Surprise Early Round Hitters: McLain, Abrams, Hoerner

You walk into a coffee shop, it’s one of those fancy yet casual ones that looks like it belongs in Europe. You take a look at the menu and you’re astounded. “I’d never pay that much for a cup of coffee. I don’t care what it’s got in it!” you say to yourself as you step out onto the street, thinking just a little bit differently about yourself, the world, and your appetite for afternoon coffee.

As the doorbell jingles and you consider your options for a cheaper caffeine fix, you can’t help but notice that everyone coming out of this new, fancy coffee shop looks so…happy. They’ve got cold drinks, hot drinks, drinks you’ve never seen before and you start to wonder, “Is it worth it?…Nah!”, and you head back to your office for a cup out of that grimy old pot that’s been cooking since Jane got in at 7:45 this morning. But, what will happen tomorrow? Maybe you’ll cough up a few extra dollars just to see what all the fuss is about. After all, you’re outgoing, or at least, you can be.

Is this season the season you drop the metaphorical tried and true and go for something a little more exciting? There are a few hitters who I did not think would go as early as they did in a recent mock draft I participated in, but they did. Like the fancy, more expensive cup of coffee, I’m wondering if I’m missing out and will use this article to dive deeper, seeking to answer the question, is it worth it?

*NOTE: All ADP values come from The NFBC, where there have been 61 drafts as of this writing.

SS – Matt McLain (ADP: 64.03, Min: 44, Max: 86)

With only 89 games under his belt in 2023, McLain received five votes for Rookie of the Year. According to our auction calculator, McLain was the 15th-best shortstop and returned only $1 of value by the end of the season. Click from “2023 YTD” to “Steamer” on the auction calculator and you’ll see that McLain is expected to do better in 2024, ranked as the 12th best shortstop. Most of his 2023 value came from his batting average (.290) and stolen bases (14) but 16 home runs in only 89 games is impressive for a rookie. His low BB% (7.7%) and high K% (28.5%) are somewhat concerning, but when you’re slashing .290/.357/.507 people aren’t telling you to stop swinging. His batting average was surely inflated by a .385 BABIP, but in a hitter’s park like Great American, there must be some leeway. McLain’s BABIP ranked second among rookies with at least 350 plate appearances behind only Coors resident Nolan Jones (.401).

Will pitchers adjust against McLain, knowing that he can do damage? In 2023 he saw more balls in the zone (43.5%) than average (41.9%), and maybe pitchers will start to back off, especially with fastballs in the zone. McLain mutilated fastballs according to PitchInfo’s pVals, producing 5.5 runs above average on four-seamers and 10.2 runs above average on sinkers. That’s the best mark against rookies and the third-best mark among all players with at least 350 plate appearances behind only Mookie Betts (16.6) and Ronald Acuña Jr. (13.5) when it comes to producing against the sinker. So, uh, yea, McLain is good against the fastball. But he’s also pretty good against breaking balls. The only pitches he returned negative run value on were the cutter (-3.1) and the splitter (-0.4).

While McLain’s raw power doesn’t pop off the page, his ability to find the sweet spot, any batted-ball event with a launch angle between 8 and 32 degrees, does. He found himself in the 94th percentile in 2023. That’s part of the reason his spray chart looks like this:

Matt McLain Spray Chart

That’s a pretty good usage of the full playing field. I love the king’s crown of home runs against lefties, showing how he went deep center multiple times just to show off the guns. Against righties, I’m also intrigued by the count of opposite-field home runs, the black dots landing in the bleachers in right field.

McLain will be moving up my draft board, slightly, but he won’t be overtaking someone more proven like Xander Bogaerts (ADP: 110.30). There are also some tough calls once McLain’s name comes up and it seems that the market is choosing McLain over options such as Oneil Cruz (ADP: 83.33), Nico Hoerner (ADP: 66.66), and the next man on my list, CJ Abrams.

SS – CJ Abrams (ADP: 39.61, Min: 30, Max: 68)

It makes me oh so sad that I cut bait on Abrams way too soon in an Ottoneu league. Last season the Nats shortstop finished as the 7th best shortstop returning $14.30 worth of value. Besides the $0.50 he earned in the runs category, the rest of his value came from his 47(!) stolen bases. He’s expected, by Steamer, to be the 11th-best shortstop this season. Is he a one-category player? His 2023 slash line of .245/.300/.412 might make you answer yes to that question. Oddly enough, I figured his .412 slugging might rise a little higher on a leaderboard when I isolated it to Rookies, but then I realized he wasn’t a Rookie in 2023.

