Happy Monday everyone! It’s a pretty solid trio of catchers this week, and multiple Diamondbacks sightings. That may sound weird, but Arizona is quietly second in runs scored this year, trailing only the Reds. And that’s without guys like Ketel Marte and Christian Walker. More on that in a tick...
Kyle Higashioka, New York Yankees (15% rostered)
Higashioka has a recent vote of confidence from Yankees’ skipper Aaron Boone, who says that the catcher’s playing time will increase moving forward. This comes at the expense of Gary Sanchez, who has been a major disappointment this season (and in recent seasons). And whereas Sanchez is on a downward trajectory, at least with regard to batting average, Higashioka is on the ascent. He didn’t do much in limited action from 2017 to 2019, but in 2020 he batted .250 with four homers in only 16 games. So far in 2021 he’s slashing .265/.375/.706 with four homers (14 games), and the big difference is the 15.0% walk rate. And so far he’s been more patient at the plate, with the 43.4% swing rate a dropoff from previous years (career 51.7%). Even though it’s not showing up in his contact numbers (yet) the more passive approach seems to be paying dividends. I think he can be a decent second catcher. He’s already the No. 17 ranked catcher in Yahoo leagues, and his playing time is about to increase.
Daulton Varsho, Arizona Diamondbacks (14% rostered)
Varsho is the speed complement to the next guy’s power. Carson Kelly is having a resurgent season, so Varsho will hopefully see time all over the diamond and as a late-inning replacement for Arizona. We don’t need tons of opportunity for him to make an impact on the basepaths, not with a position as weak as catcher. And even though his sporadic at-bats in 2020 didn’t pay off, he still did some things well. Against right-handers he only batted .212, but with a 13.9% walk rate and a shiny .342 OBP. While Ketel Marte is still shelved, he’ll make sense in center field on occasion. He also saw time at left field, catcher, and DH in 2020. If that versatility gets him into the lineup enough for him to swipe even ONE base per week, can you imagine the fantasy goodness that will follow? Double-digit steals from a catcher? I’ll take that in 15-teamers.
Dom Nunez, Colorado Rockies (11% rostered)
Nunez has a ghastly .222 BA, but is up to five homers after popping one on Saturday night. He’s the No. 9 catcher in 5x5 leagues right now. You can use him in daily formats against right-handed pitchers, as he has four of his five homers and a .239/.340/.630 slash line in that split—and that performance is backed by a hefty 56.0% pull rate and 48.0% hard contact rate. His insane 50.0% HR/FB rate will drop, but we love guys who pull the ball and hit it hard. And this guy also has Coors as a backdrop? If you can cover for the batting average, he’s a solid target.
Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds (33% rostered)
Votto continues to slowly trend upward. He’s nearly 38 years old, but his batted ball quality is still excellent. A healthy 13.2% barrel rate, 92.6 MPH average exit velocity, and 113.6 MPH max exit velocity are all career marks if they hold up (obviously we can’t take the max exit velo mark away). A low 20.4% strikeout rate and 47.4% hard hit rate are also encouraging, as is the .290 xBA. He’s hitting a lot of line drives (25%) and putting the ball in the air a decent amount (35.5%), while also not making a lot of soft contact (7.9%). Frankly, I don’t see why his numbers continue to underwhelm so much, except that maybe that he’s trying to sell out for power too much these last two years—his pull rates of 46.2% (2020) and 46.1% (2021) are major outliers for a guy with a career 36% pull rate. Maybe 2020 can be explained by a paltry 92.6 MPH average exit velocity of fly balls and line drives? That mark ranked 83rd in the majors a year ago. This year, however, he’s up to 98.7 MPH, tied with Franmil Reyes for EIGHTH in the league. Votto slots in right after some guy named Shohei Ohtani.
This is a quality metric to rank highly in, too. Here are the names ahead of Ohtani and Votto: Giancarlo Stanton, Rafael Devers, Aaron Judge, Mike Trout, Nelson Cruz, and Bryce Harper. Call me simplistic, but a low strikeout rate, hitting the ball hard, not putting it on the ground too much...I’m still buying Votto as a solid corner infield bat. I think you should, too.
