MiLB

10 WHO ARE STRUGGLING AND IMPACTING OUR FANTASY TEAMS

Brandon Crawford
Bernie Pleskoff
Written by Bernie Pleskoff

Properly, we get concerned when our fantasy team players are in the dumpster. We wait. And we wait. “Tomorrow’s the day.” “Tomorrow’s the day he breaks out.” “He’s too good a hitter to stay in the quarter inch club all year.” “Isn’t he?” We say all those things to ourselves. Doubt creeps in. You start questioning yourself. And him. Or in some cases, them.

I have identified 10 MLB hitters who are trying to claw themselves out of a month long funk. These are 10 players who may have struggled before, but somehow, some way, they found their way to respectability. Or partial respectability.

I have always maintained that hitting a baseball is a tough way to make a living. Especially baseballs that move around and dart up and down, in and out.

Some of these guys may have landed on your fantasy team. Some you won at auction. Some you drafted. All are on their way to killing your results. If not killing those results, bruising them badly.

Note: 2019 statistics are as of Friday morning, May 3, 2019.

MATT CARPENTER-INF-St. Louis Cardinals

Carpenter has a history of being a formidable, scrappy hitter. He offers position flexibility in many leagues because he plays first base, second base and third base.  Last season Carpenter hit 36 home runs. That’s a terrific season. He drove in 81 runs. His .257 batting average wasn’t great, but it was acceptable given those home runs and RBI. This year? A month is in the books. Carpenter is on a very solid baseball team. The Cardinals will likely be formidable all season. But Carpenter has been absent in the prominent player team picture. He is hitting a very disappointing .196/3/5. I really never thought I’d see such low numbers from him after a month of the season. But there are five months remaining, and Carpenter’s bat should come alive.

My take: I just traded for Carpenter in one of my leagues. Yes, I do know that at age 33 he may be in a legitimate decline. However, I can’t give up on a guy that hit 36 homers last season. I think he’ll rebound. Maybe not to the extent of last year’s power numbers, but as a respectable contributor to the Cardinals success. I would advise you to hold on. Don’t look at his stats for a week, if you have the will power to do that. Then, when you do look, you may be surprised. He may be in that prominent team player photo by the end of the season.

JOSE RAMIREZ-INF-Cleveland Indians

Jose Ramirez is a problem. He’s a problem for the Cleveland Indians. He’s a problem for my fantasy teams. He’s a problem for Jose Ramirez. This is a guy that was going Top 5 in fantasy league drafts based upon his breakout of two seasons ago. This is a guy that cost some fantasy auction players $50 or more in some auctions-especially in 2018 keeper leagues. This is a guy who has seen his production tumble since the All-Star Game last season. He is popping out at an alarming rate. He is hitting weak ground balls to the pitcher. When he does barrel a ball to the outfield, there is great excitement in the voices of Indians announcers. Each time, and they are rare, the voices wonder aloud… “Has Jose turned the corner?” Not yet.  And perhaps not anytime soon. As of this writing he is hitting .183/2/9. An All-Star for the past two seasons, it will be very tough for Ramirez to play in his home park during this year’s All-Star Game in Cleveland unless his bat awakens. Soon.

My take: Ramirez is not showing the type of pitch selection and plate discipline that I have seen in the past. In fact, his bat looks slower. It appears that his bat is late and it is dragging through the ball. I haven’t seen the quick hands and wrists. I haven’t seen him barrel the ball or take the pitch where it’s thrown. I see a guy being beaten badly on breaking balls. I have a hefty auction price invested in Ramirez. I’m holding on. All season. I’ve seen the good Ramirez. I want him on my team when that guy returns. If that guy returns. What good would it do to jettison him now? Not much. There isn’t much on waiver wires in most leagues. And smart owners may give you only 40 cents on the dollar.

YASIEL PUIG-OF-Cincinnati Reds

Where in the world has Yasiel Puig gone? Yasiel Puig, the guy that hit .267 with 23 homers and 63 RBI for the Dodgers last season. He has had some turmoil in his career with the Dodgers. Troubles with teammates made their way to the media. He was an unconventional guy who took quite a while to adjust to stateside baseball after escaping Cuba in a very dangerous mission.

Puig was a dangerous hitter with Los Angeles. He was feared. Big, strong and athletic, Puig could hit a baseball a long, long way. He now earns his living playing in perhaps the most hitter friendly Major League Baseball park. He gets to play his home games at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. Puig’s power and that very friendly play pen caused me to spend a considerable amount of my auction budget on him this past March. In my National League Only Keeper league, there were very few credible outfielders available. So I coughed up what it took to win the player. So far this season, Puig is hitting .178 with four homers and 15 RBI. I think he can do better. I know he can do better. But will he do better?

