As I’m working on my pre-season top 100 hitters column each week I sometimes like to ask my friends for their thoughts as a barometer for who I might be too high or too low on. As a fun experiment I start with my #1 and #2 ranked players and whoever they voted was better was locked into their ranking — and whoever lost would face the next ranked player.
“Betts or Jose Ramirez?” 4 votes Betts, 1 for Ramirez.
“Ramirez or Francisco Lindor?” 4 for Lindor, again — 1 for Ramirez.
For the most part players rarely lasted more than 2-3 match-ups before they won and were given their consensus ranking. However, there was one player who lasted 8 match-ups (meaning an 8 ranking difference between my top 100 and the group consensus top 100) and that man was…
- Trevor Story: He is currently the 19th ranked hitter on FantasyPros cumulative ADP rankings. I had Story in my top 10! So who did Story lose to in my head-to-head showdowns? Javier Baez, Manny Machado, Trea Turner, Bryce Harper, Alex Bregman, J.D. Martinez, Nolan Arenado before finally getting chosen over Andrew Benintendi (although it was still a 3 to 2 vote!) I can see the concern that last year might be flukey, but let’s not act like Story is a total bum. He finished 6th on Razzball’s Player Rater ahead of, well, everyone I just listed above! Let’s take a deeper look at Story’s numbers from 2018. His .345 BABIP was only .002 higher than his breakout rookie year in 2016 so I think some of the ratio gains could be sustainable. The biggest red flag about him, that K-rate, was at it’s lowest at 25.6% — still not great — but much better than 2017’s 34.4%. Yes, he was swinging at more pitches in and out of the zone, but made much better contact on those pitches as well. If he can even just maintain these improvements I see no reason why Story won’t be a top-10 player again in 2019.
- Mitch Haniger: Injuries limited what should have been his breakout season in 2017, but Hanny played 157 games in 2018 and is ready to take another step in 2019. One improvement that can help Haniger reach that 30 HR plateau (after hitting 27 last season) is hitting more fly balls. He had a 15.8% HR/FB rate in both 2017 and 2018 but is only average a 36.5% fly ball percentage over the last two years. If he can join the fly ball revolution and hit even just 40% of his balls in the air — at least 30 HRs is definitely attainable. As for his team dependent stats Haniger scored 90 runs and knocked in 93 RBI while hitting 3rd and lead-off most often. He is lined up to bat second behind Mallex Smith who broke out for 40 steals with a .367 OBP with the Rays in 2018. If Mallex maintains this OBP the RBI production could still be there as Haniger was hitting behind Dee Gordon (.288 OBP) and Jean Segura (.341 OBP) in 2018. Batting behind Haniger will be two new acquisitions looking to rebound from disappointing 2018’s. Jay Bruce has a career .821 OPS with men on base while Edwin Encarnacion has a career .858 OPS with men on base. Haniger’s current ADP has him ranked as the 22nd best OF off the board — but I’m convinced his production could see him ending up as high as a top-12 OF when October rolls around.
- Aaron Hicks: For the first time in his 6 year career, Hicks reached over 500 plate appearances. Hell, he reached over 400 plate appearances for the first time too! Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way — anyone in the Yankees lineup is capable of 90 runs or 90 RBI. Hicks who could be hitting anywhere from 2nd to 5th is a threat to achieve both. This lineup is so good, new acquisition D.J. LeMahieu, who has been locked into the 3rd spot in the Rockies lineup for the better part of the past 5 seasons, could be hitting ninth for the Yankees this year. Despite missing over 20 games due to injury in 2018 Hicks still hit 27 HRs and stole 11 bases showcasing the power/speed threat everyone was hoping for back in the Twins minor league system. 150 games played and Hicks could put up a line that looks like: 100 runs/30 HR/100 RBI/15 SB. His current ADP (can there be ADP’s yet?) is around 123 but if we get a full healthy Hicks season (always a question) he could return top-30 hitter value.
- Eduardo Escobar: Having Escobar as either your starting SS or 3B isn’t a recipe for success, but man is he a valuable UTIL/bench/injury insurance guy to have. Last year he set career highs in HRs, runs, RBI, walk rate and plate appearances. Escobar also finished second in the league in doubles and if you’re a believer in the old adage “well if some of those doubles turn into HRs…” then there is potential for 25+ HRs in Escobar’s bat. Especially since he now plays in a slightly more hitter friendly park and will get to play 10 or so games in Colorado. Escobar hit the more authority in 2018 boosting his hard contact rate by 6.8% from 2017. He’s also increased his launch angle in each of the past three seasons — if this trend continues we could see his HR total rise even more. One interesting stat to note is that his .272 batting average in 2018 was very close to his career high .275 average back in 2014. The big difference? In 2014 his BABIP was .336 compared to 2018’s .308. If he gets a couple extra lucky bounces or a few extra line drives find grass Escobar’s average could reach the .285 range. Batting second for the Paul Goldschmidt-less Diamondbacks could lead to a 75/25/70/3/.275ish line. Not bad for a player ranked in the 200s.
- Jesse Winker: Before you read this blurb about Jesse Winker please head to Twitter and share this article with anyone who works with the Reds organization. Two months ago I was confident in a Jesse Winker breakout 2019 where he’d finish as a top-30 OF. Now, with the addition of Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig I’m not confident the Reds will make the right decision for their starting OF. That being said t’s still only January and it’s looking like the Reds are being aggressive on the trade market so one of them could be shopped again so I’ll hold off on getting mad. Let’s get this out of the way: Winker had shoulder surgery on July 31st and on November 30th he said he’s been doing shoulder workouts for a few weeks. 4 months and he’s already doing shoulder exercises and we still have over two months until the season starts. He’ll be fine. Now to the fun stuff! Among batters with at least 330 ABs Winker tied for 4th in BB/K with his on-base Daddy Joey Votto. At any stop in his career he’s never had a BB% under 10. The biggest knock has been his seeming lack of power hitting only 7 HRs in 2018 and 7 HRs the year before that. However, Winker has been pointing out that he’s been dealing with this shoulder injury for a few years now so maybe it has been hurting his power number since the injury occurred in 2014. In 2013 he hit 16 HRs in 486 plate appearances and in 2014 he hit 15 in 341. Could we have started seeing a power increase before the shoulder started giving him issues? What is he capable of with a fully healthy shoulder for the first time in 4 years? His average throughout the minors, shoulder injury and all was .298 over 2,438 plate appearances so now just imagine the same solid contact rates with a bit more authority. Am I predicting a 30+ HR explosion from Winker in his first fully healthy season? YOU BETCHYA! 40 HRs/120 RBI! READ IT AND WEEP SUCKAS! Nah, but 20 HRs with sparking ratios and really solid team dependent stats in what is a very impressive Reds lineup? That’s a top-30 OF for me. If the Reds do the right thing!
Next up, I’m going to highlight five or so players I’m lower on than most people and if you follow me on Twitter you might already know who one of them is… and why I think he might be one of the most debated players this off-season.
Follow me on Twitter: @Kerry_Klug