The other day I watched a baseballing game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox. Brad Miller and Sandy Leon featured prominently in this affair, and it left me feeling confused. One thing led to another, and I decided to write this column in part to help shed some light on other players in the AL who have also astounded me with their performances this year. If they confuse you too, I hope this helps.
Also, never, ever try to predict baseball. You’ll just end up getting hurt.
Brad Miller, SS/OF, Rays
Miller has had a weird-ass career. One season after hitting .258/.329/.402 in Seattle and washing out in an org that is to developing middle infield talent what I am to distance running, MIller has blossomed in Tampa Bay. The 26-year-old has dramatically upped his slugging percentage, bumping his ISO from .144 from 2014-2015 to .260 this season, hitting 25 homers in just 455 PA. The average still isn’t great (.262) and he’s only swiped six bags, but Miller has suddenly become a very usable player, ranking as the 14th best fantasy shortstop so far this season, per ESPN’s player rater.
The bad news, of course, is that Miller has declined defensively to the point where the Rays moved him to the outfield, and that’s where he figures to see the majority of his time moving forward. If Miller isn’t able to retain MI eligibility beyond 2017, his value will take a huge hit. He’s still been the 33rd best fantasy outfielder in 2016, though, and he has CI eligibility to boot. I’m not prepared to go all-in on Miller in dynasty leagues, but I’m not going to shy away from him, either. He appears to have escaped the Mariners MI graveyard that claimed Dustin Ackley, Nick Franklin, Chris Taylor and others. I prefer him to guys like Didi Gregorius, Eugenio Suarez, and Marcus Semien at the very least.
Jose Ramirez, SS/2B/3B/OF, Indians
Maybe I shouldn’t be as surprised by Ramirez’s success as I am. The 23-year-old always hit well in the minors even in the face of exceedingly aggressive assignments. His lack of standout tool and the presence of more intriguing names around him helped to keep him obscure, but he’s a sleeper no more thanks to 2016. Ramirez is hitting .305/.359/.453 with 10 homers and 20 steals in 466 PA, and thanks to a .328 OBP and strong walk and strikeout rates, his line looks pretty sustainable.
We haven’t even gotten to the best part yet—Ramirez is currently eligible at four positions, and he’s a lock to be eligible at OF and 3B next season. He’s also played six games at 2B and four games at SS, so there’s still a shot he’ll be MI eligible in some leagues, too. Given the less than inspiring state of fantasy third basemen beyond the top 10-or-12 options, it’s not crazy to think Ramirez could perform as a top-20 option next season. The power is perhaps most suspect, but he can get on base, he can run and he has multi-position eligibility. Add in his age, and Ramirez starts to look like a pretty attractive dynasty asset.
Sandy Leon, C, Red Sox
I don’t know, you guys. I watch Leon everyday and I just don’t know. It’s true that catchers often develop late offensively, and it’s true that Leon had a few decent stints in Triple-A at various points in his career. But Leon is 171 PA into his 2016 season now, and he’s hitting .375/.432/.625 with seven homers. Is this unsustainable? Of course it is; a big catcher with a .450 OBP is essentially the platonic ideal of a regression candidate. I’m not so sure Leon is going to go from superstar to useless, though. Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald published a great report on Leon a few weeks back noting a change in his batting stance that has him maintaining a more consistent eye level, rather than starting his swing in a crouch.
Does that make a .450 BABIP reasonable? No, but there’s at least been tangible change, and it’s reasonable to believe Leon is no longer the .180 hitter he was heading into the season. That’s especially true because Leon is hitting the ball on a line and in the air far more often than he used to; it’s not like a ton of ground balls are just finding holes. Thanks to his performance, Leon already qualifies as the 12th best fantasy backstop this year, ahead of Brian McCann, Stephen Vogt, and Matt Wieters. He’s not a reliable top-10 option, of course, but if you start 2017 with him as your second catcher in a two-catcher league, I think you can feel ok … ish. What a world we live in.
Danny Duffy, LHP, Royals
Sometimes it feels like we’ve already been watching Danny Duffy for years. Other times I have to remind myself he’s not a rookie. I think part of the reason I feel that way is because Duffy has had so many identities over his brief professional career. Top Prospect. Potential Impact Starter. Back-End Piece. Bullpen Arm. We’re seeing the southpaw live up to his prospect billing this season, and man has it been fun to watch.
Duffy has stopped giving out free passes, stuck to pitching from the stretch and started throwing a more biting breaking pitch (he calls it a slider), and the results have been marvelous. He owns a 2.66 ERA, 27 percent strikeout rate, and 5.3 percent walk rate through 138.2 innings split between the bullpen and the rotation. He’s been especially dominant as a starter, holding the opposition to a .215/.266/.365 line in 120.2 innings and proving especially unhittable for left-handers. There’s too much volatility here to be totally convinced that this is the real Danny Duffy we’ll get from here on out, and injuries will always be a concern. Still, Duffy has the pedigree and has made the type of obvious changes we look for from late breakout candidates, and it’s reasonable to role into 2017 with him as your no. 3 starter in a 20-team league. Congrats, Craig Goldstein, you were right. Eventually.
Thank you for reading
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