Baseball is Back! Today, we move along to the National League Central to discuss potential opportunities for prospects to earn starting jobs at positions currently manned by a player at risk of losing his job if his poor play continues. We’ll start with the Brewers.
At Risk: Justin Smoak
Replacement: No prospects, only veterans
After a career year in 2017, Justin Smoak followed up decently in 2018, despite expected regression. It all fell apart last year though, primarily because his BABIP collapsed to just .223. When you’re a slow, fly ball heavy, left-hander who frequently hits pulled grounders into the shift, a super low BABIP is always a risk. While he should rebound some, with no defensive value, he doesn’t exactly have a firm grasp on a starting job.
Even with the DH instituted, it’s likely that Ryan Braun finds himself at first base every so often, especially against left-handers (even though Smoak hasn’t shown a dramatic platoon split throughout his career). But then there are two guys that will be in camp that might be worth remembering in NL-Only leagues — Logan Morrison and Ryon Healy. Morrison really isn’t that different than Smoak and could certainly get hot over a small sample and knock some dingers. Healy can’t play third base (but has been neutral at first) and his offense has collapsed since his solid half season debut in 2016. But, he makes decent enough contact, hits fly balls, and has power.
I can’t believe that a Major League team is entering camp with these two expected to be the platoon starters at third base. Eric Sogard enjoyed a power spike last year at age 33, but was that real? He sports a career .292 wOBA and has basically been a utility man throughout his career. Jedd Gyorko figures to only face lefties, who he has been better against than right-handers. It’s not a terrible pair, but clearly one with less than a tight group on a starting job.
Mark Mathias is a name you are probably unfamiliar with (I was too!). The Brewers lack any true third base prospects in the upper minors, which is probably why the Sogard/Gyorko tandem figures to start at the position to begin with. But Mathias, acquired over the offseason from the Indians, enjoyed a solid performance spike at Triple-A last year. He has now walked at a double digit clip three seasons in a row, while also keeping his SwStk% just below 10% at every minor league stop. His strikeout rate has also settled just below 20% in two straight seasons. He has posted nice batted ball distributions that should support a better than average BABIP, while his HR/FB rate and ISO surged to career bests last year. Lastly, he has a touch of speed, swiping low double digit bases two years running. He’s no exciting, but given the chance, he could contribute a little bit everywhere.
Josh Lindblom returns to the Majors after years in Korea where he has posted sub-3.00 ERA for two straight seasons. But with only 147 MLB innings, it’s anyone’s guess how his performance will translate back to the Majors. It’s funny that the always injured Brett Anderson pitches a full season for just the third time in his career in 2019, and yet his SIERA jumps to the highest mark of his career. With a terrible strikeout rate, he’s got no room for error and must continue to rely on suppressing BABIP, keeping his fly balls from leaving the park, and stranding all his runners. Since his career ERA is slightly above his SIERA, he has not proven to be a consistent outperformer, so he’s at serious risk of losing his starting job. With SIERA marks over 4.50 for two straight seasons, Eric Lauer hasn’t pitched very well and could pitch himself out of the rotation.
With 163.1 innings to his name, Freddy Peralta is no longer a prospect, but just a young pitcher on the MLB roster. That said, he deserves a mention because you simply can’t forget about a guy who owns a career 30% strikeout rate, even if a lot of that came in relief. Issues include control problems at times, an extreme fly ball rate, and a reliance on just two pitchers, the four-seamer and curveball.
Corbin Burnes only made four starts last season, but he was mostly a starter in the minors and I think there’s still a chance that’s his future role. What excited me about Burnes is not just a near 30% strikeout rate in 2019, but that elite 17.2% SwStk%. That confirms his dominant stuff, highlighted by an incredible slider that racked up a 35.1% SwStk% last year. There’s no reason to think he’s going to post a BABIP over .400 again or a near 40% HR/FB rate. Take this opportunity to get him cheap in deeper leagues, and especially in keepers.
Drew Rasmussen is the team’s 13th ranked prospect, and although he hasn’t pitched above Double-A, his performance was strong enough to think there’s a non-zero possibility he makes starts this season with the Brewers. He struck out over 30% of batters, but his control slipped mightily upon his promotion to Double-A. He owns a 70 grade fastball, which sits in the mid-to-high 90s and tops out at 99 MPH.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.