Welcome back to Buy & Sell, where this week’s theme is a plethora of Brandon/Brendans, and a lot of multi-eligible categorical help. Hopefully you took my advice from last week and got Alejandro Kirk! Now the mad rush of prospects has slowed to a crawl (okay, maybe a fast crawl) but there’s a lot of players who we think we know, but have made some significant changes under the hood. And while everyone’s ooh-ing and aah-ing over the shiny new toys, these are the overlooked ones much more likely to help you get that trophy.
Ryan Mountcastle (1B/OF, Baltimore Orioles)
He should be knighted since he already has such a regal name. Just think about it, Sir Mountcastle of Baltimore. Maybe he can ask former Oriole Sir Sidney Ponson. Anyway, he’s been atop the unluckiest hitters in baseball, which might seem surprising since his current .257 AVG, 8 HR and 2 SB with a .429 SLG% has been pretty much what’s he’s done over his career. But here’s the crazy thing… this year, his xBA is .324. His xSLG% is .596. I know the usual expected stat caveats and Camden Yards walls moved back yadda yadda yadda, but what is going on here?
Well for one, his typically terrible plate skills are becoming… less terrible? Well, he’s still swinging at mostly everything as usual, but he’s managed a career-best 75% contact%. Still, the changes here are marginal compared to the improvement in his batted ball quality. His 13% Barrel% is a career-best, and so is his 46% HardHit% and 91 mph exit velocity. Him and Mancini have both been Statcast darlings this year, and between them, there is more in Mancini’s peripherals to support a breakout, but Mountcastle is also just 25 and to his credit has a 5/2 BB/K this week. With a handful of speed as well, he’s a great buy-low trade target in 10-team leagues that use batting average.
Brandon Drury (2B/3B/OF, Cincinnati Reds)
Once upon a mid-career Drury, while I pondered, weak as Leury, how he has been the Reds’ best hitter when he had been below the floorboards. I’m as confused as you are, though I’m glad I wrote him as a buy back in late April and snagged him in several leagues (though stupidly dropped him later in one). He’s hit an astounding .444 with 3 HR this week to bring his season total to .266/.326/.514 with 11 HR and 1 SB in 173 AB. It doesn’t seem like a fluke either, as Statcast backs his performance, which as I noted in April, is especially encouraging considering the hitter-friendly park that isn’t fully accounted for.
Even when Jonathan India comes back, Drury has supplanted him as the more interesting name in many respects this year, even if he doesn’t really contribute on the basepaths. The sample is now large enough to truly believe this is real, as improbable as it is, though looking through his recent career, he did always have the component parts at times of decent contact/OBP skills and high raw power, but just never put them together. Combined with his especially helpful positional elibility at 3 of the weakest positions not named catcher, even as a utility bat he’s a must-play right now in all leagues… at least assuming this Achilles issue he just missed a game with is nothing major.
Brendan Rodgers (2B/SS, Colorado Rockies)
Today on Mr. Rodgers’ Neighborhood, our lesson is about admitting when we were wrong. I called him a 12-team cut after his horrific early-season slump, and lately he’s been coming back around as sure as the Neighborhood Trolley, with a fair share of ding-dingers. After being homerless for over 2 weeks, he erupted this week with 4 to go with a .290 AVG, to bring his season line up to .260/309/418 with 6 HR, 28 R and 26 RBI. While that may not seem so impressive without context, remember he hit just .047 April, but then hit .347 with 2 HR in May leading up to this big June.
While he continues to be frustrating in that Ian Desmond-esque way because he hits way too many grounders, improving that may be part of his power breakthrough. He hit 53% GB% in April followed by a surprising 56% in May before this month where it’s down to 38% with a 50% FB%. Much like with Elias Diaz last year, if he can suddenly lift the ball he can rack up homers in a hurry in the high altitude. Although his contact rate has taken a bit of a hit, if that’s a sign of his approach change to lead to his career-best 10% barrel%, I’ll gladly take it. While an element of this is riding the hot streak, if he keeps this up his numbers could end up looking like 2021 Brandon Crawford. Add in 12-team batting average leagues.
