Nearly five years ago, Mikie Mahtook was selected in the first-round (31st overall) by the Tampa Bay Rays. He was the second of ten picks that the Rays held among the top-60 that year, and was generally regarded as a safe pick. Baseball Prospectus ranked Mahtook 17th in the draft class, and Baseball America placed him 21st. Despite these high rankings, however, there was a common concern that he may be something of a tweener - that is, a player that profiles best offensively as a center-fielder, but may end up in a corner due to his defensive tools.
Mahtook's greatest asset as a prospect was his lack of a glaring weakness. Most scouts, particularly heading into the draft, saw him as possessing five average or better tools, with slightly above-average power and above-average speed leading the pack. His overall defense was a bit light for center, though, and the Rays seemed to acknowledge this almost immediately, as Mahtook has played the majority of his defensive innings in the minors in right. However, that plan may have changed course, as he has split his time in the Majors between all three outfield positions.
Why do I bring up Mahtook's defense in a fantasy baseball post, you ask? After all, the vast majority of leagues care only about the OF designation. It's simple, really - the more versatile Mahtook is defensively, the greater opportunity he will have in the Rays outfield. Gold Glove center-fielder Kevin Kiermaier is out for eight to ten weeks with a broken hand, and left-fielder Desmond Jennings has been downright awful this year, batting .168/.237/.269 in 131 PA (and he hit just .268/.324/.340 in an injury-shortened 2015). The Rays value versatility as much as any other team in the Majors, and Mahtook's ability to fill-in at all three outfield spots is a tremendous asset in both the short and long-term.
Mahtook received his first call to the show for the Rays stretch run last season, and made the most of it by hitting .295/.351/.619 with 9 HR and 4 SB (168 wRC+) in just 115 PA - numbers that are far better than anything that he had done in the minors by a significant margin. The 26-year-old is a career .272/.338/.411 hitter in 2180 PA in the minors, averaging just under 10 HR and 24 SB per 650 PA.
So what changed? The answer is ... not much, really. Mahtook walked less than ever in his MLB debut, and struck out at a career-worse rate (27.0%). His .338 BABIP was reasonable, given his batted ball profile - but his 28.1% HR/FB would have placed him behind only Nelson Cruz and Chris Davis in 2015. He also swung and missed at a well below-average rate (13.7% compared to a league-average of 9.9%), a trend that has existed since his professional debut back in 2011.
Does that mean that his 2015 debut was a fluke? I am quite confident in saying that the power output was entirely a small sample size blip, based upon both his professional resume and his swing, which does not offer a great deal of loft or leverage. However, that is not to say that he isn't a potentially useful player, capable of hitting .260 or better with double-digit home runs and steals on a full-season basis. As of this writing, Mahtook is batting .048/.091/.048 in 22 PA with the Rays this year - and that is just as fluke-y as 2015. In deep leagues, he could be worth a play for the time being - and I do think that the Rays will afford him the opportunity to prove himself.