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The Naylor in the Coffin

Breaking down the best hitting performances from yesterday's games.

Josh Naylor (CLE): 3-5, 2B, 2 HR, 2 R, 8 RBI, BB.

Monday night in Chicago may have been the best night in Josh Naylor’s four-year MLB career. He went 3-for-5 with a double, two home runs, two runs, eight RBI, and a walk.

With Cleveland trailing 5-1 in the eighth inning, Naylor went the opposite way, pushing a double down the left-field line to bring the Guardians within three runs of the White Sox. Then, when things couldn’t get any more dramatic, Naylor hit a game-tying grand slam against lights out closer Liam Hendriks with two outs in the top of the ninth inning. But even that wasn’t all! Naylor came back up in the 11th inning, delivering a three-run home run to put the Guardians up for good. They’d ultimately win the game 12-9 in 11 innings.

Naylor’s in his third season in Cleveland and his fourth overall in the big leagues. So far, he hasn’t quite lived up to his 12th overall draft pick hype, posting a pre-2022 career slash line of .250/.306/.389 with 16 home runs and three stolen bases over 633 plate appearances.

As a prospect, Naylor was heralded for his prowess at the plate, especially his power stroke. While that hasn’t manifested itself at the MLB level, Naylor’s still just 24 years old, and 2022 is shaping up to be a breakout season for him.

Since missing the first week of the season on the IL, Naylor’s come back and played the best baseball of his career. Through his first 19 games, Naylor’s hitting .338/.370/.574 with four home runs and 21 RBI. His 11.9% strikeout rate would be the second-best mark of his career, and over six percentage points below the 18% mark he posted last season. Statcast likes what Naylor has been doing too. Entering play Monday, his xBA, xSLG, and xWOBA were all in the top quarter of hitters.

It’s taken four years in the show, but it seems like Naylor is finally figuring out MLB pitching. He’s rostered in just 11% and 9% of Yahoo! and ESPN fantasy leagues, respectively, and if the breakout holds up, those numbers will quickly rise. If you need help at a corner infield or outfield spot, Naylor is a fun guy to target.

Let’s see how the other hitters did Monday:

Brandon Drury (CIN): 2-5, HR, R, 3 RBI.

Drury played a big role in the Reds’ win over the Brewers on Monday, collecting both of his hits against Brandon Woodruff. The Reds’ utility man now has his season batting line up to a remarkable .284/.337/.593, good for a 150 wRC+. His Statcast page is a sea of red, but despite the hot start and being entrenched in the second spot in Cincinnati’s lineup, Drury’s rostered in less than 20% of Yahoo! and ESPN leagues. Oh, and he’s eligible at 2B, 3B, and OF. If he’s available and you need help in one of those areas, I’d roll the dice with Drury.

Omar Narváez (MIL): 2-4, HR, 2 R, RBI.

There’s no other way to put it – Narváez has had a tough start to the season. Even after yesterday’s game, his wOBA is just .301. That’d be the lowest wOBA over a full season in his seven-year career, not including the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. Narváez’s 28.6% strikeout rate is almost ten whole points higher than it was last year. Until he brings that down and finds his power stroke, he’s someone I’m staying away from in fantasy.

Jack Suwinski (PIT): 1-4, HR, R, 2 RBI.

Suwinski was a lower-tier prospect that got the call for the Pirates after hitting .353/.421/.686 to start the year in Double-A. That success hasn’t translated to the big leagues, as he’s hitting just .222/.263/.333 through 38 plate appearances, but he did launch his first career home run in the eighth inning of the Pirates’ win over the Dodgers on Monday. Suwinski has started all but two games since being called up on April 26th, but until he shows that there’s some life in his bat, he’s not worth a look in fantasy.

Nick Castellanos (PHI): 3-4, 2 2B, 3 R, 2 RBI.

All Castellanos does is hit, and that’s exactly what he kept doing on Monday. All three of his hits came off his bat at over 100 mph. The big day raised his season batting line to .311/.374/.505. His power numbers are a little down from 2021, but everything else is right in line with what we saw from him last year. The reduced power could just be a factor of the deadened baseball. Entering Monday, his 140 wRC+ was exactly the same as last year, even though his OPS was down from .939 to .835.

Tommy Pham (CIN): 2-4, R, RBI, BB, SB.

Pham started the year with just one hit in his first 31 plate appearances. Since then, he’s looked like his old self, hitting .308 with four home runs and a stolen base. His 114 wRC+ entering Monday’s game is his best mark since 2019, and his 11.5% barrel rate is his best since 2016. Both Pham’s hard-hit and walk rates are in the 90th percentile among hitters. Reds fans have had almost nothing to cheer about, but their new left fielder has been a bright spot.

