What to make of A.J. Puk?
Dynasty League Fantasy Owners have most likely struggled to decide what to do with the hard throwing 6'7 Puk, who has about all the tools you could ask for but hasn't been able to stay healthy or put it altogether. The former 6th overall pick in 2016, he finally made it to the big leagues in a relief role last season after missing all of 2018 and pitched to the tune of a 3.18 ERA with 13 strikeouts over 11 innings. Those numbers hardly jump off the page, but the key was he was healthy and averaging 97 mph on his fastball. At 24, he has under 200 total innings across the majors and minor leagues and my expectation is that Oakland deploys him as a reliever early on this season with the possibility of him moving to the rotation if other starters struggle. His ability to top out at 97, but then bring it back down to under 90 with his changeup makes him a threat, and if he can utilize his curveball more (2% last year, 82 mph average) he truly has a devastating arsenal that can keep hitters off balance. Fantasy owners should pay close attention to how he is deployed in the spring - and I view him as a high risk, high reward player for 2020.
From the player notes in the Fantistics Player Projections and Draft Software: Puk consistently posted 13-14 K/9 rates while in the minors, but control is still a sticking point. Last season in his 11 innings of MLB work, he ran an average fastball of 97.1 MPH, which at 6'7" he throws relatively freely. This works when with his 89 MPH slider, but he needs a third effective pitch before he can truly dominate at this level. His 89 MPH Changeup didn't appear to be effective last season. In those 11 frames we saw a elite 14% SwStr% and hitters only connected with 77% of the pitches thrown in the zone. It might be bumpy to start, but at some point Puk is going to be a stud. | 2019 BABIP: 0.321(0.321)| SwStr%: 14%(14%)| Avg FB: 97.1(97.1)| FB/Chg Split: 7.8(0.0)| HR Distance: 360ft(360)| Strand%: 0.81(0.81)| HardHit%: 41.4%(41.4%)| Avg Velocity: 86(85.8)| Elevation%: 13.5(13.5)| Barrels%: 0.0(0.0)| HR/FB%: 8%(8%)| GB Rate: 0.48(0.48)| xFIP: 4.35(1.17)| xSLG: 0.225(-0.108)
Is Catcher Sean Murphy's Job to lose?
Murphy was a Top-100 Prospect throughout all of 2019 and held his own vs Major League pitching slashing .245/.333/.566 as 9 of his 13 total hits over 60 PAs went for extra bases. He was a bit more of a high-contact hitter through his minor league career so it will be interesting to see what sort of hitter he turns out to be with regular at bats. Currently Austin Allen, who has all of 71 plate appearances is the only other catcher on the Athletics roster. My expectation would be that Oakland brings in a few veteran catchers to compete for the backup spot but Murphy grades out so well as a hitter and defensively behind the plate that you could be looking at a 110 start catcher in the American League with an upside of 15 home runs. He is worth drafting in dynasty leagues - but I would still be cautious here. He only has 152 AAA plate appearances to his name so Oakland could be quick to pull the plug if he struggles and get him more reps in the minors - but ultimately a lot will be dictated by his defensive ability.
Prospect Watch - Greg Deichmann
The former 2nd round pick of Oakland in 2017 had a bit of a coming out party that may have been missed by the casual baseball fan, as he slugged a league leading 9 home runs in the 2019 Arizona Fall League, more than double the runner-up. He added 2 doubles and a triple in 20 total games to give him a .634 SLG% despite hitting just .256. The power is a welcome development for Deichmann who showed more speed (19 steals) then power (11 home runs) over 80 games at AA last season. The 24-year-old is still very raw and while he has posted walk rates above 10% his K% has been well above 30% despite not having any experience playing in AAA or above. He posted almost identical numbers during the AFL, walking at an 10.8% clip while striking out over 31% of the time. The power/speed combo is intriguing but not enough so for him to be on fantasy owners radar just yet.
