TDG 2023 PLAYERS TO AVOID: OUTFIELD
In today’s dynasty landscape, many dynasty owners’ cornerstone players can be found on the grass, such as Juan Soto; Ronald Acuna, Jr.; Bryce Harper; and Mike Trout. Each season, we find players who bring value to our squads out of nowhere. Other times, there are players who do not provide managers value based on their price of acquisition or heightened risk. Below please find three players that I predict will be in the latter category, and will be avoiding going into 2023.
Teoscar Hernández, Toronto Blue Jays (AGE: 30, RANK: 18)
Teoscar Hernández is on a run of three straight seasons with great offensive production. In 2022, Hernández played 131 games, hit 25 homers, had 148 R+RBI, and stole six bases, altogether resulting in a 129 wRC+. He took all but 56 ABs between third and sixth in the batting order for the Toronto Blue Jays. If not for a putrid month of May, after he had returned from a nearly three-week visit to the Injured List, Hernández’s season would have been even better and he may have earned an All-Star nod.
Yet, he is still an Avoid in my book. We cannot ignore that he was traded from Toronto to Seattle, which results in a downgrade to Hernández’s home park. In overall park factors, he goes from Rogers Stadium, which plays about neutral, to T-Mobile Park, which was the least hitter-friendly park in baseball. When it comes to doubles, Rogers Stadium was the fifth friendliest park and T-Mobile Park was the worst park for doubles. As for home runs, he goes from a park that saw 8% more homers to a park that saw 3% less homers. Thankfully, Hernández still smacks the ball—he was in the 96th percentile for Average Exit Velocity, 94th for Max Exit Velocity, and 98th for HardHit%. But when we are talking about a potential OF1 for your dynasty team whose value is almost entirely power-based, this change of scenery likely makes a difference.
In addition to a park downgrade for Hernández, he also will experience a lineup downgrade. He was part of a Blue Jays lineup that was Top 5 in runs, hits, doubles, RBI, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS. They were also the seventh-best home-run-hitting team. On the other hand, the Mariners are outside the Top 10 for all of those stats, but for home runs, where they were tied for ninth-best in the league. With a worse lineup around him, there will be fewer opportunities to knock runs in and be knocked in. Note that Hernandez was much better with men on base in 2022 and he will likely have fewer men on base in front of him in Seattle.
All in all, it is unlikely that the change of scenery is going to result in Teoscar having a bad season. But will he be able to repeat his elite production? For dynasty owners, the price of drafting or acquiring Hernández is very high after an elite run in Toronto. And for me, that price may not reflect the short-term future of Hernández in a Mariners uniform, especially since Hernández does not offer much in terms of speed. If I have to pay the full price based on Hernandez’s time in Toronto, then it is a hard pass for me on the 30-year-old slugger.
Oscar Gonzalez, Cleveland Indians (AGE: 25, RANK: 52)
To some, Oscar Gonzalez was a relative unknown going into 2022. Despite showing extreme power in 2021 (slugging .601 in Double-A and .503 in Triple-A), Gonzalez was left off Cleveland’s 40-man roster going into last season. After a good showing at Spring Training, he began the year at Double-A and was quickly promoted to Triple-A where his offense was slightly above average (106 wRC+). Gonzalez was promoted to Cleveland on May 26 and over the rest of the season, he slugged 11 home runs and put up a strong 122 wRC+.
At 25 years old on Opening Day 2023, Gonzalez’s youth may have dynasty owners dreaming big. However, based on his career numbers so far (both minors and majors), the ceiling is limited because of his aggressive approach at the plate. In 2022, he walked in just 3.9% of his ABs. Over his minor league career, his walk rates are not much better. Over the history of the game, if you look at all the players with a 5% walk rate or lower and a minimum of 300 career ABs, Gonzalez’s 2022 wRC+ of 122 ranks 15 out of 1597. There are two statistics that really stand out to me. First, the average number of games played for a player with a walk rate that low is 438 games, or 2.7 seasons. Second, the average wRC+ for players with a walk rate that low is 49 wRC+. In other words, if Gonzalez does not become more selective at the plate, history is against him.
Note that outside of approach, there are positives for Gonzalez, which is why he is ranked 50th after being unranked last year. At 25 years old, he has yet to hit his physical prime. He can hit the ball quite hard (91st percentile in Max Exit Velocity), he does not have a ton of swing and miss (19.6% K-rate), and he has good speed (88th percentile Sprint Speed). With speed, strong exit velocities, and a decent strikeout rate, Gonzalez can be one of those players who consistently runs a high BABIP, however, it is unlikely that his BABIP from 2022 (.345) is sustainable (searching the past 10 seasons, only 26 players have run a BABIP higher than .345 for more than 300 ABs).
If his hits are not falling, Gonzalez will likely hurt your squad’s OBP without taking more walks. And if he is not getting hits, then he may lose playing time, since the Guardians are competing in the AL Central. Cleveland’s minor league system has players who may eat into Gonzalez’s ABs, such as George Valera and Jhonkensy Noel, and even Brayan Rocchio and Gabriel Arias (if they move Amed Rosario to the outfield). So while Gonzalez’s combination of youth, power, and strong rookie season has caused his price to rise, there is too much risk in this profile for me to invest. I would look elsewhere to round out my starting outfield and let others deal with the potential OBP drag.
Jarred Kelenic, Seattle Mariners (AGE: 23, RANK: 50)
After reaching No. 12 on our rankings last year, at 22 years old, Jarred Kelenic had his second poor showing at the major league level. In mid-May, after 76 ABs, Kelenic was demoted to Triple A. To his credit, he rebounded at Triple-A by hitting 18 home runs and stealing eight bases in 86 games. However, after excelling at Triple- A, he amassed only 77 ABs over the rest of the season. Overall, he ended 2022 with a 55 wRC+ and -0.1 WAR. It was a very disappointing season for MLB Pipeline’s 2021 No. 4 prospect.
Kelenic’s only blemishes have been at the major league and those blemishes appear severe. His K-rate ballooned in the majors to 33.7% in 2022, up ~13% from Triple-A. Additionally, if he had qualified, his Average Exit Velocity would have ranked in the 7th percentile, Hard Hit Percentage in the 22nd percentile, and xSLG (expected slugging) in the 18th percentile. There were some bright spots (94th percentile in Max Exit Velocity and 93rd percentile in Barrel %). Overall, his abysmal major-league production has taken much of the shine off of him.
For 2023, if Kelenic does not perform immediately, the Mariners do not have the luxury to let him work it out at the major league level. He still has a minor league option, so the M’s may just demote him again. If he remains with the big club but is not hitting, he may be relegated to a platoon role. Rumors have the Mariners have been seeking an additional outfield bat this offseason. Even now, the Mariners could start Sam Haggerty against left-handers (assuming Kolten Wong and Dylan Moore are in a second-base platoon), leaving Kelenic as the strong side platoon and vulnerable to being pulled for a pinch hitter later in games.
At 23 years old, there is still time for Kelenic. It was only two years ago that he was thought to be an immediate impact player upon promotion after not struggling at any level in the minor leagues. For dynasty owners, there is an opportunity to get a slight discount, but at 23 years old, Kelenic will still be a pricey acquisition and for that reason, I am avoiding him. At this point, I would wait to see some success at the major league level before paying any sort of premium to acquire Kelenic.