April 3, 2017
Five to Watch: Leadoff Surprises
The importance of batting order position is often overstated, especially in shallow or medium depth mixed leagues. In deeper and mono contexts, where plate appearances come at a premium, a slot in the upper third of the lineup can make a difference. The same goes for formats that allow daily lineup changes, as the leadoff spot can be a popular place for hitters with a pronounced split. Provided you have a bench with a little depth, you can often build an excellent platoon on the cheap by leveraging these roles. With that in mind, here are five players whose Opening Day stock is up because of unexpected opportunity at the top of their clubs’ lineups.
DeShields was an afterthought early this draft season, and rightly so following a massively disappointing sophomore campaign in 2016. He took more at-bats at Triple-A than he did in the majors and was reduced to a frequent pinch-runner down the stretch, even as the Rangers ran away with the AL West. When he was allowed to hit, all DeShields could muster was a .209/.275/.313 triple-slash.
He re-opened eyes this spring, hitting .323 in 62 at-bats, pushing his OBP up to .442 by virtue of taking 14 walks, and most importantly for our purposes, stealing a league-leading 14 bags in 14 tries. Spring training stats being what they are, this could be predictive of nothing. For the time being, though, DeShields’ performance spelling Carlos Gomez in the leadoff spot may have manager Jeff Bannister considering DeShields there in the regular season.
It’s worth remembering that DeShields was a 22-year-old Rule 5 draftee with a spotty minor-league performance record when he held his own at the plate and swiped 25 bags in 2015. It shouldn’t surprise if he gets his development back on track in his age-24 season. If DeShields can hit well enough to find 400 plate appearances, and if some of those come at the top of the order, he could add useful counting stats to his impactful speed.