10 fantasy players who have shocked at plate
Each spring at MLB.com, we publish the annual fantasy player preview, taking our best shot at predicting which players will take a step forward, which will maintain their pace and which should be avoided in fantasy drafts. As is to be expected, it's an imperfect science, with many players vastly exceeding expectations and many failing to live up to them.
With roughly a third of the season in the books, here's a relatively early look at a few hitters who are outpacing those predictions and a few who have seen their production go in the wrong direction.
Joc Pederson, OF, Dodgers
Preseason projection: .252 average, 66 runs, 15 homers, 56 RBIs, 15 steals
The season isn't halfway complete, and Pederson has already surpassed his projected homer total. Power was always in the forecast, but Pederson has tapped into that potential more quickly than most expected. The outfielder may struggle to keep his average near his .253 mark with a strikeout rate north of 30 percent, and early indications suggest that he may provide less speed than originally thought. Nonetheless, Pederson has the pop to hit 30-plus homers on a yearly basis. However, his current pace will likely slow down a bit, as he is unlikely to continue on his current pace of homering on one of every three fly balls.
Brandon Crawford, SS, Giants
Preseason projection: .251 average, 47 runs, 10 homers, 64 RBIs, 3 steals
Just two homers shy of his projection in early June, Crawford has been a pleasant surprise in the power department. Perhaps we shouldn't be that shocked though. Crawford has seen his isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) increase during each year of his career, and he is in the middle of his prime, when power tends to peak. Crawford will likely see his .289 average -- which is propped up by a career-best .338 BABIP -- drop. But given his new pop, the shortstop could easily settle with a batting mark in the .260-.270 range.
Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees
Preseason projection: .227 average, 60 runs, 22 homers, 66 RBIs, 1 steal
There's no question that better health has played a role in Teixeira's rebound, but it's not the sole factor. Teixeira has a season-to-date strikeout rate of 14.3 percent -- the second-lowest mark of his career -- and he's walking at an identical clip. The rediscovered plate discipline is paying significant dividends, even if that's not represented in his batting average. The slugger is hitting just .237, but his .191 BABIP is among the worst in the league, so expect it to improve. Short of another injury, nothing should stop him from shattering his projected numbers.
Kendrys Morales, DH, Royals
Preseason projection: .262 average, 58 runs, 20 homers, 74 RBIs, 0 steals
In terms of home runs, Morales is roughly on track with the preseason projection, but he's doing so with a .292 average, and he's more than halfway to his projected runs and RBI totals. Morales may not have completely deteriorated after an extremely tough 2014 campaign that he sat out until June. However, don't count on this level of production to continue, either. Morales is hitting .379 with runners in scoring position, and the Royals, as a team, are hitting .293 in such situations. Both of those numbers -- especially Morales' -- are likely unsustainable, so expect his RBI and runs scored paces to slow a good deal.
Stephen Vogt, C, A's
Preseason projection: .266 average, 50 runs, 14 homers, 53 RBIs, 2 steals
Vogt has gone from sleeper to sensation and is one of the top-ranked catchers in all of fantasy thanks to a .290 average, 11 homers, 27 runs and 39 RBIs through 55 games. Vogt is showing an incredible eye at the plate, walking at a 14.1 percent clip and offering at just 26.8 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, per Fangraphs. That's encouraging for his batting average, but Statcast™ tells us that Vogt's average exit velocity and average home run distance are subpar, so his power numbers may very well begin to cool off.
Alex Rodriguez, DH, Yankees
Preseason projection: .251 average, 47 runs, 12 homers, 51 RBIs, 1 steal
June has just begun, and Rodriguez is one homer and 15 runs shy of his preseason projections. Health has been the biggest factor for A-Rod, who certainly seems to have more left in the tank than most anticipated. Rodriguez's walk rate is the highest it's been since 2007, and hitting directly in front of a revitalized Teixeira for much of the season has been a boon to his run total. As is the case with the other Yankees slugger, an injury looks like the only thing that will slow the pace of A-Rod, who is, incredibly, leading the Majors in average exit velocity and ranks fifth in average home run distance (minimum 100 ABs with data).
Marcus Semien, SS, A's
Preseason projection: .237 average, 55 runs, 13 homers, 50 RBIs, 12 steals
Semien was a hit machine in April and May, when he batted .283. He is in a June slide, but nonetheless has a season-to-date slash line of .275/.321/.423 -- well ahead of the projected pace. The key for Semien has been a dramatically reduced strikeout rate, which sits at a manageable 20 percent as opposed the 28 percent clip he carried into 2015. As long as the whiffs don't return, Semien could very well be a .270 to .280 hitter with double-digit homers and steals. His RBI count will increase, as well, as his .203 average with runners in scoring position evens itself out.
Robinson Cano, 2B, Mariners
Preseason projection: .310 average, 82 runs, 20 homers, 86 RBIs, 7 steals
Cano has a .320 slugging percentage, a figure one might have expected to see in his batting-average column. But unfortunately for the Mariners, the lack of power doesn't appear to be just poor luck. Cano is walking less than he has since 2009 and striking out at a career-high rate. Additionally, his ground-ball rate has soared in the past two seasons, explaining the power outage. The popular narrative may be to attribute his woes to Safeco Field, but Cano is hitting better there than on the road. At this point, he is tough to consider as a top-tier second baseman.
Ian Desmond, SS, Nationals
Preseason projection: .267 average, 71 runs, 23 homers, 82 RBIs, 21 steals
Desmond has underperformed so far this season, hitting just .242 with five homers and one steal. And though his strikeout rate is down, he's popping the ball up with increased frequency and hitting it into the ground substantially more than he did during his peak years. Typically a good basestealer, Desmond has just one swipe in a mere three tries. In short, Desmond appears to be driving the ball less and isn't attempting to run, making a turnaround in the near future unlikely.
Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies
Preseason projection: .284 average, 81 runs, 22 homers, 85 RBIs, 8 steals
Gonzalez has just six homers this season and, more troubling from a fantasy perspective, he's attempted just two steals (both successful). The outfielder may be beyond his days as a 20-20 option, but there's still reason for optimism. CarGo's power dip can be explained in part by his career-low .271 BABIP, which should improve. Additionally, he is striking out at a career-low rate. As further support, Gonzalez has good (though not great) exit velocity, per Statcast™, and both Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs show that he's cut his offerings at out-of-zone pitches substantially. Gonzalez has the best chance to rebound of the three on this list, given his hitter-friendly home park and encouraging trends. However, like Cano, he needs to stop hitting the ball on the ground so much. Health is also a serious concern with CarGo.