Jon Berti (2B/3B/OF, Miami Marlins)
Psst…There’s an underrated speed asset on your wire who is better than Myles Straw. How do I know? A little Berti told me. This could finally be his year, as he’s off to a rip-roaring .320 with 4 SB this week to bring his season line to .273/.398/.429 with 2 HR and 8 SB in just 77 AB. Not only is he stealing bases at a more aggressive rate than in years past, but he’s packing some more punch. Relatively speaking, of course.
His current 9% Barrel% is more than triple the 2% he had last year and in years past, and while that will likely regress, his career-best 41% Hard% suggests he is more than just a slap hitter. It seems this year he’s trying to lift the ball more with a 38% FB% rate that’s well above his usual 20-ish% mark, and may not be a bad idea if he can take advantage of the Marlins’ shortened wall. He’s always had elite plate discipline and should continue to get on-base, and the biggest issue is just getting enough playing time. Fortunately, that’s where his multi-position flexibility comes in, making him a super useful asset. Most people at this juncture would say he’s more of a 15-team league add than 12, but I see a .260 AVG and strong AVG with 10 HR and 25+ SB well in play if he can stay healthy, and that with his multi-eligible status makes him an underrated 12-team OBP league pickup.
Ezequiel Duran (2B/3B, Texas Rangers)
Ezequiel saw the wheels, and if barrels can be wheels he’s got wheels while hitting wheels. He was a consensus top 100 prospect entering this year for his enticing power/speed he displayed at high-A at a young age, but he had serious strikeout issues.While his power and speed were similar this year in Double-A (a feat in its own right) he boosted his stock substantially by cutting down his K%, from approximately 28% between two teams to just 18% this year. For a player for whom he had one real weakness and improved it so much, he basically is like Achilles but if he wore a diamond heelguard.
That being said, while he’s hitting .375 thus far in the majors, it appears that his strikeout saga is still far from over. He’s swinging at everything, with a ghastly 49% O-Swing% and 80% Z-Swing%, and with just a 72% contact%, with just a 75% Z-Contact%, that approach is rather dangerous. The good news is he’s been hitting the ball hard so far, with 5 hard hits and a barrel already, even though a lot of that hard contact is going into the ground. While he’s currently rocking a great small sample, I expect he’ll struggle to keep a palatable batting average but while having enough potential HR and SB to help assuage those concerns, and maybe he’s just pressing and will improve like teammate Sam Huff has done recently. The upside is worth the risk in 15-team AVG formats, but his approach scares me away until I see more in 12-team formats, and I would still take Oscar Gonzalez, who has a similarly aggressive approach but with substantially better contact% and Max eV over him if he’s still around.
Harold Castro (1B/2B/SS/3B, Detroit Tigers)
I told myself I would avoid falling for this again, but I guess you can’t teach a Harold dog new tricks. But really, while it’s entirely possible that his hot streak is over, and he’s now hitting .284 with 4 HR over 114 PA. Maybe his return to pumpkin form is imminent, but I think there might be something here this time. Something different. Why? Because his 9 barrels this year are already more barrels than he’s hit in any other year.
That’s pretty significant, since he was thought of as a mediocre contact slap hitter who can’t whack the ball for his life. But here he is at a beautiful 10% Barrel%, over triple his previous career-high of 3% he set last year. Not only that, he’s also improved in contact hitting, making me think his high average this year isn’t a fluke. His Contact% of 81% and Swinging Strike% of 10% are career-bests and a decent step up from his 76% Contact% last year and 13% SwStr%. But here comes the kicker. His xBA is .334 and his xSLG is … .621?! If only numbers could be capitalized for emphasis. Hey here’s a funny and kind of sad fact! On the current Tigers, it’s not entirely unrealistic that he finishes their season the best hitter. HA!
