Chad Pinder a Top 2021 Utility Piece?
Versatility is always important to a fantasy baseball team and every year managers scour to find that player that can provide good offense while filling in at multiple positions. If Spring Training is any indication, Chad Pinder may be a guy to Target. The first Caveat is that Pinder may only have 2B eligibility to start in most leagues - as he picked up the most action there in the shortened 2020 season. Pinder has started games at every position other then catcher since 2018 so a second eligibility spot could crop of shortly. Pinder has also been red hot this spring slashing .367/.500/.733 with 3 HR in 38 PAs and has been particularly hot the past week going 10-17. For a career backup player, he has a respectable .732 OPS with 44 home runs over 367 career games with a roughly league average 98 wrc+. While his plate discipline isn't much to write home about (6.5% walk rate, 26% K rate) he has a pristine 7:6 BB:K ratio this spring. The other second base options for Oakland haven't inspired much in spring Training as Tony Kemp (.190 avg) and Jed Lowrie (.200) haven't wowed and veteran Pete Kozma despite a .273 average is on a minor League contract. The recent surge may be just in time to lock down early season starts or at least a timeshare between Kemp and Pinder as he holds the better career mark (.259) vs lefties. Regardless he can be a late round pick with versatile upside and should produce double digit home runs with a .700+ OPS.
Who is Ka'ai Tom?
Most Likely a relative unknown, Athletics OF Ka'ai Tom has been on fire since returning from an oblique injury this spring going 8-16 with 5 runs scored and 4 extra base hits including a triple Monday. Digging deeper into his Minor League background, the Rule 5 pick has very strong minor league numbers too. In 2019 he had a .898 OPS with 32 extra base hits, including 14 home runs over 81 games at AA. He was then promoted to AAA and hit even better posting a .933 OPS over 51 games with 28 extra base hits. Tom did sport high babips across his 2019 minor league campaigns (.335, .370) but also was an OnBase machine as he has posted a 9.5% + walk rate at every stop in the minor leagues. He has had pretty good speed with 58 stolen bases and 24 minor league triples. It would be smart to keep an eye on him in the final week of spring training but a spot as the 4th outfielder seems likely for Tom. It is a bit of a bold prediction but if he can claim regular at bats he may be able to help your fantasy team in multiple categories.
Breakout for Jesus Luzardo?
Jesus Luzardo had a nice spring outing Monday throwing 4 and ⅓ shutout innings while striking out 3. Luzardo had a 7.11 ERA entering the game but had been getting strikeouts with 11.4 K/9 in spring before Mondays Contest. As the Athletics are still being increasingly careful with the 23-year-old he may make one more start to stretch out his arm before the season begins. Luzardo made 12 appearances (9 starts) last year and pitched to a 4.12 ERA with a 9 K/9 but did surrender 9 home runs in 59 innings. The lefties 95 mph fastball has so far held up to major league bats as batters hit .215 against it last year. His secondary pitches have been a bit of a mixed bag - opponeents hit .286 against his changeup but he did manage a 44% whiff rate. His sinker, on the other hand was not successful last year as 3 of his 9 home runs were allowed on it and batters only missed 9% of the time. Luzardo has the highest upside of any of the Oakland arms, but I would imagine 2021 will still have some sort of innings limit on him. A healthy Luzardo should be able to toss between 150-180 innings and if his stuff is on you could be looking at an ERA closer to 3 then 4.
Whats left for Nelson Cruz to Prove?
Cruz hit his second home run of the Spring Monday and has a .300 average. At this point fantasy owners need to just keep rolling with the ageless wonder until he shows some signs of slowing down. He hit 16 home run sin the abbreviated 2020 campaign and even put up his second straight .300+ batting season with a .303 clip. Cruz continues to be among the league leaders in many power offensive categories including barrel % (15%), hard hit rate (47%) and exit velocity (91.6%). These numbers all rank in the top 10-15% of all MLB hitters although if you look a bit too hard you may see the signs of some power starting to drop as he gets into his 40s - as his hard hit and barrel rate each dropped 4% and his Exit velo was down 2mph. Lets give 2020 a chance to play out but Cruz should be a lock for at least 35 home runs, especially considering he just focuses on the bat as his fielding days are over.
Twins Battle for Left Field - Brent Rooker to start?
