Chicago Cubs News:
Kris Bryant - Buy Low or Bust?
At the end of the 2016 season, Kris Bryant was in the most enviable position in baseball - World Series champion and NL MVP. Unfortunately for the 29 year old third baseman, and the Cubs, he hasn't been able to return to that level since his magical sophomore season. Injuries have certainly played a part, but off-the-field concerns like his service time manipulation grievance against the Cubs, as well as seemingly endless trade rumors, have plagued Bryant over the last few seasons. With Theo Epstein out and Jed Hoyer now running the front office (as opposed to assisting Theo), early indications are positive been Bryant and the "new" brass, particularly in terms of communication. When trade rumors swirled around the third baseman shortly after Hoyer took over as GM, Hoyer immediately called Bryant and his agent to personally tell them the rumors were false. This simple move, as basic as it seems, was enough of a gesture of goodwill that caused Bryant to indicate earlier this week that he's open to staying with the Cubs long-term. For fantasy, Kris Bryant is currently being drafted in the NFBC with an ADP around 126. To properly value Bryant, you have to separate the bias of who he used to be from the player he is today. At that ADP, Bryant is the 15th third baseman being drafted in mixed leagues. That drop in value isn't unjustified. His hard hit rate (95MPH+) reached an all-time low in 2020 at just 31% and as a result, his barrel rate fell to well below league average at 5% and his HR/FB rate followed suit to just 9.8% in 2020 (career 16%). Quality of contact aside, it's not all a bad story. His plate discipline has remained relatively neutral vs where he was in his MVP year and he hasn't significantly changed his launch angle either. Don't be fooled, the numbers don't tell a great story - but you don't need a great story to justify drafting Bryant as the 15th third baseman off the board. The metrics he has maintained indicate that he can return to a relatively high level of production if he can work out his quality of contact problems. At this point, you're buying Kris Bryant at a price with all of his risk built in and at his "new normal", but his upside is unparallel amongst anyone else being drafted around him.
What Can Ian Happ do in a Full Season?
The questions around Ian Happ are no longer about where he will find playing time or whether he can produce at the major league level - it's just how good can he be over the course of a full season. Happ is an interesting case study because he's one of the few players to have played nearly identical number of games in 2019 as he did in 2020, giving us a clear and distinct comparison between both seasons. In Happ's case, he has been excellent since getting the call-up mid-2019. Since 2019, Happ has produced 23 home runs with a .260/.350/.530 slash line and an strong .44 batting eye. Most impressive, however, has been his quality of contact metrics which have resulted in a 12% barrel rate and he has hit 44% of his batted balls with an exit velocity of 95 MPH or more. He's aggressive at the plate, as evidenced by his 15% SwStr%, so that will continue to be a drag on his batting average, but it's this aggression that has helped him become a strong run producer in the Cubs lineup. Currently being drafted in the 11th round in NFBC drafts, Fantistics values him as a 9th round selection.
San Diego Padres:
Take a Chance on Ha-Seong Kim
Ha-Seong Kim has been playing at an elite level in Korean's professional baseball league since he was a teenager, flashing plus speed and an above average bat. A true shortstop, Kim will be looking to carve out a role in a new position for the Padres - likely second base or outfield. In Korea, he managed to frequently post batting EYEs near one - a rarity among players in the United States in today's game - and he has hit 49 home runs and stolen 56 bases over his last two seasons. At just 25 years old, he's young enough to still produce within his prime, but old enough to avoid a long ramp-up to his expected production. Drafting an international signing is always a risk, but in his case, it's a risk that is calculated. Currently being drafted as a 12th round selection, Fantistics values Kim as an 8th round pick.
It's Tough Not to be a Fan of Tommy Pham
Tommy Pham has been one of the most under-rated 20/20 players in fantasy over the course of his career. After failing to earn regular playing time with St. Louis until his age 30 season, Pham managed three straight years with at least 40 combined home runs and steals between the Cardinals and the Rays. His first season in San Diego was a bust and ended with controversy after he was involved in an altercation at a nightclub, but with last year in his rear-view mirror, Pham presents a nice opportunity for profit at his current ADP in the 9th round. Pham's better than average walk and strikeout rates have always positioned him for good pitches to hit, which allows him the opportunity to produce frequent quality of contact - career 46% hard hit rate (95 MPH+). He's aging - 33 years old - so there's always the concern for health and whether or not his speed continues, but he certainly has the batted ball profile to continue producing power numbers. He's a great value this year and Fantistics values him three rounds higher than his current NFBC ADP in the 9th round.
