We looked at some of 2013’s top rookie hitters – by WAR – and what to expect of them as sophomores in our first post.
It continues with the best of the rest.
2014 MLB Fantasy Sophomore Hitters
Marcell Ozuna, OF, Miami Marlins – In his debut season, Ozuna struck out nearly four and a half times as often as he walked and didn’t exhibit a lot of pop (three home runs in 70 games). With that said, Ozuna projects as the opening day starter at CF for the Marlins, and he has a chance to grow this year. He hit five home runs in 10 games at AAA before getting the call last season, so he could grow into a more frequent home run hitter (just 4.2% of his fly balls left the park last year).
Anthony Rendon, 2B, Washington Nationals – There is a lot of hype around Rendon after a strong debut season however, he’s no sure thing to start for Washington at second, with Danny Espinosa factoring in to the conversation. That said, assuming a strong Spring showing, he should be able to claim the job, and showed enough to suggest that he may be in play as a starter-worthy 2B this year in standard leagues. He hit the ball hard, smacking liners on 25.5% of his balls in play. If he keeps that number up, you should see progression in his .265 batting average and with seven homers in 394 plate appearances. If he can get upwards of 550 of them this year, the homers should reach double digits with a shot at 65+ runs and RBIs.
Jordy Mercer, SS, Pittsburgh Pirates – Mercer finds himself in the same situation as he was in 2013 – battling Clint Barmes for playing time, but like last year he should get the majority of the work. He’s going to hit toward the bottom of the Pirates’ order, and last year’s .285 average (.330 BABIP) probably represents more his ceiling than his floor but he’ll keep up his OBP with a keen eye (84.1% contact percentage, just 6.9% swinging strikes and only 17.0% K rate).
Christian Yelich, OF, Miami Marlins – All you could have asked for from Yelich in his rookie season was a little more pop and a little less swing and miss. He’s never been long on power, with 15 homers at A ball in 2011 his most in any pro season. Last year, he hit just four home runs (as part of a .288/.370/.396 line) despite a 16.7% HR/GB ratio. He simply didn’t hit any fly balls – 110 of his 240 at bats ended in a ball hit on the ground (4.58 GB/FB). That’s kind of his game, so I wouldn’t expect a big change in that area but he should be able to get to double digit HRs this year while continuing to draw walks and steal the odd base. Miami should get better at scoring runs this year, and he’ll hit near the top of the order so there is a role for Yelich just don’t count on a big spike in power from a guy who hits the ball on the ground consistently.
Junior Lake, OF, Chicago Cubs – Lake didn’t really see a drop in production after arriving in the bigs: he hit for a .295/.341/.462 triple slash at AAA, and maintained a .284/.332/.428 line with the Cubs. He ran less (15 steals in 40 games before making the jump but just 4/8 afterwards), and struck out plenty with a 5:1 K/BB ratio. Still, his debut showed a great deal of promise. He followed that with a strong, though shortened, stint in winter ball and projects to hit the ground running in his second season. He hit nearly 28% line drives and posted a .377 BABIP, which will be hard numbers to sustain, so his average may drop another degree in his second season. Nevertheless, if he can get his base stealing swagger back Lake can offer reasonable production across all five standard roto categories.
Khris Davis, OF, Milwaukee Brewers – What Yelich lacked in power, Davis had in spades. He hit for a .316 ISO, by far the highest of any player on our list and posted a .949 OPS. His 11 home runs in 153 plate appearances project extremely well over the course of a full season, though his 28.9% HR/FB ratio is unsustainable. Still, he’s going to get every day at bats for Milwaukee this year (as part of an impressive young outfield with Carlos Gomez and Ryan Braun) and should certainly continue to hit the ball out of the park. Barring severe regression, Davis should finish in the 20-25 home run category with the runs and RBIs that go along with that, and his average can hang around the high-middle twos; after all his BABIP was only 14 points above his .279 average last year so the former number is easily sustainable.
Kole Calhoun, OF, Los Angeles Angels – After tearing apart the PCL last season (.354 average, 12 home runs in 59 games) Calhoun got an extended look from the Halos and the team liked what they saw. They liked it so much in fact, that Calhoun will be their starting Right Fielder this season now that they’ve moved on from Peter Bourjos. In his first season, Calhoun exhibited a strong eye (9.5% walk rate, just a 2:1 K:BB ratio) and picked up 17 extra base hits, including 8 homers, in 195 at bats. He’s likely to hit fairly low in the Angels’ lineup this season, limiting his run production upside but should still offer decent, cheap pop.
Evan Gattis, C, Atlanta Braves – Evidently, Atlanta liked what they saw from the 27 year old rookie last season, as they spent most of the year moving him around the field to ensure he would be in the lineup and quickly jettisoned Brian McCann to give him a permanent home behind the plate. It remains to be seen if playing Catcher full time at the big league level will affect Gattis’ production, or his playing time – will he take days off, or just put in some time in the outfield? Nevertheless, he’s a power hitting catcher eligible player who should be drafted in all leagues. Gattis strikes out (21.2%) and doesn’t hit line drives (just 14.5%) so he’s never going to hit for a high average, but there isn’t a lot of reason to think he’ll drop below last year’s .243 mark and the power trend should continue. He’ll hit cleanup for Atlanta this season, so 25 home runs and 80+ RBI are fully within range.
