Mike Trout batted .220/.281/.390 over 135 plate appearances during his first taste of the majors in 2011. We’ve been so spoiled by his consistent excellence that it almost feels like this never happened. It’s difficult to imagine a world where he isn’t dominating major league pitching, but it’s nice to be reminded every once in a while. Not everyone hits the ground running.
While it’s true that we’ve seen a number of young players succeed from the jump, there are plenty of others who needed some time to adjust. Alex Bregman was 1-for-32 to begin his career back in 2016, just to name a recent prominent example. Now he’s delivering first-round value in mixed fantasy leagues. This is a long way of saying to not overreact on what we’re seeing from Vladimir Guerrero Jr. so far. He’s just not getting much to hit.
Guerrero sports a weak .162/.244/.189 batting line with one double and one RBI through his first 10 games in the majors. According to Fangraphs, he’s getting pitches in the strike zone just 31.1 percent of the time, the lowest such number among players with at least 40 plate appearances. Guerrero isn’t necessarily chasing pitches, in the strike zone or otherwise, but he’s working counts and striking out a bunch. When he has made contact, he’s predominantly hitting the ball on the ground.
With all the hype attached to his long anticipated call-up, it’s understandable if Guerrero has been pressing a bit. It’s a lot for someone to take on, even as the son of a Hall of Famer. Now it’s up to him to adjust to the way he’s being pitched. And given the way he tore through the minors at a young age while boasting an advanced approach, there’s every reason to believe he’s equal to the task. Remember guys like Mike Trout and Alex Bregman each time you feel like you’re losing your nerve.
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(Players rostered in under 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Note: Percentages from the morning of Thursday, May 9
Brandon Woodruff SP/RP, Brewers (Yahoo: 34 percent rostered)
Okay, so Woodruff isn’t going to stay under the radar for much longer. The 26-year-old notched a career-high nine strikeouts over six innings of one-run ball in a win over the Nationals on Wednesday, giving him a 1.69 ERA over his last three starts. Woodruff still holds a 4.25 ERA on the year, which is a big reason why he’s sitting on the waiver wire in many leagues, but the secondary numbers have indicated reason for hope. Though 42 1/3 innings, he’s fanned 54 batters while issuing just 12 walks. Yes, that mid-90s fastball gets a lot of attention, but Woodruff also gets a good number of whiffs on his slider and changeup. With his ability to miss bats, it’s time for him to jump over the 50 percent mark.
Jed Lowrie 2B/3B, Mets (Yahoo: 20 percent rostered)
Signed to a two-year, $20 million contract over the winter, Lowrie has yet to make his Mets’ debut due to a capsule strain in his left knee. The time to stash is now, though, as he’s a few games into a minor league rehab assignment and could be activated as soon as Friday. The results haven’t been great in the minors, but Lowrie owns an .804 OPS (121 OPS+) over the past two season and amassed career-highs with 22 homers and 99 RBI over 157 games last year with the Athletics. His strikeout rate was up a bit compared to 2017, but he still made plenty of contact and shows patience as well. It’s not like Todd Frazier has made a strong case to take the starting third base job, so fantasy owners should expect Lowrie to be a lineup fixture. The dual eligibility should come in handy.
Yordan Alvarez OF, Astros (Yahoo: 33 percent rostered)
Prospects are being called up left and right, so the time to be shy about stashing is over. So let’s turn our focus to one of the most intriguing bats knocking on the door for a promotion. Alvarez, a consensus top-50 prospect coming into the year, has mashed at Triple-A to the tune of a .391/.481/.863 batting line with 14 homers through just 30 games. Insane. He struck out nearly a quarter of the time between Double- and Triple-A last year, but he’s made some progress in that area so far this year. Kyle Tucker remains an exciting prospect for the long-term, but Alvarez has probably jumped him in the pecking order at this point. The Astros have been coy about the timing here — and their offense is pretty amazing even without him — but it’s hard to think of a near-ready prospect with more potential upside.
Chris Taylor 2B/SS/OF, Dodgers (Yahoo: 39 percent rostered)
Welcome back to the club. Taylor did little of note over the first month of the season, but he recently caught fire with four straight multi-hit games including two homers, two doubles, and six RBI. With A.J. Pollock sidelined for six weeks following elbow surgery, Taylor should continue to see his fair share of chances. He started seven straight games before coming off the bench Wednesday against the Braves. Making contact has been an issue for Taylor dating back to the start of 2018, but he offers some pop and speed and finds himself in a great lineup. The multi-position eligibility makes him a quality plug and play option.
