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Yoan Moncada
AP
Strike Zone

Notes: Yearning For Yoan

by Matthew Pouliot

I’m annoyed with myself since I dropped Yoan Moncada a little bit in my Top 300 prior to Opening Day, all because the White Sox weren’t going to have him lead off. He’s looked positively terrific so far, hitting .326/.370/.628 with three homers, 13 RBI and 11 strikeouts in 46 plate appearances.

That Moncada was an extreme strikeout guy in his first 1 ½ big-league seasons wasn’t because he was an extreme swing-and-miss guy; it was a combination of a slightly above average swinging-strike rate and a patient approach that led to a lot of deep counts. This year, he’s both being more aggressive and cutting back on the missed swings by about 10 percent. The combination could lead to something much closer to a league-average strikeout rate going forward, and if that’s the case, Moncada will be a force, since he tends to hit the ball very hard.

Because Moncada has been a huge disappointment in the stolen base category as a major leaguer (he had 111 steals in 267 career minor league games, compared to 15 steals in 221 major league games to date), he probably won’t ever be the elite fantasy superstar that for a time seemed to be his destiny. Still, the power is there for him to hit 35 homers per year with more consistent contact. I ended up placing him 110th in my overall rankings this year. Right now, I’d have him at least 40 spots higher.

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American League notes

- Chris Sale displayed better velocity, though not better results, while giving up five runs Tuesday against the Blue Jays. He was singled to death by an aggressive Jays team; not one of the seven hits he allowed went for extra bases and he didn’t walk anyone. Considering that Sale was able to touch 95 mph on the gun, it was good news for the future, even if the possible Cy Young favorite fell to 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA.

- Those poor unfortunate souls who play in mixed leagues with two active catchers might want to consider trying Blake Swihart. The one-time top prospect is 6-for-17 with a homer in the early going. Meanwhile, the light-hitting Christian Vazquez isn’t exactly covering himself in glory defensively; he gave up his second and third passed balls of the season in Sale’s outing Tuesday. It’s not saying a whole lot, given the state of the field, but Swihart would have a good chance of performing as a top-10 fantasy catcher if he’s able to take over as the starter.

- The Mike Clevinger back injury is pretty devastating, especially on the heels of him striking out 22 in 12 scoreless innings over his first two starts. It sounds like he’ll miss at least two months, and it’s possible he won’t be back until after the All-Star break. One imagines the Indians are now more likely to bring Danny Salazar (shoulder) along as a starter; they might have groomed him for a relief role had the rotation been in good shape. He’s not going to be an option until June, though. Adam Plutko was supposed to be next in line for any rotation vacancies, but he’s on the shelf in Triple-A with a forearm problem. Cody Anderson is still building up stamina as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery, though he could be ready by the end of the month. Chih-Wei Hu might be the Indians’ best replacement option for the moment.

- Jason Kipnis (calf) played in his fourth game with Triple-A Columbus on Tuesday, so he should be ready to come off the IL next week or perhaps even by the weekend. That figures to be bad news for Brad Miller unless he follows up Tuesday’s big game with a few more and turns himself into an option in the outfield.

- Speaking of options for the Indians outfield, Carlos Gonzalez is 6-for-18 with six walks since beginning play at Columbus. He’ll probably get a look in right field against right-handers soon. I doubt he’ll be a big mixed-league asset, but he might be worth using in weeks in which the Indians aren’t due to face multiple lefties.

- It seemed like the Indians had real plans for Yandy Diaz this year, but when the Rays offered up Jake Bauers and $5 million to the payroll-limited team, it made it hard to say no. As an Indian, Diaz showed very good plate discipline and ample exit velocity, but because of his extreme groundball tendencies, he hit just one homer in 265 at-bats for the club. The Rays thought they could fix the groundball issues, and Diaz has come through with three homers in his first 11 games for the team. However, so far anyway, Diaz is hitting just as many grounders as ever. What has been difference is that his non-grounders have tended to be flies, rather than the line drives of previous years. Still, I’ll be more excited about his power potential if he can get the groundball rate down from 54% to somewhere in the 40-45 range. He is worth owning in mixed leagues for now.

- Ervin Santana averaged 91 mph with his fastball and 83 mph with his slider in his White Sox debut Tuesday. That’s a little better than where he was at after he tried to return from his finger problems last season, but still a couple of miles per hour shy of where he had been during his strong 2017 campaign. He probably won’t go back to being useful in fantasy leagues.

- I’m baffled by the Orioles’ handling of Cedric Mullins, perhaps their most talented youngster, in a rebuilding campaign. Not only has Mullins sat against four of the five lefties the Orioles have faced, but he was dropped from first to ninth in the order after just five games. I’m not sold on Mullins as a quality long-term regular, but he’s one of the team’s best hopes there and it’s not like the O’s are swimming in quality alternatives to use against southpaws. Shouldn’t the idea be to give him as many reps against lefties as he can get in the hopes of improving against them? I had Mullins ranked 54th among OFs this season because I assumed he’d get a ton of plate appearances at the top of the order and hopefully wind up with 15-20 homers and steals. As a No. 9 hitter against righties and a bench guy against lefties, he figures to be pretty useless for fantasy purposes.

