Riser and Fallers: MLB Hitters
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, it is uncertain when the baseball season will officially begin. Fortunately, we were able to get at least a few weeks of Spring Training games to analyze and enjoy before the delay. Below, I look at six MLB Hitters whose values trended up, or down, during the abbreviated spring season.
MLB Risers and Fallers will be split into two separate articles, Pitchers and Hitters, and come to you monthly once the season begins.
The Dynasty Guru’s positional rankings are noted in parenthesis.
Danny Jansen, Catcher, TOR (C #15)
It is important to remember that prospect development is not linear.
Jansen was a hot name coming into 2019 due to the hitting prowess he displayed during his minor league career. However, it did not translate into his first major league season as he slashed .207/.279/.360 in 384 plate appearances. This performance prompted Jansen to work on his hitting routine in the offseason, specifically incorporating tee work with weighted balls, and it has provided major dividends already this spring. In 20 Spring Training plate appearances, Jansen is boasting a robust .529/.600/1.353 triple-slash to go along with four home runs, 13 RBI, and only one strikeout. Yes, it is only Spring Training, but when a player (especially one with pedigree) makes changes that lead to results, you take notice.
Jansen was originally slated to be the Blue Jays starting catcher in 2020, but in a 60/40 split with Reese McGuire. Due to the delay of the season, there has been no update on the catcher’s job in Toronto, but aside from his off the field issues, McGuire has had a poor spring and is not as good of a defender as Jansen is. As a result, Jansen should be in line for the bulk of the playing time behind the plate in Toronto and be given the chance to live up to those high expectations that were set for him a year ago.
Franmil Reyes, Outfielder, CLE (OF #47)
**Best Shape of his Life Alert**
After being traded to Cleveland from San Diego, Reyes appeared as the Designated Hitter in all but 3 games. In an effort to play more in the field, “La Mole” dropped 18 pounds over the offseason and early in spring training he also said that as a result of the weight loss, he “has never felt more powerful at the plate”. I am inclined to believe him.
In 29 plate appearances, Reyes clubbed five home runs and only struck out three times (10.3%) while posting a superb .444/.483/1.148 triple slash. Reyes hit 37 home runs last year and is in the 99th percentile for Hard Hit% and 98th percentile for Exit Velocity (per Baseball Savant) so the power is no surprise but the 10.3% K% provides hope that he can improve on the 28.5% K% he put up last year.
Between Right Field and Designated Hitter, Reyes should play just about every day for the Indians while hitting in the middle of the lineup, behind the likes of Lindor, Santana, and Ramirez. This should provide Reyes with plenty of RBI opportunities and has his arrow pointing firmly up.
Brandon Nimmo, Outfielder, NYM (OF #87)
2019 was sort of a lost year for Nimmo. He spent the better part of three months on the Injured List, only appeared in 69 games, and dropped down all sorts of rankings this offseason. But should he have?
Originally injuring his neck crashing into the wall on April 14th, he played for over a month with a bulging disc in his neck until finally hitting the Injured List on May 22nd. During that time frame, he slashed .190/.343/.274.
Nimmo returned on September 1st and in the final 26 games of the season he slashed .261/.430/.565, hitting five of his eight home runs for the season. His skills also backed up his performance in this span as he had an 88.7% Zone Contact%, 22.6% O-Swing%, 21.5% BB%, 91.2mph Exit Velocity, .371 xwOBA, and his estimated flyball distance shot up.
It’s a small sample, yes, but the stark contrast in his early-season verus late-season performance suggests that maybe the only thing wrong with Nimmo was that he played injured.
He followed up this late-season surge up with a hot spring, slashing .379/.455/.552 in 33 plate appearances. The injuries are a cause for concern with Nimmo but those are baked into his current value while it seems the full extent of his upside is not. Nimmo, of course, holds more value in OBP leagues, but his elite plate discipline will put him at the top of the Mets lineup where he will have plenty of opportunities to boost his stock again, in both OBP and AVG formats.
Aristides Aquino (OF #68)
The arrival of Shogo Akiyama muddied the waters for an outfield that already had Nick Senzel, Jesse Winker, Phillip Ervin, Travis Jankowski, and Aquino vying for playing time. Not to mention the two-way player, Michael Lorenzen, who occasionally moonlights as an outfielder and the Utilityman, Josh VanMeter. Then came the signing of Nick Castellanos to further complicate matters.
With Castellanos slotted into Right Field and the trio of Akiyama, Senzel, and Winker figuring to split time between Center and Left, Aquino was left battling Ervin for the 5th outfielder spot. Unfortunately for Aquino, he has looked more like his September self this spring, slashing .077/.200/.077 with 11 strikeouts in 30 plate appearances while Ervin is slashing .409/.480/.773 with two home runs in 25 plate appearances.
With the delay to the season, there has been no official news with Aquino but due to his performance and the Reds abundance of outfield depth, he seems likely to start the year in Triple-A, something that you would not have expected for a guy who hit 14 home runs in a month last season.
Michael Chavis, First Base/Second Base, BOS (1B #14)
Chavis came out of the gate hot in 2019 after his call up but faded fast down the stretch once pitchers figured him out. He was eventually put on the Injured List on August 12th for a shoulder sprain that ended his season. Chavis displayed plus power, hitting 18 home runs in 382 plate appearances but he also struck out 33.2% of the time.
Chavis’s spot on the major league team is not currently in question, but the role he will play is. Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke said Chavis will platoon with Mitch Moreland at first base, getting the at-bats against lefties. Interesting, considering that Chavis hit worse versus lefties last year, slashing .226/.261/.481 as compared to the .266/.347/.427 he slashed versus righties. It also not ideal for a guy who was pegged as a breakout candidate for 2020 to be stuck in a platoon, although he should see time at second base as well. Of course, with the delay to the season, nothing is set in stone yet but Chavis did not do much in the abbreviated spring season to earn a larger role, slashing .214/.290/.393 with 13 strikeouts in 31 plate appearances.
This is an immediate dent in Chavis’s value but it also makes you think about his long term spot on the Red Sox. With Devers having third base locked down, Downs seemingly the second baseman of the future, and Dalbec and Casas both high ranking prospects that project as first baseman, Chavis’s future with the Red Sox seems to be murky at best.
Giancarlo Stanton, Outfielder, NYY (OF #18)
It is not a question of talent with Stanton, he has that in spades. But talent doesn’t help you if you cannot stay on the field. After missing most of the 2019 season with various ailments (torn bicep, shoulder strain, sprained knee, and strained quad), Stanton came to Spring Training and picked up right where he left off, straining his calf during fielding drills.
Now, the good news is that it was only a Grade-1 strain and even if the season started on time, Stanton would have been ready to play. But now on the wrong side of 30, it will not get any easier for him to stay healthy. The spring calf strain was a reminder that Stanton is about as high risk/high reward as they come and needs to be treated as such.