Welcome back to Buy & Sell, where this week’s theme is a horn of plenty of prospects. Not necessarily premier prospects, but plenty of passable prospects to peruse. Some have made immediate impacts, while some are more of long-term assets, but I think there’s no foul in rolling the dice on these to see if they live up to our expectations before either keeping them or tossing them for the next new shiny new toy. I do have reason to believe in all of these guys, but sometimes it feels like day trading, which arguably could be less effective than just putting your money in an index fund and doing nothing. But I think if living off the waiver wire leaves you worse for the wear, at least it’s fun, and it’s not like you can buy stock in Mike Trout. As far as I know, anyway, it’s a weird world out there. On to the list!
Christopher Morel (2B/OF, Chicago Cubs)
When it’s June and you spy a rookie Cub who’s a buy, that’s a-Morel. He has certainly impressed in his age-22 debut, hitting .283/.387/.491 in 61 PA, with 2 HR and a downright feisty 5 SB in 7 attempts. It’s rare to see rookies be this aggressive out of the gate, and he was solid but not spectacular in this regard in the minors. as he stole 18 last year in 456 PA last year and 3 in 122 Double-A PA this year.
I tend to be cautious, some will even say skeptical about trusting prospects, especially in a 10-team format from the jump, so this may seem surprising. After all, Morel is hardly the most highly regarded prospect. That being said, while it’s early, I think there are a few reasons he’s worth the plunge. One is that he’s already displayed excellent power and speed. His outstanding Max eV of 113 mph is frankly surprising given he wasn’t exactly a minors masher, and that 91st percentile raw pop gives optimism that his 5% barrel rate should improve. And his wheels seem legit as his Sprint Speed is 93rd percentile.
But WAIT, there’s Morel! He also qualifies at multiple positions, having already surpassed 5 games at second base and outfield. In some leagues such as Yahoo, he may also qualify at 3B, in which he’s played 4 games in the minors and 3 in the MLB, and for single-game eligibility, he’s also a shortstop. Being eligible all around the diamond is super useful even when it doesn’t come with power and speed, and on a rather hopeless Cubs team he should get plenty of run to play… and to run. The upside makes him worth grabbing in all leagues as a stash/utility bat given the juicy combo of 20/20 upside and versatility. So if he’s on your wire still, nab him now, Morel of the story. Yes, I know I triple-dipped on the name puns, but if you read all this instead of dropping everything to add him immediately, that’s on you.
Christian Walker (1B, Arizona Diamondbacks)
There are so many interesting rookie debuts! And then there’s this guy, who has been a beast despite hitting just .208, and nobody seems to care. At least not in ESPN leagues, where he is just 29% rostered, even after a week in which he hit .316 with 2 more jacks. The 13 homers are what are carrying his numbers, but reality is slowly catching up to his turbo-charged peripherals under the hood. While I don’t rely too heavily on xBA this year, the fact that his xBA is .280 rather than .208 is significant, and he could be a league-winner, and not only that, but I think he’s in for a career a year… at least relative to the run environment
See, he’s really boosted his entire plate game this year, with a career-best chase rate with a 26% O-Swing%. While I don’t love that he’s also cut his Z-Swing% to make it possible, perhaps this has helped him find the best strikes to hit, as he’s also sporting a career-best in-zone contact rate at 89%, significantly better than his 83% career rate. And he’s not shortening his power swing to do it either, with a 15% Barrel% that is superior to his barrel% in his peak 2019 rabbit ball season in which he hit .259 with 29 HR and 8 SB.
Now, I don’t think he’ll steal 8 bases again, as he is currently on pace for… well, 0. But I think that the offensive environment might have a pendulum swing with the humidors and Walker’s profile can certainly benefit. While his xSLG of .626 may seem extreme, I wouldn’t be surprised if his ROS production is closer to that (and the .280 xBA) than the still-excellent .480 he’s posted thus far. Even if you have a stud 1B, he should at least be in every team’s corner or utility slot, especially in OBP formats.
Patrick Wisdom (3B/OF, Chicago Cubs)
That you should be instantly skeptical of any strong performance in spite of a terribly high K rate and low BB rate is common wisdom. But Patrick is an uncommon Wisdom. He’s been mashing potatoes over the past 2 weeks, hitting .292 with 5 taters in 48 fries- I mean tries. He was a popular bust pick and I can’t blame the logic given that 29-year-old journeymen who break out like that don’t often repeat, and if you don’t believe me, just ask Danny Santana or Eric Haase. So let’s appreciate what he’s done this year, which is quietly amazing.
