Hitter Rookie Review — Jul 13, 2022

Let’s keep it going with the rookie hitters, as there are several more that have made impacts, both in fantasy and real baseball.

Michael Harris II | OF ATL

Though I had never heard of him (I’m pretty bad with prospects, especially in the NL as I’m in two AL-Only leagues and no NL-Only formats), Harris was the Braves top prospect heading into the season, ranking 37th overall. So while I assumed this was kind of out of nowhere, apparently it is not! That said, the performance actually is quite surprising when looking into his history.

For one, Harris skipped Triple-A. Though I don’t recall seeing research on hitters who jumped from Double-A to the Majors, in my experience, they seem to struggle more frequently. That hasn’t happened to Harris…yet. In the minors, his career high HR/FB rate sat at just 10%, but an ISO just over .200 at Double-A this year suggested there was more power potential in his bat than his HR/FB rate suggested. In the Majors, that home run potential has so far manifested, as his HR/FB rate has spiked to 23.3%. It’s backed by a maxEV of 112.7 MPH, so the power truly came in a hurry and it wasn’t really expected. The problem with his power potential is he hits so few fly balls. With a FB% of just 25.4%, his batted ball profile is better suited for a speedy, middling power guy, not one capable of a 20%+ HR/FB rate.

Along with his power, he has also swiped seven bases, which follows his base-stealing prowess in the minors where he stole 27 bases at High-A in 2021, and 11 so far at Double-A (a 30+ pace over a full season) before his recall. Me likey the power/speed combo.

His minor league plate discipline was respectable, coming close to league averages in both walk and strikeout rate, with no real swing and miss concerns. However, those skills have deteriorated in the Majors, as his walk rate has plummeted thanks to a significantly higher than league average O-Swing%, while his SwStk% has risen. Because he has swung at everything, his strikeout rate hasn’t surged despite the increase in SwStk%. It’s a plate discipline profile we have seen work here and there, but it’s risky to bank on continuing.

Overall, it’s hard to find fault with the start to Harris’ career given that he has posted a .359 wOBA. But there are some red flags that make me think he’ll be less valuable, perhaps significantly so, the rest of the way. He’s not a bad sell high in keeper leagues as a result.

Jack Suwinski | OF PIT

While Harris was a top prospect and didn’t come out of nowhere, Suwinski was not, and did. Ranked just 30th among Pirates prospects heading into the year, he has been the epitome of a low-average slugger so far, really just delivering fantasy value in homers and RBI. His power first spiked in 2021 at Double-A while still with the Padres, but then collapsed when he joined the Pirates. It came back over a tiny sample size at Double-A this year and has been sustained during his first taste of the Majors.

Amazingly, Suwinski also skipped Triple-A, which is shocking considering he wasn’t a top prospect, so I’m not sure why the Pirates decided to make that move. He has posted a similar maxEV as Harris that has resulted in a similar HR/FB, but because of a significantly higher FB% that exceeds the league average, he has hit for more power, posting a higher ISO. It’s a profile that looks more like a prototypical power hitter’s.

Interestingly, he has struck out a lot more often than Harris has, but has posted a far lower SwStk%. That’s because he has been less aggressive at the plate, swinging at pitches inside the zone less often, and then getting called out on strikes at an above average clip. I actually prefer this profile as it seems more correctable to become more aggressive than to make better contact, as in the case of Harris.

Being on the Pirates is going to hamper his PA count, along with his RBI and runs scored totals. I do think he’ll perform better in batting average, given both a lower strikeout rate, and better BABIP. That still won’t make him very appealing in shallow leagues though, as his upside is essentially Adam Duvall in past years.

Christopher Morel | 2B/OF CHC

Morel was a worse prospect than Harris, but better than Suwinski, and has been an excellent pickup for fantasy owners, contributing both power and speed like Harris has. Almost continuing the theme of Triple-A skipper, Morel only recorded 39 PAs at the level in 2021, but was returned back to Double-A this year and was never promoted to Triple-A before receiving the call to the Majors. His HR/FB rate spiked during his short time at Double-A this year, while his ISO also hit a professional high. It was a sign of things to come, as his ISO has remained over .200, while his HR/FB rate actually stepped up even higher to sit at 24.3%. Just like the previous two names, his maxEV sits between 112 and 113 MPH. That’s the mark of a true power hitter and probably not a level most expected him to achieve.

Like Harris, Morel’s power potential has been capped by his inability to lift batted balls. Surprisingly, he has posted just a 28.9% FB%, despite consistently posting marks above 40% in the minors. You don’t typically see such a dramatic shift in batted ball profile, even when jumping from minors to Majors. The shift has helped his BABIP, but his home run total could be much higher with more flies.

His strikeout rate has spiked to a professional worst, as his SwStk% has increased, so even with a .364 BABIP and ample power, his batting average sits at just .266. That’s a decent enough mark in this environment, but it’s hard to believe that BABIP will remain that high, and I would bet his HR/FB rate declines as well. He’s chipped in seven steals too though, so he has really brought both power and speed. Obviously, the percentage play here is to expect regression the rest of the way, but he should still earn some positive value in mixed leagues given contributions in both home runs and steals.

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.

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1 year ago

Have to point out that in the short term Suwinski has 3 games in Coors this weekend and the Rox are projected to start all righties. Might be a good spot to stream in Pirates. Vogelbach is another LH bat who has been raking lately and is a good stream