Kyle Schwarber: Just Another Prospect Bust?
The year was 2016, the month was November and the Cubs were just mere days away from celebrating their first championship in 108 years. Kyle Schwarber had just gone from tearing his ACL in April to making an unprecedented return as World Series hero by October. Teams were clamoring at the Cubs door to trade for the young, promising slugger after the Cubs had already reportedly turned down offers for Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller, and Wade Davis earlier in the season. For Cubs fans, the thought of trading away their former first round pick was unfathomable, and his offensive upside far outweighed any potential defensive downside.
Fast forward to the 2018 off-season and the Schwarber trade rumors were once again flying rampant, only this time, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer were reportedly looking at any deal as a salary/roster spot dump rather than an opportunity to further improve their existing club. Part of the reason Schwarber was such a sought-after commodity after the 2015 season was that his 16 home runs and 43 RBIs in just 273 plate appearances as a rookie extrapolated over a full season were so enticing. Even his .246 batting average had upside since his .293 BABIP and .257 singles % suggested a little unluckiness. Unfortunately, that growth never continued and most of his indicator statistics have remained flat, including hard hit rate, EYE and his batted ball profile.
His poor 2018 season was somewhat overlooked since most of the Cubs offense had down years. Schwarber managed to hit just 26 home runs and 61 RBIs in 510 plate appearances, which is pretty pedestrian for a power hitter, and when you factor in a .238 batting average that's fully supported by a .240 singles % and .288 BABIP, we're left with a run-of-the-mill outfielder.
If looking for positives, one can point to Schwarber's consistent HR/FB rate, which has usually ended up around 24% and is supported by his batted ball speed and hard hit rates. The bad news is that his inability to his left-handed pitching will continue to result in a platoon arrangement with other Cubs hitters, like Albert Almora. But wait, Schwarber hit .224 against lefties and .241 against righties, that isn't THAT bad! You're right, in a vacuum, that's hardly a material split, but when you factor in that his .224 batting average came along with just one home run and an unsustainable .340 BABIP and .295 singles %, it's a reasonable assumption that his .224 batting average against left-handed pitching was actually the result of luck.
For fantasy purposes, Schwarber should be largely ignored until the late rounds in most drafts and will only hold decent value in leagues where on-base percentage is used instead of batting average and daily lineup moves can be performed to mitigate the platoon impact.
Yu Darvish: A Hidden Gem?
Yu Darvish was typically drafted among the first fifteen starting pitchers off the board in 2018. Entering 2019, he's lucky to be drafted in the top-50. Last season was filled with underperformance, injury, and failed rehab attempts. Underscoring all of these, however, was something on a more personal level: comfortability.
After signing extremely late in the off-season, Darvish scrambled to get to Mesa to report with the rest of the team's pitchers and catchers (albeit a little late). Not only was last year the 32-year old's first season with the Cubs, it was his second new team in less than a year. The unconventional start to the season resulted in just eight starts for the Cubs before he went on the disabled list with an elbow injury. He made a couple different rehab attempts in the minor leagues before the team finally shut him down for the season. The starts he had made with the big club were less than inspiring and resulted in an ERA of 4.95 and xFIP of 4.24. Most concerning, however, was that his walk rate spiked to nearly 12%, which was roughly 4% higher than what he posted in 2016 and 2017 with the Rangers/Dodgers. Darvish has gone on record that he felt uncomfortable in Chicago and felt too much pressure to perform after signing his 6-year, $126 million deal.
Early reports out of spring training suggest that he's not only healthy (initial bullpen sessions have been sharp and his velocity is sitting close to where he needs to be compared to the effort exerted in those sessions), but he's also more active around the training facility - something he didn't do last season. Last Wednesday, he even spoke to reporters in English, another positive sign that he's feeling a little more at ease.
Despite all the negativity around Darvish's 2018 season, there are still some metrics that keep some optimism for 2019. While it did dip, his 11% swinging strike rate is still among the high end for starting pitchers and his 75% contact rate allowed rated better than league average. Most of Darvish's struggles in the walk department were likely caused by a 3% dip in first strike percentage and a 5% decline in chase rate. If he is able to make it a priority to get ahead in the count (again, this goes back to feeling comfortable), then Darvish should perform like a much different pitcher in 2019.
