Preseason Prep, March 24th, 2022
What to make of the Cincinnati Reds’ new-look offense
With Nick Castellanos, Eugenio Suarez, Jesse Winker, and Tucker Barnhart all finding new teams this offseason, the Reds have 2,032 plate appearances to replace in their lineup. So, who’s to benefit? Who should you have your eyes on for fantasy? And conversely, who should you be ignoring?
The departure of long-time starting backstop Tucker Barnhart allows 25-year-old Tyler Stephenson to become Cincinnati’s undisputed everyday catcher. The youngster all but took Barnhart’s job last season, putting up an impressive .286/.366/.431 triple-slash line while hitting ten homers in 402 plate appearances. Stephenson’s upside may be limited due to a lack of power (.146 ISO); however, he displayed excellent bat control last season. In 2021, Stephenson’s 6.8% SwStr% ranked 20th, while his 91.4% Z-Contact% ranked 24th across the majors (min 400 PA). He may not make a lot of hard contact (29.6% Hard%), but he also doesn’t make a lot of weak contact (12.1% Soft%), and his solid 25.4% LD% made for a lot of base hits in 2021. His consistency will be a much-welcomed commodity at the catcher position. Stephenson is currently going 8th amongst catchers in fantasy drafts (182 ADP), which seems right; however, despite his lack of experience, I think he is the safest option at catcher outside of the top-three (Perez, Realmuto, and Smith).
Another Cincy rookie who impressed in 2021 was second baseman Jonathan India, who took home NL rookie of the year honors after the season. I am not as high on India, but that’s not entirely because I see a sophomore slump coming. He is currently the 12th second-baseman coming off the board, which isn’t a bad spot to get someone like India; however, he is one of the only top-15 second-basemen who doesn’t have position flexibility. In 10-12 team leagues (and in my opinion), if you are going to be drafting a 2nd baseman outside of the top ten to be your only 2nd baseman, you probably want someone who has shown they are a worthy fantasy starter more than just once. And if he isn’t your only 2nd baseman, you probably want a guy you can deploy at multiple positions to protect from injuries, days off, and the like.
Former 1st round pick Nick Senzel hasn’t lived up to his billing during the first three seasons of his big league career. Although to be fair, injuries have nary allowed him the chance to ever get comfortable in the majors. Senzel missed the last 120 games of the 2021 season due to a nagging knee injury that he had arthroscopic surgery on at the end of May. Before the injury, he was slashing a dismal .252/.323/.315 with one homer and a .286 wOBA. Unfortunately, it’s hard to judge the guy from any of his numbers because of his inability to stay on the field. Clearly, you don’t want to invest much in the 26-year-old, but his ADP is 366, so he is a guy you can draft with your last pick or scoop up in the FA if you want to see how he performs if he can stay fit.
Entering his 16th major league season, Joey Votto will be handling first base duties for the Reds again. After three straight seasons of diminished production, Votto took a much more aggressive approach last season, and it brought him back to fantasy relevancy once again. With a 71.5% Z-Swing% (his highest since 2010) and a 24.7%/11.5% O-Swing%/SwStr% (career 21.7% O-Swing% and 8.2% SwStr%), Votto hit 36 home runs after hitting 38 total homers from 2018-2020. The .266/.375/.563 triple-slash line still wasn’t up to Votto’s lofty standards; however, his .297 ISO was a career-best by a wide margin (previous best .276 in 2010). He did turn 38 in September, so his days are numbered, but with the implementation of the DH, Votto should get plenty of rest while still playing nearly every day.
Mike Moustakas hasn’t been able to stay healthy since coming to Cincinnati prior to the 2020 season. Sadly, that theme doesn’t appear to be coming to an end in 2022, as the 33-year-old was removed from Tuesday’s spring training game due to a shoulder injury. The injury doesn’t appear to be serious, but it highlights why Moose’s average ADP is 346. He is just the COVID season and the 2021 season removed from a 36 homer campaign with the Brewers in 2019; however, his frailty at this point in his career is not to be ignored.
Colin Moran has been a solid baseball player but has never cemented himself as a fantasy-worthy baseball player since making his Pirates debut in 2018. The 29-year-old corner infielder was having one of his best major leagues seasons in 2021 before injuries derailed it. First, it was a concussion, and then it was a fractured wrist. As a result, Moran had just 359 plate appearances, hitting .258 with ten homers with 50 RBI. Nothing really suggests that he is more than his career numbers show (.267/.329/.418); however, Great American Ballpark has ranked number one for HR as a left-handed batter each of the past four seasons. In contrast, his previous home stadium, PNC Park, ranked 22nd in that category last season. The other thing that Moran will benefit from is being surrounded by more accomplished hitting, giving him better pitches to swing at and more potential for RBI production.
