Byron Buxton evokes lots of feelings for fantasy Owners. The former second overall pick struggled during his first several years, before finally showing bursts in 2017 with 16 HR and 29 steals, only to miss almost the majority of 2018 due to injuries and put up a .383 OPS in 28 games. It was full speed ahead in 2019 when Buxton was putting up monster numbers with 30 doubles, 10 home runs, 14 steals and a .827 OPS in 87 games before missing the last month of the season. He then proceeded to bash 13 home runs in just 39 games last year to post a career best .844 OPS. Injuries aside Buxton is trending in the right direction as his 2020 hard hit rate (47.9%), Barrell % (13.5%) and xslug (.551) all ranked near the top of the bigs. His fb %(51%) and pull rate (54.2%) were both career high last season as the right handed Buxton hit all 13 of his home runs to leftcenter or left field - really tapping into his true pull ability. He has been widely known for his high K rates and his 26% rate last year is a bit lower than his career mark, despite him being a more aggressive hitter last year. He swung at just about everything last year, including 51% of the pitches he saw outside the zone and 80% of the pitches he saw in the zone. This apparently had strong results other then a terrible walk rate (1.5%). I am buying his player progression and think he is in for a career year - anyone willing to take the risk that he most likely wont play all 162 games could be handsomely rewarded when he does play.
Catching Conundrum in Minnesota?
The Twins roll into 2021 with two potential options at starting catcher. Many fantasy owners will remember Mitch Garver's legendary 2019 Campaign (.273/.365/.630, 31 HR) and he most likely won leagues for a lot of folks. Owner's may have been equally disappointed in his 2020 that was made even shorter due to injuries - he appeared in only 23 games and produced a .511 OPS with just 2 HR. It very hard to place much stock in players 2020 seasons and his K rate more then doubled to a whopping 45% in limited play. Garver did put up a wrc+ of 116 or higher every year in the minors from 2014-2017 and was among the best hitting catchers in 2019, his first full shot in the majors. The Twins do however have a younger, more highly touted catcher - Ryan Jeffers - who posted a solid .791 OPS with 3 home runs over 26 games while filling in for Garver. Jeffers, the Twins 2nd round pick in 2018 enjoyed 2 strong minor league seasons from 2018-2019, including 21 total home runs. For most fantasy owners it's all about offense but Jeffers rates as a stronger pitch framer and a better defensive catcher, which could give him the edge even if Garver outhits him but a bit in the preseason. This is an important spring training battle to watch or even see if it develops into some sort of platoon- and on any other team that did not have Nelson Cruz, the approach would be to start Jeffers behind the plate and Garver at DH.
What does Andrelton Simmons offer offensively?
The recent acquisition of Andrelton Simmons most definitely make the Twins a better Baseball team but how does this affect his fantasy prospects? Simmons has improved his hitting prowess and after a few subpar seasons with a batting average in the .240s Simmons has posted a .260 or higher batting average in every year since 2015, with the ability to at least put the ball in play every time he gets up - with a career 9% K rate. Unless your fantasy team values defensive its incredibly difficult to recommend Simmons as a viable offensive option on a day to day basis. His batting splits (.260 vs lefties, .272 vs righties) aren't wild enough to really have him on you bench as a platoon piece and even with his ability to make contact it just doesn't translate well enough for him to get you counting stats. While he had 4 straight years of double digits steals from 2016-2019 he hit 10 right on the dot in 3 of the 4 years so the upside is not here either. If I am being optimistic, he does have some big power hitters in the Twins lineup; presuming he hits near the bottom of the order he could approach his career high of 77 runs scored in a potent offense - which would offer some value if you are desperate at the shortstop position.
Oakland's new Leader?
With Marcus Semien gone, Ramon Laureano steps into a bigger role in the Athletics lineup in 2021. After posting back-to-back .830+ OPS season in 2018 and 2019 where he hit .288 both seasons, Laureano couldn't get things going in the 2020 shortened season slashing .213/.288/.366 with 6 home runs and 2 stolen bases. He had a steep babip drop from .342 in 2019 to .270 last year, and his groundball rate (43%) and hard-hit rate (32%) were both career lows last year. One interesting thing to note is he did change his approach at the plate in 2020 - swinging at far less pitches (40% compared to 48% 2 years ago) which boosted his contact rate (77.8%) and walk rate (10.8%) to career highs as he swung at a career low 27% of pitches he saw outside the zone. I think its reasonable to expect Laureano to get his batting average back above the .250 mark and push an .800+ OPS, while providing double digit home runs and steals, perhaps even looking at a 20/15 season if he stays healthy.
Will we finally see A.J. Puk pitch meaningful innings?
Injuries have kept top Prospect A.J. Puk from logging meaningful innings at the MLB level - he got a taste in 2019 and threw 11 innings to the tune of a 3.18 ERA with a 10.3 K/9. Even going back through the minors league since his first stop in 2016, Puk has only logged 183 minor league innings. Puk did dial up a 97mph avg fastball in 2019 while mixing in a slider that topped out around 89mph and the occasional changeup that hovered around the same. Word is that the Athletics will start Puk in the bullpen to manage his workload. With how hard he throws, it would be interesting to see him in a last game role where he can dial up his arsenal and only worry about throwing 1 inning - but he will need to keep his control in check as he has had a bb/9 hover around the 4 mark throughout the minor leagues.
