Harrison Bader (OF - STL) - Bader singled in the only run for the Cards in an 8-1 loss to Minnesota on Saturday, bringing his line down to 293/354/522 through 45 games this season. He has 9 HR and 6 SB through those 45 G, which is above a 30/20 pace for the season. The speed isn't really a surprise, but the power is. There hasn't been a tick up in exit velo.....this is strictly a FB/pull issue, something that probably should be negatively impacting his BABIP more than it has to this point. The one thing that has improved dramatically for Bader this season is his ability to make contact: the contact rate is up from 75% to 83%, and the swinging strike rate has continued to come down from the 10-12% range down to an excellent 7.1% so far in 2021. If he can maintain these contact gains it should eliminate the extremely low AVGs of 2019 and 2020, even with the sizable increase in pull% and FB rate. A 20/20 Bader with better contact is definitely a player that should be utilized....I'm still not a huge believer in the power (or this positive an AVG really....one of the two should suffer a bit down the stretch), but strictly by volume he'll hit his share of HRs. He remains on the wire in many leagues, and he absolutely should not be.
Dansby Swanson (SS - ATL) - Swanson hit 2 HR and had 7 RBI on Saturday, giving him 20 and 57 on the season respectively. The 27 year old has made steady progress as a hitter over the past 5 years, increasing his z-swing% every single season without chasing more, hitting more flyballs almost every season, and increasing his ISO for 4 years running. The combination of the flyball increase and a large bump in pull% this year has pushed the homers up and the AVG down, which has been a pretty fair trade (30 pts of average for 3x the HR pace). I didn't think that he would be a viable starter at the position this season, but he absolutely has been, even if the production has looked a little different than expected. The exit velo jump to 90.6 is particularly surprising to me, but there's no reason to doubt it, as his barrel% continues to jump concurrently.
Luis Garcia (2/S - WAS) - Garcia should be expected to play most of the time after the Nationals fire sale, and he already homered in celebration of that on Friday for his 14th of the season in just 172 AB between AAA and the bigs. His contact ability hasn't been quite as great as advertised with rates in the low 70's, but the power seems to be developing nicely as he is still just 21 years of age. He won't offer a ton in terms of speed, but he could end up being a plus AVG, plus power guy in the middle infield, and anyone with that profile merits a roster spot in all formats. I think he's been pushed a bit hard, reaching the majors last season at 20 and holding his own....I'm not sure that's focused on enough. At age 20 most guys cannot survive at the big-league level, but Garcia did and that bumps my estimation of his abilities considerably.
Darin Ruf (1/O - SF) - Ruf has been playing every day for the past week, and on Saturday he hit in his 6th straight, going 2-5 with his 11th HR of the season. Ruf has typically hit LHP very well, and this year is no exception, but at age 35 he's putting up one of best seasons against RHP as well with a 250/368/463 line heading into Saturday's contest. He's showing better plate discipline, swinging and missing less, and posting a huge jump in exit velo.....as long as he's playing this much, he needs to be owned in all formats. I'm curious to see what will happen when Longoria and Belt return, because with the addition of Kris Bryant it would be easy to slide Ruf back into a platoon role. Definitely something to monitor, as the short side of a platoon just won't offer Ruf enough opportunity to create value, but for now he is worth owning.
Jake Cronenworth (1/2/S - SD) - Cronenworth had been a bit cold the past ten games, hitting 6-38 with a 3B and a HR, but he walked and homered on Saturday in the 5-3 loss to Colorado for his second homer in the past few games, so hopefully he's back on track. More importantly, he's the likely starter at SS for the near future while Tatis heals from his latest shoulder injury, and as he just hit 6 games played at the position, he should be close to gaining more eligibility in most formats. Cronenworth is a really undervalued player, showing average exit velo to go along with elite (87.5% contact rate) contact ability and solid speed. The increase in FB rate is likely going to help him reach 25 HR this year, and because the pull% hasn't increased alongside it the BABIP has stayed reasonably strong. With his positional flexibility (1/2/S) he is an extremely valuable player in all formats.
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