Welcome to this week’s Buy & Sell, where this week’s theme is: It’s the All-Star Break, and nobody’s paying attention! That’s the only way I can explain how a team in my TGFBI league bid 222 on Vidal Brujan, only for his bid to be uncontested! There have been some quieter but exciting call-ups that savvy owners like you can swoop in on if your league mates are distracted or starting to mail it in. Note that this is now a buy low sell high advice column, but just suggested hot players that are worth adding and cold ones worth dropping. On to the list!
A.J. Pollock (OF, Los Angeles Dodgers)
Pollock is a boring fish, but it doesn’t mean it’s also a boring baseball player (Mike Trout and Tim Salmon echo this sentiment). He’s been hitting an explosive .391 with 4 HR in 23 AB over the past week and hitting .316 with 6 HR in 38 AB the last two weeks, raising his season line to a hearty .271/.332/.518 with 12 HR and 2 SB in 199 AB. The 33-year-old was one of my favorite offseason sleepers as most wrote off his power gains as a fluke, but he’s made real lasting batted ball improvement the past couple of years and can chip in 25 to 30 total home runs. He may only end up with 1 or 2 SB, but I think he has the skills to be a solid hitter for both average and power, much like Anthony Santander did in 2020. Of course, a big difference is that instead of Baltimore, Pollock has the amazing Dodgers’ lineup giving him lots of extra run production as long as he can stay on the field. In 10-team batting average formats, Stick with Pollock, and you’ll be crying Holy Mackerel.
Max Kepler (OF, Minnesota Twins)
Kepler is like the green beans almandine at a Thanksgiving dinner; He’s less appealing than the other options, but you probably wish you had more of him when the other options give you the inevitable stomachache. His early struggles were almost entirely BABIP-based, and now his luck is starting to even out, as he’s hitting .316 with 4 HR over 38 AB over the past two weeks. Of course, many will still overlook him thanks to his season batting average of .222, but with his 10 HR and 7 SB (0 caught stealing), I think there’s still a great chance to buy relatively low. He’s striking out more than ever at 22%, but it’s likely an intentional choice as it comes with a career-best barrel% of 11% and 46% HardHit%, and I think this transformation will help him reach the next level offensively. With his surprising stolen base success rate, I think a .250 25/15 final season line is well within reach, and he may yet outproduce more hyped names like Austin Meadows going forward. He’s a must-add in 10-team OBP and all 12-team formats.
Andrew Vaughn (1B/OF, Chicago White Sox)
Vaughn is known for playing the lead role alongside the Tony LaRussa movie “How to Ruin a Rookie in 10 Months,” but maybe it’s a story with a happy ending. He’s been hitting a scorching hot .395 with 4 HR in 43 AB over the past 2 weeks, which raises his season line to a rather palatable .253/.320/.451 with 10 HR in 241 AB. While that 20 HR pace doesn’t jump off the page, there are many signs that the true power breakout is imminent. Despite his slow start, on the season he has a 50% HardHit% as well as a 115 Max exit velocity while also sporting a healthy barrel rate. The big question is playing time, and while it may seem like a slam dunk to play him every day, the hot performances of his teammates mean he may still be on the carousel. So while he’s a much better play in daily and matchup plays, he’s a solid add for 12-teamers looking for a player who can really take off. Depending on your risk tolerance, you very well may want to swap these two for my 10-teamer recommendations, but I can’t go there until he’s getting regular reps. While we’ve all been worse off with less Vaughn, maybe soon we’ll see big power with mo’ Vaughn.
Vidal Brujan (2B/SS/OF, Tampa Bay Rays)
You need some eye of bat for a Witches’ Bru. Well, he does have a great batting eye, hitting .259/.344/.471 with 9 HR and 15 SB in 216 Triple-A at-bats, though the line hides that he started the minor league season gangbusters and cooled off in the summer months. Some argue he has more present-day fantasy upside than Wander Franco due to his game-changing speed combined with burgeoning power that has some comparing him to an Adalberto Mondesi, who doesn’t get hurt and knows how to take a walk. Unfortunately, working against him is the fact that he’s in a playing time logjam in Tampa (at least unless they make some trade deadline deals), so he may only play 3-4 days a week unless he gets really hot. And you may as well roster a British Hairdresser if he ends up in a Vidal Platoon. I know, I’m really going on a limb to find a crossover of baseball and fashion humor, but I’m willing to lose most of you to win over a few of you.
