Kris Bryant may be setting the world on fire, but the same can't be said for his teammate and fellow top prospect, Addison Russell. That contrast and more in this week's Hitting Report.
Every top prospect is not cut from the same cloth. It’s always exciting when a player with a big name first gets the call, and you can almost hear the rush of fantasy owners running to their respective waiver wires to get the new guy. It’s important to remember, however, that the Kris Bryants of the world are few and far between.
Bryant was ready-made for the majors. He was probably ready to be in The Show last summer, and he definitely could have broken spring training with the big league club. He was expected to hit right when he got the call, and he has done exactly that, batting .351 with a .478 on-base percentage and nine RBIs through his first 46 plate appearances.
Contrast that with his teammate Addison Russell. The shortstop (and short-term second baseman) was just as touted in the minors as Bryant. In fact, Baseball Prospectus ranked Russell the No. 2 prospect in baseball, putting Bryant at No. 5. Part of that does owe to Russell’s plus glove at the most important position on the field, but the fact remains that, for the next 10-to-12 years, many talent evaluators don’t see “Bryant over Russell” as a slam dunk. Yet Russell has struggled in his first six games with the Cubs, hitting just .160 and striking out 13 times against zero walks.
Russell is two years (almost to the day) younger than Bryant. The latter played in college, while the former went straight to the minors after being drafted by the Athletics out of high school. Bryant played more games at Triple A (77) than Russell played at Double A and Triple A combined (74). Were Bryant and Russell both rightly top-five prospects heading into the 2015 season? Yes. Were they equally ready for the majors? Absolutely not. Just because a player projects as a future star doesn’t mean he’s ready to be that guy when he first gets promoted to the majors. Keep that in mind when guys like Blake Swihart, Jon Gray and Corey Seager eventually say goodbye to the minors later this season.
Hitters of the Week
Adeiny Hechavarria, Marlins: .500 BA (12-for-24) 1 HR, 8 R, 10 RBIs, 1 SB, .520 OBP
Hechavarria was the No. 1 overall player in standard 5x5 mixed leagues last week, and the numbers above explain why. He had at least one hit in every game of the last seven days, is currently on a nine-game hitting streak and capped off the week with a strong two-game run against the Nationals in which he went 3-for-8 with a homer and six RBIs.
Hechavarria is now hitting .333/.355/.500 with a pair of homers, 15 runs and 16 RBIs on the season, and even though he’ll eventually cool from this torrid pace, the fact remains that he’s a useful player at a shallow position. His ownership rates have started to rise over the last few days, and given the league-wide struggles at shortstop and up the middle, I’d expect those to keep on climbing higher.
Mark Teixeira, Yankees: .333 BA (8-for-24), 5 HR, 6 R, 10 RBIs, .429 OBP
Typically, the Hitters of the Week have batting averages higher than .333, but it’s the number just a bit more to the right that got Teixeira into the group for last week. If you own him, you almost certainly won both your homer and RBI categories after he belted five bombs and drove in 10 runs. Teixeira is hitting a modest .242 this year, but he has eight homers, a .351 OBP and a .694 slugging percentage. He has also cut down on his strikeouts and improved his walk rate. In fact, he has drawn more free passes this year (12) than he has strikeouts (11). Even if that reverses, which it almost certainly will, Teixeira appears to be more comfortable at the plate than he ever was last season. On top of that, it seems his power is at least as close as it can be to its pre-wrist-injury form.
Jimmy Paredes, Orioles: .400 BA (10-for-25), 3 HR, 5 R, 9 RBIs, 1 SB, .423 OBP
Paredes rode a monster series against the Red Sox over the weekend to one of the best weeks of his major league career, going 8-for-15 with two homers, four runs and seven RBIs in the three-game set with Boston. Through 36 plate appearances, all of which came after he was activated from the disabled list on April 18, the 26-year-old is hitting .429/.444/.857. Right now, Buck Showalter has to have his bat in the lineup, and he has achieved that by playing him almost entirely as a DH. But if and when his bat starts to slip, Paredes could be relegated to the bench.
