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Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Last year, I gave you five endgame options that might have—depending on your league structure—cost you a buck. Three of them panned out: Jose Altuve was about the only sight to behold on the Astros; Mike Minor cemented himself in the long-term plans of the Braves with a stellar season; and Mike Aviles flaunted his underrated power-speed combination for the cost of a McDouble. Two of them panned: John Mayberry was a tease that wouldn’t stop teasing, and Mat Gamel blew out his knee. I’ll go five for five this year.
We kicked things off yesterday with Cliff Pennington. And the second “future steal of your draft” is none other than Justin Smoak.
Remember when Justin Smoak was traded for Cliff Lee? Yes, this actually happened.
Remember that time Justin Smoak hit .240 in the majors? I sure don’t!
Remember Justin Smoak ‘s final line last year? Ryan Howard could do better with one Achilles.
If Justin Smoak is to you a running joke, I must ask you to reconsider. I understand his track record is far from shiny—three years has gone so fast, and he’s proven himself to be a 20-homer, batting average sucking black hole at one of the deepest positions in the fantasy sphere. But if you slept through last September, I’m finally waking you up. Justin Smoak’s a changed man; a hitting machine; an artist at the plate; and a bell-ringer in the spring.
Perhaps this is a foolhardy analysis, but my theory is that Justin Smoak learned patience in the fall of last year. His swing percentage outside the zone (23.4 percent) was more than three percent below his career average; he also struck out at roughly half (11.5 percent) his career rate in September. What might have caused this? Your guess is as good as mine…if your guess is “demotion.”
I don’t know what changed him in Tacoma—it doesn’t exactly scream “life-altering vacation”—but I know he was walking like a madman on the farm, and upon return, was indeed a more patient fellow at the plate. He smashed five homers in a month, hit like Willie Mays, and even decided to act like a plus fielder for a brief period.
Chalk him up for 20 or 25 home runs this year, and forget the crowd of powerful bats taking Safeco this year: Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales, Jesus Montero, and Young Justin can all reasonably fit on the field, smashing long balls, smashing away.
Posted by Nick Fleder at 3:05am
These players appear primed for a platoon role or should otherwise feature low ownership rates to start the season.
It's very dangerous to put much weight on one month of performance, but in this case, a strong September plus a very impressive spring training are encouraging. After struggling throughout the entire 2012 season, Smoak turned the corner in September by posting a 1.005 OPS for the month. He had 13 walks and 13 strikeouts. His .239 ISO was consistent with his minor league numbers. His BABIP was elevated at .357, but that's only one or two hits on the lucky side for such a small sample.
His spring numbers are silly, but he's been here before, so be ready to deploy your grains of salt. Through 23 plate appearances, he has nine hits, two home runs, two walks, and four strikeouts—good for a 1.335 OPS. Research suggests that .250 point increases in spring OPS can predict breakouts.
And now for the salt. Last season, his spring OPS was .966 over twice as many plate appearances, and that campaign went quite poorly.
He's also credited with implementing mechanical changes late last season—which makes the breakout narrative more compelling (if not more probable). He'll need to dodge competition from Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay for playing time, but so far he has the inside track on a regular role.
The good news is that projection systems uniformly believe he will hit more home runs in 2013. That jibes with his prospect billing as a patient, mid-quality power bat. Strangely, he cut his strikeout rate in 2012 while actually whiffing more frequently. He needs a strikeout rate around 20 percent to post an acceptable average.
It's easy to be skeptical about a power breakout from Belt. Mechanics play such a large role in generating power and loft. Belt has received criticism for swing mechanics that limit his ability to produce that power and loft. Batted ball data from 2012 supports that hypothesis (small sample alert). He posted an excellent 25.6 percent line drive rate, but his home run per fly ball rate was only 6.2 percent. Parsed to standard English, he hit the ball hard with frequency but not in a way that produces home runs.
Between first base and left field, he should play almost daily. For what it's worth, his spring OPS is currently 1.393.
He's the proverbial tool shed, with speed, power, and hand-eye coordination in spades. Inconsistent mechanics caused by minor injuries to both knees, a broken hamate bone, and other leg related problems have prevented those tools from playing in-game. A strong spring performance (1.280 OPS, six walks, five strikeouts in 36 plate appearances) and good health have him in line for a starting job.
The downside is clear but also isn't devastating. If major league pitchers are able to continue exploiting his mechanics, he'll hover around a league average bat. That would put him in a position where he's most useful against lesser quality right-handed pitchers.
That could be a boon for those who missed out on quality third baseman this season. A sampling of four projection systems on Fangraphs all expect an OPS between .734 and .738 (it's worth noting that ZiPS diverges from popular opinion with a .680 projection). If he manages to start most games, double digit power numbers and a handful of steals are likely.
Conspiring against him are some poor spring numbers—two singles in 27 plate appearances—and the Athletics' very deep roster of infielders. Continued struggles in spring training or any in-season slump will likely result in reduced and difficult-to-predict playing time.
His spring training has been slowed by a hand injury in February, but he seems to be performing well in a small sample —412/.565/.529 in 23 plate appearances with six walks and zero strikeouts. Projection systems expect league-average production with double digit contributions to home runs and stolen bases. For fantasy, he appears to be an excellent fourth outfielder or a valuable low cost center fielder.
Unlike with those above, there's little to worry about with Cain. His combination of athleticism and polished baseball skills should result in predictably acceptable performance.
His role in 2013 is uncertain. It appears he is a logical candidate to platoon with Nate McLouth. However, since Wilson Betemit appears to be the primary designated hitter, Reimold could earn a full time role split between the two positions.
If he can stay away from major injuries, he should be a useful plug-and-play option with upside for more value.
Posted by Brad Johnson at 2:43am
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