So you’re in your OBP draft and you end up with an aggressive hitter—say Javy Baez or Eddie Rosario—and you are looking for some OBP buffering. Here we’ll do just that, exploring some hitters at each position you can find in the later rounds that can give you a nice boost in OBP.
Aaron Hicks (OF) New York Yankees
Prior to last season, I was really excited about Aaron Hicks. OK, probably too excited but there were some legitimate reasons. Heading into 2019, Hicks was coming off a season in which he posted a career-high .365 xwOBA and a 15.5% BB rate. Given that he had been coming off of two consecutive seasons of an OBP north of .360 I considered him a potential candidate to hit leadoff for a loaded lineup. Then, of course, a back injury late in Spring Training that lingered combined with an absolutely torrid season from DJ LeMahieu killed even the thought of Hicks hitting leadoff.
Lamentations aside, Hicks seems like a forgotten player right now. But keep in mind the Yankees paid him handsomely this past off-season. In addition to being an excellent defensive CF, he’s also their only switch-hitter so he adds some much-needed flexibility to a lineup that leans heavily right-handed. Now that he’s healthy I’d anticipate him to be a near regular in the lineup. Hicks is an extreme pull hitter so his average isn’t anything to get excited about as it should probably sit somewhere around .250 but considering what he showed in 2018 namely a 15.5% BB rate and career-high 27 home runs, there is the potential to be a difference-maker in OBP formats as a regular in the Yankee lineup and one that can be drafted for pennies on the dollar right now. A return to form for Hicks could yield production similar to Andrew McCutchen, who is also an excellent bounce-back target in his own right, albeit with a less certain spot in the order.
With LeMahieu currently away from the team, Hicks has indeed been hitting leadoff for the Yankees in their intrasquad games. That’ll change of course when LeMahieu returns but it illustrates at least the potential for Hicks to latch onto a favorable spot in the order.
Miguel Sano (1B/3B) Minnesota Twins
OK, I’m cheating a little here as Miguel Sano might not be quite what you’d consider a mid/late-round selection depending on your league but suffice it to say he looks undervalued right now as we haven’t quite seen that ceiling type season yet. Maybe his skillset is being marginalized considering the glut of power in today’s game. Even in standard formats though, there’s a case to be made for Sano as a top 100 player, yes he’s got a K rate north of 35% that puts his batting average in jeopardy. But he also has the type of raw power that puts him on par with the likes of Joey Gallo, Aaron Judge, and Peter Alonso. Last year’s .329 ISO was backed by superlative batted ball data including a 99.6 Average EV on fly balls and line drives good for first among qualifiers. A 21.2% barrel rate also led the league. As a fixture inside a loaded Twins lineup, Sano possesses an outstanding HR/RBI ceiling. And when the scene shifts to OBP settings his value is further boosted by an excellent career 12% walk rate.
Note that this article was written prior to Sano’s diagnosis. He’s since been cleared to return to camp but obviously there’s not much time for him to get into game shape. There’s some legitimate uncertainty here now but that could further stifle his ADP making him a risk/reward target to keep a close eye on in your draft.
Trent Grisham (OF) San Diego Padres
Take one look at what Trent Grisham did in the minors and you’ll see why you might want to give him a pass for his lackluster 51 game debut with the Brewers last year. In Double-A he exploded with a .391 wOBA, 150 wRC+, and by far a career-best .250 ISO. He doubled down with an even stronger showing for Triple-A San Antonio posting a .499 wOBA and 194 wRC+ to go along with 13 home runs in just 158 PA. It was the PCL yes, but there was also a conscious change here by Grisham who cited an effort to change his point of contact in order to hit for more power. This past year’s 26 home runs in the minors marked a huge outburst from Grisham, who prior to last year had managed just 19 home runs in his entire pro career.
The 23-year-old Grisham has always shown a discerning eye in the minor leagues managing at least a 14% BB rate and .346 OBP at every stop presenting us with the OBP upside we’re looking for. The one blemish here is Grisham’s 54.4% zone-swing rate put him in the bottom 10 (minimum 150 PA; league-average was 66.1%) so it’s the sort of passive approach that could put his batting average in peril a la Cavan Biggio (60.1%) or Daniel Vogelbach (51%).
Still, his OBP should be strong, though the true sticking point will be whether last year’s power gains were real or a mirage. Add in the ability to steal 10 or so bases across a full season and you have the potential for a younger version of Shin-Soo Choo. Traded to San Diego this offseason in exchange for Luis Urias, he’s set to be the Friars’ starting center-fielder. Now seems like the right time to buy for a young player who has a pretty nice ceiling if the power gains in the minors last year prove to be legitimate.
