After a week where we discussed some disappointing players, let’s flip the script and focus on players off to productive starts.
Whose unexpectedly fast start are you most optimistic will continue?
Eric Samulski (Rotoballer, @SamskiNYC): Josh Lowe, and I’m so pissed that I don’t have enough shares. I loved the tools last year but was hesitant to jump back in because of “the Rays” and how they tend to platoon hitters or send them down. Yet, this is a different Josh Lowe. He’s cut his strikeout rate in half by being far more aggressive in the zone. His zone contact is way up, as is his pull rate and fly ball rate. It’s clear that he’s not being overly patient but is hunting his pitch early in counts, and it’s working. Given his plus raw tools, I think this new approach means his breakout is legit.
Carlos Marcano (Triple Play Fantasy, @camarcano): Jack Suwinski. He will strike out tons, like, a lot. But he will also knock the socks out of almost every ball he hits so will hit a ton of homers, too. And he is stealing bases! I touted him a lot in the draft season, but I didn’t get enough shares and I’m now regretting it. Like, a lot.
Matt Williams (The Game Day, @MattWi77iams): Perhaps not entirely unexpected, but Josh Lowe. The Rays outfielder was on the radar for a while and gathered a ton of helium upon his initial promotion to the big leagues. However, his post-hype resurgence has all of the makings of a true breakout with power and speed.
Rick Graham (Pitcher List, @IAmRickGraham): James Outman. He may not have been one of the Dodgers most hyped prospects in recent history, but all he’s done is hit at every minor league level and has continued to do so at the MLB level early on. The raw power, plus speed and plate discipline should keep him in lineups even if we see his average dip.
Chris Blessing (BaseballHQ, @C_Blessing): Luis Arraez. I put a six hit (2-8 Scouting Scale) on him as a prospect. I probably undervalued his spray approach. Through 20 games, he has a .444 BA and a .506 OBP. With BA dropping cumulatively to a modern day low last year, what if this dude flirts with .400 the entire season. Without the shift and the way he’s able to serve the ball, this could actually happen.
Ariel Cohen (CBS Sports, @ATCNY): Nico Hoerner. Perhaps the stolen base pace won’t hold, and the batting average will fall back below .300, but everything else checks out. He’s essentially a better version of Steven Kwan but isn’t regarded as highly. I spoke with Sara Sanchez about this on my podcast a few months ago – Hoerner’s lower projected stats are due to poor play because of injury in the minors, lost time and a lost COVID year. If he had a regular minors career, he’d be touted more. The lost years make him undervalued, and this fast start is mostly for real, with some standard regression.
D.J. Short (NBC Sports, @djshort): Can we give Nolan Gorman some love? Maybe the strikeouts will always be there, but he’s been more selective so far this season and the contact rate is up sharply. He’s hitting the ball very hard as well — 91st percentile or better in average exit velocity, hard-hit percentage, and barrel percentage — so his xBA (.313) was actually equal to his actual batting average at the start of the week.
Patrick Davitt (BaseballHQ, @patrickdavitt): Jorge Mateo. He’s just been a different hitter so far this year, especially compared to last (2023/2022): Ave EV (I know, I know, but…) +3.5, 90.3/86.8; Max EV +1.1, 112.4/111.3; wOBA +.154, .435/.281; xwOBA +0.96, .368/.272; xwOBACON +..059, .407/.348; HH% +10.5, 43.2/32.7. I could go on for hours, and by now you’re probably worried I might, so to the cappers: K% -10.9%, 16.7/27.6; bb% +3.2% 8.3/5.1. He’s also changed his approach to emphasize putting the ball on the ground to the left side, by what looks like deliberately topping the ball (GB% up to 57% from 39%, and pulling it (46% from 35%), and then just beating everything out with 99th percentile speed. Worth noting that his Barrel%, Barrels/PD and Solid% are all also up substantially. Anyway, to results: He stole 25 bases last year while OBPing .267; how many might he nab if he keeps the OBP anywhere near its current .414? Or even splitting the diff at a .340 OBP? He has 3 HR and 8 bags in 60 PA, so pro-rate to 600 PA and, well, you do the math! Honourable mention to Matt Chapman, who is hitting a ton to right-centre with authority.
Grey Albright (RazzBall, @razzball): If we’re talking about buying high there’s only one guy I know who always looks like he just left a dispensary, and that’s Cody Bellinger. He’s cut his strikeouts, driving the ball better and looks like he’s found his car, after watching Dude Where’s My Car on repeat for three years straight.
Brian Walton (CreativeSports2, @B_Walton): James Outman for me. Plenty of RBI opportunities with the Dodgers and he’s cashing in. He won’t maintain an 1.100 OPS for long but were talking about a guy who was a reserve round pick in NL LABR and a $1 selection in NL Tout. His BABIP is .372, but it was in that range at every level of the minors since A-ball. At 25 years old, Outman seemed old for a prospect but is delivering. And I think he will continue.