While it’s possible he hacked their system, I think it’s overlooked that Castro is a career .290 hitter over 886 PA across 5 partial seasons, never hitting below .283. If he can add a few more dingers, he’s basically what everyone thought they were getting from Yuli Gurriel… plus eligiblity at four different positions with one more game ’til outfield eligiblity. The toughest part about having him is the lack of consistent playing time and run production thus far, but even though the team is going through something of a youth movement, if he keeps hitting he will play, and I’d “buy high” on him wherever I can. Goodbye Old Harold Castro, hello New Barreled Castro.
Nomar Mazara (OF, San Diego Padres)
Sorry Nomar, but I have to lay the fade into you because you’re no Mazzy Star. I swear Mazara is the oldest 27-year old in the game. And he just turned 27 a month ago! One of the biggest prospect busts of the last decade, Mazara never fulfilled his promise of hitting for average and power, though he has teased many times in many ways. So pardon me if I remain skeptical. Still, the Padres playing time situation has been desperate enough to give him another chance, and I guess he deserves it. He hit .367/.454/.641 with 7 HR in 152 PA in Triple-A, and the 19% K% was far less surprsing than the 14% BB%. I’m guessing that was a fluke and more indicative of pitchers not wanting to throw to him while he was so on fire, but hey, it’s something.
In his tiny sample in the majors, it’s a decent early indication that he’s hitting an 85% contact%, a rate not seen since his exciting rookie year. But already, his mediocre pitch selection seems similar to years past, though he’s taken fewer called strikes as a result of the contact gains. He’s hitting .300 so far and it’s a good sign he has 5 hard-hit balls so far, though I must also note that 50% of his contact has been on the ground, another common problem for him. In the end, I think he might be a slightly improved version of himself, but more or less the same and only valuable for the playing time and run production. In NL-only leagues or 18-team leagues with deep benches, you can role the dice, but I’m not enamored with Nomar nomore.
Tucupita Marcano (2B/OF, Pittsburgh Pirates)
Disclaimer, I’m mostly writing him up because I can say that this week I recommended a Bojack Horseman spinoff, Tuca and Berti. Yes, it was worth the extremely obscure reference, thank you very much. Aside from a fun first name that is also his hometown (Tucupita, Venezuela), Marcano doesn’t offer much intrigue, but the 22-year-old deserves some credit for hitting .276/.364/.552 with 2 HR and 1 SB in his first 35 PA. I was a bit surprised to see such a high OBP but he’s had double-digit walk rates at every stop in the minors so that appears to be a real skill. He also has had double-digit stolen base totals at every level of the minors, though he’s just barely cleared that bar.
He has both plate discipline and good contact skills, with an 82% Contact% and 8% SwStr% but the power is his current weakness and will determine his value. While his hard hit rate is down so far this year, he has two barrels, which is two more than he posted in his larger sample last year. While he’s unlikely to have double-digit pop and may be hard-pressed to even have more than 5 dingers, I always like to bet on young talent holding their own. He’s a fine multi-eligble plug-and-play for solid OBP and a touch of power and two touches of speed for NL-only formats. That’s worth its weight in falafel balls, which is good because I already Tucupita.
Connor Joe (1B/OF, Colorado Rockies)
If anyone sees my preseason prediction that he would be a top 30 OF, they might assume I was Joeking. I was bullish on him to be a Top 30 outfielder this preseason due to his 2021 combo of lots of hard contact, lots of flyballs, lots of contact, and a home park that boosts all of those. And sure, his season line looks fairly decent at .267/.365/.416 with 5 HR and 3 SB. But since his hot start, he’s had a power outage like Con-Ed.
He hasn’t even sniffed his maxEV of 113 mph from 2021, with a more pedestrian 108 mph this year, with a nearly halved 6% barrel% and a drop in HardHit% to just 30%. When you look at Fangraphs hit rates it’s even more alarming, as his Soft% which was a solid 16% has spiked to a terrible 28%, which is higher than his 25% Hard%. He’s also hitting a lot more balls on the ground, with his GB% rate jumping 12 points to 45% this year, which does him no favors in Coors. As much as I’d like to give silver lining by pointing out that he’s making slightly more contact, the increase in weak contact could be due to him making worse contact due to worse swing decisions. Most of his contact gains have come from O-Contact% which has worse outcomes, and he’s swung at more balls and fewer strikes.
