More than 20 percent of the 2018 MLB season is already in the books. What may have been gut reactions and speculation has started to become legitimate fantasy baseball breakouts and genuine slumps. Some things are obvious… Mookie Betts is a beast, the Astros pitching staff is amazing, and that Aaron Judge kid is the real deal. Other player trends are a lot more difficult to spot unless you can find a bearing, something similar to compare it to and give the skill or production a little bit of context.
The Double Vision series strives to do just that. Side-by-side comparisons display a player’s value against a known commodity. This practice is flawed in many ways and not an exact comparison, but with a little imagination and an open mind, it can start to narrow the perception gap in certain players and help us stay ahead of the curve in player skills evolution.
Nobody in their right mind would ever say that Matt Adams is a better hitter than Paul Goldschmidt, but considering their polar opposite starts to 2018, the production gap has started to narrow to an uncomfortably close territory for Diamondbacks fans. For example, in their last ~500 plate appearances, Adams has hit for a higher average than Goldschmidt and with considerably more power.
Adams has been an under-the-radar quality bat well before his recent 10 home run power surge. The Nationals really have an embarrassment of riches with their hitting depth but have had to use every bit of that depth in the early going to counter injuries to Adam Eaton, Daniel Murphy, and others. Adams is not exactly a ballerina out there in left field, but he has also seen some time at first base with Ryan Zimmerman sitting a few games with a side injury. If Zimmerman returns to full health (which has only happened a few times in his career) Adams still has a shot at splitting time between the outfield and first base or even winning the first base job outright — the 33-year-old Zimmerman is slashing just .194/.256/.398 over a month into the season. The fact is Matt Adams’ only hurdle is playing time and he stands to get a shot at that with his early season production. With 50% availability on some sites, now is the perfect time to add him in all formats.
Kenley Jansen is one of (if not) the best relievers in baseball. Any educated baseball fan could tell you that. Jansen over his nine-year career has a 2.15 ERA and 235 career saves. Nobody has a clue who Drew Steckenrider is. OK, a few of you might be staying on top of things but I’m pretty sure he could walk into a bar in Miami and pass as a CPA, gym teacher, or lifeguard. Confusing him with anything other than a dominate late-inning reliever would be a mistake. Steckenrider has been lights out since reaching the major leagues. In 16 innings this year he owns a 1.13 ERA with 22 strikeouts and just three walks. Does a 40 inning comparison make him a better pitcher than Kenley Jansen? No, absolutely not. It just means he has better numbers… (Wink, Wink.)
Unless you have been living under a rock the last few years, you know exactly the type of hitter Vladimir Guerrero Jr. could be at the major league level. The 19-year-old Blue Jays prospect has been hitting the cover off the ball at Double-A from the jump of 2018. His current slash line for the New Hampshire Fishercats is .398/.453/.673 through his first 25 games of the year. National media loves him and prospect writers gush over his physical skills and potential at the plate. Guerrero Jr. is incredible and we may see just how incredible later this season, but there is another 19-year-old taking the minor leagues by storm that has yet to receive the type of media attention Vlad Jr. has. Juan Soto, the Washington Nationals outfield prospect, has 11 home runs, eight doubles, and four triples in his 29 games this season. For those trying to do the math in their heads that is 23 extra base hits in just 29 games. The level of competition matters and it’s unclear if Soto will reach the type of prospect status that Vlad Jr. has, but just in case he does now would be the time to jump on the bandwagon before it’s too late.