Bret Sayre (Baseball Prospectus, @BretSayreBP): The supposed playing time crunch was supposed to hinder Nolan Gorman’s value. So was the fact that he was merely average last year in his first St Louis experience. Yet there’s a reason he was so highly touted as a prospect, and I don’t think he comes out of the middle of that lineup all season. His Savant page looks like a teenager desperately in need of some Clearasil. He’s cut his strikeout rate. He’s bumped up his walk rate. He’s not chasing outside the zone. He’s demonstrating repeatable skills that he hinted at his entire minor league career. Sit back and enjoy the show.
Scott Engel (The Game Day, @ScottETheKing): Johan Oviedo. I think Oscar Marin is doing what seems to be a fine job as a pitching coach so far, he is even getting better results out of Vince Velasquez. .
Dr. Roto (DrRoto.com, @DrRoto): I’m all in on Nico Hoerner. He’s currently hitting .355 with a .400 OBP which is impossible to sustain but I expect he’ll finish the year hitting above .300 with 25+ steals and double-digit HR. Not bad for a guy drafted in Rounds 14-15.
Jeff Zimmerman (Fangraphs, @jeffwzimmerman): Look through those who are breaking out, I don’t see anyone I really believe in. Anyone can have a hot month. The one player who sticks out is J.D. Davis who has always hit for power but was and hopefully will continue to get regular at bats.
Anthony Aniano (Rotoballer, @AAnianoFantasy): Josh Lowe. I missed him on draft day but I have done my best to make up for it with aggressive FAAB bids. A former 1st round pick who is hitting .333 with a .375 OBP and a wRC+ of 188. He’s showing power and speed with 4 HRs and 4 SBs. What I am confident about is the low K% combined with his ability to get on base bodes well for sustained success. Too many bad gave up on him last season after his difficult promotion to the big leagues. That was obviously a mistake.
Doug Dennis (BaseballHQ, @dougdennis41): I don’t really think this way. Certainly, players are going to have good and bad months, but I’m not going to chase that. I’m typically looking at the players underperforming their projections, not overperforming them. The minute I think the projection should change, more often than not, the player regresses. The only place that is not the case in April (for me) is when playing time or role drastically changes. So maybe Jose Alvarado or maybe anticipating with Aroldis Chapman? If I need saves?
Mike Gianella (Baseball Prospectus, @MikeGianella): Cody Bellinger. He looks healthy for the first time in years and is hitting the ball with authority again. He’s also not striking out nearly as much as he did in Los Angeles. He won’t match what he did in 2019 but he’s easily going to finish within the Top 100 overall. I hate agreeing with Albright, though.
Mike Podhorzer (Fangraphs, @MikePodhorzer): Nolan Gorman has done everything you want to see from a breakout performer. He has cut his strikeout rate, driven by the lowest SwStk% of his career, all the while upping his walk rate and pushing it back into double digits for just the third time in his professional career. He has hit a ton of line drives, sporting an insane 31.4% mark, though that has also resulted in the lowest FB% of his career. He has also increased his maxEV already compared to last year and his Barrel% ranks tied for 18th among qualified hitters.
Andy Behrens (Yahoo Fantasy Sports, @andybehrens): James Outman probably isn’t gonna maintain that .700-plus slugging percentage over the long haul, but he was a terror last season, both in the high minors and in his MLB cameo. It isn’t hard to imagine a .290/.370/.570 season with 30 bombs and double-digit steals. Not bad for a waiver scoop or late reserve pick.
Jason Collette (Rotowire, @jasoncollette): The Yandy Man can! All these years holding our breath waiting for him to find a positive launch angle look like they have finally paid off. He has always been able to hit the ball very hard, but not very high. His 95.8 MPH avg exit velocity this season is 4th-best in the league and he is top ten in hard hit percentage and all that comes with a 12.6-degree launch angle. He is currently in the top 20th percentile in every StatCast ranking (save speed) and top 10th percentile in half of those. All this coming from a guy that was still going way too late in drafts and auctions for his upside that appears to be here.
Frank Stampfl (SportsGrid, RotoExperts, @Roto_Frank): Nico Hoerner received some love during draft season but I don’t think anybody saw this coming. I love the combination of how much contact he makes, hitting line drives, the speed and leading off for a potentially underrated Cubs lineup. I’m still skeptical of the power but it wouldn’t if he competes for the NL batting title this season with 30+ steals and 100 runs scored.
Sky Dombroske (Fantistics Insider Baseball, @SkyDombroske): Wander Franco. With his contact ability and typical line-drive heavy approach, hitting .300 isn’t all that much of a surprise. The launch angle and exit velo increases are happening a bit earlier than I thought, but no reason to doubt them that I can see. The added SB attempts are a nice bonus too. He looks the part of an MVP candidate.
