What to Make of Miguel Sano?
As he approaches his 28th Birthday Fantasy Owners who have rostered Miguel Sano over the years should know exactly what they are getting - good walk numbers (11.7% career mark) good power (career .496 slg%, 131 career home runs) and big swing and miss tendencies (37% career K rate, 16.1% swinging strike rate). In the shortened 2020 season Sano hit a brutal .204 as he whiffed is 43.9% of his PAs and had a very rough 19% swinging strike rate. He swung at a career worst 31% of pitches outside the zone, to drive his walk rate below 10% for the first time in his career. Despite these poor plate discipline numbers when the slugger connected, boy did the ball fly. Sano slugged 13 home runs in 52 games and trailed only Fernando Tatis Jr. in hard hit rate (57.3%) and average exit velocity (95.2 mph) among qualified hitters while leading all of baseball with a blistering 22%-barrel rate. While Sano has had quite the batting average fluctuation, he has routinely been in the Top 5% of the above power categories. He has always struggled hitting offspeed pitches, and if he can improve upon seeing those pitches better this could improve his average metrics; he routinely has put up a 50% + whiff rate on these types of pitches. Sano will be eligible at 1B for fantasy owners and as it stands, he will deliver an unpredictable batting average but a healthy Sano is a lock for at least 25 home runs, with the upper bar being set around 40 - yes 40.
Jorge Polanco Utility Role in 2021?
With the signing of slick-fielding Andrelton Simmons, Jorge Polanco who has been the primary Minnesota Shortstop for the past 4 years when healthy, may be looking at a new position -or a super utility Role. Second base would be an appropriate landing spot, but the Twins already have Luis Arraez, who has compiled a .331 batting average over the past 2 seasons locked in there. Veteran Josh Donaldson is locked into 3B, and with Nelson Cruz at DH there isn't much of an opportunity there. Polanco had a great 2019 where he slashed .295/.356/.485 with career highs in home runs (22), runs scored (107) and RBIs (79). 2021 was a bit of a struggle and despite making about this normal about of contact (84%) Polanco had a 15% drop-in hard-hit rate to just 24% as he babip dropped about 30 points. This also led to a sub -.100 Iso, for the first time in his career. Polanco is still a pretty reliable bat, and while I don't expect him to start an injury in the Twins infield opens an immediate door to playing time, if that happens Polanco could grab additional position eligibility and would be an excellent source of runs scored in a powerful Twins lineup.
Jhoan Duran to debut in 2021?
Jhoan Duran is widely regarded as a Top-2 Pitcher in the Twins organization, and for good reason. At 6'5 230 pounds he is imposing and has backed that up putting up strong K numbers in the minors routinely striking out batters at a rate of 9+ K/9 and generating bigtime groundball numbers, including a 63% rate over 37 innings at AA in 2019. His strikeout and groundball tendencies have helped him limit the longball as well, having surrendered just 23 home runs over 374 minor league innings. His ERA has not been the most impressive, but the above numbers back up the lower FIP (4.86ERA/2.76 FIP) he put up last year. Duran should be rostered by now in dynasty leagues and if not would be savvy choice - he has the makings of someone who could help the Twins down the stretch if they need an arm.
Is Matt Olson the league's Top Slugger?
It is probably a somewhat debatable point, but even after a sluggish .195/.310/.424 line a year ago Matt Olson has a shot to be one of the more feared hitters this year. He had a bit of a depressed babip (.227) which led to the sub .200 batting average but was still able to produce a .424 slug% with 14 home runs. Nearly half of his 41 hits (19) went for extra bases last year as Olson further embraced the "3 true outcomes" approach with both an increased walk (13%) and K (31%) rate in 2020. I do expect more of the same this year from Olsom who gets just about fast exit velo than anyone at 92mph but needs to get back to being able to handle the fastball better. Olson hit .202 vs fbs last year, while putting up a solid .272 mark the year before. That could be the difference between a 30 and 40 home run season for the Oakland Slugger.
Fantasy Relevance for Seth Brown?
While he is not assured a starting spot, or even a reserve spot Outfielder Seth Brown is one of the more interesting players on the Athletics roster. Brown has a pair of 30-home run season under his belt in the minors (2017 and 2019) but upon his cup of coffee in 2019 he put a strong .293 over 83 PAs with 8 doubles, 2 triples and 0 home runs while driving in 13 and scoring 11. He hit for the high average behind a .423 babip with a 27% K rate - not exactly great underlying numbers. Brown did make the Oakland roster year, but only received 5 at bats while going back and forth between the active roster and the backup one. Brown does not have an immediate early season fantasy return, but he is worth highlighting for a few reasons. The 30 home run seasons are certainly intriguing, and an injury in the Athletics outfield could make him the next man up. Secondly Oakland generally does a good job of getting good trade value - I could see him being dealt to a noncontender later in the season and getting last season reps. Keep an eye on him as the season progresses.
