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Strike Zone

Cubs Embrace Soler Power

by Matthew Pouliot
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

If Kyle Schwarber were going to be a full-time catcher, he wouldn’t have been my No. 1 fantasy catcher this year. But, of course, he was less of an injury risk playing the outfield, giving his value a little bit of a boost. Of course.

 

With Schwarber unfortunately done for the year following his collision with Dexter Fowler, it’s time to shine for another player I was super-high on a couple of months ago: Jorge Soler. In fact, I had Soler as my No. 14 outfielder the day before Fowler shocked everyone and re-upped with the Cubs. I even had him projected to better the numbers of Schwarber (31 homers to 28, .840 OPS to .828).

 

Soler went on to have a very poor spring after the Fowler signing left him with a greatly reduced role. He was especially unimpressive defensively, and there were a couple of baserunning snafus as well. Because he’s so weak apart from the bat, Soler can’t afford an extended slump after being given new life. The Cubs, after all, have alternatives, whether it’s Javier Baez and Matt Szczur in left field or shifting Kris Bryant or Ben Zobrist to left with Baez or Tommy La Stella in the infield.

 

Soler, though, offers a great deal of potential, as he demonstrated while going 9-for-19 with three homers, three doubles and six walks in the postseason last year. If he can establish himself now, I think he’ll be a top-20 outfielder the rest of the way. It’s just these next few weeks that worry me.

 

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AL Notes

 

- The Twins entered camp with no competition for position player roster spots; it would have taken something totally unexpected to cause them to stray from their predetermined 13. They also didn’t want to touch their 40-man roster when something unplanned for -- Danny Santana’s hamstring injury -- did happen in the first week of the season. As a result, top prospect Max Kepler is up to sit around and watch for a couple of weeks. Kepler is just 22, and the Twins would much prefer he play regularly in Triple-A. The Twins also have a veteran reserve in Darin Mastroianni who would make much more sense as a spare part while Santana rests up. They just didn’t want to risk losing any of their relief depth to open up a spot on the 40-man for Mastroianni.

 

- It was disappointing that Andrew Heaney went down with a flexor muscle strain, but I’m interested in seeing what Nick Tropeano will do in his place. Tropeano possesses some deception in his delivery and two quality secondary pitchers in his changeup and slider. He had a 38/10 K/BB ratio and just two homers allowed in 36 2/3 innings in the majors last year. If he can keep that up, he’ll stick in the rotation after Heaney and C.J. Wilson return. He should primarily be viewed as an AL-only option right now, but he is tempting in mixed leagues this week, as he’ll get starts in Oakland and Minnesota.

 

- Nomar Mazara is up much earlier than expected as a result of Shin-Soo Choo’s calf strain. The 20-year-old is one of the game’s best prospects, but it’s rather soon to be expecting big things; he hit .296/.366/.443 with 14 homers and two steals in 490 at-bats in a 2015 season spend mostly in Double-A. Mazara projects as a big-time fantasy outfielder in his prime; he should hit for strong averages and produce 25 homers annually. Right now, he’s not a bad flier in mixed leagues, since he should be in the lineup most of the time, but I wouldn’t recommend dropping anyone of significant value for him. The big power isn’t there yet, and he’s not a stolen base threat at all.

 

- One consequence of Mazara’s smashing debut: it looked like Rougned Odor would probably go into Choo’s place in the second spot in the Texas lineup. However, Mazara started there Sunday with Odor getting the day off. Since Mazara had such a great game, it’s more likely that he’ll keep the spot (which would make him a considerably better play in mixed leagues than he would have been hitting seventh or eighth).

 

- Robinson Chirinos’s fractured forearm will make Bryan Holaday the Rangers’ starting catcher, perhaps for a couple of months unless the Rangers make a trade. Holaday had quite the remarkable spring, batting .412/.429/.912 with four homers in 34 at-bats (almost all of them coming before the Rangers acquired him from the Tigers). Still, his career .249/.280/.340 line (with three homers) in 265 at-bats is much more representative of what he figures to do going forward. Those who owned Chirinos in two-catcher mixed leagues should first look for Cameron Rupp or maybe Hank Conger as a replacement. It’s not hard to imagine the Rangers revisiting talks with the Brewers about Jonathan Lucroy or the Padres about Derek Norris with Chirinos potentially out until after the break.