Outfielder Jake Fraley will join the Reds outfield fresh off his first significant stint at the MLB level. The 26-year-old displayed incredible patience at the plate in 2021 (39.8% Swing%), leading to an impressive .352 OBP despite a putrid .210 batting average. He doesn’t expand the zone often (21.4% O-Swing%), but he also doesn’t take advantage when he does get the ball over the plate (65.7% Z-Swing% and 81.3% Z-Contact%). So it seems that Fraley’s aggressively cautious approach helps him get on base with walks but hinders his ability to jump on good pitches to hit. However, patience and a good eye at the plate are two attributes that are not easy for big leaguers to learn, so Fraley is setting himself up to be a tough out if he can continue to improve his swing. Though that will likely be a long process, so don’t expect much from him as far as fantasy goes in 2022.
Donovan Solano is another new player to know about, though he will mainly play fill-in duty across the infield for the Reds. The 34-year-old doesn’t do much by way of power, but he has displayed the ability to rack up base knocks over the past few seasons. In the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign, Solano won the NL Batting Title with a .326 clip. In 344 plate appearances last season, he slashed a respectable .280/.344/.404 with a career-high seven home runs. It’s unlikely that Solano will be a year-long fantasy player this season; however, when there is inevitably an injury to the Reds infield, he will make a decent spot starter as he is the primary backup infielder on the depth chart.
Around the Rest of the League
Matt Chapman, 3B, TOR
The new Blue Jays third baseman was removed from Tuesday’s Spring Training contest with a lacerated forearm. The injury won’t require stitches, so the gold glover isn’t at risk of missing opening day. He took a cleat to the forearm during a play at third base, so the positive news is a sigh of relief for Blue Jays fans and Matt Chapman owners alike.
Bryan Shaw, RP, CLE
Relievers that are not closers are rarely useful in most fantasy formats, but they can be utilized when they get as much action as Shaw. The 34-year-old led the majors in appearances with 81 last season while racking up 77.1 IP (8th most amongst relievers), six wins, and a pair of saves. With a 3.49 ERA, 8.26 K/9, and 4.42 BB/9 in 2021, he wasn’t highly effective, but he was serviceable and racked up the innings. So for fantasy purposes, he won’t be more than an aid if you want a guy who will consistently add a few innings and strikeouts while not doing much ERA damage in category leagues. That’s a specific niche, but one that can be utilized in some fantasy formats.
Luis Arraez, 2B/3B/OF, MIN
As previously stated, Arraez is a player that I love; however, his skills at the plate don’t exactly translate to fantasy success. To make matters worse, with all the shuffling of players in the Twins infield recently, Arraez doesn’t have a clear starting role for the club. That being said, given his ability to get on base (career .313 AVG and .374 AVG) and flexibility in the field, he should be in the lineup consistently. For fantasy, Arraez will be utilized best as a bench player that fills in for players at 2nd, 3rd, and OF when they have days off or are injured. He will provide hits, walks, and runs, but little anywhere else.
Sergio Romo, RP, SEA
On Wednesday afternoon, the 39-year-old reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with the Mariners. However, with a plethora of arms in front of the aging Romo, he won’t likely be in line for many saves and, therefore, won’t hold much fantasy relevance in 2022. Romo posted a career-high 4.67 ERA to go along with an 8.76 K/9 (worst since 2013) last season.
Luis Urias or Kolten Wong?
Two Milwaukee infielders that are getting drafted very near each other are Luis Urias (195.6 ADP) and Kolten Wong (199.6 ADP). Unfortunately, Urias sustained a quad injury over the weekend and will be shut down for the rest of spring training. That is not what you want to hear about a prospective fantasy player; however, he is not expected to miss much of the regular season with the injury. Urias is scheduled to be the Brewers starting third baseman while Wong takes his usual spot at second. Urias is coming off of a breakout campaign in which he slashed .249/.345/.445 with 23 homers and five stolen bases. Wong slashed .272/.335/.447 with 14 homers and 12 stolen bases in his first season with the Brewers. Assuming Urias’ injury will not cost him more than a week or two, he is the desirable pick right now. He is younger (24) and will likely be 2B and 3B eligible in your league (potentially SS eligible too). At 31 years old, Wong isn’t old, but he won’t be the stolen base threat that made him a fantasy asset in St. Louis. Wong is a more accomplished player, having provided three or four solid fantasy seasons over his career. His gold-glove defense also makes him an everyday player regardless of how he is hitting. But at the end of the day, even though Urias has only shown promise in one season (2021), his versatility and potential make him the more tantalizing fantasy option, especially considering where both players are getting drafted in the lower portion of most drafts. Hopefully, by the time you draft, Urias’s injury will have a more definitive recovery date, which will make your decision to get him or not much more straightforward.
Good News for Your Yankees and Mets Players!
According to reports, New York City Mayor Eric Adams will reverse the COVID-19 mandate that is currently keeping professional athletes in New York from playing home games. The official order is expected to be announced on Thursday. If this report is correct, you won’t have to worry about the vaccination status of players like Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo. The news will be a relief to fantasy owners; it’s already hard enough to draft a team without having a city health mandate to consider.