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Notes: Ramirez’s Regression

by Matthew Pouliot
Updated On: April 24, 2019, 4:22 am ET

Last weekend’s premature report failed to come to fruition, but it does sound like Jays phenom Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will arrive in the majors very soon. Since returning from a strained oblique and joining Triple-A Buffalo, Guerrero has hit .360/.429/.640 with two homers in 25 at-bats. That’s barely any different from his .381/.437/.636 line from 2018. Of course, Guerrero could use some more polish defensively, but there’s no reason that can’t happen in the majors. He’s probably never going to be an asset at the hot corner, and a long-term future as a first baseman or designated hitter still seems to be the most likely scenario.

Guerrero’s bat is ready now, and he could be a .300 hitter in the majors right away. It would be a surprise if he didn’t at least come close to that mark in making a run at AL Rookie of the Year honors. He’s still a couple of seasons away from reaching his prime as a power bat, but even so, he’s a threat for 20 homers this year. It’ll take some sort of injury to prevent him from being a top-10 fantasy third baseman the rest of the way, and he might just rank in the top five.

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American League notes

- Jose Ramirez has been a massive disappointment to date, and while I don’t like to panic over any April struggles from established hitters, it is scarier in his case because of the way he collapsed at the end of last year (.165/.304/.273 with two homers in his final 38 games). Still, the ugly numbers this year have come with the same exit velocity and barrel rate he enjoyed over the course of what was still a hugely successful 2018 season. He’s also gone 5-for-5 as a basestealer, and even if he doesn’t match last season’s power numbers, the likelihood of 30 steals should still make him awfully valuable. I had Ramirez fifth overall in the preseason top 300. I’d drop him into the 10-15 range now, partly because the Indians offense as a whole seems likely to disappoint, but I wouldn’t sell him any lower than that.

- Red Sox second basemen have been hurt and done nothing while healthy, so top prospect Michael Chavis got a crash course at a new position and a surprise promotion last week. Chavis, who was busted for steroids last year, hit four homers in his first 12 games at Triple-A Pawtucket this season. It’ll likely be a while before he’s ready to hit for average in the majors, but the power is legit. Still, he’s probably not up for good this time around; he definitely needs some more work at second base before getting a real chance there. It’s hard to say exactly how the Red Sox will arrange their infield for the long haul; Xander Bogaerts is eventually going to need to shift to third and Rafael Devers to first would make a lot of sense. Chavis fits in a lot better if he can play second, but range will be an issue there.

- Jurickson Profar’s defense has been just as abysmal as his offense this year, and there’s a really good case for Oakland sending him to the bench. He’s been probably the AL’s worst regular for 25 games, and it’s not like his history is all that rosy; in his one good year with the Rangers, he had an .874 OPS in the AL’s best ballpark for offense and a .712 OPS elsewhere. Chad Pinder looks like a better option at second base right now, and Franklin Barreto might deserve a shot if he starts hitting in Triple-A. Barreto has gotten some work in center field and continued to play some shortstop, but his last six starts for Triple-A Las Vegas have all come at second base. Unfortunately, he’s batting just .197/.347/.344 so far.

- Former Yankees prospect Justus Sheffield will make his Mariners debut Friday as a planned long reliever after a brief start for Yusei Kikuchi. Sheffield wasn’t off to a great start at Triple-A; he’s walked 14 and given up four homers in 18 1/3 innings for Tacoma. There’s the chance for some real fantasy value here later this year, but this figures to be a short stay for the 22-year-old.

- Erik Swanson, who was also acquired by the Mariners in the James Paxton deal with the Yankees, had a rough go of it Tuesday against the Padres after a fine first start against the Indians. Swanson is a strike-thrower without a truly standout offering, but one who has managed to rack up quite a few swings and misses anyway. He’s a big flyball pitcher, which is an especially bad thing to be with the way baseballs are flying this year, but at least he has ex-Safeco and a fine outfield defense helping him out. He’s not a good enough bet in the ERA department to be worthy of a pickup in shallow mixed leagues, but those in slightly deeper formats could benefit from a solid WHIP and K rate.

- It was a given that the Orioles would be terrible this year, but it seemed likely that they’d be run smarter after raiding the Astros’ front office. And they probably will be. Still, they’ve done some odd things already, like putting Stevie Wilkerson on waivers to clear a 40-man roster spot at the end of the spring, only to bring him back to the majors three weeks later to replace the struggling Cedric Mullins. The original Wilkerson decision was really odd given the abundance of alternatives to be dropped; the previous administration was quite high on the versatile 27-year-old, even though he was banned for amphetamines and missed the first 50 games of last season. There isn’t much in the way of upside here, but it was still surprising no one picked him up for free at the beginning of April, especially since he had options left. He’ll probably get a lengthy look now and amass some value in AL-only leagues.

- I think the Orioles should have given Mullins a little while longer, especially since the alternative was so bleak, but he was not looking like a major league hitter of late. Joey Rickard will be the regular center fielder, which is less than ideal.

