Hitters to Target from the Bottom Third: Week 7

The Robinson Cano suspension will be a big loss for the Mariners and for fantasy owners. Dee Gordon’s imminent move back to second base should at least give the Mariners a defensive upgrade, and it gives Gordon’s keeper league owners another year of second-base eligibility.

Understandably, the question of who replaces Gordon in center field has received far less attention than the loss of Cano has. Scott Servais‘ plan is to use Guillermo Heredia as Gordon’s primary replacement, and that’s a development that should not be ignored by fantasy owners, at least in deeper leagues. He headlines this week’s list of five hitters who are widely available on all of the major sites.

Note: Ownership rates on CBSSports.com and Fantrax are listed in parentheses, and in that order.

Guillermo Heredia, OF, Mariners (1/4): Over the last two weeks, Heredia has been platooning (mostly with Ben Gamel) as a starter against lefties. His credentials against southpaws are already fairly well established, as he has a career .284 Avg and .352 OBP in 255 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers. Last season, Heredia was miserable against righties, posting a .260 wOBA, but in the early going this season, he has been much more productive. He has only 25 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers to date but is 5 for 18 (.278) with a home run, a double and four walks.

Heredia’s appeal is limited by his low ceiling for home runs and Avg, but his potential to rack up doubles and walks makes him someone to target in points and OBP leagues. He was already an exceedingly patient hitter heading into this season, and he currently has the ninth-lowest O-Swing% (18.1 percent) for any player with at least 60 plate appearances. In a broader array of formats, Heredia can be useful to stream when he is facing left-handed starters.

John Hicks, 1B/C, Tigers (34/25): While Heredia may have a close-to-everyday job for the next three months, Hicks is filling in at first base for the Tigers only while Miguel Cabrera is out. That could be for awhile, though. Cabrera recently told reporters he was “done playing hurt.” With his back troubles resurfacing during his current recovery from a hamstring injury, it’s difficult to know when we might expect Cabrera to return from the DL.

Meanwhile, Hicks is having a great month of May, batting .352 with two home runs and four doubles, and backing the performance up with a 57.1 percent hard contact rate. He has shown decent power in the past (including last season’s .173 Iso), and if he continues to be averse to pulling the ball (28.3 percent rate), he may not see much slippage from his current .293 Avg.

Note: When I started this column, Hicks was 33 percent owned in CBS leagues, but his rate is now at 34 percent. He may no longer be in the bottom third in ownership rate on CBS, but I’m keeping him in this column on a technicality.

Luke Maile, C, Blue Jays (5/11): Hicks’ availability is getting more limited, so if you need a catcher, Maile is not a bad second choice. He is actually catching, so unlike Hicks, Maile is not playing every day, but he is getting a roughly even split of starts behind the plate with Russell Martin. In fact, he has received seven of the last 12 starts at catcher for the Blue Jays. His bat is undoubtedly helping to keep him in the lineup, but it’s safe to expect some regression in his .324 Avg and .476 BABIP. That latter mark is somewhat supported by a 27.3 percent line drive rate and 2.3 percent soft contact rate, so clearly, Maile is in a good groove at the plate. He has also made great strides in his plate discipline, lowering his O-Swing% from 33.6 percent last season to 25.4 percent so far this year.

Miguel Rojas, 1B/SS, Marlins (12/23): Like Maile, Rojas’ hitting has earned him a larger role than anticipated, as he has started 38 of 43 games for the Marlins at shortstop. Playing time alone does not explain Rojas’ emergence as a potential 20-homer threat. Prior to this season, he had hit a total of four home runs over 839 career plate appearances. Entering Thursday’s game against the Dodgers, Rojas already had five home runs in his 166 plate appearances in 2018. He is one of 92 players who have lofted at least 40 flyballs this season, but only 22 of those hitters have pull rates and hard contact rates above 31 percent on flyballs, and Rojas is one of them. He is clearly aiming to hit with more power, and so far, his approach is paying off.

Jace Peterson, 2B/3B/OF, Orioles (0/2): In our power-crazed fantasy baseball world, it’s easy to see how Peterson and his career .097 Iso would get overlooked. However, in the deepest of leagues, players often get rostered simply because they get playing time, even if they don’t put up useful stats. So how is it that Peterson is virtually unowned in CBS leagues? By contrast, even Cheslor Cuthbert, whose playing time has recently dried up, is owned in two percent of the leagues on CBS.

Peterson has started the last five games in which the Orioles have faced a right-handed starting pitcher, all at third base, but he brings more than mere plate appearances to the table. He already has five stolen bases since coming to the Orioles on April 24, and including his brief time with the Yankees this season, Peterson is walking at a 14.9 percent rate. That still gives him just a .324 OBP, but in a points or OBP league, the walks will compensate for his lack of power and poor BABIP profile.

Al Melchior has been writing about Fantasy baseball and sim games since 2000, and his work has appeared at CBSSports.com, BaseballHQ, Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and FanRagSports. He has also participated in Tout Wars' mixed auction league since 2013. You can follow Al on Twitter @almelchiorbb and find more of his work at almelchior.com.

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Dan Greermember
4 years ago

Like the article, thanks.

Mitch Garver is another one who might belong here, as Jason Castro is now out for the season. Garver’s AAA numbers from last year may offer some hope that he might be an average producer at catcher – also, his plate discipline numbers (18.5% O-swing, 6.4% Swinging strike) are elite and could lead to a huge positive swing in his walk and strikeout rates.