I’m realizing that a lot of players have improving stock, especially this early in the season. So my self-imposed rule for the “Three Up” section is players under 60% owned. That’s an arbitrary number that allows me to work the lightly owned A.J. Minter in for this week. Also, you don’t need me to chat about Clayton Kershaw...right? Or Yoan Moncada? Elvis Andrus, Eduardo Rodriguez, Max Fried, and Joc Pederson are some others over the arbitrary threshold that have seen their stock rise recently.
RP A.J. Minter, Braves (57% owned)
Arodys Vizcaino has undergone season-ending shoulder surgery, so the Braves are in need of a closer. Minter has been bad this season, but he landed on the 10-day IL due to shoulder soreness that he’d experienced since the start of spring training. He’s still shaking off the rust, but long-term he’s the answer for Atlanta...assuming they don’t announce Craig Kimbrel. Opportunity is the key with closers, and right now Minter’s path to saves is clear.
1B/3B Hunter Dozier, Royals (35% owned)
Dozier is a former first-round pick, and the 27-year-old might be the next late blooming Kansas City Royal. Last year was marred by too many strikeouts (28.1%) and too few walks (6.2%). Those numbers were backed by an unsightly 35.6% chase rate and a large 13.0% swinging strike rate. However, in 2019’s SMALL SAMPLE his swinging strike rate is down to 7.8%, which is far better than the league average of 11.0%. His chase rate is down to 23.1%, which is far better than a year ago and far better than the MLB average of 29.2%. Consequently, his walk rate is in double-digits (11.9%) and his strikeout rate is down (17.9%). That’s good news, as Dozier hit the ball hard last year (44.9%) and has carried that into this year (43.5%). Improved plate discipline to go along with good hard contact and more fly balls (45.7% this year) is a good recipe. Yes, the home digs are lame, but this is a guy who appears to be making strides. I’m cutting Ender Inciarte for Dozier in one league where I need the corner infield help.
OF Kevin Kiermaier (34% owned)
Kiermaier is part of why I’m okay letting Inciarte walk in one tilt. I know I’m assuming more injury risk, but I am also assuming better production (more power). Both guys are generally batting seventh for their respective teams, but Ozzie Albies hit leadoff for Atlanta against a right-handed pitcher last night, with Inciarte batting eighth. The growth of Dansby Swanson and the return of Brian McCann point towards this maybe being a regular thing—Inciarte hitting ahead of the pitcher. Yuck. Meanwhile, Kiermaier is routinely batting sixth or seventh for the upstart Rays, and offering more at the plate. He has a huge 47.7% hard contact rate so far this year, which is by far a career-high. His swing rate of 50.6% is right in line with last year’s 50.0% mark, but this year he’s chasing less (28%) and swinging in the zone more. In fact, Kiermaier’s Z-Swing% has risen every year since 2016: 66.1%, 69.3%, 73.0%, 77.1%. The current MLB average is 66.7% in 2019, for reference. Kiermaier’s contact is in line with league average marks, but if his recognition in the zone sticks we could have this guy finally approach his 20/20 ceiling.
It’s too easy to just say Nick Pivetta, right? As in literally sent down? I’ll see myself out now. In all seriousness, I hope a brief stint for Pivetta gets his mind right. I’d hold him in 15-team leagues.
OF Charlie Blackmon, Rockies (98% owned)
Yours truly wasn’t “in” on Blackmon this year, mainly due to Andrew Benintendi being cheaper. That, and Beni’s trajectory is clearly upward, while Blackmon’s is downward. The speed has eroded, as these are Blackmon’s marks by year (in feet per second) since his epic 2015 season: 27.9, 27.7, 28.2, 27.6, and a lowly 26.8 ft/sec so far in 2019. This year is the first year Blackmon has been below the MLB average of 27 ft/sec, and Blackmon is nearly 33 years old. Most were probably fine with the eroding steals given the home backdrop of Coors and the three-year surge in power, but in the early going Blackmon is more than a little red flaggy. Sure, the .267 BABIP seems unlucky, but Blackmon is also in the bottom 7% of the league in exit velocity, at 83.5 mph. His XBA is only .233, which isn’t far off from his real life .219 average. His hard hit rate and walk rate are both at four-year lows. I’m not taking an April victory lap, but I am saying early returns don’t have me second-guessing passing over Blackmon. I’m not suggesting you sell, but if you’re concerned I think you have some right to be. Blackmon’s improved strikeout rate of 17.7% is not backed by his 10.2% swinging strike rate, which is a career-high. His chase rate of 34.8% is below-average and the highest it has been since 2014. His 79.7% contact rate is still four percent above the league average, but for Blackmon it represents the worst mark of his career. You better hope Coors is kind to him in 2019...that’s all I’m saying.
1B Jesus Aguilar, Brewers (88% owned)
Aguilar is another guy who just isn’t hitting the ball as hard as he did a year ago. He’s 28 years old, so on the surface you’d think he has more wiggle room than a guy like Blackmon. However, he’s on a Brewers roster that is loaded with talent, with the likes of Ryan Braun, Eric Thames, and Travis Shaw able to man first base in the event that Aguilar’s stumbles continue. Keston Hiura could get the call at some point and take the keystone away from Mike Moustakas, Shaw could move to first base, “Moose” could return to the hot corner, and Aguilar could find himself on the bench enough to really cut into his production. And even if none of that comes to pass, Eric Thames can siphon away enough at-bats on his own if Aguilar continues to underwhelm. Backers of Aguilar will point to his .195 BABIP and his robust 13.1% walk rate, as well as his minuscule (for a slugger) 16.4% strikeout rate. However, Aguilar’s hard contact rate is down and his soft contact rate is up. According to Statcast, Aguilar’s 29.3% hard hit rate is in the 21st percentile, while his exit velocity, xwOBA, and xSLG all rank in the bottom half of the league (below the 50th percentile). With a batted ball profile that looks pretty similar to last year’s, the missing piece is how hard Aguilar is hitting the ball. Until I see that improve, I’m skeptical. In a 12-team league, it’s possible you could find a better option.
SP Joey Lucchesi, Padres (74% owned)
Nathan Eovaldi didn’t allow a homer against the Yankees yesterday, which was super-encouraging. Therefore, it’s Lucchesi we get to pick on. Lucchesi does have 21 strikeouts across his 21 1⁄3 innings, but those come with a ghastly 5.06 ERA and 1.31 WHIP. He was mostly good in his last turn against the Rockies, but a couple of homers got to him. Before that, he was undone by the lowly San Francisco Giants (seven runs in four innings). I’m still holding him for now, but another poor turn against the Reds on April 21st is going to have me on the edge of my seat. That said, if you cut him, it’s not like any waiver wire is drowning with quality replacements. Pitching on the whole just seems horrendous in 2019...does anyone else feel that way?!?