 

National League notes

- With Erik Gonzalez (broken clavicle) joining Kevin Newman (finger) on the IL, the Pirates were forced to give Cole Tucker a shot at shortstop. Tucker is easily the most interesting option of the group for fantasy purposes, mostly because he stole 34 bases in Double-A last year and 47 between high-A and Double-A the year before. His offensive profile isn’t as exciting; although he doesn’t strike out a ton, he’s been just a .260 hitter in the minors, and his career high for homers is six. On the plus side, he seems to have taken a step forward in the power department this year; he had three homers in his first 13 games in Triple-A and has one more in four games since being called up. I’m still not particularly optimistic that he’ll offer mixed-league value this year, but he does have a shot.

- Ian Desmond seems to have made a conscious effort to get some air under the ball this season, but while he has succeeded in doing that, he’s rarely hitting the ball hard; in fact, his hard-hit rate is down about 20% from last year, while his strikeout rate is up about 15%. Maybe he’ll figure something out with his new approach, but nothing that’s happened these last couple of years leads to much optimism. Meanwhile, Raimel Tapia has homered in three straight games (even if one was an inside-the-parker), giving him the second-highest OPS on the Rockies at the moment. Tapia deserves a longer look and would seem to be worth at least a bench spot in mixed leagues.

- The Cardinals said Tuesday that Carlos Martinez (shoulder) will make his return as a reliever. That’s less the team’s preference and more a result of it being all he can handle right now. Martinez has ample fantasy potential as a reliever -- he had a 1.47 ERA and five saves in 15 appearances after joining the Cardinals bullpen last August -- but he’ll need to impress and have Jordan Hicks falter some if he’s going to get a chance at the closer’s role. The Cardinals would have financial incentive for making the switch at some point, but that alone isn’t likely to win the day. Martinez is still probably at least 2-3 weeks away from coming off the IL if everything goes correctly.

- Daniel Ponce de Leon was expected to be sent back to Triple-A after filling in for Michael Wacha (knee) on Tuesday night, but with Martinez in the pen, his path to a spot in the Cardinals rotation has gotten clearer. He’s never been viewed as a prospect at all, but his stuff looked perfectly legit while he amassed a 2.73 ERA in four starts and seven relief appearances in the majors last year. He’d likely be a fringy mixed-league option if given a real shot.

- Not only has Jesus Aguilar been doing some sitting in favor of Eric Thames against righties, but on Tuesday, the Brewers bypassed both to give Yasmani Grandal a rare start at first base. Aguilar isn’t striking out overly much, but he’s not making much hard contact, and even when he does drive the ball, he’s not doing so in the air. His longest fly this year has traveled just 370 feet. Even Eric Hosmer, who has been a disappointment while hitting mostly grounders, has shots of 399, 392 and 385 feet already. Aguilar seems droppable in mixed leagues at this point. Even if Aguilar proved solid, there was always a chance that Thames would go back to outproducing him against righties this year.

- While it sucks that Matt Kemp (rib) got hurt, it’s a good thing for the Reds that he’ll be unavailable for a spell. Kemp had started seven straight games before going on the IL, even though the Reds outfield had been healthy. Kemp was hitting a disastrous .200/.210/.283 with five RBI in 60 at-bats, and his presence in the lineup usually put Jesse Winker in center, leaving the Reds with far and away the worst outfield defense in the majors. Phillip Ervin replaced Kemp, and though he doesn’t have a ton of offensive upside, he’s a better fit for the Reds roster.

- The Dodgers chose to give Rich Hill an extra rehab outing that hardly seemed necessary, but it will earn Ross Stripling one more start Thursday against the Cubs before Hill returns this weekend. Stripling is then penciled in for a bullpen stint, barring another injury to a different Dodgers starter. Most likely, Dodgers starters will keep dropping like flies all year, so Stripling shouldn’t be let go in any formats.

- Jeff Samardzija has quietly opened the season with a 3.00 ERA in five starts, but the velocity he lost last season hasn’t come back at all; he’s down about 2.5 miles per hour from where he was a couple of years ago. He’s been successful because he’s surrendered just three homers in 27 innings, but since he’s giving up a lot more flyballs than he used to, the home run rate figures to jump significantly. He still looks like someone to avoid.

- Addison Russell, who has been serving a domestic violence suspension, is set to rejoin the Cubs in a week after a brief stint in the minors. It doesn’t seem likely that he’ll be an everyday guy initially, but he should take at-bats away from Daniel Descalso, Ben Zobrist and David Bote. Descalso has been off to a strong start offensively, but his defense at second base just isn’t any good; unfortunately, he lost all of his defensive value at about the same time that he learned how to hit. There could be a path to mixed-league value for Russell, but one imagines it’ll be at least a month or two before he has any chance of getting there.

- From a personnel standpoint, Arizona seemed as an unlikely a fit for Blake Swihart as there was in the majors, but given the familiarity with him from the former Red Sox people in the organization, perhaps it shouldn’t have been such a surprise that the Diamondbacks were the team to acquire him after he was DFA’d. It doesn’t sound like Swihart will be doing much catching, so he’s probably not going to be an option in fantasy leagues unless the Diamondbacks start selling off position players this summer.

Matthew Pouliot
Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of RotoWorld.com and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @matthewpouliot.