Welcome to the 2019 season, where—Matt Olson, you get an injury! Scooter Gennett, you get an injury! EVERYONE GETS AN INJURY! At least it certainly feels that way to me, having lost Olson and Gennett in several leagues; sorry to you fantasy leaguers who also drew the short straw. Although games have yet to start for 28 of the 30 teams, thanks largely in part to injuries (but also due to contracts and roster announcements), there has still been plenty of roster movement. While everyone knows to rush to grab Matt Strahm and Bryse Wilson, hitters isn’t always as easy. I got you, bro. To help out for as many leagues as I can, we’ll start shallow and then go deeper. While I use ESPN’s Added/Dropped as a guide, I recommend players for whom I feel the juice is worth the roster squeeze. And since I’m giddy for the REAL opening day, I’ll give you a few bonus write-ups—free of charge.
Fernando Tatis Jr. (SS, San Diego Padres) – If you are not sure if Tatis is owned in your league, pause reading this article and check immediately. If he’s unowned, add him now; if you need to bid, throw oodles of FAAB at him. Okay, now continue. This has been arguably the biggest shakeup of the spring, as many experts didn’t even expect him to see significant time in the majors in 2019. But the talent should play immediately. The 20-year-old prospect is not without his flaws—namely, a propensity to swing and miss—but he does have 30 home run, 15 stolen base ability that may be mostly ready now. He’s the second most exciting fantasy prospect in the game behind Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and congrats to those of you who drafted him on a whim. Add in all leagues and hope for immediate stardom.
Pete Alonso (1B, New York Mets) – Between him and Eloy Jiménez landing contracts to prevent fans from rioting while they spend April in the minors, it has been a good week for prospect fans. There were definitely legit concerns about Alonso’s K rate, but he quelled those with a spring as robust as his forearms (just ask Josh Reddick). Not only did he hit four taters with a .368 AVG and 1.04 OPS, he only whiffed 11 times in 71 PA for a 15% K rate. His 7.8 opponent quality was rather tough compared to most spring hitters, so I won’t take these spring stats with too many grains of salt. He’s risen 8%, but is still only owned in 30% of leagues. First base is deep at the bottom, but shallow at the top. I’d argue that Alonso’s 80-grade power is enticing enough that he should be added in all leagues—yes 10-teamers too—especially OBP leagues. 70% of owners, get on it already!
Garrett Hampson (SS, Colorado Rockies) – Okay, I’ll admit I didn’t think I’d need to write him up after my fellow fantasy leaguers gushed about him all offseason, but it seems the nerd hype hasn’t caught on everywhere, as his ownership only went up 3% to just 18% owned. That is criminally low considering Hampson’s fantasy upside, as he can steal 30-40 bags while also posting solid OBP and at least a modicum of power (with upside for more). He has certainly put that upside on display this spring: hitting .286 with four homers, a .991 OPS, and 7 SB (2 CS) over 47 spring PA (though the 6.8 OppQual was easy). Although his role in his fight for starting 2B with the similarly hot Ryan McMahon hasn’t been announced, I actually think there’s minimal risk here and mammoth fantasy upside, as even in a super-utility role he’d still contribute a near-similar amount of SB. Don’t lose out on him by playing the waiting game; scoop him up in all 15-team and 12-team formats, and in 10-team OBP leagues—especially if you have room on your bench. Invest now and come October you’ll be a Garrett Champ, son.
Domingo Santana (OF, Seattle Mariners) – Yeah, it turns out hitting a grand slam in the only real baseball game anyone is watching will draw some attention. It’s a shame as I loved him as a sleeper. After his big performance in Japan and a red-hot spring, he has vaulted past “sleeper” status. He’s up 10% to 35% owned (according to ESPN), though I’d argue that may still be too low. Don’t forget he is still a big risk, as he has struggled with K rate even in his good year and plays now in a more pitcher-friendly park. His power plays anywhere and his 2019 should be far closer to 2017 than 2018. He should be owned in all 15-team and most 12-team formats and is worth streaming in some deeper 10-team leagues that use OBP.
