National League Hitters on the Rise

Ben Pernick identifies the best rising and buy-low bats in the NL.

Welcome back, though I know for many of you, finding out baseball is back but with a National League DH is like returning home from college to find your room is currently being rented out to Texan tourists on AirBnB. Look, before you complain about sleeping on the futon, just try Bobbi Jo’s honey butter biscuits.  Obviously, having a DH in the NL is a big change for fantasy purposes. But that doesn’t mean it’s worth spilling digital ink on every single quad-A player in line for additional at-bats.  Here I do my best to traverse the roaring deluge of changes and fish out a few that will actually make a splash in most fantasy leagues.  Normally I’d do a more traditional buy and sell, but let’s face it, right now the biggest ADP droppers are mostly the injured/COVID guys and that feels icky so I’ll just add more buys. ADP are based on NFBC leagues that have drafted since July 1st.

 

10-Team Leagues

 

J.D. Davis, 3B/OF, New York Mets (ADP: 157)

 

J.D. is finally seeing justice served. He already was a popular sleeper this offseason due to his excellent 2019 stats (.307 with 22 HR and 3 SB in 453 PA) and a blood red Statcast page that indicates he’s no fluke, but the biggest question was his playing time. Sure, he plays 3B and OF, but is pretty bad defensively. Now with the DH in the NL, he’ll start most games in left field but should be able to cycle in at DH instead of being taken out of the lineup. Despite expanded rosters, Davis should be platoon immune as he hit .305/.366/.520 vs righties and an even better .312/.374/.539 vs lefties. If he stays healthy, he can easily produce like a top-75 player, whereas his ADP has only crept up to 157. Rocket him up your draft boards as I think he shouldn’t be on the board past pick 135 and could take him as early as 125 if he’s guaranteed full-time reps.

 

Howie Kendrick, 1B/2B, Washington Nationals (ADP: 251)

 

I don’t get Howie does it. Honestly, a player who hit as well as him should be playing every day he is physically able. But with the DH, he can save himself from wear-and-tear on the field. Zimmerman sitting out also helps open up time for Kendrick at first and third base. Of course, the reality is that he just might not really want to play every day since his body is achy, but I believe that in a 60 game season, combined with the DH, he’ll play pretty much every day to keep them in contention. And I believe last year wasn’t a fluke as he had real, incredible gains in exit velocity and barrel rate without hurting his elite contact rate. He could potentially be one of the best power/average hitters in the league per at-bat. His ADP has been propelled from 355 in March up to 251 now, right behind Luis Arraez, and I think that’s still a great discount, since he can basically be Justin Turner (ADP: 161) with more useful position multi-eligibility. I’d expect him to keep climbing and I’d target him around pick 210-230 if not sooner… and if his stock keeps rising, I’ll still be champing at the bit on Hungry Howie. 

 

12-Team Leagues

 

Dylan Carlson, OF, St. Louis Cardinals (ADP: 202)

 

He was uncertain to enter April with a starting role, but now the Cardinals have a fighting chance for the playoffs and no ability for him to get “seasoning” in the minors. So he’s likely to play in the Majors this year, though he may miss the first week which is a big impact in an eight-week season. Unlike Hilliard, Carlson’s minor league numbers are more likely to be legitimate as his .290s 26 HR, 20 SB season was mostly done against Double-A, that didn’t have Triple-A’s juiced ball benefit. And of course he’s just 21, making his bust risk inherently lower and with a healthier strikeout rate to boot. I mostly overlooked him earlier, but his projections don’t look to be far off from those of Oscar Mercado and Andrew Benintendi. He rose from pick 253 in March to pick 202 and makes a fine mid-round power-speed gamble after pick 200, and I’d bump him up a bit more if he’s guaranteed to start on opening day.

 

Sam Hilliard, OF, Colorado Rockies (ADP: 219)

 

What in the Sam Hill are the Rockies doing? It seemed Hilliard had earned a full-time role after the DH and Ian Desmond decided to sit out the season. But I can’t sleep easy knowing the Rockies did sign Matt Kemp, and it would be totally Rockies of them to block Hilliard’s access to PT with a crappy veteran, at least against lefties. Still, Hilliard’s 42 home runs and 24 stolen bases between Triple-A and the Majors last year (okay, all but 7 of the HR and 2 SB were in Triple-A) gives plenty cause for excitement, which explains why he’s risen from 277 to 219. That’s still after what I consider to be more high-risk power/speed guys like Rougned Odor and Yasiel Puig. Aim for him after pick 210 and hope to ride that Rocky Mountain high.

 

Austin Riley, 3B/OF, Atlanta Braves (ADP: 253)

 

Looks like drafters are getting Riled up. He’s climbed the ranks from pick 310 in March, and the reasons why are clear. Camargo is hardly the answer at third base and he looks to have an opportunity to reclaim regular at-bats in a season where he has nothing to gain by not playing in the majors. Riley’s streakiness could be a boon for your team, and you can get him late enough that you can move on quickly if he struggles out of the gate. Projections peg him to hit .250 with 10 HR and that’s deceptively good with his multi-position eligibility, which will be especially important this year. Snag this post-hype gem if he’s still on your board after pick 235.

