Early Season Watch List Guys: Good Opportunities on Bad Teams — Hitters Edition

Credit: AP Oakland Athletics’ Cristian Pache (20) celebrates after the crossing plate after hitting a two-run home run during ninth-inning baseball game action against the Toronto Blue Jays in Toronto, Saturday, April 16, 2022. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

It is wise to target good players on good teams when building a fantasy baseball roster. That is, after all, where the best production typically comes from. That doesn’t mean bad teams can’t also produce good players. They do! And they can often come at a discount in drafts, or are there to be freely picked up on waivers during the season. Let me help you sort through some players on bad teams that have good opportunities to emerge and help you win a fantasy title. 

Oakland Athletics

Maybe the Oakland A’s aren’t so bad after all! I mean, they do lead baseball in runs scored. Although I wouldn’t expect that to continue, that doesn’t mean there isn’t profit to be made here. 

Sheldon Neuse is back with the A’s after bouncing around the past few years, but this time he seems to have earned regular playing time at 27 years old. Neuse was a well-above average hitter everywhere along the minor league trail, except in 141 PAs in low-A in 2016 and his first go-around in triple-A in 2018. After signing with the A’s this spring and seemingly being handed an every day role at a variety of positions Neuse is poised to breakout. 

His line looks good on the surface (156 wRC+) but that can be deceiving. His plate discipline looks to be lacking (6.7 BB%, 26.7 K%) and the power hasn’t really shown up despite one home run (.115 ISO, 5.6 barrel%). Still it’s hard to ignore that he once was assigned 60-grade raw power and will bat in the middle of a lineup every day. He’ll likely end up with 2B, 3B, and 1B eligibility when all is said and done. 

Chad Pinder, on the other hand, has been a league average hitter over 1,399 MLB PAs spread over 7 seasons and 5 positions around the diamond. He’ll mostly play OF and 3B this season and has really only ever hit lefties well, but Pinder is poised to play most days and has always had above average power. A 100 wRC+ to go along with 12 R+RBI, 2 home runs, and a steal so far is nothing to sneeze at for being widely available. 

Elvis Andrus was absolutely dreadful last year and hasn’t been fantasy relevant since stealing 31 bases in 2019. In fact, the 14-year veteran has only been an above-average hitter twice in his career (2016 and 2017). But the theme of this article isn’t “who will be great” as much as it is “who will play.” And in Oakland, this season, you don’t need to be great to play. Andrus will bat second versus lefties and 6th or 7th versus righties meaning he’ll score a fair amount of runs while driving in enough to be relevant. A year ago he stole a dozen bases and already has 1 steal this season. I don’t anticipate his current 116 wRC+ lasting much beyond April, but if at the end of 2022 you saw he did something that resembled what JP Crawford did last season (89 runs, .273 AVG) except with 12-15 SBs would you be too surprised?

Rounding out our Oakland foursome is former Braves top-prospect Cristian Pache. In addition to being a very fun player to watch, Pache has shown some interesting signs of offensive life.

He’s been a defense-first prospect who also possessed a combination of enough power and speed to be an interesting all around player. Now with a full-time job with Oakland Pache is doing something very interesting early on: he’s crushing the ball. Results haven’t exactly translated (74 wRC+) but a 13.3 % barrel rate and 50% hard-hit rate, both of which stabilize rather quickly, suggest that he might be ready to tap into his potential.  

Texas Rangers

Entering play on Tuesday, April 19th the Texas Rangers are tied for the second highest runs-per-game in baseball. You might think this is mostly due to the investments they made in Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, but there are a couple of other interesting bats in the Texas lineup. 

The overall line for Andy Ibanez is, for lack of a better term, ugly. A 28 wRC+ even this early points toward a demotion, or worse. However Ibanez is doing some things under the hood worth monitoring. First off he’s playing nearly every day at third base, with starts at first base and DH sprinkled in. That’s noteworthy. Second, Ibanez is hitting the ball rather well and just hasn’t seen any results. He’s maintained his nearly-league average barrel rate (7.4%) from 2021 into this season and has increased his hard-hit rate from 38.6% to 51.9%. With a gap of more than 200 points between his actual SLG% and his xSLG% tell me better days are likely to come. He finished last season with a 107 wRC+ and projected to be a league average hitter coming into 2022. He’s worth monitoring over the coming weeks to see if his production catches up with his batted-balls.

Brad Miller continues to prove useful to real life teams and fantasy ones. With a 156 wRC+ through 6 games Miller is looking to build upon his streak of 3-straight years as an above-average contributor. He has hits in 4 of his 6 games so far including a couple of home runs and bats leadoff the majority of the time when he plays. He’s a good player to have in daily lineup leagues as well as formats that value power and on-base skills.

Arizona Diamondbacks

The desert has not been kind in the early going of 2022 and the Diamondbacks are perhaps the worst team in baseball. They have the second worst run-differential in the game and allow more than 2 runs per game more than they score. They aren’t without their merits though! And one of those is our first noteworthy player.

Cooper Hummel is as bizarre as he is productive. He has been significantly above average with the bat everywhere he has played, he has walked more than he has struck out at multiple stops along the minor league path, and is a 27-year old rookie who maybe, sort of has a job. He is starting and leading off versus left-handed pitchers and has been used as a pinch hitter late in games. He has a 117 wRC+ in 23 PAs despite a .091 BABIP and only 2 hits. Why? Because he walked 7 times against just 4 strikeouts. He also has a stolen base and a home run. His max exit velocity and barrel rate suggest there may be underrated power to go along with awesome plate discipline. Also he’s played enough catcher in the past that he is likely eligible there in your league. As mentioned above, there isn’t a whole lot going for the snakes so far in 2022 so I expect Hummel to get a longer look soon enough. 

Seth Beer is the last notable hitter on a bad team that I will focus on here. Aside from 101 PAs in his second go-around in double-A Beer has done nothing but rake since being drafted in 2018. And now with a regular job, DHing against righties, he’s finally helping fantasy teams. Beer has 1 home run, 3 runs, and 5 RBI to go along with a 175 wRC+. With veterans Christian Walker and David Peralta showing that their best days are likely behind them there’s reason to believe Beer can hop a few spots in the batting order and perhaps even take over Walker’s job as the everyday first baseman. What does Arizona have to lose? 

Did I leave anyone out? Hit me up on Twitter @JoeyThomasD and let me know! Or leave a comment below.

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