Prospect Watch - Buddy Reed
Outfielder Buddy Reed may not be on many owners' radars, as he ranks farther down on the Athletics Top Prospect list at around spot 30. What always intrigues me from a fantasy perspective is a player can bring both speed and power to the game - which is exactly what Reed does. He put-up double-digit steals and home runs in both 2017 and 2018, including a 51-steal year in 2017. The problem with Reed is he hasn't hit much other then providing power, as his higher batting average seasons are fueled by big babip numbers (.324 avg/.407 babip in 2017) and he posted a 28%+ K rate in 2018 and 2019 at AA. He should be pegged for a third year at AA with the possibility to begin at AAA, and could be a callup with some power/speed ability if the Athletics are looking at a high risk/ high reward player.
Around the League
Casey Mize (SP-DET)
Mize made his first appearance of the spring striking out 3 over 2 scoreless innings. Mize pitched a bit for the Tigers last year compiling 28 innings over 7 starts with a 6.99 ERA/6.47 FIP. He struggled in about every facet of his major league debut walking a high amount (4.13 BB/9) surrendering home runs (2.22 HR/9) and struggling to strand runners with a 59% LOB rate. Mize did make the jump directly from AA to the Bigs with no minor league season and he had under 150 career minor league innings before making his debut. Mize is no lock to make the roster, especially with the signing of veterans Jose Urena and Julio Teheran, but look for him to return to Detroit sometime during the season.
Ian Anderson (SP-ATL)
Anderson threw 2 shutout innings, striking out 2 during his 2021 spring debut. Anderson put up good numbers throughout the minors leagues until his promotion to AAA in 2019 where he really struggled to the tune of a 6.57 ERA as his groundball rate dropped to below 40% for the first time in his minor league career. His command vanished, as his K/9 dropped to 9.12 - much lower then any other season and his BB/9 ballooned to 6.57 BB/9. He also got rocked allowing 5 home runs in just 24 innings. This may have been a outliar as he struggled following a brilliant 2019 in AA. The Braves believed this was an outliar and leaned on him heavily last year - and he produced excellent results. Over 6 starts, Anderson pitched to a 1.95 ERA/2.54 FIP while dialing back up his strikeouts (11.41 K/9) and almost cutting his walk rate in half from his AAA stint to 3.90 BB/9. Anderson success last year was driven by a 53% groundball rate and a change up that was 7mph slower then his fastball - sitting at 87mph. Opposing hitters struggled with the changing of speeds, as they hit just .104 vs the changeup and led to them posting just a 1.2% barrel rates - one of the best in the league for a starter. Anderson has a long way to go and it will be interesting to see where he sits after a full season of work - but he has the pitch repertoire, and now experience to be one of the next great Atlanta Brave Starters.
Willi Castro (SS-DET)
Castro hit his second home run of the spring Tuesday, while adding a 2-run double. The 23-year-old put up a robust .349/.381/.550 line over 36 games in 2020 although a lot of that was fueled by a .448 babip as he didn't hit the ball particularly hard (28% hard hit rate) and put 42% of his batted balls on the ground. In parts of 2 seasons with the Tigers he hasn't showed much plate discipline either with a career 5.2% walk rate and 28.8% K rate. The one thing that did jump out was he did hit for a bit of power last year - hitting 4 doubles, 3 triples and 5 home runs as Castro had a much better handle off speed pitches last year then in 2019. His average vs them improved from .192 to .347 in roughly the same number of at bats and 4 of his 6 home runs came off them. Castro could be a late found flyer if you need to round out your infield depth as he did have double digit steals and home runs in his last full season of AAA ball in 2019.
Marcus Stroman (SP-NYM)
Stroman tossed 2 shutout innings, striking out 2 in his spring debut. After sitting out 2020, Stroman is a key piece at the top of the Mets rotation and put up a 3.77 ERA/4.15 FIP with a career high 9.1 K/9 over 11 late 2019 starts with the Mets. He had a small dip in his groundball rate in 2019 to 53% and while this number is still good it wasn't up to his standards where he routinely generated 60% groundballs. He threw his fastball at a career low 39% rate in 2019, so the extra use of the secondary pitches led to additional strikeout and less groundballs - not a bad tradeoff for fantasy owners. From a fantasy perspective, Stroman has thrown 200+ innings twice in his career, but after sitting out a full year it's a bit tough to project how long it will take for him to get back at it. Keep an eye on the use of his secondary pitches early on, that should tell us if his K rate of 2019 is for real - which is more valuable for fantasy owners.
