Preseason Prep – March 29, 2022
Tommy Pham (OF – CIN) – I feel compelled to add on to Menachem’s comment about the Pham signing for Cincinnati…..I’m just way too excited about it. There are so many “up arrows” here I can’t even contain myself. Pham has had two rather unlucky seasons in a row from almost every perspective. To try and quantify it, his xAVGs from Statcast data have been .258 and .259 the past two years. The actual AVGs have been .211 and .229. The SLG differential has been even worse: .312 and .383 vs. xSLG of .448 and .442. Pham still has a well below average chase rate, well above average rate, well above average exit velocity, a barrel rate of above 10%, and he still steals around 15 bases a year. Now, add in the fact that he’s going to the best park for homers in the majors from one of the worst….the park factors would lead you to believe that a 40-45% in homers at home would be warranted for a player moving from Petco to the GAB. Pham’s current ADP is OF75, although it’s moving up quickly and he’s going before round 20 frequently. I would take him even much earlier than that: more like round 13-15. Sure, the OF is somewhat crowded in Cincy and Pham just turned 34, but there are so many reasons for optimism here. I think he’s still drastically undervalued.
John Means (SP – BAL) – I think we may be understating the impact of the ballpark changes in Baltimore this year a bit, and as such, perhaps not giving John Means enough credit for his potential value this year. The Orioles are moving the LF fence back almost 30 feet and also making it 5 feet higher, and for a pitcher like Means, who allowed 27 homers to RHB batters last season, this is a big deal, to put it mildly. I’ve seen estimates that the changes could result in as many as 50 fewer HRs at Camden going forward, so is it far-fetched to think Means could allow 5 fewer if that’s the case? I don’t believe so. Add in the fact that Means has excellent control (which has become step 1 in identifying draftable pitchers for me the past few years), and he becomes even more enticing. The coup de grace is that the somewhat unattractive K rate that Means possesses would appear to have some upside: his swinging strike rates have been 12-12.5% in 2020 and 2021, rates that would typically lend themselves to K/9 better than 9.0, yet Means has been at 8.66 and 8.22. I believe the K rate is due for a bump, and the park changes should bring down the HR/9 as well. I think Means could easily be a top-50 SP this season, and his current ADP has him at #59. I’d be thrilled with him as my #5 this year, particularly if I paired him up with a riskier option (like a Jesus Luzardo or Stephen Strasburg-type).
Jeremy Pena (SS – HOU) – I’m very intrigued by Jeremy Pena, who is embroiled in a 3-way battle for the starting SS gig in Houston this spring. So far the 3 (Niko Goodrum and Alex de Goti are the others) have split time equally, and while Pena is 3-8, the other two are 0-18 combined. Since I feel that the Astros would prefer to have Goodrum as a utility player anyway, I feel pretty decent about the likelihood of Pena breaking camp as the starter. The main reason I’m so intrigued by Pena is the 30-game sample at AAA last season. Yes, it’s only 30 games, but the speedy Pena showed much more power than I thought would be possible from him, bashing 10 homers to help him to an ISO over .300. He only hit 4 doubles, so you could easily see those numbers flipped without any surprised whatsoever, but even that would lead you to 20 HR pop, and I thought was likely a bit beyond Pena. He does chase quite a bit, so the AVG has some downward potential, but if that level of power from 2021 was legit it would mean that Pena is a potential 20/20 guy, and there usually aren’t many of those down around pick 400 (his current ADP is 397). He is a very interesting name to keep on your draft board for late in the game.
Noah Syndergaard (SP – LAA) – Syndergaard looked pretty solid in his spring debut on Monday, striking out 4 in 3 2/3 IP while allowing just 1 hit and walking 1. He only touched 95 with his fastball, so the velocity is still down, but the offspeed stuff was effective enough to give you hope that he could see success at that level of velocity. He’s being drafted as the 58th SP right now, which is a bit optimistic given that he’s thrown 2 innings in the past 2 seasons and is in a 6-man rotation, but there’s upside with him that there just isn’t with many being drafted in that area. I don’t mind him at all as a high risk SP5, but I’d make sure he was paired with a lower-risk option for that slot as well.
