(Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire)
These are the Overlords of OBP. The professional hitters who make other “professional hitters” (looking at you, Markakis & Melky) seem like amateurs. They are talented titans with the tools to tyrannize.
We know who they are. They stand out like a bro at Reed College.
But this column – this slice of detective work – features the unheralded heroes of the trade – the undervalued OBP sources.
I won’t get preachy with the merits of using OBP instead of batting average in your fantasy league. Instead, I’ll simply ask: do you remember switching from dial-up to broadband? How about the first time you tried fresh-squeezed orange juice, rather than from-concentrate? How about the day you switched from boxers to boxer briefs? Quite simply, things were never the same again.
But those are tangential unrelated questions. I’m absolutely not preaching or recommending anything.
By the way, have you ever eaten sushi… in Japan?
As I type, the following sits to my right: 1. Miguel, a striped cat (he’s the one on the left, named after Miguel Cabrera) who generously presents a collage of gopher entrails on my welcome mat every day (I call these “offerings”). 2. a fresh IPA from Oregon poured into a frosted glass 3. an effigy of Ronald Acuna that I’ve been sprinkling with powdered dragonfruit extract every day since I first saw a clip of him at age 17.
There also sits a blue mask and snorkel, which we are about to use to dive into the world of OBP. Hold your breath!
Down under, in the land of burgeoning MLB stars and 33-year-old journeymen and lots of Diaz’s, there sits a profusion of patient prospects who have been productive performers. Patient youngsters – aspiring Jedi’s, if you will.
Here are the Minor League players who have caught my eye, with regards to their plate discipline and walk: strikeout ratios:
Most scouts consider Scott Heineman a 4th or 5th MLB outfielder – at best. But I am not most scouts. I make Ronald Acuna effigies. Heineman has been stellar in the early going (1.352 OPS) and he is really flashing for me visually (must not say “Eye Test”, must not say “Eye Test”). At age 25, he has at least 5-7 “prime” years left, and I suspect he’ll be knocking on the door to Arlington before long. Click here to see Heineman in action. Last season his load was awfully reminiscent of Ryan Braun, but this year he dropped his hands, and his stance and bat position is similar to Hunter Renfroe. His swing is something out of a Scott Kingery fairy tale. After slamming 17 home runs and stealing 30 bags last season, Heineman is sporting a 13:12 walk-to-strikeout ratio, and he is demonstrating the athleticism, bat speed, pop, and patience that will play at the highest level. He is well behind fellow prospect Willie Calhoun on the Rangers priority list, but in dynasty leagues, I love him as a sneaky add. In redraft, should events transpire that earn him the call, I think he’s worth a look.
Mystery Player (Second Base – Age 23 – New Hampshire Fisher Cats – Toronto Blue Jays organization)
Close your eyes. You’re floating in warm turquoise waters. Maybe it’s Bora Bora; maybe it’s the Mediterranean off the coast of Italy. Now, think of the Blue Jays prospects. Specifically, think of the best Blue Jays prospects. Now, think of the best Blue Jays prospects whose fathers were well-known Major League players. You may know where I am going with this. And most likely, you thought of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, two of the top twenty prospects in all of baseball, sons of former big league stars Vladimir Guerrero and Dante Bichette.
But I’m here to tell you, as I stroke a purring Miguel, that there is a third son-of-a-big-leaguer in Toronto that warrants your attention. Like Vladdy Jr., he is also the son of a Hall of Famer. And like Vladdy, he is destined for big league success – not of the same gargantuan proportions, but success nonetheless. I present to you, the hard-working, supposedly not-entitled, Cavan Biggio. Son of Craig Biggio, and an overlooked second base prospect who has homered in 25% of his games in 2018, along with 6 doubles, a triple, and a 11:16 BB:K ratio that would make his father proud.
More importantly, Cavan looks the part in film. In that home run clip, you can see shades of a quicker-twitch Ryan Doumit. Biggio is long and athletic, with a smooth and controlled left-handed swing that generates easy loft. He has also stolen three bases. I see the outline of an above-average big league player — perhaps a toolsier, more athletic Ryan Flaherty — or, in a best-case-scenario, a .268/.345/.495 kind of player – Scooter Gennett meets David Justice. In deeper dynasty leagues, I think his hot start and strong
genetics skills warrant a pickup. Better too early than too late. Oh look! A parrot fish!
Back to the Bigs
While I’d love to sit and talk prospects with you all day, the reality is that you, reader, probably play in a 10-team ESPN league. And you probably love Coors Light. Sorry, it’s just the odds.
