TDG 2023 RISERS AND FALLERS: OUTFIELD
Every year, we at the TDG office identify Risers and Fallers from our consensus rankings. But how did we get here!? And what’s real and what’s noise? Well, the Gurus are here to help. In each “Risers and Fallers” article, the Gurus will take you on an explanatory journey as to why four players have seen a fortunate rise, or an unfortunate turn toward their demise. Thanks for reading!
RISING: MICHAEL HARRIS II, ATLANTA BRAVES (AGE: 21, RANK: 12, PREVIOUS SEASON RANK: 69)
Harris took the fantasy world by storm this past season. He was so exciting to watch. Ending the year with 19 home runs and 20 stolen bases, Harris gave owners lots of production. For many, it may have been unexpected. In all honesty, I was surprised. Harris jumped 67 spots in OF rankings. He is above Luis Robert in our rankings and I completely agree with this spot.
There are a few weak areas that Harris needs to grow on in 2023. Harris strikes out more than you would like to see. He is in the bottom quarter of the league in strikeouts. Even worse, he is also in the bottom tenth of the league in walks. I know that fantasy owners want to see improvement in these two areas. Harris also was in the bottom tenth of the league in chase rate, so if he can improve that he can lower his strikeouts and add some walks. Lastly, Harris was narrowly outside the bottom quarter of the league in whiff percentage, meaning he swings and misses a lot. When Harris makes contact, he is elite. This is why he is the 12th-best outfielder. Some minor improvement each year could see even more jumps in the rankings for Harris. (Brett Cook)
FALLING: CODY BELLINGER, LOS ANGELES DODGERS (AGE: 27, RANK: 60, PREVIOUS SEASON RANK: 28)
Oh how the mighty fall. Last year Cody was in the top 30! Obviously we were too high on Bellinger as a consensus at TDG as he has now dropped 30 spots. This is also the second year in a row that Bellinger is being highlighted as a faller. Bellinger’s best days seem to be years behind him. The power is nowhere near where it was in 2019 as Bellinger hit less than 20 bombs in over 500 plate appearances.
When you look at his sabermetrics it shows you why he is worthy of such a fall. There is so much blue. His average exit velo has fallen mightily, along with his max velocity and hard hit percentage. This is what his strength was from 2017-2019, as Bellinger finished those seasons in the top 10 percent of the league during that stretch. With two straight seasons of poor power numbers, it makes you wonder if this is the new Bellinger. If this is the new Bellinger, I don’t want him on my team. (Brett Cook)
RISING: JAKE FRALEY, CIN (AGE: 28, RANK: 84, PREVIOUS SEASON RANK: 145)
Baseball is a collection of stories that are intertwined by players, locations, teams, and rivalries. We look to find answers in them. Did I just learn something or was it just a distraction? Is it noise or signal? Even within an organization rife with information and sets of eyes, we can find that what was understood as fundamentally true one day is simply not. We can also find that once we check our biases at the door we can find diamonds in the rough. In fantasy it is the same. What is really signal? Last year two outfielders showed they were just that. A ‘can’t miss’ prospect and a fourth outfielder were showing they deserved a much longer look.
Jake Fraley was drafted in 2016 by the Tampa Bay Rays and then traded to the Mariners before the 2019 season. He was a top 150 prospect overall and got some run in AA and AAA for them and performed quite well with 27 hrs and 22 SB. But he just disappeared in the noise as he disappeared from prospect lists and only got 7 games of playing time in the majors that year. Other names were dominating prospect lists league-wide and even internally as the M’s prospect system gained traction and talent. But 2021 showed something about his ability to manage the strike zone. His MLB walk rate that year was 17.6% An anomaly, for sure, but it was real growth and it was showing that he wasn’t being overwhelmed. Was another level there?
Well, 2022 saw him moved to the Cincinnati Reds at the beginning of the season and after a slow April he was moved down to AAA to get his feet underneath him. And in the warmth of August he was called up. And all he did was rake. His line after the all-star break was .295/.377/.526 with 11 home runs and three stolen bases.
And this leads to 2023. Jake is now a starting outfielder in a great offensive ballpark and a lineup around him getting younger and better. Internally here at TDG he went from OF 145 last year to OF 84. Because of his high walk rates and contact skills he is valuable in points leagues for sure. And with a few more steals he could be incredibly valuable in roto. I have him as a top 50 OF in my personal rankings with significant room to grow. He is projected to hit .235, but I would take the over on that. Throw in 30 homers and 10 stolen bases with a full season of playing and he should be your target today in off-season trades before people catch on. (Samuel Wirsching)
FALLING: JARRED KELENIC, SEA (AGE: 23, RANK: 50, PREVIOUS SEASON RANK: 12)
Jarred Kelenic was drafted in 2018 sixth overall by the New York Mets, and after a good showing his first year was traded to the Mariners in a blockbuster deal. 2019 showed him as a star rising as he hit well at three different levels. He hit for average and power. He stole bases. He flashed the leather. He had a cannon for an arm. He was delicious to the eyes and was destined to play alongside Julio Rodriguez in Seattle for the next 10-15 years. After a small cup of coffee in 2020, we were excited about the future. Then that terrible Bellevue Rotary zoom meeting happened where Kevin Mather admitted to playing mind/service time games with their top prospects. Instead of focusing on the baseball part of MLB playing time, it became about saving face. And 2021 was a tough one on Kelenic. He struggled all season to be consistent. Until September, during their (unsuccessful) playoff push, he was lost at the plate. However: in September he hit better, rising to the occasion, hitting .242/.321/.537 with seven homers and three stolen bases in 95 at-bats. There was hope!
2022 saw him start the year in the majors. With one problem: he couldn’t hit splitters. Or four-seamers. Or curve balls. So he was sent down again. Where he had success after spending some time clearing his head. And there was video of him changing his stance. And and and…
In the end, he was called back up to the majors where he never looked right. Which is tough to admit as a Mariner fan, and a huge Kelenic fan. Remember this? He was/is so much fun to root for. And I hope I am wrong. But I don’t think so. He fell in our OF rankings from #12 in preseason 2022 to #50 this 2023 off-season. And I think he falls further. He might never be a full-time major leaguer. If I had him in anything under 20 teams, I would look to move him. (Samuel Wirsching)