Luke Voit (1B) New York Yankees
Luke Voit seems like a player who has a fairly wide range of outcomes. For as much of a fan of Voit as I am, I have to begrudgingly acknowledge that there are ways he can lose playing time. Mike Ford had a very good, albeit brief showing late last season, D.J. LeMahieu is certainly capable of playing first, and lord knows the Yankees have plenty of ways to divvy up the DH spot.
But at the other end of the spectrum, there is also the potential that Voit could be a Max Muncy type hitter that you can get significantly later in drafts. As mentioned here, Voit dealt with a sports hernia injury after the London Series in late June and he was pretty candid about it basically saying he was never the same afterward. The numbers are pretty startling. From July 13th, the first point he tried to return from the IL last year, until the end of the 2019 season, about 160 PA, he slashed a hideous .228/ .348/ .368 good for a .315 wOBA and 95 wRC+ his K rate also ballooned to 32.3% seeming like a pretty decent indicator that he was clearly ailing.
A look at his numbers when healthy from August of 2018 until late June of last season, just under 500 PA total, reveals the complete opposite. During that span Voit slashed a stellar .296/ .396/ .565 good for a .404 wOBA and 156 wRC+.
The past two seasons he’s combined for a .382 xwOBA, good for 3rd among fellow first basemen (minimum 600 PA). Yes, there’s a low floor but there is also a pretty remarkable ceiling here for Voit who definitely gains value in OBP formats after posting a robust 13.9% walk rate last season. Voit’s 76.6% Zone-swing rate was good for 25th (150 minimum PA) showing that he was unique in his ability to be aggressive in the zone while also maintaining an excellent walk rate.
Last year’s injury and late-season tail-spin have perhaps afforded a buy-low window of sorts. And what about that injury he tried to play through? An offseason consultation revealed that he had torn multiple ligaments on both sides of his groin which required surgery. Now fully healthy, we’ll end the Voit sales pitch with him reporting to Summer Camp down some weight and declaring himself in the BSOHL following this past off season’s surgery.
Gavin Lux (2B) Los Angeles Dodgers
I do feel as if there is a “buy-low” window of sorts for Gavin Lux at least relative to his upside. Partly due to what is perceived as an uncertain role on a deep Dodgers roster but also because of lukewarm results last year in his brief 23 game debut. Regardless, it’s pretty easy to see the appeal with Lux who has that rare combination of 70-grade game power (via Fangraphs) to go along with excellent plate skills evinced by a 14.8% BB rate and 18.1% K rate in Triple-A last year. And speaking of Triple-A last year, he slashed an absolutely absurd .392/ .478/ .719 there across 232 PA. To be clear, there is risk with Lux as he’s playing for a seemingly playoff-bound Dodgers team with an exceptionally deep roster, so if he struggles it’s not hard to imagine them giving the rookie some time on the bench. But considering the hit tool, power, and prospect pedigree there is immense upside here as well.
Danny Jansen (C) Toronto Blue Jays
Yasmani Grandal (17.2% BB rate) and Mitch Garver (11.4% BB rate) are two prime targets at catcher but if you’re looking to punt the position consider Blue Jays backstop Danny Jansen. He managed only a .207/ .279/ .360 slash in his first full season last year. Although, it’s not entirely shocking to see a young catcher struggle in his first extended stint in the majors. Those struggles last year resulted in Reese McGuire pushing him for playing time. But considering the superlative minor league track record, you’d suspect the Blue Jays to give him another real shot to his assert himself as the top option in Toronto. In his past three stops in the minors, he’s shown outstanding plate skills culminating in a nearly even K:BB ratio and .390 OBP for Triple-A Buffalo in 2018. After disappointing as a popular sleeper last season he could be a nice post-hype option at catcher.
Mark Canha (1B/OF) Oakland Athletics
Mark Canha was one of last year’s breakouts and as Matt Wallach pointed out here in his article from last season it was fueled by a marked change in approach, in particular, we saw his chase rate drop nearly 6% (25% O-swing in 2019) which helped push his walk rate from just over 8% to a robust clip of 13.5%. Overall, a .396 OBP would have placed him 9th among qualifiers just behind Carlos Santana.
Last year’s 26 home runs were a career-high too and supported by an excellent .362 xwOBA. In addition, a 94.3 average EV on fly balls and line drives put him in good company just behind Edwin Encarnacion and Max Muncy both of whom were at 94.4. Canha’s 2019 may have been forgotten with him being an older guy who has been more or less thought of as a platoon bat, though his career splits don’t really back up that assumption. Regardless, last year’s success should put him firmly on your radar in OBP formats. I look at him as a sort of discounted version of Rhys Hoskins.
Brandon Nimmo (OF) New York Mets
A bulging disc snuffed out Brandon Nimmo’s 2019 season as he hit just .221 with eight home runs across 254 PA. But he still managed a fantastic .375 OBP. Don’t forget his 2018 where he flirted with a 20/10 season to go along with an OBP over .400 and a .352 xwOBA. The one drawback here is noticeably worse K:BB versus LHP so there is a risk of being platooned. For his career, Nimmo has managed a .387 OBP that should keep him anchored near the top of the lineup at least against RHP making him an excellent run source in daily formats.
