Ray’s Ramblings: April 3rd

Written by: Ray Butler

Follow me on Twitter! @RayButler365

Four days down, 182 to go. We are officially 2% of the way through the 2023 MLB regular season. Allow those sentences to serve as some Monday morning perspective if you find yourself panicking over the status of your fantasy team(s) after less than a week.

Let’s talk players. Let’s Ramble. Yes, the samples are microscopic, but that won’t stop us from diving into a handful of players who have caught my eye throughout Spring Training and the first half-week of the regular season.

Let’s begin.

  • I’m up to five NFBC shares of Trevor Larnach after adding him in TGFBI and two Online Championships last night via FAAB. I’m kicking myself for not making him and his 559.01 March ADP a higher priority in Draft Champions leagues. The handicap here is easy: the 26-year-old quietly boasted an .890 OPS last season entering June. Shortly thereafter, a “double core muscle” injury that required surgery sidelined him for the rest of the season. In 2021, a nagging wrist injury greatly hindered his on-field performance throughout the summer before forcing him to the injured list in August. In both instances, Larnach attempted to play through the injuries—therefore greatly hindering his statistical performances—before finally yielding to the ailments. Practically an afterthought in the fantasy world this offseason, Larnach leveraged a huge spring (.351/.400/.730 with 4 home runs in 40 plate appearances) and Alex Kirilloff’s seemingly never-ending wrist issues into starting in left field and hitting cleanup for the Twins on Opening Day, directly behind Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton. It’s a minuscule sample, but Larnach has held his own so far, slashing .455/.571/.455 with a pair of runs scored and RBI. The Twins have given the 26-year-old strict instructions to alert them of any physical issues whatsoever this season (he missed a weak during Spring Training with groin soreness), and we also need to see the outlook versus left-handed pitching. However, given the preseason price and current acquisition cost via trade or FAAB, Larnach could prove to be one of the sneakier values in all of fantasy baseball this season. I said as much when I made him the focus of a bonus bold prediction in this article.
  • Sticking with the Twins briefly. I have a handful of Nick Gordon shares in NFBC leagues, but I’m a bit concerned with what we’ve seen through the first four days of the regular season. I’m not overly concerned with the fact he’s yet to reach base in his first six plate appearances (though the alternative would be much better), but—from a fantasy perspective—I’m not in love with the fact he’s been pulled in all three of Minnesota’s games for Kyle Farmer versus a left-handed pitcher. I’m aware of the 27-year-old’s career splits. I’m not saying it doesn’t make sense from a tactical, real-life standpoint, especially given Farmer’s defensive acumen. But is Gordon good enough to be a rosterable fantasy player if he’s only receiving two plate appearances per game? And if the cold start becomes more sustained as the sample size takes shape, what happens to the playing time once Jorge Polanco is ready to make his season debut? I’ll be monitoring Gordon closely the next couple of weeks.
  • Graham Ashcraft was phenomenal during Spring Training, posting a 2.60 ERA, 0.87 WHIP with 25 strikeouts in 17.1 innings pitched. As has been the theme throughout most of this article, CASHcraft carried the positive vibes over to his 2023 regular season debut, posting a 7.0 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K line versus the Pirates on Sunday. Under the hood, the 25-year-old showcased a new slider, a pitch he threw a whopping 41% of the time on Sunday versus 27% of the time (albeit with a different shape) last season. The overall SwStr% (10.5%) and Whiff% (21%) versus Pittsburgh weren’t anything spectacular, but it’s important to remember we’re talking about a pitcher who only struck out 15.3% of the batters he faced in 105.0 big league IP last season. We need a larger sample of the new usage to make many definitive statements regarding Ashcraft’s updated outlook, but I do feel it’s safe to say the right-hander should enjoy at least a moderate strikeout bump this season. The .167 BABIP won’t last. Nor will the 100.0% LOB. But if Ashcraft can strike out 20-23% of the hitters he faces this season while maintaining a modest walk rate and an ERA around 4.00? We’re talking about one of the most improved pitchers in the league. It would also mean he massively out-earns his 323.58 Main Event ADP. I have zero shares and am having serious FOMO right now.