(If I’m wrong, feel free to come yell at me on Twitter)
So while I’d love to cook you up some more spinach-gouda omelets, my duty is to toast you some Eggo waffles. Here are some undervalued OBP targets that you should… target:
Nick Markakis is the generic player comparison for all skilled lefty prospects without great power (Winker, Verdugo). It’s a bit lazy, but it makes sense. It’s like eating cereal in the morning. This season Nick Markakis is walking more than ever. His 16:11 walk-to-K ratio is supreme, and he’s hitting in a sneaky-potent and exciting lineup that includes Freddie “other Bryce Harper” Freeman, Ozzie “am I a top-30 dynasty asset?” Albies, and Ronald “most electric prospect since Ken Griffey Jr.” Acuna. In OBP leagues, particularly those with 5 outfielders, you want some Markakis in your life. He has also incorporated more loft into his swing (I haven’t checked the data… but I can tell based on the… gasp… Eye Test!). If one of you would be lovely enough to go check his launch angle, and prove my eyes correct, I’d be most delighted.
Outlook: Markakis is showing signs of one of those mid/late career surges where they take their skills to another level, and give similar output to the young shiny pups who fantasy managers fawn over.
Cesar Hernandez (Second Base, Philadelphia Phillies)
Remember a month ago when we were all clamoring for Philadelphia to shop Cesar Hernandez to make room for Scott Kingery? That was the modern equivalent of the conspiracy by Gaius Cassius, Decimus Junius, and Marcus Junius to assassinate Cesar – only this time, Cesar evaded the attempted stabs, turned his sword into a baseball bat, and started performing like a top-10 second baseman. May he reign.
.310 batting average – 18:24 walk-strikeout ratio – .425 OBP.
(and this isn’t a new development! Cesar put up a .371 OBP in 2016 and a .373 OBP in 2017! This guy gets on base!)
Remember, like, two years ago, when Andrelton Simmons was a glove-only defensive wizard with Double-A level offensive skills? It feels… so long ago. We’re a long way from home,
Simmons has stepped up his offensive game considerably. He is yet another example of the elite hand-eye-coordination and reflexes needed to be an elite defender, slowly but surely translating into solid offensive skills (I now direct your attention to Nick Ahmed and Adeiny Hechavarria). After batting a respectable .331/.421/.752 in 2017, Simmons is off to a great start for the first place Angels. His 10.3% walk rate is ≈4% above his career average of 6.4%, and his .396 OBP and his average exit velocity is higher than fellow middle infielders Trea Turner, Chris Taylor, and Paul DeJong. With playing time secured due to his excellent defense, Simmons is finally merging a solid approach with his raw athletic gifts. In a lineup paced by Kinsler, Upton, Trout, and MVP candidate Shohei Ohtani, Simmons is in position to thrive.
Is it… finally happening? Incontheivable!
Jorge Soler has long been my go-to example for how video highlights can make a player look like a superstar, and blind you to their plate discipline woes. Until this season, Jorge Soler’s big league career has been, in a word, dreadful. After lighting up the league in a short rookie stint, he entered fantasy drafts as a trendy breakout pick, drawing comparisons to Vladimir Guerrero and birthing the phrase Soler Power.
What followed was a never-ending montage of Soler chasing fastballs above the letters and breaking balls in the dirt. Visions of an all-star with 40-home run power were replaced by the less disciplined brethren of Randal Grichuk – a strong, athletic player with absolutely zero approach – and a career 28% Strikeout Percentage to prove it. He became the poster child for the important cerebral aspect of baseball: no matter how blessed you are with strength or coordination or athleticism, if you lack the internal goods, big league pitchers will exploit you.
But after 19 games played in 2018… it appears that Jorge Soler has… dare I say it… arrived!
He has reduced his K% to a more manageable 26%, upped his Walk Rate to 18.2%, and — oh no! his BABIP is .375!!! ABORT ABORT ABORT! It’s all just a mirage – a dream – like the one where Caroline loved me back. Don’t fall for it, folks. It’s not real. Hell hath no fury like a women scorned, and fantasy baseball hath no fury like a guy who once drafted Jorge Soler in round 11. Take your .416 OBP elsewhere, Jorge. Go swing at breaking balls in the dirt on someone else’s fantasy team. You’re not fooling me. You’re one of those fish with evolved fake “faces” on their side.
Oh noooo why did I just click on my fantasy home page? Why am I bidding 50% of my FAAB on Jorge Soler!?? I can’t stop! I can’t quit you, Jorge! I knew I shouldn’t have had that second beer! All inhibitions are gone. And I won’t have any $FAAB left for budding 4th outfielder phenom Scott Heineman! Welcome to the team, Jorge. I know we had a miserable breakup and I deleted you from all social media… but when I ran into you that day at the Pitcher List Cafe I just… I just felt those butterflies again. That indescribable connection that we’ve always shared. I know you were bad to me. And maybe I was bad to you. But that’s all in the past now. We are bound forever, for better or for worse. We will always have a spark. You will always be… my Soler Power.