Taylor Ward (LAA): 2-4, 2 HR, 2 R, 3 RBI.
The Angels’ had a new leadoff hitter on Monday night – Taylor Ward. The 28-year-old outfielder rewarded manager Joe Maddon for moving him up in the order, going 2-for-4 at the plate, with two home runs, two runs, and three RBI. His three runs knocked in were the only ones of the game, propelling the Angels to a win over the Guardians.
Any two home run game is impressive, but Ward’s was particularly so. He hit both long balls against Cleveland ace Shane Bieber and went both ways with the ball. His fifth-inning solo shot went out to right-centerfield while his seventh-inning two-run blast cleared the left-centerfield fence. It was the first two-home run game of Ward’s career.
After Monday’s strong showing, Ward’s batting line is up to .367/.525/.700. For an Angels’ team that has consistently struggled to find good role players to produce around their stars, Ward’s early-season breakout is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Ward’s due for some regression, but it may not be as severe as you may think. He doesn’t have a long track record of success at the MLB level, but in a 65-game sample last year, Ward hit .250/.332/.438 – not a standout performance, but certainly one that’s exciting for the Angels and usable for fantasy managers in deep leagues. Ward even had a strong final year in Triple-A, posting a 145 wRC+ during the 2019 season.
Despite the impressive start to the season, Ward hasn’t landed on many fantasy players’ radars. He’s rostered in just 15% of Yahoo! leagues and 5.5% of ESPN leagues.
Ward’s riding a very-high BABIP to his gaudy season batting line, but there are marks of meaningful improvement in his walk and strikeout rates. I’m not ready to call Ward a must-add, but if you need outfield help, giving Ward a shot may just pay off.
Let’s see how the other hitters did Monday:
Bo Bichette (TOR): 1-4, HR, R, 4 RBI.
It’s been slow-going for Bichette so far, and if you used your first-round draft pick on the young shortstop, you may be getting a bit impatient. Monday wasn’t a breakout performance that drastically changed his season slash line, but he did come up with his biggest hit of the year. After the Red Sox tied the game at 2-2 in the top of the eighth inning, Bichette launched a go-ahead grand slam in the bottom of the frame, giving the Blue Jays the lead for good. It was Bichette’s first career grand slam. Let’s just hope it’ll be the start of him turning things around and returning first-round value.
Kyle Tucker (HOU): 3-4, RBI, SB.
Tucker’s season got off to a dreadful start as he tallied just four hits in his first 52 plate appearances. After Monday’s three-hit game, it looks like he’s finally turned the corner – Tucker’s gone 6-for-13 in his past three games. His season-long numbers are still disappointing, but his actual batting average and slugging percentage of .155 and .259 are significantly lower than his Statcast xBA and xSLG of .287 and .595. It’s always hard to see an early-round pick struggle so much to get the season started, but better days are ahead for the Astros’ right fielder.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (TOR): 2-4, 2B, HR, R, RBI.
Gurriel opened the scoring with a fifth-inning home run against Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi and later doubled in the Blue Jays’ four-run eighth inning. After two extra-base hits yesterday, Gurriel’s season slash line is up to .297/.329/.469. All three of those statistics are higher than his 2021 marks. Those kinds of numbers in the middle of one of the best lineups in baseball should produce remarkably high RBI and run totals – something that should play for any fantasy team. His 19% whiff rate so far would easily be the best of his career, giving fantasy managers hope that Gurriel Jr. could unlock some still hidden potential.
Luis González (SF): 2-4, HR, R, 2 RBI.
González was called up by the Giants on Friday, and he’s quickly made an impression. Through his first 14 plate appearances, he has a .308 batting average and .538 slugging percentage. Monday was just González’s 13th MLB game as he never got much run with the White Sox in previous years, but he’s now started three straight games for the Giants. That may continue with Mike Yastrzemski and Steven Duggar on the IL. Outside of being a speculative stolen base target in the deepest of fantasy leagues, he’s not worth taking a chance on just yet.
Brandon Nimmo (NYM): 1-5, HR, R, 2 RBI.
The Mets are clicking on all cylinders to start the season, and Nimmo is no exception. Coming into Monday, his 182 wRC+ was more than 30 points higher than his previous career-best. Yesterday wasn’t a banner day for the Mets’ leadoff hitter, but his two-run home run was a big part of his team’s ninth-inning comeback against the Cardinals. He’s now hitting .292/.393/.563 and has been a great asset in fantasy baseball, especially in OBP and points leagues. Nimmo’s BaseballSavant page is a sea of red right now. If he can stay healthy, the sky’s the limit.
Rhys Hoskins (PHI): 3-5, 2 R.
Season sample sizes are still small enough that one big day can change the way we view a player. Hoskins put up three hits in yesterday’s win over the Rockies, and even with that strong showing, his season OPS is still just .761. It’s no secret his performance thus far isn’t worth writing home about, but under the hood, it’s not so bad. His 19% walk rate would be a career-best, as would his 15.2% barrel rate. Hoskins’ hard-hit rate is in the 99th percentile of players, so it should just be a matter of time until he turns things around. He could be a great buy-low option.
Adolis García (TEX): 2-5, 2B, 3 RBI.
García drove in three runs in the Rangers’ win over the Astros yesterday, but the most exciting part of his performance so far isn’t something you’ll easily find in a box score. García had a great year in 2021, finishing fourth in Rookie of the Year voting and making the AL All-Star team. His 31 homer, 16 steal season makes a big impression, but his plate discipline numbers were so bad that it dragged his fantasy value down tremendously. So far this year, he’s lowered his strikeout rate nearly five percent to a much more reasonable 26.6% and raised his walk rate over four points to 9.4%. The overall results still haven’t been great – .200/.290/.350 – but with better plate disciple skills, a 35+ home run, 20 steal season is a real possibility.
Jeff McNeil (NYM): 2-4, 2 2B, R.
The more we see from McNeil, the more his dismal 2021 showing is looking like a one-year aberration. From 2018 to 2020, McNeil posted a .319/.383./.501 slash line and 140 wRC+. That looks awfully like what he’s doing this year – .316/.381/.474 and a 143 wRC+. McNeils early-season 10.2% strikeout rate is the best of his career. I’m all in.
Richie Palacios (CLE): 2-3.
The Guardians’ third-round draft pick in 2018 made his MLB debut in last night’s game. Palacios wasted no time collecting his first hit, singling off Michael Lorenzen in his first plate appearance. The Guardians have a crowded outfield already, so I don’t see Palacios getting enough playing time to make much of a fantasy impact. Palacios wasn’t a high-ranking prospect, but in the off chance he does see regular at-bats, he could have some stolen base upside. He totaled 20 stolen bases while splitting time between the Double-A and Triple-A levels in 2021.
Ryan McMahon (COL): 2-3, 2B.
McMahon collected two hits on Monday, including the hardest-hit ball of the day – a fifth-inning 111.4 mph double off of Kyle Gibson. Despite the Rockies’ strong start, McMahon hasn’t enjoyed the same success. He’s hitting .241/.328/.407 so far, a batting line that’s a lot closer to his career average than you may think. McMahon signed a six-year, $70 million extension this offseason, so that may be putting some added pressure on him. If you’re holding him in fantasy leagues, that’s fine, but I wouldn’t hesitate to move on if there’s a higher-ceiling option available.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)