We’re just over a week into the 2016 season, and you don’t need me to tell you not to overreact to this tiny sample of game action. What I decided upon for this week is a look at three second basemen — ranked outside the top 15 in our experts’ preseason rankings — who find themselves off to hot starts at the plate. Who should you believe in, and who’s the beneficiary of small-sample flukes?
Starlin Castro (preseason No. 16) – BUY
Sandwiched around his most productive offensive season, Castro spent most of 2013 and 2015 scuffling at the plate:
- 2013 (705 PA) – .245/.284/.347, 4.3% BB, 18.3% K, .102 ISO
- 2014 (569 PA) – .292/.339/.438, 6.2% BB, 17.6% K, .146 ISO
- 2015 (578 PA) – .265/.296/.375, 3.6% BB, 15.7% K, .110 ISO
One of these things is not like the others, and a major question coming into the year was which Castro would show up in New York. The 26-year-old has lit up the scoreboard since debuting with the Yankees, with two homers and two doubles in his 9-for-20 start. Jeff Sullivan recently wrote an excellent article about some slight adjustments Castro’s made at the dish, closing off his stance and improving his plate coverage.
The reason I’m a believer in Castro for 2016 is a combination of Jeff’s swing analysis, and the fact that Castro was pretty darn good down the stretch last year. He posted a respectable .296/.315/.437 in August, following up with a studly .369/.400/.655 in September — a month in which he also hit five of his 11 homers. In total, Castro collected just 15 extra-base hits in the first four months of 2015, then smacked 23 XBH in the final two.
This spring, he put together a .367/.373/.571 line, and while I’m not a big believer in spring stats, Castro certainly carried over his white-hot finish from 2015. He’s been a well-above average hitter for three solid months now (including Spring Training), so it’s not like his recent outburst came out of nowhere. Castro still never walks — so those of you in OBP leagues should still be wary — but other than that, the 26-year-old seems primed for a return to form.
Brock Holt (preseason No. 42) – BUY
I’ve been a big fan of Holt from a value standpoint ever since I advocated him as a waiver-wire option almost exactly one year ago. He’s not the flashiest player, but he provides tremendous positional flexibility — he’s eligible at 1B, 2B, 3B, SS and OF in Yahoo leagues. The 27-year-old knows how to get on base, and can swipe a few once he gets there, with 20 SB in 235 games over the last two seasons.
Holt hasn’t shown much home-run power in his professional career, but he’s a line-drive machine. This year, Holt’s already barrelled up two dingers, matching his total from all of last season. I wouldn’t bet on a home-run spike — both of his long balls this season were screaming line drives that got just enough air to clear the wall, especially this grand slam — but if he can even get into the 8-10 HR range, that’s a significant uptick in value from a guy who hit two last year.
The biggest reason I’m buying Holt is that his initially questionable playing time has become anything but. Holt started four of Boston’s five games last week — he only sat out yesterday because he was recovering from fouling a ball off his foot, and he’s expected back in the lineup today. If Holt can hold down a regular job — in left field or elsewhere — he needs to be owned in all but the shallowest of leagues, especially because you can plug him into your lineup at any position other than pitcher or catcher.
There’s nothing sexy about being a Holt owner, but being able to play him all over the diamond is especially valuable in leagues with shallow benches, where he often fills what would otherwise be an empty spot in your lineup.
Scooter Gennett (preseason No. 30) – SELL
It doesn’t get much more fluky than Scooter’s first week of 2016. First off, he’s hit six fly balls so far, and three of them left the yard. Gennett does have the potential to hit double-digit HR in a full season, and to be fair to him, his homers so far haven’t been cheapies. Take for example this ridiculous bomb.
There are arguments to be made in the soon-to-be 26-year-old’s favor, one of which is that, well, he’s only 25 years old. If you push the upper limits of his power potential, a peak Scooter season could maybe look something like .280/.315/.435, which is a pretty darn useful player in the middle infield. Plus, he gets to hit in the Brewers’ No. 2 spot, in front of Ryan Braun and Jonathan Lucroy. I get all that, and those are totally valid points in his favor. Hell, I’m almost talking myself into the guy at this point.
Here’s where we slam on the brakes. If you weren’t already aware, Scooter Gennett is one of the absolute worst players in all of baseball against left-handed pitching, and that is not a remotely hyperbolic statement. While one of his homers this season did indeed come against a southpaw (albeit in the “Madison Bumgarner is temporarily broken” game on Opening Day), it was his first one ever, and raised his career batting line against same-handed pitching all the way up to .130/.167/.183.
The Brewers usually do everything they can to prevent Scooter from facing lefties, but they can’t stop it entirely. With Yadiel Rivera and Colin Walsh representing the bench players on the 25-man roster capable of playing second, I’m concerned that Scooter may get more exposure to southpaws than he has in previous years.
Furthermore, while hitting in the two-hole unquestionably raises his value, we’re talking about a guy who put up a .294 OBP last year, so temper those run-scoring expectations. Scooter has drawn four walks in his five games this year, but considering that he drew seven unintentional walks all season in 2015, I’m plastering the small-sample-size argument all over that being remotely sustainable. I should probably also mention at some point that he has zero speed, going 1-for-4 on stolen-base attempts in 2015.
The other big problem for Scooter is that Orlando Arcia will arrive at some point and take over the starting shortstop job from placeholder Jonathan Villar. When that happens, I could see Scooter losing playing time to Villar, who really put it together last year both in Triple-A (.271/.342/.407) and in the majors (.284/.339/.414). Villar isn’t exactly a special player, but he’s good enough to push for playing time.
Put it all together, and I’m not getting excited about Gennett. At best, he’s a platoon piece in your MI slot. Yay.
Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.