Mid Season Rankings Update: NL Central Edition
Today we’ll look at some players in the NL Central and how they’re faring.
A note on how we generally rank before we get to the goodness. We rank with a three-year window in mind, as most of you know, no one is really sure what the next three years will bring, in our own lives or in the baseball world. We also generalize it to a 15-team roto league with standard categories. Points and head-to-head leagues are a little different ranking-wise, but you can still use these as a general tool. Chris Knock and friends will be coming out with a Top 500 OBP dynasty update soon after our rankings finish just like before the season started.
Again, we value all of your feedback and critiques and hope you enjoy.
Willson Contreras, -7 (Current Rank: 13th)
It hasn’t been a great season for the Cardinals (and as a Cubs fan, I am not at all sad) and Contreras is the best example of that. His last season in a Cubs uniform Contreras hit 22 homers, had 110 Runs + RBI and slashed a respectable .243/.349/.466. This season, when not getting benched by Cards manager Oli Marmol (who still has a job, which is shocking), he’s hit only 11 homers with a .235/.331/.421 slash line. The season can’t end soon enough for the 2023 Cardinals, so expecting more out of Contreras this season isn’t likely. But he’s only 31, is signed for many more years, and maybe will get more support and a better surrounding cast in 2024. A buy low window is upon us, but don’t pay too much, we’re talking about a Catcher after all.
Spencer Steer, +20 (Current Rank: 19th)
The 25-year-old former top prospect is the best utility knife that isn’t a utility man, if you know what I mean. Steer isn’t great defensively, but he can play a passable first, third and left field, making him a manager’s dream. Joe Maddon would’ve played this guy 162 games a year, I promise you that. A top-50 prospect who only had one minors season with a wRC+ under 100 (and that was a 99). Steer has climbed up through the Reds system, earning more than 1,000 MiLB at-bats and slashing .268/.363/.846. So far in 2023, he has a .270/.359/.817 slash with 14 homers and nine steals. He only stole 17 bases in the minors, so those are a bonus. If he can maintain the slash line while getting 25ish homers and 10ish steals he will continue to be a valuable fantasy player indeed.
Nolan Gorman, +15 (Current Rank: 8th)
That same familiar hole is still there in Gorman`s swing, albeit a little better than last year`s offering. Last year his BA against fastballs high and outside was .083 whereas this year he has “improved” with a .200 BA with the same pitch types. He is crushing the high and inside though this year with a .786 SLG on said fastballs.
He has climbed all the way to eighth in our rankings, so what gives if he is still showing his one glaring weakness from last year that cratered his value? I can see a few things that stand out to me; increase in pull% from 41% to 46%, chasing almost 4% less than last year, increased Max EV to 112.3 which is up almost 2mph. All of this theoretically leads to more home runs which is what Gorman does well and seemingly will continue to do well with regardless of the fact that he can`t hit a fastball high and outside.
Nolan Arenado, -2 (Current Rank: 7th)
Arenado has been worse in St Louis than Colorado, but we all knew that would happen. He’s followed in the footsteps of another great Rockies hitter who found success in a Cardinals uniform, Matt Holliday, who already is more famous for being Jackson’s dad, but I digress. He only dropped a couple spots from the pre-season but it’s the upside of Josh Jung and Gunnar Henderson that has pushed him down. By the beginning of next season it’s highly possible Junior Caminero, Bret Baty, and Colt Keith jump him and he’s at ten. Right now, he’s the #14 overall hitter on the Razzball player rater with a wRC+ of 132; his average in a Rockies uniform was 128 (with a high of 133). So, Arenado’s doing Arenado things, and for this season I want him on any contending team. I’d trade two of those aforementioned prospects for him if my team is in it to win it. On the other hand, if your team isn’t built to win this year, moving him for a haul (and I mean a near overpay by a contender) is a prudent rebuilding move.
Matt McLain, +35 (Current Rank: 18th)
Considered a ‘jack of all, master of none’ type prospect, Matt McLain has been mastering everything in 2023. After putting up 12 homers and 10 steals in just over a month’s worth of games in Louisville, the Reds called him up to the bigs. He hasn’t quite put on the offensive show he did at Triple-A, but he’s definitely shown he has star potential. Entering games on July 21, McLain has hit 8 big league homers and stolen another 7 bags. Chip in another 21 stolen bases while with the Reds and his SLG is a glorious .506.
