A look at several players who might be well equipped to sustain lofty batting averages on balls in play.
There’s a pretty well-established correlation between hitting the ball hard and successfully reaching base. Line drive performance tends to bear this out, insofar as batting average and slugging percentage on this kind of batted ball far outstrip the other two main batted ball types: fly and ground balls.
In the current era of advanced outfield positioning, flyballs have suffered the gravest of recessions recently. The number of fly-ball doubles and triples has declined over the past few years, driving an overall deterioration in fly-ball slugging percentage from .613 as recently as 2012 to its current .528 (which should be noted has rebounded significantly early on this year from two straight years of sub-.450 marks). Fly-ball batting average, meanwhile, remains buried well under the Mendoza line for a fourth consecutive season.
The rest of this article is restricted to Baseball Prospectus Subscribers.
Not a subscriber?
Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get access to the best baseball content on the web.
And so begins the greatest round of "I feel so, so, so old" we've ever seen.
The Situation: The Dodgers’ thin rotation took at least a brief hit with the announcement that, fresh off a 13-strikeout performance in his last start, Alex Wood would have his turn skipped on Friday on account of ominous “triceps tendinitis.” He’s been bumped to Monday for now, and with Ross Stripling procedurally demoted to Oklahoma City in the wake of The 17-Inning Game the Dodgers have elected to turn the ball over to a teenager for the first time since Fernando Valenzuela in 1980. Urias will make his big-league debut riding a streak of 27 innings since allowing his last earned run.
Background: Signed as part of a package deal by the Dodgers on a scouting trip through Mexico in the summer of 2012, Urias is…unique. There just isn’t much in the way of valuable precedent for what he has managed to accomplish at such tender ages in his career to date. He has rung up five and a half strikeouts for every walk this season at Triple-A while pitching eight (that’s right eight) years younger than his average league-mate. His ERA, WHIP, and batting average-against all pace the circuit.
Notes on prospects who stood out yesterday, including Zach Eflin, Bradley Zimmer, Mike Yastrzemski, and Andrew Morales.
Prospect of the Day:
Zach Eflin, RP, Philadelphia Phillies (Triple-A Lehigh Valley): 7 IP, 4 H, BB, 6 K.
That’s three straight outstanding starts for Eflin, who continues to evolve into an impressive pitching prospect. He’s a smart kid, and sometimes smart kids take some time to figure things out. After struggling to find a balance between his four- and two-seam fastballs he’s finding that happy place now, and rapid development of a curveball he just added to the mix last year has helped him boost his strikeout totals significantly.
Notes on prospects who stood out yesterday, including Tim Anderson, Josh Naylor, Sandy Alcantara, and Nick Travieso.
Prospect of the Day:
Tim Anderson, SS, Chicago White Sox (Triple-A Charlotte): 3-5, R, K, SB.
After a slow start to the season Anderson has been en fuego of late, yesterday logging his seventh multi-hit game in his last 10. The strikeout-to-walk ratio remains egregious, but he’s making pitchers four years older than him pay for coming into the zone right now. With Jimmy Rollins continuing to scuffle on the South Side we’re kind of starting to get into that range where maybe, just maybe, the kid earns himself a shot in spite of the still-rough edges to his game.
I opened up the floor on the Twitter over the past week or so to solicit some requests from readers on dynasty prospects who’ve caught some eyes in the early going, and apparently outfielders and right-handed pitchers are all y’all care about. So I checked in with other members of our prospect team to fill in the blanks as to whether the early-season performance has been supported by the process, and I’m happy to present a few names who’ve impressed scouts along with the statline-watchers.
David Dahl, OF, Colorado Rockies (Double-A Hartford):
Despite battling persistent injury issues, including a ruptured spleen last summer that sounds like nails on a chalkboard feels, Dahl still cracked the top 20 of our Dynasty 101 in the off-season. And he’s responded with arguably the best start of any top prospect still in the minors. He’s crushing Eastern League arms to the tune of .278/.371/.609, with nine doubles, nine homers, and 11 stolen bases in just 133 plate appearances. And the numbers, while obviously extreme, have at least something to them. Per Adam Hayes, Dahl’s showing plus-plus bat speed, though he’s struggled to consistently sync his hips and hands because of it. The approach and some swing-and-miss makes it unlikely the hit tool plays where it appears, though plus power (that’s regardless of Coors, mind you) is very much a possibility. Even at the lower end of his healthy projection, wherein he strikes out a bunch and only ever hits .250-.260, Dahl has confirmed with his early power-and-speed showing that if he can stay on the field he’s now one of the elite fantasy prospects in the game.
