Yermin Mercedes looks like he’ll offer a smooth ride for the lucky few fantasy baseballers (Grey’s mom’s term) who paid up for him on the first faab run. If you haven’t gotten a chance to see him hit yet, I can’t recommend it highly enough. He’s got a high leg kick and a loose bat waggle that settles late and gives off the vibe that he’s going to be behind on every pitch. Instead, he generates good bat speed and pairs that with excellent barrel control to the extent that he’s pulling pretty much everything so far (55%) but has shown an ability to go oppo (just 10% this year) throughout his professional career.
Whether he can keep up against premium velocity when a pitcher is hitting his spots remains to be seen, but the middle of that White Sox order is as cozy a lineup spot as there is in the game. If he can hold his own there, he’ll drive in a ton of runs. His sprint speed puts him in the 26th percentile, which is actually a little faster than I would’ve guessed, and he looks it on the field. It’s pretty fun to watch him scoot, where he appears to have pretty good baserunning instincts. Makes sense considering he’s been on base half the time for about a decade now. If you missed him in a league with trades, I suggest checking in with the team that got him. We’ve all seen this type of player flash and then fade like a Chris Shelton or one of the Duncans, so you’re taking on a good deal of risk in making legitimate offers, but those guys–and most who flame out–are power over hit who get hot for an early stretch before pitchers figure them out. The Yerminator is an amorphous being, at least in terms of barrel control–the T-1000 of the early-season face melters–and Judgment Day is coming for us all.
Arizona RHP Taylor Widener caught my eye in spring training with improved velocity and a dominant slider he can command at will. Widener himself credits renewed confidence for his fast start. Makes sense to me, given how he was bludgeoned in 2019 at elevation with the AAA superballs then again as a reliever in 2020. A little success can go a long way, and Widener enjoyed more than a little success against the Padres in his season opener, repeatedly challenging hitters in the zone with his fastball and burying his slider, which generated a 60 percent whiff rate. His changeup was similarly effective: 50% whiff rate. His arsenal tunnels well: the four-seamer staying up in the zone better than average with his slider and changeup breaking in opposite directions at similar velocities. I totally understand anyone’s reticence to buy on Widener after one start. He won’t shut down an elite offense every time out, but I think he’s here to stay as a big league starting pitcher.
Tampa Bay 3B Kevin Padlo got the call when Kevin Kiermaier went on the IL Tuesday. Might be just a short-term fill-in, but everyone on the squad gets a chance in Tampa Bay, and if Padlo hits well when he gets a spare at bat here or there, he’ll make himself an option at the corners, where he can cover infield or outfield and the Rays could always use some help.
Kansas City OF Kyle Isbel took the right field job in Kansas City thanks to a fiery spring that’s continued into the first week. I think his minor league stats can be mostly ignored. He didn’t get any reps above High A, and even there he struggled, slashing .216/.282/.361 across 52 games. The guy who posted that line is not the same one who forced his way onto the opening day roster.
Pittsburgh 3B/OF Phillip Evans looks like the team’s best hitter with Ke’Bryan Hayes on the shelf. He began his career as a no-thump second baseman way back at the beginning of last decade and slowly built himself into a viable big league corner bat. He played Right Field on Tuesday, and I think that’s where he’ll land against lefties even after Hayes comes back. I’m trying not to overthink this one in terms of when Gregory Polanco might get traded and open up more long-term playing time. Rebuilding teams tend to find room for the guys who are hitting. Every team does. As long as Evans hits, he’ll play. I’m buying. Well, he’s pretty much free, but you get the gist.
Detroit OF Akil Baddoo is living his best life. If you added him in a deep league, so are you.
Texas RHPs Taylor Hearn and Kyle Cody were targets of mine in super deep leagues this off-season because they both have nasty stuff and might wind up in the catbird/follower role in the Rangers’ tandem pitching plan. It’s tough to call anything a fact after week one, but they appear to have landed precisely these spots. Texas looks like a bad place to invest at the moment, but that ballpark should be pitcher-friendly, and the follower role is something of a win-vulture cheat code on a decent team if you can track when your guy will pitch. Are the Rangers a decent team? Hmm, well, jury’s out on that, but the early returns on Dahl and Lowe are promising, and they just got Rougned Odor off the 40-man roster, so at least they’ve got that going for them.
Chicago LHP Carlos Rodon isn’t a prospect, but I sort of feel like his career never really got started. I’m only putting him here because he was throwing 98 miles per hour Monday night. That’s about five mph faster than he was before Tommy John surgery. He was still pretty wild with the fastball, but dang, he’s a nightmare for hitters if he’s throwing that hard and holding his velocity deep into games, as evidenced by the 19 whiffs he generated in striking out nine Mariners across five shutout innings. Effectively wild is a lot more effective at 98.4 than 93. Changes his whole profile really.
Detroit RHP Casey Mize was throwing bebes last night, shoving his heater up into the high nineties after living in the low-to-mids last season. He’ll need to be more efficient with his pitches than he was throughout the spring or in his first outing (82 in 4 innings on Tuesday), but if he can harness the new velo and keep building confidence, he’ll be a big value for those who got him at a discount. I still have reservations about the mechanics and the pitch mix, but it’s great to see him finding his sealegs.
Arizona SS Geraldo Perdomo might just be up as a temporary fill-in while Nick Ahmed heals, but he’s the Diamondbacks best infield defender right now and could push Josh Rojas to the bench, which is where he spent Tuesdays game.
San Diego SS Ha-Seong Kim figures to get everyday playing time with Father of Fun Fernando Tatis Jr. on the Injured List. He’s starting to hit a little bit and should be a decent source of speed as long as he’s in the lineup.
San Diego 2B,CF Tucupita Marcano could reap some playing time reward from the Tatis injury fallout. He’s still behind Kim and Cronenworth and maybe Jorge Mateo for middle infield reps, and he’s especially tooled up for 5×5 purposes, but he makes a lot of contact, and those guys tend to get better with reps. ml
I would absolutely love to see San Diego OF Jorge Mateo pick up a lot of playing time lost to the subluxation heard round the fantasy sports world. Have to take the under on that as of today just considering all the options they have and how little infield Mateo has played as a Padre, but it would be some small consolation to finally see him steal some real bases for our squads.
Baltimore OF Ryan McKenna gets the first chance to replace injured Austin Hays, but with Cedric Mullins holding down centerfield and OF DJ Stewart set to return from the IL this weekend, McKenna’s window to impress will be small.
Bullpen unrest in Arizona should open a door for RHP J.B. Bukauskas sooner than later. Joakim Soria is hurt and ancient. Chris Devenski has struggled for years. Stefan Crichton can’t buy a save opportunity. Frankly, I think this team could be truly awful in the realm of 100 losses, but a) SAGNOF and b) Bukauskas could be an elite late-inning option the moment he takes a major league mound. He was untouched in spring training: 7.2 innings, 3 hits, 0 runs, 14 K’s, 0 walks.
Thanks for reading!
I’m @theprospectitch on Twitter.