To believe or not to believe, this is the question for many Fantasy baseball owners early in the season. The most frustrating part of Fantasy sports is getting beat by the manager or head coach.
I feel the pain for the Randal Grichuk owners. He was on my wish list on draft day, but his price point was just too high for my game and team structure in the high-stakes market. Four games into 2016, he’s losing at-bats to some dude named Jeremy Hazelbaker. Jeremy has a six-game hitting streak (10-for-18) while scoring a run and driving in a run in five straight games plus a pair of HRs and two steals. He even has six hits in his last nine at-bats. As a Fantasy owner with endless amounts of research over the winter, how did I miss this young stud? An injury to Tommy Pham opened the door for this unknown player. When this season started, Hazelbaker never played a game in the majors at age 28. His resume looks a bit squirrelly in the minors. Over seven seasons, Jeremy hit .264 with 81 HRs, 359 RBI, and 239 SBs in 2734 at-bats. In 2012 between AA and AAA, he showcased a possible 20/30 skill set (.273 with 19 HRs, 67 RBI, and 36 SBs in 466 at-bats). His downside is tied to his high K rate (25.4) in his minor league career. His struggle to make contact could lead to a big correction in his early season success.
Grichuk is a future star with a thumper bat for the Cardinals. Over his last three seasons in the minors, he has 65 HRs, 206 RBI, and 33 SBs while hitting .272. Randal played well with St. Louis in 2015 (.276 with 17 HRs, 47 RBI, and four SBs in 323 at-bats). His bat did show some holes in the majors as Grichuk did strikeout 110 times in 350 plate appearances (31.4 percent). He made much more contact in the minors (19.8 K rate). Randal is the better option for sure, and his upside will lead to the best opportunity for the Cardinals over a full season. Hazelbaker looks to be viable as a short-term injury cover, but he needs an outfield injury to sustain a high volume of at-bats. Ride him when he is hot, park him is not.
In one of my big leagues, I drafted Byron Buxton as my possible speed out in the outfield. I can see he just isn’t ready to make an impact. He has 11 Ks in 22 at-bats with no walks. I feel as though he needs a drop down in class to find his swing and confidence. His natural replacement looked like Danny Santana, but Danny landed on the DL with a hamstring injury. The injury sounds minor, so there is an excellent chance Santana is back on the field in two weeks. For my team, I’m looking for a particular skill set to fill my void. I need to find 30+ bags at one outfield slot with any power being a bonus. It might make sense to snatch up Santana just in case, but there is also a chance the Twins wheel out rookie Max Kepler in center who was just called up from the minors.
Kepler has played 1B (76), CF (140), LF (107), and RF (75) in his minor league career over seven seasons. He hit .281 with 34 HRs, 256 RBI, and 41 SBs in 1600 at-bats. His K rate (15.7) was in a much more favorable range while showing the ability to take a walk (10.4) in the minors. His window may be short, but his overall skill set is higher than Santana. Early in his career, Max may put up stats in line with a Melky Cabrera type player (15 HRs and 15 SBs) with a full season of at-bats.
The writing was on the wall for me for Buxton, so I bench him. I bought Angel Pagan in the free agent pool with the hopes Pagan has one last run in him while adding a few steals. This week I have to keep an open mind with Mallex Smith, who was added to the Braves roster with Ender Inciarte placed on the DL with a hamstring issue. Smith stole 88 bases in 2014 between A and High A. In his career on the farm, Mallex hit .295 with 12 HRs, 108 RBI, and 226 SBs in 1775 at-bats.
If I’m willing to accept batting average risk, Drew Stubbs is one more injury away from possibly getting a better than expected opportunity for the Braves. Over 12 at-bats in 2016, Drew hit .250 with two runs, one HR, three RBI, and two SBs. Stubbs has five seasons in the majors with 10 or more HRs and four years with 20 or more steals. His lack of opportunity over the last couple of season is due a high K rate (30.4 in his career). His bat has the best edge against lefties (.277 in his career over 792 at-bats with 32 HRs, 91 RBI, and 37 SBs). Atlanta is a bad team so they may be forced to play Drew at some point of the season. He has high batting average risk for sure while offering a possible 15/30 skill set. I view him as a player to follow and I wouldn’t STUBB my nose at his potential value in the counting categories if given a chance to play every day.