Does The Minnesota Rotation Shape up with Kenta Maeda?
The Twins were one of Baseball's biggest surprise stories in 2019, with the power-hitting lineup garnering most of the attention. Offense led the way, but the pitching stalled in a first-round playoff exit. The recent trade for Kenta Maeda adds an experienced and consistent arm who owns a career 9.79 K/9 and 3.87 ERA over almost 600 career innings. He had a particularly elite 2019 vs right handers holding them a .158 batting average last season, even better than his career .199 mark. The change in leagues for starting pitchers always brings about questions, and Maeda hasn't fared great in inter-league action (4.63 ERA, 12 home runs over 19 games). Maeda does have a division with several offensively challenged teams in it and I think an ERA hovering around 4.00 will be acceptable provided he can keep that K/9 close to 10. The biggest draw, perhaps for the Twins is his playoff experience - and its slightly different then you may think. Over his 4 years with the Dodgers he made 24 playoff appearances but only 3 starts - as he went from middle of the rotation start to frontline playoff relief pitcher and has a career 3.31 playoff ERA. Their pitching was terrible, especially relief pitchers who surrendered 14 ER in just 16 innings. For the start of the season look for him to slot in 3rd behind Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi and with a strong offense behind him 10 wins should be a lock provided he stays healthy.
Prospect Watch - Royce Lewis
The 2017 first overall pick in the MLB draft received an invitation to the Twins Big League camp, but he has a lot to prove before he can work his way to a permanent spot on the roster. Lewis has notably struggled to hit AA pitching posting a .649 OPS over 33 games after a callup last year. His Walk % (7.4%) and K rate (22.3%) rose ever so slightly from his work at High A, but his batting average has plummeted at each level he has advanced to, hitting just .231 at AA. He still posted a near even split in FB (42%) and GB (41%) ratios, but became a severe pull hitter in AA, pulling the ball at a career high 62% clip, while shooting just 18% of his hits to the opposite field. He has posted double-digit home runs and steals each of the past 2 seasons in the minors but will need to continue to modify his approach at the plate if he wants to reach his ceiling. I would expect him to start the season at AA and he could receive a promotion to AAA by seasons end. Owners should that he was the 3rd leading hitter in the Arizona Fall League posting an impressive .353/.411/.565 line while leading the league in runs scored (20) and was second with 21 RBIs.
Is WIllians Astudillo fantasy relevant?
Astudillo burst onto the scene in 2018 thanks to a ridiculous .355 average over 30 games, his miniscule K rate (3 Ks) and his ability to bounce around the diamond. 2019 had high expectations for him but injuries derailed the season and he posted just a .678 OPS but kept true to himself with a 2.5% BB rate and a 3.9% K rate. While those are certainly elite contact numbers he put to many balls on the ground (40%) and didn't hit them hard enough (30% hard hit rate) to make his approach work in 2019. With such a low strikeout and walk rate his babip will almost always be similar to his average and he will needs to made strides to get more playing time in 2020. Even if he were able to find a little more gap power and boost his OPS to the .750 range this could allow for more playing time. He has an uphill battle for playing time as Mitch Garver, Alex Avila and Jason Castro all sit ahead of him on the depth charts, so a start at AAA season likely.
Around the League
Taijuan Walker (SP-SEA)
Walker signed a 1-year 2-million-dollar contract with the Mariners Wednesday. The contract brings the 27-year-old back to the team that drafted him in 2010. It is almost hard to believe that Walker is still only 27 but due to Tommy John Surgery and subsequent shoulder issues he has logged just 14 innings the past 2 seasons, including 1 scoreless appearance last season. It seems forever ago that Walker was putting together a strong campaign during his first season in Arizona going 9-9 with a 3.49 ERA and 8.4 K/9. Earlier on in his career Walker touched 94 mph with his fastball with his changeup coming in at 88 mph being his most used secondary pitch. His 3.95 ERA is a little better than his 4.21 fip as he has been prone to baserunners both via walk (7.4% career BB rate) and hits. As it sits now he does project as the fifth starter in the Seattle Rotation, making him a late round flyer in most drafts but it will be worthwhile to see how his velocity checks out in the spring. As he is still fairly young, a pitch limit could also be in play to make sure he is 100% healthy.
