The Toronto Blue Jays climbed out of last place in the American League East over the weekend, which is a noteworthy sentence on two levels.
First, it’s still fairly astounding that the Jays were in the cellar at all. Among our predictions prior to this season, just one Hardball Times staffer had the Jays anywhere other than first or second place —Chris Jaffe, who pegged Toronto for dead last. Of the other 20 picks, 11 writers had the team as the AL East preseason favorite, and the remaining nine labeled it for second place. We here at THT like to think we know a thing or two about baseball, so to see a complete, system-wide whiff is pretty wild.
It’s striking, as well, because the Jays weren’t in last by a small margin. Nick Fleder wrote an AL East division update last week, which included this graph, depicting just how improbable the Jays’ current situation is. On June 7th, the team was eight games out of second-to-last place, let alone playoff position. The team was 10.5 games off the division pace and 8.5 games behind in the Wild Card race. Today, those numbers are six and four, respectively.
From a fantasy perspective, there’s a lesson in this: it’s never too late. Never, ever. No matter what place you’re in now, no matter how bad things seem, you never really know. A few hot streaks, a few good pickups, and you’re right back in it. So keep on keeping on, you guys.
Last week, I covered a number of my calls from the early parts of this season, and if my statistics are to be believed, you should disregard one out of every three recommendations I make. Good luck figuring out which ones ahead of time.
Today, let’s look at three players in the beginning stages of their major league careers, each of whom is widely available in fantasy leagues.
Jordy Mercer | Pittsburgh Pirates | SS | ESPN: 2.4 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 2 percent; CBS: 6 percent
YTD: .297/.345/.495 in 122 plate appearances
ZiPS projection: .263/.312/.420 in 357 PA
What a season for Pittsburgh thus far. The team has very famously not had a winning season since 1992, but with the second-best record in baseball, the club seems well on its way to put that streak to bed this year. Despite all of the good, one position that’s lacking for the Bucs is shortstop.
As good as Clint Barmes is defensively, he’s been mostly clueless at bat. His .201/.234/.268 triple slash is so putrid that he’s actually a negative-WAR player right now at -0.1. So it is with this in mind that fantasy owners should regard Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer.
Mercer has been playing every day lately for Pittsburgh, moving around the lineup from second to eighth to ninth. When he’s been in the lineup, he’s performed well. His BABIP is a tad high at .354, and his home run rate of 14.3 percent probably will drop, as well. His major league ISO of .198 right now is well ahead of the rate he posted in the upper minors from 2010 to 2013. According to Minor League Central, his ISO averaged .163 from 2011-2013 at Double-A and Triple-A.
Still, his triple slash during that time of .273/.339/.436 is not bad, and that is particularly true for such a shallow position. There’s value here in deep leagues. The Pirates have no incentive to keep dangling Barmes out at shortstop, since his bat is now less than passable, and Mercer’s defense has been strong, as well. Given consistent playing time on a very good team and possibly hitting as high as second in the lineup, Mercer might be worth something.
Recommendation: Current levels of production are unlikely to continue, but this player is available everywhere and can provide modest power and walks from a very thin position.
Marc Krauss | Houston Astros | OF | ESPN: 0.0 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 0.0 percent; CBS: 1 percent
YTD: .000/.000/.000 in 2 PA
ZiPS projection: .209/.290/.351
Call-up season is well upon us, and although many prospects will come up with much fanfare (see: Puig, Yasiel; Myers, Wil), they aren’t the only players embarking on this next, most difficult phase of their professional baseball career.
One such player who got the call this week is Marc Krauss, an outfielder/first baseman/designated hitter brought to the big leagues by the Astros over the weekend. Krauss was a second-round pick by the Diamondbacks back in 2009 and often has been compared to Adam Dunn, in both flattering and unflattering ways.
Baseball Prospectus had this to say about Krauss in its 2011 annual:
Krauss has a frame similar to that of Adam Dunn, though he doesn’t possess as much raw power. Then again, who does possess Dunn’s raw power? In further Big Donkey-like fashion, the lefty swinger is a poor fielder with a subpar arm, but he hits well enough to play an outfield corner. He should start the season at Double-A, and will be looking to build on a monster second half of last season.
Krauss didn’t exactly build on that monster-like season, however, and over this past offseason was dealt to the Astros along with Bobby Borchering for Chris Johnson (who then was dealt to the Braves in the Justin Upton deal as a part of the Diamondbacks’ wild, wild offseason.)
So Krauss made his major league debut with very little fanfare and without a starting job, but there are things I like in his profile—namely, power and patience. It’s not Adam Dunn power, nor is it Adam Dunn patience, but since 2011, Krauss has posted a .260/.374/.469 triple-slash line with a .209 ISO.
His defense never has drawn rave reviews, and many observiers are concerned about the way his body will go from here, but there’s something else in his profile that draws me to Krauss on a more long-term basis.
I’ve made no secret of my appreciation for Seth Smith in this column, as a guy who (against right-handed pitchers) can be as useful as many outfielders with much higher name value. Against righties over his career, Smith has a .370 wOBA, which is just a shade under 2013 Ryan Braun. It matters that you cannot use him at all against lefties, but he has value that most managers don’t care to see.
I could see the same being the case with Krauss down the line. His minor league numbers are good, even considering that he’s never been young for his league and played in some hitter-friendly environments, but his minor league numbers against right-handed pitcher are even better. His triple slash from 2011-2013 against righties is a robust .268/.386/.493.
Since his suspect defense probably will keep a team from committing a full-time job to him, and because he’s going to be a low-average guy, I could see him falling into a career path similar to Smith. If fantasy owners can manage his playing time, there’s meat on the bone.
Recommendation: Krauss is not worth adding yet but is worth watching. He’s a player who could have value if he falls into the right situation. Down the line, he could make a fine fantasy platoon partner.
Zoilo Almonte | New York Yankees | OF | ESPN: 4.3 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 4 percent; CBS: 15 percent
YTD: .625/.700/1.000 in 10 PA
ZiPS projection: .253/.303.435 in 230 PA
Speaking of callups, Mr. Puig, and the hype machine …
I’m including Almonte here mostly to caution against over-exuberance when it comes to players making the outrageously difficult jump from Triple-A to Major League Baseball.
Almonte made his major league debut last Friday, and it’s gone well. I won’t dispute that. An OPS of 1.700 is an OPS of 1.700, regardless of context, except … context matters. And when I saw Jeff Lippman at CBS casually mention that some are referring to Almonte as “the Yasiel Puig of the East,” I absolutely had to investigate. All I could find was this article on Bleacher Report.
And really, comparing the two is just plain silly. Puig is a 6-foot-3, 245-pound mountain of a man and a player for which very little data existed before last year. In his brief time stateside, Puig hit the stitches off the ball.
Almonte is nothing like that guy. He’s a 6-foot, 165-pound switch hitter for whom we have a very extensive minor league track record that tells us he is not nearly the power hitting Puig is. Over his last three seasons, at Double-A and Triple-A, Almonte’s ISO is .180.
His walk rate is pretty respectable, though. During that same time frame, Almonte walked in 8.2 percent of his plate appearances. He’s also shown good contact and could be an average hitter at the game’s highest level. But he’s not going to have Puig-like power, and his playing time is far from a sure thing going forward, so expectations must be tempered.
Recommendation: This is not Yasiel Puig. I don’t even think he’s Marc Krauss. Don’t lose yourself in call-up hype this year. Sometimes it’s warranted, and sometimes you’re reading about Zoilo Almonte.