After leaving the yard five times in his previous six games, Angels first baseman Jared Walsh failed to hit a home run on Thursday, going 1-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored in the Angels’ commanding 7-3 victory over the Diamondbacks. With football season underway, it’s perfectly understandable if fantasy managers missed the under-the-radar news update that Walsh was bitten by a radioactive spider several weeks ago, catalyzing a stunning metamorphosis into a line-drive machine and an upper-echelon fantasy option at the cold corner. In a matter of weeks, the 27-year-old rookie slugger has become the most interesting man in baseball. He's gone deep five times over his last seven games and owns an extra-terrestrial .328/.343/.770 triple-slash line with 16 runs scored, seven home runs and 18 RBI across 67 plate appearances this season. According to MLB.com's Rhett Bollinger, “he became the first rookie with both an RBI and a run scored in nine consecutive games, since the RBI became a stat in 1920, per Stats Perform. Additionally, he’s the first American League player to accomplish the feat since David Ortiz did it for the Twins in 2002.”
A 39th-round pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, Walsh has displayed prodigious over-the-fence raw power throughout his minor-league career. He launched 36 home runs across 98 games at Triple-A Salt Lake in the high-octane offensive environment of the Pacific Coast League last year. Yet, omnipresent contact issues prevented him from tapping into that off-the-metaphorical-charts power in games at the highest level, simultaneously limiting him to a platoon-type role, and extinguishing opportunities to establish himself as an everyday player last year. To say that he struck out often at the big-league level would be a massive understatement. He whiffed an astronomical 35 times (40.2 percent) in 87 plate appearances during his Angels’ debut last year. It’s an extremely small sample size, but he’s made tremendous strides with his plate discipline, slashing his strikeout rate to a paltry 13.4 percent this year. He’s fanned only nine times in 67 plate appearances so far.
Exponentially slashing his strikeout rate, while also making more contact on pitches in the strike zone, has enabled Walsh to tap into his mammoth raw power more frequently. Per Statcast data, Walsh entered Thursday’s slate of games leading the major leagues (minimum 50 batted ball events) in barrels per plate appearance (12.7 percent). He also ranks at or near the top of several high-profile statistical leaderboards. He leads the majors in slugging percentage and also ranks third in weighted on-base average (.440 wOBA), which takes into account quality of contact in addition to strikeout and walk numbers, trailing only NL MVP contenders Juan Soto and Freddie Freeman in that department.
The central question for fantasy managers (besides who the heck is Jared Walsh) concerns whether his recent offensive explosion, fueled by a massive reduction in strikeouts, is remotely sustainable or merely a cruel late-season mirage. Simply put, either Walsh is completely over his skis, and likely to revert back into a feast-or-famine, all-or-nothing, one-dimensional hacker, or he’s on the verge of evolving into an impact middle-of-the-order force for years to come.
There’s an inherent chasing stats element to pursuing a sizzling-hot masher like Walsh, especially since it’s such a small sample size in a condensed campaign. However, we’ve witnessed several high-profile late bloomer-esque transformations over the last few years, with Josh Donaldson, J.D. Martinez, Justin Turner and Luke Voit among the most prominent of those recent examples. The fantasy community expressed similar sentiments regarding Voit after he burst onto the fantasy radar during the closing weeks of the 2017 campaign. After spending several years toiling away in the upper minors, he was finally jettisoned by the Cardinals and went on to post truly eye-popping Statcast metrics, which validated the sensational numbers he posted during his brief Yankees debut. There was some skepticism regarding the sustainability of Voit’s sudden emergence, but he went on to prove that his late-season surge to close out the 2017 campaign wasn’t an aberration, cementing his status as a middle-of-the-order force before a sports hernia in last July derailed his follow-up effort. He was hitting .278/.392/.493 with 19 home runs across 416 plate appearances prior to the injury and closed out the regular season on an abysmal 16-for-80 slide with just two homers across his final 94 plate appearances after attempting to play through the injury. After undergoing sports hernia surgery in late-October, Voit has compiled a stellar .283/.342/.659 triple-slash line with a major league-leading 20 home runs across 190 plate appearances this season.
