Presto for Preston (and other notes from 7/22/15)

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Preston Tucker is an outfielder that was drafted by the Houston Astros in the 7th round of the 2012 draft as a four-year standout at the University of Florida, and he’s been a player in the Minors that has shown a nice power stroke and a bit of an advanced plate approach. After beginning the year at AAA and hitting .320 with 10 HR in just 25 games, the Astros promoted Tucker to the Majors in early May after George Springer landed on the 7-day DL with a concussion. At the time, it was unclear whether or not the Astros intended to keep Tucker on the roster once Springer was ready to return, but Tucker began to hit and the Astros kept him on as a left-handed bat since they were in 1st place in the division and in “win now” mode.

Tucker eventually hit a prolonged slump once the calendar flipped over to June as he had a .189 AVG for the month, but the Astros stuck with him, which shows the confidence that they have in him to be the type of player that they feel he can be (side note: The Astros also drafted Preston’s younger brother Kyle Tucker with the 5th overall pick in this year’s draft). And to even further show the Astros’ faith in Tucker, he has been hitting out of the 2-hole since July 3 after Springer suffered yet another injury that landed him on the DL, and Tucker has responded very well in that role.

On Wednesday, Tucker belted 2 home runs and is now hitting .264 with 8 HR, 26 RBI, and 26 R for the season, and .321 with 4 HR, 9 RBI and 9 R since being inserted into the 2-hole. Springer isn’t expected back for about another three weeks barring any setbacks, so Tucker seems likely to continue to be placed in a very favorable spot in the Astros lineup on a regular basis and he’s got the skills to keep on improving his overall triple slash of .264/.324/.466. And in the Minors, he has a 25 HR and a 24 HR season to his name, so he definitely has the type of pop that can make him a useful fantasy commodity.

Along with the power potential, Tucker has shown an advanced plate approach in the Minors that I alluded to previously. Currently, Tucker has a walk rate of 7.6% and a strikeout rate of 20.0%. Neither number is terrible as they are actually right on par with the league averages of a 7.5% walk rate and a 20.1% strikeout rate, and his 20.0% strikeout rate is actually lower than average for a player with his type of 25+ HR power. But in his Minor League career, he had a 9.3% walk rate and a 16.4% strikeout rate. However, his strikeout rate in 420 plate appearances in AAA is 21.9%, so perhaps he won’t get too much better than his current rate there, but he’s still just 25 years old and can develop those skills with more experience in the Majors. Just know that the potential is there for improvement in this area and this is something that makes him someone to monitor for now and for the future.

Another aspect of Tucker’s Minor League game that hasn’t yet translated over to his Major League career so far is his ability to left-handed pitching. For the season against southpaws, he is hitting just .218/.259/.255 with no home runs in 55 AB, and this poor hitting performance for a lefty vs. left-handed pitching is not atypical for many players. However, according to Minor League Central, Tucker actually hit left-handers very well throughout his time in the Minors at .321/.377/.512. That line is actually better than his line against right-handed Minor League pitching. So while he may not be hitting Major League lefties all that well at the moment, there is some definite capability of improving, and is probably the reason why manager A.J. Hinch is not being afraid of putting him high up in the batting order against lefties.

Once Springer is ready to return to the lineup Tucker will probably get bumped down in the order and also lose some playing time, but he appears to be showing enough to be given a good amount of consideration for both season long fantasy leagues and in DFS. At the very least, it’s looking like Tucker can at least be on the strong side of a platoon, and Adam Lind is a good example of the type of player that we might see Tucker develop into in the future. Provided that he doesn’t make too much noise from now till the end of the season, Tucker could enter the 2016 season as quite a sleeper.

Let’s take a look at the rest of Wednesday’s action.
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Cingrani’s Return to the Rotation (and other notes from 7/20/15)

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The Cincinnati Reds announced that left-handed pitcher Tony Cingrani would be returning from the DL with a shoulder injury on Wednesday against the Cubs and he will be inserted into the starting rotation after working in relief for the whole 2015 season so far.

