Laureano Swings Big

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The home run rate has remained steady at a pace of 5,618 home runs. We’re still waiting on the weather to meander from spring to summer temperatures. We’ve also experienced more injuries to top sluggers relative to the best pitchers. I expect this relationship to regress to normal in the coming month. Both weather and injury effects should lead to a quickening of the home run pace.

Top Performances of the Week

Ramon Laureano, 4 HR
7 Others, 3 HR

Earlier in the season, Laureano went on a stolen base binge. This week was his turn to deliver home runs. Although he has predictably slowed on the bases, stalling out at eight steals, we can comfortably expect more power ahead. Laureano’s approach lends itself to lumpy production. Roto-league managers can afford to be patient and take the peaks with the valleys. He can be a little more difficult to manage in Head-to-Head, but he’s still more likely to win you categories than lose them.

Of the triple-dinger crowd, there isn’t much to say about Giancarlo Stanton and Yordan Alvarez. They’re supposed to have three-homer weeks with regularity. We can expect similar from Austin Meadows if he doesn’t adjust his approach. Right now, he’s bringing a sort of left-handed Eugenio Suarez approach – healthy walk rate, a few too many strikeouts, and an extreme fly ball rate.

Bader is a hitter to watch if only because the upside could lead to runaway value if something clicks. He’s reportedly at his healthiest since 2018. In the early going (29 PA), he’s making more contact than ever before. If he can shave even five points off his career 28.7 percent strikeout rate, he’ll grow into a solid five-category contributor.

The remainders, Yan Gomes, Hunter Dozier, and Andrew McCutchen are veterans with above average pop. In the case of Gomes, he also had friendly matchups. He’s making lower angle contact this season which might explain why his strikeout rate is lower. A less steep swing path is usually associated with more contact and less power. Unless you’re in a deep format, leave him for the DFS crowd.

My Top 10 Projected Home Run Leaders

Ronald Acuna, Atlanta Braves, 10 HR, 46 projected
Nelson Cruz, Minnesota Twins, 8 HR, 45 proj
J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox, 10 HR, 45 proj
Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians, 9 HR, 42 proj
Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, 8 HR, 42 proj
Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics, 7 HR, 42 proj
Pete Alonso, New York Mets, 5 HR, 42 proj
Jared Walsh, Los Angeles Angels, 6 HR, 40 proj
Nick Castellanos, Cincinnati Reds, 9 HR, 40 proj
Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees, 9 HR, 40 proj

First, I’d like to thank David Shovein for stepping in last week while I was away. This section of the column is undoubtedly the most difficult part to simply sub in and offer a take. We mostly aligned on our Top 10 list and expectations. The four players dropping from David’s list (current rank in parenthesis) are Aaron Judge (11th), Shohei Ohtani (13th), Franmil Reyes (16th), and Rhys Hoskins (unranked). These are all players we can easily picture finishing in the Top 10. Only Hoskins requires some explanation. He needs one of two things to happen if he’s to have a shot at 40 home runs – either more plate appearances ending with a batted ball or a career-best HR/FB ratio. The former condition is witheringly unlikely while the latter is certainly possible. He currently has a 22.9 percent HR/FB compared to a career norm of 17.6 percent.

Jose Ramirez would have debuted on this list last week had I been around. Like Hoskins, he’ll need to maintain something near a career-best HR/FB ratio to stick around. Unlike Hoskins, he delivers a high quantity of batted balls, giving him more chances to make his own luck.

Walsh and Castellanos never dipped below a 40-homer pace per my model although they’re right on the edge. Rounding errors separate them from the likes of Stanton, Judge, Joey Gallo, Ohtani, and Kris Bryant. My methodology is not that precise. Consider it as +/- 3.5 home runs. I can manually improve on that and do for any players I deep dive in a given week, but it’s not practical to finely adjust every slugger every week.