I thought it was impossible, but he’s actually added to his power last year. His amazing Barrel% of 18% and HardHit% 57% are even higher than his barrel% of 16% and HardHit% of 51% last year. So clearly last year was not a fluke, but the first chapter. But the thing that makes me far more optimistic is that he’s now improved his previously-awful contact to merely mediocre. Which is great! His Z-contact% has jumped from 72% to 77%, fueling an overall contact% gain from 62% to 66%. Sure, that’s still 5th worst among qualified MLB hitters, but it’s similar to other productive mashers like Stanton and Suarez, and I think Wisdom needs to start being considered far closer to that echelon. Wisdom also has the rare and extremely useful 3B/OF eligibility and a safe spot in the heart of the Cubs lineup. It will likely take a toll on your mental health, but in 12-team AVG and OBP leagues, don’t extract Wisdom from your lineup.
Alejandro Kirk (C, Toronto Blue Jays)
Yes, I did write about Danny Jansen, his competition last week. So what, I can play two against each other. Captain Kirk has earned his keep even if he rocks the defense and speed one would expect from a catcher with an Astudillo ‘Tortuga’ bod. Kirk quietly put up an excellent barrel rate and contact rate this year, and he’s showing this year he can keep growing. He’s made big improvements in his already elite plate skills, with a 26% O-Swing%, and an 88% contact% up from 82% last year. With his combo of patience and power, his 5% Swinging Strike rate is 7th in baseball between José Ramírez and Mookie Betts. In other words, he’s a first-rounder, obviously.
One reason I hesitated to target him early was that he seemed to be sacrificing power for contact, something Austin Meadows and Eric Haase can vouch is not necessarily wise. But that pop has come back around, and not just because of a two-homer game on Tuesday. Sure, his Barrel% is down nearly half to 6%, but he’s still hitting the ball hard enough with a 40% rate, and topped his previous career-high exit velocity with 110 mph. I think the combination of elite contact and above-average pop can help him be Michael Brantley at the catcher position. Given he’s sporting a .302 AVG, something rarely seen at catcher, I’d pounce in 12-team AVG and OBP formats.
Oscar Gonzalez (OF, Cleveland Guardians)
Gonzalez is the frontrunner nominee to win Best Cleveland Outfielder, and I think he’ll win the Oscar. The 24-year-old is having a sizzling debut, hitting ..429 in 21 PA, but given he doesn’t have any homers or stolen bases yet and wasn’t a top prospect, not everyone has noticed him yet. But O-Gon should fix that in short time.
Across 2 levels of the minors last year, the free-swinging Gonzalez hit 31 HR, but still was released (and then re-signed with Cleveland) since his strikeout rate and lack of discipline made it seem likely that he didn’t have much of an MLB future. Well, this year in his second go-round, he considerably improved on this, hitting .282 with 9 HR in 182 PA (similar ISO to last year), but with a much-improved K rate of 14% (from 25% in 2021). In the majors, he’s showing it’s a real skill improvement with a strong 80% contact% and 89% Z-contact%. But the power is the big ticket, already hitting an awesome 113 mph Max eV that is 92nd percentile in baseball. And although it’s not part of his game (yet, anyway), he also has a 92nd percentile sprint speed.
Cleveland’s strategy this year seems to be to roll with rookies until they lose their luster, and he’s certainly shining brighter than Kwan or Mercado, and I think all he needs to do is convert that crazy exit velocity to barrels. But I think it’s bound to happen, as he’s sporting an excellent 56% HardHit% and 95 mph average eV, with a launch angle of 6 that has been starting to trend upwards. ZIPS’ 3-year projections has a full season projection for him hitting .264 with 22 HR and 2 SB, and I think he can at least produce at that pace with potential untapped SB upside. He’s a fine buy in 15-team Average leagues, but I’d leave him in the bin for OBP formats since when it comes to chase rate, he’s an Oscar the slouch.
Michael Harris II (OF, Atlanta Braves)
I forgot all about Harris II because I was too busy looking at Hassell III. I never saw the originals but I doubt we’ll be disappointed by the sequels. Harris is exciting in his own right, as a 21-year-old who hit .294 with 7 HRs and stole 27 bags last year in High-A. This year he was arguably even better, hitting .305 with 5 HR and 11 SB in 196 PA. While speed is his calling card, I’m impressed that he didn’t miss a beat in the far more challenging Double-A, with a nearly identical BB and K rate, and more power with a .201 ISO that’s a big jump from the .142 ISO last year and gives plenty of cause for optimism for a career as a speedy-above regular.
