MLB Stock Watch: Rookie Nick Senzel quickly delivering on hype

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/teams/cincinnati/" data-ylk="slk:Cincinnati Reds">Cincinnati Reds</a> rookie Nick Senzel is off to a strong start since being called up. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Cincinnati Reds rookie Nick Senzel is off to a strong start since being called up. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

STOCK UP

Caleb Smith, Miami Marlins

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He’s exceeded hopes for those with even the highest of expectations, as Smith has been a top-20 fantasy asset despite pitching for a team with easily the fewest wins in baseball, sporting a 2.00 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP with 45 strikeouts over 36.0 innings. He’s throwing his slider nearly two mph faster than last season, helping him lead all starters in chase rate and SwStr% (16.8). In other words, no pitcher has done a better job at either getting hitters to swing at pitches outside the zone or producing a better rate of swings and misses.

When making contact, hitters haven’t fared much better, as Smith’s average exit velocity (84.7 mph) and Hard Hit% (26.3) both are in the top 8% of the league. Marlins Park has decreased run scoring by 19% over the last three seasons, which is by far the most in MLB, so Smith should be treated as a top-25 fantasy starter moving forward (although beware he has a tougher upcoming schedule). He’s going to go down as one of the biggest draft day steals.

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Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins

His .805 OPS may not seem like much, but it’s a huge improvement from last season, when he recorded a -3 wRC+. Buxton has just one homer while staying healthy over the start of the year, but he’s 7-of-8 on the basepaths and in a season with stolen bases dramatically down across the league, the fastest player in baseball is going to have a ton of fantasy value if his gains at the plate are for real.

The former No. 2 pick continues to play terrific defense, has cut his K% down, and is suddenly hitting the ball with much more authority, ranking in the top 6% of the league in exit velocity (93.1 mph) and in the top 9% in Hard Hit% (50.7). These are huge jumps from last year (85.7 mph and 27.0%) but not entirely unexpected (nor unsustainable) for a 25-year-old with Buxton’s pedigree who’s finally healthy. He owns a 2.6 HR/FB%, and with Buxton increasing his launch angle by nearly 10 degrees this year (and hitting the ball so hard), his lone homer seems like a major fluke. Fantasy owners who bought low should feel confident a big final five months are in store for Buxton (with the injury caveat).

Nick Senzel, Cincinnati Reds

He’s finally healthy and up with the Reds as the team’s new everyday center fielder. Moved to the leadoff spot Monday, Senzel homered twice, giving him three long balls and a steal over the last three games. It’s been a tiny sample, but the rookie has already drawn four walks (.381 OBP), and he should now be a mainstay atop the Reds’ lineup. Third base eligible (with OF coming soon) and the benefit of having a home park that’s one of the best in baseball at increasing homers for right-handed batters, Senzel should be a fantasy difference maker moving forward.

Jonathan Loaisiga, New York Yankees

He’s taking the place of an injured James Paxton, who’s out around three weeks with knee inflammation. Loaisiga has recorded 43 strikeouts over 34.2 innings in the majors, and he has good enough stuff to overcome Yankee Stadium. New York will likely treat him cautiously (and he gets a Mariners offense with the second-best wRC+ this season next time out), but Loaisiga is definitely worth fantasy consideration now back in the starting rotation. He’s still available in more than 90% of Yahoo leagues.

Lou Trivino, Oakland A’s

Maybe Blake Treinen’s latest elbow scare is nothing (he’s feeling better after taking anti-inflammatories), but it was at minimum a reminder just how valuable Trivino could suddenly become. He sports a 1.20 ERA with a 26.4 K-BB% and 17.1 SwStr% that both rank top-20 among relievers. Trivino is owned in fewer than one-third of leagues, but he has the stuff to be a dominant closer should Treinen hit the IL.

Ketel Marte, Arizona Diamondbacks

He’s up to nine homers and three steals and looks like a huge bargain. The 25-year-old may have done it slower than expected, but his career trajectory is extremely encouraging, as he’s now increased his exit velocity, Barrel% and Hard Hit% each of the last three seasons. The humidor has affected Chase Field far more in 2019 than it did last season, but assuming that’s just small sample noise, Marte should benefit from a hitter’s park during the summer months. He’s 2B/SS/OF eligible and has been a top-25 fantasy player so far who had an ADP outside 200.

Max Fried, Atlanta Braves

He owns a 2.11 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP with a 33:7 K:BB ratio over 38.1 innings to open the year. Undrafted in fantasy leagues without a spot in Atlanta’s initial rotation, Fried is throwing harder than ever (93.8 mph), which is helping produce a nice combination of missing bats with a Barrel% (1.8) that ranks in the top 5% of the league. He’s likely pitching a bit over his head (his control remains a weakness), but Fried is clearly locked in Atlanta’s rotation now, and the former top-10 pick (out of high school) has good K upside and looks like a waiver wire gem.

STOCK DOWN

Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies

He’s going to hit better, and all those walks (and a .374 OBP) are certainly valuable to the Phillies, but Harper doesn’t have a multi-hit game since April 19, and he’s batting under .250 for the third time in the last four seasons. Harper has played far better defense since signing his big contract, but he’s attempted just one steal with his new team, as the Phillies rank last in MLB in stolen bases (just seven). Not getting his usual 10-20 steals would certainly hurt owners, especially if his BA doesn’t bounce back. Harper will eventually feel the benefits of going from a pitcher’s to hitter’s park, but the K% keeps going in the wrong direction (his SwStr% is worse than Joey Gallo’s), and an injury seems to always be lurking with him. Harper has been a big disappointment, as he hasn’t been a top-150 fantasy player so far this year.

Freddy Peralta, Milwaukee Brewers

Fantasy owners who patiently awaited Peralta’s return from the IL were awarded with him surrendering nine runs (six earned) during his first start back in a plus matchup at home against the Rockies. He’s up to 25 strikeouts over 21.2 innings this season, but that’s also come with 20 earned runs and a whopping seven homers allowed. With Gio Gonzalez now on the Brewers and off to a strong start (2.61 ERA, 0.97 WHIP) and Jimmy Nelson nearing a return, Peralta’s spot in the starting rotation is likely gone. Many were expecting a breakout from him this season, but he’s no longer rosterable.

Carter Kieboom, Washington Nationals

After a couple of homers to open his career, it’s been a major struggle for the Nationals’ prospect, whose line sits at an ugly .143/.231/.314 with a 41.0 K%. Since he’s been poor defensively, and Trea Turner’s return is reportedly ahead of schedule, there’s a good chance Kieboom’s stay in Washington will be short-lived. More like Kiebust (h/t Chris Liss). Another rookie shortstop off to a sluggish start at the plate is Cole Tucker, who quickly moved down to eighth in Pittsburgh’s lineup, is batting .208 and disappointingly has yet to attempt a stolen base. Tucker has sweet hair, but that’s an ugly 32.7 K%. There’s a lot of FAAB that looks wasted on these two rookie shortstops right now.

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