For the last year, most of the information we have received on prospects has been restricted to grainy videos from a batting session or second hand tidbits from the alternate site. Things are about to get really interesting with the minor league season set to kick off.
It’s exciting to think that hot prospects could find their way onto the major league roster. The flip side of this is that ice cold major league players might find their way heading to the minors (so long as they have minor league options). This is actually a really big deal and will surely be a point of frustration for fantasy managers.
Let’s use a couple underperformers from previous Performance Reports as examples. Keston Hiura with the Brewers still isn’t hitting and is actually starting to cede playing time at 1B to Daniel Vogelbach. Since he is a defensive liability and since he has a couple of minor league options left, Hiura could find himself in the minors. Eugenio Suárez has also remained in his hitting funk at the plate. The thing is, Suárez is a competent defender and does not have any minor league options. So he will likely be given a much longer leash.
With all of that explained and out of the way, let’s take a closer look at some player’s and how they have performed as of late.
This will be the second week I have a Cub leading off, but it’s for good reason. I will admit, I have not been a Kris Bryant believer for years. For me he had the look of a guy who got a lot of hype because of the name value, but wasn’t delivering on his draft day price. That line of thought worked out well for me the last two years, but I could not have been more wrong this year.
Just look at how well he has already done this season compared to last season… and he hasn’t even had the same amount of at bats yet.
When compared to previous seasons, Bryant is hitting the ball a lot harder more often and he is taking advantage of those hits by barreling up on the ball at nearly three times the rate as last year. His .362 Babip is a little inflated and could point to a slight regression, but his improved contact skills paint a rosy picture regardless. Add to all of this the reduced strikeout rate and improved walk rate and you have a hitter who should still provide value even if he slumps for a couple weeks at the dish.
There are so many factors that could be motivators for this success. Could it be that Bryant is finally fully healthy? Or perhaps all of the craziness of COVID and 2020 took a huge mental toll on his game? Maybe he’s just found another level knowing he is in a contract year.
Whatever the reason is, this renewed version of Bryant looks legit. I’m absolutely buying it where I can with the expectation that he will finish the year as a top five option at the position. If push came to shove, would I pay a top 5 price? I’d strongly consider it.
Staying in the division, let’s look at the Cardinals and Tommy Edman. With the offseason acquisition of Nolan Arenado and the anticipation of a full season from top prospect Dylan Carlson, Edman has sort of slid by without much fanfare. This is understandable since Edman is coming off a down 2020, but is there more value here than fantasy managers realize?
Power is one thing that won’t be a carrying tool for Edman, ever. A dozen home runs would be a good over/under for Edman this year. The under might be the safe bet considering where his barrel percentage and launch angle are sitting. His other plate skills are good, which means he won’t hurt you in the AVG or OBP department.
Before you check out on Mr. Edman, we need to look at his true source of value. He is a leadoff hitter with exceptional speed (90th percentile), but he has yet to record a major league season with more than fifteen SB. Given his aforementioned speed and place in a decent Cardinals lineup, it’s not out of the question to envision Edman popping off for 20 SB or more with 90 runs scored to add to that.
I know that might not sound like the sexiest profile, but at the price it could be a boon for your fantasy team. Runs scored is always an undervalued statistic, but you still need runs to win. Add to that the potential for SB and he is someone I would inquire on.
2020 was essentially a lost year for Eduardo Rodriguez after he not only contracted COVID, but then had further complications from it. There was a lot of skepticism coming into camp this year as to where he would pick up after an entire year off. So how has he been so far?
Well, a quick look at his game log shows that he might actually have taken a step forward. When compared to his last year played in 2019, E-Rod is striking out more batters (10.17 K/9) and walking SIGNIFICANTLY less batters to this point (0.78 BB/9 compared to 3.32 BB/9). The only real downside I see is his home run rate has jumped to 1.57 HR/9. This could just be a small sample size, but it’s still worth watching.
The difficult thing with E-Rod is knowing how many innings the Red Sox will let him go this year. He threw for 203.1 innings in 2019, but after an entire year off you have to imagine they might baby him somewhat. For this reason, if I’m in a redraft league he might be tough to buy, but in keeper or dynasty I am inquiring on him for sure. If you are in a keeper/dynasty, and you aren’t playing for this year, he might be even less expensive to acquire if he does end up getting shut down.
Verdict: HOLD – in redraft /// BUY – in dynasty/keeper
Riley was a hot call up in 2019 and looked the part of a high strikeout masher with a bad average. In the 2020 season he cut that massive strikeout rate down from 36.4% down to 23.8%. You’d think his BA would shoot up as a result, but for all the gains he made with his K% he lost them with his GB%. He was killing earthworms left and right as we saw his GB% rise from 26.2% to 41.7%. He also lost 7 degrees off his launch angle which further reinforces his inability to lift the ball.
So then how has Riley done so far this year? Well, batting mostly in the bottom third of the order, Riley has seen success on his way to a .299/.409/.442 triple slash with three HR. He’s maintained the gains he made on the reduced strikeout rate and is even showing a little more with his walk rate.
As much as I want this to be a real breakout for him, I still don’t find myself buying in. He is actually hitting even more ground balls at 44.6% and his barrel percentage has dropped by almost half to 5.4%. Riley isn’t really hitting the ball all that hard either, so his .299 AVG is likely more a product of luck than anything else to this point.
The good news is that Riley shouldn’t lose playing time even if he does regress (which I really think he will). Until he can reverse his issues with ground balls, he is not someone I’d want to roster on any of my teams unless it’s a deeper league where I really need the at bats. If anything, I’d be looking to sell him as a breakout. There is a possibility he could still make some sort of adjustment, but what we are seeing to this point in his statcast data point to luck over actual growth.
Photo by Mick Haupt/Unsplash | Feature Image by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)