Joey Votto (CIN): 1-4, 2B.
Except, he’s not gone anymore. He’s back! With the Reds traveling to his home city of Toronto, Votto made his return from the COVID-19 IL. It was an emotional one too, as he retrospected at length his memories of watching the Blue Jays as a kid.
Now that he’s back, the question is, can he bounce back? It’s been talked about a ton as he’s having the worst season of his career. Looking solely at the underlying numbers, it’s impossible to paint an appealing picture, and I won’t rehash them here as it has been belabored in plenty of spots. Maybe last year turns out to be the proverbial dead cat bounce like Matt Carpenter’s 2018.
But I’m hesitant to declare that the end is nigh. In that respect, I’m probably guilty of simply not wanting this story to end like this. I’m reminded of watching C.C. Sabathia limp off the field in Game 4 of the 2019 ALCS. You never want to see such a remarkable career end on such a low note. Granted, Votto is under contract for two more seasons, so this isn’t truly the end, but you know what I mean. Last year, he was a late-season hero who finished the second half with a 1.057 OPS while cranking out 25 home runs. Does Votto still bang? We shall see.
Let’s see how the other hitters did Friday:
Tyler Nevin (BAL): 2-5, 2B, R.
He’s the son of the former big leaguer and current third base coach for the Angels, Phil Nevin, who hit 41 home runs for the Padres in 2001, not bad! The 24-year-old righty made a very brief cameo last year with the Orioles playing in all of six games. This year he made some noise with Triple-A Norfolk posting a .364/ .434/ .545 slash along with four steals across 17 games. He’s started in every game since his callup in late April. He hasn’t done much yet, but his versatility is interesting for deep leagues; seven games at 3B, five games at 1B, and three in the OF. Rougned Odor had the big hit last night for the O’s, a walk-off dinger in their thrilling win against the Rays.
Josh Rojas (ARI): 3-5, 3 HR, 3 R, 4 RBI.
OK, very funny. Who broke the humidor!? Don’t worry, I promise I won’t tell Rob. Yesterday we saw one of those classic Wrigley Field wind games and it feels like almost everyone hit one out with 11 home runs in total. Kyle Hendricks was happy to oblige. Rojas had a huge game as he hit his first three of the year and is only 21% rostered on Yahoo, but that should go up. He’s playing every day and has some speed too with 3 steals so far. Most projections have him pegged with about 10 steals and 10 home runs the rest of the way, I think his ceiling is fairly modest but considering his 2B/3B/SS/OF eligibility he’s a very useful player for deeper formats. He’s started all of his games at 3B.
David Peralta hit his sixth and seventh of the year, I’ve kind of likened him to a poor man’s version of Michael Brantley in years past. But, he’s been a little different this year, most notably his FB% has skyrocketed to 35.9%. Alek Thomas hit his third of the year, an opposite-field job against the southpaw Daniel Norris. Christian Walker hit his tenth of the year. And his batted ball numbers are fantastic including a .419 xwOBA, 11.4% barrels/PA, and .640 xSLG. He’s the right-handed foil to Rowdy Tellez but hasn’t gotten the buzz quite yet at a more modest 27% rostered on Yahoo. For the Cubbies, the bottom four hitters all hit one out, Patrick Wisdom, Jonathan Villar, Christopher Morel, and Ildemaro Vargas.
Jorge Soler (MIA): 2-4, 2B, HR, R, 2 RBI.
After missing a couple of games with a back injury, the reigning WS MVP unloaded on a hanging curveball from Charlie Morton, a 413-foot shot to left. He can be a tough guy to roster because there are stretches where he just does absolutely nothing, but very few players have his power ceiling and his batted ball numbers across the board are encouraging (.365 xwOBA and 8.3% barrels/PA). Be sure to check your waiver wire if you’re in a shallower league, as he should be rostered in all formats (61% on Yahoo). He’s now hit one out in three of his last four.
Darin Ruf (SF): 2-3, 2 HR, 3 R, 3 RBI, 2 BB.
Ruf launched both off an impressive name brand in Sean Manaea which will undoubtedly further his reputation as a certified lefty masher with a career .939 OPS against southpaws versus .691 against righties. He’s a perfect fit for daily OBP formats as he is currently sporting a 15.3% BB rate. But note that he’s not currently locked in as an everyday player, with most projections having him at about 300 PA the rest of the way. And, hey, he’s got two steals too, because sure, why not?
Nolan Gorman (STL): 1-3, R, BB.
Gorman, the Cardinal’s 19th overall pick from the 2018 draft, made his debut yesterday. He’s got remarkable power; 15 home runs in 147 PA with Triple-A Memphis is all kinds of silly. But, the K rate is yeah, not good at 34%. He’s someone who could hit a few dingers but is a risk to be exposed quickly by big-league pitching.
Santiago Espinal (TOR): 2-4.
Two more hits for Espinal and he’s now knocking on the door of .300. His power ceiling is capped, but I think he’s very interesting as the everyday second baseman in a great lineup. Right now, I’m looking at him as a right-handed version of Jeff McNeill or Luis Arraez, that is to say, someone who can boost your batting average (.306 xBA) if you need help there. And he’s got three steals too. He’s certainly worth a look as an MI option.
Jake Cronenworth (SD): 1-4, HR, 3 R, 2 RBI.
Cronenworth needed this one badly. He ambushed a first-pitch slider from Jakob Junis in the third, sending a line drive just over the wall in right for his second of the year. I don’t blame you if you’ve moved on from him, especially considering the zero steals. I’m torn, but I still think he’s a reasonable buy-low. At the very least he should be a good source of runs once his average bounces back as most projections have him hitting around .260. But, on that note, his xBA of .237 is down significantly from last year. Looking at his batted ball profile reveals an uptick in flyballs along with a drop in line drive rate, so if that sticks, it’ll make a batting average rebound less likely. Or maybe it’s simply an early-season blip. Worth noting too that his K rate is up to 20.6% after 14% last year. As always, I provide more questions than answers.
Seth Brown (OAK): 2-4, HR, R, 2 RBI, SB.
What can brown do for you? Hey, at least the A’s got a win last night. It’s been ugly so far and it probably tells you something when your cleanup hitter is hitting under .200. In all seriousness, I do think Brown is maybe a little interesting in really deep formats. His current wOBA of .283 is backed by a much more optimistic .346 xwOBA and his K rate of 27.1% isn’t egregious. He did, after all, hit 20 home runs last year in 307 PA, so the power is there. And if it comes with a handful of steals, you could do worse in deep leagues. A phrase uttered across countless blurbs describing players that we’re since never heard from again.
Trevor Story (BOS): 1-4, HR, R, 4 RBI.
In about 48 hours, Story has made those who were busy taking victory laps for declaring him dead, buried, cooked, and solely a product of Coors Field look like silly people. It’s hardly a revelation, but the biggest downturn is probably going to be in his batting average. A career .270 hitter, most projections have Story at around .250 and that’s in line with his current xBA .249. The most encouraging thing, for me at least, are the five steals playing for a Boston team that is notoriously station to station.
Amed Rosario (CLE): 2-4, 2B, 2 R, 2 RBI.
This might have been just because of the matchup against the lefty Tarik Skubal, but Rosario hit second last night in front of José Ramírez. Still in search of home run number one, maybe hitting in the two-hole can get him going. I’ll be interested to see if that sticks.