New Everyday Starters — May 25, 2021

Let’s continue our search for new everyday hitters, which continue to pop up on a seemingly regular basis.

Owen Miller

Franmil Reyes landed on the IL with an internal oblique strain, with an initial timeline of five-to-seven weeks until his return. Rather than rotate those DH PAs to any of the hitters already up with the club, the Indians opted to recall Miller, their 14th ranked prospect heading into the season. It was a worthy reward for a guy wOBAing .464, thanks to an absurd .500 BABIP. He had also showed increased power, getting his HR/FB rate into the high teens and pushing his ISO above .200 for the first time.

Miller came over from the Padres as part of the Mike Clevinger trade as a more contact-oriented hitter with doubles, rather than over the fence, power. He’s one of those that might contribute a touch of everything, while failing to stand out anywhere, which usually leads to undervaluation in fantasy leagues. Obviously, his strong Triple-A performance comes over a tiny sample of just 70 plate appearances, but we shouldn’t ignore it completely. It’s certainly possible he’s experiencing a legit power spike, which would make him significantly more appealing in fantasy leagues.

The Indians threw Miller right into the starting lineup, making it clear they want to see what he could do. I would imagine he should get at least a couple of weeks to succeed and then figure out where to play him once Reyes returns. He played five positions in the minors before his promotion, so if he hits, he should definitely stick in the Majors. They certainly have enough spots filled by hitters not hitting so opportunity will be there.

Danny Santana

Usually huge FAAB bids are reserved for top prospect recalls or players changing leagues mid-season. Yesterday, Santana triggered a FAAB bidding bonanza…at least in AL Tout Wars, where the winning bidder spent about 39% of his total FAAB he accumulated through the season so far. Santana enjoyed a strong MLB debut back in 2014, but then failed to post a wOBA higher than even .265 until 2019. He bounced around teams and then surfaced in Texas that year where he played his way into regular playing time and enjoyed a surprise rebound season and elite fantasy year with 28 home runs and 21 steals. He then flopped last year in between injuries before his season was cut short by a right elbow injury that required surgery. In early March, the Red Sox signed him after he was non-tendered by the Rangers.

On the first day of Santana’s recall, he homered. He then started again the next day, this time in center field instead of first base, and he homered again. Shades of his 2019 breakout had fantasy owners rushing to pick him up in the hopes he would become a free agent gem once again. He’s often been bad, but he’s also been good over his two near full seasons and the upside of those good seasons are quite valuable in fantasy leagues.

We all know his flaws — he strikes out a lot, as his SwStk% has risen every season since 2016, he doesn’t walk enough, and his power has been on an off. It’s really anyone’s guess which version you’ll get. The problem, especially if spending a lot of precious FAAB on him, is the Red Sox have lots of competition for plate appearances. While Santana’s positional flexibility is a huge positive, they still have too many hitters they seem willing to play every day or near every day, so Santana has to hit to keep getting start around the diamond. He’s obviously worth a gamble, but he could just as easily be back in the minors or DFA’d in a month as he is sitting with five homers and steals.

Taylor Walls

When the Rays traded Willy Adames, I’m guessing most of the fantasy universe and Rays fans thought one of two things — “It’s Wander time!” or “It’s Vidal time!”. Surely, one of the two best prospects in baseball, Wander Franco or Vidal Brujan, would be recalled to take over as the starting shortstop, right? Wrong, instead it was the team eighth ranked prospect in Walls. He certainly earned it with his .431 wOBA, but like Miller above, that was driven primarily by a .483 BABIP, which we all know won’t come close to carrying over to the Majors.

His defense is said to be excellent, which means he may be the long-term shortstop with the two aforementioned top prospects the ones to play other positions. However, Walls still will need to hit or he may find himself back at Triple-A. Walls has shown elite plate patience, always walking at a double digit clip. It’s a tiny sample of course, but he had posted an insane 21% walk rate at Triple-A upon his recall. That came with an increased strikeout rate to 29%, which really isn’t acceptable for a guy with middling power and was posting just a .163 ISO. But it’s more the result of ultra passivity rather than a tendency to swing and miss, as his SwStk% was just 8.6%.

Walls HR/FB had been stuck in single digits heading into the season, but over these 62 Triple-A PAs, that surged into the mid-teens. However, his ISO actually fell back below the .200 it busted through last year, so this was just a matter of doubles and triples becoming home runs, rather than an actual increase in inherent power. That’s not so bad though as fantasy leagues usually just care about home runs. He swiped 31 bases in 2018 and 28 in 2019, but his success rates weren’t so great, so he’s a candidate to suffer a significant dip in attempt rate in the Majors. With 50/50 speed, he seems more like a 15 steals guy, rather than a 25-30.

Right now, Walls has the opportunity, but there will always be worries that if he hits a slump, he’ll get replaced by Franco or Brujan, so it’s hard to spend a load of FAAB on him (though that was likely already done on Sunday). His skill set looks pretty good and he gets a boost in OBP leagues, so I do like the upside here.

Tyler Stephenson

On a search for a free agent catcher to pick up in case Willson Contreras hits the IL, I came across Stephenson who has been rotating between catcher and first base, the latter of which is as a Joey Votto replacement. Not only has he started the last five games, but he has also batted either third or fourth in all of them. Ummmm what? Sometimes it’s better to take advantage of bizarre situations like this, rather than question why managers make such seemingly strange lineup decisions.

Stephenson is the Reds’ second best prospect, but hasn’t shown the type of offense in the minors that should make us care about him in shallower leagues. With 65/65 Raw Power grades, he supposedly shows off big power during batting practice, but aside from a tiny 23 PA sample in the Rookie league back in 2016, has never posted a double digit HR/FB rate or ISO over .142 at any minor league stop. For whatever reason, that inherent power just hasn’t manifested in games. Instead, he has made pretty good contact, keeping a single digit SwStk% in both 2018 and 2019.

Perhaps the power eventually translates into games, but there’s no sense in guessing when that might happen. So for now, he’s a guy who might hit the occasional homer, but more importantly, shouldn’t kill your batting average. Since he’s playing every day for the time being, and might until Votto returns from the IL, plus is hitting in the middle of the Reds order, he’s an excellent pickup in two catcher leagues.





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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kid
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kid

Walls’ skillset sounds an awful lot like… Willy Adames. It looks like Brujan is the odd man out, considering that he’s a 2B/OF, and he’s not going to dislodge Brandon Lowe at 2B, and he’s not likely to bump Arozarena/Meadows/Kiermaier from the OF spots. So, where does he go? DH? Franco is SS/3B, where he’s only “competing” with Joey Wendle (.295 xWOBA), Yandy Diaz and the aforementioned Walls.

averagejoe15
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averagejoe15

I think the Rays would prefer to DH Meadows, he’s spent half his time there already. Brujan has way too much defensive potential to be a DH. They’re also going to continue to try and move Kiermaier.