Surprise! These Hitters Are Now Regulars — NL 9/9/20

Yesterday, I discussed a slew of American League hitters who suddenly find themselves with regular playing time. Today, let’s check in on the National Leaguers currently with full-time jobs.

Sleeper favorite Josh Rojas is back again and has been playing every day, rotating between second base and the DH slot. He is even starting against left-handers, which is great news. Last year’s cup of 157 plate appearance coffee didn’t go so well, but his minor league record screams that you should pay attention. With strong walk and strikeout rates, a power spike in 2019, and excellent speed, he seemingly owns the skills to be a top prospect and highly attractive fantasy asset. So it beats me as to why he’s not considered either of those. I’m buying.

Daulton Varsho is another Diamondbacks hitter playing regularly, but he’s a much bigger question mark than Rojas. The top prospect hasn’t played above Double-A, which raises the risk. However, he does bring a unique combination of skills that would be intriguing if we knew if was actually ready to hit Major League pitching. In the minors, he didn’t swing and miss often (single digit SwStk%), hit a ton of fly balls that boosted his power output despite a mediocre HR/FB rate, and has excellent speed. It’s a rare skill set, especially for someone that qualifies at catcher.

Am I having déjà vu or is Jason Kipnis a regular again? Kipnis has taken over as the Cubs’ every day second baseman and is doing most things well, except for the ugly 31.9% strikeout rate. The good news is his SwStk% remains just below 10%, so the strikeouts have largely been the result of extreme passiveness at the plate, rather than a sudden inability to make contact. It’s hard to believe Kipnis is the team’s starter the rest of the season, but might as well play him in deep leagues while he has the job.

So apparently Jose Garcia, the Reds’ third best prospect, is the team’s new shortstop, despite the fact he hadn’t played above High-A. With little power, an inability to take a walk, and some speed that will only matter if he actually gets on base, I’m not sure why he has become the starter. His defensive grades suggests he’s an elite fielder, so perhaps the Reds are just looking for defense. Unless you’re in a dynasty league, I wouldn’t bother here.

Ben Gamel has not only been playing every day for the Brewers, but has actually led off in the last five games. His strikeout rate has skyrocketed, but perhaps this is a change of approach, as his HR/FB rate has also doubled from last season’s previous career best. Unfortunately, he’s not taking as much advantage of that HR/FB rate breakout as he could, as his FB% sits at a career low, barely above 20%. It has resulted in an absolutely elite batted ball profile though, but that hasn’t actually mattered for his batting average thanks to all the strikeouts. It’s been a strange 2020 for Gamel, but he’s worth a look as the current leadoff man.

Andrés Giménez has seemingly stolen the shortstop job away from Amed Rosario, and he’s been a fantasy asset with his seven steals. Rosario isn’t a very good hitter, but his projections are still better than Giménez, so this appears to once again be overreacting to a small sample size. Anyhow, Giménez’s BABIP shouldn’t stay this high thanks to his inflated IFFB%, and he’s got little power, so you’re basically just hoping he gets on enough to swipe a base, which will be difficult given his lowly walk rate. One little slump and he’ll be back on the bench.

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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Not sure it’s true that Garcia has little power. The FSL is very tough on hitters and he had 8 HR and *37 doubles* there last year. He hit several HR in spring training, I believe. However, there’s little doubt he’s been rushed and I would expect next to nothing with the bat this year. He needs more seasoning in the high minors.

As for Rojas, he’s a decent prospect but he’s already 26, so I wouldn’t get terribly excited.