(Photo by Tim Spyers/Icon Sportswire)
Welcome to the First Week of April, where all the hype is made up and the stats don’t matter (mostly)! This first edition may as well be titled the “If You And Your Leaguemates Live Under a Large and Very Comfortable Rock” edition, since most of the biggest surges in ESPN ownership are due to events that have been well-publicized. However, I also want to acknowledge that you may be in a home league where teams just draft and then lounge on a beach for a few weeks. Maybe you’re on the beach with them. But with the frenzy of Opening Day and other sports still going on too and holidays, I’ll give you benefit of the doubt and fill you in with the big moves, and we’ll dive deeper next week.
Jose Martinez (OF/1B, Cardinals) – The comparisons of Jose to JD Martinez go beyond just their names, and I’m hoping Jose has a middle name that starts with D. Jose put on a clinic in a limited time last year, hitting .304 with 14 Homers, 47 R, 46 RBI and 4 SB in 307 PA. And while that sounds crazy for a 29-year old with no pedigree or even record of minor league success, the performance was backed by Statcast that rated the quality of his batted ball contact along among the upper echelon of star hitters. If you were feeling lucky and drafted skills rather than roles, you’ve been rewarded with his .357 AVG and a homer, along with an enticing 5.9% K rate which matches his walk rate. While it’s so early that most data is hard to trust, it’s a good sign that his FB% and LD%, both at 35.7% a pop, are higher than his GB% of 28.6%. If he’s still available go get him now, in all league formats! Do it!
Scott Kingery (2B/SS/3B, Phillies) – The Kingmaker! Over the past few months the hype and noise for him went from a few muffled squeaks to a deafening roar at a pace that makes Bitcoin jealous. While he already seem to have outgrown the “sleeper” moniker, he was still available at a pauper’s price in many mixed leagues drafts that’s now worth a Kingery’s ransom, thanks in part to his huge spring and also a long-term deal improving his playing time odds for this year, further improved by his hot start. While his true upside is hotly debated, it’s not crazy to envision a .300-25-25 ceiling based on his minor league numbers, though like Bitcoin, the bubble may be about to burst with people thinking of that as a guarantee or talking about him going 30-30. He’s likely taken even in the deepest leagues, but otherwise he should be added. That said, you may be wise to explore your leaguemate’s interest as you may get surprising return value for him.
Matt Davidson (3B, White Sox) – There’s a new Joey Gallo in town. Okay, well technically speaking, he’s an older Gallo. He has the 5th, 9th, AND 10th hardest hit balls on the year by exit velocity, which is not surprising. After all, he did that last year, only problem was that everything he didn’t smash he swung through. What IS surprising, however, is that along with his cartoon video game ISO of .818 and SLG% of 1.182, is a 15.4% K rate that matches a 15.4% BB rate. And it’s hard to decide what’s more mind-blowing, that he cut down the Ks or that he took a walk. Then again, it’s been 13 friggin PA. BUT! I’m intrigued that it’s supported by a massive reduction in O-Swing%, from 33.4% in 2017 to 16.2% this year, and a Z-Contact% of 93.3% compared to his 78.0% last year, for a Mookie Betts-ian Swstr% of 6.7%. Of course, this is likely just a hot streak bound to regress, but with his 40 Home Run pop, even a glimmer of hope in him improving his contact or plate discipline skills makes him a fine high-upside speculation. Add in AL-only, and 15-team formats, and stream or bench stash in shallower formats.
Kevin Pillar (OF, Toronto Blue Jays) – Unlike Chad Pinder and many other players, Kevin Pillar did not say anything about running more this year. He let his legs do the talking. He stole 2nd, 3rd, and home, on what really should be labeled as a home run, deconstructed. He’s not new to early season surges canceled out by a midseason swoon, but what makes him appealing is 20-20 ability with a likely 15-15 floor and a relatively safe batting average floor to boot. Currently he’s hitting .385 with a home run, 4 R, 1 RBI, and 3 SBWith his run production atop a still-potent lineup, the underrated veteran (he’s still only 29, surprisingly) will likely outproduce many flashier and shinier new toys. Add in 18-team and 15-team formats, and well worth an injury replacement or stream in 12-team, though since the peripherals don’t suggest yet an imminent breakout, I wouldn’t fault you for flipping him if you can.
Miguel Andujar (3B, Yankees) – So, Andujar wasn’t supposed to be up. But then Bird got hurt. And Hicks got hurt. And then Hicks’s replacement got hurt. So here we are. He went 0-for-4 and struck out twice in his first game, but that’s no reason to shy away from a player that was a Fangraphs Top 20 prospect. He has been heralded for his projection to hit for both power and average, but questions remain on how much power he will develop, which causes high disparity in his rankings. Given Bird’s recent injury history, I wouldn’t count on him coming back any time soon, and even an Andujar without much power is la better bet to last in the lineup above guys like Tyler Austin, Tyler Wade, and whatever other Tylers the Yankees want to throw in the mix. He’s currently owned at just 9.9% but that will go up quickly at his first big game. He should be added in AL-only, 18-teamers, and 15-teamers with a bench, since his playing time situation is still unclear.
