Welcome back to Buy & Sell, where today’s theme is “Middle Infielder Mania”! There’s just so much talent at the position, so much that it numbs the pain somewhat of my failed (or potentially failed) calls of cutting Jake Cronenworth and Javier Baez and probably some other J names (not Jazz, I swear!). This list is for once almost exclusively getting hyped about players 25 and younger, thanks to the post-hype prospect phenomenon which I really wish I had taken advantage of more in my keeper leagues. But as they say, better late than Nevin. On to the List!
It’s time. O’Neil was done dirty by the Pirates despite wowing everyone in Spring Training for the obvious contract reasons, but now he’s up and is likely the most impactful minor-league call-up this season. In his first game, he set team bests for exit velocity, sprint speed, and throwing velocity, which just goes to show what a natural adonis the 6’7 shortstop is. In terms of raw tools, he’s right up there with Ohtani. But the one remaining concern is his strikeout rate, since plate discipline and contact are tough when you’re that huge. Perhaps better than Ohtani is an offensive upside comp from 2021: Tyler Oneil Cruz.
He had a rough start in Triple-A, and in the end hit .232 with 9 HR and 11 SB in 247 PA, but with a solid 12% BB% and 23% K%. But So far in his cup of coffee (or more like a few drops of espresso), he’s hit .333 with 1 SB, 2 R, 5 RBI, and his first SB in only 9 AB. More encouraging is his 11% K%, and while his 80% Contact% suggests it will rise, his 11% O-Swing% suggests this time around he’ll improve on his 50% O-Swing% last year.
Yes, the sample is microscopic, but this also jibes with the double-digit walk rates in the minors. If he’s still unowned in your league or one of the 60% of ESPN leagues in which he’s still available, your leaguemates are simply not very good, and they should pay for it when you pick him up. In a trade, I’d buy while you still can in all leagues, and watch your team Cruz to the finish line.
Luis Arráez (1B/2B/3B/OF, Minnesota Twins)
He’s always so darn consistent that there always seems to be someone else more “intriguing” to write about, but therein lies the intrigue of Arráez. Several projections predicted to win the batting crown entering the year and he hasn’t disappointed, leading the MLB with a splendid .355/.433/.449 line with 4 HR and 2 SB in 245 PA. That power and speed output blows past what he did in the last two seasons combined and matches his output in his breakthrough rookie campaign (366 PA).
Arráez has been so consistent that contact hitters with no power are often called “Arráez types” or “Arráez-esque”, but this year he is ready to prove his power should not be underestimated. Sort of. He reached a new apex in MaxEV, drilling one 107 mph, and while his HardHit% is steady at 30%, his Barrel Rate of 4% and avg eV of 89 mph are all-time highs. Now that’s nothing special to many of baseball’s hitters, but I think it’s fairly meaningful for a player with his superlative contact skills. It seems it may be somewhat by design, as he’s increased his pull% to a career-high 32% (by 3%), which may not seem like a lot still, and it isn’t but for him, it adds up. He pulled all of his home runs this year, and as a lefty can take advantage of teams like the Yankees and Red Sox stadiums.
It’s easy to point at his .307 xBA (like that’s so terrible) as a sign that he’s doomed to regress, but I think that reflects a fundamental lack of understanding of xStats, especially for this year. While all of his improvements are tiny if insignificant, he’s such a professional hitter that just a tweak or two that could make him continue a .330 10 HR 5 SB pace makes him a must-own in 12-team formats, especially given his multi-position eligibility.
To witness a rookie debut like this at age 21 and discount it as “just lucky” is an act of Harrisy. While his debut came with surprisingly little fanfare, he’s made the opposition look like a funfair with how he’s knocking out clowns. He’s hitting .345/.375/.571 with 3 HR and 2 SB in 88 PA, and even amidst a formidable Braves lineup, and even though he’s often the #9 hitter, hitting in front of Ronald Acuña makes up for some of the lost ABs.
