March 16, 2017
Five to Watch
American League Hitters
Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers – It feels a little like cheating to include Castellanos in this piece, as all signs were pointing squarely in the direction of full-throated breakout last year before his hand bone connected to a fastball and shattered in August. I wrote nice things in advocating for Castellanos to be the third baseman you target a couple months back, and since then his ADP has barely budged, even in spite of signals that he’s primed to hit second in front of Miguel Cabrera and Justin Upton.
Castellanos is and always has been a line drive machine, and while that continued last year he also posted a second straight year with a three percentage point jump in fly-ball rate, and he pulled more of those fly balls. The result was a guy who finished 26th out of over 600 registered big-league hitters in Adjusted Exit Velocity-based Predicted Runs (that’s Kris Bryant/Freddie Freeman territory, for reference). You marry an excellent pure hitter with a mature 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame and a more pull-happy, fly ball-oriented contact profile, and you’ve got yourself a real interesting hitter there, don’t you?
It’s also worth noting that his leap in production last year came in spite of hitting just .207 against left-handed pitching, a most peculiar anomaly a year removed from posting a .351/.400/.570 line against them. He hit less line drives against southpaws, but still crushed one in a quarter of his balls in play. The strikeout rate bordered on no bueno, as pitchers pounded him with more benders and less two-seamers. But he’s literally never had a problem with the fairer-handed before, and if he continues to make the kind of incremental progress against righties that he’s made each year of his big-league career, and he reverts towards his career mean against lefties…yeah, really interesting.
Jurickson Profar, Everywhere, Texas Rangers – Profar’s second reasonably extended go-around against big-league pitching looked, well, a lot like his first reasonably extended go-around back in 2013: 300 plate appearances with mild pop and really annoyingly little speed utility on the bases. He showed off a quality batting eye again, which is a good sign, and the performance at Triple A (.285/5/4 in 189 plate appearances) on top of his hot couple of months in Texas at the season’s outset gives cause for optimism in the baseline skill. And that’s really what you’re buying here with a flyer on Profar, who is still, somehow, only 24 and really not that far removed from his top overall prospect days (side bar: all of the sad faces for that top six…woof). Very bad shoulder injuries, especially the kind that require two significant surgeries to repair, can take a long, long time to heal, if they ever come close to doing so. That Profar continued to show flashes of his elite talent after an extensive and grueling layoff is an encouraging starting point. There isn’t a ton in the numbers to suggest an all-of-a-sudden five-category monster or anything, but know that the talent to do that is in there. I don’t see cause to invest heartily yet in re-draft or shallow keeper formats, but as an acquisition target in deeper keeper formats there’s a lot of boom potential at a cost still only marginally higher than a bust.
Corey Dickerson, OF, Tampa Bay Rays – Dickerson was, of course, a belle of the ball, a cream of the crop, not long ago on the high plains far, far away. He was a top 50 overall pick in NFBC leagues as recently as 2015 on the strength of five-category production in Coors Field. Fast-forward two winters, take him from the second-best park for left-handed hitters to the third-worst, drop him into a platooning organization, and he’s currently pushing 300 overall as the 70th outfielder off the board. And yet…he’s 27, and his production last year was woefully out of line with anything he’s ever done before, even adjusting for the ballpark swap. He’s hit .213/.273/.377 at the Trop, which is not exactly an encouraging point of origin in one’s home park. Broadly his line-drive rate fell off a cliff last year, and while that’s a noisier stat year to year than most, the jarring nature of the decline implies massive changes in his swing plane and execution. Could it be that he just doesn’t see the ball as well at the Trop, or that adjusting to sea-level spin proved harder for him? Perhaps, and perhaps his thumb injury in the middle of the season bled farther into his season than he let on.
Even with the down overall production last year, Dickerson still managed to knock 22 homeruns in 437 plate appearances against right-handers. Problem is, he doesn’t run at all in the aftermath of gnarly turf toe, and his counting stat totals are likely to be always and inherently depressed on account of the platoon issues. His okay-average, good-power skillset makes for a useful piece when he’s healthy and hitting that floor, but it’s a less-valuable combination than it used to be, and barring roster construction considerations the risk and reward seems reasonably well-balanced at his current draft position.