Crazy things happen throughout the course of a baseball season. Crazier things happen in a shortened baseball season with doubleheaders and a global pandemic. What I always find interesting is identifying players who have interesting underlying skillsets but might not have consistent playing time. You might be wondering, "well, what's the point of that?" The point is you find out who these players are before others do. Honestly, you can already draft all of these players in AL/NL-only and deeper mixed leagues. You might just get lucky and find that 2018 Jesus Aguilar.
It was a rollercoaster of a spring for Nick Solak. He went from a utility role to starting in left field when Willie Calhoun fractured his jaw and now with the season delayed, is headed back to the bench. All hope is not lost. There's a chance the Rangers slide Todd Frazier over to first and play Solak at third. Nevertheless, Solak is a name to pay attention to. Between the minors and majors last season, he hit 32 home runs with seven steals. He's actually flashed a plus hit tool throughout his minor-league career, maintaining a .294 batting average and an .850 OPS.
The only knock on Solak is his batted-ball profile. Though he spent just 33 games with the Rangers last season, he posted a 53% ground ball rate. If Solak wants to maintain that high batting average, he's better off maintaining that 45% ground ball rate he posted with the Nashville Sounders in 2019. With an ADP of 291, he's a name to pay attention to in AL-only and deeper draft-and-hold leagues right now. If he earns consistent playing time in-season, he'll likely be an add in all 12-team leagues.
What does Jose Martinez have to do to get a job around here? Martinez was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in early January and the Fantasy industry collectively hopped out of their chairs and applauded. And then reality settled in. With the Rays also making offseason moves to acquire Hunter Renfroe and sign Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, we're right back we started with Martinez. He struggled at times to find everyday at-bats with the Cardinals, mostly because he was a terrible defender in the National League. If there's one thing Martinez can do, however, it's hit. Over the past three seasons, Martinez's 25.7% line-drive rate is tied for ninth among qualified hitters while his .296 batting average is tied for 15th with Yuli Gurriel. Speaking of Gurriel, that's a great comp for Martinez. Consider this: Martinez is headed to a team that also acquired Yandy Diaz last year because the Rays knew if they can raise his launch angle, he can do damage. They were right. Look what happened last year when Gurriel coupled his contact skills with an elevated launch angle. He posted a career-high 31 home runs. The Rays are smart, maybe the smartest. They'll get the most out of Martinez.
We're still waiting on how the 2020 season will play out. If the universal DH is adopted in the National League, then Garrett Cooper probably has a job to start the season. And he should! Cooper had a very good offensive season in 2019, which was slightly derailed by a dreadful August. Through July, Cooper was batting .293 with 11 home runs and an .831 OPS. Then, in 88 August at-bats, Cooper hit just .216 with a .581 OPS. P.S. he was dealing with a hamstring during this time. September rolls around and Cooper is back to hitting .341 with three homers. Consider these other factors as well: Cooper did all this in 2019 with a 52% ground ball rate. An underrated news item this offseason was that the Marlins brought in James Rowson to be their offensive coordinator and bench coach. What is an offensive coordinator in baseball? Well, we're about to find out. Rowson was the Twins hitting coach last season when they led the majors in both home runs (307) and fly ball rate (39.3%). If there's anybody who can help raise Cooper's launch angle, it's him.
What do we do with 50-game sample sizes? We obviously overreact and extrapolate those numbers over a full season. I'm not sure what got into Mike Ford last year. Maybe it was the juiced balls. Whatever it was, it worked. In just 50 games with the Yankees, he hit 12 home runs with 25 RBI and a .909 OPS. Over 150 games, you're looking at 36 homers and 75 RBI. Now of all the players on this list, Ford is the toughest sell because it's the Yankees. They have a ton of depth and they're expected to compete. If Ford ever had to step in to an everyday role because of injury or he somehow earned it, watch out. His swing is built (Ford Tough) for Yankee Stadium. In those 50 games, Ford posted both a 44% fly ball rate and a 44% pull rate, ideal with that short porch in right field. He also hit the ball extremely hard. Ford averaged a 91.9 MPH exit velocity last season, which ranked top 20 among hitters with at least 100 batted-ball events. That mark was tied for 18th with Matt Olson and was better than Mike Trout, Juan Soto and Bryce Harper. It's a long shot but at the same time, Luke Voit, Miguel Andujar, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge have all dealt with their own ailments over the past few seasons.
Myles Straw is the fastest player in baseball. He makes fast people look not-so-fast. According to Statcast, Straw ranked in the 100th percentile of sprint speed last season. Numero uno. The problem is he's likely just a pinch-runner or defensive replacement. He'll be confined to just AL-only and deeper mixed roto leagues for now but like Mike Ford, Straw plays a team filled with injury risks. Between Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Michael Brantley, all four of those gentlemen have dealt with their fair share of ailments. Did I mention how fast Straw was? In 2018, he stole 70 bases between Double-A and Triple-A. He's also been relatively successful on the base paths in his minor-league career, swiping 170-of-213 attempts, a near-80% success rate. The other thing I love about Straw is he's not like these other speedsters we've seen in the past like Billy Hamilton and even Adalberto Mondesi. He can actually get on base. He's never posted a walk rate lower than 9.4% at any level. In 108 at-bats with the Astros last season he walked 14.8% of the time. He'd make a bigger impact in Roto if he had the opportunity, but based on his plate discipline, could be useful in H2H points as well.
