Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (TOR): 2-5, 2 HR, 2 R, 3 RBI.
One of the most exciting things in fantasy baseball is watching a player finally break out. With Vlad Guerrero Jr. it doesn’t exactly qualify as a shocking turn of events, but he’s making up for it by breaking out in a big way. He blasted two home runs to finish with three RBI yesterday afternoon, keeping the Blue Jays in the game long enough to force extra innings (the Toronto bullpen had other ideas, though—giving up two runs in the 10th and seven in the 11th). To any doubters, this is why he was such a heralded prospect. Not that anyone will ever admit to doubting him at this point.
With his 14th and 15th round-trippers of the season, Vlad not only ties Ronald Acuña Jr. with the MLB lead in home runs, but also matches his home run total from 2019. He played most of the season that first year, finishing with an acceptable-if-underwhelming .272/.339/.433. His 2020 wasn’t much better, as he bumped up his power numbers a bit but otherwise had the same struggles, finishing with another disappointing season performance of 112 wRC+. In both seasons, he still managed some decent plate discipline: keeping his strikeout rate low in the 15-18% range while walking slightly below league average. And he’s always hit the ball hard—since stepping onto a major league field as a 20-year-old, he has always ranked in the top percentile of max exit velocity.
So what changed? In short: barrel %. Vlad is finally putting that contact to good use rather than crushing it down into the dirt and it is paying off huge for the 22-year-old. As he’s gotten more comfortable and settled in the majors, his barrel rate has slowly been crawling up, with the exception of offspeed pitches which he struggled against in an admittedly small sample size of the 2020 season. But this year, he’s had no problem with the offspeed pitches and his barrel rate continues to climb (per his bright-red Statcast page):
With a great barrel rate comes, well, everything else. Along with inflated results, pitchers are now forced to reckon with a true force at the plate. Vlad is laying off pitches outside the zone and his discipline numbers have skyrocketed. While he’s showing similar aggression with pitches in the zone, his Chase % has declined each season and with it, his walk rate has inversely rose. He has 30 walks to 29 strikeouts, ranking among the top in both BB% and K%. He’s been steadily eliminating all of the weak parts of his offensive game and this year it’s finally paying off. If you bet on this being the year the results started to flood in, congratulations: you’ve got one of the best hitters in baseball.
Let’s see how the other hitters did Monday:
Andrew Vaughn (CWS): 2-4, 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 R, 2 RBI.
Two extra-base hits for the 23-year-old, bringing his HR total to four on the season, all in the past 15 days. He’s finally settled into an everyday role (at the cost of Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert) and as his comfort at the plate has grown, so too have his power numbers. He’s still got a ways to go, but he’s on the right track to turn into a real talent at the plate. Now could be the time to roster the young slugger, though his immediate future is still unclear—it could win you your league down the road or take up a bench spot for far too long. If nothing else, keep a close eye on Vaughn to see if his power has really materialized.
Jarred Kelenic (SEA): 1-4, 1 HR, 2 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB.
Speaking of talented prospects! Kelenic smashed his second home run of the season as we got a glimpse of what the Mariners could look like in the future. The 21-year-old is slashing .146/.222/.341 through his first 45 plate appearances, striking out eight times in that span. It’s likely to take him some time to settle in and adjust to major league pitching, but eventually, it’ll be worth it. For right now, you might have to endure some rough days (like his three 0-for-5 performances so far), but you’ll also get rewarded from time to time.
Mark Canha (OAK): 1-2, 1 HR, 1 R, 1 RBI, 2 BB.
The Oakland leadoff hitter is in the spot for a reason, y’all. If you’re in an OBP league this likely comes as no surprise, but Canha ranks among the elite in on base skills:
The only players with a .380+ OBP in each of the last three seasons are Mike Trout, Juan Soto, and Mark Canha.