 

National League notes

- Ross Stripling was one of my very favorite fantasy picks this year, so I was rather disappointed to see him averaging just 90 mph in his first two starts after never coming in under 91 mph and averaging closer to 92 mph last year. It’s not a devastating drop, but it’s certainly not ideal. His fastball was an effective weapon last season, but perhaps because his velocity is down, he’s thrown it just one quarter of the time so far this year. Stripling’s status in the Dodgers rotation is looking pretty good with Hyun-Jin Ryu (groin) landing on the DL, and it’s possible the velocity will tick back up as the season progresses. I’m not quite as high on him as I was a few weeks ago, though.

- The Dodgers are expected to activate Clayton Kershaw (shoulder) after he allowed two runs over six innings in his second rehab start Tuesday. The reports regarding his velocity weren’t particular encouraging, as he was apparently more often in the high-80s than the low-90s, but he should still be worth using right away. Even if Kershaw’s 80% of what he was, that still makes him better than most.

- It’s probably a fluke – I certainly hope it’s a fluke – but Nolan Arenado thus far has an average exit velocity of 83.6 mph, which is crazy low even in a two-week sample. It puts him 186th of the 200 players with at least 20 BBE. Arenado isn’t striking out at all, but he’s made a lot of soft contact and he’s yet to homer. Perhaps he’s covering up a minor injury. I don’t want to read much into it at this point – I wouldn’t suggest selling him for anything less than full value – but I would start to panic if things don’t change over the next couple of weeks.

- David Dahl’s first DL stint of the year will give Raimel Tapia a chance in Colorado. Tapia is a player I still have some hopes for offensively, but defense is an issue. While Tapia has plenty of speed for center, the Rockies have already picked Ian Desmond, Dahl and even converted infielder Garrett Hampson over him at his natural position, leaving him relegated to the corners. Tapia has a history of quality OBPs in the minors, and he has a little pop in his bat, too. With his steal ability, he’d be an obvious mixed-league add if he could convince the Rockies to play him regularly. However, that seems a whole lot less likely to happen if he’s only viewed as a legitimate option in left or right. He will get 10-14 days now to try to make a case for shoving Desmond to the bench.

- There’s some more reason for optimism regarding Marcell Ozuna over the last few days; his 115.3 mph homer off Ryu on Monday was the third-hardest hit ball anyone has hit this season, topped only by Aaron Judge and Joey Gallo. Dexter Fowler, on the other hand, isn’t yet giving anyone much reason to believe in him. It’d make sense to bet on either Jose Martinez or Tyler O’Neill right now if the other happened not to exist. Both are likely mixed-league assets if given regular playing time, but it seems like the first step to going away from Fowler will be to rotate all three players in and out. Martinez would probably have an advantage over O’Neill initially.

- I would have been more excited about the Padres putting Fernando Tatis Jr. on the Opening Day roster if it didn’t mean that Luis Urias was getting sent down. Urias, though, is already back, and he could get a chance to overtake Ian Kinsler at second base. Urias isn’t nearly as intriguing as Tatis for fantasy purposes, as he offers limited power at the moment (10 homers last year) and little stolen base ability. He’s been a .400 OBP guy in the minors, though, and he should be an immediate upgrade over Kinsler offensively. He’s not worth picking up in mixed leagues right now, but he might be later.

- It’s unfortunate that Franchy Cordero (elbow) got hurt, but the Padres are likely better off rotating four quality outfielders between three spots, rather than five. I thought it made sense to send Cordero down anyway, just because everyone in the group needs consistent at-bats. With Cordero down, Hunter Renfroe, Franmil Reyes and Manuel Margot make for better plays in mixed leagues, though only Renfroe seems like a quality option in a 12-team league for the short term.

- Control has always been an issue for Max Fried, but the stuff is legitimate and it looks like he might be turning the corner in Atlanta. After a second straight impressive start Tuesday – this one at Coors Field – Fried is worth trying in mixed leagues. He’s probably not a threat to throw 170-180 innings, but he should remain useful for a while.

- It figured that one of the power-needy teams would pick up Tyler Austin once the Twins DFA’d him, and he landed with the Giants in a trade. That’s not the greatest fit, since he isn’t going to offer much range in left field. The Giants have used Brandon Belt in left the last couple of days, but that’s probably temporary, since it weakens the team at two positions. From a fantasy perspective, Austin would be quite a bit more interesting in a smaller park. However, it’s understandable that the Giants would want him; unlike some middling power hitters, he’s going to have little trouble escaping the confines of Oracle Park when he connects. Still, it’s doubtful that Austin will connect enough against right-handers to avoid being a liability as a regular.

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.