It would be foolish to confidently assert that Walsh is the next version of this phenomenon, but there’s clearly something going on here. There are several glaring red flags in his offensive profile, most notably his complete aversion to free passes and previously questionable plate skills. It’s also worth noting that Walsh could be another beneficiary of the rocket ball at the big-league level, which continues to inflate league-wide over-the-fence power. We know that his plate skills growth is real since strikeout rates are one of the fastest statistics to stabilize. He’s also holding his own against left-handed pitching, which eliminates the possibility that he’ll be platooned next year. It may be unrealistic to expect Walsh to maintain his newfound contact-oriented approach long-term, he’s unlikely to fully revert back to his previous incarnation.
More importantly, he's leapfrogged high-pedigree in-house alternatives like Matt Thaiss and Taylor Ward in the pecking order, in addition to unseating future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols, establishing himself as the Angels clear-cut everyday option at the cold corner moving forward. Considering the elite offensive talent he’s surrounded by in that lineup, he’s in a prime position to succeed as a power and counting stats four-category impact masher moving forward. There will undoubtedly be some regression coming in terms of over-the-fence power and batting average, simply because nobody sustains a 40 percent home run to fly ball rate. Yet, considering the combination of his improved plate discipline and underlying Statcast metrics, including exit velocity and barrel percentage, Walsh’s explosion onto the fantasy radar isn’t a total fluke. He should be a prime late-round target in fantasy drafts next spring.
South Side Playoff Drought Ends
The White Sox’ 12-year odyssey is finally over. Veteran slugger Jose Abreu went 2-for-3 with a solo home run and a pair of RBI on Thursday to lead Chicago to a 4-3 comeback victory over the division-rival Twins and secure the franchise’s first postseason appearance since 2008. The 33-year-old first baseman has served as the White Sox’ main offensive stabilizer and the true lynchpin of a dramatically overhauled lineup, hitting .332/.372/.644 with 38 runs scored, 17 home runs and a major league-leading 51 RBI across 219 plate appearances this season. He served as their primary catalyst in their playoff-clinching comeback, launching his 17th round-tripper of the season off Twins’ ace Kenta Maeda, who whiffed eight batters over five innings of two-run ball in a no-decision, in the fourth inning. He also hustled down the line on a chopper to deep short to leg out a game-tying RBI infield single with two outs in the seventh inning. Ensuing batter Eloy Jimenez came through with a tiebreaking RBI double and a trio of relievers -- Jimmy Cordero, Codi Heurer and Alex Colome -- tossed 3 2/3 scoreless innings to slam the door. The White Sox are one of the hottest teams in baseball right now. They’ve won 11 of their 15 games this month and hold a three-game lead on the Twins for the AL Central division title with less than two weeks remaining in the condensed regular season.
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Yankees Slug Six Homers, Set Multiple Records
Luke Voit launched his major league-leading 20th round-tripper of the season on Thursday as the Yankees blasted a franchise-record five home runs in the fourth inning of their 10-7 victory over the Blue Jays. Brett Gardner, DJ LeMahieu and Voit went back-to-back-to-back before Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres went back-to-back later in the frame. All five of the long balls came off Blue Jays’ starter Chase Anderson as the Yankees recorded the first five-homer frame in team history. It wasn’t the only record they would break in this one. Mercurial backstop Gary Sanchez clobbered the sixth homer of the high-scoring affair as the Yankees became the first team to hit six home runs or more in three consecutive games. They also established a new major-league record by belting 19 home runs over the three-game series. With the victory, the Yankees have won eight consecutive games and find themselves 2 1/2 games ahead of the Blue Jays for an automatic playoff spot. Meanwhile, the division-leading Rays got home runs from Willy Adames, Hunter Renfroe and Joey Wendle on Thursday to sweep a doubleheader against the Orioles and secure a postseason berth for the second consecutive year.
