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One of the toughest players for a fantasy writer, or, for that matter, an MLB team, to evaluate is a hitter coming over from the other side of the Pacific. As good as a player might look in Japan or Korea, it’s hard to translate his stats into realistic MLB projections. Ichiro was an easy one to predict, but what about Tadahito Iguchi? Or Chan-ho Park? Or Hideki Matsui? Or So Taguchi? It’s a real challenge for which there is no exact scientific method.
Korean players have made a significant impact in recent seasons, most notably Shin-soo Choo and Jung-ho Kang. The Twins dipped into the KBO this offseason, plucking Byung-ho Park to provide the right-handed pop the team so desperate sought. Park, too, was an interesting case. Does KBO power necessarily equal MLB power? As we said in the winter, no player, regardless of league, can post consecutive 50-homer seasons, as Park did, by accident, but what exactly would that raw power mean once he landed in Minnesota?
Through 93 plate appearances, Park’s power has translated quite well. He has seven homers, a .598 slugging percentage, and .329 isolated slugging. He’s ninth in ISO and the company he’s keeping in the top 10, including but not limited to the following, is quite heady: Anthony Rizzo (.381), Bryce Harper (.367), Nolan Arenado (.350), Giancarlo Stanton (.343), David Ortiz (.320). These are MVP candidates, and Park is mashing right alongside them.
Park’s peripherals suggest that he’s not going to slow down, certainly not to a meaningful degree. Let’s take a look at all of those at once, courtesy of Fangraphs.
If you asked a Park investor or Twins fan to dream up their ideal, realistic batted-ball rates for him in the season’s first five weeks, they would have come up with something that looks a whole lot like the above table. The one red flag is his 29% strikeout rate, but there’s even room for optimism there. First, he was projected for that sort of K-rate, and is still finding plenty of success with it. Second, he struck out 12 times in his first five games. He has fanned just 15 times in 19 games since. Take out those first five games, and his strikeout rate is 20.8%.
Despite placing himself among the game’s elite mashers through the first five weeks of the season, Park remains available in more than half of all fantasy leagues. That’s complete lunacy, considering it appears his KBO track record is bankable. If you’re in need of power and Park is available in your league, there’s no easier fix for your team than adding him immediately.
Michael Saunders, OF, Blue Jays
There’s no telling how long the good times will last with Saunders. The best answer to that question is probably as long as he’s healthy, and that’s always been the issue with the talented outfielder. Saunders has played just 87 games the last two seasons due to injury, nipping in the bud what could have been productive years. What we do know is that he’s healthy right now and hitting atop one of the most potent lineups in the league. Saunders is batting .290/.371/.516 with four homers, nine doubles, nine RBI and 15 runs scored in 105 plate appearances. In other words, he’s giving you positive contributions in four of the five traditional fantasy categories, and he’s doing so while leading off for a mighty Toronto offense. His ownership rate should spike this week.
Jonathan Villar, 3B/SS, Brewers
Conventional wisdom held that Villar was merely keeping Orlando Arcia’s eventual starting spot warm until the Brewers’ top prospect could make his way to the majors. Arcia is hitting well at Triple A Colorado Springs, but Villar will not go quietly into that good night. The 25-year-old is hitting .271/.381/.385 and, perhaps more importantly for his fantasy value, has already swiped eight bags. Villar has spent most of the season in the first or second slot in Milwaukee’s order, and it doesn’t appear he’ll be moving any time soon. The Brewers aren’t going anywhere, and Arcia will undoubtedly be up at some point this season. Still, Villar can, at the very least, offer value in the short term, and he could very well hold onto a starting job, even when Arcia is with the big league club.
Khris Davis, OF, A’s
Davis is on one of his familiar power binges, making him a great add for those looking to stream him or keep him around for a while alike. Davis has four homers in his last 10 games, three of which have come in the last week. You have to take the bad with the good, and that’s why Davis is such a risky player to keep around for the balance of the season. He’s going to hurt you in batting average and the best you can hope for in OBP is for him to be neutral. The pop, however, is undeniable, as is the streakiness. At the very least, he can be a weapon for you this week.
Kevin Gausman, SP, Orioles
Gausman’s third season as a regular member of the Baltimore rotation is shaping up to be his best. He has made three starts and pitched 19 innings, racking up a 1.42 ERA, 2.92 FIP, 0.68 WHIP and 14 strikeouts against three walks. The former top prospect isn’t posting the strikeout rate of a dominant fantasy pitcher, but he is doing mostly everything else you’d hope for in someone you start every time he takes the ball. Given his pedigree and performance this season, there’s good reason to believe this will be the year he’s relevant in fantasy leagues all the way through September.