Now, it is true that he’s outperforming his expected stats, and one look at his mediocre strikeout (20% K%) and walk rates (3%) makes that less than surprising. He’s a wild swinger with a 43% O-Swing% and doesn’t make contact at a great rate with just a 74% Contact% and an 81% Z-Contact%. So I see potential further downside for his 3% BB% once his .413 BABIP balloon pops. Still, his splendid sprint speed should allow him to leg out many hits, and he also has surprising power for such a young speedster. He’s rocking a formidable 9% Barrel% and 44% HardHit% validated by a strong 109 mph MaxEV.
One could argue that given his luck-cushioned batting average, he’s more of a sell, but that would require that other leaguemates even somewhat believe in that. Currently, he’s rostered still in under 30% of ESPN leagues, so while he’s already been snagged in all 15-team formats I think if he’s still on your wire in 10-team and 12-team formats he’s at least worth a stream while he’s this hot. After all, any 21-year-old who can make the adjustments to succeed at the majors so far is probably capable of anything.
He’s Paredy for action. I actually recommended him as a 15-team league add back in May, noting that he was making a concerted effort to transform his elite contact/minimal power approach into one that yields more home runs. Well, after seeing him hit a 3-homer game (which certainly was not on my 2022 baseball bingo card) it seems like that’s working!
Up until this point, he had been pretty hard to roster, with a batting average tap dancing on the Mendoza line despite the occasional spurts of power. But I think his power alone gives him the ability to be an asset thanks to his 2B/3B eligibility, especially considering what a wasteland both positions have been in fantasy (3B even moreso). While his previous career barrel% was just 1% with a weak 26% HardHit% he’s Zyzzed up to an 8% Barrel% and 40% HardHit% this year in his new digs. Although his average eV has remained surprisingly low at just 85 mph, I’m encouraged by his new MaxEV of 110 mph, which is a full 4 ticks over his 2021 MaxEV of 106 mph, raising his power ceiling.
He’s basically pulling a Bregman (not this year’s crappy version, mind you) and making up for mediocre raw power by working the percentages and hitting a ton of flyballs, with a whopping 52% in the air. His HR/FB% of 21% still seems a fair deal inflated, but I think he can still hit plenty of taters with a rate of around 15%. I do also think his 7% LD% should improve somewhat to make him less of a batting average liability, as a .159 BABIP seems unlucky even for someone with this approach. He may end the year somewhat similar to what we typically expect out of former Tiger Jonathan Schoop, with enough power to make up for his other offensive (and defensive) shortcomings. He’s underrated in deeper 12-team OBP formats in need of a utility bat, and yes I’d drop Justin Turner for him.
I initially wanted to write him up as a sell, because no, I don’t think this batting average is sustainable. But at the same time, no one really does, but he’s been so great that he’s worth adding in leagues where he continues to be ignored. He’s still only rostered in 9% of ESPN leagues, and it’s likely in part due to his mediocre 2021 performance. For this year, however, he’s hitting a debonair .329/.341/.463 with 2 HR in 85 AB. Not bad for a 22-year-old. Wait, he’s twenty-two?
That’s right, and it’s pretty crazy the whole league gave up on a 21-year-old who couldn’t repeat a stronger performance in his age-20 debut. Not everyone can be Juan Soto. If he were still a prospect and this was his debut, he’d be busting through FAAB budgets from the jump. What really intrigues me is that he’s showing signs of being a lot more than the “limited power” guy from years past. The biggest sign is a fantastic 113 mph MaxEV, which is just below George Springer and just above… Juan Soto. While some of his other power metrics are strong, with a 45% HardHit% and a .517 xSLG, he needs to lift the ball more than his current launch angle of 4 degrees to take advantage, which is why he has a ho-hum 6% Barrel%.