Jorge Polanco (SS) Twins
Jorge Polanco’s 2019 season may have gotten a little overlooked at least in part because of a loaded Shortstop position. But don’t forget last year Polanco posted career highs in runs, home runs, and RBI. His .356 OBP last year was also a career-best and good for 8th among fellow shortstops with a minimum of 300 PA. While last year he did record a career-high .344 xwOBA, overall Polanco’s batted ball data is fairly modest which puts a cap on his power ceiling close to what we saw last year. Similar to Michael Brantley, the plate skills are the strong suit here. Hitting 2nd in front of Nelson Cruz et al gives him a high run ceiling.
The lack of a power ceiling at a deep position renders Polanco a sort of afterthought in most drafts but he has all the makings of an excellent high floor option considering his favorable lineup spot and strong plate skills. I’ll gladly take the discount if I’m waiting at Shortstop. Also, keep in mind he’s far from just an OBP play considering his excellent career .281 average.
Jesse Winker (OF) Cincinnati Reds
Let’s get the ugly out of the way. And that’s Jesse Winker’s splits against LHP. He’s tallied a dreadful .255 wOBA and 52 wRC+ against southpaws for his career. In fairness, its just under 150 PA total so he probably isn’t quite that bad in actuality, but the point here is that he’ll almost certainly lose playing time against lefties in a shortened season where every game means so much.
So how about against RHP? I’m glad you asked! A .385 wOBA, 138 wRC+ to go along with an OBP just under .400. Particularly in daily lineup leagues, Winker should be a plug and play against RHP that should be hitting high in the Reds order. Winker’s 2019 season ended prematurely with an injury in Mid August. But note he did end the season on a productive note slashing .317/ .418/ .510 to go along with an even 12.3% K and BB rate from the beginning of July until his IL departure in mid-August. Entering his fourth season, there’s some intriguing potential upside for Winker if he can continue to tap into his power. For more on Winker be sure to check out Kyle Horton’s Going Deep article from earlier this offseason.
Given his storied career, it feels very strange mentioning Joey Votto as a mere footnote here. But back to back subpar seasons including a rising K rate have sent his stock plummeting as he enters his age 36 season. Can Votto, the owner of a career .421 OBP, turn the clock back one last time?
The newly opened DH spot could give Justin Smoak another chance at relevancy in Milwaukee. Last year’s ugly .208 average was mitigated by a 15.8% walk rate that boosted his OBP to a palatable .342. The thing that’s really killed Smoak the past couple of years are some awful numbers against southpaws, just about a .300 wOBA. Overall, though his batted ball numbers were strong last year as he posted a .366 xwOBA.
Matt Carpenter, who has managed a career .372 OBP, is coming off a disastrous season but he spent a lot of time this past off-season retooling his swing in an effort to use all fields as opposed to the dead pull hitter he’s morphed into the last couple years. He’s basically free if you’re willing to roll the dice on a veteran bounceback.
Yandy Diaz has always shown excellent plate skills with a career 10.4% BB rate, 17.8% K rate, and .350 OBP. As Matt Wallach points out in his Going Deep article, Diaz had a very notable, injury-shortened 2019 season that saw him post a career-high 14 home runs and .208 ISO.
If you’re considering a fallback option at 2B or an MI, don’t overlook Cesar Hernandez. Last season his walk rate rather inexplicably dropped to a career-worst 6.7%. But prior to that, he had posted a walk rate north of 10% in each of the previous three seasons helping to buoy a surprisingly good .352 career OBP. You don’t have to spend much at all if you want to gamble on a rebound for the veteran who now finds himself in Cleveland where he has the starting 2B job locked up. There’s very solid 15 HR/15 SB potential here across a full season to go along with sneaky good run equity now that the Indians have announced him as their leadoff man.
Remember Jake Lamb? He’s got a chance to be a regular part of the lineup now with the DH in the NL. It’ll most certainly be a platoon situation as Lamb’s numbers vs LHP are pretty dreadful. Against RHP though he’s managed a career .345 wOBA and identical OBP. If he reverts to the form he showed in 2017 where he posted a .357 OBP and 13.7% BB rate to go along with 30 home runs he could certainly emerge as a CI option in daily formats.
Injuries have derailed the past few seasons for Steven Souza Jr so it’s easy to forget his breakout 2017 season with the Rays where he hit 30 home runs to go along with 16 stolen bases and a .351 OBP. Most likely a part-time player for the Cubs he’s someone to just keep an eye on in the deepest of formats.
Featured Image by Alyssa Buckter – alyssabuckter.com