He does have a rather high floor as a guy who still has some power and speed with a solid OBP, but the bar for outfielder production is pretty high, and I’d much rather roll with Adolis García, who has a lower ownership rate and more volatility but has double his power and speed output. Of course, I still hope Joe turns it around, but 10-team AVG leagues should breeze past him like Conair. Does this series of name puns shock and frustrate you? Then join the ConGah line!
Eric Hosmer (1B, San Diego Padres)
Yay, it’s okay to hate on him again! I kind of love how the fantasy community has effectively penalized him for being a jerk to a beloved baseball writer Eno Sarris years ago, and I’m glad to have not joined the bandwagon when he got hot. But that was because I felt in my bones and capillaries that it would come right back to where it is now. While his season line of .289 with 4 homers looks decent enough according to the 73% of ESPN leaguers still holding on, they probably took him when he was hitting .400 and have been riding the whole way down… just like me when I decided to buy crypto in October 2021.
Over the past 3 weeks, Hosmer’s hit just .186 with 0, count ’em, 0 HR in 70 AB. As usual, he’s made no under the hood improvements, with a hideous GB% of 58%, a career low 5% Barrel% and a HardHit% of 42% that’s the lowest since 2018. The only notable change he’s made is more pulled balls, with a career-hgh 44% Pull%, but in his case that’s a bad thing, since pulled groundballs have terrible outcomes. Especially at a position as deep as 1B, with interesting options galore, it blows my mind people are sticking with Homsar, captain of the gravy train, and I’d be quick to cut him loose in 12-team formats and some OBP-based 15-teamers as well.
Brandon Marsh (OF, Los Angeles Angels)
He’s playing like Brandon Swamp of Sadness, and he’s engulfing Angels owner Arteax Moreno. Too soon? Marsh was a popular breakout pick despite a lack of surface numbers in 2021, thanks to decent speed and barrel rates. It sure looked like the breakout was upon us in April when he busted out for some early taters and bags, enough to send Adell to say hello to the minors. But over the past 3 weeks, he’s hit just .175 with 0 HR and 0 SB in 57 AB, and even worse this week with an .045 AVG.
It might not look so bad since on the season he’s still hitting .246 with 4 HR and 3 SB, but I’m not optimistic it’s going to get a lot better from here. For one, his 3 SB come with 2 CS, which despite the small sample is not a great success rate to continue to get the green light. In addition, he’s hit the ball weaker this year, with a 6% barrel rate and 37% HardHit% well below his 2021 11% Barrel% and 52% HardHit%. While a 37% HardHit% might seem decent enough, also consider he’s striking out over 30% of the time, and you probably realize this is someone who will disappoint in just about every asset of his game this year. Maybe we need to replace him with Randy Marsh.
Gavin Sheets (1B/OF, Chicago White Sox)
I really wanted to like him going into this year. Huge guy who hit 11 HR in a moment. 90% Z-Contact%. Potential playing time opportunity. What could go wrong? Well, he certainly got an opportunity. And another one. And another one. And for one week in which he popped four homers, it looked like he was finally waking up… and then Sheets went back under the covers.
He’s hit just .175 with no homers over 40 AB the past 3 weeks, and just 1 for 9 this week. It’s not just bad luck either, as his Statcast slider page is bluer than my tongue after eating a firecracker pop (with a few hints of red). With Vaughn back and hitting, Pollock back and finally looking to round into form and Eloy about a week away, his opportunity will finally come to a end. I felt like a genius for betting on him early, but I ended up feeling like Professor Frink with a serious dose of pain in the Glavin Sheets.
Feature image by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter) / Photography by Gregory Fisher & Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire
Sheets to AAA today.
Thank you for the fun read, and good perspective. I appreciate your writing.