As we enter the final weeks of spring training Brent Rooker has seemingly taken the lead for the starting left field job, left vacant with the departure of Eddie Rosario. Top Prospect Alex Kirilloff has had a chance but has not impressed going just 4-32. Rooker, on the other hand, has 8 hits in 23 at bats, and despite a lot of strikeouts (10) could be the favorite to open the season there. He has consistently hit in the minor leagues with double digit home runs in the minors since 2015 and was good in a handful of at bats last season (6-19, 3 XBH, 5 RBIs). Strikeouts seems to be his biggest hole as he had 5 last year in limited action and has a nearly 50% K rate this spring - something that won't be tolerated for long. If the Twins don't deem Kirilloff ready and can't look past Rookers swing-and-miss issues, the other option is Kyle Garlick who has hit .375 with 4 home runs this spring. Garlick had a small stint with the Dodgers in 2018 putting up an .842 OPS with 7 xbh in 30 games but has a similar profile to Rooker, where he hit double digit home runs in the minors but whiffed a lot. All 3 players should see time at the show, with whoever hits garnering the most at bats.
Can Randy Dobnak Pitch at an Elite Level?
While he may not have a spot in the Twins rotation to open the season, Randy Dobnak has been turning heads with his spring training. He hasn't allowed a run over 8 and ⅔ innings. While wracking up 13 strikeouts - very impressive considering he has a 6.0 K/9 over 75 MLB innings the past 2 seasons. Dobnak has had success despite having a fastball topping out at 92mph as he has paired a 3.12 ERA with a 3.56 fip while generating a staggering amount of groundballs (52% 2019, 62% last year). Dobnak thus far has been, elite as keeping the ball on the ground, and thus eliminating the longball allowing just 4 in 75 innings. The Twins definitely have injury concerns in the rotation, so Dobnak figured to pitch in long relief to start the season but should definitely see starts along the way - It will be curious to see if his strikeout ways are just a product of the preseason.
Around the League
Mitch Keller (SP-PIT)
Keller was roughed up again Monday allowing 3 ER on 7 hits over 3.1 innings. It started out better than his previous start where he was shelled for 8 runs on 10 hits over 2 innings but quickly unraveled. Despite a strong pedigree it has been impossible to get a read on Keller from limited action in 2019 and in 2020. In 2019 he has a blazing 12.19 K/9 over 48 innings but a brutal babip (.475) and lob %( 59%) gave him a bloated 7.13 ERA with a much more telling 3.19 fip and 1.2 WAR. Keller only tossed 21 innings in 2020 but had drastically different results - batters hit just .132 with a .103 babip, and he stranded 93% of the runners who reached base good for a 2.91 ERA. In addition to the babip playing a factor Keller had a complete lack of control last year walking more batters (18) then he struck out (16) for a 6.75 fip. There's definitely an element of "high risk, high reward" here.
Bobby Dalbec (1B-BOS)
Dalbec continued his hot spring going 1-2 with his 6th home run. He has impressed with a .333 average and 13 RBIs while drawing 5 walks in 15 games. Dalbec, who slugged 59 home runs between 2018-2019 in the minors impressed in 23 games with the Red Sox last year slashing .263/.359/.600 with 8 home runs and 16 RBIs. The average was fueled a bit by a .394 babip and he did whiff at a much to high 42% clip. He routinely put up K rates of 30%+ in the minors before he chopped it down to the mid-20s in 2019 so in addition to big time raw power expect the strikeouts to still be prevalent as a 56% contact and 21% swinging strike rate have room for improvement. Assuming he starts most games a 30-home run season could still be in the cards.
Myles Straw (OF-HOU)
Straw went 2-3 and swiped a pair of bases Monday. It has been a slow start in the base stealing department for Straw who is widely thought to be among the league leaders in steals with regular playing time. While he has not had success on the basepaths this spring going 1-2 entering play Tuesday he has put up a nice .323 average with 3 extra base hits. To this point he hasn't had much success at the Big League Level posting just a .646 OPS over parts of 3 seasons but has still managed to swipe 16 bags in 19 tries over 98 games. The appeal of his speed comes from his minor league days as he stole 38 bases in 2017 and 70 in 2018. With a 42% groundball rate you would like the babip to be a bit higher than .316 to help him get on base as often as possible as owners will hope he can put together a plate discipline season like he did in 2019 where he had a nearly 1:1 walk to k rate (19:24). If Straw can get on base 40 steals is within reach.
Kyle Tucker (OF-HOU)
Tucker went 3-4 to boost his spring average to .300. Tucker has some hefty expectations on him in 2021 with the departure of George Springer, and with good reason. Astros fans got a taste last year as he hit .268 with a .837 OPS over 58 games with 9 home runs, 42 RBIs and 8 stolen bases. His power/ speed combo is expected to play out to at least a 20/20 season this year, as Tucker hit that mark the past 3 season in the minor leagues including a monster 2019 at AAA where he hit 34 home runs and stole 30 bags. His gap power and speed also allowed him to hit a league leading 6 triples in 2020. If Tucker can improve on his 7% walk rate and keep his strikeout rate around 20% he could be in for a big season.