My take: Nothing has changed in the equation. Puig is a very powerful hitter playing his home games in a homer-friendly park. I’m holding. And if I don’t own him, I’m looking to trade for him. But I’m not willing to give up much. I think when the weather warms, so will Puig. The lineup is good enough to help him out. For now, we have to wait.

MARWIN GONZALEZ-INF, OF-Minnesota Twins

It wasn’t long ago that Marwin Gonzalez was winning games for the Houston Astros with home runs and gap doubles. The real beauty of owning Gonzalez in fantasy has always been his position versatility. I own him in a keeper league. He is eligible at 1B, 2B, SS, and OF. I’ll take that. But beginning last season with Houston, Gonzalez was rolling downhill. His stats took a huge dip. He hit .247/16/68. He gave us respectable numbers, but nothing flashy. Again, he could fill-in at virtually every position with the exception of pitcher and catcher. This year, he was signed late as a free agent who lingered on the sidelines until the Minnesota Twins signed him.

When I saw him in spring training, Gonzalez looked very tentative. He needed lots more work than he was able to get before the season began. And now, his late signing has come home to roost. He did not start the season well. He is coming to life a bit now. He’s hitting an anemic .176 with two home runs and only seven runs driven in. I still think he’s a better hitter than that. How much better is becoming a question in my mind.

My take: Because of that position flexibility and availability in fantasy, I’m keeping Gonzalez the entire year. And if someone comes to me with an offer to trade him to me for a moderate return, I doubt I’d consider such a deal. He’s a valuable guy hitting in a solid lineup. I think he’ll rebound well. Before dumping Gonzalez, consider if you have an injury anywhere in your hitting lineup other than catcher, Gonzalez is sitting there for you to plug in. I’ll take that and live with the hope he comes around.

Photo Credit: Ryan Morris

IAN DESMOND-OF-Colorado Rockies

Ian Desmond is playing in his age 33 season. Frankly, his bat is slow and he looks like he is in severe decline at the plate. Yet, there he is, playing center field for the Rockies. Sometimes. Coors Field has the largest amount of center field territory in baseball. They trust Desmond to cover that massive ground when he gets a start in the outfield. He can do it. He’s very capable. My issue with Desmond relies totally on his bat. Where did the power go? Where is the reliable hitter that posted a season hitting .285 with 22 homers, 86 RBI and 21 stolen bases as recently as 2016. I think he’s gone. Last year for example, Desmond hit .236/22/88/. Not bad. Not that far from his 2016 year. But this year? So far Ian Desmond is hitting .196 with three homers and 13 runs batted in. Those aren’t real great numbers for a guy who has played in two All-Star Games in his 11-year major league career.

I warned fantasy players not to even think about Desmond this year. I had to keep him on my NL Only team because there were no outfielders to grab in that keeper league. So I held my nose and didn’t hit the drop button. I am paying a price. It helps that Desmond also can play first base. However, the Rockies haven’t used him there this year. He may, however, have first base eligibility in your fantasy league. Playing him every week is becoming dangerous. His playing time is diminishing. His skills have diminished. And I may be finished with diminished.

My take: Desmond has come to life a bit recently. He is far from “there” yet. However, he plays half his game in Coors, and we all know how that should help fantasy hitters. So, I would suggest keeping him until the weather warms throughout the country. See if he heats up with the weather. If by the All-Star break you aren’t getting anything close to his purchase price in return, it would be logical to try to trade him. There is always a buyer for a Coors hitter.

TRAVIS SHAW-3B,2B,1B-Milwaukee Brewers

The Boston Red Sox must have really wanted right-handed pitcher Tyler Thornburg when they traded for him in December 2016. The exact deal was Travis Shaw, infielder/outfielder Mauricio Dubon, right-handed pitcher Josh Pennington and ultimately infielder Yelson Coca (player to be named later) to the Milwaukee Brewers for Thornburg. I think perhaps Brewers general manager David Stearns can take a huge bow for that lopsided deal. Thornburg has been hurt and has not offered much of a return to the Red Sox. He is not pitching well this year in a limited role. He certainly used in many high leverage situations. Not yet.

Shaw performed extremely well for the Brewers in 2017 (.273/31.101 and 2018 (.241/32/86.) Yes, there was decline last year. But overall, any team would take 32 homers and 86 RBI. Not this year. So far, Shaw is hitting only .189 with four home runs and eight RBI. The Brewers and their fans expect more. Fantasy owners certainly expect that he’ll come around.

Perhaps moving Shaw around from third to second to first and around again is having a negative impact. He is, indeed, playing most of his games at third base. But I’m sure there is some impact on him about the potential to again be asked to play second. If not that, why is he slumping so badly? Why are the home runs almost non-existent? Why is his batting average so woeful? I have no idea.