Like Garrett Cooper, Tyler O'Neill is another one who can be helped by the universal DH. He can also be helped by his own health. Regardless, I believe O'Neill has the profile to become the next Kyle Schwarber or Franmil Reyes-type slugger. Yes, there's swing-and-miss in his game. There's also freakish power. I mean, the guy looks like he was chiseled in stone. O'Neill has two seasons with 30-plus homers in the minors and four seasons with 24-plus homers in the minors. He just hasn't had a consistent opportunity with the Cardinals and, again, some of that is on him because of health. If you need more evidence of his power, you can find it in his batted-ball data. Over the past two seasons, O'Neill's 46% hard contact rate ranked 11th among all outfielders with at least 250 plate appearances. That number ranks higher than J.D. Martinez, Ronald Acuña and Cody Bellinger. If given consistent playing time, O'Neill will be a better player in Roto leagues because his plate discipline is hard to look past in H2H points leagues.
You'll notice there's a lot of speed on this list. That holds true for Luis Rengifo who made his debut with the Angels last season. While he only went two for seven on the basepaths in the majors, he's had much more success in the minors. In 2018, he had 41 steals in 57 attempts across three different minor-league levels. Throughout his career, he's managed a 71% success rate as a basestealer, not as high as someone like Myles Straw, but still a solid number. Speaking of Straw, Rengifo has some similar traits. He's shown a strong eye at the plate and the ability to get on base, which is paramount for an aggressive baserunner. Rengifo's never posted a walk rate below 7.3% at any level and in 108 games with the Angels last season, he actually walked 9.9% of the time. While his batting average was just .238 in his first go in the majors, Rengifo's .270 career batting average in the minors tells me he can build on that. Tommy La Stella had great success with the Angels last season, but at 31 years old, it's fair to be skeptical. If he falters, Rengifo can step in and have Cesar Hernandez type impact with even more speed.
Many are excited about Sean Murphy and rightfully so. He's one of the top catching prospects in baseball who is expected to see the bulk of the A's playing time. It's unfortunate, however, that it comes at the expense of Austin Allen, whom the A's acquired from the Padres for Jurickson Profar. Allen did nothing in his 71 plate appearances with the Padres last season, but that's not what we care about. This guy has major power from the left side of the plate, as displayed in the minors. From 2017-2019, Allen posted at least 21 home runs in each season. In fact, he hit 21 homers last year in just 67 games. He slugged .663 with a 1.042 OPS. Allen doesn't sell out for power, either. Throughout Allen's home-run filled minor league career, he's batted .296 and never struck out more than 21.1% in a single season. Murphy is no-doubt the starter for the A's, but if here were to struggle in his first extended look in the majors or got hurt, Allen's combination of hit and power tools are very enticing.
Like the few other National League players on this list, I'd like to say that Dominic Smith would likely benefit from the universal DH, but the truth is, Yoenis Cespedes is still a member of the New York Mets. This might require a few different things to happen, but I was impressed by what I saw from Smith last season. In just 197 plate appearances, he managed 11 home runs and 35 runs scored while batting .282 with an .881 OPS. Smith has consistently shown a strong eye at the plate and did just that with the Mets in 2019, evidenced by his 9.6% walk rate. It's crazy that just a few years ago, Smith was regarded as a decently touted prospect and in comes Pete Alonso and we forget all about Smith. Speaking of Alonso, Chris Towers has pointed this out on the podcast before -- Smith is actually six months younger than Alonso. It seems the Mets should not abandon Smith just yet, but then again, this is the same franchise that almost refused to play Jeff McNeil every day. While not a great defender, Smith can man first base or a corner-outfield position. His versatility helps his chances, but still, he'll need an injury or another player to under perform to earn an everyday role.
It feels like one way or another, Jose Peraza has been around forever. He's still just 26 years old. Peraza finds himself as a utilityman for the Red Sox, but also the best second baseman. Would it really surprise anybody if Michael Chavis is moved over to first base full-time with Mitch Moreland as a backup? Regardless, Peraza has shown flashes. In 2018 with the Reds, Peraza used a have line-drive approach (25.5%) to back his .288 batting average. He also racked up 14 home runs, 85 runs scored and 23 steals. From 2016-2018, Peraza actually had 21 steals in each of those seasons. So what happened in 2019? Your guess is as good as mine. The one thing that stood out to me was a career-high 42.6% fly ball rate. Some players are not meant to increase their launch angle. Considering Peraza's career hard-hit rate is just 26.3%, he is one of those players. Peraza needs to focus on getting back to line drives and ground balls. Because he doesn't walk much, Peraza is somebody better suited for Roto leagues. If he can take hold of that second-base job, Peraza has some upside in the Red Sox lineup.