For a refresher, or if you are unfamiliar with Cingrani, he is a former top pitching prospect in the Reds organization and he zoomed his way through the Minor Leagues, showing complete dominance with 1.45 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and 11.85 K/9 vs. 2.70 BB/9 in the course of his Minor League career in 223.1 IP.  He became a fixture on the Reds Major League roster in the 2013 season when he posted a 2.92 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 120 K/43 BB in 104.2 IP in 23 appearances (18 starts). With that strong rookie season, Cingrani was a popular pick to breakout even further in the 2014 season.  However, Cingrani was a big bust in 2014 with injuries playing a role, and he finished the season making just 13 appearances (11 starts) to compile an ugly 4.55 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, and 61 K/35 BB in 63.1 IP.

It wasn’t necessarily just injuries though that prevented Cingrani from repeating his rookie season success.  Also potentially playing a factor was his pitch usage.  Cingrani has always been a pitcher to rely very heavily on his fastball as it is a pitch that he has now thrown a whopping 79.7% of the time in his short Major League career up to this point.  There are just not any starting pitchers in the league who throw fastballs at that type of rate because it’s just not a good formula for success — for a point of reference, the highest fastball percentage of any starting pitcher this season is Gerrit Cole at 69.5%.  With fastballs being thrown at the rate Cingrani has thrown them at, opposing hitters only have to worry about looking for a fastball most of the time and if that’s what they are guessing, then 4 out of 5 times they would be right.  What Cingrani does have going for him with his fastball though is that he gets a lot of vertical movement on the pitch, or in other words, his fastball has rising action that can make it difficult for hitters to catch up to when it is up in the zone.

To go with the fastball, he will mix in an occasional slider and changeup, but his changeup just isn’t that great of a pitch as it has induced swinging strikes just a mere 4.2% of the time.  So the lack of a quality third pitch offering also adds to the poor formula for success for a starting pitcher.  Starting pitchers generally want to have at least three quality pitches and be able to use them all with confidence.  Having at least three pitch options helps to keep opposing hitters guessing more to get them off balance.

So with such a heavy reliance on the fastball and a lack of a quality third pitch (and significant use of it), Cingrani would appear to profile more as a relief pitcher, despite what his Minor League success would suggest.  In the Minor Leagues, he was likely able to get away with these things better because the talent level obviously is much lower than the Majors and his deceptive delivery probably aided him as well.  So in his 2013 rookie season, it should have come as no surprise that he was able to carry over that same type of Minor League success over to the Majors initially.  With Major League teams being so unfamiliar with him since they never had seen him before, that deception likely created a lot of confusion for hitters.  But after more and more game film on him was made available with each additional start he made in the Majors, better scouting reports were probably generated and given to the hitters, which caused some regression for Cingrani as the 2013 season went on, and it must have also given hitters in 2014 better preparation when facing him.

So for the 2015 season, the Reds shifted Cingrani to the relief role where many scouts believed his mostly fastballs approach could be better utilized.  It was believed that he could possibly be the heir apparent to Aroldis Chapman at closer since Chapman will be a free agent at the end of the 2016 season.  As a reliever this season, Cingrani has shown occasional dominance, but poor control has gotten the best of him at times and he had a 3.47 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, and 26 K/17 BB in 23.1 IP before landing on the DL with a shoulder injury.

With the flawed pitch usage, poor control, and returning from a shoulder injury, it is hard to envision Cingrani’s return to the rotation going over very well.  But with the Reds being sellers nearing the trade deadline, they could be shipping off Johnny Cueto and/or Mike Leake, which is going to leave them pretty starved for starting pitching.  So it probably wouldn’t hurt to give Cingrani another shot at starting, but his best chance at a quality career may be in the bullpen ala Zach Britton.

For deeper season long fantasy leagues, he should be scooped up just knowing what his upside is as seen from his 2013 rookie season.  In dynasty leagues, it would be a more fine addition if by some chance he is able to turn some type of corner.  But overall, I wouldn’t be expecting anything extraordinary for him — but taking a chance on him isn’t the worst of ideas either.  If you pick him up, then you just kind of have to cross your fingers that he makes adjustments because he’s not likely to succeed if he sticks with the same approach.

Let’s check out the rest of Monday’s action.

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Rougned Bringing a Nice Odor to the Texas Air (and other notes from 6/15/15)

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With Delino DeShields landing on the DL with a hamstring injury, the Rangers had to recall someone to take his roster spot and the guy they called upon was 21-year old Rougned Odor.  If the name sounds familiar, then you may be confusing him with the 17-year old Rougned Odor that the Rangers signed to a contract this past off-season.  It sounds completely whacky only because it is.  These two individuals both of the same name, Rougned Odor, are actually brothers.  It is an extremely odd situation and even crazier that they are both within the same organization.  I really hope that some day they form a double play combination up the middle for the Rangers — that would be amusement at its finest (it doesn’t take much to amuse me).