My take: I like Travis Shaw. He’s another player with a great home park. Miller Park is a terrific hitter’s park. But the left-handed hitting Shaw hasn’t yet caught fire in the new season. Having just turned 29 last month, Shaw should still be in his most productive seasons. If I owned him in fantasy, I would keep him. He’s too good to let go. The minute you trade him, he will catch fire. He’s in a good lineup and he should come around.

YONDER ALONSO-1B/DH-Chicago White Sox

I am convinced the White Sox signed Alonso to help talk his brother-in-law Manny Machado into signing with Chicago’s south side team. The White Sox really wanted Machado. As it turned out, Alonso probably had little influence on Machado, who signed instead with San Diego. The Cleveland Indians dumped Alonso and his contract on December 15, 2018, in a trade with the White Sox for outfielder Alex Call. I have no idea where Alex Call is playing now. None whatsoever. I do know he is not playing on any of the Indians minor league clubs at this time.

Left-handed hitting Alonso has just turned 33. An All-Star in 2017, a year he played with Oakland and Seattle, he has some power in his bat. However, he strikes out in clutch situations, and that has always been bothersome. Last season he hit .250/23/83 for Cleveland. He struck out 123 times. This year Alonso is hitting .186 with five homers and 16 RBI.

The Indians still do not have a replacement hitter in their lineup that can make up for the loss of Alonso and Edwin Encarnacion at the first base/designated hitter positions with their power. With both of them gone, Carlos Santana and Jake Bauers are left with the responsibility of hitting for power from first base and designated hitter positions in the batting order. The home runs aren’t happening from that duo. And they likely won’t.

My take: Alonso won’t be available on your waiver wire unless you are in an eight or ten-team league. Even then, his power potential has probably been scooped up by another league owner. That means you would have to trade for him. While I think his home park is inviting in warm weather, I clearly don’t think he will hit enough for average or hit enough home runs to make trading for him for anything other than a piece to fill a need worthwhile. If you have a hole somewhere in your lineup, Alonso is worth obtaining in trade. You may well be able to get a nice addition to your fantasy team for a hitter with power potential. And that’s the attractive part about Yonder Alonso. He may heat up with the weather.

JASON KIPNIS-2B-Cleveland Indians

Those who follow me on twitter know how much I want the Indians to shed Jason Kipnis from their ranks. I was even more adamant about his rally killing double-play ground balls last year. But I still don’t think he is a major league quality second baseman on a team that prides itself on excellent starting pitching. Kipnis just can’t get to enough balls to either side to make me think he can play an average second base and help those pitchers succeed. That’s just his defensive liability.

On offense, we rarely see solid, barrel of the bat at-bats. They are far too infrequent. I believe Kipnis has more ability than he shows. I do think he hunts home runs. I do think he’s too anxious at the plate while trying to make up for a woeful previous at-bat. I do think he thinks too much at the plate. However, every squirrel finds an acorn upon occasion. And upon occasion, Kipnis finds the barrel. He drives the ball to the opposite field well and we all get excited. For a game or two. And then? Funk city. Last year Kipnis went to the plate 601 times. He had sufficient time to prove if he was still able to hit big league pitching. He finished with a batting average of .230. He hit 18 homers and drove in 71 runs with a team that was far better on offense than the 2019 edition. This year? Kipnis is stalled again in his efforts to be an offensive force. He is hitting .184 with no home runs and only three RBI.

I doubt Kipnis remains at second base for the Indians in the 2020 season. In fact, I think he will be tough to trade and it will be difficult for him to land a lengthy contract. There are just too many young and athletic players capable of offering a club solid play and a good bat at second base.

My take: I want no part of Jason Kipnis on any fantasy team I manage. I think he is far too streaky and unreliable. If he were on any of my clubs I would try to trade him immediately. Man, for the sake of the Indians, I hope I’m wrong.

Jesus Aguilar
Photo Credit: Ryan Morris


JESUS AGUILAR-1B-Milwaukee Brewers

Jesus Aguilar never really got an opportunity to play for the Cleveland Indians. He was signed by Cleveland out of Venezuela and got his first chance to play with the parent team in 2014 at the age of 23. He lingered in the Indians farm system, only getting an occasional chance to show his offensive prowess in parts of three seasons with Cleveland.

Released by Cleveland and signed by the Brewers in 2017, Aguilar won many more chances to show his stuff with his new team. As a matter of fact, in 2017 Aguilar went to the plate 279 times for the Brewers, compared to six plate appearances the year before for the Indians. Aguilar hit 16 homers and drove in 52 runs on his way to a .265 season. Many feel he was among the many that got away from Cleveland for no solid reason. They just didn’t find playing time for his skill set.

Last year, Aguilar was a force. He made the All-Star Team and hit .274 with 35 home runs and 108 RBI. This was the same guy that never got a chance with the American League Indians.