But wait, why did I consider writing him as a sell? Because his plate skills have been uglier than people realize. He’s been a below-average contact hitter with just 71% Contact% which doesn’t pair well with a ghastly 48% O-Swing%. When you see a .329 AVG, you probably don’t expect to see an 18% Swinging Strike Rate. So long story short, I think he’ll need to make big adjustments to continue his success, but I still think he’s an upgrade over many of the other 2B options being picked over him. I’d add in 15-team batting average leagues, but with a 1% walk rate, I’m holding off in OBP.
We nave a new Silent Cal in town, and this one isn’t a US president who rode a mechanical horse for exercise. Raleigh has quietly been one of the most improved and underrated hitters of the past month or so, and perhaps the biggest reason it’s been quiet is that his batting average still beings with a 1. But he’s actually been one of the most improved hitters (by expected wOBA) in the MLB over the past 100 PA. He’s now hitting .185/.274/.429 with 8 HR in 135 AB and starting to fulfill at least some of the offensive promise he showed in a fantastic minors campaign last year. in which he hit .324/.377/.608 with 9 HR in 199 PA in Triple-A with a 13% prior to his call-up.
So the weird thing is that his strikeout rate must have been a PCL mirage in the minors because that low minors K rate has regressed completely, somewhat similar to what happened to Luis Torrens last year. Still, 30% K% is far more workable than the 35% mark from last year, and it’s trending in the right direction with the power blossoming. In Raleigh has the power to make it work, with a strong Barrel% of 13% that’s nearly double his previous rate of 7%, and an excellent HardHit% of 48%. It’s been a tale of monthly splits, as his wRC+ went from a horrific 33 in March/April to 76 in May to a fantastic 167 in June. He also has the best K% this month of just 21%, which is also 20% lower than his 41% K% in May.
He was previously expected to have the bat to make it as a 20+ HR regular catcher, and I think he’s finally adjusting to make that a reality. In trading leagues, his early struggles and the fact that he’s not scorching hot right now makes him a great buy-low catcher in 15-team AVG, where I think he is more likely to outperform expectations than OBP formats.
From a standpoint of performance alone, he probably deserves to be higher than the deep league section, but he’s teased me so many times he could join a burlesque show. He’s hitting .333/.390/.528 in the early going with 3 HR in 82 PA, and has a chance to carve out regular playing time the rest of the way. While his MaxEV hasn’t changed, he’s had a huge early jump in his barrel rate, with an 11% Barrel% that’s over triple his career barrel rate.
While I initially assumed this to be just a small sample size fluke, there’s a compelling narrative that makes me reconsider. He actually has thus far improved his plate discipline substantially, which has helped him make more in-zone contact, which has led to better batted ball outcomes. His Chase Rate of 26% isn’t just a career-best, it’s 10 points lower than his 36% career mark, and his 90% Z-Contact% is also a career-best (career 84%). The only downside is he’s achieved this discipline by also swinging at fewer strikes, leading to a career-worst 18% Called Strike%.
I think Arcia, unlike Luis García, is still available in many deeper leagues at just 6% rostered, and while he’s not the spring chicken that Arcia is, he’s still surprisingly just 27 and can certainly be an asset in 15-team leagues, and now may also be usable in both AVG and OBP leagues. In fact, I think I might take Arcia over García right now.
Here comes the Bride, dressed in Green and White, but you hope the groom isn’t as desperate as this Athletics team. Bride is hitting a solid .286/.310/.321 in 28 PA yet doesn’t have a single run or RBI to show for it. As a 26-year-old with little power in his minor league campaigns, there’s not much to hope for in that department, but he could succeed and be an Arráez Type (NO I SAID I WOULDN”T SAY IT!).
He has an elite 91% Contact% as well as a 5% SwStr% that at least allows him to put the ball in play, something not enough Oakland hitters do and is rather advantageous in such a spacious ballpark. While it’s too early to judge too much from his max eV, the fact that it’s 103 mph suggests his main asset will be utility qualifications, and in some leagues, has one such qualification that makes him unique… qualifying at catcher. While he hasn’t played catcher in the minors, he was drafted as a catcher and played 10 games there this year. After so many injuries this week, if you’re just looking for a guy who you can plug in to keep your team from sinking, take Bride for a ride, and hope he doesn’t hit too many tin can-o-corns.