As expected with many rookies, his numbers have slowed as opponents get better scouting reports. His full-season K rate is over 27% while in the Majors and it’s held consistent month to month. But his overall offensive output has started to decline each calendar month he’s been up. Through the end of June, his wRC+ clocked in at 139 but since then he’s only been league average exactly (100 wRC+).
There’s lots of baseball to be played this year. But I’m on board thinking McLain isn’t going to be just a league-average shortstop. He jumped into our top 20 positional ranks in a half season, he’ll be even higher when we enter ‘24.
Jack Suwinski, +71 (33rd)
Jack Suwinski has shot up our consensus ranks so far in ’23 but I dare say he’s still undervalued in the mainstream. The two biggest strikes against him are that he plays for the woeful Pirates and that he occasionally sits against lefties. It’s true he’s not in the top 50 currently for Runs or RBI, though we all know those aren’t entirely his fault. And while he does get platooned versus southpaws, it’s not a strict platoon. Suwinski’s 12% walk rate versus LHP helps buoy the ugly 41% K-rate versus the same pitchers securing him some at-bats when they’re on the mound.
But who promotes a player by taking the wind from their sails? Not me, so how about his 17% walk rate against RHP? Or the fact that his ‘down’ month of May this season still resulted in an exactly league average 100 wRC+? All year long, he’s been hitting the ball hard (avgEV 92 MPH with a 24-degree LA) and with a discerning eye (15% swing rate outside of the zone). Chipping in 7 steals in this half-season means he’s far from a zero in that category as well. After the season, don’t look back at a potential 30/15 line and wonder how that happened. I personally have Jack ranked as the 23rd OF in OBP leagues, and if we at TDG have him only at 33 this guy needs to be on your roster ASAP.
Andrew Abbott, +200 (Current Rank: 83rd)
Back in November I tweeted that Andrew Abbott was one of the eight “diamonds in the rough” that I’d be tracking this year. Clearly, I didn’t win over many of my peers as he was ranked 283 in our preseason rankings. In our mid-season rankings, he’s at 83, an increase of 200 which even surpasses Mitch Keller’s well-documented increase of 131 spots on our lists.
What I liked about him then is what I still like about him now. He’s consistently maintained a high K% (33% in the minors last year, 26.8% with the Reds this year) while keeping his BB% under 10%. He relies heavily on his four-seam fastball, which he throws nearly 50% of the time, and he backs that up with a slider, curve, and change, each of which he throws approximately 16% of the time. This is critical to his success since having three other pitches that he can effectively throw for strikes has been keeping hitters from sitting on his fastball. In the short term, if he’s SP3 or SP4 on your roster, you’re very happy with that, and I think he’s showing that his ceiling may even be higher.
Justin Lawrence, N/A (Current Rank: N/A)
But Taylor, I don’t understand. How can a player’s rank not be available, and how has he not moved in the rankings at all in the last 8 months. Well, dear reader: those are excellent questions. The answer is he hasn’t been ranked before on the site! I just thought he was worth mentioning after snagging him in a league recently, and to be honest, if I’m going to commit to writing about unranked relief pitchers on bad baseball teams, I’m going to do whatever I want.
It helps that Lawrence is having a great season! I did some quick googling and didn’t find him in any recent fantasy baseball articles (please ping me if I missed one), so let’s sum up. The 28-year-old is having a very good season up in Denver for the ol’ last place Rockies, pitching so far to a 2.52 ERA (2.76 xERA) with about a strikeout per inning (51.0 innings) and 15 saves + holds. His line has been particularly juicy since June 1st, garnering 7 saves (1 blown) and 2 holds with a 1.73 ERA over that stretch of 18 appearances. Could be a lot worse if you ask me!
I’m not going to be so bold as to say he’s a bonafide trade target of mine this trade season, and hey, he doesn’t really need to be one of yours either. He’s only rostered in 33% of Fantrax leagues and 3% in ESPN leagues. If you’re in a Saves + Holds league though, he could definitely be a solid flier in H2H categories leagues, at least before he’s moved at the deadline.