Andrew Vaughn (OF – CWS) – It looks like Vaughn escaped serious injury after being carted off Sunday, as Monday he was diagnosed with a right hip pointer, making him likely to miss only 1-2 weeks. That’s great news for the White Sox on a player that many, including me, believe could take a real step forward in his sophomore season. I know the numbers weren’t all that exciting in 2021 for the rookie, but for a player with no professional ABs to come in and put up a barrel rate of almost 11% and a swinging strike rate of only 10% is honestly very impressive, and I expect over the next two seasons that Vaughn will become a very solid bat for the White Sox. We have Vaughn ranked 37th among OF, which is a far cry from the 69th position where he’s currently being drafted, and this injury news means that I wouldn’t downgrade him at all from that spot. His ADP is currently in round 20, and I’d be happy to jump ahead 3-4 rounds of that to ensure that I didn’t miss out on him this year.
Edward Cabrera (SP – MIA) – Cabrera looked very sharp on Monday, firing 3 hitless innings against Washington with 1 walk and 3 K’s as he competes for the 5th spot in the Marlin rotation. He’s added a 5th pitch, a sinker, to an already impressive arsenal over the winter, but really it’s going to be the control (or lack of) that will make or break him. He’s shown plenty of ability to miss bats in the minors, but at AAA and the majors he was unable to finish innings consistently due to the free passes. He and Jesus Luzardo have the most upside for the last two spots in a potentially very strong Miami rotation, and he’s certainly one of the guys that I love this year in my typical strategy of “grab 4 guys with upside and hope that 2 pan out” for the #4 and #5 spots in my rotation. As is Luzardo, for that matter.
Spencer Strider (P – ATL) – I would love to see this kid break camp in the Atlanta rotation, although I honestly believe that he’s going to start at AAA. Strider looked fantastic in shutting the Blue Jays down over 2 1/3 innings on Monday, touching 100 with his fastball and not allowing a hit to a very talented Toronto lineup. The 5th spot is still very much up in the air in Atlanta right now, and Strider is a high-risk option that has the potential to be a huge profit center if he earns a spot in Atlanta early in the year.
Shohei Ohtani (OF/SP – LAA) – Joe Maddon has said that Ohtani is likely to bat leadoff as he feels “it’s his best spot in the order”, and I don’t think you can construe that as anything but positive news for Ohtani’s value this season. Our ranking of him still lags a bit behind his ADP, but we have pushed him up into the first round recently by value, and I think the news about his likely role should bump his value up even higher. I think he’s a reasonable choice anywhere between 6-14 depending on how your league chooses to value his contributions, and I don’t expect any regression from last year’s terrific performance.
Bryson Stott (SS/3B? – PHI) – Stott has worked his way into what is essentially a 3-man competition for two jobs (SS and 3B) with 11 days to go before Opening Day, and while he’s still an outsider relative to Didi and Bohm, he has Joe Girardi discussing his qualifications the past few days so he can’t be discounted. His ceiling isn’t as impressive as some top 100 prospects, but Stott has an excellent batting eye and solid contact ability, to go along with possibly average power and slightly below-average speed. He wouldn’t be likely to be an impact player offensively, but he could possibly skirt around the edges of CI/MI value without really hurting you in any area. If he makes the squad out of spring training he’s going to play, so use that as your guide. I think he’d be a worthwhile add in deeper leagues if that comes to pass, but in standard formats I just don’t see enough upside to be honest.
Sean Manaea (SP – OAK) – Manaea has one of the larger gaps between our projections and ADP of any of the top 60 SPs, as he’s currently being drafted 42nd at the position while we have him projected 29th. His control has always been solid, but the velocity jump last year pushed his swinging strike rate up to a career best 12.3%, well above average. The park is always going to help him as well, so despite the fact that the A’s are very likely to have the worst offense in baseball this season, Manaea should be able to help you in all of the starting pitching categories. He seems like a very safe bet in the SP4 area, and while further improvement at age 30 isn’t all that likely, a simple move down toward his xFIP ERA would be enough to offer value at his current price.
