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FNTSY Special Report: Free agent add Kevin Plawecki
Injuries are part of Fantasy Baseball; there is no getting around that fact. How you deal with them can make or break your team’s season. When you lose an early draft choice in the first month or two, for example, Prince Fielder 42 games into last season, then you probably need to make a trade to try and replace the lost production. However, if you lose one of your later draft choices, you can probably make do with something off the waiver wire, especially if it’s a relatively short term replacement.
This season has been rough on catchers thus far. The fun began during the spring, when Matt Wieters was brought along a bit too fast and his surgically repaired elbow barked whenever he threw a ball or swung the bat. There is still no established timetable for his return. Also this spring, Christian Vazquez sustained an elbow injury and was lost for the season to Tommy John surgery. Then Yan Gomes went down with a knee sprain just a few days into the season. He’s probably gone until sometime in June. John Jaso went down with a wrist injury just days later and is out for at least another week. Then in rapid succession both Travis d’Arnaud (fractured finger) and Jonathan Lucroy (broken toe) were quickly dispatched to the DL for anywhere from 3-6 weeks.
On top of all those losses, Devin Mesoraco has all but disappeared with an unspecified hip ailment and isn’t with the team due to a “family issue;” Miguel Montero, Mike Zunino, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Carlos Ruiz are all batting below .200 and the waiver wire is practically devoid of any talent, especially in two-catcher leagues. So, what does the conscientious Fantasy owner do to fill their catcher roster spots?
The answer is to lay low and punt. No, you can’t leave the roster spot empty since most Fantasy leagues require an active player in every slot. However, you can probably find a catcher on waivers that will give you at least some production without hurting your team’s cumulative batting average. Let’s take a look at a few options.
Kevin Plawecki, C, Mets – Plawecki is a rare high contact hitting backstop with the ability to hit for average and hit the occasional long ball. He doesn’t strike out very often but doesn’t take a ton of walks either, so he’s not a completely disciplined hitter. Still, he figures to get the majority of the playing time for the Mets opposite Anthony Recker in a lineup that is rapidly becoming infested with minor league talent. He’s good enough to be a placeholder in deeper mixed and NL-only leagues, as long as you’re not counting on much more than some empty batting average that won’t hurt but won’t help much either.
J.T. Realmuto, C, Marlins – Realmuto won’t hit for average as well as Plawecki, but he has enough pop to hit the occasional dinger for you and he’s one of those rare catchers that can steal bases as well. With Jarrod Saltalamacchia looking lost at the plate, Realmuto is going to get a long look from the Marlins as the everyday catcher. Take advantage of this situation, put Realmuto into your vacant catcher spot and enjoy whatever he gives you as a gift.
Nick Hundley, C, Rockies – Fantasy owners seemed to ignore the Rockies’ catcher situation because of the presence of three backstops on the roster and muddy playing time projections. Well, Wilin Rosario is playing first base and Michael McKenry is the backup to Hundley. Look, Hundley isn’t anyone’s idea of a great hitter; he strikes out too often and has just middling power. However, anybody playing in Coors Field half the time is worth a shot, and Hundley has just enough power to see a nice boost into double-digit HRs if he gets 400 plate appearances. Unbelievably, Hundley is available in nearly 90 percent of leagues. He’s definitely worthy of a roster spot in two-catcher leagues.
Kurt Suzuki, C, Twins – Suzuki had a strong first half in 2014 and finished the season with the best overall production numbers of his career. He doesn’t have a ton of pop as a contact hitter, so don’t expect more than a handful of homers, but Suzuki can and will hit for average and get on base. The Twins lineup struggles, so don’t expect much in the way of counting stats but he won’t hurt your batting average.
Rene Rivera, C, Rays – We’re really mining the bottom of the barrel with Rivera, who is 31 years old and has just 720 plate appearances in the majors. He played 103 games for the Padres last season, garnering 329 PA and batting .252 with 11 HRs and 44 RBIs in what was a dreadful Friars lineup. The Rays grabbed him for his pitch framing skills with the hope that he could also repeat his offensive performance as their everyday catcher. Look, he strikes out quite a bit but has some pop, and a .250 BA from your second catcher isn’t all that terrible. He can certainly keep your second catcher spot warm until your disabled catcher returns or someone else becomes available.
Bits and Pieces
Ryan Braun finally hit his first homer of the season on Monday, but he continues to struggle at the plate during his first (supposedly) season without chemical assistance. The sample size is too small to draw any definitive conclusions, but his first 49 plate appearances are showing a few disturbing signs. First of all, he’s swinging at many more pitches than ever before. His swing rate stands at 55.7 percent, well above his career rate of 47.8 percent. The problem here is that he’s swinging at 50 percent of the pitches out of the hitting zone (50 percent O-Swing) and making contact with those pitches 78.4 percent of the time (O-Contact). Those numbers are much higher than his career 34.3 percent O-Swing and 67.8 percent O-Contact, and the result is poor contact overall, mostly in the form of harmless fly ball outs. He’s also working from behind in the count more often than not with a 65.3 percent F-Strike (first strike percentage).
I suppose you could surmise that he’s pressing a bit, especially since the team is hitting so poorly in general. But again, it’s too early to make any iron clad assumptions. It’s not too early to keep an eye on, though, and it might even be a good idea to see if he snaps out of it and consider moving him in a trade if the right deal can be made when he does.
Those of you waiting on James Loney (oblique strain) to return from the DL may not have to wait too much longer. He is expected to be activated on Saturday and take his place as the Rays’ everyday first baseman. Likewise, Drew Smyly (shoulder tendonitis) is also expected to be activated as soon as this Friday. I had Smyly as one of my preseason sleepers, so if he’s sitting on the waiver wire in your league now is the time to pick him up. He could still make 30 starts this season if he’s fully recovered.
Anthony Rendon is expected to begin a rehab assignment this Friday as he looks to return from a knee sprain. Look for him to play 3-4 games in the minors and be activated sometime next week.
Michael Taylor (knee surgery) is expected to return to the Blue Jays this weekend. The Blue Jays will have to decide whether Kevin Pillar or Dalton Pompey gets sent back to the minors when Taylor takes over in centerfield. Given Pompey’s struggles, don’t be surprised if Toronto decides to keep Pillar.