Welcome back to the second Buy & Sell of the year, and this week’s theme is Overreaction Opportunists and old new arrivals! I hope you took my advice from last week and scooped up Connor Joe or Kwan while you still could last week! Kwanmania hasn’t ended but has settled down somewhat, but sudden hypewagons have started rolling at us from all angles, including the emergence of the formerly unheralded prospect Owen Miller, who sadly just hit a Covid pothole. But a combination of roster shakeups, surprising manager-player loyalties and injuries have brought some interesting high-upside hitters to the limelight. And for good buy low/sell high measure, I’ll include some players where someone else’s early panic can be your early profit. On to the list!
Andrew Vaughn (1B/OF, Chicago White Sox)
Last year we didn’t see enough of him, but now it looks like we’ll finally get mo’ Vaughn. He might be better than the 90s beefy slugger, as he’s off to a white-hot start with a .348 average and 2 homers, and I don’t think it’s all smoke and mirrors. So far, he’s cut his strikeout rate down from 22% last year to just 16%, but what’s more surprising is his incredible per-pitch contact improvements.
He’s managed an elite 92% Contact%, up from 78% last year, though oddly most of the contact improvement came from his Astudillo-esque 91% O-Contact%, which probably won’t last, but is fun. Yet he hasn’t had to sacrifice his trademark power, with a strong 11% Barrel% and even better 64% HardHit%. It’s pretty clear now that he’s healthy and producing that he’s finally reined in a regular role. If he can up his launch angle a tad more, he could be a better bet to hit .290 with 25-30 homers than teammate Eloy Jimenez. Why settle for Kwan when you can have Vaughn? Or both. Both would also be good.
Jesús Sánchez (OF, Miami Marlins)
Miami’s offense may be a small pond, but Jesús is looking to be the big fish. Coming into this year, he was discussed as a one-category player with 30-homer potential and little else (hard to complain about 30 homers), but so far it’s been less about the power and more about the batting average. His 2 homers sure are nice, but it’s rather shocking to see a guy with a 31% strikeout rate last year hitting .359 validated by an xBA of .363. I think it’s far too early to buy into that and it should regress, but his contact rate did improve a bit from 73% in 2021 to 76%, and he is still hitting the ball hard with a 10% barrel rate.
On the other hand, with a launch angle of 4 degrees, he’s going to need to add some lift if he’ll want to eclipse 20 homers. And compared to another hot hitter like Ji-Man Choi, there’s not as much in the numbers to signify a breakout. But I’ll bet on the 24-year-old’s youth, excellent lineup spot, and his talent to hope he makes some needed adjustments to keep the good times rolling. And who knows, with his 78th percentile sprint speed, a handful of stolen bases from him may not be out of the question.
Bobby Dalbec (1B, Boston Red Sox)
You might be a bit shocked to see him here and assume I made a copy-paste error by not putting him in the sell column. But I still think Balbec Dobby can sock. See, when it comes to trading, at least, you won’t be able to really buy low on a struggling Luis Robert and Kyle Tucker (though I don’t blame you for trying), but Dalbec has enough fearmongering where you can “take him off their hands as a favor”. They may be happy to oblige, as the popular preseason breakout pick is off to a horrid start, hitting just .152 with 1 HR, 5 R, and 1 RBI. That is not what you want to see, especially not with 1B prospect Triston Casas off to a strong start at Triple-A.
However, I think it’s largely small sample bad luck, as his Swinging Strike% of 19% is only one point higher than last year, and he does have a career-high 76% in-zone contact%. Both of those may still seem bad, and they are! But fortunately, he mashes to make up for it, and his 55% HardHit% is excellent. That is likely part of why he has far better expected numbers, with an xBA of .253 and an xBA of .506. So while it’s still a risk that he won’t get the chance to smooth things out, he should be just fine, and has enough position versatility, with the ability to play 3B (and SS in a pinch) that he’s not done yet. Keep an eye to see if you can capitalize on another owner’s impatience in 12-team batting average formats.
Rowdy Tellez (1B, Milwaukee Brewers)
Rowdy’s bat is bringing the big bangarang. He seemed poised to finally have a 1B spot of his own before Hiura’s big Spring splashed onto the scene, but I think Tellez remains a better hitter all-around. The former prototypical strikeout-prone slugger has managed noticeably better contact rates since 2020, helping him keep a K% of just south of 20%. That matters because it lets him get to his massive power, and he’s already hit a ball with a Max eV of 114 mph. Honestly, one could argue that, defense aside, Tellez is basically Bobby Dalbec with a 10% better contact rate. Yes, please?
Thus far, Tellez has bopped .273 with 2 Homers in 36 AB, which is encouraging to see he’s doing it all and playing every day. With the NL DH, he should remain easier to keep in the Brew Crew’s lineup than last year, and I wasn’t alone in believing preseason that he could low-key hit .260 with 30 taters, and that may still be too mild if he can convert more of that raw power into barrels. If you think can find a reason not to take him in a 12-team league (especially a batting average league), make sure to Tellez why.
