It’s easy to get lost in all of the mechanical adjustments hitters make in the offseason and during the spring. Heck, we even created a tracker (affectionately called MATH) to help keep tabs on it all. Most of the time, we are looking for a swing change or a tweak in a stance or the addition or removal of a leg kick, but Cedric Mullins III (OF, BAL), who went 5-5 with three doubles, three runs, and a walk, did something a little different.
Up until 2021, Mullins was a switch hitter, a tool that on paper made him appear to be an extremely enticing leadoff hitter due to his pop, speed, and theoretical resistance to platoon splits. Unfortunately, Mullins never really found his groove on the right side, and heading into the spring decided that he’d go forward focusing only on hitting from the left side. That change has paid major dividends so far, to say the least, as Mullins has hits in each of this first three starts and is tied for the league lead in hits through the inaugural weekend of the 2021 season.
When Mullins debuted back in 2018, there was actually a bit of fantasy hype surrounding him due to his power and speed potential, with many deeper league players scooping him up as their fourth or fifth outfielder with dreams of a 15 home run, 25 stolen base season and a .260 batting average or better. Of course, we’re still waiting for that kind of production from the 26 year old, but it certainly looks more realistic now than it did coming into the season.
Long term playing time is still a bit of a question mark here, as the Orioles have a few more outfielders than they can start in any one game, but with Mullins swinging a hot bat and being one of only three left-handed bats on the active roster after DJ Stewart hit the IL, he should get plenty of opportunities to keep his hot start going in the short term.
I’m not sure how many players I’m willing to cut to roster Mullins in fantasy, but he’s potentially worth adding as your last outfielder in leagues where you find yourself light on speed—especially if you’ve had a player or two hit the IL and you can add him without making a cut.
Now let’s see how the other hitters did Sunday:
Jared Walsh (1B/OF, LAA): 2-4, 2 HR, 4 RBI, BB. The Angels have two two-way players on their roster and both of them found time to shine on the big stage last night. Walsh, a former 39th round pick in the MLB draft, hit two key home runs. He’s set to get the lion’s share of the at bats at first base, and after a night like that, it’s easy to see why. Walsh has hit fifth in both of his starts and is building a case for even shallow league relevance as a corner infielder or second utility bat early in the season.
Luis Arraez (2B/OF, MIN): 3-3, 2B, R, 2 BB. There isn’t a ton of home run power in his bat, but Arraez remains one of baseball’s toughest outs, as evidenced by his .500 batting average and .600 OBP through three starts. The injury to Josh Donaldson means that Arraez is locked into the leadoff role and the starting third base job for a while, and his outstanding hit tool makes him an excellent addition to fantasy lineups in need of batting average, OBP, or runs scored.
Phillip Evans (3B, PIT): 3-4, RBI. The unheralded Evans has a surprising .309 batting average over his first 111 major league late appearances and should serve as a backup corner infielder for the Pirates. Outside of maybe some low-cost DFS appeal on days the Pirates face a weak lefty, though, there probably isn’t much to see here for fantasy purposes.
Tyler Stephenson (C, CIN): 3-4, 3 R, RBI. The former first rounder is quite large for a catcher, standing at 6’4 and weighing in around 230 pounds, and as you’d might expect, that big frame means plenty of raw power in his bat. There’s some future intrigue as a second catcher in 15-team formats if the power and hit tool can make more of an appearance, but he’ll have to show he can hit enough to grab more than 50 starts before we can pull the trigger on that for fantasy purposes.
Yuli Gurriel (1B, HOU): 3-4, 2B, R, 2 RBI. This is already his second three-hit performance of the young season, which suggests there may still be something left in his 36-year-old bat after a rough 2020. He’s probably not 12-team relevant quite yet, but assuming the Astros lineup continues to hit the heck out of the ball, he could find his way to shallow league rosters quicker than you’d expect.
Anthony Santander (OF, BAL): 3-5, R, 2 RBI, BB. Santander has picked up at least one hit and one RBI in each of his first three starts as the third hitter in the surprisingly explosive Orioles’ lineup. While I don’t expect the O’s to continue scoring this many runs (they can’t face Red Sox starters for all 162 games, unfortunately), Santander could easily threaten 30 home runs and 90 RBI this season.
Mitch Garver (C, MIN): 2-3, HR, BB. That one home run brought him half way to his 2020 totals in that category, and perhaps gave a small bit of relief to his fantasy managers who watched him go 0-5 with three strikeouts on Opening Day. Garver will need a few more starts like this to ensure he can get to 80-90 starts over teammate Ryan Jeffers, who has plenty of offensive upside in his own right.
Mark Canha (OF, OAK): 2-4, 2B, 3B, 2 R. The newly-minted leadoff man for the A’s has gotten on base in each of his first four starts while picking up at least one run in each of his last three. While Canha is slightly less enticing in batting average leagues, he has a stellar .394 OBP since the start of 2019 and should continue to get on base at a high clip and put up plenty of home runs and runs scored for a scrappy Athletics’ roster.
