The 2021 MLB season was a wild ride. From the foreign substance crackdown to Shohei Ohtani having arguably the greatest single-season performance of all time, there was a lot to dissect. But beyond all of this, more talented and hungry young players have started to make a name for themselves at the MLB level.
Rookie right-hander Alek Manoah had a 3.22 ERA (3.88 SIERA) over the first 111 2/3 innings pitched of his big league career. Superstar Vladimir Guerrero Jr. nearly hit 50 home runs while maintaining a batting average well over .300. A new crop of young talent is emerging, so it might be wise to secure some of these young studs before their market values explode. And at the same time, buying high on a player like Vlad might hurt your pockets at that time, but your chances of laughing to the bank come October have likely increased.
All in all, there are plenty of players you should be looking to target in your dynasty leagues before the 2022 season commences. In this piece, I’m going to highlight a handful of them. I won’t be able to break down every dynasty points league target I like, but that’s what “part twos” are for. Without further ado, let’s take a close look at some players who you should be looking to roster today in your dynasty points leagues.
Dynasty Points League Targets
Dylan Cease SP, Chicago White Sox
Have you ever been in love? That type of love that makes you want to buy that person whatever they want or draft that person in every single fantasy league you play in. I love Dylan Cease. From his calm, cool, and collected persona, to his high-spin four-seam fastball that lives at the top of the strike zone and can max out at 100 mph, there’s a lot to like here.
Even so, heading into 2021, many people doubted his ability to refine his control and command issues to the point where his raw stuff could reach its potential — and understandably so. Before 2021, Cease had just a 9.6% K-BB (11.9% walk rate) over the first 131 1/3 innings pitched of his career, and this wasn’t some new issue. Cease has had legit control and command issues dating all the way back to his days as a Chicago Cubs prospect.
Over 354 1/3 minor league innings pitched, he had an 11.4% walk rate. For reference, the league average walk rate for pitchers is around 8-9% percent, and Cease had a walk rate north of 9.5% in every single one of his minor league stints. There was no way around it: Cease was going to have to dramatically improve his control and command if he wanted to succeed in the majors and over those first 131 1/3 innings, he had a rather unrelenting adjustment period.
Then, something clicked. In early November 2020, Lucas Giolito’s former high school pitching coach, Ethan Katz, was hired as the White Sox’s pitching coach, with Giolito’s word possibly playing a role in the hiring. Katz helped Giolito fix some of his issues before his breakout 2019 campaign, and now he quite possibly could have helped Cease find similar success by simply tweaking his mechanics.
This clip is from today’s outing where he had a line of 3.0 IP, 1 H, 2 K
It could be slight camera manipulation, but it appears Cease has learned from his teammate Lucas Giolito & has shortened up his arm action
If this change sticks, we could be looking at a brand new pitcher. pic.twitter.com/4hKzOLcQxi
— Fantasy Central (@FantasyCentral1) March 15, 2021
Similar to Giolito, Cease started to shorten his arm action in spring training 2021. He didn’t shorten it as much as Giolito did, but his delivery started to look more fluid and intentional. Moreover, Cease refined his follow-through, making it more balanced and uniform. Cease was starting to look like a different pitcher on the mound — and Ethan Katz likely played a role here. These mechanical changes carried into the regular season and based on his results when on the mound, these changes helped him.
Over a career-high 165 2/3 innings pitched, Cease earned a 3.91 ERA (3.57 SIERA) and a career-best 22.3% K-BB. In fact, among starting pitchers who completed at least 150 innings in 2021, Cease’s K-BB% ranked 10th overall, just behind Yu Darvish, Kevin Gausman, and Zack Wheeler — good company. More than this, his slider, curveball, and changeup, all had a whiff rate greater than 40%, and he finished the year with a career-high 30.3% CSW.
CSW is defined as a player’s called strike plus whiff rate, which helps emphasize a player’s ability to not just induce swings and misses, but also their ability to locate their pitches in the strike zone. A league-average CSW is about 27%, meaning that in 2021, Cease was able to draw strikes via his nasty secondary pitches and his improved command. In sum, Cease vastly improved his overall game in 2021, and to ice the cake, he could just be getting started.
However, despite all of the improvements he made in 2021, he still finished the season with a slightly below average 9.6% walk rate. It was the lowest walk rate of his career, but he still lost feel for his location at times, which led to some untimely walks and some hard-hit balls. After the rough start he had to his career, he wasn’t going to fully refine his game in just one season. He’s improving at his own pace and it’s hard to complain about what he did, as a whole, in the third campaign of his MLB career
It’s important to remember that Cease only had 131 1/3 innings pitched under his belt before he broke out in 2021. That’s not a large sample size, even though it happened over the span of two calendar years. All in all, his dynasty market value is much higher than it was a year ago, but he’s the type of player that you should want to buy high on.
