Carson Kelly (ARI): 1-4, 1 HR, 1 R, 2 RBI.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how to value catchers lately. Namely, whether it’s worth drafting any of the mid-range options in the preseason. I’ve been thinking about it a rather unhealthy amount of the time, actually. Sometimes I’ll be watching a show with my wife, and right at the end of an episode, as the credits start to roll, she’ll ask me what I thought. And it’ll dawn on me right then and there that all I had been thinking about for the last 25 minutes was Carson Kelly. And I’ll say, “Well, it has started off great, there’s no doubt about that. But I’m having a lot of internal conflict about how I truly feel. I mean, look at how everything has unfolded in light of the overarching theme of the work. Can we truly say what we just saw was good, not knowing what the ending has in store for us? And knowing that it’s possible we’ll likely be highly disappointed, even as we hold out hope that what we’re witnessing is life-changing?” And she’ll say, “Are you talking about the episode of Nailed It! we just watched? Because I’m asking you about the episode of Nailed It! we just watched.” And I’ll say, “Well, yeah, I’m certainly not talking about the Arizona Diamondbacks’ catcher and what his hot start means for catcher valuations as a whole.” And she’ll say, “You know what, I’m going into the other room, don’t talk to me for the rest of the night.”
So why am I thinking about catchers, and Carson Kelly, so much? Because it seems like every year a player who was a complete afterthought in drafts rises to the top of the heap. In 2019 you had Mitch Garver. In 2020 you had Travis d’Arnaud and Austin Nola. And in 2021 you seemingly have Carson Kelly, who went 1-4, HR, 2 RBI last night and has been one of the best hitters in baseball this season. The quality of contact has been impressive enough on its own, with his 17.8% barrel rate and 46.4% Hard Hit rate. But those numbers become even more impressive when paired with his excellent 18.5% strikeout rate. Throw in some elite plate discipline–his 24% walk rate (13 walks) would be second in baseball to Joey Gallo if he had the plate appearances to qualify–and you have a catcher who truly seems to be breaking out.
Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t temper this a bit. He hasn’t accumulated enough batted balls for his barrel rate or contact quality to be considered “stabilized,” and the 29.3% whiff rate hints at the strikeout rate likely normalizing sometime soon. But there’s still a lot to like about what Kelly has been doing so far, and the expected stats seem to back up his potential to crack the top-10 at the position. He’s absolutely worth a speculative add in all formats where you’re not already rostering a top catching option, especially given that he’s homered four times in his last seven games now. And he’s certainly bolstering the argument that, even well into the start of the season, there’s always hope of finding a diamond in the rough if you missed out on a catcher in the draft.
Let’s see how the other hitters did Friday:
Shohei Ohtani (LAA): 2-5, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 SB.
Oh, don’t mind Shohei Ohtani, he’s just top-30 in every standard fantasy category now except for average, where his measly .294 mark probably isn’t doing you much good. Ohtani still holds the Max Exit Velocity crown this year with a 119 mph stinger, and has also knocked over 15 percentage points off his groundball rate compared to his previous two seasons. An Ohtani who is now elevating the ball is very, very scary.
Giancarlo Stanton (NYY): 2-4, 2 HR, 2 R, 2 RBI.
Speaking of insane exit velocities, Stanton’s home runs last night left the bat at 118 mph and 115.7 mph respectively. That’s now four home runs over his last seven games, which is impressive considering he’s hitting an uncharacteristic amount of groundballs and whiffing at one of the highest rates of his career. The .180 average isn’t doing you any favors, but it’ll likely rebound soon, as long as Stanton’s muscles remain attached to his bones and in good working order.
Nick Solak (TEX): 1-5, 1 HR, 1 R, 2 RBI.
That’s now three homers over Solak’s last seven games, along with a .320/.452/.680 triple slash during that span. As much as I wanted to write off his 44-homer 2019 campaign between the minors and majors as an aberration, he’s making it awfully difficult to do so this year, showing great bat control (41.3% Sweet Spot), an improved groundball rate, and enough pop to make it work. He’s feasting almost exclusively on fastballs, and I think he cools off substantially down the line, but for now play the hot hand.
Adolis García (TEX): 2-5, 2 HR, 2 R, 4 RBI.
That’s two more home runs for Garcia, at 102 mph and 104 mph off the bat. Garcia has now homered four times over the past week, and after flashing 30+ homer power in the minors, it’s probably safe to say this isn’t a fluke. In all likelihood, the swing-and-miss in his game will cap the batting average below .250, but he’s a widely available source of power for those who need it.
Yermín Mercedes (CWS): 4-4, 1 2B, 1 R, 3 RBI.
I know we were all getting a little scared there when Mercedes’ batting average dipped below .400, but have no fear, this performance lifted him back up to .429 on the season. Mercedes joins Ronald Acuña Jr. and Brandon Nimmo as the only remaining qualified hitters with batting averages above .400 this year. With an impressive 113 mph max exit velocity already under his belt, and a strikeout rate below 15%, Mercedes appears to be the rare hitter that can marry power and contact ability. This should be a fun ride.
Yoán Moncada (CWS): 3-4, 1 HR, 1 R, 3 RBI, 1 BB.
This performance pulled Moncada’s average up to .320 over the past week, and he seems to potentially be breaking out of an early season slump. He’s still got quite a hill to climb though, as his contact quality (30.8%) has not been nearly at the level it was during his incredible 2019 season. An encouraging night, but still a situation you’ll want to monitor over the next few weeks.
Brandon Nimmo (NYM): 3-5, 1 2B, 1 HR, 2 R, 4 RBI.
It’s almost May, and Nimmo has now reached base in nearly half of his plate appearances this season (.491 OBP). He’s the quintessential leadoff man, and a must-roster player in OBP formats. In standard leagues it’s a little dicier–a lot of his value boils down to how much power and speed he can produce. This was certainly encouraging development on that front.
Kolten Wong (MIL): 3-4, 1 HR, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 SB.
Welcome back, Kolten Wong! Wong produced a coveted combo meal in his return from an IL stint, raising his batting average on the year over 100 points. This was encouraging sign that the Brewers’ leadoff hitter is fully recovered and ready to continue to be the all-around contributor that he’s been in years past.
Javier Báez (CHC): 3-5, 1 HR, 2 R, 1 RBI.
What’s the opposite of a Statcast darling? A Statcast troll? Well whatever it’s called, Javier Báez embodies it. Báez is now up to five homers and six stolen bases on the season, and has arguably been one of the best fantasy assets of the season so far. This, despite striking out in literally half his at-bats to this point, and posting a .180 xBA, .267 xwOBA, and 51.7% whiff rate. This is, of course, par for the course for Báez, as he has consistently outperformed his peripherals. But nonetheless, it may be prudent to sell high, as it really seems like the bottom could fall out here at any moment.
Austin Riley (ATL): 1-3, 1 HR, 1 R, 2 RBI, 1 BB.
For every preseason sleeper who has continued to struggle mightily this year (I’m looking at you, Dylan Moore), there’s one who has rewarded fantasy managers’ patience and begun to turn the ship around here in the eleventh hour. With a .353/.538/.706 slash over the past week and two homers, things actually may be starting to pan out for the young hitter. Perhaps most encouraging is that Riley has continued to cut down on the strikeouts that plagued him early in his career. Unfortunately it’s come at the cost of some of his power to this point, as his Hard Hit has dropped from 42.9% last year to 37.5% so far in 2021. But he’s clearly making strides, and now might be the perfect time to scoop him up if any frustrated owners abandoned him on the wire recently.
Featured Imaged by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter)