10 Players I’m Excited to Watch In 2018 (Part 2)

Hard to believe January is already half finished.  Maybe even harder to accept that there are a significant number of talented MLB free agents left unsigned.  As we wait through the long winter days, I’m looking forward to seeing these players in action in 2018.

Part One

Garrett Richards

Garrett Richards feels unfinished.  He’s clearly talented (career 8.27 K/9, 51% ground ball rate, 91 FIP-), but after pitching 207 innings in 2015, Richards feels a bit forgotten due to his long, slow recovery from a UCL tear he elected not to repair with surgery (the Tanaka route).  Richards tossed just 27 innings last season but made them count (56 FIP-), averaging more than 96 mph on one of the best fastballs in the game.  What’s more interesting about 2018 however, is that for the first time in awhile Richards isn’t going to be seen as the best starting pitching on his team.  That honor will undoubtedly belong to Shohei Ohtani (at least early on), giving Richards some rope to continue his recovery in full stride but just off center of the microscope of playoff expectations that are sure to weight heavily on one of the busiest teams of the winter.  I’m excited about watching Richards pitch to his full potential, something he hasn’t done in at least two full seasons, so don’t forget about him when checking the Angels’ calendar every five days (or six?) just to see when Ohtani will pitch again.

Stephen Piscotty

Fantasy value shouldn’t really be a proxy for real MLB player evaluation, but my impression of Piscotty is that his value has cratered in the last year around the game.  I may be in the minority, but I see a once highly regarded (and intelligent) hitter in his prime (age 27) ready to make a few believers (and the A’s) look smart. Paul did a great job in December breaking down the small developments hidden inside Piscotty’s struggles last year, and also perfectly captured the “life” aspect we so often forget applies to professional baseball players too:

Piscotty labored through 2017, partly because of hamstring and groin injuries and an August demotion that limited him to 401 PA and more importantly, because he was dealing with the ALS diagnosis of his mother, something that has to be immeasurably difficult on anyone’s psyche.

Due to those developments and to a willingness to chalk up 2017 to some real personal struggles, I see Piscotty as a big rebound candidate in Oakland this season.  If things break right, the former Top 100 prospect could benefit significantly from a reasonably expected combination of bounce-back BABIP, career-best plate discipline, friendlier park factors, and a change-of-scenery relief that probably matters more than anything we can quantify here with stats and graphs.

Carlos Correa

Speaking of former 2015 Top prospects, let’s go back to revisit that Top 10:

  1. Kris Bryant (MVP, ROY, career .389 wOBA, future Harper teammate)
  2. Byron Buxton (slow starter, fast runner, Statcast student, draft day gamble)
  3. Addison Russell (scouting darling, bold prediction buster, overrated?, only 24)
  4. Julio Urias (broken)
  5. Carlos Correa (coming soon)
  6. Corey Seager (good as advertised, All-Star, unfinished business)
  7. Lucas Giolito (TINSTAAPP)
  8. Carlos Rodon (see Giolito, Lucas above)
  9. Blake Swihart (new: TINSTAACP)
  10. J.P. Crawford (taste of the show, overdue, wait-and-see)

It feels childish to say, but I really like Carlos Correa.  He just has that look, like he’s going to be historically good, doesn’t he?

Last week I boldly predicted that Freddie Freeman would dominate the NL for an MVP award in 2018, and this week I’ll make the same call on Carlos Correa, one of only a handful of players in the game who just might be talented (and valuable) enough to overtake a healthy Mike Trout as best player on the planet. Correa’s .394 wOBA last season was the best for a shortstop since Troy Tulowitzki finished with a .444 wOBA in 2014 (age 29).  It also represents the first time an age-22 (or younger) MLB SS has hit that well since Alex Rodriguez hit 42 home runs in Seattle in 1998 (also .394 wOBA).  A-Rod mashed his way to at least a .400 wOBA in seven of the next ten years.  Just saying…

Gleyber Torres & Jorge Mateo

I’m not a Yankees fan, but for whatever reason these two prospects are forever linked in my mind.  Regardless, I’m a big believer in Gleyber Torres and it’s going to be fascinating to watch him develop this season in what is sure to be a juggernaut offense in the Bronx.  I see Torres as a sure-fire Top 10 prospect despite his recovery from TJS, and I think he’s talented enough to step into the lineup early in the season and do above average offensive damage (most likely at second base).  Prospects are bound to disappoint (and the Yankee hype is extra strong), but with a plus hit tool and potentially plus power in a bandbox such as Yankee Stadium, it’s bold but not impossible to see a Robinson Cano-type career outcome (career .305/.354/.494/.848) if things break right for this uber-prospect.

Torres gets all the hype, but it’s Mateo that actually has me more intrigued.  The former Yankee shortstop prospect is known by scouts for his ridiculous speed (80 grade, 259 minor league career stolen bases), but it’s his other tools (hit, power) that could eventually separate him from the Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon mold in the future.  From Eric’s scouting report last year:

Though somewhat polarizing, Mateo is undeniably gifted. He’s an 80 runner with the physical tools to stick at shortstop, and he has more power than has shown up in games because his strideless approach to hitting doesn’t allow for it.

That hidden power was unlocked last year in AA (.225 ISO in both AA stints for NYY and OAK) for the 22 year old Mateo, so if he becomes an average defensive SS with a plus arm, double-plus speed and an ISO in the range of .160 – .175, he basically becomes Trea Turner, which would probably cause the Yankees to mourn the shipment of Mateo with the same tears they used up celebrating the acquisition of Torres.

We hoped you liked reading 10 Players I’m Excited to Watch In 2018 (Part 2) by Trey Baughn!

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Trey is a 20 year fantasy veteran and a five time Ottoneu champion, including the 2015 winner of the Ottoneu Champions League. He currently administers the Ottoneu community, a network of ~1,000 fantasy baseball and football fans. More resources here: http://community.ottoneu.com

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Vil Blekaitis
Vil Blekaitis

Okay: nice list. And it works fine for people who play in redraft leagues—but I don’t. Too many players who lose interest in their teams around July and you start winning by default.
How about some names for people who play in deep keeper leagues?
Of the names listed above, only Garrett Richards and Piscotty can be expected to be found come draft day.
And those prospect names: with the exceptions of Crawford and Mateo, I’d have to give away my first born son (a tough trick, since I don’t have any children) to acquire them in a trade.
Thanks for the column, anyway. Looking forward to other installments.