The buying opportunity for Darvish at his current ADP of 156 will last only as long as it takes for his first successful start in the Cactus League, proving he has the velocity and the movement he possessed pre-injury. For those of you willing to take a risk in the middle rounds, scooping up Darvish at a value right now may result in big rewards once September comes to a close.
Beware of the Hype for Adalberto Mondesi
In November drafts for the National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC), Adalberto Mondesi's average ADP was 46th overall. By December, that number rose to 43rd and in drafts this month, he has crept all the way up to 41st overall.
The rise, of course, is primarily driven by his stolen base upside after he stole 32 bases in 75 games last season. Additionally, he added 14 home runs, which makes him a legitimate double-double threat at a relatively scarce shortstop position. Unfortunately, plate approach leaves much to be desire with his 4% walk rate and 27% strike out rate. Even more alarming is that his 18.2% swinging strike rate would having ranked 2nd worst in the league, had he qualified, meaning there's potential for his strikeout rate to actually rise in 2019. He's untouchable in leagues that track on-base percentage, and with limited runs scoring and runs batted in potential in the Royals lineup, he's at risk of becoming a one-category contributor.
But what about his 14 home runs? Well, those were supported by a 43% hard hit rate and 42% pull rate, but 5 of his 14 homeruns were "just enough" and Kaufman stadium tends to suppress power. Mondesi is a trendy pick because of his power/speed combination and while that's real, he's going to need to contribute more in the other three categories before he will return value at the end of the 3rd round of 15-team NFBC leagues.
Whit Merrifield - A Middle Class Man's Trea Turner
If you are a listener to our Fantistics show on SiriusXM, you may have heard our founder, Anthony Perri, compare Whit Merrifield to Trea Turner. His point was that while Trea Turner has tremendous power potential, he's still developing. In fact, Turner actually saw a 4% drop in his hard hit rate last season and his batted ball speed and batted ball distance are both league average. Meanwhile, Merrifield saw his hard hit rate increase by 7% last season, yet still has room for growth in the power department after posting just a 6.5% HR/FB rate.
The added benefit that Merrifield has over Turner is that he will be hitting first for his team, while Turner will be batting second. While it won't result in a huge difference, it could end up meaning Turner has slightly fewer stolen base opportunities since Adam Eaton may be on base ahead of him on occasion.
In order for Merrifield to outperform Trea Turner this year, he's going to need to have everything go right - in addition to having a few things go wrong for Turner. The reason why Merrifield is an intriguing target is because he can be drafted a couple rounds after Turner, meaning instead of pairing Turner with a starting pitcher like Gerrit Cole or Luis Severino, you're able to pair Whit Merrifield with Chris Sale or Jacob deGrom.
San Diego Padres:
A Year Late For Manny Margot?
Last season was a frustrating one for Manny Margot, who went from trendy draft reach to mid-season drop in most formats. As it stands right now, Margot is penciled in as the club's starting centerfielder, but with an ADP at 286, he's being drafted well below the point he was going in drafts last year (around 150 overall). The drop in ADP year over year isn't undeserved, as he managed just a .245/.292/.384 slashline with only 10 home runs and 11 steals. Margot dealt with injured ribs in April, yet largely played through the injury and then this off-season was forced to leave the Dominican League earlier due to an injury foot caused by a foul ball.
However, the indicator stats suggest his .245 batting average was undeserved, as evidenced by a singles % that checks in at .216, well below the league average mark of .250 (which is a relatively low baseline for a player with Margot's speed). Digging further, we also saw a 14% increase in his hard hit percentage and 12% increase in his pull percentage, yet he actually realized a 4% drop in his HR/FB rate. That sequence doesn't make very much sense and suggests very strongly that Margot is due for a rebound in the power categories.
A better batting average and more power won't help him improve on his 11-for-21 stolen base success rate, unfortunately, but even improvement in those two categories will be enough to help him be value at his current draft position.
Is Joey Luchessi Poised to Repeat?