American League Quick Hits: Byron Buxton went 3-for-4 with a pair of solo home runs in the Twins’ loss to the White Sox. The 26-year-old outfielder has gone deep in three straight games and seven times over his last nine contests … Jose Ramirez went 4-for-5 with two home runs, four RBI and three runs scored to power the Indians to a blowout victory over the Tigers … Shane Bieber allowed three runs on four hits with 10 strikeouts over 7 2/3 innings to pick up his major league-leading eighth win of the season … Willi Castro walloped a three-run homer in the losing effort … Kyle Tucker clobbered a two-run homer and Framber Valdez matched a career-high with 11 strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball in the Astros’ win over the Rangers … Anthony Rendon went 2-for-4 with a two-run homer in the Angels’ win over the Diamondbacks … Griffin Canning allowed two runs on six hits with seven strikeouts over five innings to record his first win of the year in that contest … Rafael Devers walloped a three-run homer, his 11th long ball of the year, to propel the Red Sox past the Marlins … Nathan Eovaldi racked up seven strikeouts over five scoreless frames in that victory … Lourdes Gurriel Jr. went 4-for-4 with a pair of solo homers in the Blue Jays’ loss to the Yankees … The Mariners' three-game weekend series against the Padres will be moved from Seattle to San Diego … Austin Meadows exited game one of a doubleheader against the Orioles on Thursday with left oblique soreness … Dylan Moore returned to the Mariners’ starting lineup Thursday after exiting Wednesday’s contest against the Giants when he was hit in the head by a 99-mph fastball … Danny Duffy will return to the Royals' starting rotation Friday against the Brewers. The 31-year-old lefty was scratched from his last scheduled start Tuesday against the Tigers after missing the Royals' charter flight to Detroit, an incident which he has since apologized to his teammates for … Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke said Thursday that the team is hoping Eduardo Rodriguez (heart) will be cleared for a “normal-ish offseason strength program.” … Orioles designated RHP Asher Wojciechowski for assignment.
National League Quick Hits: Brandon Nimmo blasted a tiebreaking solo homer in the ninth inning to propel the Mets to a win over the Phillies … Bryce Harper homered twice in the Phillies’ loss … Corey Seager went 3-for-5 with a solo homer -- his 13th round-tripper of the season -- and two RBI to lead the Dodgers to a blowout win over the Rockies … Steven Brault registered a season-high eight strikeouts and allowed one run on two hits in a complete-game victory over the Cardinals … Gregory Polanco belted a three-run homer in the winning effort … Wilmer Flores went 2-for-4 with a go-ahead two-run triple to lead the Giants to a comeback victory over the Mariners … Mets manager Luis Rojas said Thursday that Jacob deGrom (hamstring) is day-to-day. The 32-year-old righty appears to have avoided a major injury and should be able to make another appearance or two before the regular season concludes next weekend … Braves activated LHP Max Fried from the 10-day injured list. The 26-year-old lefty was placed on the 10-day injured list earlier this month with a left-side muscle spasm in his lumbar spine. He’ll rejoin the Braves’ rotation in their series opener against the Mets on Friday … Mike Yastrzemski exited Thursday's game against the Mariners with tightness in his right calf and will undergo an MRI on his right calf on Friday … Dakota Hudson was removed from Thursday's game against the Pirates after just two innings due to elbow tightness … Jean Segura left Thursday's game against the Mets after being hit by a pitch in the elbow … J.T. Realmuto (hip) remained out of the Phillies' lineup again on Thursday. The 29-year-old fantasy stalwart has been sidelined since Saturday because of a hip flexor strain, but it’s believed to be relatively mild and the hope is that he can return to action at some point this weekend … Phillies manager Joe Girardi confirmed Thursday that Jake Arrieta has a Grade 1 strain of his right hamstring and won't pitch again in the regular season … Nationals placed OF Adam Eaton on the 10-day injured list with a fractured left index finger. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told reporters on Thursday that Tommy John surgery is “imminent” for lefty reliever Caleb Ferguson … Jorge Alfaro (head) was held out of the Marlins' starting lineup Thursday versus the Red Sox. He does not have a concussion and is expected to return for the team’s series against the Nationals this weekend … Rockies optioned OF Sam Hilliard to their alternate training site … Ubaldo Jimenez announced his retirement.