Fantasy owners should be wary of buying in on Paredes and counting on him to be a mainstay in their lineup all season as this could be nothing more than a hot stretch without any staying power. Take note: He struck out in more than one-fourth of his 420 plate appearances at Triple A last season.
Anthony Rizzo, Cubs: .455 BA (10-for-22), 1 HR, 7 R, 2 RBIs, 3 SB, .571 OBP
Rizzo continued being an on-base machine last week, drawing four more walks to run his season total to 12, and picked up 10 more hits. He’s now hitting .328 with a .481 OBP through 77 plate appearances on the season, and while his owners would like to see more production in the power categories (he has two homers and seven RBIs this season), they should take solace in the fact that he’s doing about as much as he can with the pitches he’s given to hit, and that Bryant’s presence should result in him seeing a few more hittable pitches going forward. On top of that, Rizzo now has five steals this year, matching his entire total from last season.
Hitters of the Weak
Jimmy Rollins, Dodgers: .091 BA (2-for-22), 0 HR, 1 R, 0 RBI, .167 OBP
Rollins had an absolute nightmare of a week, getting just two singles and two walks in 24 plate appearances. It has been more than a week since his last extra-base hit and more than two weeks since he drove in a run. That 2-for-5 with a homer and steal on Opening Day seems like ages ago: Rollins is now hitting .186/.275/.314 on the season. He has retained a modicum of fantasy value thanks to an 11.3% walk rate that has helped him steal three bases, but he’s also striking out in more than one-fifth of his plate appearances. The move to Dodger Stadium from Citizens Bank Park was always going to be a tough one for the 36-year-old, but few could have envisioned his first three weeks in Los Angeles going this poorly.
Shin-Soo Choo, Rangers: .000 BA (0-for-15), 0 HR, 1 R, 0 RBI, .318 OBP
Choo is mired in a terrible slump that has lasted all season. Hopefully for him and the Rangers, the nadir of that slump came while he was taking on 0-fer last week. Choo is just 5-for-48 on the season, with two extra-base hits and 13 strikeouts. Put another way: Hechevarria, Paredes and Rizzo all had at least twice as many hits in just the last week than Choo has collected all season.
After starting the year in the middle or at the top of the order, Choo has hit seventh in the last two games. He likely won’t move from that slot until he shows at least a little something at the plate, and he could eventually lose time to Josh Hamilton, who is officially a Ranger after the team completed a trade with the Angels on Monday.
Adam LaRoche, White Sox: .160 BA (4-for-25), 0 HR, 1 R, 1 RBI, .192 OBP
Last Monday, LaRoche went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, a sign of what was to come for him over the next six days. The following day, he went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. Two days later, he got one hit in six at-bats and whiffed four times. He's probably happy the White Sox won’t see the Indians or Royals for some time: In 11 combined games against the division foes, LaRoche is 6-for-45 with 18 strikeouts. In his six other games this season (interestingly enough, against division rivals Minnesota and Detroit), LaRoche is 7-for-24 with three home runs.
LaRoche occupies a profitable spot in a solid lineup, and he’ll love hitting at U.S. Cellular Field when the weather heats up. But he’s more fantasy corner infielder than fantasy first baseman at this stage of his career.
Buy, Sell or Hold
Buy: Marcell Ozuna, Marlins
Everyone understands the very basic market principles of buying low and selling high. It has become such a lazy piece of advice in fantasy circles that it gets thrown out without actually surveying the realities of each individual situation. Just because a player is struggling does not mean he is a buy low. No one is trying to sell Andrew McCutchen because of his slow start. If you’re going to buy a player low, his owner actually has to be willing to sell. That’s where we turn to Ozuna.