Triston Casas 1B, Boston Red Sox
Every time I watch Triston Casas swing a baseball bat, I think about Freddie Freeman — and our very own, Chris Clegg, appears to agree:
Watching #RedSox 1B prospect Triston Casas, I see a lot of Freddie Freeman. Similar build and similar swings. Casas could be a stud for #FantasyBaseball with big raw power and a solid AVG/OBP floor. pic.twitter.com/dBeQZM4V2K
— Chris Clegg (@RotoClegg) December 21, 2020
Given his outstanding high school production, Casas opted to forgo playing college baseball and in the 2018 MLB Draft, he was selected 26th overall by the Boston Red Sox. Playing in Low-A and High-A in 2019, the young slugger wasted no time getting his professional baseball career going. Over 429 at-bats, he slashed .256/.350/.480 with 2o home runs, an 11.6% walk rate, and a 23.6% strikeout rate. Almost all of that production came while he was playing in Low-A, but Casas was just getting started.
Over 275 at-bats in 2021, playing mostly in Double-A, Casas slashed .279/.394/.484 with 14 home runs, a 15.4% walk rate, and a 19.1% strikeout rate. As we can see, Casas significantly improved his overall production against stronger competition in 2021. He’s a fantasy juggernaut in the making and if you already have him rostered, hold on tight. If you’re looking to acquire him, do it today; his dynasty value will only continue to climb.
Alec Bohm 3B, Philadelphia Phillies
Using the “eye test” to draw conclusions about a player is rarely ever, if at all, a constructive strategy. But sometimes, you come across a 6’5″, 218-pound third basemen who hits the ball hard almost every time he makes contact and you just can’t help yourself. My Phillies fandom is completely unrelated to this statement, but it must be said: Alec Bohm is a stud on the rise.
Following a productive collegiate career at Wichita State, Bohm was selected third overall in the 2018 MLB Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies. Even at that time, Bohm’s ability to regularly make hard contact was well known. This didn’t mean that he was going to be a lock to hit 30-40 home runs every year as a major leaguer, but given his bat speed and bat-to-ball skills, consistently making hard contact was always going to be one of his biggest strengths.
Prior to his promotion to the big leagues during the shortened 2020 season, playing between rookie ball and Double-A, Bohm slashed .293/.368/.474 with 21 home runs, a 9.9% walk rate, and a 13.8% strikeout rate over 614 minor league at-bats. Over his first 139 career minor league at-bats, Bohm failed to hit one over the fence. But in 2019, playing between Low-A and Double-A, Bohm managed 21 home runs over 475 at-bats, with 14 of those 21 home runs coming against Double-A competition. Like many prospects, Bohm’s game power started to develop as he progressed through the minors and I believe that the same will happen as he garners more and more major league experience.
Through 159 career major league games, Bohm has managed to hit just 11 home runs over 540 at-bats. His 48.6% hard-hit rate, 7.8% barrel rate, and 111.6 maximum exit velocity over 399 career batted ball events speak volumes about his ability to make hard contact, so why has he only hit 11 home runs? Bohm isn’t your typical slugger, meaning that he won’t sacrifice a single for the sake of trying to belt a ball into the stands. He takes what’s given to him, isn’t overly aggressive against pitches outside of the zone, and his strong pitch recognition skills allow him to excel against all types of offerings.
But there’s more to the story here. Bohm’s conventional plate approach has resulted in him having just a 5.3 average launch angle and 52.9% groundball rate to start his MLB career — and this is nothing new. Bohm was frequently hitting balls on the ground as a minor leaguer and it might be unfair to make this claim, but I don’t think he cares too much given the way he approaches hitting. He understands the power he possesses, but as I previously mentioned, he takes what’s given to him when he’s at the plate. He’s a confident, reliable, and composed hitter who’ll likely grow into more power with more experience.
All things considered, his dynasty market value will never be lower. I would bet that some people who have Alec Bohm rostered don’t fully understand just how good of a hitter he is, and how good he can grow to be — take advantage. At just 25 years old, Bohm will soon be in his prime years, and at that point, good luck trying to pry him off the hands of whoever has him rostered. Alec Bohm’s best years are ahead of him, don’t miss out.
Alex Kirilloff 1B/OF, Minnesota Twins
The man who decided to forgo collegiate play because he’s just too darn good, Alex Kirilloff has what it takes to be an above-average fantasy contributor for years to come. At one point, Kirilloff actually was committed to play college ball at Liberty University, but instead opted to enter the 2016 MLB Draft, where he was drafted 15th overall by the Minnesota Twins. Young players dealing with growing pains to begin their professional careers is a common occurrence, and in some instances, it’s expected. When those young players jump from high school baseball to rookie ball, a developmental period feels like a lock. Well, Alex Kirilloff isn’t like other young players.