Jonathan Villar, SS, Houston Astros – I know what you’re thinking. Another SS who is going to hit around .240-.250, score some runs, and offer very little pop. Hooray! And you’d be right, largely. Last year Villar hit for a .076 ISO while striking out 29.5% of the time (71 Ks in 210 ABs). Neither of those things are likely to change a great deal in his second season, as he’s struck out more than 20% of the time in each of his minor league campaigns, but all is not lost with Houston’s starter at the position and presumed #9 hitter. He’s going to run. Villar was on base 75 times last season (we’re not counting ROE, FC, etc.) and stole 18 bags. If he can run that number to even 150 this year, 30 stolen bags are within reach and as long as his batting average doesn’t totally bottom out there aren’t many cheaper sources of steals.
Jurickson Profar, 2B, Texas Rangers – As far as debuts go, Jurickson Profar’s was about as underwhelming as they come. He posted a .234 batting average, struggled mightily defensively, and offered -0.4 wins above replacement. With a .101 isolated power (six home runs) and just two stolen bases he offered very little of what we expected heading into his rookie campaign. He did hit the ball hard though, with a 23.4% line drive ratio, which suggests he got a bit of a raw deal hitting for just a .280 BABIP average. This year, the hype meter has died down considerably but the potential remains. The soon to be 21 year old (don’t forget his age when contemplating the slow start to his MLB career) second bagger just wrapped an impressive winter league campaign featuring six steals, and a .284/.439/.398 triple slash in 88 ABs. He’ll hit somewhere near the bottom of the Rangers lineup to start the season, but as we pointed out in our discussion of Leonys Martin (who still qualifies for this piece, but has his own article already)
Texas is primed to score a lot of runs again and with Shin-Soo Choo and Elvis Andrus batting at the top of the lineup, there are better RBI producers after the order turns over than there are on most teams. Profar will come at a reasonable rate on draft day this year, and in a production thin position could offer a nice draft day return. Just a modest improvement in batting average should keep him relevant and in position to score his fair share of runs. With the departure of Ian Kinsler, Texas needs him in the lineup. Profar is a natural SS, so there is no guarantee that the move to second will be a smooth transition, but if can make himself at home there and bring his average up even a few notches, he should be assured of playing time all season. On that note, the prevailing train of thought is that Profar simply makes too much good contact to remain a low average hitter. So, there is that much for a safety net and the sky is the limit in terms of potential.
Adam Eaton, OF, Chicago White Sox – Eaton did have a brief stint at the Major League level in 2012 but his Arizona career ends after two seasons of underfulfilled promise. He didn’t do a whole lot last year on paper, but the White Sox claim to be thrilled with the acquisition of a player they charmingly refer to as a dirtbag. He hit just three home runs and batted .252, but demonstrated a reasonably strong eye (17 walks, 15.9% K rate) and was quick on the basepaths. He’ll likely hit leadoff for the Sox this season, so he could post reasonable returns in steals and runs if he can get on base.
Quick Hits of Note:
David Lough, OF, Baltimore Orioles – After parts of two seasons in Kansas City, Lough could manage mixed league relevance if he gets on the field. He’ll be hard pressed to win a starting job for the O’s, but he posted respectable run production numbers last year coupled with a .286 average. Word is, when he plays, he’ll lead off.
Didi Gregorius, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks – Briefly awesome in 2013 (eight extra base hits, 14 runs and a .283 batting average in May and four home runs through his first 119 at bats) Gregorius probably finds himself as #2 on the Arizona SS depth chart heading into the season. His brief flash of talent shows he is worth a look should he have a strong spring and wrest the starting job from Chris Owings – or if one of them gets moved.
Brandon Barnes,OF, Colarado Rockies – After a 98 at bat cameo in 2012 Barnes saw regular playing time for the Astros last year. He upped his average over that first season, but doesn’t have a clear path to playing time in Colorado and shouldn’t be expected to take another big step this season, despite the friendly hitter confines.
J.B. Shuck, Los Angeles Angels – With the above mentioned departure of Peter Bourjos and the potential for injury/ineffectiveness with Josh Hamilton and fellow sophomore Kole Calhoun it is conceivable that Shuck gets a fair number of swings in this season. Either way, he’s not much to be excited about in standard leagues. Shuck hit for a .293 average his first go around, but a .079 ISO number suggests he doesn’t have much use in a position full of guys that can hit in the high twos with more pop.
Aaron Hicks, OF, Minnesota Twins – Last year at this time, Hicks was gaining a bit of momentum with a strong Spring. He struggled as a 23 year old (who hadn’t played above AAA) and that hype quickly fizzled, but keep an eye on Hicks who will benefit from an extra year’s worth of development. You may not see him in a starter’s role all season, but don’t give up on him after a woeful 2013.