Rios has had a bit of a sluggish spring going just 4-22 with a pair of walks and 5 Ks. Rios is a bit hard to get a handle on playing time in 2021, but he offers an intriguing power upside. Rios has 139 at bats to his credit over 2 years with the Dodgers and has hit .260/.338/.634 with 21 of his 32 hits going for extra base hits, including 12 home runs. The 8% walk and 28% K rate show he is still a bit raw, but Rios has a solid minor league track record of putting up power numbers including a 31 home run season in 2019. Rios was mostly a dead fastball hitter last season hitting .250 with 7 home runs and a 22% whiff rate in 55 PAs while mostly struggling against other stuff - with a nearly 60% whiff rate vs breaking and off-speed pitches. Rios should earn a bench spot but it will be hard for him to improve his game without regular playing time. The lefty should be a top PH and platoon play vs lefties as he as has a career .304 avg in limited at bats vs them at the major league level.
Franmil Reyes (OF-CLE)
Reyes slugged his 4th home run of the spring. While he has a batting average over .300 this spring with 5 extra base hits, the strikeouts are coming in bunches as he has 11 Ks in 31 PAs. Reyes has turned in a K rate of 28% each of the past 3 seasons, so the assumption is he reels it back in a bit for the regular season to get closer to his career mark. By now everyone knows Reyes big power potential with a propensity to post a hard-hit rate in excess of 45%+ each season, but he has seen a batting average fluctuation the past 3 years. Reyes had an average babip of .350 in 2018 and 2020 and posted an average near .280 both years while it sunk to .249 in 2019 thanks to a .279 babip. Reyes will need to be a focal offensive contributor this year with Francisco Lindor gone; look for a 30-home run season from the slugger.
Kevin Newman (2B/SS)
Newman went 3-4 with 3 runs scored for the Pirates. You would have to look hard to find someone who has had a better 2021 spring then Newman who is now 14-20 (.700) with 9 runs, 5 walks and 0 strikeouts. Fantasy Owners and Pirates fan alike would be hard pressed not to at least get a little excited about his spring success, especially after he struggled to a .556 OPS over 44 games last year. His spring performance brings some hope he can repeat his 2019 season here he had double digit home runs and steals while posting a .800 OPS. His batted ball profiles look about the same between 2019 and 2020, with his groundball and flyball rates almost identical but a steep decline in his babip (.333 to .250). While he is by no means a power hitter his .051 ISO was a huge dropoff as he managed only 6 extra base hits in 44 games - his .7% barrel rate and 85.5 mph Exit velo were among the lowest in the league last year. Newman is primed for a bounce back year with the light hitting shortstop being able to provide moderate batting average and steals - but not much in the power department. Double digit home runs and steals would be a nice season.
Carter Kieboom (3B-WSH)
Kieboom has struggled throughout the spring with just 6 hit in 35 at bats and 11 strikeouts. The struggles continue for the heir apparent at third base to Anthony Rendon as Kieboom just hasn't impressed at the MLB level thus far. He hit .148 in 43 PAs in 2018 and was barely better last year slashing .202/.344/.212. About the only positive in his game last year was an increase to a respectable 13% walk rate and a decreased 27% k rate. Perhaps this is even a bit of a mirage in the small sample size, as he actually swung at more pitches outside the zone (29%) and had a higher swinging strike rate (10%) then in 2018. He scuffled last year with a 22% hard hit rate and 40% groundball rate which translated to a .10 ISO as he had just 1 extra base hit. It's going to be increasingly tough to gauge young players with the shortened 2020 season, But I would expect the Nationals to let Kieboom work out his struggles for a while, but could turn to a veteran if they persist.
Dylan Carlson (OF-STL)
Carlson went 2-3 with his second home run of the spring Monday. He now sports a .294/.385/.529 spring line through 39 spring PAs. Carlson should have the starting right field spot locked up at this point which is good news after he had a rough 2020 debut. Carlson never got it going last year slashing .200/.252/.364 over 35 games. Interestingly, Carlson never really had impressive minor league numbers until a breakout 2019 where he hit .292 with 26 home runs and 20 steals between AA and AAA - so he is still mostly untested vs higher level pitching, which is why the strong spring is encouraging. The 6% walk and 29% K rate he posted last year won't cut it, so its at least nice to see him sure up his walk/k rates this spring. With Tyler O'Neil and Harrison Bader expected to line in the other outfield spots, Carlson may not have a long leash to begin the season if he struggles - but is still a good dynasty piece to stash.
Nick Pratto (1B-KC)
Pratto went 2-2 with his 4th home run of the spring. Pratto has not impressed to date in the minor leagues, and hit .191 in A+ in 2019 - his last season of pro ball having not played last year. He has, however, looked good for the Royals this spring with 7 XBH over 28 PAs with 3 walks - but still has whiffed 11 times. While the first round pick of the Royals in 2017 hasn't been able to get anything going the hot spring could be the kickstart he needs - so keep him in the very back of your mind for future scouting purposes.
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