Of course, we can’t be sure he’s ready yet. I don’t really care that he’s hit just .154 with no extra-base hits in his first 13 PA, but I’m not so impressed yet with his 70% contact rate. Then again, it’s too early to judge it, and it’s likely a result of his aggressiveness, with an extreme 82% Z-Swing% and 45% O-Swing%. He’ll need to dial it back before pitchers take advantage, but I’m encouraged by his quality of contact with 4 hard-hit balls already. While normally I’d say it’s a bad thing nearly all of his contact has been into the ground, it can help him in fantasy to maintain a high average which will yield more SB opportunity, which frankly is why we’re here. He should at least be held for a few weeks in 15-team leagues in serious need of speed, and he could potentially provide production parallel to Morel. Take as a spec add or stream in 15-team, but monitor in all leagues.
Nick Plummer (OF, New York Mets)
I need to constantly remind myself that despite their similarity in height and name, he is in no way related to Nick Swisher. Toilet humor aside, nobody expected jack of him, but he’s been a royal flush. He hit two homers in the most clutch fashion most rookies could experience, making him a legend not unlike Rowdy Tellez‘s big rookie year. Given that he’s nearly 26, I wanted to assume this is a nice story he can tell his friends in Triple-A, but perhaps it’s too early to write him off.
Last year he hit .279 with 15 HR and 13 SB across two levels, which is nothing to write home about considering age relative to league and his strikeout rate well above 20%. This year, he hit 6 HR with 2 SB in 99 PA in Triple-A, though oddly he cut his walk rate in half to just 6% with an ugly 27% K%. So why even consider him? Well, he did land a great max eV already of 113 mph, which is instantly meaningful. Less meaningful is that thus far has kept the ball off the ground with a 17% GB% (again, small sample warning). He could be a fun boom-bust pick in 15-team formats in need of a dream, but I’m not cutting anyone I like for him, though he’s a fine deep league add as the hero status may keep Plummer swinging the hot pipe.
Josh Smith (3B/SS/OF, Texas Rangers)
Hey, I found someone better than Joey Gallo! That wasn’t hard. Smith was part of the four-player package sent from the Yankees that for once made Cashman seem to be a mortal who also makes embarassing mistakes, and while Smith was one of the least heralded pieces, he can still make a big impact. He had a night to remember in his first game, going 3-for-4, and pinch-nabbed a base on Tuesday.
The 24-year-old was a top 100 prospect entering the year, ranking at #89 on the Fangraphs Top 100 prospect list this year, and has encountered an opportunity at playing time after hitting .273 with 4 HR and 8 SB in 191 PA in Triple-A… and more importantly, Andy Ibáñez being really, really bad. I don’t really think Smith has impact power or speed, but could put up a solid performance along the lines of Owen Miller or Santiago Espinal as a guy does a little of everything without doing anything that well. Well, there lies the intrigue, since he has useful 3B/SS/OF eligibility. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get semi-regular run so he’s worth rolling with in all AL-only and as a bench bat in 18-team leagues.
Javier Báez (2B/SS, Detroit Tigers)
I predicted he’d fall apart when he signed with my beloved Tigers, and I wish I could say this was just Confirmation Baez. Everyone seems to be assuming that Baez is just doing his thing with the early slump and will be fine by the end of the season as he always is. I think that’s a gambler’s fallacy combined with a lukewarm potato. He’s still rostered in 74% of ESPN leagues, which I would argue is about 64% too many, and also why I turned heads when I traded him for Jorge Mateo in the Pitcher List Legacy League this week. Extreme, yes. Stupid, probably. Can I explain, I’ll try.
See, Baez has always had terrible plate discipline, but at least it was mostly consistently terrible and compensated for with excellent contact quality. Until last year, that is. He had a career-worst 47% O-Swing% and 62% Contact%, which combined to give him a 21% Swinging Strike% that was worst in the majors, but that and his 34% K% were forgiven thanks to 31 HR and 19 SB. This year, it’s gotten even worse, with a worst-in-MLB 50% O-Swing%, and yet he’s swinging at strikes at just 72%, his lowest rate since 2016. Meanwhile, the contact rate has stayed at that terrible 62% level, and while more of the contact is in the zone, you wouldn’t know it from his results. And here’s the kicker, he’s not hitting the ball hard anymore.
