Cruz Endangered

Brad Johnson
Rotoworld

Sluggers hammered 311 home runs in the last week. If I’m not mistaken, that’s the most home runs hit in any Saturday-to-Saturday period. Check out the bi-weekly trend:

Week 10: 2,279 home runs, pace of 6,507 home runs

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Week 12: 2,801 home runs, pace of 6,591 home runs

Week 14: 3,346 home runs, pace of 6,637 home runs

Week 16 (ASB): 3,741 home runs, pace of 6,679 home runs

Week 18: 4,278 home runs, pace of 6,685 home runs.

Week 20: 4,850 home runs, pace of 6,765 home runs

Over the last two weeks, the pace of home runs has increased by nearly 100. Everybody’s joining the party – veteran power hitters, dynamic young stars, unexpected breakouts, and rookies. Shall we dive right in?

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Weekly Leaders

Ronald Acuna, 6 HR

Mike Tauchman, 5 HR

Gio Urshela, 5 HR

Nelson Cruz, 5 HR

8 others, 4 HR

In the preseason, there was a narrative going around connecting Acuna’s draft slot with 2015 Mookie Betts. If you wanted Betts that year, you had to reach super early – far sooner than was justified by any reasonable projection. He wound up returning value for his owners. Acuna was pitted against a much stronger draft pool, but he still crept into the first round in most leagues. He’s already returned value on his draft slot with a shot to finish the year as the top fantasy performer. He’s on an especially torrid streak, launching homers and stealing bases with reckless abandon.

Practically nobody saw Tauchman coming. Even his most ardent supporters couched their love for his minor league performances in the language of hyperbole. He has the look of a legitimate major league asset – albeit one with a potentially fragile skill set. He’s struggled with strikeouts in the majors, although he does have a below average swinging strike rate. If the strikeouts remain, there’s risk of him drifting back to a fourth outfielder role. In the medium term, he’ll have to navigate through Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and Aaron Hicks for playing time.

Urshela had similar playing time concerns to Tauchman not so long ago. Injuries kept the door open long enough for Urshela to thrice prove himself. He possesses 90 percent of Miguel Andujar’s bat while representing a near-infinite upgrade on defense. Urshela featured in the power spotlight earlier this season due to a combination of hard, fly ball contact and a power-friendly home park. After a five-homer performance, he’s on pace for roughly 30 home runs per 650 plate appearances.

In late-June, Cruz looked like he might finally be entering a power decline. Since June 29, he’s hammered an absurd 19 home runs in 135 plate appearances. The next-best performance is Mike Trout’s 16 home runs. Cruz is well on his way to a sixth straight season of 37 or more home runs. Sadly, a ruptured tendon in his left wrist has put his season in jeopardy. Playing through the issue would likely sap his contact rate and power. A surgical fix usually requires at least a month-long recovery.

Several notable players are among those who hammered four homers including today’s Power Spotlight. Unlikely entries were submitted by Jeff McNeil and Brian Anderson – neither of whom is known for his pop. More traditional power hitters like Bryce Harper, Jorge Soler, Pete Alonso, and Michael Conforto also joined the list. It was a busy week for Mets.

My Top 10 Projected Home Run Leaders

Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers: 39 HR, 54 HR projected

Pete Alonso, New York Mets: 38 HR,51 HR projected

Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers: 37 HR, 51 HR projected

Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels: 38 HR, 51 HR projected

Hunter Renfroe, San Diego Padres: 30 HR, 45 HR projected

Jorge Soler, Kansas City Royals: 32 HR, 43 HR projected

Max Kepler, Minnesota Twins: 31 HR, 42 HR projected

Eugenio Suarez, Cincinnati Reds: 31 HR, 42 HR projected

Ronald Acuna, Atlanta Braves: 32 HR, 41 HR projected

Franmil Reyes, San Diego Padres: 27 HR, 40 HR projected

Last week, I warned readers to not discount Alonso in the hunt for the home run crown. Sure enough, he instantly leapt back into contention. Lower in the Top 10, injuries have stirred the pot. Edwin Encarnacion and Cruz might not make it back this season. Joining in their place are Acuna and Soler, both of whom are coming off huge weeks. We also have to keep a watchful eye on Yelich. He’s missed a couple games with back soreness.

Reyes has accomplished almost nothing since joining the Indians. He’s hitting .097/.118/.161 in 34 plate appearances with no home runs. There’s no reason to panic. In fact, this might represent a buy-low opportunity.