The 24-year-old entered this season as a popular pick to take another step forward after hitting .269/.317/.455 with 23 homers last year. He hasn’t quite taken off, especially in the power department, where he’s still looking for his first homer of the year. Other than that, however, he has started to turn it around at the plate. In his last eight games, he’s 9-for-25 with three walks, and he’s now hitting fourth in the Miami lineup. It’s realistic to expect the power to follow, especially since a player doesn’t just lose it in his age-24 season. The opportunity to buy him likely won’t exist for much longer.
Sell: Todd Frazier, Reds
Let’s look at the reverse from the paradox presented above. To sell a player high, you have to actually find a willing buyer. No one is giving you a king’s ransom for Lorenzo Cain or Devon Travis right now, let alone a lesser player like Kendrys Morales. If you’re going to sell a player high, he at least needs to be an attractive buy for someone else. Frazier satisfies both requirements.
Frazier already has five homers this season and looks well on his way to another year with at least 20 bombs. What made him so valuable last year, however, were his 20 steals and .273 batting average, to go along with those 29 homers. This season, he’s hitting just .254 and has swiped only one bag. The steals always seemed like a fluke, especially since he wasn’t going to surprise anyone by taking off this year. The batting average, too, was a touch high over 660 plate appearances for a career .257 hitter. While he is admittedly getting a bit unlucky this season (.226 batting average on balls in play), the mid-.250s feels lke the right spot for his batting average to settle.
Frazier would need to hit 30 homers to match his perceived value right now for the rest of the year, assuming that comes with just a .255 batting average and fewer than 10 steals. Now’s the time to cash in on his power.
Hold: Joey Votto, Reds
And now, here's the red-hot Red to resist selling at what seems like a high point. From 2008 through '13, Votto was one of baseball’s most productive hitters, with 30.5 Wins Above Replacement (FanGraphs version) and a minimum of 24 homers in the five seasons in which he played at least 130 games. It always seemed like Votto could hit for a bit more power and drive in a few more runs, but the reasons that he didn’t change his meticulous approach in search of more power were the same ones that made him so lethal. Then came '14, in which he missed 100 games due to leg injuries and hit just .255, though he did manage a .390 OBP.
Fast forward to this year: Votto is healthy and looking like the guy who dominated the majors for six years, slashing .328/.451/.657 with six homers, 15 RBIs, 12 runs and two steals. At age 31, it makes all the sense in the world that Votto would get back to his world-beating ways, so long as he was healthy. Believe in the Votto rebound. If someone makes an offer for him, make sure it properly reflects his value as a star.
Blake Swihart, C, Red Sox
Swihart entered this season with a real chance at earning a promotion to the majors before the year was out, but the Red Sox would still need to see more out of him at Triple A Pawtucket before pulling that trigger. Through two weeks, he appears dead set on forcing the organization’s hand. The 23-year-old is hitting .309/.345/.364 with 10 RBIs in his first 58 plate appearances, and while he has yet to homer this year, scouts rate his power at a 50 on the 20–80 scale, and he hit 12 jacks at Double A Portland last season.
All three of the major prospect ratings services tabbed Swihart as a top-20 prospect this season, with both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus the most sanguine, ranking him at No. 17. The Red Sox, meanwhile, are giving all their at-bats behind the plate to Ryan Hanigan and Sandy Leon. Nothing, other than the need for a bit more seasoning, is keeping Swihart in the minors.
While Swihart is athletic enough to play other spots on the field, he has taken well to his spot behind the plate, a positional change that didn’t happen until late in his high school career. Swihart should eventually break though to the majors at some point this summer, and he’ll be immediately relevant in fantasy leagues when he does so.
GIF of the Week
Hitters are fielders, too. Given my firm belief that great defensive plays in baseball are among the very best highlights in sports, as well as the fact that hitting GIFs don’t really accomplish what hitting videos do, we’re opening this section up to defensive plays. This is my bailiwick, all. Everyone has seen Alex Gordon’s great play from Sunday, where he went headlong into the stands to make a catch against the White Sox. What you might not have seen was another great play in left field, this one by Chris Denorfia.