So, the A’s have decided to cut bait on off-season signee Trevor Plouffe as he struggled to produce and are ready to hand off the job to Matt Chapman. The move, from the beginning, was intended to serve as a stop-gap move, but the A’s perhaps didn’t expect it to the end this early and perhaps hoped Plouffe would at least play well enough to draw trade interest in mid-season. That didn’t happen so they jettisoned his remaining salary as a sunk cost.
So, Chapman will be a primary FAAB or waiver target in most league formats as soon as he becomes available depending on whether you play in weekly or daily play. The first thing you need to know is “yes, he is going to hurt your batting average” if you play in a standard 5×5 or other batting average related leagues. The righty has struggled to his keep his strikeout rate under 30% at the Double-A and Triple-A levels and is already an established .250s hitter in the minors. To expect improvement in that area, barring a change in approach is unlikely and it is entirely possible that he could struggle as much as his predecessor.
On the upside, Chapman at least has power upside, slugging over .500 with isolated power’s over .200 for much of his minor league career. His patience and all or nothing approach at least also serve to keep his OBP respectable and somewhat valuable even if he hits in the .210s to .220s in OBP based leagues. Owners of Oakland pitchers will be happy as well as he should represent an improvement in defense over Plouffe. Chapman has been long well regarded for his throwing arm, agility, and range. Like most all or nothing power hitters, however, Chapman is not a significant threat on the base paths.
If available in most AL-only leagues, starters do not come along every day so you will likely need to open your FAAB budget a bit to acquire him, despite the risk of potential failure he carries. He is unlikely to be available in AL-only keeper or dynasty leagues with minor league drafts, but mixed leaguers may be afforded the luxury of waiting and seeing depending upon the depth of the corner infield market and free agent pool of your league.
Opening day rosters are in the process of being finalized and with that, a crop of rookies are receiving some of those final slots. Let’s get to know some of these players a bit better.
Aaron Judge will be the Yankees opening day right fielder and there is a lot about him that screams “prototypical right fielder”. Judge has the requisite range and arm to be an upgrade at the position over the aging Matt Holliday. He also has excellent raw power that may allow him to reach and exceed the 30 home run mark multiple times over his career. The question mark here is the approach and his handedness. He’s a right-handed, all or nothing hitter capable of drawing walks 10% or more of the time, but has also struck out around a quarter or more of the time in the minors and during his trials in the majors has struck out over 40%. Judge has worked to shorten his swing, moving away from a leg kick, but will always remain a right-handed hitter who strikes out at least semi-frequently. Expectations beyond much over a .240s batting average should be held in check until he shows improved contact-making skills. He’ll have greater utility in OBP leagues where he could hit .220 and still produce an OBP in excess of .300.
Staying in the outfield we move over to Detroit where JaCoby Jones has earned at least a platoon role (vs. lefties) in centerfield. Jones is a good tools player who has yet to really impress over an extended period at any one level of the minor leagues. The former third round pick, for example, struck out 30% of the time over 324 plate appearances while posting a .243/.309/.356 batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage slash line. Jones has plenty of raw power and speed and does have 20-20 potential has not shown the former talent in-game on a consistent basis since A-ball where hit 23 home runs and stole 17 bases. Jones earned the job through an excellent spring training performance, showing off his power and speed potential as well as his plus defense. In a full-time role, he looks like he would be overmatched and quickly dispatched back to the minors, but he might hang on for a while in a more specialized role. The opportunity and speed make him worthy of a pickup in most AL-only formats.
Adalberto Mejia defeated Jose Berrios and Nick Tepesch in the quest for the Twin’s fifth starter job. The 23-year old left-hander came over in a deal with the Giants for Eduardo Nunez. Mejia is not a high-profile arm but is a fairly finished project who throws four pitches for strikes and gets swings and misses with a plus changeup and a decent slider. His skills may actually profile better as a left-handed specialist in the long run, but he has a deep enough arsenal to be a competent back of the rotation starter and inning eater. I would put him on my AL-only watch list or reserve roster at most at the moment.