Adam Engel (OF, Chicago White Sox)
He’s making me look at things from a whole new Engel. I’m glad I rostered him in most leagues after the Eaton DFA, as he’s now hitting .286/.340/.690 with 5 HR and 2 SB in 42 AB. He’s improved every season in the majors, and if you don’t think that’s significant, here are his wRC+ from 2017 until now: 39, 68, 83, 122, 173. You’ve come a long way, kid. This year he’s rocking a great 14% barrel rate in a small sample (more than double his previous career-best), but there’s more fueling my Engel hype train than just that. What has me most intrigued is his continually improving contact rate, now at a career-best 79%, a considerable improvement from his 67% mark in 2017. His discipline is still poor with a career-worst 42% O-Swing%, but his strong 24% CSW% makes me think he can keep his K% below 20%. While that contact rate on its own is good but not spectacular, I like his ability to combine it with surprisingly impressive power, a career-best FB% and pull%, and 98th percentile speed. After Eaton’s release, he’s likely to garner the lion’s share of PT as the team’s only defensively adequate center fielder. He’s more of a true center fielder than Goodwin, and barring a trade, he should have the lion’s share of playing time, making him a 10/10 threat going forward. This may be bullish, but I consider Engelbat Thumperdink a must-add in 15-team AVG leagues.
Cal Raleigh (C, Seattle Mariners)
This call-up was the most delicious one, as we have now entered the Cal Zone. Sorry if that was too cheesy. Raleigh was already a team top 10 prospect of some import after hitting 29 HR across two levels in 2019, but the 24-year-old really exploded this year with an elite .324/.377/.608 line with 9 HR and 3 SB in 199 PA in Triple-A. What’s most encouraging is his massively improved K rate of just 13%, which would be good for any minor leaguer, much less a catcher. As good as he’s been, it’s worth noting that Triple-A Tacoma is a hitter’s haven, so it’s not likely he’s the next Buster Posey. Also, he enters an uncertain playing time situation as they already have two catchers in Tom Murphy and Luis Torrens, who has recently been on a power tear. Still, they played Cal in his first game up, and they likely called him up for a reason, so I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Torrens moved to part-time duty and Murphy DFA’d or traded. Depending on your risk tolerance and positional need, Raleigh is a strong spec add in 15-team formats but could quickly become a 12-team viable catcher.
Rodolfo Castro (SS/2B/3B, Pittsburgh Pirates)
If you were lucky enough to roster him on his debut, Rodolfo saved Christmas in July. The 22-year-old has at least displayed good pop with 3 taters in just 15 PA over 6 games and is coming off an impressive minors stint hitting .306/.349/.549 with 11 HR and 5 SB in 212 PA in Double-A. While it came with a less-than-ideal 20% K%, that’s quite impressive considering he’s just 22 and Double-A is often a much tougher hitting environment than Triple-A. He might not be ready yet, as his 67% Contact% will need to improve to stay afloat, but he at least is a hot bat to ride with upside if he can adjust.
Ben Gamel (OF, Pittsburgh Pirates)
I’ve long considered him not quite good enough to be roster-worthy, but perhaps now Gamel is over the hump. He’s coming off a shocking 4 homer week, giving him a now somewhat acceptable season line of .238/.319/.425 with 6 HR in 160 AB. While he likely remains not more than a deep league streamer, he’s intrigued me by nearly doubling his barrel rate for a second straight year, from 4% to 7% to 11%. The biggest part of this change is an increase in flyballs, with a 44% FB% that is an insane 20% increase from his 2020 rate. While normally, a move towards the flyball revolution comes with an increase in whiffs, Gamel has maintained his usual strong 90% Z-Contact% and acceptable 76% Contact% overall. While he won’t be a stud and likely is a zero on the basepaths, he could easily crank out a .250 batting average with another 6-10 homers with regular playing time, which makes him a solid glue guy in NL-only and 18-team OBP formats. Pirate party!
