Finally, we’ve arrived at the part of our Fantasy Categorical Breakdown series tailored to the more discerning tastes of those of you who play in an OBP-based league. Greg Wellemeyer gave us the 30,000-foot view on Wednesday, while J.J. Jansons momentarily relaxed his restrictions on E-A-T-I-N-G in his classroom to dive into some of 2015’s over- and under-achievers in the category yesterday. Today we’re going to take a look at some otherwise off-the-board types who have far less relevance in standard leagues than they do in deeper OBP formats.
Mike Napoli, 1B, Indians
Boy, was Napoli frustrating last year. Woof! I wrote nice things about him in last winter’s Adjuster column for first basemen, and he promptly responded with a .207/.307/.386 turd sandwich of a first half before crushing it in a part-time role with Texas in the second half. But! Note the OBP even in spite of his overall struggles. Mike Napoli can get on base, and even with the circumstantial evidence of opposing pitcher attack patterns pointing squarely in the direction of him losing a click or three of bat speed, he’s still very much a name for CI target lists in OBP formats.
Domingo Santana, OF, Brewers
Santana’s rough debut in 2014 (14 strikeouts in his first 18 big-league plate appearances) may have irrevocably crushed his stock in the eyes of some, but he managed to provide a stretch of intriguing utility last season in spite of still-massive strikeout numbers. This is the portrait of a true boom-or-bust prospect. He’s a big man with raw power for days, but he’s also posted some of the ugliest in-zone contact rates you’ll find this side of independent ball over the last couple years. Still, his near-11-percent career walk rate in the minors has translated thus far, and the on-base ability is good enough to offset what should be a consistently poor batting average to give the Brewers’ likely starter in center field an interesting profile for OBP leaguers.
Roberto Perez, C, Indians
So here’s the thing about catchers: Their offensive and defensive development is rarely linear, and it’s even less frequent that their skills on both sides of the ball develop in harmony. Long lauded as a solid glove behind the dish—he graded out as one of the best framers at Triple-A in 2014—things started clicking at the plate for Perez as well that season at age 25. He entered the year with a grand total of 14 homeruns in about 1,750 career minor league plate appearances, and then proceeded to pop eight in just over 200 trips to the dish to drive a .305/.405/.517 line. That outburst carried over to the majors last year, when he hit seven in 228 plate appearances while seeing increased opportunity in the wake of Yan Gomes’ injury.
The one offensive skill he’s always had though? The ability to draw a walk and get on base. He’s managed to bring a sizable chunk of his 15 percent career minor-league walk rate into big league games, thus far posting an OBP almost a hundred points north of his batting average. Coupled with the recently-developed pop, he makes for an interesting deep two-catcher speculation play, and he’s a name to keep in mind for streaming in daily transaction leagues when he gets the call.
Aaron Altherr, OF, Phillies
I suspect this article won’t be the last in which Altherr’s name pops up on site this off-season, after he followed up a solid effort at Triple-A with an interesting little 160 plate appearance debut in Philly last summer. The sheen had come off Altherr’s prospect stock on account of massive contact issues, but he made significant strides last season to tame the issue at Double-A, continued raking at the next level, and ultimately made enough contact in the majors for his power and speed combo to play for a select few fantasy managers down the stretch. The 11 percent walk rate he put together in the high minors last year more than doubled his effort in 2014, so we’re talking about an extremely new adjustment that may or may not hold under a full year of scrutiny by big league advance scouts. But he showed enough potential in his first taste to warrant cautious investment as an upside play in most medium-depth standard leagues, with a small bump in value for those of us wise enough to play in OBP-based formats.
Chris Coghlan, 2B/OF, Cubs
Coghlan’s future value will be one of those fun things to watch as early drafts unfold this winter, as he’s just the kind of veteran hitter coming off a career year that often produces split valuations. He eclipsed 500 plate appearances for the first time since 2009, managing to set career highs in homers, steals, and OBP-AVG along the way. The latter spread of 81 points was born out of a rather dramatic shift in approach, as he chased out of zone significantly less often. It was the lowest chase rate of his career, in fact, and by several percentage points at that. It’s certainly not unheard of for a player to change course later in his career, but the size of the leap Coghlan took leaves the smart money on regression towards his career means.
There’s also a larger issue of playing time on the now-loaded Cub 25-man roster. Barring a catastrophic run of injuries for the North Siders it’s unlikely he sniffs those 500 plate appearances again in his walk year (much to Scott Boras’ chagrin). Still, depending on your league’s positional eligibility requirements, Coghlan’s 15 games at second base last year may just open up a nice little bit of versatility, and in deep enough formats he probably warrants some late round love as a boring veteran type capable of rounding out your roster. Don’t be surprised if he’s one of your first cuts in favor of a streaking Quad-A type in April, though.
Derek Dietrich, 3B/OF, Marlins
For those deep-OBP leaguers who liked what Coghlan brought to the table last year but take the concerns I raised about his future production and playing time to heart, I give you Dietrich. The kid’s always had pop, and last year he unlocked a good bit of it while plugging holes at third and out in left field. He’ll take a walk every now and again, but he’s built up a big enough sample size of performance at this point that we can state with some confidence that his true on-base talent also includes taking more than just the occasional one for the team. He’s shown an uncanny knack for getting plunked in his career—he took 28 balls to the body last year in just north of 500 plate appearances between Triple-A and Miami—and combined with an average walk rate he’s set up for an appealing little profile for OBP leaguers. Nobody ever really knows what the Marlins are going to do, but Dietrich is an in-his-prime, cost-controlled offensive asset, so you have to figure he’ll play into their plans in some capacity. If or when he does, there’s potential for a nice little versatile piece here.
Jackie Bradley, Jr.
Bradley Jr. is now a couple (partial) seasons into his big league career, and I’m still not entirely sure what type of hitter he ultimately settles in as. He added a surprising dose of pop last year, slugging 19 homeruns between Triple-A and his 255 big league plate appearances, while translating for the first time the outstanding on-base skills he showed throughout his minor league career. His 10.6 percent walk rate offers a tantalizing baseline for production in OBP leagues, especially given the elite defensive profile that finally appears poised to pave the way for everyday playing time (or at least close to it) for Bradley in 2016. He hits more flyballs than you’d like to see for a solid AVG baseline, but he has hit the ball hard in his young career and added over 20 feet of distance to his average cloud-scraper last year. There’s enough intrigue here to make for a solid OF3 target in medium-depth leagues, with marginal upside for more if the power gains hold in full.
Luis Valbuena, 3B/1B, Astros
Valbuena’s most valuable asset—his 2B/3B dual eligibility—is a thing of the past, and after a season in which he produced just $12 of AL-only value despite 25 home runs in less than 500 plate appearances his standard league cache is likely quite limited heading into draft season. In OBP leagues, however, there’s still plenty of reason for attention here, as despite posting a second consecutive season of declining walk rate he still eclipsed 10 percent and logged an OBP 86 points higher than his moribund average. He pulls the ball in a predictable pattern and hits a ton of fly balls, so his depressed BABIP of last year was by no means the result of poor luck striking the undeserving. His HR/FB rate was also well north of his career norm, suggesting a bet on likely regression is the smart money. Still, he’s in line to play everyday, and league-average OBP with 20-home-run potential isn’t the worst-case scenario for a CI slot in medium-depth leagues.