After a long offseason, many of us have forgotten a portion of last year’s fantasy grind. However, in baseball, a remarkable number of players grab hold of the spotlight and put on impressive performances. And for some of them, it’s not even in a full 162-game stretch. Several players will burst onto the scene due to an injury of a starter or a breakout performance at a lower level. Additionally, many of these players made such an impact that they’ll stick around for the following season.
To help shake off the rust, I’ve compiled a list of a few players that really stood out towards the back half of 2022. Indeed, not many of us had these players on our radars to begin last year, but let’s not make that same mistake this time.
2022 Second Half (246 PA): 39 R, 10 HR, 26 RBI, 3 SB, .240 AVG
Coming into 2023, you don’t have to go too far to find out everyone loves Nootbaar. Although, one would have thought the St. Louis Cardinals didn’t love Nootbaar much since they optioned him to Triple-A three times in the first half. But you could also point to his production in that timeframe, or lack thereof, as shown by his .200/.277/.378 slash line.
After a few trips back and forth, things clicked. In his final 246 plate appearances, the strikeouts faded away, and the walk rate spiked. Heck, he walked (41 BB) just as many times as he struck out (41 K). What REALLY happened was his swing aggression got better. While he was a bit more passive at the dish than most of the MLB, he settled in during the second half.
Following suit, what leaps off the charts? That’s right, his contact. Furthermore, Nootbaar elevated batted balls more, and his first half 28.8% flyball rate skyrocketed to 42.5%. Next, the ISO jumped to a robust .240, and he parked ten baseballs into the bleachers. Again, things clicked.
Before we get too excited after looking at a young player figuring things out at the MLB level, let’s temper some of the expectations and remind ourselves that much of his value is determined by where he winds up in the batting order. If Nootbaar becomes the Cardinals’ everyday leadoff hitter, he’ll be a massive asset, and if not, he’ll still have the skills to impact your fantasy roster.
2022 Second Half (215 PA): 18 R, 7 HR, 21 RBI, 1 SB, .328 AVG
Pasquantino’s production looks far too light for people to take notice, right? WRONG! Don’t let the overall stats fool you. Unfortunately, production doesn’t always live up to the performance; in this case, Pasquantino is prime evidence of it.
For starters, he had the 11th lowest K% in the MLB while also touting the 34th best walk rate (11.7%). As far as plate discipline goes, Vinnie is elite (!!!). It should be noted he did finish with a healthy .295 BA and .383 OBP. Should you be in an OBP league? This is an outstanding 1B target. Again, he’s not simply a good hitter, Pasquantino is exceptional.
As the season continued, so did Pasquantino’s ability at the dish. However, the only portion that lagged was the power. Furthermore, the unforgiving dimensions at Kauffman Stadium don’t help one bit. Set your power expectations for more like 20-25 HRs instead of 30-plus.
The counting stats might be fewer than others since Kansas City is rebuilding, and he might not be the prototypical power from a 1B. But there is no way to discredit the potential value Pasquantino might bring from an inexpensive spot in your draft.
2022 Second Half (240 PA): 33 R, 13 HR, 34 RBI, 1 SB, .324 AVG
Coming into 2022, Meneses was a complete afterthought in the fantasy world. Who would have expected that a 29-year-old player with more than 3,500 minor-league plate appearances would make this much of an impact? Virtually, no one.
However, after swatting 20 HRs in his first 96 games for the Rochester Red Wings, the Nationals had to see what they had in Meneses. Furthermore, his power wasn’t necessarily an overnight surprise; in fact, Meneses flashed the power back in 2018 as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies’ minor-league system.
You’re probably asking yourself, where is 2019-2020? Meneses signed to play overseas with the Nippon Professional League and served a 12-month suspension for a banned substance. Not to mention the 2020 minor league season was canceled.
Moving on, it’ll be highly challenging to project Meneses, given the many factors (age, path to success, and sample size). However small the MLB sample size, let’s zoom in on some exciting plate discipline skills. While putting up a 9.4% barrel rate and 90.3 mph exit velocity on fly balls, Meneses didn’t struggle with big-league pitching. His 31.6% O-Swing% is league average, and his 76.7% contact rate doesn’t suggest he was fooled.
In summation, there will be a bunch of people that don’t draft Meneses because of circumstantial flaws. But you can’t overlook that he rakes when he puts the bat to the ball, has no issues putting the bat to the ball, and should get a slew of opportunities to show last year wasn’t a fluke. Meneses can provide plenty if you’re looking for late power in your drafts.
2022 Second Half (255 PA): 35 R, 5 HR, 34 RBI, 21 SB, .300 AVG
If Meneses was last year’s second-half thunder, McCarthy was last year’s second-half lightning. Any team in desperate need of stolen bases immediately ascended in that category due to Arizona’s outfield call-up. Additionally, if you scouted the minor-league stat lines, you would have noticed McCarthy’s aggressive manner on the base paths. Through McCarthy’s first 36 games in the minors, he swiped 11 bags in 15 attempts. Furthermore, the bat didn’t linger that far behind as he featured a .369/.457/.596 slash line to boot.
A significant difference between Meneses and McCarthy is early drafters are buying into McCarthy’s second-half performance. According to the NFBC’s Draft Champions ADP (between Jan 1-Feb 5), McCarthy carries an ADP of 115 (94 min/137 max), and Meneses holds a 199 ADP (143 min/234 max). Comparatively, the two players are vastly different, and the construction of your team could push either way.
From a projection standpoint, McCarthy is equally tricky to predict. His underlying metrics suggest he doesn’t hit the ball relatively hard (23.7% hard-contact% and .280 wOBA). So, temper the expectations with the bat and grab McCarthy if you focused early on pitching and power. He should be a lock for 25-plus stolen bases.
Other Notable Players:
Michael Harris II – Atlanta’s latest prospect-turned-star was one HR shy of a 20/20 season in only 441 plate appearances. He smashed in the first half (.816 OPS and 124 wRC+) and stayed on-brand in the second(.880 OPS and 144 wRC+). There isn’t much chance he’ll last past your draft’s second/third round.
Oneil Cruz – A late-season decline in K% has everyone salivating over Cruz’s potential. Taking his eye-popping Statcast metrics (122-mph BBE!!!) while adding it to more balls in play could be a formula for video game results. Additionally, he was significantly better as time progressed (74 wRC+ in the first half/119 wRC+ in the second half).
Steven Kwan – Overall, Kwan’s season was outstanding. But, it was also a tad rougher at first than many realize.
- March-April: .959 OPS and 175 wRC+
- May: .524 OPS and 55 wRC+
- Second-Half: .823 OPS and 138 wRC+
In the end, he was a great help in runs (89) and stolen bases (19), with most of that coming in the latter portion (Second half: 50 runs, 14 SB). Expect more of the same to follow.
Bryan De La Cruz – The BABIP Gods giveth and taken at times. De La Cruz had a .248 BABIP and 43.9% ground ball rate in the first half. Then, in his final 153 PAs, he elevated the ball more (38.5% GB rate) and wound up with a .381 BABIP. What helps bolster his higher BABIP is a hard contact rate of over 48%, 16 points higher than earlier. If he can keep the second-half gains, he’ll put up modest numbers relative to a back-end draft price.
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)