It’s easy to be tempted to overreact to the small sample size of strong performances very early in the season. Like many fantasy pundits before me, I’ll continue the tradition of preaching patience with your best players and your preseason evaluations. That doesn’t mean, however, that you should be sitting on your hands. Three things I keep tabs on especially closely in the first few weeks of the season are PITCHf/x data, lineup constructions and playing time distribution. Colleague Scott Spratt tackled fastball leaders in the bullpen and Jeff Sullivan discussed velocity in depth relating to King Felix’s first start. I wont’ tackle PITCHf/x data in this piece — as others have done so already — but I will look at a few playing time situations that might be sorting themselves out as well as a few players whose stock is on the rise as a result of their lineup spot.
Adam Duvall – OF – Cincinnati Reds (CBS: 4%, ESPN: 0.7%, Yahoo!: 1%)
Duvall is the deep-league special player featured in this piece. He and Scott Schebler were entangled in a playing time battle for the starting left field job in the spring. Schebler hits left handed and Duvall right handed, perhaps making for a platoon situation with Duvall on the short side of things. The Reds opened the season by facing three right-handed pitchers, though, and Duvall started in the first and third games in left field. As an added bonus, with Brandon Phillips sidelined with the flu, Duvall hit cleanup Thursday. I have to throw a damp — I won’t call it a truly wet — blanket on the meaning of Duvall starting two of three games against right-handed pitchers in the first week. Schebler also started two of three games getting the nod in the second and third contests with Billy Hamilton receiving an off day Thursday.
The duo will likely merely serve as placeholders for Jesse Winker, but in extremely deep mixed leagues and NL-only formats, either Duvall or Schebler emerging as the primary left fielder could have value in homer-friendly Great American Ball Park. Schebler’s done more with his plate appearances through three games, but Duvall getting the early nod against righties and coming off of the better season at the Triple-A level in 2015 has me leaning slightly in favor of the Duvall. The former Giant hit 30 homers in 541 plate appearances at the Triple-A level before belting five more in 72 plate appearances for the Reds. He’ll be a drag on batting average and won’t get a boost in leagues using OBP instead since he’s managed poor walk rates throughout his professional career, but if you’re in need of cheap power, Duvall is a worthy speculative grab. If the scales tilt in favor of Schebler, the same can be said for the former Dodger, though, he also adds potential for a handful of steals that Duvall doesn’t possess.
Desmond Jennings – OF – Tampa Bay Rays (CBS: 16%, ESPN: 6.9%, Yahoo!: 6%)
Brandon Guyer had a big spring that put Jennings’ status as a starting outfielder into question. Here we are three games in for the Rays, however, and Jennings has started all three facing a pair of righties sandwiched around a lefty. Not only has he played in all three games, he’s been treated to a cushy lineup spot hitting fifth in each game.
Jennings’ tools have never been in question, but he’s always struggled with health and played in just 28 games last season. If the injuries haven’t deteriorated the tools too greatly, Jennings should be an asset in stolen bases while adding some pop. From 2011 through 2014, he reached double digits in homers and steals. Even his 10/15 season in 542 plate appearances in 2014 would play in large mixed leagues and AL-only formats. As recently as 2013, he reached the seats 14 times with 20 stolen bases. It’s probably wise to temper expectations a bit from his 2013 season, but it would be unwise to completely ignore the upside. As a career .250 hitter with a 19.9% strikeout rate, he won’t help you in batting average, but his 9.2% walk rate in his career does give him a slight value boost in leagues that use OBP. Furthermore, if he continues to hit fifth, he should chip in run production stats. Shallow leaguers don’t need to race to the wire to add him, but gamers in 12-team mixed leagues using five outfielders or those deeper leagues should grab him.
Jimmy Rollins – SS – Chicago White Sox (CBS: 18%, ESPN: 8.1%, Yahoo!: 9%)
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Rollins is keeping shortstop warm for a promising, high-ceiling prospect. Last year, the former Philly hit 13 homers with 12 steals while holding down the fort for Corey Seager, but his batting average was disastrous at .224. Steamer, ZiPS and the Depth Charts all project him to add about 10 points to his average this year. That, of course, still makes him an average drag, but it would be palatable at middle infield in large mixed leagues and AL-only formats if he once again reaches double-digit homers and steals.