Taylor Ward (OF, Los Angeles Angels)
I’m somewhat convinced the Halos added Tyler Wade so he and Taylor Ward could confuse opponents. Or so they could start selling waterproof fishing boots & overalls called Taylor Ward and Tyler Wade’s Tailored Waders. I’d buy ’em. Why? Because he’s passing by Marsh and will be next to Trout. I’m also buying Ward, because Joe Maddon’s love can not be overstated, which is why he was guaranteed playing time over former uber-prospect Jo Adell both before Opening Day and upon his return from the IL.
Since then, Ward has run the ground hitting. He’s mashed .333 with 1 homer and 1 SB in 19 PA, and more importantly, has been in a prime spot in the Angels lineup, initially batting cleanup and now often in the 2-hole. It sort of makes sense, as thus far he’s already drawn 4 walks for a 21% BB%, which will regress but is supported by a much-improved elite 16% Chase Rate, nearly half of his 2021 mark. While last year he hit a ho-hum .250 with 8 HR in 237 PA, the former first-rounder looks like he could develop into a Mark Canha-esque late bloomer, with 20 HR power, a solid average, and even better OBP, and chip-in speed to boot. Especially in 15-team formats and deeper 12-team OBP, his potential run production could help your team win a Wards.
Joc Pederson (OF, San Francisco Giants)
I can’t be the only one to learn that Joc Pederson is still only 29 years old. Well, for a month anyway. So we feel pretty confident that we know what Joc is as a streaky masher who can’t hit lefties. But what if this time it’s different? He’s off to a slugging start, hitting an excellent .310 with 3 HRs and 1 SB in 31 PA. Statcast feels he’s seeing the ball quite well, with 17% Barrel% and a 56% HardHit% that would be career bests. But I’m even more encouraged by the contact, where he’s rocking a career-best 82% Contact% and even better 92% Z-Contact%. When you see those rates, especially with those power, you’re no longer talking about a batting average in the .240s.
Not only that, but he’s allowing fewer strikes in general with a fantastic 22% CSW%. While generally I prefer Swinging Strike rate for hitters, which is also at a 10% mark not seen since 2019, it’s worth noting he’s taking significantly fewer called strikes on account of swinging more at everything, which includes a career-worst 40% chase rate. This aggressiveness has paid off in the early going, though obviously the batting average will regress, and his OBP may take a slight hit if he keeps this new approach. The Giants though may be able to finally get him back to his peak ways as they seem to work magic with just about everyone (more so for pitchers, granted). But they still know even they can’t teach him to hit lefties, where he’s had only 1 AB so far. Still, he doesn’t need southpaws to hit .250 with 30 Joc Knocks. I’d scoop him in all 15-team formats and deeper 12-team AVG formats.
Michael Chavis (2B, Pittsburgh Pirates)
How did he suddenly get so much better? Maybe before he wasn’t really trying, but now he tries harder and puts the Avis in Chavis. If you’re unaware, the 26-year-old former Bosox prospect is also hitting harder with a superb .450 with 1 HR in 22 AB. Not only that, he’s rocking a single-digit contact rate after 3 years above 30%. Is it sustainable? Kind of! But he’s improved in a very weird way.
Instead of becoming more selective, he decided to swing at all strikes, with a ridiculous 96% Z-Swing%. Surprisingly, he’s kept his O-Swing% in check with a 42% mark, which looks bad, but is an improvement on his 2021 (especially given the insane Z-Swing%). Not only that, he’s hyper-boosted his contact rate from 67% to 87%. and his Z-contact% from 80% to 96%. I never thought I’d see Chavis look more like Arraez. But what’s crazier is the combination of these two factors gives Michael Chavis the MLB’s best CSW% (min 20 PA) of just 12%, and he leads by a lot. The next best is Jeff McNeil at 16%. On top of that, he’s rocking a great HardHit% of 60%.
Granted, the sample is tiny, and he’s had favorable matchups in a pseudo-timeshare, but the changes are too extreme to ignore. He’s only owned in just 3% of leagues, but I’m scooping him up in any NL-only formats in which he’s still available and may also take a stab in 15-team Batting Average leagues.
Sheldon Neuse (2B, Oakland Athletics)
On an offense that has been a dumpster fire, and in which the recent Covid outbreak threw bottles of aerosol hairspray into said fire, Neuse is a box full of mostly well-preserved dumpster pizza. Maybe it’s the Sheldon name that made me think of TMNT. He does know how to swing a stick, hitting a solid .300 with 1 HR in 30 PA, which let me remind you is currently far better than Gleyber Torres. That’s mostly where the compliments end.
He still seems likely to regress with a K rate near 30% and rather disappointing power (25% HardHit%) for a player that clocked 27 dingers in Triple-A in 2019. Granted, it was Las Vegas and the year of the rabbit ball. But the real reason he’s here is that he’s going to play, as he’s rather sadly one of the A’s best hitters at the moment. In a full season, he could probably hit .245 with 15 HR and a stolen base or two, which might look like catcher-level production, but consider that today the A’s had three catchers in the starting lineup. Oof. Especially with a wave of injuries plus Covid IL stints, decent at-bats might be hard for your team to come by too. Hooray extreme scarcity!