Kyle Gibson SP, Twins (Yahoo: 18 percent rostered)
Sporting a new cutter and an uptick in fastball velocity, Martin Perez (Yahoo: 53 percent rostered) has been a popular waiver wire pickup in recent days, but don’t forget about his new teammate. Gibson dominated the Blue Jays on Wednesday with a career-high 11 strikeouts over six innings of one-run ball, with the lone run coming on a homer from Brandon Drury. Yes, it was the Blue Jays, but he induced 19 swinging strikes as well as 19 called strikes in his 88 pitches. After a shaky start to the year, he’s now allowed two earned runs or fewer in each of his last four starts while posting a 28/3 K/BB ratio over 24 innings. He’s admittedly taken advantage of some cozy matchups recently, but Gibson was pretty good last year (3.62 ERA, 120 ERA+). He also has a potent offense helping him out. Give him another chance in mixed leagues. The Angels are coming up next.
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Didi Gregorius SS, Yankees (Yahoo: 28 percent rostered)
Gregorius is another injury list stash for fantasy owners, but this is thinking more long-term as he makes his way back from Tommy John surgery. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman recently said during an appearance on Sirius XM that the shortstop was expected to begin a throwing program this week, with a possible stint in extended spring training on tap for around May 20. He’ll be eased into action as a designated hitter before testing himself on the field, but it’s realistic at this point to think that he could be back with the Yankees at some point in June as opposed to the original expectation of midseason. The 29-year-old Gregorius has become a proven power bat at shortstop over the past three seasons, so he certainly justifies a stash in most leagues as he begins to ramp things up.
Brad Peacock SP, Astros (Yahoo: 42 percent rostered)
It was understandable if you left Peacock on your bench after he was rocked for seven runs over 3 2/3 innings last time out against the Twins, but he rebounded in monster fashion Wednesday against the Royals by striking out a career-high 12 batters while allowing three hits and no walks over seven scoreless frames. Interestingly, he worked out of the windup pitching exclusively out of the stretch over the past two seasons. He probably shouldn’t have been dropped anyway, but it’s worth seeing where this leads. This is a good time to pick him up, as he has a matchup against the Tigers up next. And just so you know, Jerad Eickhoff (Yahoo: 48 percent rostered) is also worthy of attention and was already mentioned in a recent column. But he has my endorsement anyway.
Steve Cishek RP, Cubs (Yahoo 22 percent rostered)
Brandon Kintzler RP, Cubs (Yahoo: 2 percent rostered)
Carl Edwards, Jr. RP, Cubs (Yahoo: 2 percent rostered)
Brad Brach RP, Cubs (Yahoo: 1 percent rostered)
On the heels of a brutal blown save against the Marlins on Monday, Pedro Strop was placed on the 10-day injured list on Wednesday due to another hamstring strain. He apparently tweaked the hamstring about 10 days ago and the symptoms have lingered, so the hope is that he’ll benefit with some extended rest. Brandon Morrow isn’t anywhere close to returning following a setback from his elbow surgery, so this leaves things wide open in the late innings. Cubs manager Joe Maddon isn’t locking himself into any one pitcher as a replacement, so it’s really anyone’s guess. With the Cubs holding a one-run lead on Wednesday, Kyle Ryan actually began the ninth inning before Cishek ultimately blew the save. Cishek would have been my first choice going into the night, but Maddon could go in another direction next time. Hey, if you really need saves, go crazy here.
Jorge Soler OF, Royals (Yahoo: 33 percent rostered)
Soler ended up on a few of my rosters this spring, as I was encouraged by what I saw from him last year before a toe injury cut his season short. The price tag was also minimal, so it wouldn’t hurt much if the time came to drop him. Plenty of fantasy owners reached that point last week, but Soler has turned things around in a hurry by hitting .375 (12-for-32) with two homers, three doubles, seven RBI, and seven runs scored over his last eight games. While he’s striking out more often — 33.5 percent of the time, to be exact — and walking less often than he did last year, he’s already equaled his home run total (nine) in about 100 fewer plate appearances. With his fly ball rate on the rise, he could be a useful power bat in plenty of leagues.
Luke Jackson RP, Braves (Yahoo: 25 percent rostered)
With Arodys Vizcaino done for the season due to shoulder surgery, the assumption has been that A.J. Minter will run away with the Braves’ closer role, at least assuming the club doesn’t sign Craig Kimbrel. Perhaps Minter will eventually do that, but Jackson has emerged as a threat for saves in the short-term. After entering the year with an ugly 5.19 ERA in the majors, the 27-year-old is sporting a 2.25 ERA and 19/6 K/BB ratio through 16 innings this season. He hasn’t allowed a run since a shaky season debut. Jackson is throwing harder than he’s done in the past and relying more often on his slider, racking up a ton of grounders in the process. I still think Minter is the better bet for the long-term, but Jackson should be tucked away if you are saves-hungry at the moment. The same could go for Roenis Elias (Yahoo: 40 percent rostered) and Brandon Brennan (Yahoo: 4 percent rostered) with the Mariners and Shawn Kelley (Yahoo: 35 percent rostered) and Chris Martin (Yahoo: 2 percent rostered) with the Rangers.