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Injured Sluggers

New

George Springer, Toronto Blue Jays, quad strain, late-May
Anthony Rendon, Los Angeles Angels, knee, mid-May
Luis Robert, Chicago White Sox, hip, second half
Ian Happ, Chicago Cubs, ribs, late-May
Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds, broken thumb, June
Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers, back, uncertain
Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins, hip, early-June
Alex Kirilloff, Minnesota Twins, sprained wrist, late-May
Brandon Nimmo, New York Mets, finger, mid-May

This was a rough week for new injuries. Robert is the latest White Sox position player to miss considerable time to an injury. Springer and Yelich reaggravated existing injuries. Buxton is expected to need weeks to heal and generally returns later than the original estimate. Votto, Happ, Nimmo, and Rendon suffered trauma from being hit by a ball or a body. Rendon and Nimmo are expected back quickly while Votto and Happ may require a slightly lengthier rest.

Existing

Kole Calhoun, Arizona Diamondbacks, hamstring surgery, late-July
Jazz Chisholm, Miami Marlins, hamstring strain, soon
Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals, foot strain, soon
Sam Huff, Texas Rangers, knee surgery, July as DH-only
Ronald Guzman, Texas Rangers, knee surgery, season-ending
Ke’Bryan Hayes, Pittsburgh Pirates, wrist strain, return uncertain
Aristides Aquino, Cincinnati Reds, fractured hamate, early-June
Ketel Marte, Arizona Diamondbacks, hamstring, uncertain
Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers, calf strain and stress fracture, uncertain
Eloy Jimenez, Chicago White Sox, torn pectoral, September return
Luke Voit, New York Yankees, knee, soon
Khris Davis, Texas Rangers, quad strain, late-May return

Chisholm, Molina, and Voit are expected to return this week. Marte is nearing a rehab appearance while Hayes is easing back in a season that doesn’t matter for the Pirates. Davis is essentially trying out for the Rangers at Triple-A. He’s 0-for-4 thus far. Bellinger is a long way out from a rehab stint.

Returned to Action

Juan Soto, Washington Nationals, shoulder
Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins, hamstring strain
Miguel Andujar, New York Yankees, wrist
Christian Walker, Arizona Diamondbacks, oblique
Mike Yastrzemski, San Francisco Giants, oblique strain

Soto was activated early as a pinch hitter. He was the designated hitter yesterday and will play the field today. Andujar has returned to a part-time role in New York while the others should regularly start. They all have their fantasy uses.

For more injury updates, check out our MLB Injury Report.

Editor’s Note: Don’t forget to download the NBC Sports EDGE app to receive real-time player news and updates. Plus, it allows you to easily track your favorite players. Get it here!

Power Spotlight

The concept of “buying low” is an old one in fantasy baseball circles. Those of us with years of experience know finding a buy-low bargain is easier said than done. There are two types of players who are most likely to actually come cheaply – unestablished, non-prospects (i.e. last week’s recommendation Mike Tauchman) and boring veterans. Today, we look at Yankees center fielder Aaron Hicks.

A 31-year-old switch-hitter, Hicks is off to a miserable .196/.297/.343 start in 118 plate appearances. His struggles can be reduced to two numbers – a .222 BABIP and .147 ISO. Hicks has always been a low-BABIP hitter. His career .268 BABIP is still considerably better than his current rate. That’s worth about 25 to 30 points of batting average, roughly the difference between terrible and tolerably bad. A lack of power is a bigger issue since it’s his main selling point. Since his 2017 breakout, he’s averaged over a .200 ISO. We have plenty of reason to be bullish moving forward.

Hicks has increased his launch angle this season, an adjustment he wanted to make last season but couldn’t because of lingering shoulder discomfort. He’s barreling the ball more often and hits it plenty hard to escape tiny Yankee Stadium and the other AL East venues. The new baseball has penalized him one or two home runs already, but that should improve with the summer weather. Using my trusty home run calculator, he projects to deliver another 28 home runs this season. Despite the early-season slump, Hicks’ playing time is secure for now. The only other center fielder on the roster is Brett Gardner, and the club prefers him in left field.

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