Anyway, for real this time.  If the name Rougned Odor sounds familiar, it is because he came onto the scene last year and made a little noise as a 20-year old middle infielder with a .259 AVG, 9 HR, 48 RBI, 39 R, and 4 SB in 114 games with the Rangers.  And then he was expected to build on that performance this season in what was supposed to be his first full year in the Majors.  Odor began the season as the team’s starting second baseman, but with a triple slash of .144/.252/.233 after 29 games played, the Rangers got a huge whiff of Odor and it was not very pleasant on the olfactory senses.  So they sent him back to AAA to figure things out.

At AAA, Odor was a whole new hitter as he compiled a line of .352/.426/.639 with 5 HR, 19 RBI, 26 R, and 3 SB in 30 games.  And in addition, he even bumped up his walk rate to 9.7% and his strikeout rate was exceptional at 8.1%.  Though a small sample size, that type of strikeout rate was much better than his career 15.0% rate in the Minors, and light years ahead of the 24.3% rate that he had in his 29 game stint with the Rangers earlier this year.  So he clearly took being demoted seriously and really worked on improving upon some things that needed attention, which is now needing our attention.

Odor presumably will take over as the Rangers starting second baseman from this point forward, and it will be his job to lose once again, but with the adjustments he seemingly has made, I don’t think that he will be losing the job this time around.  Odor was slotted 6th in the order on Monday and he responded by going 3 for 3 with 2 RBI to keep his hot hitting going.  Odor is definitely a talented hitter with the capability to post a 15 HR/30 SB type of year over the course of a full season in the future.  And given that he is slotted at a shallow second base position, the type of production that he is capable of is a valuable commodity.  I definitely recommend him as a pickup in all formats.

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The Butler Did Do It, But Can He Continue To? (and other notes from 6/12/15)

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Joey Butler of the Tampa Bay Rays has been the team’s primary DH since being called up and he has been scorching as of late and with a 3 for 5 game on Friday night, Butler is now hitting .342 with 4 HR, 16 RBI, 14 R, and 3 SB in 34 games.  Now I am all for riding hitters while they’re hot, so by all means let the Butler service your team for now, but before picking him up you need to know that the Butler might start hitting like an old maid in short time.

Up to this point, Butler has been a career Minor Leaguer who is now with his third organization.  Butler had received just 21 Major League appearances before this season, and at 29 years old he is not some emerging hot shot prospect who is taking the baseball world by storm.  He has had some nice success as a Minor League hitter with a career .294 AVG, 15-20 HR power, and some sneaky double digit SB speed.  So I am not meaning to say that Butler is a terrible player who doesn’t deserve any consideration, but we need to see the reality in this fantasy situation.

The reality is that Butler should soon begin a swift downfall.  His excellent batting average is being driven by an astronomical .456 BABIP, which would rank as the highest in the Majors if he had enough plate appearances to qualify.  It is true that his 27.7% line drive rate would rank favorably  as the 9th highest and his 10.8% soft hit rate would rank as the 11th lowest, but those rates are likely to trend in the wrong directions soon.  But even if he does happen to keep up those rates, no player can sustain a BABIP like that and he has his strikeout rate working against him as another factor that should bring his AVG down.  Butler has struck out 27.9% of the time, which is a pretty high rate.  It’s not quite in the territory of his teammate Steven Souza, but it’s still up there and it is very realistic since his swinging strike rate of 16.3% would rank as the 5th highest in the league.  To make things worse in the plate discipline area, his high strikeout and swinging strike rates are paired with a horrific 1.6% walk rate.  Butler had a 11.1% career walk rate in the Minors, so he does have some upside to do better there, but it’s not likely something that is going to change over night to make a drastic turn.

The fact of the matter is that Butler has been an extremely free swinger and while free swingers can succeed in the league, like Adam Jones or the retired Vladimir Guerrero, free swingers with high strikeout rates will have much more limited success in the long term, if any success at all.  But like I said, using hitters in fantasy while they are hot is a fine strategy, but it’s knowing when to cut them loose that is equally as important.

Let’s take a look at the rest of Friday’s action.

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