Even with a Time-Turner, you can’t restore Turner’s old magic. I was tempted to say to jump ship back in May, but nothing in the numbers suggested a decline (similar to Whit Merrifield) but I held on too long and am now paying the price. At least Merrifield though is still stealing a few bags. Turner still has a lousy .212/.287/.342 line with 4 HR in 261 AB, and at that point you may realize that there’s a chance he stays healthy and still doesn’t reach 10 homers. Maybe Arráez finishes with more than him!
Still, under the hood, it’s hard to know where to point the blame. His 9% BB% and 17% K% were similar to last year, so you may assume his Statcast numbers collapsed. Not exactly. They did go down some, but his 7% Barrel% is just a half-tick from last year, and his MaxEV of 109 mph is also well within career norms. His HardHit% is down 5% to 37%, but he’s had that in past years. His Chase Rate is a career-worst 31%, but he still has a strong 81% Contact% and 24% CSW% as a result of increased aggressiveness. Statcast also thinks he’s deserved better with a .250 xBA and .437 xSLG, which is far from world-beating but at least passable. So what gives?
Well, I don’t know. It might just be that he’s 37, and sometimes in fantasy baseball, it pays to be a little bit ageist. Granted, for years it paid in the opposite direction for the perenially-underrated redhead, but I also think that it’s nearly a half-season now, and the Dodgers are in a race so tight Machado is pretending his ankle is okay. Do you really think the Dodgers of all teams won’t make up a mysterious injury and replace him with an upgrade? I’m officially out in all 10-teams, and probably most 12-team leagues with shallow benches.
Commend yourself for not getting all mixed up with all of these Luis, with an Arráez and an Urías, and then there’s Arcia and García. I know the eligibility is important, but it really doesn’t matter if he can’t hit at three positions. He’s hitting just .155/.222/.259 with 1 HR in 63 PA, and the 22 strikeouts to 5 walks over that span is certainly not encouraging.
While he’s still just 25, he hasn’t shown any signs of continued growth this year, with an 8% Barrel% and 31% HardHit% that’s 8% lower than last year. Then again, prospect growth isn’t linear, and after such a big power breakout, perhaps it’s not a surprise he regressed a good deal. Still, it’s at least encouraging that his 110 mph maxEV, while lower than last year, is still better than previous years.
More than the power, his biggest problem thus far has been passivity at the plate, as his Z-swing% declined from 69% to just 60%, and he’s allowing a terrible 22% Called Strike%. So long-term, I have hope for him. Short term, I think there are plenty of other better hitters on the wire, so it’s rather laughable that he’s still rostered in 53% of ESPN leagues. Cut in 12-team AVG and OBP formats, and I’d consider cutting in 15-team AVG formats, you’d be surprised how much better the alternatives are once you open Urías.
This is the last Straw-rostering I’ll do. I noticed early there were signs of decline but when I couldn’t find a trade partner for him I held, and I regret holding him even more than crypto. Despite opportunities for ample playing time, he’s proving to be yet another example of why rabbits can’t be trusted. He certainly couldn’t reproduce his 2021 power, which this year has been for babies with a 105 max eV and a 0.5 Barrel%, and I usually prefer using whole numbers but when it’s that low it’s just misleading.
Paper Straw’s falling apart with a .143/.200/.171 line over the past 3 weeks, with only 2 SB over that span, and no SB over the past 2 weeks. Meanwhile, waiver wire pickup Jon Berti nearly doubled his SB output in about three weeks. Long story short, you’d likely be better off cycling between speedy randos on your waiver wire than you will be sticking with him, and hopefully, the Guardians realize a similar reality for their roster. Cut in all 15-team leagues, yes you too OBP leagues. He’s infecting your team, that’s why straw backwards is warts.
Feature image by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter) / Photography by Randy Litzinger / Icon Sportswire