Every year, in every fantasy draft (or auction, or rookie draft, or whatever flavor of fantasy world you live in) there are players you dream of owning, the ones you plug into your lineup and admire, and those you brag about to anyone willing to listen (including you, dear reader). Mike Trout, Joey Votto, Miguel Cabrera, etc. You know who these guys are. Everyone knows who these guys are. They’re the obvious ones.
And then there are the rest of them. Players who seem constantly available, whose market value is seemingly just a hair under your league’s replacement level, but never manage to crack anyone’s roster for more than a week here or there. They’re so close, and yet not quite worth adding. Today I want to discuss two such players in my world, one veteran and one prospect, both of whom have been on my radar forever, and both of whom are worth owning today.
Will Venable | San Diego Padres | OF | ESPN: 48.9 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 19 percent; CBS: 33 percent
YTD: .257/.302/.477 in 350 plate appearances
ZiPS projection: .255/.304/.465 in 475 plate appearances
I like Will Venable. Or, at the very least, I want to like Will Venable. Maybe that’s more accurate. He brings things to the table that ought to make him a valuable fantasy asset. He can get on base, he can run, he can flash some power. Two factors have conspired to temper his value, though.
SURPRISE the first one is Petco Park. It’s been pretty well documented that Petco is not a hitter’s paradise (apologies if there should have been a spoiler alert there), so I won’t belabor the point beyond mentioning Venable’s home and road splits. Triple slash on the road: .273/.335/.452. Triple slash at home: .233/.305/.397. Given that both of these samples are more than 1,000 plate appearances, it’s generally fair to say Venable is pretty darn useful away from Petco, and pretty darn awful at his home field.
This issue is not helped in any way by the fact that Venable also has a pretty stark platoon split over the course of his 635 big league games. Triple slash against righties: .259/.325/.446. Triple slash against lefties: .229/.299/.328.
In essence we have a double platoon fantasy player. He’s best used on the road against right-handed pitching. That’s tough to navigate, even for the most dedicated owners, and it essentially squashes his value. It’s rather strange, then, to see Venable’s 2013 splits, which are complete opposites from his previous career marks. He’s hitting lefties better than righties (.843 OPS vs. .766) and he’s hitting better at home than he is on the road (.835 OPS vs. .728).
The easy answer is to say those numbers are obviously wrong. Small sample size, you know the drill, and while that may well be true, it’s also possible Venable has made progress hitting righties. It’s more unlikely that he’s all of the sudden learned how to hit in Petco Park, and the fact that he currently sports a 27 percent home run/fly ball rate there is not encouraging. But otherwise the biggest difference in his home and road numbers is the fact that he’s drawing five percent more walks at home. Maybe (just maybe) pitchers are being more careful with him as a result of the gains he’s made against right-handed pitching. And maybe (just maybe) he’s lifted his head above replacement level fantasy waters. At this stage of the game, it’s worth a shot.
Recommendation: Worth a flier in deeper mixed leagues and NL-only versions. It’s more likely that he hasn’t actually figured out how to hit right-handed pitching, and that he’s just had good luck at home, but you never know. And when you’re talking about a player who might be valuable in so many areas, you have to take that chance, especially while he’s hot.
L.J. Hoes | Houston Astros | OF | ESPN: 0.1 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 0 percent; CBS: 2 percent
YTD: .240/.255/.320 in 51 plate appearances
ZiPS projection: .252/.295/.337 in 165 plate appearances
In the crazy, mixed-up world that is the baseball prospect stock market, Hoes’ value (for me) has always been just shy of the baseline that makes me want to care about a guy.
There are things to like (his walk rate), things that are encouraging (his contact rate), and things that make you want to close the browser and never look at his profile again (his power).
First, the good. In each of his minor league stops over the past three seasons, Hoes’ walk rates have been near 10 percent, and oftentimes much higher. In 586 plate appearances split between Double A and Triple A last year with the Orioles, Hoes walked in 11.1 percent of his at-bats. In 430 plate appearances at Triple A this year for the Os, he walked in 13.5 percent of his at-bats. At the same time, he didn’t once post a strikeout rate as high as 15 percent. This is the start of a very good offensive profile. It’s the kind of stuff you like to see from young hitters. If he could add a little power …
And that’s where his profile goes off the rails.
Baseball America wrote this about Hoes in its preseason Prospect Handbook:
The organization’s best pure hitter, Hoes batted .300 in Triple-A as one of the International League’s youngest regulars. He has tremendous bat-to-ball skills and laces line drives to all fields. His plate discipline results in high on-base percentages, though the Orioles still are waiting for his power.
Well, they aren’t waiting any longer, because they shipped him to the Astros this year in exchange for Bud Norris.
His power has never developed, and it’s been below league average each of the past three years at each of his stops in the minor leagues, but it does not appear the Astros are interested in waiting for it to come around down on the farm. Hoes was slotted immediately into the Astros big league lineup, and he’s been getting regular playing time since coming over. At this stage, it seems unlikely the pop will ever arrive, but you could do worse than a guy playing on a (more or less) everyday basis who walks a bunch and makes consistent contact. The numbers aren’t there at the major league level right now, but I’m not worried about that just 13 games into his career as a ‘Stro.
Recommendation: Hoes should make contact, and he should walk. His power numbers will make you think he’s swinging a wet noodle, but he’s also going to play regularly down the stretch as the putrid Astros continue their admirable quest for their third #1 draft pick in a row. There’s value in that for fantasy leaguers.