Lately, my articles have been pitcher-happy. This week, I have no pitchers to suggest adding. Instead, I’m turning my focus to a quartet of hitters who are 25 years of age of younger. Three of the hitters are currently in the minors, but now’s a good time to be proactive and nab them in deeper leagues as opposed to getting sniped by someone with a higher waiver claim or more FAAB dollars available when they are summoned to the parent club.
Austin Hedges – C – San Diego Padres (CBS: 8%, ESPN 0.1%, Yahoo!: 1%)
Hedges’ excellence behind the dish has resulted in high ranks on prospect lists, but his bat has exploded this year. It’s no secret that the Pacific Coast League is extremely hitter-friendly, but his 206 wRC+ in 179 plate appearances puts his monster offensive showing into context. He’s smashed 17 homers in 179 plate appearances with just a 13.4% strikeout rate and a staggering .382/.425/.764 slash line. Derek Norris is reportedly still on the market, but even if he remains on the Friars’ roster after the non-waiver trade deadline on August 1st, Hedges has earned another crack at big-league pitching.
John Conniff at Baseball America wrote about Hedges back in early June. Within the linked article, both Hedges and Padres farm director Sam Geaney credited the backstop’s 56-game cup of coffee in The Show last year for his advancements at the dish this season. The 23-year-old (soon to be 24) catcher isn’t a must grab in single-catcher mixed leagues, but in NL-only leagues and 2-catcher mixed formats, he’s a viable stash.
Mike Zunino – C – Seattle Mariners (CBS: 6%, ESPN: 1.0%, Yahoo!: 1%)
Zunino’s back, again. He played in two games earlier this month after the M’s catchers dropped like flies, and the third pick in the first round of the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft smacked a pair of homers in his first game with the parent club this year. He once again received a start on July 20th after his recall, and he hit another dinger. The former Florida Gator was optioned after his first stint in the bigs this year due to a lack of steady playing time behind Chris Iannetta. He’s back with the Mariners because they’re willing to play him more this go round, and he’ll play “more than once or twice a week,” according to manager Scott Servais.
Zunino wasn’t Hedges’ good in the PCL, but he did hit 17 homers with a 10.7% walk rate, 21.1% strikeout rate, .286/.376/.521 slash and 136 wRC+ in 327 plate appearances. Furthermore, if you’re looking for catching help in deep 2-catcher leagues now, Zunino is already in the bigs. I’d slightly prefer rostering him to Hedges right now, but like the Padre, he’s not a must grab in single-catcher mixed leagues.
Dan Vogelbach – 1B – Seattle Mariners (CBS: 8%, ESPN: 1.5%, Yahoo!: 2%)
First of all, I implore you to check out the latest scouting report for Vogelbach from in-house prospect guru Eric Longenhagen. The burly one’s Triple-A line (16 homers, 15.1% walk rate, 18.4% strikeout rate, .318/.425/.548 and 156 wRC+ in 365 plate appearances) is mashtastic. He’s hit at every level, but if you read Longenhagen’s latest scouting report on Vogelbach, there are reasons to proceed with caution. He’s not a lock for fantasy super stardom, but that’s not to say he’s devoid of upside and potential to help fantasy rosters.
Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com tweeted about trade speculation with Adam Lind, but a trade might not be necessary to open the door for Vogelbach to play in Seattle. The team could continue to platoon Lind and Dae-Ho Lee at first base and use Nelson Cruz in the outfield more down the stretch. Cruz has played 40 games in right field in 2016. And for those concerned about Vogelbach’s power playing at Safeco Field, don’t be too concerned. Last year, Seattle had a left-handed batter park factor of 99 for homers, and according to the 3-year rolling average at StatCorner, the left-handed batter park factor for homers is 109. If you’re failing to get enough production out of a corner infield or utility spot in 12-team mixed leagues or deeper leagues, Vogelbach is a fine addition.
Joey Gallo – OF – Texas Rangers (CBS: 38%, ESPN: 5.6%, Yahoo!: 12%)
Gallo’s full-season total of a 30.2% strikeout rate is a huge improvement over his 39.5% mark at the Triple-A level last year. He has run into punch-out problems of late, though. Since June 1st, he owns a 34.8% strikeout rate, and since the start of this month, he has a 34.4% strikeout rate. Still, those marks are a sizable improvement over his 2015 mark at the minor’s highest level. The slugger remains super patient with a 18.3% walk rate this year, and walk rates within that range since June 1st as well as in the month of July. The lefty’s power is arguably tops in the minors, and he may soon get another shot at showing his three-true-outcome approach won’t be derailed in the majors by the undesirable true outcome.
The trade deadline is nearing, and the Rangers could move him. However, it might behoove them to hold tight with both Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder hitting the disabled list. Choo’s injury could keep him sidelined for just the minimum 15 days, but Fielder looks likely to be done for the year with more neck problems. Dr. Robert Watkins recommended surgery on Fielder’s neck, but Fielder will seek a second opinion from Dr. Drew Dossett today, according to Evan Grant of Dallas Morning News.
Gallo has played exclusively in the dirt this year with 21 games at first base and 32 games at the hot corner for Triple-A Round Rock. He did, however, play 20 games in left field in the minors last year and 19 more games there in the majors. If the Rangers feel he can play left field passably, that would award Texas the ability to keep Mitch Moreland and Jurickson Profar in their regular playing time roles while shifting Nomar Mazara from left field back to right field (where he’s played 65 games this season). Even if Texas doesn’t view him as an option in the outfield, the injuries to two starters could result in Gallo being called up. It should go without saying, but Gallo carries the risk of being an anchor pulling down batting average without helping in homers if he can’t make enough contact. Even if his improvements in the minors this year carryover to the majors, he’ll be a batting average liability. Still, if you need power and can stomach a hit to batting average, Gallo possesses ample thump.
You can follow Josh on Twitter @bchad50.