Some players are willing to accept a designated hitter role on a team, yet others see their production suffer (sometimes greatly) when they don't play the field. It's very early in Montero's career, but he appears to be in the latter camp. Montero received 321 plate appearances as a designated hitter and 230 plate appearances as a catcher last year, and the difference in his slash line was staggering. As a designated hitter, Montero hit a paltry .226/.265/.309 with five home runs. Conversely, he crushed the ball as a catcher, hitting .310/.343/.498 with 10 home runs.
Montero isn't long for the catcher position, though; Mike Zunino is the Mariners’ long-term answer at the position and already reached Double-A last year, but by trading John Jaso this offseason the club has opened the door for Montero to catch in the short term. A mediocre 2012 does very little to diminish elite projections on his bat. Montero has a chance to bring a big batting average with plus power to the middle of an order. That has value at any position, but behind the plate it makes him keeper league gold. Montero will head into this season with catcher eligibility, and he'll almost certainly, barring an injury, see enough time behind the plate this year to retain that eligibility in 2014.
When approached about writing for Baseball Prospectus, it was made clear to me that one prerequisite for joining the team was sharing in the unbridled love of Altuve. Okay, so that's not true at all, but I am a fan of the diminutive second baseman. Altuve made strides across the board last year from his 234 plate appearance major league debut in 2011. All three aspects of his slash line improved, as did his walk rate, strikeout rate, isolated slugging, home run rate, stolen base volume, and stolen base success rate. Even his most vocal backers would have been hard-pressed to accurately project his 2012 season.
The biggest surprise in his fantasy stat line was his 33 stolen bases, which came at an efficient 75 percent success rate. He's not a burner, so it's unlikely he'll steal many more bases, and a slight dip wouldn't be shocking. His efficiency and the shortcomings of the Astros lineup, however, should allow him to continue to run. In addition to his stolen base output, Altuve adds a dash of power. He hit seven home runs last year, and he has enough juice in the bat to produce that many home runs again this year, give or take a few.
Altuve recognizes that he's not a hulking home run hitter and uses a high contact approach at the plate. Amongst batters that saw a minimum of 2,000 pitches in 2012, his 95 percent in-zone contact rate ranked fifth. If the restrictions are loosened to a 1,000 pitch minimum, he still ranked in the top 10 (ninth overall). Arguably the most impressive gains Altuve made as a hitter from 2011 to 2012 came in improving his selectivity at the dish. In 2011, Altuve hacked at more than half the pitches he saw (56 percent swing rate) and expanded his zone to swing at 40 percent of the pitches he saw out of the strike zone. Last season, his swing rate dropped to 44 percent, and he strayed out of the strike zone much less frequently, chasing only 30 percent of the time. These developments likely aided his increase in batting average from .276 in 2011 to .290 last year. Altuve is a tough out, and as he continues to refine his approach, he should be able to increase his batting average by attacking pitches he can handle and lining them all over the diamond. Altuve saw the bulk of his at-bats from the first or second spot in the Astros’ order last year, and he should continue to find his name penciled onto the top of the lineup card. As a result, Altuve will be able to pile up at-bats in bunches and maximize his fantasy contribution in batting average.
Rodney Dangerfield isn't the only one who don't get no respect. Year after year it seems Rollins is undervalued in both standard and industry drafts. This year seems to be no exception. According to Mock Draft Central, Rollins has an ADP of 112 and is the seventh shortstop being selected in drafts, on average. In a recent 12-team mock draft for The Fantasy Fix, I was able to nab Rollins with the 10th pick in the sixth round. In fairness, the league mock settings were unique and featured one catcher, three outfielders, two utility players, and no corner or middle infield positions, which makes him less of a value than he would be in deeper formats, but he was still a value where I selected him. Our Player Forecast Manager here at Baseball Prospectus ranked Rollins as the 21st most valuable player in mixed leagues last year.
Rollins will be 34 years old for the entire 2013 season, but a cliff season doesn't appear to be on the horizon. Rollins swinging strike and pop-up rates were at its highest in years last season, but neither rate is alarming, and the rest of his batted ball and plate discipline rates were in line with his recent norms. Rollins’ highest BABIP over the last four year is .275 in 2011, and he hasn't reached a .300 BABIP or higher since 2007, so it's unwise to chalk his low BABIPs of recent seasons up to bad luck. His low BABIPs have helped contribute to his low batting averages, and Rollins hasn't bested a .270 average since 2008. A low batting average that hovers around .250 is part of the package with Rollins, but it's a small price to pay for the rest of his fantasy goodness.
Rollins’ 23 home runs were the fourth-highest total for a shortstop-eligible player (using ESPN's eligibility) last year, and he routinely resides amongst the leaders in home runs at the position annually. He's a strong bet to flirt with 20 home runs again this year. He's also no slouch in the base-stealing department; he’s one of the best in all of baseball, actually. He stole 30 bases in 35 chances last year (86 percent success rate). For his career, he has stolen 403 bases while getting caught just 83 times, good for an excellent 83 percent success rate on a high number of attempts. To put his success rate in perspective, Baseball-Reference has him as the 19th most efficient base stealer in the history of the game for players with a minimum of 80 stolen base attempts.
The cherry on top of Rollins’ delightful fantasy sundae are his high runs scored totals. Manager Charlie Manuel likes to tab his shortstop as the catalyst atop the Phillies lineup, and Rollins cashes in on his leadoff role in the form of runs scored totals that rank near the top of the shortstop heap most seasons; this year should be no exception. Father Time will eventually catch up to Rollins, but don't jump the gun and cut bait on him yet.