Christian Walker, Arizona Diamondbacks (43% rostered)
Walker was one of my primary targets during draft season. He’s been stashed in leagues where I’ve got the IL slots, and/or I’m picking him up in leagues where he’s sitting on waivers. In the past we’ve seen an ability to hit the ball hard, to run a little bit, and to dramatically improve his defense. I’m a fan of hard workers, and that’s how Walker is known in the desert. I’m not quitting him now because of the oblique injury. I’m getting back on board now before his bat wakes up! You don’t have to start him this week, but I would be making the add if he’s available.
Nico Hoerner, Chicago Cubs (33% rostered)
Though he qualifies at 2B/3B/SS at Yahoo, I like him best as a middle infield option. Playing time is still a bit up in the air perhaps, but not for too long if Hoerner keeps raking. There’s also yesterday’s injury to Ian Happ to factor in. Any sort of breathing room at all, and maybe Hoerner gets enough leash to make his case. He had a well-publicized torrid Spring Training, and since his call-up on April 22nd he already has FIVE multi-hit games. He’s slashing a robust .389/.500/.556 through 11 games. And while he doesn’t have light-tower power, he has already smacked six doubles since getting the call. He has enough ability to relegate David Bote and Eric Sogard to the bench, in my humblest of opinions. Better get on board now.
Josh Rojas, Arizona Diamondbacks (27% rostered)
Rojas, like Hoerner, had an epic Spring Training. He batted .347 with four home runs during Cactus League play, but started his season in a 2-for-31 slump. Since that time, he’s 14-for-37 (.378) with four homers and a stolen base to his name. Still just 26 years old, it’s possible the initial slump was Rojas just getting in his own way, pressing a little. If he’s truly over the hump and we’ll get anything resembling his recent stat line, that’s a great play given his eligibility on Yahoo (2B/SS/OF). While the Diamondbacks are still getting healthy, I think you can get some run out of Rojas and the aforementioned Varsho.
Raimel Tapia, Colorado Rockies (40% rostered)
He’s a top 24 outfielder in 5x5 leagues, and he’s not even 50% owned. Everyone gets so consumed with power numbers, they forget that batting average is a category, too. Tapia is now up to a shiny .320 batting average after an awesome weekend, when he went 4-for-6 (3 R, 1 RBI) on Saturday and 3-for-5 (1 R, 1 RBI, 2 SB) on Sunday. He’s leading off regularly for Colorado, where he’s been a plus in batting average since 2019. He’s showing positive trends, too. His strikeout rates since 2018 are on the decline: 25.9%, 22.4%, 18.4%, and 11.3%. His growth in swinging strike rate over that stretch supports the production, too: 15.4%, 14.6%, 8.3%, 7.3%. His contact rates are all continuing to improve, too. For reference, here are the Z-Contact rates over the same stretch: 73.0%, 81.2%, 89.9%, 91.3%. If you take 2020 zone contact rates as a frame of reference, it’s a fun exercise. Aaron Hicks (72.9% zone contact rate) ranked 98th among qualified hitters last year, while David Fletcher (92.0%) ranked first. He’s gone from an afterthought to ELITE, if this contact in the zone holds up. No, he won’t impress you with his hard hit rates, but he is a great batting average play leading off at Coors, and he’s got speed to burn. He’s in nearly all of my outfields in 2021, and I’m not trading him away. More stolen bases will come! He’s a clear hold and someone I’d be adding on the cheap if I could.
Alex Kirilloff, Minnesota Twins (47% rostered)
Better get to this hot add fast! By tomorrow he’ll be past my self-imposed 50% threshold. He clubbed four home runs last week, and appears to have supplanted Willians Astudillo at first base. The No. 2 prospect for the Twins could also see time in the corner outfield spots. Our own Mark Abell tabbed Kirilloff as his No. 19 overall MLB prospect this year, sandwiched in between Dylan Carlson and Jo Adell, for reference. Miguel Sano is slated to return soon, and that could be a bit of a roster crunch for Minnesota. But I like betting on talent to win out eventually, and at this juncture we know what Sano is. Light-tower power, sure—but strikeout rates that are absolute torture. I’d much rather take a shot on the youngster to keep raking enough to stick in the lineup.
Who are YOU adding this week?