The soft-throwing left-hander came out of nowhere last spring to win a rotation spot and posted one of the best April performances among any starting pitcher in fantasy baseball. Unfortunately, it was an up-and-down season after April, literally alternating months where he played well, posting ERAs of 2.78, 4.20, 3.38, 5.21, 3.18 and 6.30. Digging deeper, we see a slightly different story when while looking at his xFIP, with a much more level performance and one that significantly improved as the season went on, finishing with a 2.74 xFIP in August and 3.05 in September. The biggest drag on his actual ERA was his 20% HR/FB rate, which was high, but was also due in large part to a 40.6% hard hit rate allowed. Like his xFIP, his hard hit rate improved as the season went on, finishing at 37.5% in September. Given his home park, he should see a slight improvement next year with normal regression, which will in turn improve his ratios.
Luchessi already does a nice job at inducing groundballs from left-handed batters, but he'll need to do the same against righties in order to provide more consistency moving forward (60% vs 40% split last year). Nonetheless, he's a relatively unheralded name that will go in the middle rounds and still offers a nice strikeout upside and should improve upon his rookie numbers in 2019.
Mike Moustakas (MIL) - The Brewers brought back Mike Moustakas on yet another team friendly deal, signing the third baseman to a one-year, $10 million dollar contract. Miller Park is a great hitting environment for Moustakas, boosting homerun production by 10% for left-handed batters, and further strengthens a lineup already featuring the best hitter in the National League. His .218 singles% from a season ago suggests he may also be in line for a slight improvement in the .251 batting average he posted, while his 41% hard rate and 46% flyball rate suggests there's not only upside in improving an artificially low 12.8% HR/FB rate, but also increase his home run total.
Aaron Hicks (NYY) - Aaron Hicks appears to be destined for the leadoff role for the Yankees this season, at least according to his manager, Aaron Boone. The news does knock down a few of his RBI chances, but hitting in front of Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge gives him a nice boost in run production and even opens the door for more stolen base opportunities. Hicks posted a solid 0.81 EYE a season ago, and his .221 singles % was understated, giving fantasy owners hope that his .248 batting average was unfairly depressed.
Shohei Ohtani (LAA) - Shohei Ohtani, who underwent Tommy John surgery late last year, is still attempting to be the team's designated hitter by opening day, according to beat writer Rhett Bollinger. Opening Day would be an awfully quick recovery for Ohtani and it's more likely that the team will be at least a little cautious with their prized two-way player, making May a more realistic target. Ohtani held his own in his first season offensively, making necessary adjustments and still managing an elite 43% hard hit rate and posting a 20/10 season in just 114 games. Heading into 2019 with similar expectations on games played will likely result in a slight decrease from his 22 home runs, simply due to the inflated 29% HR/FB ratio from 2018, but he remains an overlooked option.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr (TOR) - Vladimir Guerrero Jr made his highly anticipated 2019 debut in spring training over the weekend. The expectation is that he will almost definitely not break camp with the big club, but could be up as early as late April due to team control considerations. Videos surfaced on Twitter over the weekend of Guerrero taking batting practice and resulted in most of Baseball Twitter salivating over their phones. The most loud part of his game is obviously his power, but the most impressive aspect is that he has already adopted his Father's patient approach at the plate, posting a 1.08 EYE in all of his minor leagues appearances. Even without a month of at-bats, Guerrero will likely come close to matching the type of production Kris Bryant had in 2015 in his control-shortened rookie campaign.
Didi Gregorious (NYY) - Didi Gregorious is tentatively planning to be cleared to start hitting in early March, the next step in his rehabilitation from reconstructive elbow surgery. Unfortunately, his current timetable doesn't have him ready to return until the All-Star Break. Gregorius posted a career high in home runs for the third straight season, but his hard hit and average exit velocities have continued to trail league average marks, raising the question if this power is for real and how it's being accomplished. Gregorius' launch angle is roughly 3% more than league average, which translates to him lifting the ball about 8% more frequently than most players. So far, those flyballs have ended up as home runs, but with a 6:3 just-enough-to-no-doubter homerun ratio, there's plenty of question marks above and beyond his health. He's a tough bet on draft day.