 

- It’s bizarre to see the A’s giving Coco Crisp so much time in center early on after Billy Burns ran circles around him last season and this spring. I was more worried about this possibility going into March, but then I pushed Burns up in my projections while he was hitting .333/.361/.474 and Crisp was hitting .170/.184/.277 this spring. It’s not like Crisp was even a very good regular when he was healthy in 2014 (.246/.336/.363 with declining defense in center). He’s 36 now, and I don’t see why he’d be looked at as more than a fifth outfielder. I’m sure the A’s would like to trade Crisp at some point, but it’s going to be for a minimal return.

 

- It’s less bizarre to see Billy Butler on the bench so frequently, though I didn’t think it would happen this soon, especially after the A’s talked him up this spring. Butler had a fine March, too, hitting .318/.434/.523. It’s good news for Chris Coghlan that Butler is being phased out. He’ll have second-base eligibility in most formats soon, too, giving him some value in mixed leagues.

 

- Lonnie Chisenhall (forearm) seems more likely than Michael Brantley (shoulder) to rejoin the Indians this week, though it’s possible the team will want him getting a full week of at-bats in the minors before he returns. Once those two are back, hopefully within two weeks, the roles of Rajai Davis and Marlon Byrd will be reduced.

 

- The Astros will probably send Matt Duffy down when Evan Gattis returns from hernia surgery this week. Sending Jake Marisnick down is also an option, but likely not yet. I assume it will happen at some point, since Marisnick needs more at-bats than the Astros have available for him.

 

- Cameron Maybin (wrist) missed almost the entire spring, so he might get another 25 at-bats or so in the minors before he comes off the DL. He’s 2-for-10 through three games with Single-A Lakeland.

 

Two-Start Starters

 

- Juan Nicasio should be owned in all formats by now, but if there’s a mixed league in which he’s still available, he makes for a great play with two starts this week (and he should be kept afterwards). Other strong two-start options include Aaron Nola (San Diego and Washington at home), Derek Holland (in Seattle, at home versus Baltimore), Kris Medlen (in Houston and Oakland) and Andrew Cashner (in Philly, at home against Arizona).

 

NL Notes

 

- So, Trevor Story. The idea going in was that he’d show nice power, steal a few bases and hit for a mediocre average. Now it seems like he’ll show more than nice power. The really important thing, though, is that the fast start would seem to make it even less likely that Jose Reyes will get to reclaim his job once he returns from whatever suspension it is that MLB cooks up for him.

 

And that’s a big deal. I had Story as my No. 8 shortstop at the close of the spring, but that was with 513 plate appearances projected. He now seems like a pretty good bet to eclipse 600 plate appearances, which would move him up to fifth in my rankings without even touching the performance side of the projection. Focusing just on performance, I don’t think he’s all that much better of a bet now than he was a week ago; he’s still going to strike out an awful lot and I don’t believe he’ll have a particularly strong average in the end. However, being entrenched not only in the lineup but in one of the best offensive situations in the league (a No. 2 hitter who plays half his games in Coors) is worth a bunch of bonus points. At this point, Story has to be considered a top-50 player overall. I’d put him right alongside my original No. 2 and No. 3 shortstops (Francisco Lindor and Xander Bogaerts) in the 25-30 range.

 

- At least in their first series against the Reds, the Phillies demonstrated why it makes sense for bad teams to have a legitimate closer; even if nothing else, it allows a manager to set up the rest of the bullpen without having to worry about the ninth every day. After David Hernandez blew up in his first appearance as a setup man and Dalier Hinojosa took a blown save and a loss in his first try as a closer, manager Pete Mackanin decided he wanted Jeanmar Gomez in the ninth. It worked out against the Mets, but it robs the Phillies of the reliever best capable of keeping them in 4-4 games in the middle innings by getting as many as six outs at a time. Ideally, Andrew Bailey would be their closer, which still might materialize down the line. It’s Gomez for now, at least until he blows one.