Who is Josh Staumont and Why Is He Mixed League Relevant?
How does a 2nd round draft pick out of college take five years to climb through the minor leagues before dominating in his major league debut? The answer is simple - stuff and consistency. Josh Staumont has always had an electric arm - it's the reason he was drafted so highly in 2015 - but his command has been so bad at some points in his career that batters weren't even striking out because they simply had to wait for the righty to beat himself with a free pass. Staumont has a devastating fastball / curveball combination with the fastball averaging 98 MPH and the curveball clocking in at just 83 MPH on average. In the truncated 2020 season, Staumont pitched exclusively out of the bullpen for Kansas City and posted an eye-popping 16% SwStr% and allowed just a 65% contact rate with a 5.4% barrel percentage. This helped him put up a 12.97 K/9, but his control issues persisted (5.61 BB/9). Despite being more of a groundball pitcher in the minor leagues, Staumont found success by giving up more flyballs in 2020. The Royals bullpen is wide open and Staumont should play a key role this year. He has the potential to be a heavy reliever with production close to Freddy Peralta or Nick Anderson.
Keeping it Consistent with Salvador Perez But Beware of his Price
One of the few players remaining from the Royals 2015 championship roster, Salvador Perez has been a model of consistency for most of his career. But after missing the entire 2019 season, there was concern about whether he would return to form in 2020. Fear not - Salvador Perez's comeback story was one of the better narratives during last baseball season and at 30 years old, there's no reason to expect him to let up anytime soon. Walks have never been a big part of Perez's game - and anyone who has ever watched Perez at the plate are probably thinking that they could count the number of walks he has taken on one hand. Perez is aggressive to the extreme - in fact, his career 44% chase rate is 14% higher than league average. It works for him though and last season he posted a remarkable 14% barrel rate and 47% hard hit rate (95 MPH+). Unfortunately, paying for consistency and high level production at the catcher position isn't cheap. Currently going in the 5th round, the opportunity cost of drafting Salvador Perez at that point in a two-catcher league creates an opportunity cost that could prove detrimental to the rest of your draft. Expect his batting average to regress as his unsustainable BABIP of .375 trends down, leaving you with a player with 25+ home runs, but relatively mediocre other counting stats - at least in relation to all other positions. Fantistics values him as a 14th round selection.
Around the League:
Carlos Martinez (STL) - Carlos Martinez struggled in his first start of the spring this week, giving up six earned run in 1.2 innings pitched. Martinez walked three in his appearance, continuing a concerning trend for the 29 year old who is hoping to crack the Cardinals rotation. In 5 starts in 2020, Martinez walked 9.6% of the batters he faced, but only struck out 16%. His 82% contact rate from 2020 was worrisome, but he still managed to limit hard contact and gave up just a 6.5% barrel rate. It's clear Martinez is a shell of his former self and mixed leaguers hoping to draft C-Mart with the assumption that he will be anything more than a spot-starter should readjust their expectations.
Joey Gallo (TEX) - It certainly seems like Joey Gallo is in mid-season form. The Ranger started spring training with home runs in three straight games. Gallo is looking to bounceback from a brutal 2020 season where he slashed just .181/.301/.378, easily his worst rates since 2016 as well as a career low 16.7% HR/FB rate. The interesting aspect of his year last season was that he actually posted a career best 63.5% contact rate as well as a 43.9% hard hit rate (95 MPH+). Gallo's issues were related to getting under the ball too much, as seen by an average launch angle of 26.8 degrees. If he can bring that back down closer to his 22.6 career mark, expect to see his barrel% rebound along with home runs. He could be a nice buy low.
Mickey Moniak (PHI) - Dynasty leaguers beware - Mickey Moniak could yet have value. The former first overall pick in 2016 has been receiving praise from various sources close to the team and crushed two home runs on Thursday. Still just 22, Moniak has failed to develop his hit tool in the way the Phillies were hoping, but with decent speed and relatively weak depth in front of him, he could find his way into Philadelphia's outfield rotation at some point in 2021. Don't expect much power, but Moniak does have plus speed and could be a depth option in NL-only formats eventually. If he can cut down on his strikeouts, there's upside to his batting average.
