Written by: Ray Butler
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- Mac Williamson is up to something in San Francisco. This offseason, Williamson worked with Doug Latta to rebuild his swing. That name may mean nothing to you, but Latta is the same swing-expert that retooled Justin Turner’s swing, which evolved the third baseman to one of the most-feared offensive threats in all of baseball. Earlier this week, Jeff Sullivan wrote about most of the same things I would have said had I started from scratch, but I’ll summarize here. Mac Williamson has always possessed tremendous raw power. As a matter of fact, Williamson ranks inside the top 20 of batted balls with an exit velocity north of 110 mph (100 batted ball minimum) since Statcast began tracking such stats. The problem for Williamson has always been the outcome. Historically speaking, Williamson has been a low SLG, high K% player in his various stints in San Francisco. This season, Williamson’s batting stance doesn’t feature such a pronounced squat. The outfielder’s swing also features a higher leg kick, and the results have been eye-opening so far. In only 19 plate appearances this season, Williamson has hit 3 home runs, scored 3 runs, and driven in 6 RBI. He’s slashing .316/.316/.789. His strikeout rate is down to 15.8% (following a gigantic 34.2% rate with the Giants last season). Williamson is 27 years old and the slugging percentage won’t hover close to quadruple-digits all season, but I do think the outfielder will maintain mixed league value for the foreseeable future. Williamson was recently placed on the 7-day concussion disabled list, which makes him a perfect stash on your fantasy roster until he returns to full health. Be ahead of the curve here. Williamson could play a pertinent role for your offense (as he will for the Giants offense) down the stretch of the regular season.
- It’s just about time to jump ship on the thought of Francis Martes being a stalwart in your fantasy starting rotation. The 22-year-old hasn’t been at his best so far this season in AAA Fresno, including an 8-walk outing on Sunday. The Astros know he has potential to be an immediate impact arm out of the bullpen, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them make that transition official down the stretch of the regular season.
- Two weeks ago, I discussed Josh Naylor’s early-season performance and what it means for his prospect status. Another first base native exploding into the limelight in April? Pete Alonso. It feels weird to live in a world in which Dominic Smith is no-longer the best young first baseman in the Mets system, but it seems like we’re trending in that direction more every day. Alonso has been on another level so far this season, slashing .403/.500/.778 in 88 plate appearances (he’s reached base HALF THE TIME over the first month of the season!). He’s tallied 18 R, 7 HR and 18 RBI. The strikeout rate is less than 20%. The walk rate is over 15%. For the record, the wOBA is an outrageous .540 so far. The 18 HR/.359 OBP that Alonso posted last season certainly isn’t awful, but the torrid pace he’s on in 2018 has fantasy baseballers dreaming of a .300 AVG, 30 HR campaign. One of the more impressive parts of Alonso’s April is that he hasn’t been pull happy. He has upped the Pull% to 39.6%, but he’s going up the middle and to the opposite field 30.2% of the time apiece. A lot of the right-hander’s home runs (like this one) seem to leave the park in either left center or right center. It’s quite reminiscent of J.D. Martinez’s home run chart. The first baseman was my 181st-ranked prospect in my preseason top 200 list, but at this rate, he’s well on his way to cracking many midseason top 100 lists. Mine included. An underrated part of Alonso’s outlook is that, even with Dominic Smith still factoring into the Mets’ future at first base, the path to big league playing time isn’t nearly as impossible for Alonso as it is for most first base prospects. It certainly feels like the 23 year old is breaking out.
- If your league values multi-inning relievers and the hold category and you’re always wanting to stay ahead of the competition, you should take a long look at Phillies prospect Seranthony Dominguez. The 23-year-old right hander has been lights out so far in AA Reading, and word on the street is the Phillies could look to accelerate his path to boost their bullpen this season.
- Messaged back and forth with an evaluator this week that claims this season’s Bo Bichette is….. Joe Dunand. I reminded him that the comparison isn’t exactly airtight. Bichette experienced a meteoric rise in prospect lists as a 19 year old last season. Dunand is 22 years old and currently in High-A. His point stands though: as far as unheralded middle infield prospects are concerned, no one has done more to increase their stock in the first month of the season than Dunand. A second round pick last season, Dunand is currently slashing .329/.404/.532 with 19 R, 3 HR and 28 RBI. His strikeout rate is 14.9% while the walk rate sits at 10.6%. It’s risky to say that any prospect is ‘this season’s Bo Bichette’ because what Bichette did last season was absolutely spectacular. But when you see signs of a breakout or emergence, even if it doesn’t look like the breakouts you’ve recently experienced, you jump at the chance to hop on the bandwagon before your opposition does. It feels like *right now* is your chance to make your move for Dunand before the train leaves the station. It’s important to note that, according to scouts, Dunand’s only ‘plus’ tools are his raw power and throwing arm, so the building hype could simmer relatively quick. But for what you’d be acquiring him for (which should be next-to-nothing or literally nothing), the Marlin should squarely be on your radar. The fact that Dunand is Alex Rodriguez’s nephew certainly won’t slow the hype………..