Randy Arozarena (OF, Tampa Bay Rays)
While writing one of my preseason articles, Affinity Gauntlet: Surprising Statcast Similarity Busts, I noticed that Cedric Mullins and Randy Arozarena both had pretty terrible Statcast Player Affinity comps. While I wrote blurbs for both of them, I then nixed them, chalking the bad comps up to Statcast not being kind to speedsters. But I avoided drafting Randy given his ice-blue batted ball data, and that’s looking wise. So far, he has 0 HR with a .217 AVG, and more surprisingly, no stolen bases. It seems he’s doing the same thing he did at the start of last year with a groundball problem and a laughable launch angle of -5. Ha!
He seems to be drawing fewer walks due to chasing more off the plate, and this could be April jitters, but it still takes away another way for him to get on base for stolen base opportunities. I still want to know exactly what the heck happened in 2020 that made him look like a 30 homer bat that just seemed to vanish into thin air, but I’d much rather cut my losses and get behind a more dependable power/speed play like Tommy Pham. It’s a sad song but it’s time to Seal the deal, and don’t expect a goodbye kiss from “Aroza”.
Joey Votto (1B, Cincinatti Reds)
I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Votto. Maybe this is a power-sapping curse cast on him for the weird Harry Potter-themed TikTok dance video he made. Votto made magic happen this year but his wand seems broken, with no homers and a putrid .119/.229/.143 line in 48 PA so far this year. As much as I’d love to call this a fluke, it comes with an uncharacteristic awful 38% K%, and perhaps even more uncharacteristic single-digit walk rate (8%). While that can still change a lot in April, he’s nearing the 50 PA stabilization points for Contact%, which is down to a career-worst 68%, and an O-Swing% that plummeted to 35%. Yikes.
For those hoping he’s selling out for even more power (that just hasn’t come to fruition yet) I have more bad news. He only has 1 barrel so far in 48 PA, and a puny 29% HardHit%, which makes Santiago Espinal look like Vladito in comparison. I think the talent may still be in there somewhere, as he has tinkered successfully before, but we also have to be real and acknowledge that he is 38 and careers of even the steadiest 1B types (or any players really) can fall off a cliff at this point. I’d cut him in all 10-team but probably also 12-team as 1B is deeper than Votto’s TikTok squat.
Mike Zunino (C, Tampa Bay Rays)
Et Zu, Brute? I feel backstabbed for making the (admittedly questionable) decision to keep Zunino in my two-catcher AL-only keeper league over Alex Verdugo. I probably enjoy the pain, since two-catcher AL/NL only leagues are for masochists. Zunino is arguably the league’s worst hitter so far, hitting just .040 with no homers, 1 RBI, 1 R. Can I even use the word “hitting” in that sentence? He’s always been extremely streaky, but there are signs this could be worse than his typical streakiness.
Let’s start with his 44% K%, which is backed by similarly ugly peripherals, with a career-worst Contact% of 58% and career-worst O-Swing% of 40%. That gives him a, you guessed it, career-worst Swinging Strike rate of 22%, which is not just worse, but MUCH worse, than his already bad 2021 and career mark of 17%. He’s also barreled only 1 ball after being the MLB barrels leader in 2021, though I suppose that’s not surprising given he’s hardly hit the ball at all. It is a thing for players to have a contact rate decline at age 31, and he was toeing the catwalk with a bazooka as it was. Meanwhile, battery-mate Mejia is hitting well over .300 with 2 HRs, and he’s younger too. And with better hair. I’m considering throwing away my Zune in my 2-catcher AL-only, so you definitely shouldn’t think twice about cutting him in any 15-teamer for a catcher with an actual pulse.
Bryson Stott (SS/2B, Philadelphia Phillies)
It doesn’t matter if you get playing time at the start, if you don’t get going soon, that’s all going to Stott. He’s stayed afloat by playing all over the diamond, now qualifying at the keystone in some leagues, but not of that matters much if he’s laying goose eggs. He seems to be a relative weakling in the power category, with an average eV of 82 mph and a max of 104 mph like Luis Arraez. Unfortunately, he doesn’t bring the same level of contact, with a mediocre 75% Contact % and an eyebrow-raising 22% Called Strike %. Perhaps that’s because pitchers challenge him with strikes knowing he can’t hit.
He’s far from the only prospect in line for playing time this year that’s struggled to find his footing. But it surely doesn’t help him that teammate and former prospect Bohm is hitting bombs, meaning that now that Segura is healthy, he could easily get squeezed out of Philadelphia, or just sent back down to Triple-A town. If he continues to play, his numbers should have positive regression as he has also had bad luck. But with the limited upside and a taste of bitter Scott Kingery vibes, I’d cut in most 15-team and some deeper redraft leagues. We need an Ohtani to perform CPR on his bat, Stott!
Photo by Quinn Harris/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Michael Packard (@artbyMikeP on Twitter & IG)