In his first taste of professional baseball, Kirilloff slashed .306/.341/.454 with seven home runs, a 4.7% walk rate, and a 13.8% strikeout rate over 216 at-bats. Right out of the gate, Kirilloff demonstrated the ability to limit his strikeouts while hitting for average and power. Yes, this was rookie ball, but given the context surrounding his career up to that point, this was a very impressive sample size. As he advanced through the minors, Kirilloff seemed to only be getting better and better. As a whole, over 1,109 career minor league at-bats, Kirilloff slashed .318/.366/.503 with 38 home runs, a 6.4% walk rate, a 16.2% strikeout rate, and a 52.4% steal rate (11/21).
By 2020, Kirilloff was an MLB-ready prospect, but COVID canceling the minor league season delayed his progression. Fortunately, he was still able to make his MLB debut in the Twins’ second wild card game against the Houston Astros. He went 1-f0r-4 with a single and the Twins lost, eliminating them from the playoffs, but Kirilloff getting this experience could only help him. Then, in mid-April 2021, the Twins called Kirilloff up as the 27th man in a doubleheader against the Boston Red Sox and the rest is history.
In his first taste of regular-season action, Kirilloff finished with a .251/.299/.423 slash line, along with eight home runs over 215 at-bats. Though, that slash line doesn’t properly represent just how well Kirilloff was hitting the ball in 2021. Over the first 47 batted ball events of his career, 26 of them were hit hard, good for an impressive 55% hard-hit rate. However, 13 of those 26 hard hits were outs, meaning that Kirilloff was simply facing some bad luck to begin his career. And given the fact that he ended 2021 with a .291 xBA, it’s fair to assume that the advanced metrics agree with me.
As a whole, in 2021, he was able to produce against both LHP and RHP, his quality of contact metrics were strong, and his well above average hit tool was on full display. Similar to Alec Bohm, I don’t see a scenario where his dynasty market value decreases going forward. I strongly believe it’s only up from here. Many dynasty players will likely be reluctant to deal him, but if you can acquire him for a player like Justin Turner, you’re in a good spot. Alex Kirilloff is just scratching the surface of his potential.
Michael Kopech SP, Chicago White Sox
The White Sox have a couple of immensely talented young arms ready to take a leap forward — including the love of my life, Dylan Cease — but Michael Kopech might just be the best of them all. Believe it or not, it’s been almost eight years since Kopech was selected 33rd overall in the 2014 MLB by the Boston Red Sox. Unfortunately, it’s been tough sledding for the flamethrower ever since.
In 2015, he was suspended without pay for 50 games after testing positive for Oxilofrine, a banned substance. This resulted in him missing the remainder of the 2015 season and then in 2016, he broke his hand after getting into a fight with his roommate. It’s fair to conclude that Kopech was having a pretty rough start to his professional career and most of the issues were occurring off the mound. He still managed to play in 2016 and over 56 1/3 innings, playing mostly in High-A, he had the best season of his professional career to date, as he earned a 2.08 ERA (2.73 FIP) and an 86/33 K/BB. His 14.7% walk rate was a bit high, but at that point, he was still learning how to consistently throw quality strikes.
On top of all this, Kopech made history in 2016. On July 13th, 2016, Kopech threw one of the fastest recorded pitches in professional baseball history, a 105 mph fastball. Only three years into his professional career, Kopech had already been suspended for using a banned substance, dealt with a broken hand from an off-the-field altercation, and threw one of the fastest pitches in baseball history. Little did everyone know, there was more to come.
After being traded to the Chicago White Sox in December 2016, Kopech earned a 3.28 ERA (3.01 FIP) and a 342/125 K/BB over 260 2/3 innings playing between Double-A and Triple-A. He ended up making his MLB debut on August 21, 2018 and allowed three hits while striking out four over two innings pitched. Unfortunately, just a couple of weeks later, he tore his UCL in his pitching elbow and was forced to undergo Tommy John Surgery. His rehab resulted in him missing the remainder of the 2018 season as well as the entire 2019 season. Then in 2020, he opted out of playing due to the COVID pandemic.
Coming into 2021, he was seen as a clear post-hype sleeper and over 69 1/3 innings, pitching mainly out of the bullpen, he earned a 3.50 ERA (2.70 SIERA) and a 103/24 K/BB. On top of the fact that he stayed relatively healthy, his command of his four-seamer and slider were strong all season.
Command was an issue for him as a minor leaguer, but as we can see, he was able to consistently pound the upper third of the strike zone with his fastball and locate his slider down-and-away to right-handed hitters. Subsequently, his four-seamer earned a 23.1% K-BB and a 59.9% zone rate, while his slider earned an impressive 40.2% K-BB and a 46.1% zone rate. Both pitches have above average movement and both earned a whiff rate of over 31.0%. Furthermore, Kopech is armed with a curveball and a changeup, with the latter likely playing a huge role in his development as a major league starter.
In sum, Kopech’s 2021 season was full of encouraging signs, and going into 2022, the 25-year-old flamethrower should only continue to improve. If Kopech manages to successfully incorporate his changeup and curveball into his arsenal — while continuing to refine his command — a true breakout could be on the horizon. The talent is there, it always has been, he just needs to stay healthy to have a chance at reaching his sky-high ceiling.
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