Can Frankie Montas rebound to be an Ace?
After pitching out of the bullpen in 2017 for the Athletics and struggling putting up a 7.03 ERA, Montas entered the rotation in 2018 and was serviceable over 13 (3.88 ERA/ 3.90 FIP). Montas slightly retooled that year, taking about 2 mph off his fastball which cut his K rate in half to 5.95 K.9, but allowed him to become more of a groundball pitcher (43%) and dropped his HR/9 dramatically (2.81 to .69). Montas followed that up with a stellar first half of 2019 - he pitched to a 2.63 ERA, improved both his K rate (9.66 K/9) and groundball rate (49%) while once again limiting HRs. His season was cut short due to a PED suspension, and last years version of Montas regressed to a more flyball pitcher as his groundball rate dropped back down to 36% while his HR/9 ballooned to 1.70 good for a 5.60 ERA. Montas needs to keep the ball down in the zone more in 2021 to get back to his groundball and swing and miss ways. I think a full season on Montas gets you slightly south of a 4.00 ERA with goods K numbers.
Around the League
Kevin Pillar (OF-NYM)
Pillar signed a major League deal with the Mets Monday. This is a depth move for the Mets who have a strong outfield alignment in Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto and Dominic Smith already, but there could be some hidden value here. Pillar is mostly known for his defensive value but has improved upon his OPS in every season since 2016 (.679) to his 2020 OPS of .798. He has also improved his hard hit % (34% + each of the past 3 seasons) leading to a 40-double season in 2018, a 21 home run season in 2019 and a 21 extra base hit season last year in just 54 games. While he won't start everyday Pillar could be a cheap and intriguing daily play against lefties as he owns a career .286 batting average vs them while fellow Mets outfielders Nimmo (.243) and Conforto (.232) have both struggled vs lefties throughout their careers.
James Paxton (SP-SEA)
Paxton returned to the Mariners, where he spent his first 6 professional seasons, signing a 1-year deal. Paxton turned in a solid 2019 with the Yankees (3.82 era/3.86 fip, 11.1 K/9) but only threw 20 innings last year due to injury. Paxton has had some interesting career trends. He entered the League in 2013 as a groundball pitcher (59%) and that number has slowly decreased every year, as he landed at 32% groundballs a season ago. His flyball% and K numbers have risen every year though - as Paxton had a 50% fb rate and 11.51 K/9 a year ago. While he only pitched a handful of innings last year it was clearly a different Paxton despite the K numbers, as his avg fb velocity sat around 92mph - a dip from the consistent 95 mph he could toss in previous years. Pitching for a Seattle team that feels like it wont contend should give Paxton a chance to thrive - and even an opportunity for a trade to a mid-season contender.
Franchy Cordero (OF-BOS)
Acquired as part of the Andrew Benintendi deal last week, Cordero has not yet tapped into the appealing speed and power combination he brings to the tables, as injuries an inconsistent playing time have allowed to get to over 100 PAs just once (154 in 2018). During that time with the Padres he slashed .237/.307/.439 with 7 home runs, 19 runs and 5 steals. Despite a 35% K rate these numbers would of played nicely over a full season, especially at a pitcher friendly park. With playing time inconsistent as his its so hard to read into any of his numbers, but his swinging strike rate has decreased each year (21% in 2017 and 9% last year) and he managed to post an even walk:K rate last year (4:4) in the shortened season. He currently projects as the starting leftfielder for the Red Sox and his 40% pull rate give me optimism he can take advantage of the short right field line at Fenway - if he can stay healthy.
Anthony Santander (OF-BAL)
Santander has how posted back-to-back seasons of hitting .261 on the nose although his 2020 60 game season shows he has taken some strides in his game. While the average stayed the same, Santander boosted his slug% nearly 100 points to .575 as he barreled up a career high 10.2% of his hits and posted a 49% flyball rate. The switch-hitting Santander also posted some truly uneven splits last year - he hit .285 with 9 home runs vs righties but just .167 vs lefties over 30 PAs. What I like about his line last year is even though his babip dropped to .247 - about 40 points from the previous year, he kept his average the same - although I am not quite as sure that his slightly improved K/BB numbers (6.1% BB, 15.2% K rate) would hold up over a 162 game season as he actually swung through more pitches, and made less contact last year then in 2019. That being said the power is real and a 25-home run season is within reach hitting high up in the Orioles lineup.
