Well, it looks like many teams caught on to my Smoak love as he’s now owned in nearly half of ESPN leagues. This week we’re digging a little bit deeper still to find the values in deeper mixed and AL Only and NL only, where there are still lots of young talent and intriguing hot performances worth considering. And then there’s Mike Zunino. Which is my way of saying, use this as a guide, not as a gospel. Gospel makes me overly conscious of my tendency to clap on the downbeats instead of the upbeats like I’m supposed to.
Josh Bell (1B, Pittsburgh Pirates) – Ciao Bell-a! It’s not very common to see a guy who’s calling card is just having great discipline suddenly start hitting for big power. It’s certainly looking like not a total fluke, as his 9 Homers to date are backed by a 11.1% Barrel/BBE. On the other hand, his 53% GB% rate, a career high, means his HR/FB is at a very unsustainable 26.5%, and his Hard Contact rate is actually down to a pedestrian 27.8%. Still, he’s young and can hit the ball to all fields, draws walks and his AVG, should improve, making him a must-own in deep leagues and a solid flier in 12-teamers, especially in OBP leagues. Let the Bell toll for you!
Chris Taylor (2B/3B, Los Angeles Dodgers) – Okay, it’s getting a little ridiculous the luck the Dodgers get with players who provide value out of nowhere. Enter Taylor, who was just an injury stopgap for Justin Turner, but may now become more than just that. He’s hitting .333 with 5 HR and a .446 OBP in 101 PA. While his .411 BABIP has helped, it’s more than just smoke and mirrors, as he’s posted a 32% Hard% and 94.4% FB/LD exit velocity. Now he’s getting reps in OF which may keep him in the lineup when Taylor returns. Based on his minor league record, he could also contribute a handful of Stolen Bases. While I’m not sold on the sustainability of this super hot hitter fire, I like him as a short-term flier, especially since he has multi-position eligibility, but I’d still recommend him in deeper mixed league OBP leagues, although he gets the job done in deeper average leagues as well. He even has a very average name!
Hunter Renfroe (OF, San Diego Padres) – Renfroe has always had real 30 homer power, and is tapping more into it in his first full season. He has 8 HR on the year, and it’s encouraging to see he’s also making hard contact to opposite field. WIth a 45% FB rate, he’s if anything slightly unlucky in terms of his power output, though with his home park he’ll be stuck with some of that bad luck. Also, while his batting average should improve some, he’s really a one-tool guy, since he lacks plate discipline or impact speed. Still, it’s harder to find true power guys in the OF than in the infield, so if you’re hunting to and fro for homers, go to Renfroe.
Bradley Zimmer (OF, Cleveland Indians) – You can’t flim-flam the Zim-zam! Zimmer could be up for keeps if he shows he’s ready, as the organization quickly tired of their stopgap outfielders and gave Zimmer a chance before even he probably expected. You generally don’t expect much from a player who posted a 29% K% in Triple-A, but Zimmer might be the kinda guy where you have to look away from the stats and trust the scouts. While the 24-year old’s .571 BABIP won’t last, he’s posted .400 BABIPs at many stops in the minors, and his 50% Hard Contact and 25% Barrel/BBE, while a itsy-bitsy teenie-weenie sample, support the suggestion, as well as his massive size, that he will hit the ball hard. His debut may be similar to Steven Souza’s debut, with power and speed and bad AVG due to tons of strikeouts, but solid OBP. Take him in all AL-only and 15-teamers, and worth a flier in deeper 12-team OBP leagues.
Devon Travis (2b, Toronto Blue Jays) – It looks like Travis may finally be healthy again, as his underlying numbers has caught up to his solid career numbers in a hurry, although his surface stats still aren’t too pretty. He’s actually made a bunch of small but notable improvements, such as cutting down his infield flyball rate, decreasing his chase rate, and trading some groundballs for liners. The upside might not be quite as high as it seemed before as Pillar has earned the leadoff role once bequeathed upon Travis, and the lineup isn’t nearly the force it was in years past. Still, he can provide a plus average with 10-15 homer power, and sustainable batting average success is a rather rare commodity nowadays. Add in all AL-only and 15-team formats, and deep 12-team Batting average leagues.
Cameron Maybin (OF, Los Angeles Angels) – Speaking of rare commodities, speed is even harder to come by honestly, and Maybin has it and brought an extra little surprise. He’s currently sporting an excellent career-high 16.0% BB%, something his minor league numbers always suggested as possible but until now, never came to fruition. His strategy: Swing less at everything, as his Swing rate dropped from 43.5% to 35.4% this year. He also has 3 Homers to go with his 10 Stolen Bases, so he’s more than just a rabbit. He’s worth an add in deeper mixed leagues or even shallower mixed OBP if you need a speed fix for your H2H matchup.
Jorge Bonifacio (OF, Royals) – Bonibossio has continued chugging along since his debut, and is now up to .268 with 6 HR in 95 PA. He was expected to hit .230-.240 as a major leaguer with 20 HR pop (so basically, Jorge Soler), but he made some plate discipline improvements in the minors and hasn’t been overmatched. His 32.2% LD% will regress, but his 10.2% Barrel/BBE indicates he can stay afloat with 20-25 HR power in the majors, and has staying power in the mess that is the Royals’ OF. He’s another fine AL-only or deep mixed add if you’re in need of some bombifacios.