Koda Glover was a 2015 8th round pick by the Nationals. A reliever, he flew through the minors, pitching at three levels in 2015 and three more again, including the Majors, last year and ended up in this spring’s closer competition, ultimately having to settle for a middle relief role. At 6’5”, 225 pounds, Glover throws hard, regularly hitting the mid to upper nineties on his fastball and has a filthy slider to go along with it. Put him on your saves sleeper list though there are a few names ahead of him currently on the depth chart.
One of the more exciting rookies to earn an everyday job to begin 2017 is the Pirates’ Josh Bell. The 24-year old, former second-round pick had a dismal spring training which hopefully can be ignored. The switch-hitter with his plus bat-speed and tremendous approach, drawing walks at equal or in excess of his strikeouts should allow him to make an impact in the batting average and OBP department immediately. Bell’s also hit 17 home runs between two levels of play last year and that power is still emerging. A mid to high-teens home run out put showing with a .280s batting average and .350-plus OBP are well within his reach for the coming season.
The White Sox, pushing towards rebuilding mode, did not aggressively pursue veterans to add to their outfield, instead focusing on minor league invitees and their system’s own depth. Early on, Charlie Tilson was considered one of the front-runners as a rookie candidate to grab a starting job but has been slowed by injuries. In his stead, Jacob May has pushed forward to claim the starting centerfield job, but can he hold onto it and just who is this guy?
May, 25, was a 2013 third round pick out of Coastal Carolina, so not a completely unheralded prospect in this case. He’s a smallish (5’10”) switch-hitter whose standout tools is speed gathering 37 stolen bases in 2014, 38 in 2015, and 19 over his 321 plate appearances in Triple-A in 2016. It should be noted, however, that May is not necessarily a high-percentage stealer with a 69% and 70% success rates respectively over those two seasons. It remains to be seen whether or not he’ll be given the green light and whether or not make the necessary improvements to keep it.
At the plate, May leaves quite a bit to be desired as a potential starter. He has marginal power with a sub .100 isolated power in the upper levels of the minors, and lacks in the plate discipline department, striking out far too often (22% in 2016 in AAA) and fails to get on base (4.7% walk rate). He fared slightly better in the latter two departments in his 2015 Double-A stint but has yet to show that at a higher level of competition.
In summary, May speed tools certainly make him a must-grab in AL-only formats, but he strikes me as someone whose modest skills and talents will be overexposed during a prolonged stay. Long term I see him as a fourth/fifth/Triple-A roster filler outfielder. Extract what value you can from him while he gets some plate appearances.
Yesterday the Kansas City Royals brought in Jason Hammel in on a two-year deal. A move, sadly, was necessary to do to the untimely death of Yordano Ventura.
Hammel, 34, at least can be relied upon to pick up some of the innings as he comes off a second consecutive thirty-start season, though he has never thrown more than 177.2 innings and a season and seems to end up in the 170-ranging every full season of his career. The righty was also left off the Cubs’ World Series roster due to elbow tightness and must prove he is once again healthy. His control numbers should, therefore, be a primary focus to monitor that issue.
Hammel has a solid history as a strike-thrower (Career 2.8 BB/9 and 2.9 in 2016), but has been noted to allow home runs at high rates on a regular basis and has consistently, thanks in part to suppressed batting averages on a ball in play, has kept his ERA under a 4.00 with some frequency despite allowing home runs on fly-ball rates ranging in the 11 to 13% area.
Going forward there really is not much reason to expect any substantial changes from his performance, health-permitting, given a stable skill set and no changes to the velocity of his offerings. While his suppressed BABIP might regress, he is moving to one of the more pitcher-friendly parks in the majors with respect to home runs and should benefit from that making him still a candidate to get into the double digits in Wins and possibly still maintain a below-4.00 ERA though his xFIP and FIP last suggested that it should be in the mid-4’s. If you spend more than $5 on auction day in AL-only leagues, however, you will certainly eat into or could completely erase your potential profit margin.
Personal Note: I have been nominated as one of three finalists for Fantasy Baseball Article of the Year, Print for 2016! You can listen in and see if I won this evening by tuning into http://www.siriusxm.com/fantasysportsradio tonight at 9 PM eastern!