This week, two players are getting chances to be everyday starters at corner positions even though neither player is technically a corner position player.
No one will ever expect a Tyler Saladino! Yet, lo and behold, he is the new starting third baseman for the Chicago White Sox. Actually, that’s not entirely fair. For awhile, it seemed like Saladino was on the path towards becoming a utility/organizational player, yet the former seventh round pick made adjustments last year and started tapping into a bit more power, hitting nine home runs in 325 Triple-A plate appearances while slashing .301/.367/.483 and showing a good eye and contact. Saladino’s power production has fallen back to earth this year, but the plate discipline skills and defense are still there. Though an average runner, he is known for his instinct on the base paths and has swiped 25 bags already in 231 plate appearances. That said, the right-handed hitter is not a high ceiling player by any means, but his all-around game is quite solid. However, it is difficult to imagine him as a high average hitter as long as he is putting the ball on the ground nearly 50% of the time and failing to come close to topping the 30% mark on fly balls. However, the opportunity to play every day coupled with his stolen base skills trump those concerns, especially in AL-only league play, making him a priority FAAB claim for this week.
The Cardinals have been struggling to get production from first base since Matt Adams went down with an injury. In response, Stephen Piscotty has recently been getting time at first base in Triple-A. The righty had been crowded out of the Cardinals outfield despite having a major league ready bat. The 24-year-old is a highly disciplined hitter capable of hitting for average. When drafted, he was projected to have 20+ HR power, but that has been slow in coming. This year, Piscotty has sacrificed some of his contact skills, though he’s still striking out just 16.7% of the time, for power and already has eleven home runs in 372 at-bats and a .203 isolated power, both of which are quite encouraging. Given his chance for full-time at-bats and his advanced feel for hitting, Piscotty is a must grab in NL-only leagues and at least someone to consider in most mixed league formats.
The Cubs’ Hitting Factory
There does not seem to be an end to the supply of hitting prospects in Chicago. While many have already been promoted, Billy McKinney is on pace for a 2016 promotion. The former Oakland first-round pick has been well noted for a very advanced approach at the plate, walking frequently and making contact at high rates with doubles power. Well, he’s in a similar boat to Piscotty and it's called “Where’s the power?” McKinney got off to a great start in A+ ball, hitting four home runs with a .202 isolated power alongside a .340/.432/.544 line. That production led to a promotion and while the stats are piling up like they have been, the lefty is still showing similar skills, albeit power more in line with his 2014 campaign and a .130 ISO. Keep in mind that McKinney is just 20 years of age and dominated a league he was young for and is now holding his own in a league when most players his age are still in regular A-ball. It is possible his power production could kick in well after he earns a MLB job.
Up and Coming Indians
Third-round pick Bobby Bradley made quite a splash in rookie ball in 2014, hitting eight home runs in 176 plate appearances while batting .361. The power is still very much there this season with another 14 home runs in 281 plate appearances. Bradley is a patient hitter, but this year he has struggled to make contact, missing the ball over 33% of the time and hitting just .244/.331/.463. The strikeout rates are actually a bit surprising considering the 19-year-old has been noted for having a good approach and quick bat and was not particularly noted for having a long swing. His youth and power potential give him the benefit of the doubt for now considering he has a likely ETA of 2018.
Sticking with the Indians, 2013 first-round pick Clint Frazier was a highly touted prospect who disappointed in his first full season of professional ball, striking out 161 times in 474 at-bats. The toolsy 21-year-old has turned things around, cutting his strikeout rate by 7% in A+ ball and showing greater power than he did in 2014 with ten home runs in 395 plate appearances and a .271/.361/.423 line. Frazier still has 20-20 potential and those who are considering jumping ship on the 20-year-old should reconsider. The improvements in his game make him too good to give up on anytime soon.
Lastly, we come to Cuban defector Hector Olivera. The 30-year-old second baseman has gone from rookie to Double-A to Triple-A ball in fewer than 100 plate appearances, hitting over .300 at every stop and showing an excellent batting eye to boot. The righty profiles as someone who can hit for average and get on base, play steady defense at second base while offering low to mid-teens power and stolen base potential. The only question is where will the Dodgers play him. The answer seems to involve either pushing a veteran to a utility or bench role or trading a veteran starter to accommodate Olivera, who has signed a 62.5 million dollar deal with the club.