Chad Pinder (2B, Oakland Athletics) – Quick, close your eyes, and tell me who’s tied for 2nd in the MLB in avg. exit velocity and 2nd in barrels/BBE. If you guessed Chad Pinder, you basically cheated, since you saw his name above this post and assumed it must be him. But you’d be right. So in other words, he hasn’t been getting by on pure luck with his 5 HR in 54 PA, and he posted great exit velocity in his debut last year as well so it seems legit. At the present moment, however, he’s hitting 63% FB%, which while great for his power numbers, will bring the batting average down, especially in Oakland and combined with his high strikeout rate. The good news is that he’s significantly improved his chase rate, so his walk rate improvement looks real, and he may be a rare Three True Outcomes player at 2nd base, AND he may soon gain eligibility at both SS and OF. Now for the downer… he’s not guaranteed playing time beyond a lefty masher matchup. So only set a match to your Pinderbox if you can play the daily lineups or stash him until/in case he carves out a larger role for AL-only or deep mixed leagues.
Tim Beckham (SS, Tampa Bay Rays) – I actually came into this wanting to write Beckham as one of my sell guys, since he has a high strikeout rate, and let’s face it, it’s really fun to trash a former #1 draft pick. But after doing my research, it seems my initial hunch was wrong as his non-suckitude is actually legitimate. While his lack of baserunning and plate discipline make him a fantasy one-tool guy, the power has been a strong tool indeed, with 48.2% Hard% and a 11.8% Barrel/BBE. And while his plate discipline hasn’t changed, his contact rate is up a bit, so he’s not selling out for his power. At his position, he’s a cromulent flier in AL-only and 15-team or deeper mixed leagues.
Mark Canha (OF, Oakland Athletics) – He’s currently in position for the majority of ABs in the Athletics OF, and he’s earned it thus far, hitting .271 with 3 HR and 1 SB in 51 PA. Despite the small sample caveats, the power thus far has seemed legit, with a 51.4% FB% and GB% down to just 24.3%, with a 13.5% Barrels/BBE just behind Justins Smoak and Bour (Smoak and Bour would be a great name for a fireplace manufacturer). Unlike many other sluggers, he lacks youthful hype or household name recognition, and he also can contribute a handful of stolen bases, so in most leagues you Canha-ve him, and in deeper ones you should take him.
Mike Zunino (C, Seattle Mariners) – Okay, let’s first face some hard facts. First, this is coming as a recommendation only for deep two catcher leagues. Also, Zunino was not laughably bad this year as much as he was tear-your-hair-out-and-bawlingly bad, with a .167 Avg, no homers, and a 37.5% K rate. Another fact is that last year, he had a good campaign in the minors and for a while, parlayed that into major league success, and this year could be the same story. While it was only 45 PA, he smacked .293 with 5 Home Runs, but what’s more intriguing is an eye-popping, Mookie Betts-ian 11.1% K rate. Even if it’s a step down and a hitter-friendly league, it’s generally not normal for a K rate to drop over 25% to a number, so perhaps it’s still too soon to label him a Quad-A guy, and he can stay on fire in the majors. It’s too bad his Triple-A hitting coach couldn’t come along with him.
Kole Calhoun (OF, Los Angeles Angels) – Sure, he’ll be better than this. Somewhat, maybe. But instead of putting together the best parts of his numbers, he’s putting together the worst, with the strikeout rate of 2015 and the power of 2014. In fact, that might be generous, as his hard contact and ISO are at a career low, and below average for a major leaguer. While he’ll keep a spot in the linup, wiithout plate discipline, more than 15 homer power, minimal speed, you need to ask yourself what you’re even hoping for if you’re not holding him in mixed.
Joe Panik (2B, San Francisco Giants) – Not too many owners hit the Panik button to start the season (by which I mean drafting him, yeah that’s confusing). But it seemed reasonable to jump on board once he started hitting for average in April. But he hasn’t quite maintained his elite low K rate from 2016, and without hard contact, he’s not really able to provide an average near the .290+ expected of him. With only middling power and speed, it’s okay to hit the Panik Panic button and eject him. Is that clearer? Yeah, I didn’t think so either.
Joc Pederson (OF, Los Angeles Dodgers) – Well, the good news is that he’s no longer injured! The bad news? Well, everything else. Not only has he failed to improve his discipline, or incorporate his speed, but he hasn’t even been able to tap into his power this year. I think that may improve as the months heat up, but he may be one of those guys who despite a tantalizing power/speed profile in the minors, just can’t translate it to be a successful full-time player. And platoon bats, while useful for major league teams, have far reduced utility in fantasy outside of NL-only.
Eddie Rosario (OF, Minnesota Twins) – Sure, he’s 25, and generally players improve as they age. So much has been made of his improved strikeout rate and the hope that will unlock the key to his star-level natural talents. But his swing rates paint a different picture where’s he’s the same old free swinger, and pitchers are exploiting it now and the K rate is regressing. He may be running out of time to prove himself, as he’s getting benched more often lately, and while he has some power and speed, he really should be dropped in all mixed leagues and perhaps even shallower AL-only.
Alex Gordon (OF, Kansas City Royals) – Now, the other guys on this list weren’t good, but here is a truly broken player. Everything, the power, the discipline, has been abysmal. If you’re holding him at this point, you’re hoping he gets demoted and a coach fixes him, or an eldritch baseball demonic force passes through him at the cost of his soul to make him hit again. Unless you have a deep bench, he’s droppable in all leagues, which sounds crazy, but so is the world we live in.