Chris Archer (SP – MIN) – Chris Archer signed with the Twins on Monday, and he immediately becomes the favorite for the currently empty 5th starter’s spot once he proves that he’s fully healthy. Archer was a staple in my rotations for a long time, as he was frequently undervalued because, frankly, he was typically a little disappointing in addition to not providing much in the W column. A couple of major injuries the past few years make it very unclear what you could reasonably expect from him anymore, although he still did miss bats at an above average level in limited time with TB last season. I’m planning on taking a wait-and-see approach here, as particularly the TOS attempted fix has a fairly low success rate: I need to see how he looks physically before committing at all here. Still, he should be on your watch list for K purposes only in deeper leagues, and if he retains most of his ability from prior to the injuries he could prove to be a solid profit center as an SP5. I’m pessimistic, unfortunately, but will be monitoring his stuff closely.
Tony Gonsolin (SP – LAD) – Gonsolin was announced as the 5th starter behind Buehler, Kershaw, Urias, and Heaney over the weekend, and he could prove to be a solid high-risk option as a 5th starter this season. First of all, the Dodgers are a great team, with easily the top projected offense in baseball this season. Most reasonable starts from their SPs should result in wins. When it comes to Gonsolin himself, the stuff is there: he misses bats at a well above average clip, even with a little bit of degradation in stuff last season. He also doesn’t allow a ton of hard contact, but the control is another story. He looked like he’d harnessed it in 2020, making him at least a solid SP across the board, but he regressed significantly last season to create a worrying area of weakness. That uncertainty has potentially created a value opportunity however, as a return to the 2020 level of control would make Gonsolin a tremendous bargain around the SP83 area where his ADP currently resides. FWIW, Gonsolin has 0 BB and 4 K in his first 3 spring innings here in 2022, and with his bat-missing ability and the Dodger offense supporting him, a return to merely average control would see likely see him post top-60 SP value. This is a risk I like taking this spring.
Aaron Hicks (OF – NYY) – In the “best shape of my life” category, Aaron Hicks came into camp down 15 pounds this year and looking to run more again, going so far as to say his goal is a 30/30 season in 2022. The cynic in me says that he’ll never be healthy enough for that, but he was reasonably healthy in ’18 and ’20, so it’s possible I suppose. It feels like Hicks is 40 but he’s only 32, still at the tail end of a prime that has seen a lot of missed time. He has solid contact ability, getting called out on strikes much more than swinging and missing, and the exit velocity and speed are still in the average area with a barrel rate ranging between average and very good. If he even made it to a 20/20 season I’d be surprised, but a guy playing every day in an offense projected to score 800 runs is going to rack up some numbers regardless, and Hicks has almost always produced when healthy since coming to NY, particularly if your league values OBP as he retains a very discerning eye. He is so difficult to value due to the constant injuries, but it’s easy to see a player here that could be above-average in all categories. A solid gamble to take after the first 50-60 OFs are off the board.
Jerred Kelenic (OF – SEA) – It’s been a quiet and disappointing spring for the 22 year old Kelenic, who is 2-17 with a 2B and 6 K’s thus far. It’s worth noting that the young man has played 144 G above A-ball: struggles should be expected still at this point. His September performance last year hints at his potential: 245/331/524 with 7 HR and 3 SB, which would put him on pace for 35 HR, 15 SB, 100 RBI, and close to 100 R over a full season. The potential remains here, although I think the hit tool may have been overstated a bit. The current ADP of OF43 seems appropriate value to me…..maybe even a bit on the hopeful side, but he could be a 40/20 guy if everything progresses as many hope, so I get it.
Tommy La Stella (2B – SF) – La Stella is way ahead of schedule on his recovery from Achilles surgery and could possibly break camp with the Giants, or at the very least be only a week or two behind. His 2021 was rather disappointing after his 2019 breakout and reasonable COVID season follow up in 2020, but the skills from the breakout seem to be completely intact. His contact ability is probably top-10 in the majors, and the exit velocity has continued to climb all the way up to the average range. As he has increased his launch angle the BABIP has dropped, but I think his baseline is probably in the .275-.280 range, so last year’s .250 seems excessively unlucky. I’m really a fan of his ability if not his utility….I still see him as a viable MI in deeper leagues and NL-only formats. He won’t provide you with any speed, but he has a reasonably high floor for his criminally low draft position.