MLB Stock Watch: Juan Soto in the midst of becoming a star


Juan Soto, Washington Nationals

He got off to something of a slow start after bursting onto the scene as a 19-year-old last season, and a lot of his value (walks) was lost in fantasy. But Soto really turned it on in May, when he hit .380/.451/.676, and suddenly he’s performing just as well as his excellent rookie campaign. Soto was my preseason pick for NL MVP, and while the Nationals’ unexpectedly poor offense has hurt his value some (and it’d be nice if he ran more), his wRC+ (142) ranks top-25 in baseball, and he’s increased his launch angle in Year 2, resulting in more fly balls and an improved power outlook moving forward. Over the last two weeks, he ranks top-five in MLB in batting average (.420), well-hit average (.360) and slugging (.780). Soto also owns a .975 OPS against lefties this season, and he can’t even legally buy alcohol yet. His upside is limitless.

Lance Lynn, Texas Rangers

He’s a journeyman coming off a poor season (4.77 ERA) and now pitching in Texas, so Lynn was an afterthought in fantasy drafts and continued to linger on waiver wires over the first month of the year, but he’s pitched extremely well since. He recently recorded back-to-back double-digit strikeout games and has posted a 2.97 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP with a 41:6 K:BB ratio over his last five starts (33.1 innings). The stretch includes three road outings and came against three offenses that rank in the top-seven in wRC+, and he’s improved his SwStr% for a fourth straight season to a career-high 10.3. Over the last two weeks, Lynn has struck out an MLB-high 54.8% of right-handed batters, so his arrow is pointing up.

Devin Smeltzer, Minnesota Twins

The Twins acquired him from the Dodgers as part of the Brian Dozier deal, and he’s now getting an opportunity to start in Minnesota with Michael Pineda on the IL with a knee injury. Smeltzer had a 1.15 ERA and a 48:10 K:BB ratio over 54.2 innings in the minors this season between Double and Triple-A. He also now finds himself in the trifecta of good pitching situations, as the Twins provide him arguably the league’s best offense as well as baseball’s best defense, and Target Field has also been the best pitcher’s park in 2019. Smeltzer tossed six shutout innings (just three baserunners allowed) during his debut, and he gets a poor Cleveland offense next time out.

Teammate Mitch Garver also deserves a boost here, as he recently returned from the IL to bat leadoff in the loaded Twins’ lineup. His nine homers are tied for the fourth-most among catchers this season, and he’s done it in just 83 at bats.

Zach Plesac, Cleveland Indians

After recording a 1.41 ERA and a 0.79 WHIP with a 56:7 K:BB ratio over 57.1 innings in the minors this season, Cleveland has given the rookie a chance in its rotation. He’s responded by pitching well, surrendering just two runs over 12.1 innings, posting a 0.81 WHIP during two road starts, with one coming in Fenway Park. Plesac wasn’t considered a top prospect, but he’s shown increased velocity this season, so he’s certainly on the fantasy radar (although his next start comes against the Yankees). Plesac is still available in more than 75% of Yahoo leagues.

Didi Gregorius, New York Yankees

He’s ahead of schedule in his recovery from Tommy John surgery and could return to New York’s lineup as soon as Friday. Before suffering the injury during the ALDS, Gregorius had improved his OPS each of the previous four seasons, including also setting career-highs in home runs (27) and stolen bases (10) last year. He’s still in his prime at age 29, and the injury should affect him only in the field and not the plate (although a slow start wouldn’t surprise with him missing spring training), where he’ll take advantage of a terrific hitter’s park and the opportunity to bat in the middle of an injury-depleted Yankees’ lineup. From 2017-2018, Gregorius had the fifth-most homers in MLB among shortstops. Gio Urshela and DJ LeMahieu’s playing time will take a hit as a result of his return.

Jimmy Nelson, Milwaukee Brewers

It’s been a long road back from serious shoulder surgery, but the last time we saw Nelson in a big league game he was developing into one of the league’s best pitchers (his 20.7 K-BB% ranked 12th among starters in 2017). Who knows how close this version will be, and Nelson struggled with his control throughout his rehab starts, but he also fanned 29 batters over 24.0 innings. He gets a home start against the MLB’s worst offense (Marlins) this week, putting him back on the fantasy scene. Nelson is still available in more than 75% of leagues.

Renato Nunez, Baltimore Orioles

With eight homers over the last 13 games, few if any hitters are as hot in baseball. Nunez is up to 15 long balls on the year and has become impossible to ignore after leading baseball both in slugging percentage (.979) and well-hit average (.383) over the last two weeks. Even after the outburst, Nunez sports a modest .815 OPS (with poor plate discipline) on the year. It really does feel like every hitter is already up to 15 homers this season, with Nunez the latest example.

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Marco Gonzales, Seattle Mariners

He entered May with a 5-0 record and a 2.80 ERA but is 0-6 and has yielded 37 runs (28 earned) over 32.1 innings since. It’s been a tough schedule during the rough stretch, but Gonzales has been bombed for 16 earned runs while failing to pitch five innings in back-to-back starts that have both come at home. He hasn’t even reached five strikeouts in a game since April ended, which seems crazy after such a dominant first month of the season.

Randal Grichuk, Toronto Blue Jays

After signing a $50+ million contract earlier this season, Grichuk has rewarded the Blue Jays with a 79 wRC+ and his fantasy owners with a ranking outside the top-400. While there was hope he’d show growth during his age 27 season, Grichuk instead has an expected batting average (.205) that’s in the bottom 7% of the league. Just imagine his counting stats should the team finally lose its patience and drop him from the middle of Toronto’s lineup, which is sporting an AL-worst 75 wRC+. Over the last two weeks, few hitters have been colder, as Grichuck is batting an MLB-worst .146 with just a .478 OPS (fourth-lowest over that span).

Kyle Freeland, Colorado Rockies

He finished fourth in Cy Young voting last season, but Freeland was optioned to Triple-A last week after a disastrous dozen starts in 2019. After allowing 17 home runs in 202.1 innings last season, he served up a whopping 16 over 59.1 this year. While this may be on the extreme side, Freeland was certainly due for some correction (his 3.67 FIP was more indicative of how he pitched last year than his 2.85 ERA suggested). Pitching in Coors Field remains a major issue (Freeland has allowed 30 earned runs over 29.0 innings at home this season), but he also sports a 5.04 ERA and 1.42 WHIP on the road. It’s always safest to bet against pitchers who call Coors Field home.

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