- I honestly want to jump in my truck, drive to High-A Down East and have a conversation with the coaching staff about hitting. Why? One of my prospect obsessions this season, Leody Taveras, is showing a lot of positive signs. The walk rate is an impressive 16.3%, the OBP is .380 and he’s already stolen 6 bases. As a 19 year old in High-A. So where’s the gripe? You ready for this? Taveras is hitting the ball on the ground at a staggering 59.6% rate. If batted ball stats aren’t your thing, the average MLB offensive player has a GB-rate of 44% (with that number seemingly decreasing as we continue along the fly ball revolution). On a related note, Taveras’ FB% is only 23.1% (MLB league average is 35% and trending upward). He has a grand total of 0 home runs thru his first 92 plate appearances this season (as of Saturday (4/28) morning). From a fantasy standpoint, it’s a troubling sign for a young outfielder who scouts believe possesses enough raw power to post double-digit home runs on an annual basis. Of course the Dominican Republic native has all the time in the world to right the ship, and there’s always a chance that he’ll simply be a ground ball hitter throughout his career. Heck, at this point, I’d be a little surprised if we saw a whole-sale change on batted ball percent this season. If this remains the case, however, his fantasy value will quickly diminish, as will his standing on prospect lists that prioritize offensive firepower.
- More than ten times this past week, I’ve randomly checked Twitter to find a mention, reply or DM that simply asks something along the lines of “Is Zac Lowther forreal?” So allow me to address it now. It’s been awfully hard to ignore what the 22-year-old southpaw has done so far this season in Low-A Delmarva. Thru 22 innings, Lowther has struck out 39 batters while posting a microscopic 1.23 ERA. He’s only walked three. Lowther’s repertoire consists primarily of an above-average fastball and curveball. His changeup is a work in progress, but he’s not afraid to throw it, and it projects as an average big league offering someday. Mechanically, Lowther has some (as I like to call it) ‘shot put’ to his delivery, meaning he’s very compressed until the ball has left his hand. I wouldn’t necessarily call his delivery ‘funky’ per se, but there’s certainly some deception there. Lowther is a 22-year-old pitching in Low-A, so I’m certainly interested to see if he can carry his success to the next two levels of competition. It’s important to remember that 2018 is Lowther’s first full-season as a professional after being drafted in the second round of last season’s draft, so the pedigree is certainly there. For now, I’m cautiously buying stock in Lowther as cheaply as I possibly can (and not pressing the issue with leaguemates who are looking to take advantage of his start to the season). Again, the real story will be told once he’s promoted to High-A (and even more so when he’s promoted to AA), but there’s certainly reason for cautious optimism.
- I don’t know why I haven’t discussed Austin Riley more on Twitter than I have so far this season, so I’ll take a second to talk about him here. The short-form version? He’s been impressive so far in 2018. The long-form? The third baseman is slashing .310/.363/.619 thru 91 plate appearances for AA Mississippi. He’s compiled 13 R, 4 HR and 15 RBI (you can check out the highlights of his two homer game on April 26th here). Riley’s strikeout rate will always hover between an acceptable percentage and a mark that slightly ticks you off, but an average that fluctuates between .280 and .300 paired with 20-25 HR should make him a commodity nonetheless. I aggressively ranked Riley 65th on my 2018 top 200 prospect list, and I stated in his outlook that my gut tells me Riley will eventually shift across the diamond to first base; however, I’ve read reports that Riley worked hard during the offseason to lose weight and improve defensively. Perhaps he’ll stay at the hot corner after all (and the Braves desperately need a long-term power bat at the position). I’ve long thought that Atlanta will, at some point, trade young pitchers to acquire offensive firepower. I still think they will, but Riley’s continued development and emergence (alongside Cristian Pache’s offensive development) should someday add some pizzazz to an already-impressive core of young bats for the Braves. Riley should be promoted to AAA Gwinnett at some point this season, and a 2019 big league debut should be in the works.
- In conversations I’ve had with a couple of evaluators this week, they stressed the importance of not worrying about strikeout-numbers with pitching prospects like Alex Faedo and Sixto Sanchez this season. Why not? The Tigers and Phillies organizations (respectively) are working with the right-handers on throwing their secondary pitches in two-strike counts. Even more so than that, they’re throwing their offspeed pitches in 2-2 and 3-2 counts. Could they blow their fastballs past hitters in those counts? Probably. Will they always be able to do that as their professional careers progress? Probably not. Prospects like Faedo and Sanchez are simply learning how to pitch professionally this season. It could lead to some bumps in the road in the short-term, but it’ll almost certainly benefit the pair in the big picture.
- Your weekly Ten Pack of players worthy of your consideration as you prepare your mind to make waiver wire moves this week: Marco Gonzales (he also made this list), Chad Bettis, Kyle Gibson, Leonys Martin, Zack Wheeler, Andrew Heaney, Wei-Yen Chen, Hunter Strickland, Franchy Cordero, David Dahl.
- A rolling list of prospects who did not make my preseason top 200 prospect list BUT are worthy of adding or keeping an eye on in keeper league formats (in no particular order): Jeisson Rosario, Corbin Martin, Daulton Varsho, Griffin Canning, Anthony Kay, Bryce Conley, Jose Suarez, Gerson Garabito, Josh Lowe, Jonathan Hernandez, Tirso Ornelas, Brandon Waddell, William Contreras, Jasseel De La Cruz, Tony Santillan, Zac Lowther, Jalen Beeks, Chris Paddack, Cionel Perez, Connor Wong, Yasel Antuna, Trey Supak, Michael Hermosillo, Joe Dunand, Nathaniel Lowe, Khalil Lee, Gabriel Arias, Esteury Ruiz, Enyel De Los Santos, Alexander Canario, Ezequiel Duran, Brusdar Graterol, Austin Allen, Bo Takahaski. Feel free to ask me about any of these guys any time!
- Ready for a scorching-hot take? There should an analytical-based website (similar to Fangraphs) that tracks the performance of umpires on a nightly basis. In turn, umpires should receive bonuses/relegations based on their performance. Accountability… what a virtue! Also: the MLB would do everything in its power to suppress any sort of analytics geared towards the performance of its umpires. Which furthers my notion that this should DEFINITELY happen. Have a great week!
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Featured image courtesy of Minor League Baseball