Jordan Hicks (RP-STL)
Hicks was transferred to the 60-Day DL to make room for the Addition of Brad Miller. This was an inevitable move for quite some time as the 23-year-old still recovers from his Tommy John Surgery he had last June. He is currently eyeing a midseason return, and it will be interesting to see if he can build on what had been a successful half season last year. He pitched to a 3.14 ERA picking up 14 saves before his injury, but I think many are looking for more in the K department considering he can hit 101 mph on his fastball and only has a 8.55 K/9 over 106 career innings. Wildness is a factor (4.74 BB/9) but the key to his success is developing those secondary pitches. In 2019 he utilized his slider at 33% - an 11% increase over the year before. This yielded great results the past two seasons as opposing hitters have hit just .105 vs it. His slider ranges from 81 to 92 mph and mixing and matching this with a 100mph+ fastball makes him a lethal bullpen weapon. I would keep a close on him in May to see how his rehab progresses - but could be a key bullpen add for fantasy rosters in the second half.
Wilmer Flores (IF-SF)
Flores signed a 2 years deal with 6 million guaranteed with the Giants. Despite picking up only 265 at bats in his only season with Arizona he still managed a career high slashline of .317/.361/.487 while clubbing 18 doubles and 9 home runs. He did benefit from a .332 babip, about 55 points higher than his career average but his ability to keep the ball in play (10% K rate) finally paid off last year and an uptick in line drive rate (24%) and hard hit rate (37%) may have been a factor. He joins a crowded veteran infield in San Francisco but his ability to play every infield position could still net him 3-4 starts a week and make for a nice fantasy plug-and-play based on matchup as he has a solid .276 career mark vs lefties.
Derek Dietrich (1B/2B/3B/OF-CIN)
Dietrich signed a minor league contract to return to the Reds Wednesday. For a while last year it looked like Dietrich was the real deal in the power department as he mashed 12 home runs and hit .304 in May. The success was short lived however as the hot month wasn't enough to offset the rest of the season as he still hit just .221 in the first half and a miserable .071 in the second half to finish with a .187/.328/.462 line and 19 home runs. His underlying stats weren't terrible as he walked almost 10% of the time and his K rate was at 25%; his .176 babip sunk his average to a career low. He should have a chance to crack a reloaded Reds roster as a bench piece thanks to his ability to bounce around the diamond - he logged appearances at 1B, 2B, 3B and the outfield last year.
Cameron Maybin (OF-DET)
Maybin signed a 1-year 1.5$ million dollar contract with the Tigers Wednesday. The Tigers continue to add veteran bats and this will actually be his 3rd stint with the team that drafted him in the first round of the 2005 draft. His 2016 campaign with Detroit saw him hit a career high .315 with 15 stolen bases. He mostly likely earned this deal, however due to his stellar play in the Bronx last year as he slashed .285/.364/.494 with 11 home runs and 9 stolen bases while boosting the Yankees offense with various stars missing time throughout the season. A 2020 repeat of last year is a bit hard to imagine considering his track record, but he did vastly increase his flyball rate to a career high 39% but also whiffed 26% of the time - also a career high. I can for see something more in line with his .256 average being a legitimate possibility for 2020 - and could be a decent trade trip for the Tigers if he performs.
