Welcome back to baseball! And this year, mostly real and less cardboard cut-out fans baseball! The funky short sample of last year has us all going gaga and getting into a bad romance with some one-week MVPs, but just remember, it’s still April (so good to be able to say that again). If you drop your 10th round hitter for a career journeyman who looks like small sample Barry Bonds, you’ll probably end up kicking yourself in the asterisk. But there are at least some players worth noticing, and that’s what I’m here for with a delayed hot takes on Nathaniel Lowe… better Nate than never!
Ryan McMahon (1B/2B/3B, Colorado Rockies)
McMahon was looking like he might be losing playing time, but funny how a three-homer game changes that. He’s now hitting an insane .444/.444/.1.222 with 4 tates. Expected stats are rather silly to start using this time of year, but they validate his current performance with a .410 xAVG and .869 xSLG, in case you enjoy video game numbers. The number that gives most people hope is his 17% K%, as strikeouts have been the biggest bugaboo limiting the masher’s potential in Colorado. But I don’t think he’s suddenly a contact hitter, as his per-pitch stats (which are far more reliable in small samples) with his 73% Contact% and career-high 16% Swinging Strike% indicate he could still be prone to rough cold streaks. But so far, he’s been hitting more flyballs (47%) than groundballs (27%), and if he could even come close to cutting that GB% in half, with his muscle he can smack many more balls out of Coors. With the underrated triple-position eligibility, he’s a fine add in 10-team leagues.
Buster Posey (C, San Francisco Giants)
I like calling out boom-or-bust players but this Buster just went boom. Maybe all that rest did him some good, as those 2 homers give hope that he can return to the days of 20+ homer (or at least double digit) home run totals to go with health and regular at-bats. It’s still far from a sure thing, as he’s 34 and has already cooled off since Opening Day, and his hard hit rate and max exit velocity seem to be in line with previous years, but maybe that’s why he’s a great buy-highish. He currently sports an elite 27% Barrel% (3 barrels) and a .347 xBA and .837 xSLG that belie his now-pedestrian surface numbers. That comes almost entirely on his contact, but still a catcher with any power/average upside is worth the gamble. Add in 10-team and 12-team leagues.
Jared Walsh (1B, Los Angeles Angels)
Call it the year of the two-way player. It was easy to be skeptical of Walsh’s 2020 excellent small sample after he displayed contact ability never before seen at age 28, but it’s looking like he’s legit. After concerns that he would be riding the pine after the first two games, he brought the dangerous lumber with two jacks, and is now hitting a studly .412/.444/.882. It’s not a total fluke either, with his excellent 21% Barrel% and a low K% of 17% that suggests his strikeout improvements were real. Pujols may still eat into his playing time a tiny bit this year, but Walsh is looking to be a solid mid-range power bat and a great shallow league replacement corner infielder. He’s a sensible add in 12-team leagues.
Tyler Naquin (OF, Cincinnati Reds)
Look, when I looked him up, even after seeing his 4 home runs, I didn’t think I’d take him seriously. But now I think this might be no joke. Why so serious? Let’s start with the fact that at this moment in time, in 23 PA, his average exit velocity is 100 mph. The average! And he’s already walloped a ball at 114 mph, with 4 barrels leading to a downright cartoonish 36% Barrel% and 91% Hard Hit%. If his line of .316/.435/.947 does not impress you, consider his expected stats: .435 xAVG and 1.162 xSLG. It’s nice to see a K% of 17%, but it looks unlikely to last with his 70% Contact%. Thus far, he’s helped himself through better discipline, with an improved 27% O-Swing%. Despite a career as an iffy platoon bat, with his natural raw power, I’d be willing to gamble he can muster a Ryan Ludwick-esque year. Add in all 12-team formats.
Nate Lowe (1B, Texas Rangers)
Lowe set a high for RBI with 10 knocks in the first few games of the season. The 6’4 25-year-old was basically free in drafts with an ADP of #359, which was rather surprising considering he’s always had elite exit velocity and he finally had a path to regular playing time in Texas. Now he’s hitting .381/.409/.857 with 3 homers, and while it comes with an ugly 36% K%, his batted ball stats are looking elite. He’s rocking a 54% HardHit%, 3 barrels, and 97 mph exit velocity. I do think the average will come down if he can’t close that hole in his swing, but he could still hit a solid .260 with 25 HR with upside for more, and keep driving plenty of runs in the heart of Texas’s rather sad-looking lineup (but still, the heart of it!). Add in 12-team OBP and 15-team leagues.
Yermín Mercedes (DH, Chicago White Sox)
As far as hitters go, Yermin may be the biggest zero-to-hero surge I can recall in recent memory. The 28-year old rookie has hit an eye-popping .565/.583/.826 with a homer in 23 ABs, earning the starting DH spot in Eloy’s absence. He was not even drafted in the deepest of leagues, but funny how getting 8 consecutive hits to start off the season can change that. He’s a strong hitter with a good minor league track record and limited defensive ability, but note that in leagues that count minor league eligibility, he qualifies at catcher, which makes him a must-add in all formats just for the shot at regular playing time. He’s sort of like a Willians Astudillo 2.0 or Yuli Gurriel in that he swings at everything but makes contact, as evidenced by his 13% strikeout rate and 4% walk rate. He does have a two-strike approach that actually makes him look more refined, so he just might stick, but he still might not reach regular playing time. Just take him knowing it still could be a flash in the pan, but I think he’s worth the streaming gamble in deeper 12-team AVG leagues and all 15-team leagues where you can make room at UTIL/DH. Then again, he’s gone from 0 to 72% owned, so you may need to wait and hope someone drops him.
