TDG Roundtable: Which player has surprised you the most this season?
Every week on Fridays, our writers here at The Dynasty Guru will be bringing you some quick hit musings about a particular topic so you, the reader, can get a blast of info from a bunch of different writers with some passionate opinions. This week, our staff discusses players that have surprised us the most.
Gabriel Moreno, C, Toronto Blue Jays
Seriously Shelly? The player that has surprised you the most is a catcher? Yeah…it is. Just hear me out! The Blue Jays have one of the deeper systems in the minor league and their Double-A team is a must-see every night on MiLB.TV. The New Hampshire Fisher Cats have Austin Martin, Jordan Groshans, Simeon Woods-Richards, and Gabriel Moreno. Moreno signed with the Blue Jays as an International Free Agent in 2016 actually as a shortstop. They were impressed with his athleticism but decided to move him behind the dish because of his glove work. The last time we saw Moreno was in High-A where he slashed .280/.337/.485 with a 7% walk rate and 11% strikeout rate. He even threw in seven stolen bases on top of that excellent slash line. He spent time at the Alternate Site during the summer of 2020 and veteran players and coaches were impressed with his bat and glove. Moreno has always been able to get the barrel of the bat on the ball and he has a great feel for the strike zone. He began the season in Double-A and has hit the ground running. In ten games, he is slashing .415/.489/.634 with two home runs and a cool 210 wRC+. His 40 Swing% is below the league average but his 79 Contact% is above-average, which seems to indicate his feel for the strike zone. He is also showcasing his great defense behind the dish and calls a great game. Sure, we all love Alejandro Kirk but I think Gabriel Moreno is the Blue Jays catcher of the future.
Adolis García, OF, Texas Rangers
28-year-old, Cuban-born, Adolis García is straight owning the 2021 season so far. The 13th overall player on the Razzball player rater as of today, García has shown no signs of slowing down. A quick backstory: García first left Cuba for Japan, then after a lackluster time there wound up in the St. Louis Cardinals system, appearing in 17 forgettable plate appearances during the 2018 season. Designated for assignment by the Cardinals after the 2019 season, his contract was purchased by the Rangers that December. Seven plate appearances in 2020 did not tell us anything about how 2021 would go. So the Rangers went with Leody Tavares in centerfield to start the 2021 season. Injuries allowed García to play both left and right field in early April, until Tavares’ ineptitude forced the Rangers to go with García as the team’s starting centerfielder, and number four or five-hitter every day and all he has done in mash.
García has hit eleven home runs, five steals, and a slash line of .288/.331/.568 thus far. He weirdly has only two doubles, and while his K% is above average at 28% and he has been caught stealing three times, nothing shows that the Rangers will not continue to let him take his hacks and attempts stealing bases with regularity. His StatCast percentile rankings are beautiful, as García is in the top 93% in exit velocity, 96% hard hit%, barrel % of 94%, and xSLG of 85%. He is hitting the ball wicked hard and squaring up like no one’s business. His heat map thus far shows a hitter who is crushing pitches in the middle to low area of the strike zone, and even low- and inside pitches. Pitches up are his biggest issue thus far, so look for pitchers to target him up as the season progresses. García’s improved as the season has continued as well, and he is hitting better against left-handed pitchers (6 HRs, .298 avg) than right-handed ones thus far (5 HRs, .280 avg). As long as he gets some (any) protection, he will try to prevent the Rangers from getting no-hit again this season. García went undrafted in most leagues but may very well be the add that wins them. In Dynasty leagues, I am holding unless a top-20 player is being discussed, but if you are loaded at Outfield, you could explore options.
