a bit more to threaten 20 homers this year.
Ronald Guzman (1B, Texas Rangers): 3-3, 2 RBI – The five homers over his past 15 games is nice, but other than that there doesn’t seem to be much of anything here.