 

- Even uglier for the Phillies is that Freddy Galvis has now hit leadoff four games in a row after batting eighth on Opening Day and second in Game 2. It’s not like Mackanin is trying to capitalize on a hot start, either; Galvis hit .194/.206/.290 with no walks in 62 at-bats this spring and he’s at .208/.200/.375 in 24 regular-season at-bats (yes, his average is higher than his OBP). Granted, the Phillies are really lacking when it comes to top-of-the-order options, but why on earth are they playing Peter Bourjos and Cedric Hunter in the outfield corners if they don’t think they’re better hitters than Galvis? With those two off to lousy starts, too, maybe they’ll soon go get Will Venable (who should have been kept initially) and bat him high in the order against righties.

 

- Jacob deGrom had a back thing in spring training and never threw quite as hard as he did last year. Now he has a lat thing that’s expected to keep him out this week. I write this because all the Mets are calling it is tightness. That was their term for the back earlier, too. How much these minor issues have to do with deGrom’s three-mph drop in fastball velocity is unclear. Ideally, they’re the entire explanation and his velocity will start creeping back up later this month. If they’re not and it doesn’t, then deGrom will probably be a modest disappointment this year. He can certainly more than hold his own while throwing 90-94 mph instead of 93-97 mph, but it was that extra velocity that turned him into a truly special pitcher.

 

- Ben Revere’s oblique strain will give Michael Taylor a few weeks to establish himself as the Nationals’ center fielder. If it happens, then the team could platoon Revere and Jayson Werth in left after Revere returns. If not, then Taylor would return to his reserve role for a spell. Taylor isn’t ready to hit for a strong average, but his home run power and steal ability could make him a top-30 fantasy outfielder while he’s an everyday player.  

 

- With Ender Inciarte (hamstring) landing on the disabled list, the Braves will give speedster Mallex Smith a look in center field. Smith has no power, but he’ll be given the green light to run any time he reaches from the top of Atlanta’s order. Last year, he had 56 steals in 125 games between Double- and Triple-A. The year before, he swiped 88 bases in 120 games. He’s probably not ready to post strong OBPs in the majors, but he might be able to offer a little mixed-league value anyway, if only for a couple of weeks.

 

- Carl Crawford succumbed to lower back tightness and joined Andre Ethier on the DL for the Dodgers, leaving Scott Van Slyke, Trayce Thompson and Enrique Hernandez competing for time in left field. If any one of those players were going to play everyday, there’d probably be some mixed-league value to be found. As is, it doesn’t seem like any will be worth using.

 

- The Dodgers are expected to get Howie Kendrick (calf) back on Tuesday, pushing Chase Utley to the bench. Yasmani Grandal (forearm) could also be ready then.

 

- Right shoulder inflammation for Tyson Ross will put Robbie Erlin into the Padres’ rotation for the next few weeks. It went right down to the wire on what two from the Erlin-Colin Rea-Drew Pomeranz group would make the Padres’ rotation, but I thought the team made the right choice. Not that Erlin can’t be solid, but Rea’s velocity spike has made him more interesting and Pomeranz was definitely worth one more look as a starter. Unfortunately, Petco Park doesn’t suffocate offense like it used to, so all three are primarily NL-only guys at the moment. Of course, they do all get the Phillies this week, so Pomeranz especially is a decent play in mixed leagues.

 

- I would hope the Padres have no big plans for James Loney after bringing him in on a minor league deal last week. It wouldn’t be a big deal if he replaced Brett Wallace as a pinch-hitter/backup first baseman, but there shouldn’t be any reason to give him significant time at first base and push Wil Myers back to the outfield. The Padres already played Myers out of position in center after acquiring him last year. Just leave him alone and let him see if he can start fulfilling his offensive potential.

Matthew Pouliot
Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of RotoWorld.com and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @matthewpouliot.