Welcome to another edition of M-SABR’s fantasy baseball analysis! Each week, members of our staff will provide their take on notable players to help inform decisions in your own fantasy baseball leagues. In this week’s article, we will discuss some young talent fresh from the minor leagues to add to your fantasy teams, the struggles of one of the top pitchers in fantasy baseball, and some sleeper picks to round out your infield in deeper leagues.
Max’s Players to Pick Up/Trade Targets:
Juan Soto, OF, Washington Nationals
As of publishing, there is only one Juan Soto plate appearance in the major leagues to judge. It was a strikeout. Not a great start for the 19-year-old outfielder. In that same vein, there are no AAA appearances and just 35 PA at AA to put any stock in. But all of this is a testament to just how precocious Soto is. At 19 years, 6 months, and 25 days old, Juan Soto is the youngest player in the major leagues right now and has a true impact bat. Over three minor league seasons, Soto has a .362/.434/.609 triple-slash line with 22 HR and nearly as many walks (58) as strikeouts (66). And he’s doing this all while being years younger than the average competitor in his respective leagues. There will be an adjustment period for Soto after graduating to the majors so quickly, but this is an impact bat who you should pick up now and ask questions about later.
Daniel Mengden, SP, Oakland Athletics
Mengden is unlike Soto is nearly every way. For starters, they play entirely different positions. Mengden was not touted as a top prospect, he isn’t much younger than the rest of his competition, and his results at the higher levels do not scream “pick me up!” Why am I recommending him to you, then? Because Mengden has flown under the radar entirely since being recalled in September 2017. Entering play on Sunday, Mengden had made 14 starts dating back to September of last season. In those starts, he had compiled a 2.85 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, elite 1.2 BB/9 and a solid 5.6 K/BB. The strikeouts are just not there (he has a mark of 6.5 per nine innings over this timeframe) but with how little he walks opposing batters, Mengden should be a solid asset for your team. If nothing else, add Mengden as an innings-eater and enjoy some very solid-but-not-overwhelming outings.
Scooter Gennett, 2B, Cincinnati Reds
Here’s the Scooter we’ve been waiting for! In March and April, Gennett triple-slashed a solid .298/.344/.412 but nearly all of the power we saw from him in 2017 was gone. He rebounded in a big way, triple-slashing .396/.407/.755 with 5 HR in 55 PA in May entering play on Sunday. His walk rate is a pretty horrific 5.0%, but if he continues to mash like he has, that is completely excusable.
Andrew Heaney, SP, Los Angeles Angels
Heaney is the poster child for “prospect development is not linear.” The lefty posted a 3.27 ERA across two minor league levels in 2014 before making his MLB debut with the Marlins and getting absolutely shellacked to the tune of a 5.83 ERA and 1.33 WHIP through five starts. Two trades and one Tommy John surgery later, Heaney has seemingly found a groove in the Angels rotation. Entering play on Sunday, Heaney had a 3.35 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, and 3.1 BB/9. He probably will not be a top-30 starter any time soon due to his inability to keep the ball on the ground, but he can be a solid #4 or #5 fantasy starter with the potential for more if he can lower the walk rate just a bit. And even still, there is no reason for him to be under 30% owned in fantasy leagues right now. Go get Heaney.
Alex Reyes, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
This suggestion is more speculation than anything else. Reyes is currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and is likely to get a spot in the Cards rotation once he is ready to rock and roll. Through three rehab starts so far, he has struck out 31 batters through 15.1 innings. He’s allowed no runs. The hype train is leaving the station and it’s time to board before it’s too late.
Seranthony Dominguez, RP, Philadelphia Phillies
Dominguez is just 23 years old but that is not stopping him from taking the bigs by storm. Okay, perhaps that is a bit of an exaggeration, but he has been excellent since getting the call to the bigs. In 6.2 innings pitched the young righty has yet to allow a hit or walk and has struck out seven hitters. He’s obviously not going to continue to pitch perfect inning after perfect inning, but he picked up his first career save over the weekend (presumably the first of many) and regardless if he is putting up elite ratios he’s worth rostering. He’s not a must-add right now but he’s very close, so I’d pull the trigger if you can afford to.
Sahil’s Struggling Stars
Chris Archer, SP, Tampa Bay Rays
Drafted with the expectation that he would be the ace or #2 starter on the majority of fantasy teams, Chris Archer has not met his lofty expectations in 2018. His 5.01 ERA is nearly a run and a half higher than his career average and his 1.35 WHIP is the worst of his career. He has only posted 4 quality starts in 10 starts and has already given up 9 home runs in just 59 1/3 innings pitched. Given his lengthy track record of success, it is reasonable to expect that he will improve as the season progresses. And you’d be right, to a degree. After all, 3 of his last 4 games were quality starts and he has posted a 3.04 ERA in the month of May. Yet, there are a few red flags that make me hesitant to invest in Archer in fantasy baseball.