Notes on prospects who stood out yesterday, including Tim Locastro, Harrison Bader, Chris Ellis, and Phillip Ervin.
Prospect of the Day:
Tim Locastro, 2B, Los Angeles Dodgers (High-A Rancho Cucamonga): 4-5, 4 R, 2B, 3B, HR, 2 RBI.
That’s a proper cycle, for those of you scoring at home – the first one I’ve seen live in about three years. Bought Acquired from the Blue Jays last July, Locastro just hits. He gets early, subtle rhythm through his setup into a fluid weight transfer, consistently keeping his hands back and attacking the ball with his wrists and arms. He shows an advanced ability to adjust in-swing, he handles velocity, and there’s enough pull-side pop to keep pitchers honest. He posts plus run times with good instincts on the bases, and the defensive projection is that of a fundamentally sound, solid-if-unspectacular glove at the keystone. So how come he doesn’t get more attention, you may ask? Well, he was a D3 player in college who’s been age-appropriate for each level, and he toils in the Dodgers’ system, where he’s approximately the 412th-best prospect, give or take. He can play, though.
Wilson offers a few thoughts on fantasy strategy based on his recent personal experience.
Sometimes in the course of writing about baseball – or anything else, really – you find yourself with nothing to write about. It happens from time to time, where some of your longer-term projects aren’t ready for primetime yet, and your short-term interests aren’t particularly interesting for general consumption. There are also times, when you play in as many leagues as I do (five, currently), where you don’t really get a chance to climb up to 30,000 feet and examine your assorted teams with the proper depth and rigor they deserve. So I’m going to do something in this space I’ve never done before: engage in a (self-serving) examination of some of my takeaways from the season’s first month, in the hope that some of the strategy and logic that comes out of the process might help some of y’all along the way. Call it group therapy. So for full public consumption and with the understanding that I may be providing undue competitive advantages to several opponents along the way, here are some early-season thoughts from personal experience.
There is Downside to Investing in Veteran-Heavy Rosters
Notes on prospects who stood out yesterday, including Steven Moya, Ryan Castellani, Jose De Leon, and Chris Shaw.
Prospect of the Day:
Steven Moya, RF, Detroit Tigers (Triple-A Toledo): 4-5, 3 R, 2B, 2 HR, 5 RBI.
Moya followed up a three-hit night on Monday (noted yesterday by moon-howling booster Mark Anderson) with this monster effort last night to seize the International League lead in home runs and slugging. The approach remains extremely aggressive, but perhaps most encouragingly in the early going he’s whiffed just 20 times in his first 100 plate appearances. He’s never likely to threaten for a batting title, but even if the contact gains don’t stick around it’s worth remembering that Mark Reynolds is a decade and $25-some-odd million into his career and still kicking it on a 25-man roster.
'What's innovative is not to chase the shiniest thing and worship it.'
Recently, the prospect team here at Baseball Prospectus ranked the Dodgers the top farm system in baseball on the strength of the league's finest combination of high-end talent at the top and depth throughout. In my 2016 team preview a few weeks back, I talked at some length about the front office and scouting department overhauls—and the funding structure behind them—that paved the way for this transformation. Current Director of Player Development Gabe Kapler was part of the wave of front office hires by the organization in 2014, and I sat down to talk with him about how he views his role and how the organization is going to go about turning its giant minor-league collection of tools into big-league talent that will help the club win games.
Examining pitchers who've thrived early with good old-fashioned country hardball.
Who doesn’t love a good fastball? We’re still only a handful of starts into the season for starting pitchers, and it’s still pretty early to be looking at some of the performance indicators (DRA, cFIP, etc.) to draw many conclusions. But one thing that’s always worth checking out around this time is pitch movement and effectiveness, as those can clue us in early on what’s driving some of the early performances we’re seeing. Big steps forward with a particular pitch can be an indicator that initial performance is or isn’t likely to be sustainable. So let’s start where everything in pitching starts, and look at some of the best hard stuff we’ve seen in April.
Notes on prospects who stood out yesterday, including Tyler Glasnow, Braden Shipley, Drew Ward, and Daniel Palka.
Prospect of the Day:
Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (Triple-A Indianapolis): 6 IP, 2 H, BB, 11 K.
Glasnow has left little doubt about his readiness to jump into a big-league rotation through four International League outings this April. He reportedly worked in some 91-mph changeups, and has now limited his walk total to just seven through 21 innings. All systems certainly appear go here.