Sara Sanchez (bleedcubbieblue.com, @BCB_Sara): Lots of names here I definitely agree with who I am excited about and drafted in a bunch of leagues (Nico Hoerner, Wander Franco, Yandy Diaz) but I’ll add another player I’m really mad I didn’t invest in, Jarred Kelenic. It was not that long ago he was a top prospect and the flaws in his swing that were holding him back his first two seasons seems to be fixed. There were already some good signs in those years (a 64th percentile barrel rate in 2021, a 114 max exit velocity in 2022) but it would be fair if people were skeptical of the 2023 breakout. These numbers are fire: max exit velo 86th percentile, average exit velo 88th percentile, barrel rate 90th percentile, and a hard-hit rate at the 97th percentile. All he’s done so far is .342/.395/.726 slash line with 11 R, 14 RBI and 7HR in a great surrounding lineup context.
Michael A. Stein (Fantasy Judgment, @FantasyJudgment): This is my opportunity to wax poetic and sing the praises of Jarred Kelenic. I have been a huge fan of his ever since he was drafted by the Mets. I was crestfallen when he was traded to Seattle because I just felt he was destined for stardom. It took longer than expected, but it appears that Kelenic has figured things out and is living up to the lofty expectations that were placed upon him. He has demonstrated great power along with plate discipline and speed. I see no reason why he can’t finish with an elite season and a Top 10 finish in the AL MVP voting. He is a star on the rise and the opportunity to buy low on him has passed.
Scott Chu (Pitcher List, @ifthechufits): Rolling charts, which I still think aren’t utilized enough, show us that Adolis Garcia is consistently laying off outside pitches and avoiding whiffs better than he ever has before. His 15-game rates are better than he’s shown at any point in recent years, and I’d be willing to bet that a lot of managers think they’d be selling high on Garcia right now. This is a player who was a top-five outfielder in 2022, and with an improved approach, he can make a run at another top-five finish.
Joe Sheehan (Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, @joe_sheehan): Max Muncy, who looks more and more like a guy who just came back too soon last year. The fantasy numbers are all supported by fundamentals — barrel rate, hard-hit rate, expected stats — and he’s walking 20% of the time.
Dylan White (Baseball America, @the__arrival): I think before the season “we” were worried about how the seasons of Shane McClanahan and Spencer Strider ended. Their dream seasons portended future dream seasons except…maybe they started to break down at the end?? Well, to me, those questions seem to be answered. The two starters are studs and should have been drafted that way (by me).
Greg Jewett (The Athletic, @gjewett9): Breaking from their arbitration depression approach, the Twins have deployed Jhoan Duran as their primary save share, dare I label him, their closer through the first month of the season. He’s answered the call, converting five of six save chances while recording seven games-finished of his 10 appearances with a 13:3 K:BB (29.4 K-BB percentage) and 19.3 swinging strike rate. For hitters, Randy Arozarena fell to me in a Main Event draft, and with some trepidation, I took him over a pitcher, but he may be on the precipice of a career year. Breaking from a plan can be nerve-wracking, but so far, taking him has been far from a mistake.
Zach Steinhorn (Steinhorn’s Universe on Substack, @zachsteinhorn): Brandon Lowe is looking like a draft-day steal. His injury-marred 2022 campaign resulted in many fantasy managers overlooking him this spring but he has so far recaptured his 2021 form, providing elite-level power production at the second-base position. Staying healthy has been his biggest obstacle but the injury history could be a good thing if you’re thinking about acquiring him in a trade as the asking price will likely be reasonable.
Michael Govier (FTN Fantasy, @mjgovier): Joey Gallo will continue his consistent ways this year. I have NEVER been a Joey Gallo guy. I lucked into him for my Main Event draft with my second to last pick. From there after some poking around I realized that he was much more comfortable up in Minnesota. The mental aspect of this game is the most difficult part for us to know because it’s so private even for players in such a public eye. Plus that right field at Target Field is an excellent match for his skills. Add in the shift going bye-bye and you have a player on a rock-solid team who will hit 30 home runs this year and hit over .220. This is not a fluke. He has always had power and his 1B eligibility is a nice added touch. If you need power and someone in your league is ready to bail on his solid start (7 dongs this month which includes an IL stint), I advise bringing him aboard.
Erik Halterman (Rotowire, @erik_halterman): Of the names not yet mentioned, Justin Steele deserves a shoutout. As a late bloomer who didn’t enter an MLB rotation until age 26 and who doesn’t pop in any one area, he was something of an afterthought in draft season, but his underlying numbers since the start of last season are promising. His 9.6 BB% is a tad high, but it should work fine alongside an above-average K% (24.7) and GB% (51.9%). Those marks make Steele look like a slightly better Patrick Sandoval (22.8 K%, 9.6 BB%, 48.1 GB% since 2022).