Baseball is here! I have personally spent nearly every waking moment of my last week or so with my eyes glued to my phone either watching a game or scouring my leagues for some nice finds. This time of the year affords an excellent opportunity to nab that closer taking over via injury or ineffectiveness. And those out there who picked up Hunter Strickland might have just gotten the best pickup off the wire this season. This season, I’ll be doing a lot of “who will be called up” prospect analysis, though it’s a bit early for that. Instead today let’s take a look at eligible rookies and what they’ve done in their first handful of games and whether it is sustainable or worth weathering the storm. I’ll also throw out some projections on those players so you can weigh them against your own.
I think in this day and age it’s more important than ever to make a quick decision regarding struggling players, but even with that said it’s a bit too early to be making drastic moves. Keep that in mind as we look at some of these guys. If they are struggling maybe it’s time to put them on the bench, but even in the most drastic situations I doubt I would be cutting anyone. But read on to find out!
Shohei Ohtani – LA Angels
Obviously the rookie with the largest spotlight on him, Ohtani has now officially hit in one game and started in another. He’s scheduled to DH and bat eighth on Tuesday 4/3/18 as of writing this, so there will be another 4 at-bats or so to throw into the analysis.
Editorial Update: Ohtani went yard for his first career HR last night. Finished 3/4 with 3 RBI and 2 runs.
As a hitter, I’ll admit right off the bat I’m not quite as excited. I think there is potential for some power as he has definitely shown it in Japan, but I’m not convinced he can pitch and hit at an elite-enough level so that they continue to let him doing it. In his DH debut on March 29th, Ohtani went 1-5 with a single and a strikeout. Five at-bats are the definition of small-sample size, and we should probably give him a pass since it was his career debut as I’m sure there were jitters. The short answer here is that he didn’t chase a whole lot, was patient, but not patient enough, and is going to take some time to adjust to MLB pitching. This part of his game is where it would have been wise to have him start the year in the minors, but as you’ll see later, I think the pitching is good enough to carry him on the roster.
On the pitching side of things, he started the game on April 1st against the Oakland Athletics. I was fortunate enough to watch the entire game and enjoyed every bit of it. Overall Ohtani threw six innings, struck out six, walked one, and gave up the one home run to Matt Chapman that accounted for all three runs. What I saw out of Ohtani was exactly what I expected to see: A rusty pitcher with elite-level stuff and not much command. Those wiffle ball curves were amazing, but also all over the place. The fastball moves a lot and has great velocity, but he struggles to locate it, and finally the splitter shows plenty of promise and was successful at getting strikeouts as well.
The Athletics clearly didn’t know what to expect from Ohtani and the team looked really lost at certain moments. The home run given up to Matt Chapman was on a curve that wasn’t awful, but was up a bit and didn’t quite drop as much as most of his curves (side note: we’re clearly still dealing with the ‘juiced ball,’ as that hit alone would never have been a home run in the Coliseum unless it was hit by Barry Bonds). I don’t see any complete games in Ohtani’s future this year, but his stuff is really good.
So as a pitcher here’s what’s going to happen: as of right now teams don’t have a lot of info/video/experience against Ohtani, so he has the advantage. As the season goes on there are going to be a lot more reports on him so hitters will be more disciplined an know what to expect. If he is as ‘effectively wild’ as he was that day then I think he’s going to start getting hit a lot harder. So his goal over the next month or two is to get his command under control. If he can start spotting the fastball and locating the splitter it won’t matter what research the other teams do, because his stuff is really, really good. It’s worth remembering that he threw less than 30 innings last year due to injuries, so giving him a little slack is probably in order at least at the beginning of the year.
NOTE: After submitting the article Ohtani hit an absolute BLAST off of Josh Tomlin and then singled later on in his second at-bat. If you want to see what this guy is capable of, go check out the highlights from this game (also Trout homered, which is worth watching every time it happens).
Hitter: 350 plate appearances, .245/.320/.425, 12 homers, 8 stolen bases
Pitcher: 12-7 record, 140 innings (24-26 games), 3.45 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 10.25 K/9, 3.30 BB/9
Recommendation: If there’s someone out there who still thinks he’s a Kershaw-like ace with 30 HR power, maybe work a trade. Otherwise; HOLD
Lewis Brinson – Miami Marlins
You all know how big of a homer I am for my boy Brinson. I was super thrilled when he made the team out of spring training and the Marlins appear committed to letting him hit leadoff and play centerfield full-time. It’s the right move, in my opinion for a number of reasons. First, he has nothing left to prove in the minors. He destroys minor-league pitching and though he struggled mightily in the Majors last year, it was a small sample size and remember that not every prospect mashes right out of the gate (*cough, Mike Trout anyone? *cough). Second, he’s arguably the biggest piece that the Marlins received out of all of the trades this offseason, and they need a reason to try and get SOME butts in the seats to watch these games. If I lived anywhere near Miami I would check out games just to see Brinson. And finally, he’s the best option they have, so just do it.
Through his first 27 plate appearances in 2018 Brinson is hitting .280/.333/.280 with zero homers and steals. Though remember, this is a small sample size so there’s nothing to get too worked up about here. What I’m looking at so far out of Brinson is that he’s had enough hits to keep the average above the Mendoza line, so he must be a bit more comfortable than he was last year in the Majors. I’m not concerned about the low BB% (3.7) as for the most part he’s always been a patient hitter, and I’m also not concerned about the lack of homers or steals… again, it’s five games. One thing that I am cautiously optimistic about is the 18.5% strikeout percentage, as that’s more in line with his minor league numbers than the 30% rate he showed in the Majors last year.
