I had this dream scenario all mapped out in my mind. I would write a preseason article singing the fantasy praises of Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Desmond Jennings. I'd recommend drafting him high in keeper leagues, touting his five-tool ability, and the power/speed potential that would turn him into a fantasy baseball star in 2012. He would then make good on my fanboy ravings, busting out with a .280/.370/.460-type year, with more than 20 bombs and upwards of 50 stolen bases. I would be heralded as a genius. Throngs of fantasy baseball fans would shower me with flowers and praises. Olivia Munn, infatuated by my unmatched fantasy baseball intellect, would knock on my door, profess her undying love, and savage me mercilessly right then and there.
As it turned out, not so much. I'm going to have to find some other way to impress the Goddess of Geekdom apparently, as my preseason prediction for Jennings has pretty much gone right down the toilet. Jennings missed about three weeks with a knee injury, but when he's been on the field, he hasn't been anything like the hitter I thought he'd turn into. Coming into Thursday, his line was a subpar .239/.309/.364, with seven homers and nineteen steals.
He has a long swing, longer than the typical speedy outfielder, at least, so it wouldn't be surprising if he never puts up great batting averages. That's fine, but we were expecting above average walks and power, and we're not getting it, dang it. Jennings's walk rate has sunk, and he's not seeing as many pitches per plate appearance. Since he's not a slappy hitter, that means that he's been swinging wildly at some not-so-great pitches. Not shockingly, he's hitting a lot of infield pop ups (his rate has spiked from 11% in 2011 to 20% this year). The free swinging hasn't resulted in an increase in power, either, so he's been pretty bad all around.
Jennings will still help you in the stolen base category, but we're looking for more, here. All told, he's been in a funk since the start of September 2011, and the waning plate discipline and dipping home run power are cause for concern. When he hits home runs, he does it with a sweet swing that lulls owners into thinking he's going to rediscover the pop that resulted in 12 homers in half a season at AAA last year. He's still young enough to do just that, so don't give up on him yet. At the very least, he could easily develop into a 15 home run/30 steal guy, which is definitely valuable.
After the jump, some other hitters mired in the dreaded sophomore slump.
Ok, so it was clear early on in the season that Hosmer's struggles were just the result of some really crappy luck. After all, even when he was hitting barely above the Mendoza Line in June, all of his rate stats (like walk rate, strikeout rate, line drive rate, etc.) had all actually improved a bit. It was only a matter of time before those doink hits started falling in and you had yourself a budding star.
Well, that was then. Now it's August and his rate stats have caught up with the overall crappiness of his batting average. First to leave the party was Hosmer's power. He's only hit nine homers this season, and he's slugging an awful .357. His strikeout rate has also gone the wrong way, though he's still drawing walks at a decent rate. Hosmer's struggles have gotten so bad that there was even some speculation that he'd be demoted to AAA for a tune up. Hey, at least he's still stealing some bases, so there's that.
No one, obviously, is going to give up on this guy yet. He's just 22, and sometimes it takes even the best prospects a little time to get going (remember how bad Alex Gordon was when he first came up?). Hosmer's keeper league owners may just have to call 2012 a mulligan and wait until next year. He's going to be awesome, so just be patient, and for heaven's sake, don't sell low.
Another of the top 2011 prospects stinking it up, Ackley is hitting a miserable .227/.306/.332 and he has his fantasy owner clawing at their eyes. This is a far cry from the player who was supposed to hit .330 with a ton of walks and doubles power. It's easy to look at the struggles of Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero and conclude that no young hitter can develop in spacious Safeco Field. That's possible, I guess, but Ackley was ripping the ball in his first two months as a major leaguer last season. Besides, power isn't his game, and Safeco is mainly a killer of right-handed power. He's another player that merits some patience, especially since his BABIP is a below-average .272.
Thames was touted as a sleeper pick before the season, hitting in a power-heavy Toronto lineup and coming off of a promising 2011 season where he hit twelve home runs in 95 games. There was some hope that he'd provide 20-plus home runs at a bargain price, given a full season's worth of playing time. Instead, he developed a sudden fetish for hitting ground balls and got his ass sent to the minors. He hit well in AAA Las Vegas, but everybody hits well there, and the Blue Jays unloaded him on the Mariners. Now he's going to try to resurrect his career in the aforementioned hitter's dead zone known as Safeco Field. Good luck with that.
Belt had a two-week stretch in June where he looked like he was finally figuring out major league pitching. He smashed home runs in three consecutive games (including one in support of Matt Cain's perfecto), and fantasy owners had visions of Belt replicating his insane minor league numbers. That proved to be merely a pipe dream, as Belt almost immediately cooled off again and started striking out and looking generally lost at the plate, an all too familiar sight in his young major league career. The excuses are diminishing for Belt, as he has pretty much been given every opportunity to take over the first base job this year and has simply not come through. You're talking to one of his most ardent supporters here, but even I'm starting to lose faith.