First Base Targets For Freddie Freeman Owners (Fantasy Baseball)
The 2017 baseball season has already had it’s fair share of injuries, but perhaps the most significant yet occurred on Wednesday when Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman was hit on the left wrist by Blue Jays pitcher Aaron Loup. An MRI and CT scan have revealed that Freeman’s wrist is broken, and he’s expected to miss about 10 weeks of action.
At the time of Freeman’s injury, only Bryce Harper, Paul Goldschmidt, Ryan Zimmerman, and Mike Trout had accrued more fantasy value in standard 5×5 rotisserie leagues, according to Baseball Monster. So there’s no question it’s a massive loss for both the Braves and Freeman’s fantasy owners.
While the Braves will have to turn to Rio Ruiz to take Freeman’s place in the lineup, fantasy owners in most leagues should be able to do quite a bit better. Here are five first base-eligible players owned in less than half of Yahoo leagues who can help fantasy owners fill the Freeman void.
Victor Martinez (DET) 48 percent
Martinez is 38 years old and has just three home runs through his first 37 games, so it’s tempting to conclude that he’s washed up. But that conclusion is premature. Just 6.5 percent of Martinez’s fly balls have resulted in home runs, despite the fact that he is currently sporting a career-high hard contact rate. And although his strikeout rate has crept up a bit over the last couple years, he is still one of the better contact hitters in baseball. This is a guy who delivered a .289 batting average, 27 home runs, and 86 RBIs last season, and he’s only three years removed from the best season of his career, when he hit .335 with 32 home runs and 103 driven in. He does have some less impressive yearly home run totals on his resume as well, but even if he fails to match last season’s power output he should be a good source of batting average and run production in a loaded Tigers lineup. Just be sure to wait until he returns from paternity leave before inserting him into your lineup.
Danny Valencia (SEA) 19 percent
Valencia is a good example of a player who gets overlooked because he’s never managed to get an entire season’s worth of at-bats. He’s never topped 20 home runs or 75 RBI in any of his eight seasons, but on a per-game basis, he’s been impressive. In 2013, he hit .304 with eight home runs in just 161 at-bats. Then, after a down year in 2014, he hit .290 with 18 home runs in 345 at-bats in 2015, and .287 with 17 home runs in 471 at-bats last year. His lack of at-bats in years past actually had more to do with competition for playing time than injuries, but he’s been playing almost every day with the Mariners this year. After a very slow start to the season, he’s really heating up, hitting .315 with four home runs since April 25. Put him in your lineup while he’s hot and find out if this is the year he finally gets more than 500 at-bats.
Tommy Joseph (PHI) 21 percent
Speaking of hot, Joseph is hitting a scorching .417 with four homers in 11 games since May 5. Like Valencia, Joseph got off to a horrible start this year, which left him widely available in fantasy leagues. And like Valencia, he hasn’t yet had the chance to show what he can do in a full season’s worth of at-bats. But if the 21 home runs he belted in 315 at-bats last year are any indication, a huge home run total could be in store. Joseph strikes out a lot, so he’s unlikely to improve upon his current .264 batting average, but it’s conceivable that he hits even more homers from this point forward than Freeman would have. That said, Joseph will need to keep hitting in order to hold off fast-rising prospect Rhys Hoskins, so Freeman owners would be wise to roster Joseph now and be ready to pounce on Hoskins if he gets called up.
Justin Smoak (TOR) 36 percent
Smoak has had a pretty uninspiring career up until this point, but he wouldn’t be the first highly-rated prospect to produce as a post-hype sleeper, nor would he be the first hitter to perfect his power stroke in Toronto. He’s currently sporting a career-high hard hit rate and a career-low strikeout rate, so there are some reasons to be optimistic. Above all, he’s absolutely crushing the baseball of late, hitting .409 with four homers and 10 RBIs in his last seven games. Smoak doesn’t have the track record of success that some of the other guys on this list do, but when a guy is talented and hitting like he is sometimes it’s worth making the add now and asking questions later.
Josh Bell (PIT) 38 percent
Bell is also a highly-regarded prospect, albeit one with much less Major League experience than Smoak. As a hitter who displayed strong plate discipline and contact skills but little speed or power in the minors, there were legitimate reasons to question what Bell’s potential upside would look like. But he has begun this season with nine home runs in his first 125 at-bats, so it’s time for fantasy owners to take notice. Bell is just 24 years old, and power often takes time to develop. His 29 percent home run/fly ball rate is clearly unsustainable, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t emerging as a legitimate power hitter, and his .250 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) suggests some significant improvement on his .248 batting average is due. It’s too early to know exactly how good Bell will be, but if you wait until it’s completely clear, somebody else will already own him.