— Foolish Baseball (@FoolishBB) May 25, 2021
He put together a perfect encapsulation of it all last night, drawing two walks and homering in one of his two at-bats. It’s relieving after he was held out of Sunday’s game due to a sore elbow after being hit by a pitch Saturday. Over the past seven games, Canha is slashing .375/.500/.875 with three homers. Ol’ Reliable.
Kyle Lewis (SEA): 1-2, 1 HR, 1 R, 2 RBI, 2 BB.
Anyway, enough of that—back to the Seattle prospects! Lewis may no longer be a rookie but he’s still in the adjustment phase of his career. After missing the start of the season, he’s slowly getting back into the rhythm of things, as he’s stolen his first two bases within the last week. The walk rate is extremely encouraging and makes the strikeouts more palatable.
Manuel Margot (TB): 2-6, 1 3B, 2 R, 3 RBI, 1 SB.
Hitting out of the cleanup spot (wait, what?), Margot delivered with a pair of hits, including a triple, scoring twice and driving in three while stealing a base. It’s the kind of productivity he’s capable of. He’s on a nearly two-week hitting streak and has been playing close to every day with Kevin Kiermaier‘s recurring injury time. He offers decent value as long as he’s hot, though with a career of sub-100 wRC+ seasons I don’t think anything dramatic has changed to expect too much different this year.
Randy Arozarena (TB): 2-5, 1 2B, 3 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 SB.
Arozarena has been on fire lately, showing that last season’s postseason wasn’t just a fluke. When he’s hitting well, he’s one of the most electric and dynamic players in baseball, flashing both power and speed. He’s slashing .353/.436/.706 over his last seven games and his offensive explosion has been a huge part of the Rays’ now-11 game win streak.
Joey Wendle (TB): 3-4, 1 2B, 1 HR, 2 R, 4 RBI.
The other big part of the Rays’ winning streak? Joey Wendle, who smacked a grand slam in the first inning of the afternoon game against Toronto. He currently leads Tampa Bay in fWAR (seriously), and even while I don’t think it’s exactly legit, you can’t argue with the results. He’s also played his way into pretty much an everyday role, with significant positional flexibility. It’s worth riding the hot streak, if nothing else.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (TOR): 3-5, 1 HR, 1 R, 1 RBI.
It’s been a brutal start for Gurriel but this might be the sign of him turning things around, as he’s slashing .419/.419/.613 over the last seven days. His plate discipline continues to be difficult to watch, as he’s walked just three times to 35 strikeouts, but he should certainly be better than he’s played. Hopefully, this sparks something.
Teoscar Hernández (TOR): 2-5, 1 HR, 2 R, 1 RBI, 1 SB.
On the other hand for Toronto, Teoscar is not struggling. Despite missing a big chunk of April, Hernández is dominating, slashing .356/.423/.575 in May to go along with five homers and three stolen bases. The Toronto lineup has been a bit inconsistent, but he should continue to get a lot of support and the ensuring counting stats.
Jake Bauers (CLE): 3-3, 2 R, 1 BB.
It may just be three singles but it’s an encouraging sign for Bauers, who has struggled to make consistent contact in his MLB career. I wouldn’t get too excited though, as he’s still sitting at a .620 OPS on the season, not far below his career OPS of .683.
Willi Castro (DET): 2-4, 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 R, 3 RBI.
Unsurprisingly, Castro’s .349 average from last season (in 36 games) was unsustainable—one glance at his .448 BABIP made that pretty clear. He’s regressed to a brutal sub-.600 OPS this season and the strikeout/walk rate scares me. That he can’t get consistent playing time on the Detroit Tigers may be more of a fault of his defensive play but is a concerning statement nonetheless.
Brad Miller (PHI): 2-3, 1 HR, 2 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 SB.
Career journeyman Brad Miller has been impressive in his 2021 stint with the Phillies, slashing .329/.387/.553 through 85 AB. We’ve seen this movie before, but he’s homered in back-to-back games and is playing semi-consistently. Without an everyday role, he’s not worth rostering.
Featured Image by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter)