SPECULATOR: Forget playing time!

Welcome back to the Speculator! Excited to kick off its 2024 season (my seventh on the beat; time flies) with a bevy of topics that help hone in on those 20% plays every Wednesday from now through September.

We typically start with an updated look at "UP:" and "DN:" side projections from the Baseball Forecaster for players whose outlooks may have changed since press time, but quite frankly, this offseason has been a slow drip of playing time news/signings. We'll start those next week in hopes the firehose kicks on at some point. This week, we'll throw our hands at the almost unprojectable: playing time.

Veteran readers of the Forecaster already know that projecting players with any sort of accuracy is hard—a 70% accuracy rate is about the best we can do—but projecting playing time at this point in the offseason? Even harder. We admit as much in a disclaimer on our Stats and Projections page. From the section on "How the Projections are Created":

The more difficult part of the process is assessing playing time (PT). PT expectations are fluid, changing constantly based on what we expect to happen on any given day.

So what if we just ignore playing time for now, speculating only on our stats projections? By normalizing playing time and prorating hitters to 600 plate appearances across the board, which stat lines bubble up to the top? A few filters to build our speculative hitter list (projections as of January 11):

  • Between 100 and 400 projected plate appearances.
  • <20 projected HR and >25 projected HR-per-600 PA (HR/600).
  • <15 projected SB and >20 projected SB-per-600-PA (SB/600).

Our search comes up with a bunch of names, so we'll sort them by Average Draft Position (ADP) from the NFBC. Players with commentaries are in bold; feel free to ask about others in the comments.

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Patrick Wisdom (3B, CHC) might not have a starting gig at the moment, but he pops on this list with a gaudy 40-HR power projection over a full season of playing time. Comparing Wisdom's power skills to some of the game's best gives that call plenty of support:

Player            PA  HR   PX/xPX  Brl%  HR/F  xHR/F ===============  ===  ==  =======  ====  ====  ===== Olson, Matt      720  54  180/153   16%   28%   25% Alonso, Pete     658  46  158/135   15%   23%   23% Judge, Aaron     458  37  217/223   28%   31%   39% Riley, Austin    715  37  137/138   14%   19%   20% Alvarez, Yordan  496  31  159/155   18%   21%   25% Wisdom, Patrick  302  23  200/183   20%   28%   25%

Wisdom was on his way to this type of season last year (10 HR, 214 xPX through April), but suffered a wrist injury in June and saw sporadic playing time upon return. There are strikeout issues, but with multiple paths to playing time—Wisdom has PT allocations at 1B, 3B, and DH—Wisdom's path to being a HR machine isn't all that far-fetched.

We saw a brief glimpse of what Stone Garrett (OF, WAS) could do as a full-timer in the second half (.261/.349/.489, 179 PX in 109 PA) before a fractured fibula ended his season in August. The sample size was tiny, sure, but we're speculatin' here and Garrett's full-season projection (.254 BA, 25 HR, 11 SB) would be an absolute coup at zero cost in drafts. We try to filter out platoon bats in this exercise, and while Garrett is known as a "lefty masher", he actually has a higher career OBP (.346) against right-handed pitching than against lefties. With Lane Thomas the only projected regular in the WAS outfield, Garrett should get a shot at a regular role this spring. If he gets it, watch out.

Yeah, we know Ryan Jeffers (C, MIN) won't reach 600 PA given the rigors of the catcher position and lack of supplemental DH at-bats he'll get with MIN, but Jeffers' full-season projection is noteworthy given the depths of the second-catcher pool. Jeffers looks like the primary backstop in MIN and flashed notable 1st half vs. 2nd growth in contact rate (64% to 70%), barrel rate (7% to 14%) and xHR (4 to 10). He may not have much trouble reaching the "UP: 20 HR" we tagged on him in this year's Forecaster.

With Matt Chapman testing free-agent waters, third base on our TOR Depth Chart is a complete toss-up. One of the names in the mix is Orelvis Martinez (3B, TOR), who ranked 64th on our recently released 2024 HQ100 prospect list. Martinez earned an "8D" rating in the 2024 Minor League Baseball Analyst with the following scouting blurb:

Slugger who got off to very slow start and ended in AAA. Led org in HR and RBI and continues to show massive power to all fields. Exhibits patient approach to find ideal pitches and then turns on them for hard contact. Lot of swing and miss. Has hit at least 28 HR in each of last 3 seasons. Continues to play SS but likely to go to 3B or 2B.

There's some batting average risk with Martinez—we're projecting a 69% ct% and .214 BA—but his thump as a potential regular in TOR's lineup is certainly worth an end-game stab.

Heston Kjerstad (OF, BAL) is a Top-50 prospect on the newly-released HQ100 and earned an "8C" prospect rating thanks to his stellar approach and ability to make hard contact to all fields. We're projecting less than 300 PA for Kjerstad given BAL's crowded outfield, but his full-season projection of a .248 BA with 26 HR might even be a floor given his substantial prospect pedigree.

Edouard Julien (2B, MIN) might have the best chance of reaching 600 PA of anyone on this list, as his path to regular playing time at 2B seems pretty clear with MIN. Julien is currently being drafted outside the Top 200—outside the Top 15 at the position—so despite some strikeout/BA risk, the 2nd half power he flashed (139/130 PX/xPX, 12 HR in 269 PA) with a dash of speed make him a fine find as a late 2B or middle infield option.

We tagged Christian Encarnacion-Strand (1B, CIN; pictured) with an "UP: 30 HR" in this year's Forecaster, which is dead-on with our full-season projection, and he has one of the higher projected BAs on this list as well. Our 374-PA projection for Encarnacion-Strand reflects a crowded CIN corner infield with Noelvi Marte seeming locked in at third base, free agent acquisition Jeimer Candelario at first, and even Spencer Steer qualifying at both positions as well. But in the true spirit of "buy skills, not roles"—injuries will inevitably strike and playing time will open up—Encarnacion-Strand's mega-hot September (.304 BA, 8 HR) could be a speculative harbinger of things to come.

C.J. Cron (1B, FA), Brandon Belt (DH, FA), and Joey Votto (1B, FA) bubble up as full-time gainers, particularly at ADPs of 505, 566, and 714, respectively. Frankly, these aging power-only veterans are free agents with real risk they either: 1) can only gain part-time employment, or 2) don't sign with a team at all. But in deep Draft and Hold formats—highly popular this time of year—the near-free draft cost is worth a stab in case they fall into the right situation(s).

 

The Speculator is not designed to make definitive assertions about the future; rather, it is designed solely to open readers' eyes to possibilities they may not have previously entertained, and in doing so, provide a different perspective on the future. Many of the possibilities will be of the "out on a limb" variety. All are founded on SOME element of fact. But none should be considered any more than 20% percentage plays.

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