Sure, power can come in a hurry, just ask Trevor Story. But Baez is a different player who needs extremely good contact to survive, and his power has never been this depleted since before his breakout in 2017. Given his Max eV last year was 117 mph (which helped compensate for the contact decline), this year his max is a mere 111 mph, which would be the worst of his career, and that is alarming. In addition, his 7% Barrel% and 33% HardHit% are his worst marks since 2017. He’s showing no signs of turnaround either, hitting .167 with 1 HR, 2 RBI, 0 SB, and a 19/1 K/BB in 72 AB the past 3 weeks. And about that… he hasn’t stolen ONE base! His sprint speed also plummeted over a foot per second as he’s gone from the 93rd fastest player to the 173rd fastest. He should be cut in all 10-team formats and 12-team OBP formats, you just haven’t come to terms with it yet.
Yuli Gurriel (1B, Houston Astros)
Sure, he might not hit for power, but he’s a safe bet for batting average, right? …RIGHT? No one is safe. He’s been ice cold, as opposed to the rest of the season when he’s just been slushy cold, hitting .136 with 0 HR in 44 AB the past 2 weeks and .218/.257/.358 for the season. Given his late arrival to the league, it’s easy to forget that he’s about to turn 38, which is when many a good hitter not named Nelson Cruz craps out, and while he’s crushed rumors of his demise before, this one doesn’t look exaggerated.
For one, his already middling power is down across the board, which could be the equivalent of Kyle Hendricks losing a tick of velocity on his fastball. His average exit velocity, which has been amazingly consistent at 89-90 mph his entire career, is down to 86 mph, part in parcel with a career-low 106 mph maxEV, 34% HardHit% and 2% Barrel%. But it’s the elite contact carrying tool that has really started to finally crack, with a career-worst 27% CSW%. Granted, it’s largely from allowing more called strikes, but his contact% and O-Swing% are still the worst they’ve been in years. The Astros have a glut of talent and they may not stick with him much longer at this rate, and given the depth of the position, why should you? Cut in all 12-team leagues as well as 15-team OBP formats.
Mike Moustakas (3B, Cincinnati Reds)
I was just in Athens this weekend and across from my hotel was a toy store named Moustakas, so naturally, I searched there for Mike’s offensive game. But it wasn’t there either. He’s hit just .074/.265/.074 with 0 HR in 27 AB the past 14 days and is starting to lose any semblance of regular playing time despite their roster mistakes.
Sure, he has big “upside” as a flyball hitter in the bandbox, and his strikeout and walk rates don’t look far off from the past 2 years. Then again, he’s been quite lousy both those years, flirting with the Mendoza line with negligible power. And this year it’s even weaker, with a puny 29% HardHit% and career-worst 4% Barrel%. He seems to be trying to save himself by trying to hit more homers, with an extreme flyball rate of 53%, which should further punish his batting average. Drop in all 15-team leagues, because I hate to tell his manager, but his Moose is cooked.
Feature image by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter) / Photography by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire
Good stuff, well written. Thanks.
Thanks, Chuckles Tiddlesworth!
watch out for Morel’s bad contact rate… <75% zone contact is more than 10% below league average, and even worse than former cubbie Javier Baez. It's highly likely Morel is just on a hot streak this year after never being very good in the minors. Morel strikes me as Javier Baez-very-light: the exit velo may fuel some hot streaks, but be ready for some long cold streaks.
Great point, Mario! Yeah I noticed that when writing him up and it is cause for concern, to be sure. There’s definitely batting average downside, though it’s still a bit early to panic. His overall contact of 71% is okay and while Z-Contact% is more important, it takes longer to stabilize. Given his minors track record, he could continue with the moderate power and great speed while hitting .230, which is what projections systems are calling for. Still a great stream for the raw tools and speed, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to flip him for a proven plus player if someone is all aboard the hype train.
Great stuff Ben! 12 Team H2H 6×6 OPS Daily Redraft
d’Arnaud or Kirk ROS? Also, I currently roster Teoscar and Bo. If Kirk, your thoughts on stacking those 3 Jays.
Thanks in advance for your feedback
I’m leaning Kirk ROS, especially with William Contreras likely siphoning some AB from D’Arnaud and his injury history. Just note Kirk may still not play quite everyday unless the bat stays hot.
I still believe in the Jays stack, though I’m less bullish on Teoscar to continue his 20-21 level of success. The team should improve substantially in the coming months
C. Walker or Tellez ROS?
I think it’s close enough that it can depend on if it’s OBP or average. Average leagues I’d probably lean Tellez, for OBP give a slight edge to Walker.