Ke’Bryan Hayes (PIT): 3-5, 2B, R, SB.

After signing an eight-year, $70 million extension prior to Opening Day, Hayes has shown why he’s worth the investment by the typically tight-fisted Pirates franchise. After Monday’s three-hit performance, Hayes now has a .333 average and .417 OBP. The only thing missing from Hayes’ profile has been power. Just eight of his hits have been of the extra-base variety, and all of those have been doubles.

Daulton Varsho (ARI): 2-4, 2B, R, RBI, SB.

If you bought into the Varsho hype in fantasy drafts, he’s paid off your faith in him tremendously. He had another big game on Monday, raising his batting line to .258/.339/.495 with six home runs and three steals… from your catcher position! That’s invaluable in fantasy. If you roster him, congratulations. If you don’t, good luck getting someone to part with Arizona’s 25-year-old catcher/outfielder dual threat. He’s got quite a bit of red on his Baseball Savant page, and as a leadoff hitter, the sky’s the limit for Varsho.

Christian Walker (ARI): 2-3, 2B, RBI, BB.

Walker’s .681 OPS is not what you want to see from a potential fantasy add, but there’s a lot of upside beneath the surface when it comes to the Diamondbacks’ first baseman. Walker raised his barrel rate from 6.4% last year to 17.8% this year, and his slugging percentage of .420 is well below his xSLG of .619. He’s lowered his chase rate to a career-low 21.7% and his walk rate of 10.1% is only the second time it’s ever reached double digits. Walker’s BABIP of .149 is hilariously low, and at some point, he’ll start catching some breaks. When that happens, Walker will rocket up the waiver add boards. If you have room on your roster and can afford to hold him until the regression comes, I’d do it.

Willson Contreras (CHC): 3-4, R.

Contreras’ three-hit performance helped the Cubs to a 6-0 win over the Padres on Monday, snapping the Northsiders’ five-game losing streak. Yesterday was the third time in the past four games that Contreras has hit leadoff for the Cubs, and if that continues, the extra plate appearances should raise his fantasy stock ever so slightly. Not that he necessarily needed a boost. Contreras is hitting the ball harder than he ever has – his 92.9 mph average exit velocity and 116.2 mph max exit velocity are both career bests. His .279/.380/.477 batting line has him living up to his top-five catcher draft position.

Shohei Ohtani (LAA): 3-4, 2 HR, 3 R, 5 RBI.

Is there anything this man can’t do? Ohtani knocked in nearly half of the Angels’ 11 runs in their win over the Rays yesterday. Although it’s been a slow start at the plate for the 2021 AL MVP, things should turn around soon for Ohtani. He’s hitting the ball as hard as anyone in the game, and he’s lowered his strikeout rate from 29.6% to 24.6%. His 10.7% barrel rate is disappointingly less than half of what it was last year, but even if it doesn’t return to it’s peak levels, he’s still an elite power and stolen base threat.

Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)

Mark Steubinger

Mark loves everything talking and writing about baseball - from fantasy leagues to the legitimate defensive prowess of Kyle Schwarber as a left fielder. Mark has a degree in Sports Communication from Bradley University and works in radio production. He lives in central Illinois where his TV is permanently tuned to Chicago Cubs games.

  • Maher Salfiti says:

    Mark – Love these daily batter notes. I just picked up Mancini, but Naylor is a guy I’ve been watching. Who’s the better long term bat this season?

    • Mark Steubinger says:

      I think they’re probably pretty similar the rest of the way. Mancini is definitely the safer option if you just want someone who you can depend on to hit 20 home runs and rack up some runs and RBI. On the flip side, Naylor is the more fun/upside play here, and that’s what I usually chase in fantasy. If there’s a chance that one of them really takes their performance to the next level, I think it’d be Naylor. His strikeout rate is better and that’ll help you if you’re in a points or OBP league. So, long answer to a short question – I’d take Naylor. He’s only 24 and seems like he has a lot more potential he could still unlock. We know what Mancini is, and while he’s good, he’s not on the verge of a big breakthrough that would raise his fantasy stock significantly.

  • BB says:

    Narvaez’s wOBA actually is .326, according to both Fangraphs and Baseball Savant. But even .301 isn’t that bad these days since the MLB average so far is only .305 in the suppressed offensive environment, down from .314 last season.

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