With much speculation about the pending news on Freddie Freeman’s wrist, it’s worth looking at his potential replacements along with players at other positions as injuries keep wreaking havoc on fantasy baseball owners. Justin Smoak seems to be atop the players of interest recently due to his power surge and .280/.342/.545 slash line after 41 games and 132 at-bats. Players usually start to settle in after 100 plate appearances, so Smoak may be on to something this year.
It starts with his reduction in strikeouts to 19.2 percent against a 32.8 rate in 2016. While this could be misleading, Smoak has lowered his swinging strike percentage by four percent, increased his contact by eight and his hard contact rates have risen by over four percent. Trying to predict his final batting average might prove dicey, but Smoak seems to be on the precipice of a career year. After the disappointment he has provided in the past for fantasy, he has hit nine home runs with 27 RBI and scored 20 runs for the Blue Jays — basically the production they planned on when signing Kendrys Morales in the off-season.
When the team adds Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki back to the mix, Toronto’s production should increase and if Smoak’s still producing in line with the numbers above, he could hit 25 or more home runs with 75 or more RBI. He might still be on waiver wires so he could be a cheap flier as a player making nice adjustments in terms of plate discipline and hitting the ball harder.
12-Team Mixed League Targets
- Josh Bell, 1B, Pittsburgh
If Smoak’s not available, taking a chance on Josh Bell could pay off as well. He has homered in four of his last six games, including Thursday afternoon’s game, and hit safely over his past seven played. Bell moved up to fourth in the lineup recently and responded with production. Part of the recent spike in power can be related to his increased pull percentage, up to just under 48 percent this season. As for OBP, Bell arrived in the majors with the ability to get on base and his .343 OBP and .528 slugging after 40 games should intrigue prospective owners.
- Logan Morrison, 1B, Tampa Bay
All three of the first basemen of note could see their batting averages drop, but Morrison’s on pace for 41 home runs after 40 games played. He has 20 runs, 11 home runs and 27 RBIs for a .246/.331/.530 slash line. Since he made the list last week, his profile will not be done in full force to spare my editor, but for power at the corner, take a look at the Rays first baseman. This breakout dates back to the second half of last year.
- Tommy Joseph, 1B, Philadelphia
While having to replace a first baseman cannot be easy, options seem to be abound. After a slow start in April, Joseph is hitting .395/.490/.814 in May through 43 at-bats. He has scored 10 runs with six doubles, four home runs and nine RBIs. Most important, he has walked seven times this month. When he takes pitches, his production seems to increase along with his selectivity to fuel a 48.4 hard contact for the month. Many called for Rhys Hoskins prior to the start of May; since then Joseph has quieted the critics.
- Devon Travis, 2B, Toronto
For the owners who lost Robinson Cano, taking a chance on Devon Travis in the near term seems to make sense. His season totals do not reflect his past production. He’s 84 points below his career mark in BABIP which can be a fluky statistic, but the average will migrate positively as the season progresses. That has already started with Travis on a four-game hit streak in which he’s 8-for-16 with six doubles, four RBIs and a stolen base. He has matched his stolen base total from last year, and hit more line drives with 12 doubles in May over 52 at-bats with a .327 average. Get in on the ground floor.
- Didi Gregorius, SS, New York Yankees
Back from an early season injury, Didi Gregorius has hit the ground running in terms of production. Through 17 games, he’s hitting .319/.351/.417 with nine runs, a home run, 12 RBIs and a stolen base. Cutting his contact down by five percent and increasing his swinging strike percentage by three to start the year hints at a potential boost in power. Fantasy owners would sign up for a repeat of his 20 home runs and seven stolen bases from last year at a prorated rate due to time lost, but if the power does increase and Gregorius builds on his five multi-hit games over his last 11 starts, he could improve upon last year.
- Cameron Maybin, OF, Los Angeles Angels
Owners who lost Gregory Polanco might look to Maybin, who’s heating up for the Angels. Production has never been the problem for Maybin, but staying on the field has been. Another player off to a slow start, Maybin has eight hits in his past 10 at-bats lead-off, scoring four runs with three doubles in the past two games. He stole three bases against the Tigers on May 14 and scored 20 runs in 34 games with nine stolen bases.
Maybin will not provide much power, but did hit 10 HRs in 2015. To start this season, he has improved his walk rate by almost five percent and on pace for 34 steals. While his increased ground ball rate to open the year’s accompanied by a higher pull percentage and hard contact, time will tell if he can reach double digits in home runs again. But for a quick fix in terms of runs, average and stolen bases, Maybin fits the bill.
- Corey Knebel, RP, Milwaukee
For the saves chasers, do not waste much money or waiver priority on the fluid Mariners situation. Instead, see if Corey Knebel’s still available and if he is, stop reading this to add or bid on him. Even the team’s beat writer noted after his first save, this could be a new closer era for the team due to his strong start to the season. Knebel’s 21 strikeouts over 15 innings with a 0.86 ERA, 1.28 FIP and WHIP of one point to his upside.
- Jimmy Nelson, SP, Milwaukee
Two Brewers? After a rough April, Nelson’s 18:5 K:BB in 15.2 innings during May with a 1.15 ERA, 2.53 FIP and 1.02 WHIP suggest he’s on the right path. His 20.6 strikeout minus walk percentage this month agrees. On Tuesday night, Nelson recorded 15 swinging strikes according to BaseballSavant.com’s data with five from his fastball, five from the slider and four from the knuckle-curve.
Nate Karns headlined the pitchers last week and his numbers suggest he should be more highly owned. Through 17.1 innings in May, Karns’ 29 strikeouts, 2.08 ERA, 2.06 FIP and 0.92 WHIP put him on pace for 199 strikeouts this year. If he’s still on the wire, add him for the upside and hope for the best.
Another popular player will be Jose Berrios but his ownership rocketed upon his promotion. Deeper league players can speculate on Eddie Butler of the Cubs and Tyler Anderson of the Rockies. Other deep league options include Adam Frazier (Pirates) and Zack Godley (Diamondbacks).
If interested in Bradley Zimmer, his fantasy profile’s here, covered by yours truly.
Be sure to stop back this weekend for the start and sit hitters for Week 8, Sunday steamers for last minute head-to-head league wins and two-start pitchers.
Statistical Credits: Fangraphs.com, MLB.com, ESPN.go.com, BaseballSavant.com