Much like Jose Quintana, who I covered a couple weeks ago, Archer’s decline has not just been limited to 2018. After a dominant 3 year span from 2013-2015 where he consistently posted ERAs in the low 3s, he began to fall off in 2016, finishing with a 4.02 ERA. The culprit? A home run rate that skyrocketed from 10.4% in 2015 to 16.2%, despite the fact that he pitched in pitcher-friendly Tropicana Field. While that number has improved slightly (14.1% in 2017 and 15.0% in 2018), it is still a far cry from his pre-2016 rates. Pitching in the same division as sluggers such as Manny Machado, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and JD Martinez, I don’t see much hope for that number improving.
Equally concerning is his hard-hit ball percentage. From 2013-2016, no more than 33% of balls batters hit off him were hit with hard speed. That number has jumped in recent seasons to 39.4% in 2017 and a whopping 42.6% so far in 2018. To put his 2018 number in perspective, Chris Tillman, the owner of a 10.46 ERA and 2.21 WHIP, has a hard speed percentage of 42.9%. When your numbers are being compared to Chris Tillman, you know something is wrong.
Lastly, Archer’s strikeout rate has been down this season. His 22.4% strikeout rate in 2018 would be his lowest since 2014 when he posted 173 strikeouts in 194.2 innings. Bad numbers? Not at all, but it is still nowhere close to the 230+ strikeouts he has posted the previous three seasons.
To sum all of this up, Chris Archer has been giving up more home runs and his pitches have been getting hit harder than ever before. These trends do not appear to be an outlier, as they have occurred over several seasons. Even if his strikeout numbers return to his 2015-2017 rate, we’re still looking at someone who is roughly a league average pitcher (as evident from his 100 ERA+ in 2016 and 101 ERA+ in 2017).
What does this mean for fantasy baseball? He’s definitely not an ace, but his strikeout numbers and upside make him only a top 30 starting pitcher for me. I would feel alright with him being a #3 starter in my fantasy rotation. However, if you find someone who is willing to buy high on Archer based on his name value and the numbers he posted from 2013-2015, I’d go for it without hesitation. Verdict: Trade
Anthony and Alex’s Deep League Pickups
Johan Camargo, SS/3B, Atlanta Braves
While a quick glance at his stats doesn’t show too much promise, Johan Camargo is actually getting very unlucky. His .215 average is not very inspiring, but that could be due to a low .245 BABIP (the league average is approximately .300). Despite a very low batting average, Camargo still has an above-average 109 wRC+, due in part to his .370 OBP. After Sunday’s game, Camargo has more walks than strikeouts, holding an 18.5% BB% and a 17.3% K%. While this is likely unsustainable, it is possible for him to continue to walk at a high rate. The biggest indicator of a positive change, however, is his average exit velocity. Camargo ranks 54th in the majors with a 91.7 MPH average exit velocity, ranking just above superstars Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, both of whom have a 91.6 MPH average exit velocity. This has led to a hard-contact percentage of 52.1%, which would rank second in the majors had he not missed time due to injury. Now that Jose Bautista is out of the way, Camargo has been named the starting third baseman for the time being. Should his stats recover the way they should, Camargo should be similar to Cesar Hernandez and will make a solid utility or bench player for any fantasy team.
Danny Valencia, 1B/3B, Baltimore Orioles
Danny Valencia has been a solid-if-unspectacular contributor throughout his career, hitting for a decent average with mediocre power. This trend has continued thus far this season, with a .282/.352/.500 slash line. One thing that has changed is an increase in power, having hit five home runs in his first 78 at-bats, putting him on pace for 20-25 home runs over a full season. Valencia is also walking at a higher rate while decreasing his strikeout rate by six percent from last season. Unfortunately, Valencia is stuck in a platoon, splitting most of his playing time with Jace Peterson at third base and Mark Trumbo at designated hitter, limiting his opportunities. Valencia will be useful against lefties, but his value will be limited.
Jalen Beeks, SP, Boston Red Sox (AAA)
Jalen Beeks is currently playing AAA ball in Pawtucket, but if you’re looking to stash a player, especially in a dynasty league, this could be your guy. Beeks has been an absolute monster this year in AAA and will hopefully receive a call-up in the near future. Beeks is currently boasting an ERA of 1.93, has a 14.22 K/9 and holds a BB/9 of 2.41 compared to last season’s 3.10. He also has logged over 100+ innings in AAA throughout last season and this season. Beeks has been a consistently good player throughout his development in the minors so this season isn’t an outlier by any means. There is no set timetable for him to get called up to the majors, but if he continues to dominate in AAA, the Red Sox will be forced to give him a chance soon. He could be a very nice addition to any fantasy team if you’re looking for a young upcoming starting pitcher to help your team down the stretch.
Jesús Aguilar, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers
Considered one of the deepest positions on the Brewers roster to begin the season, Milwaukee has had their depth tested after injuries to Ryan Braun and Eric Thames. This gap has led to ample opportunities for many Brewers players and one that has made the most of it is Jesús Aguilar. Aguilar is currently tearing it up, hitting .421 with 4 HRs and 6 RBIs over the past 5 games. At the age of 27, it looks like Aguilar is finally coming into his own, and he will be afforded plenty of opportunities to show his worth hitting behind Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich in the starting lineup. His high average and solid counting numbers make him plenty valuable in fantasy.