Surprise! These Hitters Are Now Regulars — AL 9/8/20 by Mike Podhorzer September 8, 2020 Phew, it’s quite difficult to keep up with all the roster moves, injuries, and playing time changes. In this crazy season, guys who haven’t even appeared above High-A ball are getting promoted and given significant roles. It’s nuts! If you’re not paying close attention, you may have missed some of the hitters who have become every day players. With only three more weeks of the season, playing time is king and jettisoning that guy who finds himself on the bench for the rando now getting regular at-bats is key to a strong finish. So let’s review some of the American League guys you might not have realized are now playing every day. The Orioles have gotten hit hard by injury, especially at first base and in the outfield. There are currently two beneficiaries – Cedric Mullins and DJ Stewart. If you recall, Mullins had been a popular sleeper in past seasons due to his speed, along with some power. Unfortunately, the power and speed haven’t had the chance to help fantasy owners because he has posted a lowly .271 wOBA throughout his short career. So he keeps losing his job. Perhaps he’ll get a longer leash this time and keep his wOBA over .300. I don’t have a lot of faith though as his current performance is boosted by a .354 BABIP despite a terrible batted ball distribution. I was a fan of Stewart heading into the season and rostered him in several leagues. Sadly, the Orioles acted like the newbie fantasy owners that panics after a slow start by sending him back to their training site after opening the season 0-14. Really, 14 at-bats and 22 plate appearances is all it takes to temporarily give up on a player? Wow. Anyway, Stewart is back and already hit three homers between Saturday and Sunday, so hopefully that buys him more time in case he hits another 0-10 patch. With both power and speed, he’s showing solid offensive and fantasy potential in the minors and has a much better chance of proving a long-term piece than Mullins does. Josh Naylor wasn’t hailed as a big get in the Mike Clevinger trade with the Padres, but he now gets a strong side platoon role in the Indians outfield. The left-hander rarely swings and misses, as he has posted a single digit SwStk% every stint since 2017 and his power really blossomed in Triple-A last year. He doesn’t have any standout fantasy skills, but could be a solid contributor across the board, with a steal here and there. You figured that a weak team like the Tigers would be where we find a lot of playing time changes. An injury to Niko Goodrum has solidified the playing time of Willi Castro, who has come out blazing with a .385 wOBA. That looks totally unsustainable though, given his .429 BABIP and his ugly 1/17 BB/K ratio. But, he does have a bit of power and some speed, and should play every day, so anything could happen in a three week span, as we’re seeing right now. The other name here is a blast from the past, Jorge Bonifacio. The former Royals prospect is already 27 years old, but had a promising debut back in 2017. He has shown some semblance of power in the past, though nothing else looks any good. It’s hard to believe this is the best the Tigers got, but hey, he’s playing every day now, and that’s better than a reserve playing only half the week. Max Kepler’s injury has opened up playing time for Jake Cave, who always seems to be the guy vaulted into strong side platoon at-bats when a Twins outfielder gets hurt. Cave has an intriguing skill set, as he has shown immense power (when he gets the ball in the air) and an elite batted ball type distribution for BABIP. Unfortunately, he doesn’t hit enough fly balls to take advantage of that power, plus he has struck out a ton. He’s perfectly capable of going on a hot streak over a small sample though! Man the Mariners have been hilarious, playing guys they shouldn’t be, then quickly giving up on a young player to try out the next. Currently secure on the the playing time carousel are José Marmolejos and Philip Ervin. Marmolejos was up at the beginning of the season, but the team sent him off after a whopping 29 plate appearances. Now he’s back for whatever reason and has shown excellent power in line with his minor league days. With a pretty solid strikeout rate, there’s some intrigue here, but he’s already 27 and has spent time in the minors since 2011 and just now making his MLB debut. There must be a reason for that. So it’s anyone’s guess how long he’ll hold a job for, as you never know when the next 0-4 marks his last start. Phillip Ervin is now a starter too, fun times! Ervin owns some power and speed and has even posted an acceptable .315 career wOBA over about a full season. He was never more than a reserve outfielder for the Reds though, so it’s hard to believe there’s a long-term future with the team, which is why it’s odd seeing the team giving him regular playing time. Might as well take advantage for as long as that continues. Tied with the worst winning percentage in baseball, the Rangers are now said to be trying out their youngsters, at the expense of their veterans’ playing time. So Ronald Guzman, Eli White, and Anderson Tejeda are names to investigate. Guzman keeps on being handed the first base job and then losing it, so props to the Rangers for keeping their faith that eventually he figures things out. He’s got power and a huge frame that makes it seem like way more power could come. White is essentially a 26-year-old non-prospect, as he was ranked just 36th in the Rangers system. His ISO has risen at every higher level, which is a good sign, but it’s still barely above the league average. He does have speed, so he could potentially provide that exciting blend of some homers and steals. He has also posted some high BABIPs in the minors, which could help offset a high strikeout rate. Last is Tejeda, who I knew nothing about when I saw him come to the plate against my Justus Sheffield. I breathed a sigh of relief that this string bean was up and there would be no threat of a homer, and he’d likely harmlessly ground out. Oops, he slammed his second homer of the year. Tejeda was one of the prospects I alluded to in the intro who had never playing above High-A. It’s shocking that not only he’s in the Majors now, but could perhaps play on most days if the team follows through with Elvis Andrus losing playing time. Has a hitter ever jumped straight from High-A to the Majors? I’m sure there have been examples, so I’m curious what the aggregate performance of those hitters during their debut was. I can’t imagine it was any good.