Playing at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago should keep his homer total in the 10-plus range with nearly a full season of at-bats, and Rollins is only one year removed from four straight seasons of eclipsing 20-plus stolen bases. Looking at manager tendencies, he moves from one team that didn’t run much to another that doesn’t. On the positive side of things, the White Sox did have 110 stolen base attempts compared to 93 stolen base attempts for the Dodgers in 2015, so he does upgrade slightly in that department. He should be a safe bet to reach 12-to-15 steals or more, and Steamer, ZiPS and the Depth Charts agree. Finally (and his reason for inclusion in this piece), Rollins played in two games before getting a day off Thursday, and he hit in the two-hole in both starts. Hitting in front of a pair of sluggers capable of bringing him around (Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier) bodes well for his runs scored total and puts another 70-plus run season within in reach. With the offensive bar set as low as it is in the middle infield in 12-team mixed leagues or deeper, his three positive category contributions are rosterable.
Adonis Garcia – 3B/OF (Y!) – Atlanta Braves (CBS: 40%, ESPN: 2.4%, Yahoo!: 8%)
In 934 plate appearances at the Triple-A level, Garcia whacked 15 homers with a triple-slash line of .291/.329/.407 and a .116 ISO, per Baseball-Reference. In 198 plate appearances for the Braves last year, he smacked 10 homers with a triple-slash line of .277/.293/.497 and a .220 ISO. He nearly doubled his ISO and fell just five homers short of his career total at the Triple-A level in 736 fewer plate appearances. The power looks super fluky, so of course he crushed a tater against Max Scherzer in the season opener.
Garcia ranked just 284th out of 345 hitters with a minimum of 100 at-bats of data in average fly ball distance, according to Baseball Savant. I’m not going out on a limb saying this, but he’s probably not a true talent 30-homer hitter with 600-plus plate appearances. In defense of him having more fence-clearing power than he’d demonstrated at the Triple-A level, Garcia did hit 30 homers with a .171 ISO in 975 plate appearances in the Venezuelan Winter League. Perhaps an upper-teens homer total isn’t out of the question.
Rolling the dice on his power playing above average becomes much more enticing thanks to his lineup spot in Atlanta’s first two contests. Garcia has been tasked with hitting cleanup directly behind Freddie Freeman — owner of a career .366 OBP and a .384 OBP since 2013. The soon-to-be 31-year-old Cuban’s lineup spot should result in some ducks on the pond and the potential for helpful RBI contributions. He rarely walks, and that hurts his stuck in leagues using OBP, but his low strikeout rate (17.5% in the majors and 12.1% in Triple-A) from sinking into the abyss. His average projects as low as .253 by ZiPS and as high as .265 by Steamer. If you’re bullish on Garcia hitting more homers than they project, a bit more average could be within reach.
If everything clicks, 15-20 homers with a .265-.270 average, 75-80 RBIs and a handful of steals could be in the cards. Expecting him to hit all of those benchmarks is a bit too optimistic for my liking. Even falling slightly short of his perfect-world projections would make him an asset in large mixed leagues, and he’s almost certainly already owned in NL-only formats since the options at the hot corner are nothing short of putrid.
Domingo Santana – OF – Milwaukee Brewers (CBS: 41%, ESPN: 32.7%, Yahoo!: 39%)
Santana is the highest owned player of the group highlighted in this piece, and he carried some draft-time buzz headed into the year. In the interest of touching on players who can be helpful in leagues of all sizes — small and large — he gets the nod to round things out. Santana was stuck in a crowded young outfield in Houston before he was included in a package to acquire Carlos Gomez. In 145 plate appearances for the Brewers last year, he showed off the full Domingo Santana Experience. He ripped six homers, walked in 12.4% of his plate appearances but also struck out 31.7% of the time and netted a .231 batting average.
The 23-year-old’s power is of the plus variety, but it come with plenty of swing and miss. Santana hit 34 homers with a 12.8% walk rate and 27.8% strikeout rate in 924 plate appearances at the Triple-A level in his career. Last year’s small sample size with the Brewers looks like a fairly true representation of his talent. That said his 36.4% hard-hit ball rate with the Beer Makers hints at potential for more BABIP good fortune, and the projections of Steamer, ZiPS and the Depth Charts peg his BABIP between .329 and .336, an improvement on his .310 BABIP with Milwaukee. A .250 average is within reach with some additional batted ball help.
Interestingly, while his three-true-outcomes profile would seem to fit best in a run producing spot down order, Santana is being utilized batting leadoff against lefties and righties. The bad news is that hitting leadoff will make his average hurt more, but the good news is that it will net him the maximum number of at-bats possible and extra chances to reach the seats. The good outweighs the bad in this case, and Santana’s stock is up. He should be owned in all 12-team mixed leagues or larger, even those starting only three outfielders.
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