Michael A. Taylor (OF, Kansas City Royals)
Why can’t he just be Michael Taylor? The last Michael Taylor in the MLB hit .167 and missed a week due to cutting his finger throwing away a wad of chewing gum (really). Anyway, like Yermín above, the fact that I write Taylor as a 15-team add might make you think I’m not so bullish, and you’d be right. But I still think it’s something. The crazy thing about Taylor’s performance so far is that he cut his K rate down from 27% in 2020 (a previous career-best) to just 12%. But I expect that to be short-lived, as his Swinging Strike rate of 16% is slightly above his career averages. Still, he’s walloped the ball and Statcast is a believer. With a nutty .468 xAVG and 1.029 xSLG, which are 99th and 98th percentile ranks, it pairs quite nicely with his 98th percentile sprint speed. He’s always had power/speed upside, and there’s a chance he can be a bigger dual threat than Buxton, and less injury prone. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if he cools off next week and gets dropped for the next hot ticket.
Akil Baddoo (OF, Detroit Tigers)
He’s got power, he’s got speed, and he’s on the Tigers, so he’s a sleeper indeed. Baddoo already has 2 HR in 6 PA with 1 SB, and extrapolated over 600 PA, those numbers equal a very silly projection. Both of his home runs were barreled, but I still worry he could get done in by poor plate discipline, as his 41% O-Swing% and 71% contact% are not great. But he also doesn’t have to be so great to edge Jacoby Jones and Nomar Mazara out of playing time. If you have some safety in batting average and are willing to take a bit of a playing time dice roll for the power/speed, then go for it. He’s a solid add in 15-team leagues that use batting average and all AL-only leagues.
Tim Locastro (OF, Arizona Diamondbacks)
If you need speed in the worst way, now’s the time to buy lo. Entering this year, Locastro was assumed to be on the short side of a platoon, so he was a draft afterthought with an ADP of #496 in NFBC. But last year he was actually a league average hitter, with a bit of pop and a solid average floor to go with his Buxtonian speed (he was actually a hair faster, #1 in the majors. He’s currently on the outside looking in for playing time, but with Josh Rojas and Pavin Smith distracting the Diamondbacks with their egg-laying, it shouldn’t be long till he gets a shot and I think that he actually deserves to hold it. He already has a barrel on the year, and he has underperformed his expected stats thus far. There are simply few players so widely available with this much stolen base upside if you’re willing to be patient. Add in NL-only and stash in deep 15-team formats.
Miguel Sano (1B, Minnesota Twins)
Don’t disrespect him, since Sano is actually Japanese for “Mr. O”, which matches his stat line. Look, I can’t say I feel bad for you if you took him. You know you signed up for this. Sure, maybe you didn’t think he would have a career-worst 55% Contact% (with a laughably bad 64% Zone Contact%), and you probably expected him to hit the ball a lot harder than his 32nd percentile average exit velocity. Sure, that should improve, but in 10-team formats, a player whose cold streaks are Antarctic-level cold simply aren’t worth holding onto, as there are so many other hotter corner infield studs to choose from. Not to mention, with both Kiriloff and Larnach waiting in the wings, the leash is getting shorter on his generous carriage.
Victor Reyes (OF, Detroit Tigers)
Sometimes we get caught up so much in the fantasy that we forget about the reality. And the reality is that Reyes is not such a great hitter. It might be surprising to see the Tigers’ most significant fantasy contributor get shelved since, y’know, it’s the Tigers, but they basically already know what Reyes is and want to give playing time to Baddoo, and not to mention the bench also has infield/outfielders Goodrum and Harold Castro to siphon off time as well. He still may hold on to the lion’s share of PT if he can get hot, but his current .111 AVG is the opposite of that and his high chase rate (43% career and 60% in 2021) could do him in.
Enrique Hernandez (2B/3B/OF, Boston Red Sox)
You can’t steal first base, and you can’t score runs from home plate either. Mr. Hernandez, who now is called “Kiki” due to some unfortunate mispronunciations of his nickname, was getting draft day buzz based on reports he would bat leadoff. It was enough to make us forget, once you get past that, the park, his multi-position eligibility, etc., that he’s not that good of a hitter. He’s never posted an expected batting average above .250, and this year has been worse, hitting .174/.231/.217, and that bad performance is backed almost fully by his expected stats. Sure, he could still find a way to .240 and 15-20 HR as he seems to do most years, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the arrival of Jeter Downs push him and Marwin out of playing time, and that won’t be any huge loss. Let Kiki remain stranded with Fran on an island, because he’s not All That.
Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire