Regan's Rumblings: Random Thoughts

Regan's Rumblings: Random Thoughts

This article is part of our Regan's Rumblings series.

I was pretty taken aback Tuesday by the Starling Marte suspension news, but fortunately I don't own any shares of the Pittsburgh outfielder. In the short term, this helps the stock of Adam Frazier and others, but in the long term, Austin Meadows should get a shot once he gets on a hot streak in Triple-A.

This week's rumblings will consist of a few things I've been thinking about, as well as some popular questions I've received. Enjoy!

When to bench stars

Stats as of Sunday, April 16

In one of my leagues, I went to set my lineup for the week Monday morning and saw the following stat line for some of my high-profile guys (BA/HR/RBI):

1B Miguel Cabrera (.220/2/6)

3B Kris Bryant (.229/2/7)

SS Trevor Story (.114/1/2)

OF Billy Hamilton (.235/0/3, 5 SB)

It has helped that I had Eric Thames (.368-6-11) slotted in at UT, but seeing these guys put up 0-for-4s on a seemingly nightly basis is frustrating to say the least. I get asked questions in our ask-an-expert feature all the time that start with "Should I bench [insert star player] for [insert waiver wire hero] until [star player] heats up"? In the past, I've usually responded that "sure you can bench [star player], but don't be surprised if he heats up right after you do so." Isn't that how it always works? I think I may need to reconsider, however.

What I'd probably recommend doing is this: if you have sufficient reserve spots to

I was pretty taken aback Tuesday by the Starling Marte suspension news, but fortunately I don't own any shares of the Pittsburgh outfielder. In the short term, this helps the stock of Adam Frazier and others, but in the long term, Austin Meadows should get a shot once he gets on a hot streak in Triple-A.

This week's rumblings will consist of a few things I've been thinking about, as well as some popular questions I've received. Enjoy!

When to bench stars

Stats as of Sunday, April 16

In one of my leagues, I went to set my lineup for the week Monday morning and saw the following stat line for some of my high-profile guys (BA/HR/RBI):

1B Miguel Cabrera (.220/2/6)

3B Kris Bryant (.229/2/7)

SS Trevor Story (.114/1/2)

OF Billy Hamilton (.235/0/3, 5 SB)

It has helped that I had Eric Thames (.368-6-11) slotted in at UT, but seeing these guys put up 0-for-4s on a seemingly nightly basis is frustrating to say the least. I get asked questions in our ask-an-expert feature all the time that start with "Should I bench [insert star player] for [insert waiver wire hero] until [star player] heats up"? In the past, I've usually responded that "sure you can bench [star player], but don't be surprised if he heats up right after you do so." Isn't that how it always works? I think I may need to reconsider, however.

What I'd probably recommend doing is this: if you have sufficient reserve spots to bench a star or two for a guy who's hot at the plate but probably not a long-term option, do it. Bench Trevor Story for Cosart or Taylor Motter in your 12-team mixed league and then watch a couple Rockies games. Look at the quality of Story's at-bats. Is he flailing at everything? Is he hitting the ball right at guys on a line? Is he working the count? Watch the Rockies feed, as maybe the announcers have seen something in past games or heard something from inside the organization that could be impacting Story's at-bats. I'd never bench a guy like Bryant or Cabrera, as both have proven track records, but with a guy like Story who struck out 31.3% of the time last year, he's going to have his ups and downs.

Who is the next Eric Thames?

So far this year, isn't the emergence of Eric Thames the top baseball story? Thames leads the majors with seven home runs, is second in the NL with a .405 average, and is only tied for third with 12 RBI due in no small part to Milwaukee leadoff men posting a .203 OBP. Thames also has a .479 OBP and 1.000 slugging percentage. In three years in the Korean League, Thames averaged a .349/41/127, which are essentially Nolan Arenado numbers with a much higher batting average. With the usual "it's early" caveat, Thames is doing his best to bust any and all "Korean League to MLB" projection models. We knew the pitching was of lesser caliber in Korea, so when Jung Ho Kang, for example, hit a home run every 12.5 at-bats in his last full year in the Korean League (40 in 2014), seeing him homer once every 20.5 at-bats in the bigs sounds about right. I originally felt comfortable putting Thames in the 22-25-homer range, as after all, Thames hit nine homers in 271 at-bats in the big leagues in 2012 before spending 2013 in the minors and then heading to Korea.

I still think he'll finish in the 25-30 range. But what everyone's wondering is if there other guys mashing over there now that could return in 2017 and be the next Thames? Probably not, but here are a few names you may recognize:

Nick Evans - .276/.368/.552 with five homers in 58 at-bats

Xavier Scruggs - .298/.476/.596 with four homers in 47 at-bats.

Luis Jimenez - .245/.333/.538 with four homers in 53 at-bats

Evans, a 31-year-old, is probably the most intriguing, as he hit .308/.410/.565 with 24 homers in Korea last year after having some small spurts of success stateside.

We know about Yoan Moncada and Cody Bellinger. What other prospects will be up soon?

We saw a brief (1-for-2, double) cameo from the Reds' Jesse Winker before he was sent back down, but Winker will be back later this year. Now that the date has passed giving teams an extra year of control over their minor leaguers, any of these guys could be up at any point. Here are my top five prospects not named Moncada or Bellinger who could be helping sooner rather than later:

Franklin Barreto, SS, OAK – Barreto won't get the call this month despite the Marcus Semien injury, but with Adam Rosales and Chad Pinder manning the position for now, a switch could be on the docket next month. Barreto is off to a .310/.375/.524 start in Triple-A, but the A's probably want to see his 30.6% come down before they bring him up.

Brent Honeywell, SP, TB – Honeywell appears to represent another gem for the Rays' pitching development factory. Coming off a 2.34 ERA in 20 starts last year (High-A / Double-A), Honeywell already has 20 strikeouts in 13 innings this year to go with a 2.08 ERA. He's currently in Double-A, but the 22-year-old could be up quicker than we think given his skill set and the organization's willingness to promote their prospects aggressively.

Bradley Zimmer, OF, CLE – With 15 home runs and 38 steals, Zimmer has top-20 prospect potential with one major issue holding him back – strikeouts. Zimmer fanned in 37.3% of his Triple-A PA's and in 28.3% of his Double-A PA's a year ago. This year he's coming off batting .358 in spring training and so far in Triple-A, he's only striking out 23.9% of the time. Whether he can maintain that is a huge question, but if he can, he'll be up by June. Consider the Indians' outfielders: the oft-injured but solid Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Abraham Almonte. Not exactly Belle/Lofton/Ramirez.

Rowdy Tellez, 1B, TOR – Newsflash: The Blue Jays are off to a slow start, Justin Smoak is terrible, and Tellez is their top prospect. You do the math. Tellez is off to a slow start for Triple-A Buffalo, so there is no urgency to promote him, but after a .917 OPS last year in Double-A, his time is coming soon.

Tyler Beede, SP, SFMatt Cain tossed five innings of one-run ball in his last start, but in two starts, Cain has tossed just 9.1 innings of 4.82 ball with a 1.82 WHIP and 9:6 K:BB. Given that Cain's recent injury history and history of ineffectiveness, it's easy to see the Giants looking elsewhere, perhaps to Ty Blach, but Beede should be an option at some point this year. Beede impressed this spring, posting a 2.03 ERA in 13.1 innings with a 10:4 K:BB. After a down 2015, Beede rebounded last year, at times hitting 98 mph while lowering his walk rate from 4.4 BB/9 to 3.2. If Beede can make further progress in his command and control this year, he'll certainly see time in the Giants' rotation, perhaps sooner rather than later should Cain's struggles continue.

Are these pitchers really "breaking out"?

With most pitchers now having made three starts, the leaderboards are filled with the usual suspects — Noah Syndergaard, Madison Bumgarner, and Chris Sale. On top of the regular marquee names, here are 10 notable starters looking to parlay their early starts into a breakout 2017:

James Paxton, SEA – No one has had a better start than Paxton, who — through three starts covering 21 innings — has yet to allow an earned run while posting a 9.4 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9. He's always had good stuff, and I'm a sucker for a lefty that averages 95.8 mph with his fastball. It gives me some pause that his FB% has gone from from 30.1% to 41.7%, but if Paxton's shoulder doesn't start acting up again, he could post a sub-3.00 ERA with 200+ strikeouts.

Dylan Bundy, BAL – Bundy has completely transformed himself after being hurt for the better part of three seasons. This is very cliché, but he's looking like more of a pitcher now than a thrower. Gone is the mid-90s fastball (mostly), as Bundy is averaging 92.8 mph with his fastball while posting solid ratios — 7.9 K/9, 1.4 BB/9 and a 1.86 ERA through three starts. Last year's 109.2 innings were a career high, so I'm not expecting more than 160 this season, though.

Robbie Ray, ARI – Ray has an 11.8 K/9 and 5.9 BB/9, so we know the 218 strikeouts he put up last year aren't a fluke, but still know that walks are a big issue. His ERA is 1.96, but his FIP is 3.96, so don't expect the ERA to stay down long. Against teams that struggle versus lefties (hello, Dodgers), he's a great DFS play.

Brandon McCarthy, LAD – McCarthy was reaching 95 mph with his fastball Monday night and was getting more movement on his pitches than I've ever seen from him. That's resulted in a 2.12 ERA, and if he can cut his 3.7 BB/9 to close to his 2.4 career mark, he'll start going a bit deeper into games. Right now he's the team's second best starter.