Rafael Devers (3B-BOS)
Devers hit his first home run of the spring Tuesday. Devers had his breakout season in 2019 batting .311 with 32 home runs 115 RBIs and 129 runs scored while cutting his strikeout rate significantly to 17%. His abbreviated .263/.310/.482 line over 57 games last years pales in comparison, but Devers got off to a very slow start hitting below .200 in July, and slowly raising his average each month with him hitting a much better .283 with 13 extra base hits over 99 September and October at bats. His strikeout numbers were still worse even in the later months of 2020 so in general it would be great if he dropped his swinging strike back down a few points. Devers should be able to bounce back and will be the Red Sox big bat this year with a shot at his second 30+ home run season.
Gleyber Torres (SS-NYY)
Torres went 2-2 during the Yankees spring game Tuesday. While his .243 average and .368 slg% are both below what we have come to expect otherwise he didn't have a terrible year. He beefed up his walk rate to a career high 13% with a career low 17% K rate thanks to a decreased 10% swinging strike rate. A drop-in hard-hit rate to 30.6% and drops in line drives and flyballs seemed to have led to the depressed slugging. Torres showed marked improvement from 2018 to 2019 including a massive 38 home run out output that year. Expect a return to glory for Torres who could be in store for a big RBI year in a loaded lineup.
Zach Wheeler (SP-PHI)
Wheeler struck out 2 over 2 scoreless innings in his spring debut Tuesday. Wheeler was an innings eater in his first season with the Phillies throwing 71 innings over 11 start while putting up a 2.92ERA/3.22 FIP. Wheeler saw a big decrease in his K rate last year to 6.72K/9 well below his 8.55 career mark but traded the Ks for groundballs as his 55.9% groundball rate was 3rd among qualified starters a year ago. Wheeler was able to get more spin on his fastball than in past years and as such limited opposing batters to an 85mph exit velocity and a big drop off in opponents launch angle to 3.8 degrees. The drop in strikeouts isn't what fantasy owners want to see but Wheeler was super effective at eating innings and there are high hopes that him and Aaron Nola form a strong 1-2 combination.
Andrew Vaughn (1B-CWS)
Vaughn blasted a 3-run homer in Tuesdays Spring Training Game. Vaughn ranks as a Top-20 Overall prospect on most lists and has limited exposure to even Minor League pitching - with just 52 games played split between A and A+ in 2019. Vaughn put up a solid .832 OPS in his first taste if professional pitching while demonstrating a good eye at the dish with 30 walks against 38 Ks. Service time issues aside, Vaughn seems ticketed to start 2021 in the minor leagues - possible even AAA. That being said the White Sox do not have a super clear answer at the DH spot defined yet - and if they find themselves needing a spark midseason to help with their playoff push, I see a scenario where Vaughn pushes for a callup sooner than anticipated.
Todd Frazier (1B/3B-PIT)
Frazier hit his second home run of the spring Tuesday. While is only signed a minor league if he keeps up his quick start, he should assure himself of a roster spot. Even if he scuffs a bit, Frazier should lock up a spot and be a nice spell at either of the corners for the Pirates. Frazier isn't quite what he was in the early 2010s when he hit 75 home runs over a 2-year period with the Reds but has a 20 home run season in 2019. Even in a reserve role Frazier should provide close about league average production and is a fantasy consideration if either Ke'Bryan Hayes or Colin Moran scuffle.
Fernando Tatis Jr. (SS-SD)
Tatis Jr. hit a Grand Slam among two hits and stole a base Tuesday. A good start in his second spring game, this is the sort of stuff fans and Fantasy Owners have come to expect. Everyone knows the narrative by now, Tatis followed up his fantastic 2019 with a 17-home run 11-stolen base 2020. Tatis Jr. smoked the ball in 2020 leading baseball with a 62% hard hit rate, a nearly 18% improvement on his Rookie Campaign. He made strides in his plate discipline last year by swinging through less pitches (15% vs 12% swinging strike rate which led to more walks (10.5%) and Less K's (23.7%). The thing I want to see is now Tatis Jr. can hold up over a few seasons. He only logged 84 games his Rookie year and 59 last year - and notably struggled in September/October with a .208 average. A presumptive Top-5 draft in just about every draft, lock him in.
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