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As the Avengers absorb our attention this weekend, an influx of past, current, and future stars have assembled on the MLB diamond. Francisco Lindor, Gary Sanchez, Daniel Murphy, Gregory Polanco, Blake Snell, and Jacob deGrom all returned from the injured list during the week. Meanwhile, the game has also welcomed fresh faces. Michael Chavis, Cole Tucker, and Carter Kieboom are all exciting neophytes with bright futures, but Vladimir Guerrero’s arrival caused as much excitement among baseball fans as when Captain America [spoiler redacted].
MLB’s level of talent is at an all-time high, so it’s difficult pinpointing just three guys on the rise. Plenty of others are trending in the opposite direction, but the three players highlighted have widely contrasting profiles.
Luke Voit (1B, New York Yankees)
A birds-eye view of an empty Citi Field appeared in the early Avengers: Endgame trailer. Maybe a spoiler alert applies (one that doesn’t actually give anything meaningful away), but the shot and throwaway line in the movie seemed to imply that either MLB has folded, or the down-on-its-luck franchise was particularly affected by the end of Infinity War. Every Met besides Jason Vargas probably vanished, because of course, that would happen to them.
Turns out Marvel got it wrong. Thanos actually snapped away the entire Yankees lineup. Except for Luke Voit.
Two weeks into the season, the 28-year-old hadn’t looked up to the task of keeping the Bronx Bombers afloat in a post-apocalyptical landscape. Then he touched them all once on Sunday and twice on Monday, bolstering his OPS by .110 points in the process. He has reached base in all but one game this season, and the Statcasta data says this is just the beginning.
Voit’s 15 barrels ties Christian Yelich and Pete Alonso for MLB’s lead. Slugging .551 is nice, but a .608 xSLG (as of Friday) ranks in the top-95 percentile. Although especially elite against lefties (.419 wOBA) through 100 career plate appearances, he has deposited six of his seven long balls versus righties this season. He could be on the verge of Hulking out, so a $4,600 sticker tag is hardly a disqualifier from using the burly first baseman.
Maikel Franco (3B, Philadelphia Phillies)
Despite boasting six home runs and a .932 OPS through April 20, Maikel Franco had never started beyond the dreaded eighth spot. While he went nine games without going yard before Friday night, his stock is still on the rise because of an overdue ascent up Philadelphia’s lineup card.
He earned the promotion with his play, but the third baseman may still be residing ahead of the pitcher if not for hamstring injuries to Jean Segura, Odubel Herrera, and Scott Kingery. Franco worked from the fifth hole for five games before dipping to sixth on Friday. While he drove in just two runners during that period, that won’t last if he continues to occupy such desirable real estate in a stacked lineup.
Franco’s 12.3% walk rate is artificially inflated by seven intentional passes to get to the pitcher. His minuscule 7.5% strikeout rate, however, is the third-lowest mark of all qualified hitters. The 26-year-old also flaunts the highest ISO (.283) of anyone with a single-digit K rate. One can only hope Gape Kapler realizes that Franco should continue to bat fifth or sixth even when the offense returns to full strength.
Jose Quintana (SP, Chicago Cubs)
Jose Quintana has had quite the run since getting pounded for eight runs at Milwaukee on April 5. In his last three starts—working seven innings each time—the southpaw has allowed two runs with 25 strikeouts and three walks.
Those dismissive of dominant outings against the Marlins and Pirates now must pay attention after the 30-year-old collected his third straight victory in Tuesday’s gem against the Dodgers. And before writing off the start to his hot streak, he stockpiled a season-high 11 punchouts against a Marlins lineup possessing baseball’s third-lowest strikeout rate against lefties.
Despite getting beat down by the Brewers, Quintana sports a 3.21 ERA on the season with a 22.7 K-BB% and 50.7% ground-ball rate. His contact rate has plummeted from 81.0 to 72.1%, and his swinging-strike rate has jumped to 11.9%. He’s throwing more sinkers, which have induced a .267 wOBA.
Should DraftKings contestants ride the wave for Sunday’s start at Arizona? While the Diamondbacks seem like feeble prey, they have registered a 128 wRC+ against southpaws. Although likely a small-sample anomaly, it’s enough reason to look elsewhere in cash contests if Quintana’s price soars into the five-figure territory. It almost certainly will, as he cost $9,700 versus the Dodgers.
Joey Votto (1B, Cincinnati Reds)
Things are bad when Joey Votto is priced at $3,800 for a home matchup against a susceptible righty. That happened on Thursday when the first baseman went 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts in a game started by Julio Teheran. He stayed at that price point for Friday’s road bash against Miles Mikolas. That time, however, he proved a worthy buy-low risk by circling the bases. Although leading off and maintaining a .348 OBP, the 35-year-old is still batting a troubling .231 with three homers.
A 26.1% strikeout rate is highly alarming for a precise plate maestro who has never ventured to 20% or higher in 11 big league seasons. As of Friday, he possessed the lowest contact (77.8%) and swinging-strike (9.1%) rates of his career since 2011. Yet the power purge causes the most concern. Including last season, the 2010 NL MVP has mustered a measly 15 long balls in 715 plate appearances. The line-drive king is making weaker contact on way more fly balls, leading to a .183 xBA and .340 xSLG.
It’s possible Father Time has claimed another victim, and he’s at best a GPP gamble with some fierce righties (Jack Flaherty, Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard, and Jacob deGrom) on the docket after facing Daniel Hudson on Saturday. Yet given his batting eye, home ballpark, and leadoff spot in Cincinnati’s lineup, DFS gamers can’t completely forget about Votto if the cost stays so subdued.
Trevor Cahill (SP, Los Angeles Angels)
Here are Trevor Cahill’s DraftKings point tallies in his last three starts: 0.2, 5, and -1.6.
The righty has not completed the fifth frame in any of those turns, but he stuck around long enough to permit 13 combined runs on 17 hits (six home runs) and eight walks. He managed just nine strikeouts after offering eight in his previous outing against the Brewers.
Although always a headache for long-term investors, Cahill typically performs when healthy. Last year, he provided a 3.76 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 110 innings. Now he’s saddled with a 5.93 ERA and the highest FIP (6.61) of any qualified starter. A velocity decline has especially wounded his four-seam fastball and sinker, which have respectively ceded a wOBA of .406 and .394. After posting a 53.4% ground-ball rate and 27.2% fly-ball rate last season, those marks have nearly collided at 40.4 and 39.4.
Even in savory scheduled matchups against the Blue Jays and Tigers, Cahill can’t be trusted until he shows some semblance of respectability.
Mallex Smith (OF, Seattle Mariners)
Seattle appears to be fed up with Mallex Smith’s struggles. After spending 17 consecutive starts in the leadoff role, he batted ninth on Sunday and eighth in his next two starts. He has ridden the bench in the Mariners’ last two games.
Can anybody really fault their impatience? One of last year’s brightest fantasy breakouts is hitting a paltry .180/.275/.270 with a 29.4% K rate up astronomically from last year’s 18.0. Mitch Haniger can offer the Mariners (and DFS players) far more production atop the lineup, and Dee Gordon is also an option if they want another speedster to set the table. Never boasting the best daily skill set, Smith is unplayable when buried down the bottom of the lineup. His price has dropped from $4,400 to $4,100 this week, but expect it to keep tumbling.
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is akgould4) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games on which I offer advice. Although I have expressed my personal views on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings, and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.
(Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)