I play in some deep dynasty leagues. The kind where every at bat has value. Every pulse has value. In leagues like these, guys like Gio Urshella, Mike Yastrzemski and Tommy Edman get picked up before their first big chance. I love these large player pools and have discovered something of talent for climbing aboard the airbus just before real helium hits for the Trent Grishams, Randy Arozarenas, and Jake Cronenworths of the world.
I’m not suggesting the players in this series are locks to produce like those names in the intro. I am however saying these are the freemium-level dynasty and draft champions pieces I’m acquiring now in as many leagues as possible because I love their intersection of proximity, opportunity and talent.
Nobody cares about a Spring Training home run, and I’m not suggesting you should.
If, however, that home run comes off the bat of a man whose elbow has been deemed unfit for in-game use, we should make note: that elbow is probably close.
If the man who hit the home run brings speed and power to an everyday opportunity if he wins the gig, that Spring home run that matters not 99 percent of the time suddenly takes on legitimate fantasy relevance.
And if, for instance, the man in question’s primary competition for the gig sits out the following day with a back injury, well, I just might lose the thread on this bit before clarifying how quickly a player like Alford would climb even mixed league draft boards with a few more splashes. He’ll begin to look like a discount alternative to Leody Taveras.
I’ll cherry pick his 2017 in AA to give us some numbers. In 68 games, Alford hit five homers and stole 18 bases while carrying a 12.1/15.6 K/BB rate and slashing .310/.406/.429. Since that stretch, the Jays have been yo-yoing him up and down in large part because he wound up injured whenever his window opened.
A key factor to remember about Alford is the football background that has him a bit younger in baseball years than the age on his player page. He’ll turn 27 in July. I think he’ll have about eight homers and 15 steals by then.
Pittsburgh acquired Dustin Fowler the other day, so even with Jared Oliva battling an achy back, Alford is not alone in center just yet. I’ve never been a Fowler fan, but he’s a viable cover flier if you’re somewhere deep enough to hold both. The loser of the day-to-day gig will still have a role this year.
With plate and contact skills surpassing anything demonstrated by Tyler O’Neill or Harrison Bader, Thomas should play enough to potentially earn a long-term opportunity. Like a lot of players St. Louis likes, he’s a bit overly mechanical and conservative in his swing, but that rigid arm bar helps him wait until a pitch gets deep into the zone. It might rob a tick or two from his max exit velocity, but Thomas still packs a punch with a 108.7 mph maximum exit velocity and a 91.4 mph average in 53 career batted ball events.
While I don’t foresee a repeat of his 2019 debut, when he logged a .316/.409/.684 slash line while playing sparingly across 34 games, I think those results better represent his skills than his covid-waylaid 2020 slash line (.111/.200/.250), and that Thomas is ready to be a big league regular given his small sample take rates (21.4 % O-swing) and swinging strike rates (7.8 %), not to mention a sizable minor league track record.
You can see a Covid effect clearly enough in his empty slash line but also in his 87th percentile 2020 sprint speed. That’s fast, sure, but Thomas landed in the 98th percentile in 2019. He’s not typically been a world class thief on the bases but could add steals with experience and should already threaten double digits as he has done throughout his career.
It’s worth noting that Tyler O’Neill has stated his goal to loosen up his own swing this Spring, mechanically speaking, and I’ll be watching his at bats closely. I’ve never believed he’d make enough contact to play every day, but if he ever does, he’ll be a problem.
Not a rookie. Sorry about that. But Scott is a relative unknown despite having plain path to saves. With Cesar Valdez bidding for a rotation spot this spring, Scott is his club’s clear-cut best reliever. What about Hunter Harvey, you ask. What about him, I reply, cryptically signaling my confusion that the echo chamber has anointed him closer despite his having a clearly inferior track record to Scott’s. Harvey was drafted by a previous regime. Where people got the idea that he’s the fair-haired boy of this bullpen is beyond me.
In fact (and in fun: don’t yell at me please), the best case for Harvey to close is that Baltimore seems to like the bad closer strategy, those wily birds. But that doesn’t explain Valdez, who very much won the role in 2020 by being the best pitcher on the team. Sulser won it the same way, come to think of it.
For his part, Scott pairs an 80-grade fastball with an untouchable slider he’s beginning to command at will. Batters slugged .079 against 134 of Scott’s sliders last year and .333 against his fastball.
Both pitches have unique traits that make them great. His slider has 36 inches of drop (elite) and 5.2 inches of break (solid).
His fastball has very little drop, breaks four inches less than the average four-seamer and landed in the 98th percentile for spin rate and 91st for velocity
His overall exit velocity allowed was in the 93rd percentile.
This is the skill set of a top flight closer just entering his prime.
Thanks for reading!
I’m @theprospectitch on Twitter.