Colin Moran (1B/3B, PIT): 2-4, 2B, HR, 2 R, 3 RBI. We’ve seen this movie before, folks. Moran started the 2020 season off with a bang, only to fizzle out considerably as time went on. Moran is a serviceable first baseman in pro baseball, but his fantasy usefulness is limited to DFS when he faces vulnerable right-handed pitching and NL-only leagues that put real value on his playing time and the fact he bats clean up. There are maybe 20-22 home runs in this bat and an OK batting average, but not much else.
Nate Lowe (1B, TEX): 2-4, HR, 3 RBI. His five hits over his first three games are promising, even if they came with four strikeouts as well. The jury is still out on Lowe from a season-long perspective, but the Rangers roll into Toronto to start the week and get plenty of shots against the non-Hyun-Jin Ryu starters north of the border, which means he’s a safe plug-and-play for the next few days in deeper leagues and DFS.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa (C/SS/3B, TEX): 3-4, HR, 3 RBI. Kiner-Falefa’s real fantasy value is over on Yahoo and other sites where he remains catcher-eligible, but the versatile infielder will occasionally look deep-league relevant elsewhere if you need speed and if you squint hard enough. An ideal outcome is probably something like 10 home runs and 15 steals with a .260 batting average, which plays in all formats at catcher and in very deep leagues at any other position.
David Peralta (OF, ARZ): 2-4, 3B, 2 RBI. Peralta’s 30-home-run campaign in 2018 feels like a distant memory now, but the southpaw still can hit a bit when healthy, which is what we saw in 2020 when he posted a .300 batting average. In deeper formats, the batting average he can provide has some value, though I’m probably more interested in him for DFS where I can make better use of his career .306/.358/.509 line against right-handed pitching.
Nick Castellanos (OF, CIN): 2-4, 3B, HR, 2 R, 3 RBI. Make it two home runs and four extra base hits in his first three games. He’s loaded up the stat sheet for the Reds so far, leaving us all hoping that this is finally the year he breaks the 30 home run barrier. We’ve waited a long time for this.
Alec Bohm (1B/3B, PHI): 2-4, RBI, SB. He’s racked up a few strikeouts already, but Bohm is a hit tool monster and I’m really excited for his 2020 season. It’s also neat to see him steal a base so early in the season, and I do think he could beg, borrow, and steal his way into six to eight stolen bases by the end of the season along with 20-25 home runs and a .280 batting average (if not higher).
José Ramírez (3B, CLE): 2-5, 2B, R, SB. While he wasn’t able to leave Detroit with a home run, he did manage to swipe a bag (something I expect him to do many more times against the vulnerable Detroit battery) and has yet to strike out. After watching much of that series, I’m still pretty comfortable calling J-Ram an MVP candidate (though it’s not like three games were ever going to change my mind).
Christian Vázquez (C, BOS): 3-4, 2B, R. He’s finished as a top-five catcher in back-to-back seasons, and outings like this suggest he could threaten a three-peat.
Shohei Ohtani (P/DH, LAA): 1-3, HR. There are a million things to talk about with his performance, but I’m going to cover the two items that I feel are most important. First, holy moly is this fun to watch. Second, I am genuinely curious about the next time we will have a game where this happens:
ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!
Want more analysis but also don’t want to do any more reading? Check out the PL Shorts and Hacks & Jacks podcasts, which both dropped today, for more from this writer.
Featured Imaged by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter)
Who do you like between Kyle Isbel and Cedric Mullins in a H2H R/HR/RBI/SB/AVG/OPS league (12tm)?
Hey Jake — Give me Mullins here, though I’ll admit that if they both were going to play the same amount, it’d be closer.
Ultimately, I am extremely cautious with guys who have zero double-A at bats.
Great to have you back Scott! Would you rather (in a points league) take the chance on peralta, o’neill, walsh, or dahl? I can roster two of them, position is irrelevant here. Thanks in advance!
Great to be back, Superfan! Granted, I’ve been around doing podcasts and writing all of the hitter previews for the draft kit this spring, but I feel like the Batter’s Box is my true home as a writer.
If your league penalizes strikeouts, that’s gonna dampen O’Neill and Dahl for sure and give a boost to Peralta and Walsh. I probably like Walsh more here, as Peralta just doesn’t have a ton of upside and batting fifth for the Angels is a whole lot better than what everyone else has going on.
There’s a mild question mark as to playing time for Walsh, but if he keeps hitting they’ll do what they have to do as a team playing for October. I’m also really interested in what his strikeout rate may turn out to be after 108 PA in 2020 with just a 13.9 K%. That’s WAY below what we say in 2019 (40.2%), and even if it’s more like 20-25% in 2021, it bumps his value.
If your league doesn’t penalize strikeouts, O’Neill gets into the conversation for his power and playing time, though I worry that Carlson may overtake him for that #5 spot in the lineup and that his .300 or worse OBP will make it tough for him to consistently score points.