Hector Neris, RP, Phillies
Neris is not, and likely will not, close games for the Phillies. Jeanmar Gomez has done an excellent job in that role, and Pete Mackanin isn’t likely to have a quick hook should the closer hit a rough patch. Neris, however, is doing his best Dellin Betances impression, and that makes him plenty valuable in all fantasy formats. In 18 1/3 innings, Neris has a 1.96 ERA, 0.82 WHIP and 27 strikeouts. The rates and strikeouts, as well as the degree to which the Phillies rely on him, can make him effectively a replacement for a starter. He’s perfectly capable of giving you three innings a week, which will more likely than not be scoreless and filled with whiffs. Neris should be owned across the board, even in leagues that don’t count holds.
Devon Travis, 2B, Blue Jays
Travis, who continues to work his way back to the majors after shoulder surgery, began a rehab assignment last week. He played the field for the first time last Thursday, making a couple of plays without incident in four innings. For the time being, John Gibbons is saying that Ryan Goins will remain in the everyday lineup. He is, however, hitting a paltry .149/.204/.218 in 93 plate appearances this season. Travis bullied his way into Toronto’s lineup last season with his bat, finishing the year with a .304/.361/.498 slash line. Goins is an unquestionably better defender, but the Blue Jays might not realistically be able to keep on running him out there if his batting average is less than his weight. Travis makes a great stash and is widely available in all fantasy formats.
A.J. Reed, 1B, Astros
The Tyler White experience may soon be coming to an end. After starting the season on a tear, White has eight hits in his last 65 at-bats. He never had Reed’s pedigree, and was really seen as a placeholder while Reed put the finishing touches on his minor league career early this season. Now, to be sure, Reed hasn’t exactly set the world on fire at Triple A Fresno. He’s hitting .234/.342/.479 with six homers and 24 strikeouts in 111 plate appearances. Still, he is hitting for power and drawing walks and entered the year as the No. 36 prospect in baseball, according to MLB.com. If White continues to struggle, we could see the reeling Astros promote Reed sometime in the coming weeks.
Nate Karns, SP, Mariners
There are legitimate reasons why you can find Karns on well more than his fair share of waiver wires. Despite a demonstrated ability to miss bats, he had a 4.09 FIP and 1.28 WHIP last year, and those numbers remain essentially unchanged this season (4.06 and 1.33, respectively). That’s not going to cut it in shallower leagues where owners really don’t need to lean on pitchers who are going to pitch to a 1.3 WHIP. The strikeouts, however, are entirely bankable, and make him an attractive option in all other formats. Karns has 38 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings this year after fanning 145 in 147 frames a season ago. Karns’s velocity is up this season, with his average four-seamer sitting at 93.7 mph, and his average sinker checking in at 94.5 mph, and he features a strong curve-changeup combo that makes him tough on righties and lefties. Long seen as a steaming option, it’s time the fantasy community views Karns as more than a spot starter.
Trevor May, RP, Twins
There’s no doubt that May is the best pitcher in the Minnesota bullpen. He has pitched 17 innings, striking out 26 batters while compiling a 2.12 ERA, 2.37 FIP and 1.18 WHIP. Kevin Jepsen has run into a few roadblocks as the team’s closer, and Glen Perkins is nowhere near a return to the mound. Sooner or later, the Twins are going to give May a chance to close games. Like Neris, he still has value while in a setup role. He hasn’t been quite as unhittable as the Philadelphia reliever, but he has a clearer path to a ninth-inning role. Save speculators should give him a shot immediately, while owners in deeper league can turn him into a starter replacement option.
Julio Urias, SP, Dodgers
Tyler Glasnow, SP, Pirates
Jameson Taillon, SP, Pirates
Lucas Giolito, SP, Nationals
Time for our weekly check on the best pitching prospects in baseball. We begin with Urias because he could be the closest to the majors. Dave Roberts said over the weekend that the team has had discussions about his promotion, though with one catch. They’re eyeing him as a reliever in the short term, partially to limit his workload with an eye potentially cast toward him joining the rotation later this season. He’s increasingly showing he has nothing left to prove in the minors. In 24 innings with Triple A Oklahoma City this year, he has a 1.88 ERA, 0.71 WHIP and 29 strikeouts against three walks. The Dodgers could clearly use him in some capacity, though he won’t have much fantasy value until and unless he is in their rotation.
Glasnow had another excellent outing over the weekend, striking out 11 batters in seven shutout innings in a win over Louisville (Reds). In 33 innings this year, he has a 1.64 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 48 strikeouts. His teammate Taillon has been just as good, posting a 1.19 ERA, 0.76 WHIP and 26 strikeouts with just three walks in 30 1/3 innings. Meanwhile at the big league level, Jeff Locke and Jon Niese continue to struggle. Both could be in danger of losing their jobs to the youngsters if current patterns hold. Glasnow figures to get the first shot at Pittsburgh’s rotation.
We’ve included Giolito in this space all season, but he’s not a recommended pickup at this time. He gave up six runs in just three innings in his last start, and walks continue to be a problem. He issued four free passes in that outing, and has now walked 14 batters in 18 2/3 innings. With Tanner Roark locking down the fifth spot in Washington’s rotation, there’s no real path to the majors for Giolito for the foreseeable future.