New Everyday Starters — July 28, 2021

We don’t need to wait for the trade deadline to pass to analyze a slew of players who have recently come into regular playing time. So let’s continue our dive into new everyday starters.

Alcides Escobar | WSN

He’s baaaaaack! For years, he was the epitome of Royals lineup construction, hitting atop the team’s lineup despite consistently weak OBP marks. We last saw him in 2018 when he somehow managed to record over 500 plate appearances, even though he posted just a .261 wOBA. Now, he’s back, latching on with the Nationals. Not only that, but manager Dave Martinez has caught the same lineup construction bug, batting him leadoff in every game since his first two with the team where he hit closer to the bottom of the order.

Now acting as the Nationals’ starting second baseman as part of the shuffle when Starlin Castro was placed on administrative leave, Escobar has picked up right where he left off. He still rarely walks, strikes out infrequently and displays little power. His highest BABIP since 2014 has made his small sample season line look perfectly solid, but with a career mark right around the league average, there’s no reason to believe the 34-year-old is suddenly an above average BABIP guy.

While fantasy owners didn’t expect much power, they did look forward to stolen bases. Escobar has stolen as many as 35 bases in a season, and swiped at least 20 for four straight years from 2011 to 2014. Unfortunately, the speed waned as he hit 30 years old, as he stole just four in 2017 and eight in 2018. This year in 91 plate appearances, he has yet to even attempt a steal. With no power and so far no willingness to attempt a steal, it’s going to be really, really hard for Escobar to accrue fantasy value, even in deep leagues.

Pavin Smith | ARI

Smith has played enough at multiple positions to amass 375 plate appearances this season, but I’m not sure there was ever a time that we could officially call him an everyday starter. Perhaps now is that time as the Diamondbacks deal with injuries and with the worst record in baseball, are likely to sell by the deadline to increase Smith’s job security even further.

Recently, Smith has alternated between first base, at the expense of Christian Walker who has performed poorly at the plate all season long, and center field. The only game he hasn’t started over the last six was against a left-handed starter, so it’s possible he’s in a platoon on the strong side.

He was ranked as the 10th best prospect in the Diamondbacks system heading into the year and showed some interesting skills in the minors. He walked nearly as often as he struck out throughout his minor league career, posting strong walk and strikeout rates, with the latter being supported by super stable SwStk% marks that narrowly ranged between 6.5% and 6.7%. He didn’t show a whole lot of power, however, as his HR/FB rates sat just above 8%, but his ISO did increase rapidly at each level. He doesn’t have much speed, so the hope is that his power continues to develop and given his contact ability, it’s enough to result in a decent home run total, along with a positive valued batting average.

In the Majors this year, he has continued his high contact ability but has struck out more even with the same SwStk%. That’s likely due to taking more called strikes than he had in the minors. His HR/FB rate sits a bit higher than it did in the minors and he sports a healthy 110.8 MPH maxEV, suggesting he might have more HR/FB rate upside if he could combine that exit velocity with ideal launch angles more often. There’s not a whole lot of excitement here, but he should continue seeing playing time and won’t kill your batting average like so many have the potential to do.

Daulton Varsho | ARI

Another of the Diamondbacks’ injury beneficiaries, Varsho had been the third ranked prospect in the system last year, but posted just a .287 wOBA during his 2020 debut over 115 plate appearances. With a fractured wrist taking out Carson Kelly, Varsho now has another opportunity as the team’s starting catcher. He also brings a Pavin Smith-like combination of contact ability with modest power, though Varsho’s contact ability is inferior to Smith’s, while his power output has been greater.

However, the most exciting skill in Varsho’s toolbox is his speed. How often do you find catchers who steal bases? It’s rare and those catchers quickly ascend toward the top of the fantasy pyramid at the position. Varsho stole 19 bases at High-A in 2018 and 21 in 2019 at Double-A. He has swiped six bases in 241 plate appearances in the Majors, so that’s a double digit pace over a full year, to go with his double digit home run pace.

Varsho has been hampered by a low BABIP at the MLB level so far as he has been a fly ball hitter over the majority of his professional career and is prone to hitting pop-ups. He has almost mostly posted worse than league average line drive rates. It all adds up to a batted ball profile that’s bad for BABIP, but because of the fly balls, good for his home run power.

Since he’s a catcher, you’re unlikely to get it all, as nearly all of them have several flaws. Given his power and speed potential and reasonable strikeout rate, he’s an obvious addition in nearly all league formats.

Aristides Aquino | CIN

Aquino is the beneficiary of Nick Castellanos‘ fractured wrist injury. He made lots of noise when he was recalled in 2019, showing off massive power, while not striking out at an alarming rate. He posted a .317 ISO, 28.8% HR/FB rate, and huge 118.3 maxEV. Unfortunately, he flopped over a small sample last year, but he is getting another chance for as long as Castellanos remained sidelined (which might actually not be that long).

Aquino very clearly has big power. He owns a 29% career HR/FB rate in the Majors and posted a 30.1% mark at Triple-A in 2019. The issue here is that his strikeout rate has been trending in the wrong direction. He somehow managed a sub-30% strikeout rate in 2019 despite a high 18.9% SwStk%, but all those swings and misses are now taking their toll. While his SwStk% is actually slightly lower than his 2019, it remains just above 18%, and his strikeout rate has spiked all the way up to 38.3%. He has always swung and missed a lot in the minors as well, but never struggled this greatly with strikeouts.

He has helped offset some of those strikeouts with a big 16% walk rate, but that mark is very out of line with his history so it’s anyone’s guess how long it lasts. He’s been an extreme fly ball hitter so far this year, which has helped his home run total, but also makes you question how he has managed a .323 BABIP. We all have to like the power, but everything else is suspect and unlikely to last. It probably won’t matter a whole lot once Castellanos returns, but for now, plug him in and hope for a home or two, and hope he isn’t a drain on your batting average.

John Nogowski | PIT

Injuries have allowed Nogowski to take over the Pirates’ first base job after opening the season in a Cardinals uniform. The 28-year-old isn’t a prospect, but has hit pretty well at Double-A and Triple-A over his last two minor league seasons with wOBA marks over .380.

He’s yet another that fits the Pavin Smith mold of very solid plate discipline, but without the above average power we want to see as fantasy leaguers. It means he probably delivers more real life value than fantasy value. There were several seasons in the minors in which he walked more than he struck out and has posted quite elite SwStk% marks. It’s a foundation I do like to see as more balls in play boosts all counting stats and there’s always the option to sacrifice some contact for power if he so chooses.

He has posted low double digit HR/FB rates during his 2018 and 2019 minor league seasons, to go along with ISO marks in the mid-to-high .100 range. He has no speed, so it’s all about the contact ability resulting in a decent batting average and enough fly balls where his below league average HR/FB rate is still acceptable enough to result in a replacement level home run total. While his power has taken a hit so far during his 90 plate appearances in the Majors this year, he has maintained his strong plate discipline and has posted an elite 4% SwStk%. Like Smith, there’s little to be excited here, but he shouldn’t hurt your batting average in deeper leagues and can continue to earn everyday playing time.

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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2 years ago

Alcides Escobar has learned to take a beating as an old man. 7 HBP in only 20 games as a Nat. Probably not a reliable skill, but on base is on base! With Turner out with the COVID and the For Sale sign lit up in Washington, Esky is probably in line for oodles of playing time if he can manage even the barest bit of productivity