Jeff McNeil (2B, New York Mets) – McNeil became a sleeper fantasy darling with his strong showing last year, but entered this year a legitimate sleeper after the Robinson Cano trade and Jed Lowrie signing left him without a position. We should’ve remembered Lowrie is made of glass. Still, it’s Todd Frazier (oblique) he’s taking over for, though he may have earned his spot anyway after hitting .352 with four home runs and a 1.000 OPS, with a solid 18% K rate. I don’t know what’s more surprising: McNeil hit for as much power as Alonso, or Alonso posted the lower spring K rate. Regardless, McNeil should post a strong average, but has more power and speed upside than he’s given credit for. He’s a strong bet for .270 10/10, but with upside for .290 15/15. He’s up 6% to 23% ownership, but with how thin 2B is, he should be added in all 15-team formats and deeper 12-team leagues as well, especially for AVG.
Enrique Hernandez (2B/SS/OF, Los Angeles Dodgers) – Enrique is a sneaky add. His ownership should have skyrocketed, but ticked up just 3% to 13% after it was announced he beat out Chris Taylor for the primary 2B job. He showed last year that he’s more than just a lefty masher, with a higher OPS vs righties and a .256/.336/.470 line with 21 HR and 3 SB over 462 PA. I’ll use xStats one last time (RIP) to note he may have overperformed in power, with a 2018 xSlash of .267/.346/.442 and 16 xHR; with 500-600 expected PAs, he should surpass 20 HR anyway. His multi-position eligibility is super useful and he should be added in all 15-team and most 12-team formats, especially OBP leagues.
Jung-ho Kang (3B, Pittsburgh Pirates) – Look, I don’t approve of his actions as a human, but don’t blame me for this pick—I voted for Kodos. Seriously though, his power has been serious, with a spring-leading seven taters with a .250 AVG, .340 OBP, and 1.113 OPS over 50 PA. And that was against a super-tough 8.3 OppQual. Entering the spring as a total wildcard, he has now been declared the opening day 3B. After his spring, we shouldn’t forget how considerable his fantasy hype was after his arrival in 2015. While there’s still off-the-field risk, I’m betting on him topping 20 HR with a handful of SB and a solid avg and even better OBP. His ownership has risen 4% to 7%, but should be far higher still. He should be immediately added in 18-team, 15-team, and—as crazy as this may seem—I’d say to add him in most deeper 12-team formats as well. I guess you can say I’m gung-ho for Jung-ho.
Ryan McMahon (1B, Colorado Rockies) – A rising tide lifts all boats, unless you live in the Rocky Mountains where the water won’t reach you. Hampson may still have the upper hand at Colorado’s 2B vacancy, especially as the better defender, but McMahon will be hard to deny at this point. There is no Coors inflation propping up his outstanding .439/.476/.789 line (1.266 OPS) with three homers. He had tougher competition, with a 7.4 OppQual to G-Hamp’s 6.8. While there is added security in being named a starter, I think both players can win, as both have positional versatility, which can also help for fantasy teams in need of a utility bench bat. Hampson’s elite speed makes him the better fantasy asset, but McMahon has displayed ability for both average and power in a park that boosts both. He’s currently up 5% to nearly 12% owned and he’s a worthy post-hype gamble in NL-only leagues or mixed leagues with 18 or more teams. He’s also a speculative bench add in 15-team OBP leagues (especially if your league’s position eligibility requirement is 10 games, where he’d qualify at 2B and 3B).
Willians Astudillo (C, Minnesota Twins) – I have bad news: over 49 PA this Spring, Astudillo hadn’t drawn a single walk. But I have good news: he hadn’t struck out either! Gosh I love this man. Despite all the hype and viral videos, he’s still only owned in 7% of leagues, as he still has no position. But one major hurdle was just cleared as recent reports say he will break camp with the Twins. While the short and portly good sport can and will field any and every position (poorly), I believe the bat will play anywhere. While his run last year was seen as a fluke, behind his .355/.371/.516 line was an even better xSlash of .363/.379/.531! While he’s still thought of as having no power, he hit for power in the minors last year, while also jacking several HR in winter ball and this spring. I believe he can hit double digits this year with a .290 AVG floor—yes, floor. I think he has a ceiling of .310+ and eventually that will get him ABs one way or another. Even with two catchers on the roster, he may find some time at 3B with Miguel Sano out and Jorge Polanco questionable, and should be added in all 18-team and 15-team AVG leagues, and all two-catcher formats.