Injured

***Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Toronto Blue Jays (quad strain, return unknown)

***Austin Riley, Atlanta Braves (LCL tear, return doubtful)

***Tyler O’Neill, St. Louis Cardinals (left wrist strain, mid-August return)

***Robinson Cano, New York Mets (torn hamstring, return doubtful)

***Jay Bruce, Philadelphia Phillies (flexor sprain in left elbow, late-September return)

***Derek Dietrich, Cincinnati Reds (shoulder inflammation, early-September return)

***David Dahl, Colorado Rockies (high ankle sprain, late-September return)

***Nelson Cruz, Minnesota Twins (ruptured tendon in left wrist, return unknown)

***Edwin Encarnacion, New York Yankees (fractured right wrist, return unknown)

***Aaron Hicks, New York Yankees (flexor strain in right arm, late-September return)

Ramon Laureano, Oakland Athletics (stress reaction in shin, early-September return)

Dominic Smith, New York Mets (stress reaction in left foot, return unknown)

Christin Stewart, Detroit Tigers (concussion, mid-August return)

Yoan Moncada, Chicago White Sox (hamstring strain, mid-August return)

Luke Voit, New York Yankees (sports hernia, return unknown)

Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers (broken hamate, early-September return)

Tommy La Stella, Los Angeles Angels (right tibia fracture, shoulder surgery, out for season)

Brandon Lowe, Tampa Bay Rays (shin contusion, mid-August return)

Gregory Polanco, Pittsburgh Pirates (shoulder inflammation, late-August return)

Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees (PCL knee strain, late-August return)

Jedd Gyorko, Los Angeles Dodgers (wrist injury while rehabbing, mid-August return)

Mitch Haniger, Seattle Mariners (ruptured testicle, late-August return)

Kendrys Morales, Free Agent (calf strain, return unknown)

Andrew McCutchen, Philadelphia Phillies (torn ACL, out for season)

Ryon Healy, Seattle Mariners (spinal stenosis, return unlikely)

Miguel Andujar, New York Yankees (labrum team, out for season)

Greg Bird, New York Yankees (left plantar fascia tear, early-September return)

Steven Souza Jr., Arizona Diamondbacks (multiple knee ligament tears - out for season)

Yoenis Cespedes, New York Mets (broken ankles, out for season)

Mark Trumbo, Baltimore Orioles (return unlikely)

*** denotes new injury

It was a rough week on the injury front. A full 10 sluggers were added to the injured list. Only four returned. Of those, Gary Sanchez is obviously the most meaningful. He’s expected to return to the lineup today, although it’s unclear if he’ll catch or DH. The others to escape purgatory were Matt Carpenter, C.J. Cron, and Stephen Piscotty. All three veterans are set to provide much-needed reinforcement to playoff contenders. Jedd Gyorko is ready to return, but the Dodgers are drawing out his rehab stint as they juggle resources.

The Yankees continue to suffer a tsunami of injuries. The good news – besides Sanchez’s return – is that they think Voit can avoid surgery for his hernia. That means he might return sooner rather than later. Several notable players might have taken their last plate appearances of 2019. Included among these are former Top 10 Home Run candidates Encarnacion and Cruz.

Power Spotlight

How would you like a second shot at Franmil Reyes? The Reds recalled Aristides Aquino to fill the place of Yasiel Puig. He’s regularly batting cleanup for Cincinnati, and he was among the sluggers to hammer four home runs in the last calendar week. Overall, he’s hitting a gaudy .417/.440/.958 through his first 25 plate appearances.

Like Reyes, Aquino cuts a hulking figure at the plate. His long levers generate excessive power when he connects, but he’s also prone to whiffing. His 19 percent swinging strike rate is among the worst in the league. While he’s had only 25 plate appearances, he’s always struggled with swinging through pitches in the minors. He combats this obvious weakness with an aggressive approach.

Aquino’s contact profile exhibits the fly ball and hard contact traits we typically seek in the Power Spotlight. Plugging his rates into my home run projection calculator reveals an expectation of 51 home runs per 650 plate appearances. That’s… desirable.

Before going all gushy over this projection, it’s important to note there’s a serious risk he’ll fall into a bottomless pit of strikeouts. Hitters like Aquino are often underestimated at first before scouting reports catch on to their various weaknesses. His current fiery streak is likely to give way to a slump before the end of the season. Then the ball will be in his court to counter-adjust.

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