Ultimately what I expect from Brinson this year really hasn’t changed. He’s still a talented baseball player with a semi-questionable hit tool but power, speed, and excellent defense. In his peak this kid could go 30-30, but I don’t think we quite hit the peak years yet considering he’s only 23 years old. There’s plenty of optimism to be had here, and I’m very glad I nabbed him in multiple leagues this year.
Projections: 600 plate appearances, .250/.330/.425, 18 homers, 20 stolen bases
J.P. Crawford – Philadelphia Phillies
As a guy who has been on top prospect lists for seemingly seven years, it’s finally time for Crawford to show what he can do on a young, exciting Philadelphia Phillies team. His value has fluctuated wildly on those prospect lists and it’s important to note that he’s going to be a better real-life baseball player than a fantasy one. I’m admittedly not that excited for Crawford, but in the right scenario he has plenty of value.
So far this season, Crawford has started three games netting himself 11 plate appearances (more on that later), three runs scored, and a .111/.200/.111 line. Obviously those numbers are hard to swallow, but again, it’s a small sample size, so no reason to get worked up over it. The fact that he has only 11 plate appearances despite the three starts is because new Phillies manager Gabe Kapler has decided that hitting the batter eighth is a brilliant idea despite nearly every other piece of evidence pointing to the fact that he’s an idiot. It’s the ‘flat-Earth’ concept of baseball.
Adding to his idiocy is Kapler’s horrible bullpen usage, but that rant is best saved for another opportunity. So Crawford batting ninth after the pitcher hurts him in nearly every statistical category and ensures that his numbers are pushed down all season. There’s no easy solution here either, as Cesar Hernandez is an on-base stud and so is new first baseman Carlos Santana. With Crawford’s bat being more on-base and run than slug, it also doesn’t make much sense to hit him in the middle of the order, pushing a slugger back a bit. No, I think it’ll take either an injury or some major ineffectiveness to get him a better spot in the lineup.
Like mentioned earlier Crawford’s main skills lie in being a hitter with an elite on-base ability, as he has amassed a 10+% BB% every single year and level of his career. Last year he walked 14.2% of the time in 556 plate appearances in Triple-A. He doesn’t have a ton of power, but he did have 15 home runs in 643 plate appearances last year. And though he only stole six bases last year he’s been a much better base stealer in his minor league career including 12 in 2015 and 2016 and 24 in 2014. At his peak, a 20-20 season wouldn’t be too surprising. He doesn’t often hit for average, but if he gets fortunate with a BABIP one of these seasons he might manage a .275 average or so, and with as much as he walks that means he puts up a potential .400 OBP that year.
I don’t care a whole lot about him struggling this season, though there is a thought that if it continues for too long they could send him back down to the minors, but I don’t think that’s too likely. No the biggest problem with Crawford this year is getting stuck hitting ninth in the order. Unless that changes, there aren’t that many leagues out there where Crawford can truly help your team
Projections: 550 plate appearances, .240/.335/.375, 10 HR, 8 SB
Recommendation: HOLD unless blown away with an offer (or try to trade for him – his value is pretty low right now)
Ryan McMahon – Colorado Rockies
A surprising addition to the Rockies team, I, and many others, did not at all expect McMahon to break camp with the Major League team, but the Rockies all but said they decided to let McMahon be the everyday first baseman and then move Ian Desmond to the super-sub utility role where he could play nearly every position. Of course that wasn’t at all the reality, as we’ve now seen McMahon get zero starts through the first four games of the season. He’s finally scheduled to start the game on Tuesday April 3rd against Tyson Ross of the Padres.
The first two games of the season were against left-handed starters Patrick Corbin and Robbie Ray, so you can give the Rockies a bit of a pass on those two, but the third and fourth games were against right-handers Zack Greinke and Bryan Mitchell, so not starting those two games are a bit more puzzling. Of course sitting on the bench and just pinch-hitting have only allowed for a total of four plate appearances this year, and he’s 0-4 in those attempts. Even for the most skilled and trained veteran playing this sparsely is difficult, and for a young stud like McMahon this must be extremely difficult.
I’ll be completely honest here, if they aren’t going to play him, they need to send him down to get consistent at-bats. I also think they do that soon. It will suck for his fantasy owners out there, but for his career to be what it could be, they need to commit to him and it doesn’t appear the Rockies are ready to do that. If they do send him down I think he’s the first to come up if an injury or major ineffectiveness rears its head (I’m looking at you Carlos Gonzalez and Gerardo Parra). In the meantime though he should be on your bench even if he’s getting the start because I think he’s not going to be able to get into a rhythm with the way they are playing him. It’s unfortunate, but that’s just how it is right now.
Projections: (I had originally put him down for 450-475 plate appearances, I’m knocking that down a bit considering how we are seeing the Rockies treat him) 400 plate appearances, .270/.335/.450, 10 HR, 3 SB
Recommendation: HOLD – maybe put out feelers if there is someone in your league who thinks he might get 550 plate appearances, if so, he might be worth moving