Brandon Lowe (2B/OF, Tampa Bay Rays) – For all the news about Eloy and Alonso signing, Lowe’s contract is easy to overlook, especially since most people can’t even pronounce his name right (Lowe as in “now”). Now is the time to pounce on him, and how. The Rays aren’t crazy to offer him $24 million, as the 24-year-old had a huge breakout last year, hitting a combined 28 homers and netting 8 SB between two levels of the minors and the majors. True, only six HR and two SB were in the majors, and the .233 AVG in his debut is likely closer to the true talent than the .290+ he hit in the minors; furthermore, his 64% contact rate and 17.8% Swstr were, well, really bad. But I expect him to at least improve there and manage a 10% walk rate while he’s at it. I’ll admit this one is a more tepid endorsement due to his batting average downside, but I’d still add him in all 18-team leagues and 15-team OBP as he could surge in ownership with a hot streak and his playing time is now much safer.
Jose Martinez (1B/OF, St. Louis Cardinals) – I’ll preface this by saying I kinda hate drop recommendations, since most of the times the only players I actually drop are injured or demoted players, and I won’t list those here because it’s obvious. Martinez’s ownership dropped 4%, but he is still owned in 72% of ESPN leagues. I still like him, but that’s is too high for a player with no clear path to playing time, especially considering his horrid spring. He hit just .188 with no homers and a .521 OPS over 52 PA. While most spring numbers don’t matter, they do when it’s your time to state your case for near-regular AB. Even Dexter Fowler did better than him. I really don’t get why folks faded Jeff McNeil, Enrique, and Astudillo so hard for PT concerns, but hardly faded Martinez who is pretty awful defensively and in the NL. Because the Cards offered him a contract, I’ll only say drop him in 10-team formats for now. In shallower 12-team leagues I won’t fault you for cutting him, but I’d recommend waiting to see his usage.
Chris Taylor (2B/OF, Los Angeles Dodgers) – I’ll admit to overlooking his competitor Hernandez this spring and now regret drafting him. True, he can be the super-utility guy like Hernandez was last year, but unlike the Hampson/McMahon competition, Taylor just doesn’t have the upside to make it worth it. With his updated projections, we’re likely looking at 20 combined HR and SB with a solid OBP but .250 AVG. Yawn, that’s as boring as his name. So far, his ownership only dropped down 2% to 66%, but I expect that to plummet. Don’t overreact, but I’m cutting him in any 10-team format and 12-team format, but for 15-team leagues I’ll likely hold until I see his usage unless there’s a waiver wire gem.
Daniel Palka (OF, Chicago White Sox) – I feel conflicted in writing this, as I actually do kind of love Palka and his massive barrel rate. I don’t think he’s going to get bumped out directly to make room for Eloy, but he’s going to fend off Nicky Delmonico and Leury Garcia for playing time (like it or not, Adam Engel is pretty safe in CF). While Palka’s the best of the bunch, it’s looking like he’ll likely get platooned, cutting into his likelihood of 30 tates. After hitting just .171 with a 40% K this Spring, it’s certainly more justified. If you don’t cut him in 12-team formats or shallow 15-teamers, we may need to send you to Palkaholics Panonymous.
Ian Kinsler (2B, San Diego Padres) – Because he was demoted, I won’t put Luis Urías here, but I’ll put the one still in the majors here. While Tatis’s promotion doesn’t affect Kinsler directly, the 36-year-old is surely feeling the heat, as the Padres are clearly indicating they’re going with their best talent and I don’t expect Urías to be down for long. Sure, you can roll with Kinslayer now if you lack better options, or hope for a midseason trade, but there’s a fair chance that Urías returns in June or even May and that Kinsler will stick around solely to provide veteran leadership from the bench (and there’s no fantasy category for that). I’d drop him now in 12-team and 15-team formats for someone with more upside and/or long-term reliability.
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