Background Talent, Part 2

Let’s return without delay to the task at hand, which we began last week: our attempt to identify at least one lightly-regarded (cheap or reserve-round) player who might do something this season, assuming with unwarranted optimism that there’s a “this season” that isn’t next season. This week, we’ll look at the AL West and the NL East. The numbers in parentheses are NFBC Average Draft Positions for all drafts.

Angels: As we mentioned in our first article of the year, we like Michael Stefanic (not taken), who could be in the lineup if either something ill befalls David Fletcher or the team doesn’t sign a free-agent shortstop. He’ll hit .270, possibly with a bit of power. And we are struggling to overcome our repeated disappointments in Justin Upton (586) over the years. It’s not clear that he’s got a significant role on this team, but we can imagine him getting the same 250 or so PAs he got last year before he got hurt, and hitting about the same (14 HR, .247) minus some age-related decline, which makes him worth getting at ADP 586.

Houston: This is an awfully shallow team, especially given the age of Maldonado, Gurriel, and Brantley. Chas McCormick (447) is a good hitter against either persuasion of pitcher, and Jose Siri (563) has lots of speed and a certain amount of power. Between Brantley’s age and inability to hit left-handed pitching and Jake Meyers’s unavailability, they both figure to play enough to be worth getting. Also, we envision another fine season for Ryan Pressly, but if for some reason he can’t close, who will? We’ve never bought into the proven-closer argument—if a guy can get outs with the bases loaded and a one-run lead in the 7th or 8th inning, he can do it in the ninth inning—but what about guys who’ve proven that they can’t close? Specifically, what about Ryne Stanek and Hector Neris, who have so proven? It’s possible that Phil Maton (736) will wind up with the job, but our longshot candidate is Cristian Javier (319).

Oakland: Seth Brown’s (484) second half was very encouraging, and we can envision him hitting 30 home runs if they just use him as the everyday DH. But the guy we’re really rooting for is Tony Kemp (417). If manager Mark Kotsay just installs him as the leadoff hitter, where Kemp did very well last year (.323/.403/.492), and lets him run, he could have a big season.

Seattle: We hadn’t really appreciated how well the Mariners have been put together until we looked hard at their roster. They’re a bit like the Rays: their players generally do only what they’re good at, and don’t surprise anyone when they do. Dylan Moore (458) should get enough PAs at his various positions, came around decently enough towards the end of last season, and has enough speed, to make him worth getting at ADP 458. If you have a clear idea of how this team will apportion the closer’s role, please tell us, because we don’t. It’s way too easy to say it will be Ken Giles all the way.

Texas: We talked a bit about the Texas outfield in the Comments section of last week’s article. The bottom line is that we like Willie Calhoun (415) and Zach Reks (750). We also like A.J. Alexy (700) quite a bit. He was rocked by the Astros and in Yankee Stadium, which ruined his MLB numbers, but his other three MLB starts were quite good, he was very effective in the minors, and he’s not the fly ball pitcher he appeared to be last year.

Philadephia: Alec Bohm (285) may cost you $2 rather than $1, but he should be worth it. His 60 PAs immediately after returning from COVID and before apparently entering Joe Girardi’s doghouse were .315/.383/.407, and may indicate what he’s capable of over a full season. If, however, you insist on a real longshot, try Connor Brogdon. The market thinks that Corey Knebel will be the closer, and it’s quite possible he will be, but we’re definitely interested in Brogdon at ADP 737. People will balk at his low strikeout rate, but it looks to us as if he traded strikeouts for command and home runs for keeping the ball on the ground.

Atlanta: Since Travis d’Arnaud will get hurt, as he always does, Manny Piña (589) will play more than he’s projected to, and will hit .230 or .240 with 10 or so home runs, which makes him worth getting at ADP 589. And though we’re not in the habit of recommending 31-year-old left-handed relievers with 0-4 records, we’re making an exception for Tyler Matzek (587). Won-lost record aside, that was an outstanding season he had, and the granular numbers indicate that it was even better than it looks. He should pitch the same 60-plus innings as last season, and it’s not inconceivable that he become the Braves’ closer.

Miami: Look, you know as well as we do that Garrett Cooper (509) is a professional hitter, and that he will get injured again. He’s still worth getting at this ADP. But the real bargain on this team is, as he is every year, Brian Anderson. His shoulder surgery obvious sapped his power, which we expect to return, and we’d be happy to get him several rounds earlier than his 395 ADP.

Mets: We have a bad feeling about this team. Scherzer’s a serious injury risk, Canha is plainly declining, the Lindor of 2020-2021 may well be the real Lindor, and what’s going to happen when they’re playing .500 ball or worse at the All-Star break and Steve Cohen goes full Steinbrenner? However: Seth Lugo’s (697) career record as a relief pitcher is .205/.268/.323 with a 2.72 ERA, a 1.02 WHIP, and 10.15 K/9. He should get you at least 50 innings, perhaps with a save or two. And if Lugo is too obvious for you, you get to the 50th round, and are in a what-the-hell mood, how about 2015 5th-rounder Thomas Szapucki (not taken)? He’s spent more time in surgery than on the mound since then, and his one-game MLB debut last year was grisly, but he’s reportedly healthy now, and when he’s on, one gathers, he’s unhittable.

Washington: Nothing exotic here. Cesar Hernandez’s glove will keep him in the lineup all year. Last year he traded average for power, but he’s worth getting at ADP 363 if he produces either. We’ve talked ourselves into sort of liking Carter Kieboom (504) on the strength of his excellent August. And, on the theory that Victor Robles has worn out his welcome in DC and going into the season with Lane Thomas or Andrew Stevenson as your starter is an admission of defeat, you might consider getting Donovan Casey (not taken) at the end of your draft.

The Birchwood Brothers are two guys with the improbable surname of Smirlock. Michael, the younger brother, brings his skills as a former Professor of Economics to bear on baseball statistics. Dan, the older brother, brings his skills as a former college English professor and recently-retired lawyer to bear on his brother's delphic mutterings. They seek to delight and instruct. They tweet when the spirit moves them @birchwoodbroth2.

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7 months ago

What do you guys think about Kyle Muller? He’s coming off the board at about 550, or is he too obvious for this discussion?