With the middle of February finally here, we're still talking about contracts, negotiations, and something called Rob Manfred instead of talking about pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training to kick off one of the more magical times of the year. We've hit the home stretch for this series, as we've now examined starting pitchers and infielders for both leagues, and the outfielders in the American League over the last several weeks. I've taken an eye towards directing our attention to some of the candidates that are a little bit below the radar, because nobody needs to be told that Ronald Acuna is one of the best outfielders in the league. If you've missed any of the previous articles in the series, they're linked below. The first three episodes of the podcast are now live on YouTube, Spotify, Apple and everywhere else you get your podcast. You can check them out by clicking into the thumbnails above as well. In the latest installment, Tyler and I take a look at our top 100 prospects with the first installment of the series. Keep an eye out for the rest of my divisional prospect rankings here on the Dynasty Locker Room as well!
Buy: David Peralta's power hitting days are behind him
Let's call a spade a spade here - after a couple of years of being a viable outfielder for fantasy, he broke out in 2018 with 30 HR and a .293 average. Though he's struggled to stay on the field for a complete season since then (thanks COVID), we've still seen a lot of question marks around his game that seemingly came to a head in 2021 where he hit only 8 long balls over 150 games last year. As a matter of fact, his numbers have fallen across the board since that year seeing him post consecutive seasons of lower OPS totals, barrel rates, and exit velocities. Peralta was an older prospect when he finally made the jump to the majors, but it's a bit perplexing that a player that won a silver slugger in such recent memory has fallen on hard times so quickly.
Sell: Peralta as anything more than a streamer
There are still a few things that Peralta can give you in fantasy, but most of these skills aren't worthy of anything more than a plug to fill a hole in roto. He shouldn't be rostered in a points league. He still has a little more juice left in the tank, and I think he can be counted on for a few more long balls than he totaled last year for a few reasons - his average exit velocity (while falling) is still well above the league average and his hard hit rate are above major league average. I also expect some positive regression on his .260 average because his BABIP was uncharacteristically low for the first time in his career, and as a player who gets shifted in nearly half his at bats, he drastically cut his pull rate last year to great success with a wOBA over .300 against the shift for the first time in his career. His walk totals will keep me away from him in OBP and OPS leagues, but he could be a .280 hitter again this year hitting at the top of a mediocre D-Backs team. While his RBI opportunities are likely limited given his declining ability and lack of talent around him, he could do enough to get you by in a pinch.
Buy: Mookie Betts isn't 2018 Mookie Betts
Nation and I have talked about this guy ad-nauseum over the last couple of weeks, but this is still a guy that we get tons of questions about. While fluke is a very strong word, to say that 2018 was a magical year seems to be an understatement for a guy who doesn't turn 30 until next year and has seen major signs of regression. In the last three years we've seen success falls in his exit velocity, batting average, expected average, OPS, and OPS+ - these are all huge red flags if you think his 2018 season was a normal level of production for Mookie Betts. When I look at Mookie Betts, it's easier to see him for the player that he is. Excluding that 2018 season, he's a player that should be expected for 20 HR and 10 SB production with a .280 average with a good ability to draw walks. If you're drafting him to be more than that you're A) going to be highly disappointed with the stats you see on a weekly basis and B) spending draft capital several rounds earlier than the production you can get out of him. For an industry so driven on analytics, this one absolutely perplexes me.
Sell: My opinion on Mookie Betts says that I think he's a bad player
Mookie still has a tremendous amount of value - chances are if you own him, his value is such that you'll never get a reasonable trade offer for him to compensate for the value that he once had. I like Mookie's average to have some positive regression this year and still see him as the .280 player I talked about above, and he still posts some nice counting stats in one of the league's best lineups. 20 HR and 10 SB is always going to carry weight, and with a player that draws walks with some of the best in the league, he's still a starting caliber OF on even the deepest squads. The shrinking RBI totals from last year give me slight pause as to where he's used in the lineup, but he's still a guy that will score over 100 runs in a full season. In your 5x5 leagues I expect him to be locked in as a top 20 OF, but the days of him as a top 10 caliber player, or even OF are a distant memory.
Buy: Bryan Reynolds has evolved as a hitter
Last year we saw a brand new Reynolds at the plate. After a torrid rookie campaign that saw him hit .314 with 16 HRs he fell off the face of the Earth in 2020 with a .189 average that left fantasy owners what they invested stock in. At face value, we saw the switch-hitter put up a .302 average with 24 HR last season with a handful of steals. Here's where it gets interesting though - since his rookie season his walk rate has improved by more than 3% and his HR rate is up to nearly 4%. Despite middle of the road average exit velocities and hard hit rates his expected average, slugging and weighted on-base percentage are in the top 10% of the league - so what gives? When we take Reynolds' ground ball numbers out of the equation, we actually see an exit velocity of 94 MPH on his line drives and fly balls. As we approach 95 MPH for exit velocity in regard to batted ball events, weighted on-base average is dramatically improved on batted ball events - this is certainly a reason these expected stats performed so well last year, with a line drive rate at 27% with a climbing flyball rate and fewer ground balls off the bat, accounting for his increased launch angle over time as well.
