New Everyday Starters — Aug 31, 2021

I’m back from vacation, so it’s time to review the newest starters. Are any of these names worthy of a roster spot? Let’s find out.

Kevin Smith – TOR

Recalled on Aug 18, Smith had only started two games through the 25th, but has now started four straight, rotating between third and first base, as well as left field. Injuries to the Jays’ third base options means that’s the spot we’ll most likely see Smith at frequently in the near future. The team’s 12th best prospect was enjoying an excellent Triple-A season and exciting fantasy performance before his recall.

Heading into his Triple-A season, Smith wasn’t much of a walker, but his patience improved greatly this year, as his walk rate surged into double digits. Combine such improvement with a massive reduction in strikeout rate, backed by a better SwStk%, and you have yourself a minor league breakout.

The breakout came with a professional best .289 ISO and HR/FB rate above 20% for the first time. But it wasn’t just power — he also swiped 16 bases and had swiped 29 back in 2018, so the speed has always been there.

With the Jays’ alternatives on the IL, Smith has some time to prove his Triple-A breakout was no fluke. He has a chance to contribute across the board, with only batting average being a question mark.

Jahmai Jones | BAL 2B

The Orioles recalled Jones a week ago as they rotate through infield options, trying to find someone who might stick for the long haul. Jones was a former top prospect, but ranked just 14th this year, as his offense just hasn’t been impressive at the higher minor league levels. But hey, with the Orioles in last place, the team might as well give him a shot.

Jones has now started five of six games since his recall, but with Ramon Urias and Jorge Mateo also around, and another team’s fascination with Kelvin Gutierrez at third, Jones’ playing time isn’t exactly secure. That said, he’s shown solid plate discipline in the minors, while his HR/FB rate spiked to a professional best this year.

To go with his improving power, he actually stole the same number of bases as home runs he hit. That put him on a 20/20 pace over a full season. So like Smith, there’s potential for a nice power/speed combo hit.

Also like Smith, batting average could be an issue. Jones has struggled to post strong BABIP marks in the minors, so you wouldn’t expect him to suddenly be posting high marks in the Majors. He’s worthy of a deep league speculation, but I like Smith better between the two.

Michael Chavis – PIT

The former Red Sox prospect was recalled by the Pirates at the beginning of last week and has started in six of the team’s seven games, the majority at second base. The 25-year-old is your prototypical slugger, striking out often, not walking a lot, and hitting with ample power.

He’s taken that skill set to the extreme so far this year, walking just once versus 36 strikeouts, making for one heck of a BB%-K% of -33.6%! He hasn’t been nearly as bad in the minors, of course, but he’s never been much of a walker, and his SwStk% marks have sat in the mid-to-high teens everywhere he’s played.

Chavis’ offensive profile isn’t one you would project for long-term success. But he’s also the type that if given playing time, could go on a mini hot streak, hitting a bunch of home runs, and you don’t care if he also walked five times or not. So if you need power, might as well speculate here, but don’t expect anything else.

Leody Taveras – TEX

He’s back! The former top prospect was acceptable over a small sample last year, but got off to a miserable start this year and soon found himself back at Triple-A. After posting a respectable .343 wOBA, but an exciting 17 homers and 13 steals, there, the rebuilding Rangers figured it was time to give him another shot.

Now with some Triple-A experience, after he skipped the level when he made his MLB debut last year, he may be better prepared for MLB success. His walk rate increased to a professional best, while his power exploded. His HR/FB rate remained in the mid-teens, which is where it shot up to last year during his short time in the Majors. Before that, he had never posted a mark above 5.8%, so this HR/FB rate validation is important to see.

Taveras still looks like a better fantasy player than real-life player, which makes his playing time outlook murkier. But regardless of whether he’s a true long-term piece for the Rangers, he’s playing now and could contribute a bit of both power and speed.

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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Do you have a view on Tommy Pham’s playing time going forward? Particularly hard as doesn’t seem to be based on any platoon splits. Would you drop him for Taveras?