Antonio Senzatela, COL – I'm not all that optimistic given the lack of diversity in his offerings. Senzatela throws his fastball 74% of the time while mixing in a slider and change, both of which grade out less than average so far this year. Couple that with a mediocre 6.8% swinging strike rate, and the bullpen is probably in his future.

Charlie Morton, HOU – Morton's velocity is up for the third straight year, topping out this year with a 95.2 mph average fastball. A 4.27 xFIP says his 2.81 ERA is not sustainable, but if Morton can get his 48% GB% more in line with his 55.3% career rate, then the climb in ERA won't be too drastic.

Ariel Miranda, SEA – Miranda's seven shutout innings Monday got my attention, and I do love a good southpaw that averages over 92 mph on his fastball and toils in a pitcher-friendly park. He's the quintessential #4 or #5 starter in my book but lacks the ability for a massive breakout.

Jerad Eickhoff, PHI – Eickoff probably tops out as a mid-rotation guy given the relative lack of velocity (91.1 mph average fastball) and a below-average 9.5% swinging strike rate. Still, he's a solidly built guy who can carry 200+ innings with an ERA in the 3.60-3.80 range, which is very useful in most leagues.

Kendall Graveman, OAK – Graveman has added 1.5 mph to his fastball and now he's on the 10-day DL with a sore shoulder. I think we all know that 2.00 ERA he has through three starts is going up soon enough. An 8.4% swinging strike rate and 6.0 K/9 speaks to his lack of swing-and-miss stuff, so don't think of him as more than a streaming option in 12-team mixed leagues.

Lance McCullers, HOU – McCullers may have a 4.67 ERA, but his xFIP sits at 1.86 thanks to an 11.9 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9. McCullers has allowed just north of two home runs per nine innings (which is a LOT), but that should normalize and eventually drive his ERA down significantly.

What about these hitters, "break out" or not?

Eugenio Suarez, 3B, CIN – He's probably still a 20-homer guy, as a 30% HR/FB rate isn't something that can be maintained. Suarez, though, is hitting a lot more line drives and his 10% BB% and 16% K% are big improvement over the last couple years, allowing him to start off hitting .364/.440/.705. Suarez was never a top prospect, but he's getting better and at least has solidified an everyday role.

Avisail Garcia, OF, CHW – A career .258/.310/.385 hitter in 1,551 plate appearances prior to this season, Garcia is off to a blazing start this year at .447/.490/.638, primarily on the strength of a lofty .543 BABIP. At the same time, his K% is down from last year's 25.4% to 19.6%. The walk rate is still low at 5.9%, but when you're hitting .447, you can live with that. Once the average comes down, we'll see what we have, but early returns have been promising. Watch the GB% as it was sky-high at 55% last year and is down to 48.6% in 2017.

Mitch Haniger, OF, SEA – I've written about Haniger before. He hit 30 homers and stole 12 bases between three levels last year and could be in line for 20/10 in his first full big league season.

Marcell Ozuna, OF, MIA – I guess you could argue that Ozuna has already "broken out", but while he's certainly had red-hot months in his three-plus big league seasons, he's still just a .268 career hitter with a high of 23 home runs. This year, Ozuna is red-hot, batting .373/.421/.686 through 57 PA's. Sure, his .424 BABIP will trend down, but his 8.8% BB% is trending up.

Ender Inciarte, OF, ATL – In over 500 fewer plate appearances, Inciarte already has more homers this year than last. Not surprisingly, he's hitting more fly balls, and even less surprisingly, after posting a well below-average 2.5% HR/FB last year, that mark is way up in 2016 to an unsustainable 30%. He's not going to keep up this pace obviously, but from what I've seen, he appears stronger and more aggressive. I'd set the over/under on his homer total at 14.5.

Nomar Mazara, OF, TEX – He's obviously talented, but Mazara's walk rate is just 5.2% and he's struggling to hit lefties. He's still just 22 and the talent is obvious, but there are significant holes in his game.

Jake Lamb, 3B, ARI – Lamb broke out last year with 29 home runs, but he also hit just .249 due in large part to a 25.9% K%. This year he's at .313/.411/.604, but the strikeout rate is over 30% and his BABIP sits at .429. He's a .250 hitter with power that walks a lot. Just expect the average to plummet.

Steven Souza Jr., OF, TB – Souza had a .944 OPS through Monday, as he is starting to make the Will Myers trade less of a disaster for the Rays. Cutting his strikeout rate from 34% to 22% year over year has been the big eye-opener, as we know he has the potential for 20+ homers, but will that come with an average somewhere between .240 and .280.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Regan
David Regan is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner, including the 2015 Baseball Article of the Year and the 2010 Baseball Writer of the Year.
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