Expectations of Aguilar’s ability increased markedly after last year. Now 28, the 6-3, 250 pound right-handed hitter is in his prime as a hitter. But things aren’t quite the same as they were last year. He is hitting .173 with only three homers and 12 RBI so far. With a month of the season gone, it is unlikely the Brewers are giving up on a perceived source of power in the middle of their lineup.  But this is a guy that swept Eric Thames to the bench. Now Thames is getting a chance to win his job back and Aguilar has to fight for at-bats. That could change if Thames gets cold and Aguilar gets hot.

My take: Aguilar is one of the big, strong power hitters that require some warm weather to heat up. I think he comes around to form a nice power duo with Thames. I think both will get their chances. I wouldn’t drop Aguilar anytime soon. While I don’t think he’ll come close to being an All-Star or hitting 35 homers, I think he should be able to help your fantasy team. I’d look to trade for him with someone totally disgruntled with his poor start.

BRANDON CRAWFORD-SS-San Francisco Giants

Few shortstops have been as consistently sound on defense as Brandon Crawford. People rarely talk about how good he is at shortstop. I’m glad I get to see him play several times every year when he comes to Arizona. Crawford has won three Gold Gloves. That’s saying something. Baseball people know how much he has assisted Giants pitchers in his nine year career.

Consistent at the plate, Crawford has turned in almost identical seasons in 2017 and 2018. He has hit .253/14/77 and .254/14/54 in the past two years. He had 131 and 135 hits respectively in those two years. He has inconsistent split halves in those years. In one year (2017) he had an outstanding first half and a mediocre second half. In 2018 he had a great first half and a miserable second half. This year, in the first month of the season, Crawford is struggling. He’s hitting only .192 with no home runs and only two runs batted in. Those are very troubling numbers. But some how, some way, I think Crawford can rebound. He’s done it before. This is a different Giants team environment though, and that may be contributing to his tough first month.

A left-handed hitter, Crawford isn’t helped much by a rather anemic Giants lineup. They just don’t have much in the way of firepower or run producers. They need Crawford to step up and hit the way he has shown in the past.

My take: Crawford is beyond his prime years. He is 32 and it may become even more difficult for him to catch up with high velocity fastballs or sharp, crisp breaking balls. I still have faith in his ability to hit. I would trade for Crawford if the deal was fair.

————-

BUNTS

The loss of Corey Kluber as a Cleveland Indians starting pitcher may be the final blow to a team that heretofore has struggled to stay above water in the American League Central. It is painful to watch the club try to score runs. They can’t and they don’t. Their strength was their starting pitching rotation of Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, Carlos Carrasco and Shane Bieber. Now both Kluber (broken arm) and Clevinger (back muscle) are on the shelf, probably for months. On the other hand, the Twins are getting good hitting and good pitching. They could easily run away with the division.

One of the stories I am watching carefully is the very poor beginning to the season by Seattle Mariners outfielder Mallex Smith. His poor start recently earned him a trip to Triple-A. At the time he was optioned to Tacoma he was hitting a woeful .165 with one homer and five RBI. Smith had stolen eight bases in nine attempts. But he had to get on base to steal. He wasn’t getting on base, so he couldn’t steal. An on-base percentage of .255 will not keep Smith relevant in the big leagues. Smith almost made my list above, but he doesn’t have enough of a major league background to be concerned about his 2019 hiccup.

Alex Gordon is far from finished. He’s having a nice season so far, hitting for both power and average. Can he keep it up? I don’t see why not. The Royals need his leadership.

Lefty Caleb Smith of the Marlins doesn’t get much in the way of buzz. But from me to you, Mr. Smith, here is some buzzzzzz. You can pitch. I like watching this young man attack hitters. He is confident and capable. With a repertoire that includes a fastball that sits at about 93, a changeup and a slider that he can choose to use at any count. He is not afraid to use any of those pitches and mixes and matches between them and among them with confidence. He’s on the rise and is a big part of the Marlins future.

The Mets’ Peter Alonso can hit. And he can field. He’s a keeper

Sadly, the trip I had planned to host to Cuba in January 2020 has been canceled. The President of the United States and his staff have introduced even greater sanctions between the USA and Cuba, making an educational trip to Cuba an unwise venture. Hopefully, we will be able to return to Cuba to watch baseball at some point in the future. Many thanks to all who expressed interest in the trip.

Listen to our Short Hops podcast at iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play and right here at ClubhouseCorner.com every week. Host Doug Hall and I talk all things baseball (with an emphasis on fantasy baseball) every week.

Follow me on Titter @BerniePleskoff

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About the author

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Bernie's work has been featured on MLB Pipeline, MLB.com and FanRag Sports, among others. You can follow Bernie Pleskoff on Twitter @BerniePleskoff

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