Playing For Next Year — Even More Bench Bats to Consider

Let’s get back to discussing recent minor league callups who aren’t playing every day, and are therefore likely still available in your deeper league. If you’re playing for next year, it’s worth filling your entire roster with cheap youngsters who could turn out to be excellent keepers if they end up opening the 2022 season with a starting job.

Kevin Smith | TOR 3B

Ranked as the team’s 12th best prospect, Smith was first recalled to the Blue Jays in mid-August and stayed with the big club until about two weeks ago when he was sent back to Triple-A. He’s back once again for the final week and a half of the season. His minor league history is what I love to see — solid sample sizes at every level, which makes it much easier for me to evaluate! No more having to remember which lines to ignore because the same is too tiny or having to add multiple lines together at the same level, but over different years.

Smith has featured a fly ball tendency and paired that with a double digit HR/FB rate and ISO of at least .193 at every level. The best news is his HR/FB rate spiked to a career best at Triple-A this year, while his ISO finished at the second highest mark. This all happened while his strikeout rate rebounded from its 2019 spike, backed by an improved SwStk%, and coupled with his first double digit walk rate.

It isn’t just blossoming power, but he also brings speed. He has stolen double digit bases in four of his five minor league stints. Since his latest came in just 384 PAs, we’re looking at a real power/speed mix. Assuming 600 PAs and using his 2021 Triple-A pace, we get to 30 homers and 25 steals. That’s exactly the type of prospect worth stashing in a keeper league.

TJ Friedl | CIN OF

Friedl, the team’s 23rd best prospect, was recalled last weekend and has made one start so far in center field. The left-handed hitter has shown solid plate discipline in the minors, walking near a double digit rate during each minor league stint since 2018 and never striking out more than 20% of the time.

He has never shown much home run power, but his HR/FB rate did jump into double digits for the first time at Triple-A this season, resulting in 12 homers. That’s not much, but enough to potential gain a point or two in the home run standings over a full season.

Friedl’s best fantasy asset is his speed. He has been slapped with 70 grade Speed and has stolen as many as 30 bases in the minors in a year. While he has stolen base at a double digit clip every year since his short Rookie league debut back in 2016, he hasn’t attempted a steal nearly as often as his speed grade suggests he would. That kind of willingness doesn’t usually change in the Majors, but it has happened where a speedy player will suddenly attempt a steal far more often in the Majors than in the minors. So merely given the steals upside, he’s worth consideration as a keeper candidate pickup.

Daz Cameron | DET OF

Cameron has really fallen as a prospect in recent years after being one of the top guys in the Tigers system. He was up earlier in the year in June and early July, again in mid-to-late August, and is now back again. Since his Sunday recall, he has started two of three games against left-handed starters.

Cameron has always been willing to take a walk, but his strikeout rate has bounced around from the low-20% mark to the high 20% range. It’s odd as his SwStk% has been rather stable and league average at worst. Without minor league plate discipline metrics, I would guess his strikeout rate jumps up and down based on his aggressiveness within the strike zone. It’s possible he’s sometimes too passive and takes too many called strikes, but that’s just pure speculation.

His home run power is on the right trajectory, as his HR/FB rate has risen each year since 2017 and reached a high of 15.4% at Triple-A this season. Although his ISO hasn’t followed the same upward trend, it did also peak just over .200 for the first time this season as well. Of course, his time at Triple-A this year wasn’t very long and amounted to fewer than 200 PAs, so whether this was a true step forward or just a small sample artifact, I don’t know.

He also continues to steal bases, though not at the same pace he did back in 2017 when he swiped 32. Still, the fact that he’s still running keeps fantasy owners interested since the power alone wouldn’t make him all that exciting. While his prospect light has dimmed, he’s still worth following as he definitely owns the skills to be a fantasy asset.

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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Jonathan Sher

Smith is an interesting pick, a worthy suggestion and an example of why in 2021 we should consider pre-season prospect evaluations with a bigger heaping of salt than typical.

Smith was rated only as a 40 by Longenhagen because his power and speed were wighted down by so-so D, poor plate discipline and a high whiff rate. The latter two in particular was real concerns though 2019 – he struck out four to five time as often as he walked – and the pandemic meant that while he had a year last season to improve, we didn’t get to see if that work would translate into games.

Clearly that work has paid off in AAA with a BB/K ratio of .45 –> excellent for someone with an ISO in the mid-200s. And while we can expect some regression in MLB, that foundation is strong enough to think he has a chance to become a starter in 2022, and in a lineup like the Jays, that also means a lot of runs and RBIs.