Willy Adames (TB) - Willy Adames is reportedly tweaking his batting stance and swing routine, removing a toe tap. Adames did mention in the article on CBS Sports that he won't hesitate to reimplement the toe tap, if it doesn't result in improved results this spring. Chalk this one up as something the front office analysts found on film that the player isn't buying into. Hopefully Adames sticks with it because something needs to change in his approach at the plate after topping over 40% of his batting balls, which is roughly 6% more than league average, and making contact in the zone just 77% of the time. Adames displayed modest power in the minor leagues, but his 23% flyball rate and 29.5% hard hit rate won't translate to much power in the big leagues. He's going to get drafted based on his former prospect status alone, but there are better middle infield options out there.
Victor Robles (WAS) - Victor Robles was supposed to have the impact that Juan Soto had last year, but thanks to an injury, Robles didn't receive regular playing time in September. Make no mistake, the talent for Robles is still there and his performance over the season's final few weeks further reinforces that mantra. Assuming the Nationals do not re-sign Bryce Harper (and potentially even if they do), Robles will be in line for regular at-bats in the Nationals lineup. He's a legitimate 5-category contributor, even more so than teammate Juan Soto, who has a little more power yet less speed. Robles' plus defense will help keep his bat in the lineup through any struggles he may have, particularly if Harper does re-sign. In the small sample last year, Robles may have been relatively fortunate on his batted balls - displaying just a 23% hard hit rate and well-below-average 82.5 MPH exit velocity. How well Robles adapts to offspeed and breaking pitches will determine whether or not he breaks out in 2019 after posting just a .263 and .273 wOBA, respectively, against both pitch types in his cup of coffee last season. Adding more uncertainty to his numbers is the news from Jesse Dougherty of The Washington Post, reporting that the rookie will bat ninth for the Nationals and serve as a "second leadoff man".
Justin Upton (LAA) - Angels beat writer Maria Torres reported that Justin Upton is currently dealing with patellar tendinitis in his right knee. It's unclear when the ailment first bothered him, but it's a possible explanation for why the outfielder stole just 3 bases in the second half of 2018 after stealing 14 bases in 2017. Tendonitis is one of those ailments that don't' usually cause a player to miss time, but even worse, it tends to cause players to play less than 100%. At 31 years old, Upton should still have plenty of gas left in the tank and his batted ball profile from last season still profiles an elite power hitter with a 14% barrel rate and 47% hard hit rate. Notably, however, he lost 3% in his launch angle, down from 15.7% in 2017 and now he's just barely above league average. It's something to watch this spring, as a change that drastic may significantly hamper his ability to hit 30+ homeruns.
Garrett Hampson (COL) - Garrett Hampson is probably getting overlooked in your drafts and you're probably missing out. Wait, who? Hampson is a speedy second base prospect for the Colorado Rockies and is in competition with Ryan McMahon the starting gig this spring. The 23 year old has already stolen 123 bases in the minor leagues over the course of three seasons and unlike speedsters like Billy Hamilton or Aldaberto Mondesi, Hampson actually shows the willingness to draw a walk, averaging an 11% walk rate in the minor leagues. He doesn't possess the same raw power as Mondesi, but playing in Coors will naturally help the power come along faster than normal and his 32% hard hit rate in his cup of coffee in 2018 is just a few ticks below the league average mark. Expect Hampson to primarily be a contributor in the runs scored and stolen base categories, but any starter in Colorado needs to be rostered and Hampson may still be flying under the radar of most casual baseball fans.
Tyler Glasnow (TB) - And now for your post-hype prospect, best-shape-of-his-life special: Tyler Glasnow is reportedly routinely touching 98.7 MPH on his fastball in his bullpen sessions according to manager Kevin Cash. We'll wait to pass official judgement until we see it in game action and we see it in the strike zone, but this is the tangible types of results we like to see from pitchers in spring training above and beyond the typical optimistic talk fed through reporters. Glasnow is a former top prospect that has simply failed to take the next step forward thanks to being plagued by control problems. The move to the bullpen seems to have worked wonders for improving his control, however, and when he slid back into the rotation in August, he finished the year with just an 8% walk rate, easily the lowest he's ever produced at the major league level and 4% below his career average. There's intrigue here, especially at his ADP of 163.
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