Dylan Carlson (OF, St. Louis Cardinals)
Hey Carls Jr., Wendy’s is asking, “Where’s the beef?” And by beef, I mean speed, obviously. It was the meat of Carlson’s expected fantasy value, with 20 SB across two minor league levels in Triple-A in 2019. But after stealing just one base in 119 major league PA in 2020, he’s stolen a big fat zero in over triple the at-bats (370) in 2021. What’s more, he hasn’t even attempted one! When you look at the rest of his minor league record, his breakthrough 21/18 season looks like a bit of a fluke, as he hardly reached double-digit HR or SB in any other year. His recent slump is supported by a plummeting xwOBA, and his .242 xBA and .395 xSLG suggest a player who really is hurting all-around. There’s no reason to marvel at DC in 10-team formats, and is a viable cut in 12-team as well, despite the fact he’s still rostered in 77% of leagues.
Keston Hiura (2B/1B, Milwaukee Brewers)
His short hot streak after every call-up is nothing more than a dead Kest bounce. While you can point to the fact that a .245 batting average with 3 HR over the past 3 weeks is an improvement, I’d instead point out the fact that since his return, he’s struck out in 23 of his 53 AB (59 PA), and my expert-level analysis says striking out in nearly half your at-bats is not a good recipe for success. With the emergence of Jace Peterson at the keystone and the acquisition of Rowdy Tellez, Hiura has likely blown his last chance in a while. He’s still rostered in 52% of ESPN leagues, which tells me that many owners have been asleep at the wheel or gluttons for punishment. Cut in 12-team and most 15-team formats too.
Tyler Naquin (OF, Cincinnati Reds)
His bat has been so asleep, I call him Tyler Nyquil. While his season line of .242/.310/.440 with 13 HR and 4 SB looks good to the lazy team owner, he’s been resting on April laurels as he’s hit just .176 with 1 HR over 34 AB the past two weeks. It’s more than just bad luck, as his xwOBA over the past 100 AB has been below league average. This is a case of “He is who we thought he is,” which is a platoon-quality player, so I’d try to flip him for a small trinket but open to cutting in all 12-team formats and even shallower 15-team formats.
Leury Garcia (2B/SS/OF, Chicago White Sox)
I know he’s been hot lately, but I’m leery of Garcia. Lest I be accused of always saying to buy hot players and sell cold ones, he’s something completely different. Leury has been a surprisingly popular buy, with his roster rate increase of 14% (to 17%), the 4th-highest roster rate surge this week. It’s understandable, as he offers multi-position eligibility and is hitting .371 with 2 HRs over 35 AB the past 2 weeks, but this is one hot potato I’m flipping and not sitting on. He still has a poor 4% barrel% and Yandy-esque groundball rate, limiting any power potential, and the previously fringy speed has vanished. In addition, his xBA of .228 and xSLG of .309 suggest he’s been quite fortunate with his .263 AVG and .369 SLG%. I’d much rather roll the dice with Ramon Urias, Rougned Odor, Elvis Andrus, or, well, almost anyone else. Cut in 15-team leagues and 18-team OBP formats.
Tom Murphy (C, Seattle Mariners)
I think it’s not too hard to do the math here. Murphy is the Mariners’ worst defensive catcher, and he’s also been a poor offensive catcher this year, hitting .194 with 7 HR in 165 AB this year. I never believed in his improbable power surge in 2019, as Statcast suggested he was the luckiest hitter in baseball. Now with the unheralded sophomore Torrens hitting for more power, and surging backstop prospect Cal Raleigh in the mix, Murph has been nerfed. Cut in all leagues in search of greener pastures and redder Statcast pages.