That happened in 2022 when his slash line was .246/.280/.324 and he swung outside of the zone (O-Swing%) 43.8% of the time compared to the league average of 32.6%. He improved upon that in his second year and first full season with the Nats, going outside of the zone at 38.6% compared to a lower league average of 31.9%. Here are some of those marks in visual form:

CJ Abrams Plate Discipline Charts

The graph above tells the story of a young hitter’s ability to read big league pitching (23 years old) slowly improving. The same story could be told about his power metrics as he’s increased some important marks between 2022 and 2023:

Statcast 2022 -> 2023

  • EV: 86.5 -> 87.4
  • LA: 6.8 -> 13.5
  • Barrel%: 2.1 -> 6.9
  • HardHit%: 30.7 -> 35.7
  • maxEV: 109.6 -> 112.5

Those changes also led to a better distribution of batted balls:

  • 2022: LD: 17.7%, GB: 50.9%, FB: 31.5%
  • 2023: LD: 18.2%, GB: 43.7%, FB: 38.1%

CJ Abrams Spray Chart

If he can just turn more of those green dots painting the right side of the infield into red linedrives, he’ll benefit in the batting average department. I’m not so sure Abrams will ever be a power hitter and may fall into the Steven Kwan, Geraldo Perdomo, and Victor Robles Problem, coined by our own Davy Andrews, but the combination of batting average and stolen bases that Abrams can provide will be useful in roto formats. Steamer expects improvement in all three of his slash line marks this upcoming season:

2024 PROJ – .261/.311/.421

All signs point to continued improvement for Abrams offensively and he’s a great pick if you build your roster accordingly. Pick 40 still seems early to me, but if you’ve loaded up on slow guys who blast home runs with your first three picks, Abrams could be a nice balance of speed and average.

2B – Nico Hoerner (ADP: 66.66, Min: 44, Max: 103)

In a recent mock draft, I found myself in the sixth round looking for stolen bases. “Ah, Nico Hoerner!”, I said to myself as I sorted on Z-values in my spreadsheet. He stole 43 pizza box bases in 2023 and Steamer has him for 31 in 2024. “Nice!”, I said to myself, “I’ll take him”. Unfortunately, he had been drafted about 10 picks ago. Was it too soon? Take a look at who he was drafted between:

Jose Altuve – Nico Hoerner – Mike Trout – Oneil Cruz

There will always be good value to take advantage of. There will always be tough calls, especially as each manager builds their rosters with categories in mind. But Nico Hoerner over Mike Trout just seems wrong. I understand, I understand. Trout is an injury risk. But it’s Mike Trout! Regardless, let’s dive into Nico Hoerner’s ADP rise to see if he is true-talent sixth-round material.

Hoerner is a contact hitter who doesn’t walk often but gets on base with speed and ball in play. That’s a big statement in one sentence without any numbers. So here are some numerical units:

  • 2023 slash line: .283/.346/.383
  • 2023 BABIP: .312
  • 2023 Contact%: 88.8% (76.4% MLB average)

Are CJ Abrams and Nico Hoerner the same player? Pretty much. Hoerner is expected to slash .281/.342/.402 and Abrams, you might remember from above, is expected to slash .261/.311/.421. Both will provide stolen bases. Hoerner provides more batting average and OBP upside, but Abrams could potentially provide more slug. This comes down to the age-old question of, “What format are you playing in?”

As both players are going relatively close together, you may not be able to pass on Abrams to then get Hoerner, they are ranked 11th and 10th respectively. But, you could hold out on both of them and pick up Thairo Estrada who is expected by Steamer to slash .260/.315/.411 with 14 home runs and 23 stolen bases. Estrada is the 14th-best shortstop by the auction calculator, yet he provides significantly more home runs and a good amount of stolen bases. I would much prefer a combination of Estrada and another player similar to him who can provide pop and stolen bases in tandem.

Hoerner is not a bad pick, but there are plenty of good players going after him. Players like Carlos Correa, Dansby Swanson, and rebound hopeful (dare I include?) Tim Anderson.





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Werthlessmember
3 months ago

McLain was a valuable player for the games he played. Take his stats and add them to whatever you got for the other 70 games, and his valuation looks much different. Dual eligibility helps, too.

Last edited 3 months ago by Werthless