 

15-Team Leagues

 

Justin Smoak, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers (ADP: 289)

 

Looks like I picked the wrong day to quit Smoaking. After all, I’ve penned Smoak’s name in every preseason article I’ve written, including a bold prediction he’d be a top 15 First Baseman (that was much more bold when his ADP was over 400 in February). But of course a large part of the boldness was that he wasn’t even guaranteed at-bats as Ryan Braun has been the top option at first base. And the DH helps Braun as well, who very well may be the player who gets more helium from this move. But Miller Park is one of the best for lefty power, and I think he has the right combination of decreasing strikeout rate and lots of hard hit flyballs to have a triumphant return. The projections are still bearish on his batting average but I think he can at least hit .260 and hit 10 dingers and excellent OBP. His ADP has launched from 368 in April to 289 in July, but I’d still rather have him over the names the guys ahead of him (Hosmer, Renato, Votto, Andujar). If you missed out on the first base pool, I’d target him around pick 265-275.

 

Carter Kieboom, SS, Washington Nationals (ADP: 324)

 

Kieboom needs to stop being treated like a Kiebust. Unlike many others on this list rocketing up the ranks, Kieboom has held steady at pick 324, which I think is unfair to him. Especially after the news with Zimmerman, it’s all but certain that Kieboom will start the year in the majors, and he will likely be quick to gain 3B reps for multi-position eligibility. I’m not taking much from 43 bad plate appearances, and I’d focus more on the 22-year-old’s prospect pedigree, as he was rated the #5 prospect in baseball according to ZIPS preseason top 100 prospects (#21 on Longenhagen’s list) for his elite hitting upside. Although he didn’t dazzle in 2019, he can to hit .280 with 8-9 HR this year with upside for more, and assuming he does well he can produce a lot of runs in the Nationals’ lineup. Shortstop is quite deep, but since he has a Corey Seager-esque skillset, don’t get cute letting him go after pick 290, as I expect him to keep climbing.

 

Jay Bruce, OF, Philadelphia Phillies (ADP: 387)

 

Take a chance on him late and you may hulk out with a Bruce Banner year. Look, there’s nothing sexy about this pick, and I realize most of this list is a bunch of old guys. But that’s exactly why Bruce’s name will likely be lingering around as flashier names get scooped up, and Bruce can still do what he does best… hit at a .230 30 HR pace. Hey in deep leagues, that’s useful, especially if you get the hotter end of it! I feel like we all think of him as 37 years old, but he’s still just 33 and posted the best exit velocity and barrel rates of his career, and his .244 xBA and .543 xSLG suggest he may have actually had some bad luck despite popping 26 jacks in just 333 PA. He’s rocketed up draft boards from 547 in March to 387 in July, but that’s still too low. He doesn’t have a strong platoon split and can easily soak up at-bats, and given his solid 24% K%, I don’t see why Teoscar Hernandez is going 75 picks ahead of him. If he’s still on your board after pick 360 and you need pop, get your J.B. Smoove.

 

18-Team and NL-Only Leagues

 

Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Mets (ADP: 402)

 

It’s been rough sailing for Robinson the past few years, but with the small cost of acquiring him, it’s never too late to be wise. The DH is a godsend to Cano (and unfortunately a few other bat-first Mets players), but Cano can still handle 2B duties and get spelled by McNeil when he needs a break. I still think Cano has one more strong season left in the bat, as his .256 average last year was well below his .280 xAVG and he still showed above average exit velocity and strikeout rate. I can’t expect a breakout in his age 37 season, but his draft stock has actually tumbled from 363 in March to 402 in July, despite the fact that his value goes up with the DH. He’s my one pick here who I think was unfairly dismissed due to fantasy ageism, and makes a great late round get if you missed out on top end 2B.  If you can get him past pick 370, you’d be wise to pounce and turn this Robinson Crusade into Old Man and the C (C for Championship, if that wasn’t obvious (it wasn’t). 

 

Luis Urias, 2B/SS, Milwaukee Brewers (ADP: 405)

 

I think this is the year to wait on second baseman, as it’s very shallow up top but there’s lots of intriguing late round and mid-round options. This is definitely not the popular consensus. But Urias is over his early season injury and in a much better situation to succeed than the spacious San Diego park. He did hit .315 with 19 homers and 7 SB in 339 PA in juiced ball Triple-A in 2019, and in a good park he can be a solid .270-.280 hitter with 15-20 HR pop over a full season and some chip in stolen bases. Roster Resource lists him as the opening day Shortstop, though he faces a threat from Orlando Arcia if his hot hitting in spring training wasn’t a fluke. His ADP took a big hit from 330 in March to 405 in July, but I don’t see a great reason for it. If he’s still on your board after pick 375, assume it’s because he got mixed up for Luis Arraez again and scoop him up.

 

Dominic Smith, 1B, New York Mets (ADP: 413)

 

I swear I’m not a Mets homer, I just want to cash in on Mets homers. It’s a little weird to see just how much a former high-end prospect who just had a strong showing in the majors is mostly ignored, though his ADP rose from a pitiful 505 in April to 413 in July. Still, I think it’s underrating a guy who has the ability to hit for solid power and average. And unlike many first baseman, he hits righties and lefties well so he’s unlikely to be platooned. Robinson Cano and Yoenis Cespedes if healthy (big IF) may steal some ABs from him with Pete Alonso at first, but the 25-year-old will likely also have a short leash. I still like him over many other 1B options and think he’s a fine add after pick 380, on the chance they’ll let Big Dom prove he’s no small fry.

Ben Pernick

Fantasy baseball nerd, music therapist, and comedy singer/songwriter and stand-up/sketch comedian. I am also an insufferable enthusiast of puns and dad jokes. I grew up as a Red Sox fan in New York, but now I declare allegiance only to my fantasy teams.

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