Has Lopez turned himself into a frontline starter?... An offseason trade to the Twins seemed to help bring out the best in Pablo López (RHP, MIN) in 2023, as he set new career highs in IP, strikeouts, and rotisserie value. Did his skills show similar improvement?
Indeed they did:
In addition to the new surface stat marks, Lopez also set new career bests in K%, xBB%, SwK, and xHR/F, while also raising his fastball velocity to a new high of 94.8 mph. And in the second half, he was even better, lowering his walk rate to 5% while bumping his GB% up to 50%, all while maintaining his K% and SwK, giving him a 3.11 xERA and 1.06 xWHIP over the second half.
The Twins had him ditch his cutter, which had been an underperforming pitch (8.5% SwK in 2020-22), and had him learn a sweeping slider, which immediately became an elite pitch for him, with a 15.6% SwK on 21.4% usage. It also appeared to improve his other offerings, as his fastball (15.8% SwK) and curveball (16.8% SwK) were more effective than ever.
He also achieved better effectiveness vs. left-handed batters, posting a career-best 26% K% and 19% K-BB% against lefties. And while his OPS against LHB remained above average (.754), some of that can be traced to a slightly high 34% hit rate against them.
As he enters his age-28 season, Lopez appears poised to potentially emerge as an ace, and looks like a good bet to become a $20 pitcher in 2024. (He also earned an UP: 15 Wins, 3.00 ERA in the 2024 Baseball Forecaster.) The shoulder problems that plagued him in 2018, 2019, and 2021 remain a slight concern for injury risk, but an injury-free 2023 lifted his Forecaster Health grade to a C, and the same adjustments and changes (including working with Driveline Baseball in the offseason) that made him a better pitcher seemed to have helped his mechanics and stamina. He's unlikely to be undervalued this spring—in fact, his current ADP of 45 suggests he's being pretty highly-regarded—but the strength of his improved skills should give confidence in investing in him as a frontline starter.
Torkelson looks ready to build on breakout season... After a disappointing 2022 season where he failed to live up to his standing as a former #1 overall pick and one of the best hitting prospects in baseball, Spencer Torkelson (1B, DET) bounced back with much-improved play in 2023, generating double-digit fantasy value behind the strength of 31 HR and 94 RBI. What do his skills suggest we can expect from him in 2024?
Further upside looks like a realistic possibility:
Torkelson's 2023 breakout was driven by growth in all of his underlying power skills, including a higher fly ball rate and sizable gains in HctX, PX/xPX, and HR/F and xHR/F. He also increased his exit velocity from 90.5 mph in 2022 to 91.8 mph in 2023, and his Barrel% from 8.4% to 14.1%. And he did all of this without any negative effect on his contact or walk rates.
And in the second half, he took things up a notch, cranking out homers at a 40-HR full-season pace, with his skills once again backing the performance. (And all of it roughly matching a similar 40-HR pace in the minors in 2021.) That helped earn him a well-deserved UP: 40 HR notation in the 2024 Baseball Forecaster.
The increased power also gave a boost to his batting average and underlying expected batting average skills, and his slightly below-average contact rate and high FB% put a ceiling on his BA upside, a .250ish BA would take him from a liability into "won't hurt you" territory, adding a little more value to his profile.
At 24, Torkelson seems ready to deliver on the prospect hype that left so many disappointed in 2022, and looks like a good candidate to once again return double-digit fantasy value, with an outside shot at reaching $20 if he makes it to his .250 BA, 40 HR upside (and the additional RBI you'd expect to come with those numbers). He's not a top-tier 1B yet, but should be a promising second-tier option for 2024, and is still young enough for further growth in the seasons ahead.
Even with change of scenery, Grissom still has work to do... Despite making a promising debut as a well-regarded prospect in 2022, Vaughn Grissom (2B/SS, BOS) spent almost all of 2023 stuck in Triple-A because his path to playing time was blocked in Atlanta. So a December trade to the Red Sox was exactly what he needed, giving him his first shot at a full-time role—what can his skills tell us about his chances to hold that role?
There's a lot to like, but also reason to keep expectations in check:
Grissom has hit .336 over 563 PA in Double-A and Triple-A, and even though his MLEs take that number down a bit, that performance makes his .287 BA in the majors look like a repeatable figure. But he's made slightly less contact in the majors (77%), and has struggled to generate hard contact (76 HctX) or power (70 PX, 88 xPX), and that has kept his xBA at a much lower .254 for his career. Until we see more contact and more power in the majors, you should be careful about expecting an above-average BA.
And unfortunately, there's not much in his skills that suggests plus power is imminent. His two biggest PX samples were both slightly below average, though his 113 xPX from 2022 offers a sliver of hope. A PX between his 89 from Triple-A in 2023 and 95 from MLB in 2022 would be an improvement over his career mark in the majors, but as we can see, even with that 95 PX in 2022, his xBA was only .258.