Chris Iannetta (C, Rockies) – Iannetta is easy to overlook because he’s been so mediocre for so long, but last year in his return to the NL, he did make some intriguing under-the-radar changes. Well, maybe it was just some good luck boosted by a hitter-friendly ballpark. OF course, the primary driver to his value and surge in ownership is Tom Murphy, his main competition, getting sent to Triple-A, which opens up the opportunity for full playing time in the best hitting environment in baseball. Considering that even the 2017 Jonathan Lucroy (e.g. very bad) could look decent in Colorado, the promise is there to produce like a poor man’s Willson Contreras for as long as he’s in the lineup. He should be owned in 15-team and 12-team formats, because you should never underestimate Rocky Mountain Mash Magic.
Zack Cozart (SS/3B, Angels) – His hitting has been a true work of Cozart. It was rather interesting how Cozart’s 2017 numbers were practically thrown out of the sample when looking at how late he was taken in many drafts this year. Granted, he’s 32 now, and his 24 homers and .297 Average really came out of nowhere for a player known mostly for consistently average offense with excellent defense. But then again, he so substantially improved his game that it’s hard to buy that it was a fluke. His walk rate of 12.2% was nearly double his 2016 rate of 7.3, which was his previous career best. Not to mention, his momentum was snuffed by a midseason injury, and otherwise could’ve conceivably hit .300+ with 30 HR. This year he’s picked up the momentum with a 40% LD%, 30% GB% and 30% FB%, with a Hard% of 45%. While this will all regress, his lineup combined with his multi-position eligibility and a more hitter-friendly ballpark makes him a smart add in 15-team and 12-team formats, and 10-team leagues with an MI slot.
Yasmani Grandal (C, Dodgers) – It’s rare that there’s a playing time battle that has an “everybody wins” outcome, but the Dodgers catcher battle has more or less worked out that way, for everyone but Justin Turner. With him on the mend, Austin Barnes and his multi-position eligibility are manning the hot corner, leaving Grandal owners free of the one burden on Grandal’s value. He’s shown his gratitude with the bat, hitting .438 with a homer, 4 R and 3 RBI in the early going, for an impressive 0.4 WAR in less than a week. If Grandal can keep mashing, when Turner comes back it’ll be hard to wrest the PT from Grandal, as he has the ability to hit 30 dingers with a good OBP. If you drafted before Turner’s unlucky break and Grandal is still available, snag him immediately and figure out the rest later, you’ll have Yas-many grand days ahead of you.
Kendrys Morales (DH/1B, Blue Jays) – The tough thing about being a DH-only kind of player is that, if you’re not the best damn hitter on the team, all sorts of demons are trying to steal your playing time. The latest demon being Donaldson’s dead arm, which isn’t serious enough to sideline his bat but serious enough to keep him off the field. Add in the fact that the only position Morales could conceivably play is covered by Smoak, who is superior both offensively and defensively, and that Tulo and Travis are players who could have potent bats when healthy but need to DH to rest their weary bodies… and Granderson and Grichuk who are also not really meant to field… Uh, Kendrys why exactly are you still here? The bat is still potent, but without a change of scenery, he may struggle to get the PT to surpass even 20 homers. He’s droppable in 10-team, 12-team, and on the chopping block in 15-team, but I’d try just benching him for now in that format if you can, since this year you may see Kendrys Lessales.
Maikel Franco (3B, Phillies) – While most of the baseball world was likely celebrating Kingrery’s long-term deal (as it’s great for baseball fans), Maikel was likely not celebrating, at least not on the inside. His playing time situation just got a lot murkier and now may not even have the chance to prove himself. And while with his combination of plus power and contact and relative youth (he’s still just 26) is still enticing, his welcome may be wearing thin in Cincy. It’s worth noting that Phillies manager Gabe Kapler places an emphasis on good work ethic and attitude over tools, and Maikel has garnered a reputation for bad body language and attitude that if it continues will likely not be tolerated. He may be not much more than a part-timer unless an injury strikes or he gets a (probably badly needed) change of scenery), so Maikill your darlings.
Chris Davis (1B, Orioles) – Here’s an interesting strategy: Take a low .200s hitter and bat him leadoff! Here’s how it’s worked so far: Not well! Of course it’s only a handful of at-bats, and unlike many other players on this list, he’s not yet a serious risk to lose substantial playing time. That being said, after a 2017 that was nothing short of disastrous, at least in this power climate, he may be the one with playing time on the chopping block if Hays starts knocking on the kitchen door. Despite his large size, his exit velocity last year was nowhere close to the Gallos and Davidsons that have a chance at surviving those ugly K rates, and without a hit, it’s still too early to tell if that’s changing. But if in your 10-team or shallow 12-team, there’s a corner infielder with some power and also contact ability around, like Alonso or Cozart, you’ll probably gush with joy to rush to flush Crush.
Hunter Renfroe (OF, Padres) – The Hunter has become the Hunted. Well at least in terms of getting targeted for cut-down playing time. Renfroe is essentially a one-tool player, just with his power being a very loud tool, with 35 HR upside. The problem with power, however, is it is usually suppressed in the colder spring months, and it also takes a long time to stabilize. So there’s a fair chance that he’s not able to settle in with his sporadic playing time and win them over with some taters, and suddenly the portrait of Mr. Renfroe starts to warp into a terrifying visage of Colby Rasmus. Not to say that that will happen. But it could, and that is enough reason for me to steer clear in 10-team and 12-team formats, though with Myers being hurt, I wouldn’t yet cut him in 15-team, since he’s bad, but also good, like Renfrogurt.
You have both Grandal and Iannetta in the ‘Buy’ section. If you had to choose between the two right now, who would you rather have in a 12-tm points league
I’d go with Grandal over Iannetta since I trust his bat more, especially considering Ianetta’s age and that his last ballpark was Coors lite.