Even as someone fortunate enough to have following baseball as my livelihood, I miss things. At any moment, there are 750 active major leaguers across the 30 teams and of course, there are 100s of moves of each year moving guys up and down from the minors as well as on and off the disabled list. In short, it’s a lot. It’s awesome, but it’s a lot. I picked some of my favorite seasons with at least 200 plate appearances, but also fewer than 400.
That’s the sweet spot where you can get overlooked unless you go all Matt Olson on the league. Rhys Hoskins will be among those small sample studs in the sweet spot after six more plate appearances. Neither of them made the list because they were so good that even in a small sample, they had a huge impact that simply couldn’t be ignored.
Austin Barnes, C, LAD | .284/.406/.481, 8 HR, 4 SB, 36 RBI, 32 R in 251 PA
The Dodgers backup catcher has impressed enough with the bat to draw some time at 2B. He played seven games there last year and even a game in 2015, but this year it jumped to 19 games, including four starts. He was drafted as a C2 in NL-only leagues, if at all, and he’s wound being a legitimate C2 across all formats. He’s been consistent all year, too, so even if you jumped on late, you benefitted.
He had a .930 OPS and 2 HR through May (65 PA) and an .871 OPS with the other 6 HR in 186 PA since then. I haven’t even mentioned his tremendous 15% BB and 16% K rates. At 27, he’s not a traditional prospect, but I think there’s even more here and he could hold up as a strong bat over a full season. Yasmani Grandal still has a year left, but 2B is open unless they pick up Logan Forsythe’s option ($8.5 mil). I would love to see them get Barnes at least 400 PA next year.
By the way, Barnes trained with former high school teammate Jake Marisnick at a renowned performance center this year and I mention it because Marisnick almost made this list. He was fantastic through July (.882 OPS, 13 HR, 6 SB), but sputtered in August (.683 OPS) and then broke his thumb after just six September plate appearances. He still strikes out way too much at 35%, but if the newfound power element sticks, there could be some intrigue here in 2018.
Jose Martinez, 1B/OF, STL | .309/.378/.516, 13 HR, 4 SB, 42 RBI, 46 R in 289 PA
Martinez is absolutely destroying lefties, which is no doubt propping up his line. I’m not sure he’s going to hit .414/.500/.862 against southpaws with 7 HR in 68 PA. He even swiped four bases. He’s not a huge SB threat, but he has consistently contributed as a minor leaguer so it’s a nice little bonus at 1B (he qualifies at OF, too).
The elephant in the room is that he’s 28 years old and has 307 MLB PA under his belt. The counter is: Cardinals Devil Magic. The return of Allen Craig, Skip Schumaker, and Ryan Ludwick all rolled into one. Hell, Tommy Pham on the very same Cardinals team this year is a 29-year old breakout. I’m just not sure I see the spot for him to open 2018, though. Jedd Gyorko being locked in at third should lock Matt Carpenter into first unless they moved Kolten Wong for some reason to put Carp at second. In the outfield, you’ve got Pham, Stephen Piscotty, and Randal Grichuk all ahead of Martinez at the corners.
Howie Kendrick, 2B/OF, PHI/WAS | .316/.370/.475, 9 HR, 12 SB, 41 RBI, 40 R in 330 PA
I think I saw his 2016 (.255/.326/.366 in 543 PA) as the beginning of the end and since his fantasy value has always been tied to batting average. It’s almost like I was looking for the first sign of an end so I could push him to the side and not worry about evaluating him. I feel like this happens sometimes in an effort to lessen the load of tracking players. “.255? OK, guess he’s done. One less guy to worry about!”
It’s not just hindsight to say that his .301 BABIP was a major outlier that was unlikely to hold, even at age-33. He has a career .340 and had four seasons between .340 and .347 before 2016. His plate skills were even better with a career-best 9% BB rate and his batted ball profile was as good as ever. I guess it’s just that no one gets excited to draft a Howie Kendrick at age-33 so it’s easy to overlook him. Two DL stints are the main reason for the short sample, but he has hit well with both teams .
He does have a gaudy .381 BABIP this year, fueled by his .418 in 156 PA with Philly, but even after it regressed to .345 with Washington, he’s still hitting .294 in 174 PA. We’ll have to see where he lands and what the playing time outlook is like, but Kendrick should remain a batting average asset for the foreseeable future.
Other names I considered:
Austin Jackson, OF, CLE – Stabilized that injury-ravaged OF down the stretch with an .858 OPS, 4 HR, and 3 SB in 185 second half PA.
Adam Lind, 1B/OF, WAS – He’s a big reason the injuries that have hit WAS haven’t killed them. He has decimated righties with a .309/.369/.545 and all 14 of his HR.
Jose Pirela, 2B, SD – The Padres best hitter by wRC+ (min. 200 PA) at 122 is largely unknown as a 27-year old breakout. He has 10 HR and 4 SB in 344 PA.
Aaron Hicks, OF, NYY – I think being a Yankee and the fact that he was so elite right out of the gate (1.013 OPS, 10 HR, 7 SB through 50 games) kept his season from being hidden, but injuries got him and have limited him to just 104 PA in the second half.
Who are you some of your favorite small sample seasons between 200 and 400 PA?