Speed should be his best path to value for now, as his MLB Spd scores have been very good, though his 2022 Statcast Sprint Speed only ranked in the 59th percentile. He hasn't run that often (13% SBA%) or very successfully (63% SB%) in the majors, but his work in the minors (20-for-23, 86.7% in Double-A and Triple-A combined) suggests a little more upside. He could at least make a run at double-digits steals in 2024.
The 23-year-old Grissom now has an opportunity to show what he can do at the major league level, and the Red Sox have already said they view him as their everyday second baseman. Our current BaseballHQ projection for 2024 has him batting .280 with 6 HR, 62 RBI, and 16 SB over 544 PA on his way to an $18 season, but given the work he needs to do on his contact rate and power, that looks like a best-case scenario for his season. Target him at a lower price, and hope that he can deliver on his upside with this much-needed change of scenery.
O'Hoppe's power offers intrigue in his sophomore season... A late April labrum tear cost Logan O'Hoppe (C, LAA) a sizable chunk of his rookie season in 2023, but when he was healthy and playing, he offered some intriguing power and closed out the year with an .897 OPS in 101 PA over the final month of the season. With the starting catcher job now looking like it's his to lose, should be on your fantasy radar?
His power definitely makes him of interest, though the upside may not be as high as it seems:
O'Hoppe entered 2023 as one of the better catching prospects in the league, with power as his leading skill, and that outlook held up pretty well in his first exposure to major league pitching. His power output was supported by xPX, thanks to a high fly ball rate and above-average hard contact, and he also sported an above-average 90.5 mph exit velocity and an elite 15.6% Barrel%. However, there are two reasons to be cautious regarding his power: his larger sample in the minors in 2022 had a lower HR rate and PX, and both his xHR and xHR/F were lower than his HR and HR/F, suggesting that his upside is more in the 20-25 HR range rather than 30-35 HR you might get from pro-rating his 2023 total over a full season.
In addition, he appeared to sacrifice a good portion of his plate discipline to get that power, as both his contact and walk rates were noticeably lower compared to his minor league MLEs from 2022. His 0.29 Eye slipped below league average, and could represent a flaw for MLB pitchers to exploit as they make adjustments against him in his second season. It also puts a league average ceiling on his BA for now.
On the plus side, while the gap between his .931 OPS vs. LHP and .757 OPS vs. RHP makes it look like his platoon splits could be an issue, his sample against righties was hindered by a low 22% hit rate. His contact rate (73% vs. RHP, 76% vs. LHP) and PX (144 vs. RHP, 149 vs. LHP) were very comparable against both types of pitcher, suggesting that he's a solid candidate for everyday PA.
With better health and more playing time, the soon-to-be 24-year-old O'Hoppe could make a run at double-digit value in 2024, making him a decent middle-tier catching option, and a young player worth watching as we get a longer look at his skills. The slide in his plate discipline and small-ish nature of his 2023 sample are reasons to hedge your bet a little, and it's possible that other managers seeing 30+ HR upside based on his 2023 HR total will leave him slightly overvalued this spring, so be cautious with how heavily you invest.
What to make of Schneider's late-season tear?... As a former 28th-round draft pick with little prospect upside, Davis Schneider (2B, TOR) was not expected to do much when he was called up in early August in 2023, but he went on a tear that brought him a lot of attention, batting .426 with 6 HR that month before cooling of in September. Can his minor league track record shed more light on his true skill level?
The batting average looks fluky, but the power might not be:
Schneider's MLEs and subpar contact rates paint him pretty squarely as a batting average liability, but his .276 MLB BA came with support from xBA. However, what's important to note about that is that his inflated PX mark is pumping up that xBA, and so is that 27% line drive rate that's likely unsustainable. For comparison, Schneider hit .154 in September, with a 58% contact rate and a more normal 21% LD% and 176 PX, and during that month, his xBA was only .218. Do not pay for a repeat of that .276 BA.
He showed improved power in Triple-A in 2023, and that carried over to the majors—even as his other numbers swooned in September, he maintained a 150 xPX that month. His overall HctX was slightly below average and his exit velocity was nothing special (89.5 mph), but he did an excellent job of barreling the ball (17.8% Barrel%), and actually improved that rate in September (19.5%). Still, it's his extremely high fly ball rate that does the heavy lifting for his power skills, and while that's a positive here, it's a negative for his BA.
His speed skills have been inconsistent, and his Statcast Sprint Speed was mediocre (52nd percentile), but he did flash some stolen base potential in the minors. And his walk rate appears to be a sustainably elite skill, which will help offset his low BA and keep some running opportunities coming. He's probably unlikely to even reach double-digit steals, but he could at least offer a handful of them, depending on how much playing time he gets.
Because his late-season MLB sample was so small, and there was such a disparity between his August and September performance, it's hard to know exactly what to expect from Schneider in 2024, though his current 583 ADP suggests many fantasy managers aren't placing high value on his ability to repeat his torrid debut. And considering that his role and playing time are uncertain, targeting him as a late-round flyer looks like the best approach.