Eugenio Suarez (CIN) - Eugenio Suarez went 2-for-3 on Thursday as he tries to bounceback from a difficult 2020 season. The third baseman put in extra work this off-season, slimming down 15 pounds. Suarez seems like a great under-the-radar target going in the 5th-6th rounds of most draft because many people are spooked by his .202 batting average, but may not realize he posted a career best 14.4% barrel rate and still managed to hit 44% of his batted balls 95 MPH or higher. Playing in an excellent ballpark for power, look for Suarez to once again flirt with 40 homeruns in 2021.
Jimmy Nelson (LAD) - Technically competing for a rotation spot (to be fair - the Dodgers rotation is like 6-7 deep anyway), Jimmy Nelson drew the start for Los Angeles against the Cubs. He ended up notching one strikeout in the outing, but obviously has a very long way to go before actually cracking the Dodgers starting rotation given their depth and competition. Nonetheless, the former Brewers pitcher was once viewed as a rising star and possesses one of the most devastating curveballs in the league. Depending in the role he carves out, it's possible he could hold value in leagues with holds if he ends up in the bullpen.
Justus Sheffield (SEA) - Justus Sheffield made his cactus league debut this week and struck out one batter over two scoreless innings. The former 2014 1st round pick is still just 26, but he breathed new life into his career in the 2020 season after tweaking his pitch deployment. Ditching his 4 seam fastball completely, Sheffield adopted a sinker and wound up improving his barrel rate to just 3.7% last season. He stopped trying to do too much to beat the hitter, instead focusing on trying to stay within the strikezone. This led to more contact, but significantly fewer free passes. With a 50% groundball rate, being a contact pitcher in Seattle works out pretty well. He's a nice safe option to round out your fantasy staff, but don't expect significant upside from him.
Cody Bellinger (LAD) - Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told reporters that Cody Bellinger is progressing well in his recovery from a shoulder injury that hampered him during last season's playoffs. Bellinger's injury concerns haven't stopped him from being draft in the first round in most leagues, one year after his massive 2019 campaign when he hit 47 homeruns and slashed .305/.406/.629. He struggled a bit more in 2020, particularly with his batting average which was just .239. The good news is that his BABIP of .245 was abnormally low, especially for his 41.5% hard hit rate. As his BABIP normalizes, so will his average. Bellinger did manage to maintain the improvement in his SwStr% that we first saw during the 2019 season, so there continues to be upside to his overall plate approach.
Javier Baez (CHC) - Javier Baez was removed from Friday's Cactus League game after he was hit by a pitch. Initial reports indicated he was in pain but it didn't appear serious. The Cubs will likely take it cautiously with their shortstop after he has played - quite unsuccessfully - through nagging injuries in recent seasons that have significantly impacted his performance. At his best, Javier Baez is 2020 Fernando Tatis Jr, but the problem is that he has reached that level just once. His tendency to swing at pitches out of the zone and prioritize power over contact have led to inflated strikeout rates and brutal batting averages. Fortunately, he does hit the ball exceptionally hard and that will cause good things to happen. His 40% hard hit rate and 9.4% career barrel rate position him as a nice middle infield value at his current ADP at the end of his 5th round, with Fantistics valuing him about a 1.5 rounds higher.
Jake Odorizzi (FA) - Jon Heyman reports that the Astros are interested in signing Jake Odorizzi after losing Framber Valdez for the season. Odorizzi revived his career in 2019 for Minnesota, but largely benefited from favorable luck. His fortunate turned around quickly in 2020 as he finished with a 6.59 ERA. While that was overstated, his xFIP still sat at 4.71, which isn't too far from his career 4.43 levels. Until last year, Odorizzi has done well in his career to limit hard contact and consequently home runs. Considering he didn't see much of an increase in his hard contact allowed, it's reasonable to assume his 25% HR/FB rate in 2020 was an outlier and will improve. Odorizzi might be a streaming option in mixed leagues if he gets signed, but realize he's never going to be the pitcher he was in 2019 ever again.
Franchy Cordero (BOS) - Franchy Cordero was acquired by the Red Sox in the Andrew Benintendi trade, but he has yet to see the field this spring due to a positive COVID-19 test despite being asymptomatic. Cordero underwent a physical on Friday and is expected to join the team for workouts soon. Finally with an opportunity for regular at-bats, Cordero has a chance to showcase his 70 raw power and 70 speed tools on a regular basis. While it was just 16 games in 2020, Cordero showed growth in his plate approach with the Royals last year, managing just 4 strikeouts and tallying 4 walks in 42 plate appearances. If he can continue making progress in his batting EYE, the rest will fall into place as his career 12% barrel rate and 45% hard hit rate is off the charts. The window to buy low is closing.