  • 3.1 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 1 HBP, 6 K. This was Corbin Burnes’ pitching line in his first start of the COVID-shortened 2020 season. Despite that shaky start representing 8.3% of Burnes’ starts during the 60-game season, the right-hander pitched to his true talent for the majority of the remainder of the season, eventually finishing 39th amongst all players on Razzball’s Player Rater. Not all break outs happen immediately. Not all break outs begin with Game 1 of a new season. Clarke Schmidt, who I recently wrote about as my break out pitcher for the 2023 season, finished with a 3.1 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K (76 pitches) line in his season debut Saturday versus the Giants. The 15.8% SwStr and 30.0% Whiff were both nice to see, though the 26.3% CSW lags a bit behind due to only 8 called strikes in 76 pitches. I could dive into “first start nerves”, but the bottom line is we need Schmidt to be better moving forward. We need him to be more efficient moving forward. I believe he will be, and I’ll certainly be starting him this week in Baltimore. If his proponents are right about him, Saturday represented ~4% of Schmidt’s starts for the 2023 season. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Patience.
  • I have 12 combined shares of Reynaldo Lopez, Michael Fulmer and Scott McGough in NFBC leagues. I think each reliever is their team’s respective closer, and I didn’t see anything through the first four days to make me feel differently. Now we just, ya know, need each pitcher to perform to their potential and maintain their role moving forward. Lopez is 50% rostered in Fantrax leagues; Fulmer is 42% rostered in Fantrax leagues; McGough is only 28% rostered in Fantrax leagues. I agree with the general consensus that saves will continue to be less consolidated this season, but this trio is capable of at least 20 saves apiece in 2023. They’re easy pick-ups if you’re closer-needy in any format.
  • A few quick thoughts on a couple of Cardinals. First thing’s first: I love you, but you’ve been asleep at the wheel if you’re just now learning about Nolan Gorman and Brendan Donovan‘s evolutions this offseason and spring. St. Louis asked Gorman to improve hitting elevated velocity, an area in which he was mercilessly attacked by opposing pitchers throughout the majority of last season (.226 BA, 32.9% K). The 22-year-old responded with a strong spring that included success versus fastballs in the upper third of the zone, slashing .288/.373/.538 with 4 home runs in 59 plate appearances. The infielder carried that momentum into the start of the regular season, and he’s currently boasting an outlandish 357 wRC+ with more walks than strikeouts through an infantile 13 plate appearances. Look: Gorman is always going to strikeout a lot. The batting average is never going to help your bottom line. The season-long numbers will likely be a bit capped by the fact he won’t see many opportunities versus left-handed pitching. But on weeks the Cardinals face a plethora of righties? Gorman can be one of the most dangerous bats on your team regardless of format. A 90th-percentile outcome this season probably looks something like .250/25 home runs. Donovan’s offseason training centered around doing damage to pitches you’re supposed to do damage to. The bat-to-ball and on base skills have always been superb, and offseason drafters were primarily excited with the batting average and multi-position eligibility. Then the 26-year-old hit 4 Spring Training home runs in just 59 plate appearances after only hitting 5 home runs (!) in 468 plate appearances (!) last season. Like Gorman, Donovan carried the momentum from his new approach over to the start of the regular season, and he’s already hit 2 home runs in just 15 plate appearances through three games. Donovan hits lefties extremely well and is a functional defender at multiple positions across the diamond. Even if the power is capped at 15 home runs (let’s exercise caution here, that would be 3x as many as he hit in 2022), we’re talking about an incredibly valuable real-life player who could hit .280 and steal a handful of bases while boasting 2B/3B/OF eligibility in fantasy this season. Tip of the cap if you drafted either of these players this preseason (I have one share apiece in NFBC leagues), and good luck trying to trade for them given their respective starts to the season.
  • As for fellow Cardinal Alec Burleson (who a few people asked me to write about), I just don’t see a feasible route to consistent playing time on this team as we currently stand. Lars Nootbaar has been sidelined the past two days with a jammed thumb. Once he returns (it could be as early as Monday), Burleson will be competing with the likes of Nootbaar, Tyler O’Neill, Jordan Walker and Dylan Carlson for playing time in the outfield. He could DH against righties, but the aforementioned Nolan Gorman is a better option in that role. He could spell Paul Goldschmidt at first base on rare days off, but that alone hardly warrants a spot on an MLB roster throughout the course of an entire regular season. Hell, at full health, it probably makes more sense for the Cardinals to carry utility player Taylor Motter on their active roster through the dog days of the season than have the 24-year-old Burleson make—at most—1 or 2 starts a week while primarily riding the pine. Burleson is a good player who is worthy of a tangible opportunity at the big league level, but he might need a trade in order to enjoy that opportunity. Rooting for injuries or top prospects to fail is no way to live in the fantasy world.

Follow me on Twitter! @RayButler365

Featured image courtesy of the respective photographer and Getty Images

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