The trade that jettisoned both Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher opened up opportunities for two players to make some sort of impact in deep leagues. So today is an all Indians edition of the deep league waiver wire.
Abraham Almonte | OF CLE | CBS 2% Owned
With Bourn shipped out of time, the question became who would replace him in center field. The Indians lacked any viable options as the list of hitters who manned center field for any number of innings this season was underwhelming. It included names like Mike Aviles and Tyler Holt, along with Michael Brantley who is the team’s regular left fielder. So the cellar dwelling Indians decided it was time to dip into their farm system and called up Almonte.
Almonte is 26, so he’s no longer really a prospect. But you might remember him as an interesting sleeper in deep leagues heading into the 2014 season. He won the starting center field job with the Mariners, was set to hit lead off, and possessed some power and above average speed. He always posted good walk rates and struck out at acceptable, though perhaps slightly worrisome for his level of power, clips. Sadly, Almonte flopped, was soon demoted back to the minors, and then sent off to the Padres where he rebounded some, but didn’t have much opportunity for playing time.
After a stint with those some Padres earlier this season, he’s now back, and surprisingly handed a starting role. He has yet to show the intriguing power he displayed back in 2013 at Double-A and Triple-A with the Mariners, but he’s not a zero there. And he still has speed. It’s certainly not flashy, but his career stats extrapolated over 600 plate appearances yields 11 homers and 10 steals.
Of course, that comes with just a .242 batting average, even with an inflated .321 BABIP. But there are reasons to think he should improve on that ugly career strikeout rate of 27.1%. His career 10.3% SwStk% is only marginally worse than the league average and he has been swinging more often, which should help his strikeout rate, though possibly at the expense of his walk rate. Strangely, he had issues swinging at pitches inside the zone in previous years, but his Z-Swing% has surged this year. He should continue to swing at pitches inside the zone, because, ya know, if he doesn’t, they will just be called a strike anyway.
With no clear barriers to playing time at the moment, some power and speed, he’s an attractive pickup in what could very well be a barren free agent pool in your league.
Chris Johnson | 1B/3B CLE | 3% Owned
This is the so-called prize the Indians received in that salary dump trade mentioned in the intro. Yes, this is the same Johnson who batted .321 in 2013 thanks to a crazy high .394 BABIP. Johnson has played nearly as many games at first base this year as third and figures to rotate with Carlos Santana (who will DH when he’s not manning first) and Jerry Sands for playing time at the position. If he hits, he may very well earn the lion’s share of that playing time for now. But will he?
A .394 BABIP by itself sounds absurd. Especially when it’s posted by a guy that clearly isn’t benefiting from his speed. But Johnson actually owns a career .357 BABIP and his career low mark is still a solid .317. That’s because his batted ball profile is superb. He sports a career LD% of just a touch over 25% and has popped out just 15 times throughout his entire career. He also uses the whole field. So we should continue to expect an inflated BABIP.
The problem of course is three-fold. And these are serious problems that render players with such weaknesses as reserves or minor league fodder. For one, as a corner infielder, Johnson has a serious lack of power. He has posted ISO marks of .170+ twice, but sits at just .134 for his career. Okay fine, so he’s James Loney, and he seems to always have a starting job. Except that along with the lack of power, Johnson rarely walks. And he swings and misses a lot, which result in strikeouts. So really, about the only thing going for him offensively is that shiny BABIP ability.
But hey, with a high BABIP comes hits and managers still like batting average, right? Johnson owns a .281 career mark. Hits could knock runners in and hits put you on base to be knocked in. Speaking of knocking, I’ve knocked Johnson a lot. I’m not very confident that he’ll even be given any more than an occasional start in a couple of weeks. But there’s an opportunity now and the Indians will want to see what they got. So might as well take the plunge if you’re starving for offense.
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.