Cole Hamels (SP-ATL)
It was reported that Hamels has yet to report to camp as he has experienced some recent shoulder irritation. Hamels signed a deal with Atlanta in the offseason worth 18 million for just the 1 year. The braves will reevaluate his status in 3 weeks. Hamels missed a bit of time last year but still pitched to a 3.81 ERA with a 9.08 K/9 his highest mark since 2015. He has seen his ERA a bit inflated over the past 3 seasons and not in line with his career 3.43 mark, but has still been able to maintain a 45%+ groundball rate with a remarkable track record of health, having started at least 23 games every season of his career since 2006. At 36 he is getting into the twilight of his career and while his recent shoulders troubles are a bit concerning this close to spring training he brings a veteran presence to a young Atlanta staff and has value as a fantasy arm.
Josh Tomlin (SP/RP-ATL)
Possibly as a move to cover themselves if Cole Hamels is forced to miss time, Atlanta signed Tomlin to a minor league deal. He has mostly been an innings eater for the Indians in his career as his 4.68 career ERA is nothing to write home about and his fastball tops out at just 89 mph. He rebound from a dismal 2018 (7.16 fip, .302 batting average against) to produce respectable numbers for the Braves (3.74 ERA, .79 BB/9) pitching mostly out of the bullpen. His 6.10 K/9 leaves a lot to be desired but his ability to operate as a starter or a relief pitcher gives the Braves options if Hamels misses time or any of their young arms struggle. He can be avoided in most fantasy formats, however.
Jarrod Dyson (OF-PIT)
The Pirates inked Dyson to a 1-year major league deal worth 2 million. He enters camp as the presumptive replacement for the recently traded Starling Marte despite just a .230 batting average last season. He was able to swipe 30 bags despite the .313 OBP which was aided by his second consecutive season boasting a walk rate of 10% or better. He seemingly benefitted from offensive numbers being up round the league as well as he hit 7 home runs last year while entering the year with 14 career ones over 700+ games prior to last season. His value definitely comes from his speed as he has swiped 30+ bags 5 times in his career and the hope for the Pirates is he still has some burst in him. This makes him one-dimensional for fantasy purposes but if you are desperate for steals you could do worse, and a strong start will mostly likely lead to a trade to a contender in July.
Shohei Ohtani (SP/DH-LAA)
The Angels announced that Ohtani would not return to the mound until at least May. While his ability to swing the bat was mostly unaffected by Tommy John Surgery in 2019 (.848 OPS, 18 home runs, 12 stolen bases) they are clearly being careful with their two-way star before committing to him returning to the mound. Fantasy owners are still thrilled that he continued to hit despite the injury but make no mistake him returning to the mound in 2020 will be a top storyline and could cement his status as an Elite fantasy player. If he can come close to matching 2018 numbers pitching (3.31 ERA, 10.97 K/9, 40% GB rate) and maintain double digits home runs and stolen bases as he has his first two seasons he could be a top-10 fantasy pick in 2021 drafts. If for some reason the Angels deem him not ready to pitch at all this year - you would need 30 HR/ 20 SB production to justify him starting regularly, considering he only has eligibility as a DH. That is a floor most players would love to have.
Aaron Blair (SP-ARI)
Blair signed a minor league contract with The Diamondbacks, bringing him back to the team that drafted him in the first round. Blair was a consensus Top-100 prospect in 2015 and 2016 but has really struggled at the major league level, compiling a career 7.89 ERA with a 4.88 BB/9 and just a 6 K/9 rate. He has flashed some good strikeout ability in the minors but didn't pitch at all in 2019 and logged just 1 game in 2018 before a severe shoulder injury sidelined him. Blair was never a hard thrower topping out at around 91mph and it is hard to imagine hm breaking camp with the Dbacks but as he is only 27 he could be worth monitoring in the minors.
Our player projections model was created and is maintained by our founder and lead Statistician Anthony Perri. Using advanced and cutting edge Sabermetric indicators, which now include velocity indicators on batted balls, our player projections are trusted for accuracy by several Major League Baseball front offices. Over the past 21 years, we have correctly forecast the statistical direction on over 7 out of 10 professional baseball players for their upcoming season. If you are ready to Dominate your Fantasy Baseball Draft, click here to register today.
Fantasy Baseball Guide