I have always formed somewhat unhealthy fondness for players across different teams: Jimmy Rollins, Matt LaPorta, Gordon Beckham, Cody Decker, Russell Martin.
These are my current beaux:
Chicago White Sox: Nick Madrigal
I’m a sucker for an on-base guy. Madrigal is a freak of nature. In the minors, he walked nearly three times as often as he struck out, and has already indicated he wants to reach 3,000 hits in his MLB career.
He is off to a good start after hitting .340 in his debut season last year; a rate good enough for sixth-best out of 310 hitters (min 100PA).
I also like the possibility that if Madrigal gets enough playing time, the White Sox could have the player with the most walks, and, in Luis Robert or Yoan Moncada, the most strikeouts.
Cleveland Indians: Jose Ramirez
As a 22-year-old, in his third partial year in the majors, Ramirez hit .218 with .631 OPS. He looked for all the world like just another light-hitting middle infielder. However, in the final month of the season, he posted .888 OPS with more walks than strikeouts. This seemed a mature approach for one so inexperienced.
Anyway, I wanted him on my fantasy baseball dynasty team. I couldn’t gamble nominating him for $1 towards the end of the auction for risk of losing out if someone else bid $2. So I waited until 864 players were accounted for, and then picked him up in the first round of waivers. Obviously, I had no idea he would become such an all-round stud, but it remains my single best fantasy play.
Detroit Tigers: Nomar Mazara
I was only a couple of rows back at Angels Stadium when Mazara was playing catch with a coach before his MLB debut. He was an Adonis. 6-foot-4 pure athleticism. It didn’t seem fair that I didn’t get those genes.
He had been MLB’s 20th best prospect and looked to be in a no-lose situation. But, despite hitting 19 or 20 homers in each of his four seasons with the Rangers, Mazara was continually a below-average hitter, with 96 OPS+ (100 is average).
He is still only 25 years old and will get a chance of everyday at-bats in Detroit. I don’t think he is the bust levelled at him by many.
Kansas City Royals: Kyle Zimmer
Older brother of Indians’ outfielder, Brad Zimmer, Kyle was the Royals’ first-round pick in 2012.
The brothers’ story is incredible. They are obviously supreme sportsmen to make it to the highest level of the game, but neither has been able to stay healthy.
Kyle suffered a litany of injuries that suggested he would never actually make it to the big leagues, but in a surprise move, the Royals gave him a 2019 debut. He flopped to a 10.80 ERA (5.78 FIP) in 15 appearances.
However, a change of mechanics transformed his results in 2020 with 1.57 ERA (2.36 FIP) and 10.2 SO/9. I appreciate that both years were small samples, but I will be watching to see if Zimmer can reproduce his 2020 form to get higher leverage roles. Royals’ closer perhaps?
Minnesota Twins: Willians Astudillo
It looks like the versatile Venezuelan video highlight reel won’t make the Opening Day roster. Having proved his ability to play catcher, first base, second base, third base, and the outfield, Astudillo will undoubtedly get the call some time in 2021.
If he can recreate his recent Winter League success of seven homers in 36 games with .986 OPS, then then we might get to see more unforgettable clips from the UK’s favourite player.
Houston Astros: Zack Greinke
My two favourite pitchers to watch are Trevor Bauer and Zack Greinke. Both brilliant, both scientifically inquisitive, but very, very different. You could probably spend a long time listening to Greinke’s wisdom.
The 37-year-old former Cy Young Award winner may not be able to despatch a mid-90s fastball, but the sheer range of options he has at his disposal makes the right-hander compelling to watch.
Los Angeles Angels: Mike Trout
I was tempted to pick Luis Rengifo (my favourite under-the-radar Angel) or Shohei Ohtani or Anthony Rendon, but there are few things in baseball better than watching Mike Trout hit or watching Mike Trout field.
It is still difficult to comprehend an on-base percentage of .422 over the last eight years (1,073 games) with 172 wRC+. The next best hitter is Juan Soto … with 152 wRC+. Trout is simply the greatest player I have ever seen.
Oakland Athletics: Mike Fiers
Let us not forget that if it hadn’t been for Mike Fiers sticking his head above the parapet, we might still think that the trash can bangers from Houston were a sensationally talented team. For that reason alone, I will be looking out to cheer on his starts.
Also, I like pitchers who continually outperform their FIP.
Seattle Mariners: Mitch Haniger
He was immense in 2019 with 26 homers, 96 RBI and .859 OPS. Haniger was the best hitter in a Seattle lineup that included veteran sluggers Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano. A ruptured testicle, torn adductor and herniated disc has kept him out of action since June 2019.
Seattle has a lot of interesting players, but Haniger is the one closest to by heart.
Texas Rangers: Dane Dunning
I love win-win trades like the Lance Lynn/Dane Dunning deal. The White Sox got one year of a durable starter and Texas gets a rookie pitcher with untapped potential. After his MLB debut, Dunning posted 1.72 ERA (2.55 FIP) over his next three starts, before slumping to 5.79 ERA (5.69 FIP) across the next three. I’m keen to see which pitcher will appear in 2021.
Baltimore Orioles: Trey Mancini
In 2019, Mancini was an underrated stud. He launched 35 home runs with 97 RBI, and his 135 OPS+ matched Mookie Betts. He missed the entire 2020 season while he underwent chemotherapy for colon cancer. There is not much to get excited about on the Baltimore roster, so it is easy for Mancini to be everyone’s favourite Oriole.
Boston Red Sox: Michael Chavis
He destroyed the minors for three straight years and then swatted 18 homers in 95 games as a 23-year-old in his MLB debut stint. This included two memorable home runs in London.
The emergence of Bobby Dalbec, and the acquisitions of Enrique Hernandez and Marwin Gonzalez likely sends Chavis back to the minors, at least to start the season. But with Triston Casas on the verge of the big time, there is talk that Chavis’ tenure in Boston might be at an end.
New York Yankees: ???
Nope, I got nothing.
Tampa Bay Rays: Yandy Diaz
The fact that Diaz is not one the greatest hitters on the planet demonstrates the skill involved in hitting a ball with a rounded bat. Diaz is ripped. He has muscles on his muscles. In 2019, he was in the 90th percentile for exit velocity, placed somewhere between Bryce Harper and JD Martinez.
But whereas Harper enjoyed a launch angle of 13.7° and Martinez 12.5°, Diaz’s was 5.7°.
Within the small sample size of 2020, Diaz continued to pound the ground with a ludicrous 66% groundball rate, but he walked more and struck out less on his way to 138 wRC+. His power and OBP give a tantalising prospect of Diaz becoming a true superstar.
Toronto Blue Jays: Cavan Biggio
In 2018, Biggio scraped into the Blue Jays’ Top-10 prospects, but well behind the Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette. However, over the last couple of seasons, Biggio has been the Blue Jays best player.
Although I still look out for his box score, it hurts slightly knowing that I traded Biggo in my dynasty league for a few weeks of Michael Brantley. Flags fly forever … but my gamble didn’t pay off.
(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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