Jacob DeGrom, SP, New York Mets
A former two-time Cy Young award winner, who was probably a favorite for a third until the final week or two of the 2020 season. Coming into 2021, Jacob DeGrom was easily one of the top two or three starting pitchers in baseball if not the best, and while not many projected him to take a step back, few expected him to improve even further. DeGrom currently has a 0.68 ERA, and while you could feel that will inevitably rise, his stuff is still top of the charts, and he does have one season of a sub 2.00 ERA in his career, so it’s entirely possible it doesn’t rise all that much. DeGrom is also striking out batters at an astonishing rate of 46.1%, and became the first pitcher in baseball history to strike out fifty batters in his first four starts of the year. Before DeGrom went on the IL May 11th, I had a serious conversation with a buddy of mine, wondering if DeGrom could break the modern day single season strikeout record of 383 by Nolan Ryan in 1973. To be fair, he was on pace to break it at the time, being one strikeout ahead of Ryan through his first four starts. It’s actually gotten to the point people who were saying DeGrom is already hall of fame worthy entering the 2021 season, have their hair blown back and are just amazed with what they’re seeing. So why am I surprised? Being one of the people who thought Degrom was already HOF worthy, his stuff has actually gotten better in his age 32 season. If he can come back healthy and maintain the stuff he’s shown, he’ll be bumped up from HOF worthy to one of the best pitchers I’ve ever seen throw the ball, and could still very well put up one of the best single season performances of all time.
Yuli Gurriel, 1B, Houston Astros
After defecting from Cuba and only playing in a partial season in 2016, Yuli Gurriel offered steady production for the Astros in 2017 and 2018 in his first two full seasons, at ages 33 and 34. A batting average just short of .300 in each season, with decent power, and a strikeout rate that always hovered in the top 5% of the league (and still does). What happened in 2019 sure seemed like an outlier, where Yuli slashed .298/.343/.541 with 40 doubles, 31 HRs, 104 RBI, and a 132 wRC+. When Gurriel fell back to earth in 2020, it almost made you think he knew what pitches were coming the previous year! In 57 games, he dropped to a .232 BA / .274 OBP with only 6 HR and 22 RBI over 57 games, good for a 79 wRC+ (or 21% below league average). While quite a few Astros, such as Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, turned things around in the playoffs, Gurriel was not one of them going 5-for-44, none of which were extra-base hits, and contributed only one RBI in 13 games.
Entering his age 37 season, Gurriel seemed like nothing more than a late round flier at corner infield to me this season. Instead, as we’re past the corner-turn of the season Gurriel has surpassed most of the rates of his outstanding 2019 season. Entering play on 5/21, he has walked at a 11.5% rate thus far, which would blow his previous high (6.0%) out of the water. With more walks than strikeouts through 41 games played, Gurriel is contributing a .408 OBP, good for 7th in all of baseball for qualified hitters. Not bad for a hitter who historically was considered to be a downgrade in OBP-leagues (5.2% career walk rate entering the season). His 36 RBI trails only Trey Mancini in all of baseball. His 177 wRC+ trails only Mike Trout, Vlad Guerrero Jr, and Nick Castellanos in all of baseball. All of this, while keeping his strikeout rate (10.9%) exactly in line with his career rate. With a 74th percentile Exit Velo and Hard Hit Rate, Gurriel only seems to be mildly lucky so far with his .338 batting average outperforming a .289 xBA. Gurriel may see more breaking stuff as the year goes on, having hit only .237 compared to .374 against the fastball and .364 on changeups, but right now you’re getting a steal in redraft and dynasty with the 14th best overall player in fantasy to-date, per Razzball’s Player Rater.
Ramón Laureano, OF, Oakland Athletics
I love watching Ramón Laureano play baseball. The dude can hit, he can run, he can throw a guy out at first from deep center…he can literally do it all. And of course, I severely underestimated him this draft season!
Heading into Friday’s games, his overall stat line looks pretty darn good. I definitely have a few teams where I’d welcome his .237/.310/.487 slash, 10 homers, 45 runs and RBI, and 8 steals. Beautiful stuff. I don’t know if it was his ADP or that he just didn’t fit into my draft strategies before 2021, but I missed out. Checking out his Fangraphs page, I noticed he’s swinging at more pitches out of the zone (bad), but also taking more hacks on pitches in the zone (good), compared to 2020. With that increased swing aggression has come a similar contact rate (great), and above all else a much-improved Barrel/BBE % to almost 14% (Super!). Ah well, there’s always next year. Hopefully.
Note: I did see something else from Laureano’s game logs that is a bit surprising. He stole his 8 bases in his first 9 games of the season and hasn’t successfully stolen another since. Is this a sign of things (or lack thereof) to come? I don’t know yet. Who could possibly know the answer to that question? But it’s definitely piqued my interest, despite the fact that it’s very late here and I’m overworked. In any case, it may be a small nugget to keep in mind if you were thinking of trading for him in the coming months.
Have a good weekend!