Sell: There's more power in Bryan Reynolds' swing
For as productive a player as Reynolds has been in two of the last three years, I'm not really inclined to project any more power on him than we've seen unless he gets traded to a more hitter friendly ball park. PNC park has traditionally been seen as a pitcher friendly park, and a trade to a park that plays up to Reynolds' swing is about the only thing that would boost his ability to hit for additional power. The type of exit velocity that Reynolds has isn't typically conducive for big power hitting numbers - an average exit velocity around league average with a flyball and line drive velocity below 95 MPH. His improved launch angle has helped with that certainly, but there isn't enough raw power to suggest that he can consistently be a 30+ HR hitter in his career without making some changes that he doesn't need to make to be productive. Reynolds has a 15th percentile speed, and bulking up would likely cause him to shift away from centerfield where he's been productive defensively with a 5th percentile outs above average. Reynolds is a player that I like a lot going forward, and he might flirt with a 30 HR season or two, but that shouldn't be expected as a norm.
Buy: I'm not writing off Christian Yelich just yet
After dominant seasons in 2018 and 2019, Christian Yelich was primed to be the center piece of Milwaukee's lineup for a long time. However, over the last two seasons we've seen Christian Yelich struggle through injuries and inconsistency at the plate to a .234 average and 21 HRs in 175 games played. Were the 1.000+ OPS and 35+ HRs a fluke? From 2013 to 2019, Yelich posted a BABIP of .358 while the last two seasons have played out much differently to the tune of a .304 BABIP. To me this suggests plenty of room for positive regression, particularly since his batted ball profile hasn't dramatically changed from his career averages. One thing that did change last year was Yelich's average exit velocity falling from 94MPH to 91MPH - was this a product of his injury struggles? While still well above the major league average, is this a number we expect to see rebound as well? After battling through knee and back issues over the last two seasons, I certainly expect to see Yelich rebound closer to his career norms in 2022. Yelich is still in the 80th percentile in exit velocity, the 94th percentile in max exit velocity, and the 87th percentile in hard hit rates, so he certainly has the ratios to return to his peak. Another interesting caveat was Yelich's launch angle lowering to 2.8 degrees last season. While he didn't have a dramatic change in his batted ball profile last season, as previously noted, we did see his line drive rate fall slightly and his ground ball rate eat most of those batted balls - something that I expect to change as well. Yelich still possesses an exit velocity north of 96MPH on his flyballs and line drives, so this give credence to a little bit of optimism.
Sell: Yelich's profile isn't without risk
As we've mentioned ad nauseum in the buy column, Yelich has had his share of injury problems over the last four years as well, some of which have led to his current struggles at the plate seemingly. While we're all hoping for a return to health to help him return to a shell of the player he was, back and knee issues don't go away overnight. With a history of trips to the injured list over the last four seasons, it's seemingly a matter of time before this band-aid boy returns to the injured list again this year. Troublingly we've also seen the last two seasons bring an unprecedented strikeout profile to Yelich's bat with him hovering around the 27% strikeout rate. In particular, Yelich has started to struggle immensely against southpaws, especially against breaking balls where we saw him hit for a .056 clip with a whiff rate above 42% last season. The last two seasons have also seen him struggle more against velocity - as a previous .340 hitter against fastballs in his career, he's hit only .250 against these pitches over the last two seasons as well. One final note regarding his advanced metrics, in 2021 Yelich posted the lowest marks of his career in expected slugging, barrel rate, and expected weighted on base average. While it should be noted that many of these expected values are tied to exit velocity and launch angle, it's worth monitoring going forward.
Buy: Jesse Winker has cemented himself as a solid fantasy asset
Over the last two seasons we've seen Jesse Winker evolve in the Cincinnati Reds' lineup as a middle of the order bat that hits for a strong average. Though he's been a part of the lineup since 2017, Winker's bat has grown into the power he shows now by boasting a HR rate of more than 5% while shaving his strikeout rate. Though Joey Votto stole headlines last year in the second half, Winker was the man to own in the first half and parlayed that into a strong .305 average with a .949 OPS while hitting 24 long balls in 110 games. Though the surface numbers are nice, underneath those we see a player in the top 25% of the league in average exit velocity and barrel rate and in the top 10% in expected average and xWOBA. What's behind the breakout? Winker has always hit velocity well, but last season he punished offspeed pitches to the tune of a .382 average, a number that's even better against right-handed pitchers. On the whole, Winker destroyed right-handed pitching last season with a .346 average and 21 HRs. The plate discipline he has at the plate is what rounds him into an all-around player however, with a walk rate above 10% a chase rate in the 76th percentile, and a strikeout rate in the 85th percentile. This has turned him into a valuable asset in points league, but has also given him a boost in OBP and OPS 5x5 leagues with the counting stats to boot in the middle of a strong lineup.
Sell: Winker has solved left-handed pitchers
We've noted above that Winker had a helluva year against righties, but his struggles against lefties were as pronounced as they've ever been. With a .177 average and only three of his long balls coming against southpaws, Winker has made the argument that he's also best left on the bench when doing battle with starters of the same hand. While it does give me hope that his whiff rate is below 30% on breaking balls and below 20% on fastballs, it's also hard to mask a .057 batting average against breaking balls. On his career, only 7 of his 66 home runs have come against lefties, with a career .188 average and .600 OPS. While we've learned a lot about Winker's value over the course of a season, make no mistake that until he solves left-handed pitching at the major league level he's best left in a platoon in the Reds' lineup and your fantasy lineup as well.