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  • With a re-tooled swing, Jason Heyward has put his nightmarish 2016 season—at the plate, that is—behind him.
By Michael Beller
April 29, 2017

Guess who leads the Cubs in RBI this season. No cheating. Besides, it wouldn’t be a guess if you cheated.The Cubs have scored 113 runs this season, fourth most in the league, and they have mashers up and down the lineup. In other words, you have no shortage of players to choose from. I’ll wait.

Is your guess Anthony Rizzo? That makes plenty of sense, and while he does lead the team with five homers, he is second with 15 RBI. How about Kris Bryant? Last year’s NL MVP has picked things up considerably after a slow start, but he’s fourth on the Cubs with 13 RBI. Perhaps Addison Russell is your man. After all, he drove in 95 runs last year, plays every day, and hits in the middle of the order. Russell, however, is sitting on 14 RBI this season. All three are good guesses, but they’re all wrong.

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The Cubs leader in RBI with April winding to a close is the same guy who was one of the least valuable hitters in all of baseball last season. With a re-tooled swing, Jason Heyward has put his nightmarish 2016 season—at the plate, that is—behind him. He’s slashing .282/.341/.423 with three homers and a team-leading 16 RBI.

After a disastrous debut season with the Cubs in which he hit .230/.306/.325 and posted -0.3 offensive bWAR, it was clear that Heyward needed to make some changes. There have been plenty of articles written the work Heyward put in to alter his stance and swing, going back to spring training, so we won’t belabor the point here. In fact, the differences between 2016 and 2017 Heyward are so stark, that it doesn’t take much digging to find them.

Here’s what Heyward looks like this season, in both picture and GIF form. Pic 1

via GIPHY

And here’s the same of him from last season. Pic 2

via GIPHY

As I said, the changes are obvious. Let’s start with the stance, where most of the interesting stuff is happening. Heyward’s hands are much lower and farther away from his body this season. Last year, his hands were so high that the first movement he had to make with them was to bring them down. Even before he could get into his load, he had to drop his hands. Not only did that slow down his bat, but it made him susceptible to pitches up in the zone. This season, he doesn’t have to do that. He simply goes right into his load sequence as the pitcher begins his delivery.

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The swing itself is largely the same, with one noticeable difference, beyond the timing and path of his load. Last year, Heyward made his stride before the pitcher had thrown the pitch. This year, he’s making his stride as the pitcher delivers the ball to home plate. That’s a subtle difference in timing, and, admittedly, it doesn’t explain Heyward’s turnaround this season. The sweeping changes he made in his stance are far more responsible for Heyward rebounding in year two with the Cubs. Still, the stride is a demonstrable shift from last season, and there’s a good chance it’s helping his timing at the plate.

With changes that dramatic in both approach and performance, there’s reason to believe that Heyward can sustain this production all season. The fantasy community is hesitant to buy in, but it should be clear by now that he has made real, substantive alterations to his entire approach at the plate. This is the sort of tear down and rebuild that was necessary to believe in Heyward as a hitter again. It’s time to trust what we’ve seen from him this season.

David Peralta, OF, Diamondbacks

Speaking of outfielders who struggled last year but are bouncing back strong this season, you need to pay attention to what Peralta is doing in Arizona. It was just two seasons ago that he hit .312/.371/.522 with 17 homers and 26 doubles in 517 plate appearances. He was beset by injury all last season, limited to 48 games in which he was rarely fully healthy. He’s back at 100% this year and after a slow start to the season, has kicked it into high gear. Peralta is slashing .326/.379/.523 with three homers and six doubles in 95 trips to the plate. What’s more, Torey Lovullo has turned his players loose on the basepaths in his first season as Diamondbacks manager, and Peralta has responded with three steals. Get Peralta while you still can.

Michael Conforto, OF, Mets

Conforto has started eight of the Mets last nine games, going 8-for-26 with two homers and five walks in that span. Meanwhile, Juan Lagares is hitting .143/.217/.143, and Curtis Granderson is slashing .138/.186/.238. I think it’s safe to say that Conforto is going to find his name on the lineup card more often than not going forward. He’s likely already the second-best hitter on the Mets, and Yoenis Cespedes needs all the help he can get in this lineup. If Terry Collins doesn’t want to play Conforto mostly every day, are we even sure he wants to be the Mets manager? This should be a no-brainer for Collins and fantasy owners alike.

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Yulieski Gurriel, 1B/3B, Astros

Over his last 13 games starting on April 11, Gurriel is 22-for-48 with two homers, five doubles and just four strikeouts in 50 plate appearances. His season slash line is up to .347/.365/.514 after a slow opening week, and he has locked up the first base gig in Houston. It would be nice to see him climb up the batting order, but even if he’s stuck in the bottom-third, there’s enough production to go around in Houston for him to be a significant RBI threat. The dual-position eligibility makes him even more attractive, and his rest-of-season numbers should play at first or third in 12-team leagues.

Hernan Perez, 2B/3B/OF, Brewers

Just like he did a season ago, Perez has forced his way into the Brewers lineup. He has started eight of the team’s last 13 games, including all of the last four, getting time at third base, shortstop, right field and center field. He is five games away from qualifying as a shortstop in most standard fantasy formats, which would be a boon to his value. A recent hot streak has his slash line up to .296/.361/.630, with three homers, five doubles, two triples and two steals. The Brewers have turned into an exciting offensive team and are third in the majors in runs scored. Should Perez remain a fixture in the offense, he could be a five-category contributor with eligibility at four positions. 

Tyson Ross, SP, Rangers

Ross’s rehab from thoracic outlet surgery was derailed by back spasms, but it appears he has those in the rear-view mirror. He made throws at 200 feet earlier this week, which is likely the final step before he gets back on the mound. Barring any further setbacks, he should be ready to rejoin the Rangers rotation in mid-to-late May. Stashing a player on your DL always makes sense if you have the space to do so. It makes even more sense when the player you’re stashing struck out 9.4 batters per nine innings across 391 2/3 frames in 2014 and 2015 combined.

Hector Neris, RP, Phillies

Brad Brach, RP, Orioles

Kyle Barraclough, RP, Marlins

Adam Ottavino, RP, Rockies

Justin Wilson, RP, Tigers

Hector Rondon, Cubs

Will Harris, Astros

David Phelps, RP, Marlins

As always, we will keep a list at the bottom of our weekly waiver wire column of relief pitchers who are not closers, but can still be fantasy assets because of their strikeout rate, ERA and WHIP. The relievers are listed in order of fantasy value.

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