Cristian Javier (SP-HOU)
Javier got his first cup of coffee in the Bigs in 2020 providing the Astros with a solid 3.48 ERA over 54 innings (10 starts) with a 8.94 K/9. Javier excelled at limiting baserunners (.186 batting average against /.99 whip) as well as doing a good job of stranding them when they do reach (86% lob rate). The area he struggled was flyballs as a 52% clip led to a rather high 1.82 HR/9 and a 4.94 fip. If Javier can keep the bases clear and limit the longball a bit, he could be in for a nice year. It will be worth watching his pitch selection early on. While he did allow 8 homeruns over 136 PAs vs his fastball, he held opposing batters to a .208 batting average against. His secondary pitch, his slider was truly nasty - it was a 14mph drop from his fastball at 78mph and opposing hitters struggled to the tune of a .075 average of 58 PAs - including a 32% whiff rate.
Tyler Anderson (SP-PIT)
Anderson signed a 1-year deal with the Pirates Tuesday. Anderson appeared in 13 games (11 starts) in 2020 pitching for the Giants, his first season outside of Colorado and put up a 4.37 ERA with a 6.2 K/9 a drop off from him posting a 7.8+ mark or higher in 4 seasons with the Rockies. While his 2020 flyball rate of 44% was a career high he did garner a career low .75 HR/9 - a possible side effect of not having to pitch have his games at Coors Field. Anderson was at his best earlier in his career when his groundball rates hovered close to or above 40%, with a smaller dosage of strikeouts and 2020 saw both those numbers bottom out (28% groundball). He will most likely slot into the backend of the Pirates rotation but won't likely be fantasy relevant.
Dansby Swanson (SS-ATL)
Swanson lost his arbitration case with the Braves Tuesday. Fantasy owners will surely hope the loss won't have a negative impact on his offensive contributions, as Swanson posted a career best .274/.345/.464 slash line with 25 extra base hits in 60 games last year - good enough for a Top-20 MVP Finish. His career season was helped by a .350 babip, as the majorly of his other hitting peripherals were in line with previous years - other then career a career low contact rate of 70% and a career high 14% swinging strike rate - numbers that should lead to a declining slash line. While the average may be a bit of a mirage, he has pumped up the power each of the past 4 seasons as his ISO has increased every year since 2017. A .260 batting average with 20+ home runs and 10 + steals would be a nice season for him and you could do worse for a bench piece to fill in your middle infield positions on days off.
Rich Hill (SP-TB)
The 40-year-old Hill signed a 1-year deal with the Rays. Hill is coming off a shortened 2020 season with the Twins where he pitched to a 3.30 ERA/3.99 FIP and 7 K/9 mark in his only season with the Twins over 8 starts. Hill was a bit off the mark from his previous stretch with the Dodgers last year, as his fastball velocity dropped 3 mph to 87 mph while his whiff rate from 29% to 17%. His overall K rate (29.9%) and walk rates (10%) were among his worsts in recent memory, and its worth wondering if at almost 41 he has enough gas in the tank - or will need to retool his arsenal to be affective. He may have seen a bit of the tweak last year as Hill was able to generate a career low 26% hard contact while using his fastball the least (47%) since 2014. If he can continue to mix and match and keep his groundball rate above 40% he might be an interesting fantasy add. Going to Tampa of all places could give him some value, as he is someone who could be an effective pitcher to follower one of Tampa's infamous openers - and provide 3-4 innings of ball a few times a week, while being in line for a win every time out.
Matt Davidson (IF/RP-LAD)
The Dodgers inked Matt Davidson to a minor League contract Wednesday. This is an interesting signing on a number levels, mainly due to the World Series Champs inviting a player with quite a diverse skill set to Spring Training. Davidson was touted as a big power hitting prospect and clubbed 46 home runs between 2017-2018 for the White Sox. While the home runs are nice Davidson has always whiffed too much to be an everyday hitter, with a career swinging strike rate of 14% and a 34% strikeout rate. Davidson did not play in 2019 - as he attempted to reinvigorate his career as a pitcher. This came to light has year with the Reds as Davidson put up a similar batting profile (.163/.234/.395, 3 HR, 27% K rate in 22 games) and also made 3 appearances on the mound, logging 3 and 1/3 IP while allowing 2 runs and striking out 1. His arsenal includes and a 89 mpg fastball and a 68 mph curveball. He would be hard pressed to break camp with the Dodgers, and it remains to be seen how he is exactly used - but he is an interesting player to follow.
Travis Shaw (1B/3B-MIL)
Shaw and the Brewers reached a non-guaranteed deal Tuesday. Shaw put up back-to-back 30 home runs season from 2017-2018 with the Brewers but has since struggled mightily. 2019 saw him struggle to an ugly .157/.281/.270 mark over 86 games as his contact rate cratered from 81% to 70%, his swinging strike rate blew up 4% to 12% leading to a career worse 33% K rate. When he did make contact in 2019, he didn't fare much better as a .219 babip kept his average depressed. 2020 was a bit better as he appeared in 50 games for the Blue Jays and put a better but still subpar .239/.306/.411 mark with 6 home runs and a 27.8% K rate. The Brewers would seem to be set at the corners with Keston Hiura sliding over to first base and youngster Luis Urias expected to man third base - so Shaw would need a strong spring showing to garner a bench spot.
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